Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Things To Do Today: Start My Own Country

Leonard Caslin, a.k.a. Prince Leonard I of Hutt, is a man for all seasons. Hutt, or more properly Hutt River, is a micronation on the Australian subcontinent (Australia is the Texas of the South Pacific). The Prince of this patch of western Australia is the unsung hero, the lodestar of the dispossessed, the disenfranchised, the superannuated, the ignored, the sidelined and the just plain pissed off of the globe. He is a model of adaptation, of self-invention, of landing squarely on one's feet, of one who can make lemonade from lemons (now there's a trick).

Forty years ago, Leonard Caslin farmed an anonymous 18,500-acre patch of wheat in western Australia. Angered by a government-imposed quota on his chosen commodity, Leonard seceded from the body politic and inaugurated his own 18,500-acre principality, dubbed himself as aforementioned, and proceeded to starve the larger beast by withholding taxes. Leonard was, in a word, the self-appointed Howard ("Mad As Hell") Beale of the subcontinent. 

His primary interest does not seem to have been the wider spread of democracy so much as the institution of a limited anarchy such as that of Great Britain. Nonetheless, and being far enough away from the center of Australian civilization that no one cared enough or could get there soon enough to stop the proceedings,  the great experiment in nation-building took - Leonard displays in the royal compound a laminated and framed letter from the Australian tax authorities stating that he has “been deemed to be a non-resident of Australia for income-tax purposes.” (The Australian authorities, being the very devils of irony, clearly intended to compliment Leonard by deeming him to be a "non-resident of Australia.") Further, the news account remarks, Hutt River, "tapping into Australia’s convict history and an enduring popular disdain for central authority, also inspired a proliferation of new micronations across the country."  The engine of history, as Marx noted, is economics.

Hutt River is now a going concern, although not officially recognized as a separate nation by the Australian (or any other) government. But it attracts young backpackers, mostly Germans, by the thousands each year, who walk up the gravel road into the Huttian capital where they are issued official tourist visas and have their passports stamped by none other than the Prince. The capital, like London, Washington or Rome, boasts its own national sculpture in public spaces, not exactly Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square, but at least you can tell who it is.
  "Done 'im meself. I'm saving up for a plinth."

Once you are a prince, of course, there's no retirement in sight. Always something to do. Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of such secession from the main body is its self-sufficiency and complete autonomy. Hutt River has about 20 residents, a commonwealth of about the size that allows the local potentate plenty of leisure for civic projects (see photo) or just to be alone with his hopes and dreams.

Naturally it might occur to anyone possessed of sufficient leisure to take a page from the Book of Prince Leonard,

cast off from the safe haven, strike out on one's own, and occupy one's allotted time with self-determination and autonomous government. My own rationale for secession is two-fold: I could balance my national budget and keep anyone I wished out of my yard. Balancing the budget, a dicey matter even in the best of times, would be easy in my country since I have no plans to return to school myself and can mandate the teaching of creationism as a way to prepare my nation's students for careers in the 21st century (no education line item); need no roads or highways, seaports, airports, transmission grid, etc. in my yard (no infrastructure); can rely, as Canada does, on the extravagant military expenditures of the United States for my own national security (no defense budget); already know a naturopath who works cheap (affordable quality healthcare for everyone in my country). 

I could, in short, replicate Texas in my yard and tap into my own convict history.

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