K.J. Charles's Reviews > A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
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bookshelves: american, non-fiction, state-of-the-nation

Absolutely amazing. The story of a tiny remote New Hampshire town that has prioritised not paying taxes and avoiding state interference over everything in its history including, crucially, a functional fire department and bear control. This place naturally gets swarmed with libertarians attempting to demonstrate Randian principles by smoking a lot of weed and suing the government a lot, also unfettered open carry. Things go poorly.

It's terrifically written, hugely readable and extremely funny, but not poking fun at its subjects (beyond what is reasonable, anyway). Some of them are obviously just contrarian arseholes but others are people with a very strongly defined set of values where 'liberty' comes well before 'life' or 'happiness' or 'society' or 'safety'. Which, fine, their choice, if they *want* to live in an amenity-free dump rather than pay $300 a year more tax. Which they do.

These are people whose value system puts individual liberty well above their own health, safety or comfort, who choose to live shittier-than-necessary lives themselves as well as letting their neighbours twist in the wind for lack of support, not just as a matter of terminal shortsightedness and paranoia but as a real principle. It's not that they're necessarily in denial of the overwhelming evidence in favour of eg fire services or funding municipal amenities, or NOT REGULARLY FEEDING BEARS DOUGHNUTS LIKE THEY'RE PIGEONS JESUS CHRIST. It's more that any sort of socially imposed restriction or demand seems to them repugnant, a profound moral wrong. I find it deeply hard to come up with a good reason to be against socialised healthcare or pandemic mask-wearing, but this book does provide some insight into that mindset.

The line that really struck me was in a discussion of taxes, and how paying enough to provide a decent place to live is correlated with happy people. But, the author observes, maybe it's not that paying more in tax and getting the benefits makes you happier. Maybe it's that happier people are readier to contribute to the good of others) whereas by and large the committed libertarians in this book seem to be mostly aggressive, grating, and miserable. (And, notably, the most positive and likeable one is also the volunteer fire chief, ie someone who does in fact contribute to his community.)

An absolutely fascinating read, while being hugely enjoyable, and very funny indeed.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 16, 2020 – Shelved
October 16, 2020 – Shelved as: american
October 16, 2020 – Shelved as: non-fiction
October 16, 2020 – Shelved as: state-of-the-nation
October 16, 2020 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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Carrie I just heard about this book this morning and was toying with the idea of reading it... Now your review popped up on my Goodreads feed! Apparently I have to read this one!


Farah Mendlesohn I read this yesterday and it’s possibly the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.


Heather I loved this book so much. I want to give it to everyone for Christmas.


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