This week we’re looking at a superbly written yet shoddily cited story of how one town’s historic pursuit of freedom potentially led to some creative bears. This week, we’re looking at A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling.
The title of this book is one that grabs you, and it grabbed me more than most because of my own former work as both a Libertarian Party official and a more general libertarian political activist. In those roles, I actually knew a handful of Free Staters myself, though only one that I ever had any direct interaction with is cited in this book – Christopher Cantwell, who I once had to argue against in my proclamation that killing cops outside of active self defense – ie, when they are actively and directly causing an imminent threat of death or severe bodily harm to someon – was wrong. But despite the Free Staters being a bit extreme by their nature, most weren’t quite the level of Cantwell… despite Hongoltz-Hetling’s efforts here to portray them as being at least as bad. (Though to be clear, Cantwell himself is discussed only very briefly late in the book.)
Instead, Hongoltz-Hetling spins some yarns about creative bears with critical thinking skills far beyond any research I’m aware of showing them to possess, with minimal at best documentation of his claims even in this regard. He then combines these bear yarns with stories of the Free Staters of Grafton, NH, which seem to be a splinter group from the main Free State Project types to begin with – at the time of this writing the weekend after Easter 2020, I’ve reached out to my one remaining contact from the FSP from those days but have yet heard back from him. Hongoltz-Hetling then spends the majority of the book focused on Grafton and only mentioning another FSP targeted town, Keene, late in the book and even then only briefly. Indeed, he only gets to Keene at all after having established repeatedly that the Free Town Project of Grafton was the originator of the Free State Project, despite the FSP’s own historians noting that their effort began even before Hongoltz-Hetling is quite clear in his assertions of the beginning of the Grafton effort.
Throughout the text, Hongoltz-Hetling’s disdain for the very people he is writing about, and seeming preference for the bears themselves, becomes quite abundantly clear. Though the bear stories are indeed entertaining, and the prose itself is quite great. The structure of the book into three parts – which this author calls books – seemingly follows that great libertarian magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, which the author references a few times but seems to have never fully understood – if he ever even fully read it. (To be clear, this writer has read it on three separate occasions, one of the only books to have been re-read during my eReader era.)
Overall an entertaining book, if not quite accurate enough for a book claiming to be non-fiction, this would probably be better suited had the author changed the effort into simply creating a novel out of the same material. Still, recommended for entertainment value alone.
As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
Interesting Story, Superbly Written – Yet Too Much Conjecture. This is an extremely well written book that takes a look at the Free Town Project, an initiative that seems to have splintered from the main Free State Project. Indeed, it is this very point that shows Hongoltz-Hetling playing loose with the timeline, as throughout the text here the author tries to claim that FSP came after Free Town, even as he is quite clear that Free Town began in 2003 – *after the creation of FSP*. Instead, the author details an entertaining tale of a wild cast of characters in the New Hampshire wilderness while constantly belittling the very people he is portraying and ascribes to bears much more critical thinking capacity than he documents actual scientific research to support. When he does mention another major center of the FSP – Keene – it is only very late in the book and he tries to portray FSP’s influence there as negligible at best, despite the wide prevalence of the Project there. Overall, the author’s preference for the bears over many of the people he is writing about is quite abundantly clear, and it ultimately tarnishes the aftertaste of the book as a whole, even with the entertaining bear stories. Perhaps this would have been better suited as a novel, rather than the nonfiction it purports to be. Recommended.