Utopia (part ii)


Will Wilkinson is the Vice President of Policy at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank. He became passionate about the libertarian ideology after discovering Ayn Rand in his teens. This led to Graduate school (ABD) where he studied John Rawls and Ideal Theory.

The philosopher John Rawls coined the term Ideal Theory which posits that to make progress in a society, one must imagine how they think society should be… their utopia. Ideal Theory frees our mind from limiting our thinking to the possible and accepting as a given the inequalities and flaws of society.

In a recent essay, Wilkinson describes his disillusionment with Libertopia and Ideal Theory.


Earthaven is an ecovillage carved into 329 acres of forest outside of Asheville, North Carolina. They’re fully off the grid for both electricity and water. Right now, there are over 50 members but the goal for self-sustainability requires 150. There a number of businesses on site like farms and nurseries.

Permaculture is the ideology that holds Earthaven together, yet everyone at Earthaven has different ways of interpreting it. For Lyndon, Andrew’s tour guide, permaculture is about working with the natural features of nature and showed that with new path they were making, which curved with the nature shape of the land to prevent erosion.

Courtney, a 27 year old who has been studying ecovillages for years, explained the concept of social permaculture. Creating a self sustaining agricultural system is an enormous amount of work and it requires a large group of people who have to be able to work together towards a common goal. Interdependence is key.

Patricia, one of the first members of Earthaven, explained that an interdependent system requires certain kind of people. If you’re not ready or able to do a ton of labor, Earthaven might not be right for you. That means that people who are looking for utopia, like us, have a bit of a bad rep here.

Chuck, one of the founders, explains that Utopianism, the desire to create a perfect world, is antithetical to everything they’re doing at Earthaven. To him, Permaculture means maintaining what we already have, where Utopianism is about abandoning it. He believes that permaculture might be the key to saving our planet from catastrophic climate change.

The kids who grow up on Earthaven really love it. Like Aidan, who is excited raise her own kids here after she inherits her mom’s land. It turns out the issue of inheritance is a big one at Earthaven. Members of Earthaven have 99 year leases, but because incorporate aspects of a deed into them, they aren’t legally sound in the eyes of North Carolina law. This leaves Earthaven vulnerable to legal action. They’re restructuring their leases now, but no matter what Aidan ends up with, she’s already inherited something great, simply by growing up on Earthaven: the permaculture mindset.

Andrew was completely enamored of Earthaven. It seemed to him like the perfect Utopia for us to escape to — but it’s not a easy place to live. Chuck said that he hates the name Earthaven (too hippie dippy for him) and that his own personal name for it is Heartbreak Ridge, because that’s where your heart gets broken over and over again in the transformative process. In the cauldron of Earthaven, all the excess is burnt away and you eventually arrive at the core of what it means to be human and alive in these times.

Chuck died shortly after Andrew’s visit. Listening back to the tape, we felt a special reverence for some of the wisdom he bestowed upon us. You’re just gonna have to listen to the damn episode to hear it though.