A Libertarian Walks into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears)

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling. PublicAffairs, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5417-8851-0
Journalist Hongoltz-Hetling chronicles the libertarian takeover of Grafton, N.H., in his witty and precisely observed debut. In 2004, a group of libertarian activists launched a plan to transform the “rural, isolated community of about 560 homogenous households” into a “Free Town” where citizens could “traffic organs... hold duels... and organize so-called bum-fights,” among other “inalienable rights.” Spreading the word online, project leaders attracted like-minded individuals to Grafton and harnessed their voting power to defund public services, remove streetlights, and cut property taxes. Meanwhile, multiple factors including the underfunding of New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department, “bear-tolerant” wildlife conservation policies, and severe drought led to an increase in “problematic bear encounters” across the state. The situation came to a head in 2012 after a 300-pound bear attacked a Grafton woman on her porch and vigilante poachers undertook an “ursine genocide campaign.” Hongoltz-Hetling skillfully probes shortcomings and ironies in the libertarian philosophy of “unfettered personal and property rights,” and colorfully sketches Grafton residents including a former factory worker who purchased the town’s church and hears messages directly from God. The result is an entertaining and incisive portrait of political ideology run amok. Agent: Ross Harris, the Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/11/2020
Release date: 09/15/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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