A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear (2024)

The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears)

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear (1)

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A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear (2)



By Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

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A tiny American town’s plans for radical self-government overlooked one hairy detail: no one told the bears.

Once upon a time, a group of libertarians got together and hatched the Free Town Project, a plan to take over an American town and completely eliminate its government. In 2004, they set their sights on Grafton, NH, a barely populated settlement with one paved road.

When they descended on Grafton, public funding for pretty much everything shrank: the fire department, the library, the schoolhouse. State and federal laws became meek suggestions, scarcely heard in the town’s thick wilderness.

The anything-goes atmosphere soon spread into the neighboring woods. Freedom-loving citizens ignored hunting laws and regulations on food disposal. They built a tent city in an effort to get off the grid. And it all caught the attention of Grafton’s neighbors: the bears.

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear is the sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying tale of what happens when a government disappears into the woods. Complete with gunplay, adventure, and backstabbing politicians, this is the ultimate story of a quintessential American experiment — to live free or die, perhaps from a bear.

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  • Nonfiction
  • Political Science
  • American Government
  • Local
  • Government
  • Local

  • "[A] witty and precisely observed debut....Hongoltz-Hetling skillfully probes shortcomings and ironies in the libertarian philosophy....The result is an entertaining and incisive portrait of political ideology run amok."

    Publishers Weekly
  • "An entertaining sendup of idealistic politics and the fatal flaws of overweening self-interest."

  • "[Hongoltz-Hetling] reconstructs a remarkable, and remarkably strange, episode in recent history....The resulting narrative is simultaneously hilarious, poignant, and deeply unsettling."

    The New Republic
  • "Every once in a while, a book comes along that is so darkly comedic, with such a defined sense of place and filled with characters that range from the fascinating to the bizarre to the earnest, that partway through reading, it hits you: This has got to become a Coen brothers movie...Hongoltz-Hetling is a master of the turn of phrase. His voice is breezy and critical, with a finely tuned eye aimed at the absurdities as well as at the earnestness of the Free Town Project."

    Star Tribune
  • "Since the beginning, Americans have been fighting about the balance between individual liberty and the common good. Hongoltz-Hetling shows what can happen when one rural New Hampshire town went to the libertarian extreme in this madcap tale that zig-zags between tragedy and farce, with the possibility of being eaten."

    Colin Woodard, New York Times-bestselling author of American Nations and Union
  • "A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear is a finely drawn portrait of one freedom-loving town, and a joyful romp through the dark corners of the American psyche. Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling is a gifted writer with a high-powered radar for the strange details of American life. He skillfully portrays the dreamers and eccentrics who populate Grafton, and the bears lurking just beyond its treelines. At turns hilarious and alarming, this story had me firmly in its jaws from the opening pages."

    Evan Ratliff, author of The Mastermind
  • "Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling's wild and wonderful blend of small-town America and large-scale ideals, imparted with humor and insight reminiscent of Sarah Vowell and Bill Bryson, is an unpredictable and endlessly fascinating feat of immersive reporting, filled with singular characters and doughnut-eating bears."

    Michael Finkel, bestselling author of The Stranger in the Woods

On Sale
Sep 14, 2021

Page Count
304 pages

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Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

About the Author

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetlingis a journalist specializing in narrative features and investigative reporting. He has been named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, won a George Polk Award, and been voted Journalist of the Year by the Maine Press association, among numerous other honors. He is the author of one previous book, A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear, and his writing has appeared inForeign Policy, USA Today, Popular Science,Atavist Magazine, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Associated Press, and elsewhere. He lives in Vermont.

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A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear (2024)


What defines a libertarian? ›

Long defines libertarianism as "any political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals", whether "voluntary association" takes the form of the free market or of communal co-operatives.

What town did the libertarians take over in New Hampshire? ›

New Hampshire was chosen because the perceived individualist culture of the state was thought to resonate well with libertarian ideals. In 2004, following the selection of New Hampshire, a splinter group called the Free Town Project formed to move to the small town of Grafton and advocate for legal changes there.

What town in New Hampshire is overrun by bears? ›

Some libertarian newcomers to Grafton refused to buy bear-resistant containers. The project has been associated with an increase in the number and aggressiveness of black bears in town, including entering homes, mauling people, and eating pets.

Who coined the term libertarian? ›

The use of the term libertarianism to describe a left-wing position has been traced to the French cognate libertaire, a word coined in a letter French libertarian communist Joseph Déjacque wrote to anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1857.

Is a libertarian left or right? ›

Libertarians are fond of explaining that they are neither left nor right wing, but rather libertarian as opposed to statist. They don't fit in the conventional political spectrum of Left versus Right, but rather are at right angles to it (See Figure 1). The political spectrum, as seen by the Libertarian Party.

Is a libertarian the same as a conservative? ›

For Brian Farmer, "Libertarianism is a form of Conservatism often considered separate from the more mainstream conservative ideologies, partially because it is a bit more extreme, and partially because Libertarians often separate themselves from other forms of more mainstream Conservatism".

How many Republicans are libertarians? ›

Two-thirds of libertarian Republicans are males. In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey on political typology and polarization, 12% of Republicans described themselves as libertarian. In a 2023 New York Times poll of the Republican coalition, 14% of Republicans were considered Libertarian conservatives.

What state has the most libertarians? ›

Based on these findings, the most libertarian states are:
  1. Florida. Based on the rankings, Florida is the freest state in the United States. ...
  2. New Hampshire. New Hampshire is the second-most free state in the country. ...
  3. Indiana. ...
  4. Colorado.

Who are the notable left libertarians? ›

Individuals in this left-libertarian tradition include Henry George, Locke, Thomas Paine, William Ogilvie of Pittensear, Herbert Spencer, and more recently, Baruch Brody, Ellerman, James O. Grunebaum, Otsuka, Steiner, Vallentyne and Van Parijs, among others.

What is the black bear population in New Hampshire? ›

The American black bear (Ursus americanus), which has made a remarkable recovery from record low numbers in the mid-1800s, is now common throughout New Hampshire. The statewide bear population is estimated at 5,600 and regional densities range between 0.1–1.0 bears/mi2 and average 0.6 bears/mi2.

What bear is native to New Hampshire? ›

Black bears are one of New Hampshire's most magnificent big mammals. Although bears are shy and usually avoid humans, they are also opportunistic and will search for human food supplies when there's little natural food available.

Does New Hampshire have grizzly bears? ›

What kind of bears live in New Hampshire? The black bear is the only bear species in New Hampshire.

Was Ayn Rand a libertarian? ›

Although she opposed libertarianism, which she viewed as anarchism, Rand is often associated with the modern libertarian movement in the United States. In art, she promoted romantic realism. She was sharply critical of most philosophers and philosophical traditions known to her, with a few exceptions.

How do libertarians feel about taxes? ›

The Libertarian Party supports your right to: keep what you earn. Reduce or eliminate taxes whenever possible.

What do right libertarians believe in? ›

In contrast to socialist libertarianism, right-libertarianism supports free-market capitalism. Like most forms of libertarianism, it supports civil liberties, especially natural law, negative rights, the non-aggression principle, and a major reversal of the modern welfare state.

What is the personality of a libertarian? ›

Libertarians may have a dispositional preference for independence, perhaps even for solitude, and therefore less use for moral principles that bind them to others. In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand [32] writes about the importance of maintaining one's individuality within social relationships.

Do libertarians believe in free will? ›

Libertarians believe that free will is incompatible with causal determinism, and agents have free will. They therefore deny that causal determinism is true.

What do liberals believe in? ›

believing in equality and individual liberty. supporting private property and individual rights. supporting the idea of limited constitutional government. recognising the importance of related values such as pluralism, toleration, autonomy, bodily integrity, and consent.

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