This summer, The Atlas Society led a successful effort to teach hundreds of people -- in person, right where they were vacationing -- about the philosophical foundations of a free society.
The venue was an event by the Free State Project called the Porcupine Freedom Festival or “Porcfest,” at Roger’s Campground near Lancaster, New Hampshire.
At first glance, it might seem like an implausible setting for a full course in philosophy. It turned out to be an ideal venue, and The Atlas Society’s program was highly effective.
Porcfest is the largest and most-famous liberty-themed community event of its kind in the world. Attendees came from all over the world -- more than 1,500 people -- to meet and socialize based on a common interest in the dream of building a freer world. They were students, media personalities, business professionals, academics, artists, and workers from every field -- in short, just the kind of people who are curious about Objectivist principles but who would otherwise not have the time or interest for a formal education on the topic.
So, The Atlas Society took a well-planned, structured, rigorous course right to where the people were, under a tent, in the campground, day after day, for the week-long event. The lecture series turned out to be a wonderful success. Even after late nights of parties around a big bonfire, many people got up bright and early to hear lectures, ask questions, engage with speakers, and debate philosophy. The mix of fun and serious learning turned to be very fruitful, both in deepening people’s understand and in highlighting the work of The Atlas Society.
The Atlas Society’s presence at Porcfest represents an innovation in the way Objectivist ideas are presented. Much like “Shakespeare in the Park” revived high works of literature by performing them in accessible spaces, The Atlas Society brought systematic philosophy to a fun and casual event. TAS brought Objectivism to “the man on the street.”
Like Shakespeare, the ideas of Objectivism belong to everyone. Objectivism was forged not in the faculty lounge but in private salons, mailing lists, and the true marketplace of ideas through popular book sellers. The global popularity of Rand’s ideas grew from a “grassroots” campaign.
Today, Objectivism does have a large presence in academia. Ayn Rand’s books remain top sellers, even over 50 years after some were written. There are the Atlas Shrugged movies, too. But what’s been missing so far is an opportunity for a systematic Objectivist education stretching out over days, in a venue outside of academia, where the people who are open to the ideas are already gathered.
At Porcfest, people came for the camping and stayed for the philosophy. As Ayn Rand often said, no one lives without philosophy. We arrive at our philosophy either by conscious consideration or by passively accepting the prevailing opinions around us. Many of The Atlas Society’s sessions at Porcfest were to teach people how to think, so they might better choose their philosophical ideas.
The Atlas Society hosted a tent at the event’s central location, where William Thomas and David Kelley taught a track of courses on the conceptual faculty, definitions, rationality, moral egoism, and ethics in society. They gave talks interpreting Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, and its philosophical meaning. On Wednesday evening, a group gathered for a showing of the Atlas Shrugged movie.
Later in the week, Thomas gave an Objectivist interpretation of Austrian Economics, a talk tailored for the liberty-minded Porcfest crowd that is curious about economics, but might otherwise never take a university course on the topic.
During a highlight of the conference -- people had been anticipating it for weeks -- William Thomas debated Rand’s principle of minimal government with anarchist Stephen Kinsella to a packed and lively audience. The tent was full, with standing room only, and people were still spilling out of the tent. Everyone listened with rapt attention, cheered their favorite points, and hung around for hours afterward to talk and debate ideas.
Porcfest has grown every year since its founding in 2003 by a small group of campers who were interested in New Hampshire’s liberty-friendly legal environment. It’s hosted by the Free State Project, whose mission is to promote freedom in New Hampshire, using the powers of community and a voting majority. The Free State Project is the world’s largest migration movement for freedom.
Atlas Society CEO Aaron Day (at left) is a resident of New Hampshire. His affiliation with the local community, as well as The Atlas Society’s shared interest in liberty with the Free State Project (Day is a board member), is the foundation of an ongoing beneficial relationship between our two organizations. Aaron Day spoke alongside Free State Project president Carla Gericke about their mission.
Porcfest is now a week-long campground festival featuring lectures, workshops, and a nightly social gathering around a bonfire, attracting everyone from small farmers to hedge-fund managers on Wall Street.
Most people at the festival camped in trailers and tents at Roger’s Campground, but there is a small hotel available for non-campers. Outdoor activities include night walks through the surrounding woods and wildlife tours. Wellness gurus host yoga and meditation sessions, as well as lessons on making kumbacha tea or building home breweries.
Entertainment includes dances, video game parties, and movie nights. People gather on their own to play poker or socialize at their campsites. Vendors set up small shops to sell BBQ, onion rings, artisan ice cream, vegan baked-goods, handcrafted jewelry, and fun t-shirts. Companies present their demo models of “tiny homes" or safety bunkers. Think tanks and political causes come seeking supporters, and media such as Free Talk Live or YouTube personalities produce on-the-spot content.
The conference is very family-friendly, with activities and a swimming pool for kids and an emphasis on “free range” parenting--basically, letting kids run around and play outside. There are talks on raising independent children and opting out of public school systems.
Other lifestyle issues include talks on romantic love, paleo diets, non-violent communication, and the etiquette of carrying a gun. Entrepreneurs discuss working around tax regulations and barriers-to-entry. Seasteaders discuss opportunities to live outside the state entirely. An added charm is that many people bring their pets, so you can pet a cute dog while you listen to a talk about jury nullification. A tolerance of differences and a spirit of self-reliance pervades, and of course nearly everyone uses Bitcoin.
The culture of Porcfest is inspiring because it highlights how freedom and diversity work.
The only thing Porcfest has lacked so far is a series of lectures focusing on a systematic education in philosophy, starting from foundational principles and building up to contemporary application. This is where The Atlas Society provided a key value at the conference. TAS provided campers with the equivalent of a semester-long university course, open to any among the 1500 campers who wanted to attend. Professors Kelley and Thomas are among the most respected experts in the field, specializing in philosophy and economics respectively.
No prior knowledge of philosophy or economics, Objectivism, or even the works of Ayn Rand, were required to attend. In many ways, this is precisely how Rand approached her own work, not as a rarified discipline open to a few, but as an effort to enlighten all interested parties who take ideas seriously.
There was a strong sense among those present that the high-level talks were hugely welcome. As I introduced myself and mentioned my work with The Atlas Society, many of them spoke at length with me about their own philosophical outlooks, and were curious about how their ideas compared to Ayn Rand’s views. They said they enjoyed the talks very much and looked forward to learning more.
After all, many of the attendees have a deep and personal investment in living freer and better lives. This is what drew them to the Free State Project and to Porcfest. So this was an audience hungry for a deeper philosophical foundation for what they intuitively know is right: human beings have a right to freedom from authoritarian rule, and that freedom touches every aspect of life.
People left this exuberant and lively event with a deeper appreciation for reason, freedom, and their own crucial role in building a brighter future.
Here is a complete list of The Atlas Society’s talks at Porcfest:
Atlas Shrugged as a Philosophical Novel Part 1: A Philosophical Thriller by William R Thomas
Reason: The Conceptual Faculty by William R Thomas
Does Social Status Matter? by William R Thomas
Atlas Shrugged as a Philosophical Novel Part 2: Producers vs. Looters by David Kelley
Definitions Workshop 1 by William R Thomas
Myths about Ayn Rand and Objectivism by William R Thomas
Atlas Shrugged as a Philosophical Novel Part 3: Reason vs. Anti Reason by William R Thomas
Definitions Workshop 2 by William R Thomas
Benevolence versus Altruism by David Kelley
Atlas Shrugged as a Philosophical Novel Part 4: Happiness as the Moral End by David Kelley
Austrian Economics: an Objectivist Interpretation by William R Thomas
Atlas Shrugged as a Philosophical Novel Part 5: Mind-Body Unity by William Thomas
Anarchism: For and Against, a debate featuring Stephan Kinsella and William R Thomas
Open vs Closed Objectivism Part 1 by Aaron Day and David Kelley
Atlas Shrugged as a Philosophical Novel Part 6: Trade vs. Power by David Kelley
The Atlas Shrugged Crony Awards by Aaron Day
Open vs Closed Objectivism by Aaron Day and David Kelley