Thomas Naylor’s Paths Peace in a world of small states

by Bill Benzon

A small-state world would not only solve the problems of social brutality and war; it would solve the problems of oppression and tyranny. It would solve all problems arising from power.  – Leopold Kohr, Breakdown of Nations

This insight was the late Thomas Naylor’s lodestone; it informed and animated everything he did. Primarily an economist – who taught at Duke University, University of Wisconsin, Middlebury College, and the University of Vermont ­– he had also been a businessman, running a small software firm, and he advised corporations and governments in over thirty countries, an activity that lead him to predict the political upheavals of the Soviet Union. He moved to Vermont in 1990 in search of human-scale community, which he found, and a decade later founded the Second Vermont Republic, which advocated Vermont secession from the USA to become an independent state, which it had been from 1777 to 1791. Time magazine named the Second Vermont Republic as one of the “Top 10 Aspiring Nations” in the world as recently as 2011.

In Thomas Naylor’s Paths to Peace: Small is Necessary (Wheatmark, 2019) I have collected nine essays and two manifestos Naylor published in the last decade of his life – he died in 2012 – and a long interview in which he placed his ideas and activism in the context of his life. A fond eulogy by Kirkpatrick Sale and a forward and afterward by Charlie Keil place Naylor’s life and work in a larger context. Here is Keil’s forward.

Forward: Naylor’s Arguments in a Broader Context

by Charlie Keil

First, some frameworks, contexts for understanding the importance of Thomas Naylor’s contributions to the Great Transition and a paradigm shift in consciousness: 1) Cosmic; 2) Philosophic; 3) Green or Natural; 4) Self-determination of peoples and persons, the liberation of nations/peoples/cultures and persons/individuals, especially women and children, currently trapped in obsolete state formations.

Cosmic Context

Our universe is unique. We live in a unique galaxy, within a unique solar system, on a unique planet that supports a unique co-evolution of millions of lifeforms. Our unique species, Humo ludens collaborans, has co-evolved thousands of unique cultures/languages/musics/ myths/rites modes-of-social-being, and will, hopefully, co-evolve still more thousands of overlapping languages & dialects, musics & dances, rites & myths – plus unique cultural patterns of primary and secondary communication processes currently called “performing arts” and “writing, visual arts” respectively.

Philosophic Context

Thomas Naylor, May 30, 1936 – December 12, 2012

The paradigmatic shift in consciousness that I believe must take place soon is from all kinds of dismal alienations from Nature, society, body, labor, mind, back to joyous participation in Nature, society, play, “performing arts,” mindfulness. This shift can also be thought of as a shift in emphasis from current epistemologies (ways of knowing the world and owning that knowledge) to future ontologies (ways of being-in-the-world and celebrating that merging of mind & body, self & “other”, individual-in-society, mind-in-Nature, players playing games for the fun of it rather than the winning and losing. Albert Camus and existentialism were Naylor’s avenue to these participatory philosophies. Soon a revived paganism, polytheism, infinite varieties of local animist, pre-Socratic and post-Socratic provocation, will reunite “religion” and “philosophy” in thousands of different local paths to local Edens.

Green or Natural Context

The Ten Key Values proposed some decades ago by the Green movement continue as the framework for Green Party efforts to decentralize all over the world.   There are probably more “greens” per capita in the Green Mountains state of Vermont than in any other U.S. state, but Naylor, like Kirk Sale, rejected the Green Party assumption that “the American two party system” could be rejected or replaced by a new green majority in the foreseeable future. Still, all ten of the Key Values match up well with Naylor’s thinking that small is necessary and not optional.

I am continually pushed back to the Green slogan, “think globally act locally” as modified by Mark Dickey slinging some insightful slang “chill globally groove locally”. The main pull, I believe, will come from dancing, singing, drumming, sounding, miming, pantomiming, puppeting, joking, charading and parading, dramatizing, worshipping, praising, rites of passaging, playing out our dreams in pursuit of happiness right/wright here. And write/rite now. It’s a much better use of local food and local energy to have fun, love thy neighbor as thyself, follow “peace is the way” every day. It may be as simple as rejecting the two major men’s oppressions: “bringing home the bacon” and “kill or be killed on command.” Men, resolve never to go to “work” or to “war.” Women, don’t take on men’s oppressions and call it liberation. We/they, LGBTQs and XYZs, notice that work and war are run by anti-democratic “chains of command.”

Self-Determination of Peoples and Persons Context

Bernard Nietschmann’s “The Third World War: Militarization and Indigenous Peoples” [1], sets the stage for whole shelves full of books, one or more books for any one of the 3000 plus nations suppressed or attacked by the roughly 195 to 200 currently recognized states. When Nietzschmann talks of nations he uses an understanding common in anthropology:

Nations are geographically bounded territories of a common people…who see themselves as “one people” on the basis of common ancestry, history, society, institutions, ideology, language, territory and (often) religion…The existence of nations is ancient.

In contrast:

A state is a centralized political system, recognized by other states, that uses a civilian and military bureaucracy to enforce one set of institutions, laws, and sometimes language and religion within its claimed territories. This is done regardless of the presence of nations that may have preexisting and different laws and institutions. States commonly claim many nations that may not consent to being governed and absorbed by an imposed central government in the hands of different people.

In these terms, then, Nietzschmann argues that states have been warring with nations since the end of World War II:

The Third World War has already begun. It began when states tried to take over old nations. It began in the hills south of China and north of India and Burma. It began in 1948. Burma moved its army into the Karen and Shan nations and India started its military invasion of the Naga nation. The Third World War is now being fought on every continent except Antarctica. It has produced millions of casualties and massive forced dislocations of nation peoples who make up the majority of the world’s refugees. It encompasses most of the peoples and groups who are accused of being terrorists. Each year it involves new areas, states and nations.

Following this paragraph there are many brief but vivid descriptions of persecuted and frustrated nations within dozens of states: “states such as Indonesia that stretches across 3000 miles, 13,700 islands, and 300 nations” writes Nietzschmann. And I know from two visits and two and half years of personal experience that many of the 250 to 300 nations within Nigeria – some of them already further separating into Christian, Islamic and pagan versions of what had once been a single cultural/linguistic group – would like to be independent or be democratically confederated differently in 5, 6 or something like a dozen states of various sizes. Thirty to forty million Hausa might form an actual and very rare entity, a “nation-state”. Yoruba speakers might be happier in a loose confederation of polytheistic and democratic “city states.” Biafra could be revived and thrive, or break into an Igbo confederation and a coastal confederation. Naylor’s writings in his last year collected here make various eloquent appeals to the “small nations” of the world to unite in transitioning and rebalancing our world ecologically, socially, politically and economically.

The practical importance of Thomas Naylor’s work as I caught up with it in the year before he died (12/12/2012) may be considered, in the medical model, threefold:

  1. Naylor’s Diagnosis: we need to appreciate the depth, breadth, and brevity of the Montpelier Manifesto. As an economist Thomas tells us clearly what is so wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again about technofascism and the failing debt & deficit burdened American empire or “global economy”.
  2. Naylor’s Prognosis: Thomas begins to explain what will happen and what it will take to make everything right/rite/wright/write again for self-determination of peoples and persons on this one and only planet that has sustained a miraculously balanced co-evolution of millions of species and many thousands of cultures over many millennia . . . . up until very recently.
  3. Naylor’s Cure for what ails us: Hear the call to Kairos and to rebel non-violently. Respond at all levels: person by person, one friendship-group at a time, one community…

street by street and block by block
from taz to PAZ with a minimum of culture shock. [2]

That is from “temporary autonomous zones” to “Permanent Autonomous Zones” as in permaculturing food and having a modest but reliable, sustainable, and very local energy supply. It is on these “local peace economy” bases that we can create tens of thousands of new cultures and crafts in tune with Mother Nature, econiche by econiche, stream by stream and watershed by watershed, bioregion by bioregion.

In the technofascist era there are millions of Americans who are deep in denial over the many wrongs that need to be made right. I believe the most important challenge before us is to create irresistible visions of the fun, the play and pleasure, the deep satisfactions we will enjoy from collaborating with each other and with Mother Nature to build up both local peace economies and wilderness paths, corridors, areas that can sustain a lasting diversity of species, as well as a rebirth of egalitarian societies with cultures to match – all over the planet.

Kirkpatrick Sale, co-signer of both the Vermont Manifesto (2003) and the Montpelier Manifesto (2012), describes, here and elsewhere [3], the inexorable push toward decentralization and “human scale,” but has less to say about the pull. So let’s talk some more about that pull right here (and in our Afterword), anticipating a fuller treatment of this topic in Volume 3 of this peace series.

In mid-November, a month before 12/12/12, Thomas posted “The Kairos Radical Imperative” as both a history of the concept and a call to action, followed 2 days later by a post-script asking – why don’t we hear clergy, lawyers and academics raising the alarm? Six years later, summer of 2018, the answer is clearer and simpler than it was 6 years ago. Fear. Fear of nuclear war. Fear of drones. Fear of phones. Fear of 5 or more Weapons of Mass Destruction. Fear of many thousands of addictive “weapons of mass distraction.” Fear of being shot by an NRA inspired ‘vigilante.’ Fear of being run over by a car, truck or van during a march or demonstration. Fear of becoming a victim at a big party or a concert or a night club. Fear of not being allowed to come up for tenure. Fear of never being invited to a parish position. Fear of being labeled an extremist, radical, rabble-rouser. Fear of no career. Fear of no day-job or part-time employment. Fear of torture. Fear of being revealed as a coward. Fear of becoming a hypocrite, talking the talk and then not walking the walk. Fears, and more coming, in every nook and cranny of societies these days.

Or, for those who have been on the sidelines, witnessing, spectating, not taking a stand, not speaking up – “anxiety and depression.” Passive fear and quiet paranoia: soul destroy’ya. Fear takes many silent forms. And many of the traditional sources of faiths that used to combat fear have been corrupted. For many years I took comfort from Harvey Jackins’ assertion of “benign reality”, the sun rising each morning and supplying all the energy our global speciation needs in just the right proportions. After centuries of corruption and pollution of our air, water and soil, even this fundamental “benign reality” is now in question.

For our own souls, for restoration of self respect, for a way out of the current crises and into a sane and joyous future, we urge you to read this book and Vol. One, We Need a Department of Peace: Everyone’s business and nobody’s job. Use your reasoning powers and your conscience to find your place in a “local peace economy” that desperately needs outspoken citizens to encourage each other and inspire our doctors, lawyers, ‘Indian chiefs’, academics and freelance journalists, musicians and poets, madmen and specialists, to speak out, twist and shout, honk and bonk, pick and sing, and oh yes, shake that thing. As you do this, look for guidance from:

Ninth Amendment to U.S. Constitution: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Article One of Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”


[1] Cultural Survival Quarterly 11(3) 1987.

[2] Hakim Bey advocated for the creation of “temporary autonomous zones”, hence “taz”. TAZs are social space that elude established social hierarchy.

[3] Human Scale. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980.