Philosophical Research on Seasteading

The Seasteading Institute has recently published my philosophical dissertation on ‘Seasteading’. You can find it in the key research section of their Law and Policy page:

Wayne Gramlich and Patri Friedman[1] founded the Seasteading Institute in 2008 in order to promote the seasteading movement, which has intellectually attracted mostly libertarian-minded individuals. The institute has also attracted funding from Paypal cofounder and early facebook investor Peter Thiel.[2]

A seastead is a permanent habitable dwelling on the ocean that preferably lies outside governmental waters. The Seasteading Institute believes that the creation of permanent societies on the seas can provide an experimentation space for innovative forms of socio-political organizations. The ultimate aim of seasteading is that newly emerging societies will inspire social changes around the world and contribute to human flourishing. First seasteads will be small-scale projects and they may even be constructed within existing governmental territories. However, seasteads could expand organically as technologies improve and innovative ideas of the functions of seasteads would emerge. One of the core ideas of seasteading is that an open experimentation space for social organizations will lead to progress in social rules and legislations, just as an experimentation space for new technologies leads to technological progress.

It is undeniable that social rules and legislations heavily influence all aspects of life, including technological progress and social well-being. One could for example compare North and South Korea, two countries that separated from each other in 1945. Both countries have had more or less the same culture and similar natural resources. However, what differs is their form of social organization; the North came under communist rule, whereas the South embraced western-style capitalism and democracy. Almost 70 years later, the differences in wealth, technological advancement, and social well-being are striking. South-Korea’s GDP per capita is for example 18 times larger, its internet penetration is more than 815 times greater, its life expectancy rate is 10 years longer, and the heights of South Korean pre-school boys are on average 4 centimeters longer. (Taylor, 2013, April 8).

The Seasteading Institute believes that, given that social progress and well-being heavily depend on how society is structured, mankind could make a huge step forward by letting social entrepreneurs start up seasteads to compete with governments in the industry of law-making and by letting millions engage in the experimentation with new forms of social organization.

In the paper, I provide a philosophical investigation of the concept of seasteading from a libertarian anarchist perspective. My investigation revolves around the following research question: “given that governments are resistant to structural changes of governance, how can mankind discover better forms of social organization?”

I argue that seasteading can fulfill that important role of moving mankind forward by experimenting with and finding new forms of social organizations that are best for human flourishing.

In the first chapter, I maintain that one core focus of political philosophy is to deal with the realities of value pluralism and political disagreements. I also contend that the most common form of social organization, representative democracy, does not satisfactorily deal with these realities. Hence, we should look for political possibilities beyond representative democracies. In order to discover these possibilities, we should experiment with new forms of social organization.

Chapter two discusses why there is currently little experimentation with social orders. I approach the issue from a meta-system level perspective and contend that all land on earth is more or less already claimed by states, which leaves little opportunity for people to start new societies on land. By applying the theory of monopoly economics, I maintain that the state’s monopoly on jurisdiction and coercion does not encourage them to provide good rules of law. It rather makes states extremely resistant to large-scale social changes. The obvious solution for finding better forms of governance then would be the introduction of competition into the industry of governments.

Chapter three deals with the epistemological attitude required for the experimentation space. I maintain that this attitude consists of having a sociological imagination, being epistemologically modest, realizing that social order can emerge spontaneously, and that the utopian dream of a single perfect society is impossible.

Chapter four discusses seasteading as the means by which the experimentation space could be realized. By homesteading the seas, a community can build and test new forms of social organization outside the scope of current governments’ control. It could generate new knowledge on social orders, thereby contributing to political philosophy and the social sciences. It could moreover also ease political tensions between citizens with different comprehensive doctrines.

Finally, I raise two objections to seasteading and address them accordingly.

If you would like to see an awesome seastead design, you should watch this video here:

[1] It may be interesting to know that Patri Friedman is the grandson of Milton Friedman and the son of libertarian anarchist David Friedman.

[2] Peter Thiel, previously a student of Political Philosophy at Stanford University, is also founder of the libertarian-minded newspaper The Stanford Review. He is a venture capitalist who is very much influenced by the Austrian School of Economics. With this in mind, it may not be surprising that the early mission of PayPal was to give its users more control over their money by enabling them to switch currencies. The goal of PayPal was to make it, in Thiel’s words (1999), “nearly impossible for corrupt governments to steal wealth from their people through their old means [inflation and wholesale currency devaluations] because if they try the people will switch to dollars or Pounds or Yen, in effect dumping the worthless local currency for something more secure” (Jackson, 2004).

Jackson, E.M. (2004). The PayPal Wars: battles with eBay, the media, the mafia, and the rest of planet earth. Los Angeles: World Ahead Publishing, Inc.
Taylor, A. (2013, April 8). A Crazy Comparison of Life in North Korea and South Korea. Retrieved from
Thiel, P. (2009). The Education of a Libertarian. Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “Philosophical Research on Seasteading

  1. Congratulations! Is the sea steading institute beginning to fund research on sea steading, or did you pitch your paper to them after you wrote it out of your own motivation?

    • I don’t know whether they have started funding research. My paper was written as a dissertation project for my MA in Philosophy. I sent it to the Seasteading Institute afterwards to see whether they would be interested in publishing it – and they were. 🙂

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