Earth itself becomes the Old Country, backwards, repressive, ossified in its ways, a place where individualism is cramped. Other planets, moons, asteroids, or artificial space habitats become refuges for misfits, rugged individualists, visionary entrepreneurs, transhumanists, and so on. This often results in The War of Earthly Aggression: Earth becomes a threat to these new islands of freedom in some way, and our heroes must overcome great odds in defending their newfound freeholds.
This trope can cover the capital-L Libertarian ideology, which emphasizes both personal and civil liberties and laissez-faire capitalism, as Robert A. Heinlein's works often did. There have, in fact, been numerous attempts by libertarians to build countries in extreme environments very much in the spirit of the trope, many of which are described in the Real Life section below. The general idea, however, can also be more lower-case-l libertarianism, open to broader conceptions of liberty that needn't be, and indeed may challenge the hyper-capitalist variety.
This can be related to Privately Owned Society if we're talking the big-L type of Libertarianism and this society is presented as an ideal, rather than a form of dystopia.
These are some of the sorts of people that might end up as Space Cossacks.
- A recurring theme on the Gundam Franchise, with (usually) the Earth or one of the most powerful colonies around wanting absolute control and the rest of the colonies wanting independence.
- The War of the Masters:
- The Moab Confederacy turns out to be a deconstruction. Founded by several groups of settlersnote that disliked the increasingly socialist One World Order route that Earth took after World War III (ultimately leading to the founding of the United Federation of Planets), after seceding from the Federation, they resume their laws from their Lost Colony period, which includes a low flat tax, approximately no restrictions on personal armament at all, and strips the vote from anyone who for whatever reason doesn't pay income tax (chiefly welfare recipients). Bear in mind that Moab III is a Death World and a lot of the population suffers from a terminal neurodegenerative disorder. It gets worse when the Moab system is attacked by the Fek'Ihri in 2411 and a fifth of the Confederacy's population die; the Confederacy falls into a civil war after a disputed election just over a year later. The (largely Earth-dominated) Federation doesn't exactly come off smelling like roses, either, though, suffering from significant political corruption and a serious problem with Undine and Masters-cultist infiltration, and a paternalistic attitude towards the problems faced by less-developed border planets.
- The Bajorans (given a Day in the Limelight in "Past Continuous" and the post-reboot story Create Your Own Fate) are a more sympathetic take: they're independent-minded and take their personal liberty very seriously, and have similarly high militarization, personal weapons ownership, and political unrest. However, they also have a more rehabilitation-minded judicial system than Moab and maintain some gun control (training and safe storage requirements are mentioned), and their nationalist streak is at least partly born out of suspicion of the Federation's secularism (the Bajoran religion has significant cultural influence).
- Earth is implied to be a teeming dystopia in the sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, compared to the Saturn 3 outpost (presumably Tethys) where Adam and Alex tweak low-gravity crops for peak crop yield. Until the murderous Benson arrives, Adam and Alex have that moon all to themselves.
- Paul Mc Auley's novels The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun pit an eclectic variety of small colonies in the Solar System against the growing aggressions of reactionary and "Gaian", ecologically templaresque Earth superstates Greater Brazil, the European Union and the Pacific Community —whose main objections are to the wild transhumanist genetic engineering freely allowed in the colonies.
- It starts to play more with it as the story progresses, however — it becomes clear that there are repressive strains amongst the Outer colonies, some of which turn out to be very important to the story, while other developments make clear that the Earth superstates overall aren't quite so bad as it first seemed — the perspective was skewed because almost every viewpoint character on Earth was associated with Greater Brazil, who turns out to not be representative in just how extreme their anti-democracy sentiments are.
- Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy sees Earth multinational corporations trying to muscle in on the emerging Martian society, whose people want to be left alone to build their new world their own way.
- Robert A. Heinlein novels:
- Red Planet: The Earth-controlled Mars Company administration vs. the Mars colonists
- Between Planets: The Federation (all Earth governments) vs. Venus colonists
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: The Earth-controlled Lunar Authority vs. the lunar colonists
- The future history arc of novels involving Lazarus Long, beginning with Methuselah's Children, depict an Earth that persecutes certain families for their hereditary longevity. These families end up fleeing the planet and setting up the kind of free-love Libertarian utopia that would become a Heinlein trademark. Two thousand years later in Time Enough for Love the planet they colonized, Secundus, starts to become "too crowded", as indicated in Lazarus Long's opinion by the government needing to issue ID cards, and the planet's Chairman asks his help in founding a new colony.
- In C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union series features the loosely tied Alliance of independent merchants and traders which split off from the technocratic Union that declared independence from Earth. Also, Cyteen, the capital of the Union, was originally colonized by a group of scientists and engineers fleeing increasingly oppressive earth.
- John Varley's Steel Beach features a Heinlein-inspired Libertarian group trying to build a Generation Ship. The ship is even named The Robert A. Heinlein.
- Eric Frank Russell's The Great Explosion features two unusual versions. The first, a former Penal Colony, has developed a ruthless, dog-eat-dog society based on a mixture of laissez faire and Might Makes Right. The second is a quasi-socialist libertarian utopia based on passive resistance, civil disobedience and the teachings of Ghandi. Their motto is "Freedom—I Won't!"
- David Weber has used this as backstory a couple of times, especially in the Honor Harrington universe, where whole planets have been settled by, respectively, artists, American ranchers, gangsters, genetically engineered humans, and a group who believed technology was Evil. The Solarian League is the giant, sprawling nation who looks down on other star nations, OFS is the grasping military arm of the League, and there's a lot of corrupt planetary corporations doing things behind the scenes.
- Michael Z. Williamson's Freehold duology is about the Freehold of Grainne, a libertarian's paradise in comparison to the corrupt and dying United Nations-controlled Earth.
- The Dorsai of the Childe Cycle, a planet with the greatest mercenaries among the Fourteen Worlds. It's people are fiercely independent, free as long they do nothing to harm and respect their freedoms. Interestingly, the Dorsai has problems from this - their government have almost little power compared to the other Worlds.
- In Gradisil, many of Earth's rich have migrated to space habitats, collectively known as "Upland".
- Allen Steele's Coyote novels are about the settlement of a planet in the 47 Ursae Majoris system. The original settlement expedition was originally state-sponsored by a repressive government that took over the USA (called the United Republic of America), but the crew was infiltrated by dissident scientists and technicians who "stole" the ship upon its launch. The new colony was largely democratic with the general freedom of the frontier, but was subsequently beset by attempts of other repressive Earthly governments to take it over, or overpopulate it too quickly.
- In F. Paul Wilson's La Nague Federation series there are two planets that live by differing strains of a philosophy called KYFHO (Keep Your Fucking Hands Off). Every inhabitant of Flint is armed to the teeth and deadly, while their philosophical siblings on Tolive are Actual Pacifists
- H. Beam Piper's Lone Star Planet/A Planet For Texans was colonized by people who are trying to live the romantic ideal of Texas, IN SPACE!. Everyone goes armed, and killing a politician is not illegal unless the politician's heirs can convince the court he didn't need killing (this is rare). Four Day Planet, sometimes bound in the same volume, may count as well. The colony was started as a company town by a mining corporation which abandoned it, but the hardiest and most independent colonists stayed to make a go of it.
- S.A. Swann's Hostile Takeover trilogy takes place primarily on the planet Bakunin, where any kind of social organization that doesn't call itself a government is allowed.
- Zig-zagged in Slow Train to Arcturus, as while we see some of the societies leaving what can justly be caused repression it is hard to imagine any vaguely functioning benevolent government not wanting to see heavily armed White Supremacists or North Korea's leadership cadre sent very far from Earth.
- In Technic History the Merchant Prince Van Rjn is definitely this though he shows a slight Moral Myopia as he is willing to use his own resources to coerce those he think need to be coerced.
- Ythrians in general, in fact they think government almost barbaric.
- One Ythrian though gives a paradoxically libertarian argument for loyalty to the Terran Empire; the empire is far away, cannot concentrate enough on local affairs to be overbearing by human standards and provides security in an economic manner without the demands an independent local government would have to make.
- Ythrians in general, in fact they think government almost barbaric.
- Ian McDonald's "Luna: New Moon". Contract law governs relations on the moon. There is no criminal law. The Five Dragons (oligarchs) rule the moon.
- In the backstory of Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth, it's mentioned that before the end, various factions, religions and nationalities sent their own seedships into space to both escape the impending apocalypse and build their own independent societies. The protagonists at one point muse whether any of those attempts had also survived.
- The Eldrae tend to be libertarian by human standards by default, largely because the Precursors removed most of their "ape pack dominance instincts" but the inclination is best exemplified by their largest polity, the Empire of the Star. The Empire having developed from the merger of several private law providers and still operating in large part like one, what with requiring "citizen-shareholders" to buy stock in the Empire when they take their citizenship oath, which is not guaranteed by place of birth and isn't required to live in the Empire per se.
- Seeker in Jack McDevitt's Alex Benedict series featured colony ship named Seeker manned by a faction known as the "Margolians" who were fleeing the then-oppressive society of Earth in hopes of establishing a free world.
- Voyage from Yesteryear by James P. Hogan. A probe is sent to Alpha Centauri containing a genetic bank to escape an impending world war. Raised by robots in a Post-Scarcity Economy, the colonists form a community where money and authoritarianism are meaningless. This causes problems when the authoritarian Earth governments established during the war decide to send an expedition to bring them back into the fold, leading to severe Culture Clash.
- Victoria takes place on Earth, but in a partially post-apocalyptic science fiction setting, and has Libertas, a libertarian confederation that perseveres in the isolated Rocky Mountains region, while extreme environmentalists, transhumanists, fundamentalists, reactionaries and neo-Nazis claim the more prosperous surrounding areas.
- Babylon 5 touches on this idea somewhat, in that Earth slowly (and then more quickly) becomes an oppressive place, and also more heavy-handed toward its offworld colonies. Mars probably takes the brunt of this, but it is implied that even pre-coup, most colonies are at least taxed very heavily by Earth, and labor strikes are banned (in theory, only when they endanger a military base or operation. In practice, after the Earth-Minbari War, the law authorizing the suppression of strikes has been invoked more often than that). EarthGov's intrusions affected the Babylon 5 station adversely as well—until Sheridan decisively declares the station's independence.
- Firefly and Serenity give us Browncoats. Earth is not present anymore in this Verse, so the Core Worlds, ruled by the Anglo-Sino Alliance, fill the repressive role, and the Independent Worlds ("Browncoats") are heroic separatists who want to preserve their freedom. However, while the protagonists are led by former Browncoats, the franchise notably treats the conflict as more Order Versus Chaos than Black and White Morality: while the core worlds are police states, they also have a significantly higher standard of living. Whereas on the rim it's easy for gangsters and warlords to rule whole planets and basic supplies such as food and medicine are often hard to come by, but you're at least able to look your oppressor in the eye and put a bullet in his head.
- The Belters on The Expanse are a hard-hitting deconstruction of this. The no-margin-for-error conditions of deep space have produced that bizarre combination of civic pride and steadfast independence prized by this philosophy, with Belters instinctively looking out for each other rather than crying to the authorities when something breaks; they fix problems — by any means necessary — as they happen. However, the nasty side of this is that they're prone to vigilantism, which can manifest in heroic actions like aiding in the assault on Thoth Station, morally grey actions such as the summary murder of administrators who won't keep the air filters clean, and villainous ones such the indiscriminate spacing of refugees from the Inner Planets.
Miller: When I was homicide, there was this guy. Property management specialist working a contract out of Luna. Someone burned half his skin off and dropped him out an airlock. Turned out he was responsible for maintenance on sixty holes up on level thirty. Lousy neighborhood. He’d been cutting corners. Hadn’t replaced the air filters in three months. There was mold growing in three of the units. And you know what we found after that? Not a goddamn thing, because we stopped looking. Some people need to die, and he was one. And the next guy that took the job cleaned the ducting and swapped the filters on schedule.
- GURPS: Transhuman Space: the Duncanites, derived from the Ares Conspiracy that initiated the terraforming of Mars and were chased off to the Belt and Jupiter's Trojan asteroids for eco-terrorism, which turned them off the idea of "statism". Divided into the "Green Duncanites" who are attempting the same thing on Europa, the "Red Duncanites" or "Trojan Mafia", and the nomadic Gypsy Angels.
- Eclipse Phase has the Autonomist Alliance throughout the Belt and Outer System (except Jupiter). The Extropians are anarcho-capitalists, the Anarchists are anarcho-collectivists, the Scum are space gypsies, and the Titanian Commonwealth is a state with a gift economy similar to the Anarchists'. While the different sub-factions disagree on many things they formed The Alliance to fight off the Jovian Junta and Planetary Consortium.
- The in-universe official history of Hc Svnt Dracones says that corporations built privately owned cities first on Earth, and then on Mars, which were populated with human-animal hybrids called Vectors. Then Earth's obsolete bioconservative governments started a nuclear war with the Corp Towns and Earth was sterilized in the crossfire. Though it's obvious to most readers that at least six of the seven Mega Corps that own the Solar System 700 years later are effectively dictatorial governments as oppressive as many 20th century countries, with the possible exception of the Corp whose primary products are espionage and assassinations.
- Rapture from the BioShock series is a terrestrial version of this, built under the oceans rather than space.
- In Escape from Terra Ceres and a number of other asteroids are anarcho-capitalist. In an early arc they fight off an attempted invasion by the straw socialist United World of earth.
- Quantum Vibe presented the idea that when there's no frontier to explore and expand into culture begins to rot and erode.
- Schlock Mercenary is the lower-level version, and is mostly just used as an excuse to allow bands of mercenaries (such as the protagonists) to wander around.
- Seasteading is a similar concept that essentially involves building giant oil rig-style platforms or artificial islands in international waters and then claiming they are micro-nations. The ultimate expression of seasteading is the "Floating Island": free-floating city units (essentially concrete rafts with buildings on them) that connect into towns and small cities. This one has actually been attempted in real life, with varying levels of success.
- The Republic of Rose Island was an attempt in 1968 by Italian casino magnate Giorgio Rosa to build a tourist resort in the Adriatic Sea just outside of Italian waters, styled as a tax-free libertarian paradise with Esperanto as its official language. The Italian government seized the platform the following year and dynamited it, suspecting it to be a front for Rosa to dodge paying his taxes, in what Rosa bitterly called "the only war Italy ever won".
- The Republic of Minerva was an artificial island built in the early '70s on the remote Minerva Reefs in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It never got off the ground because Tonga claimed the reefs as its own, sending a military expedition personally led by the King of Tonga to remove the colonists.
- There have been various proposals for building a city in Antarctica, as there is still unclaimed territory there and the claims that do exist are not widely recognized. The biggest problem here is that a large Antarctic city would probably need a nuclear reactor to stay warm, and that's not technology that most countries want out in the wild like that.
- And lastly, people have, of course, proposed building city-sized space stations and moon bases to stay away from dreaded government regulation. This short film from 1978 commissioned by the free-market think tank World Research, Inc., about a near-future space colony called Libra created to get away from an overregulated Earth, is one example.