Delicious Disunion

In Kansas, they’ve declared that they won’t abide by any federal law having to do with guns. In North Carolina, some folks tried to pass a law that would allow them to establish a state religion, and it enjoyed a great deal of popular support. Louisiana not only wants to teach creationism to its kids, but it cites the Loch Ness Monster as proof. And Texas. And Florida. Need I go on.
More often than not, I feel that a populace that thinks along the lines of the aforementioned states, an electorate that chooses lunatics and frauds and Bronze Age theocrats for its representatives and leaders, is not one that I want to share a body politic with. (I know it’s not everybody in those states, obviously, but I’m speaking in broad terms here.) There was a lot of kidding-on-the-square after the 2000 and 2004 elections about the blue states seceding from the red states, but I didn’t think it was funny. I thought it was necessary. Can you blame me?

But maybe it’s not as black and white as cutting the country in two. In The American Conservative, Joseph Baldacchino reviews the ideas presented in a book that explores the idea of mutually beneficial disunion.

According to Rethinking American Union for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Donald Livingston, those seeking a cure for America’s political dysfunction should consider a rarely mentioned topic, that of size and scale. The thesis of this collection of essays is that American government has grown too large and too centralized to be compatible with free, effective, or truly representative politics. The authors agree on the unacceptability of top-down government as practiced in this country: having 435 House members, 100 senators, nine Supreme Court justices, and one president rule more than 300 million people in one-size-fits-all fashion. The authors share the belief, dating back to ancient Greece, that, to be genuinely self-governing, republics must be small in population and territory, i.e., wholly unlike America. They consider ways to devolve political power to smaller, more manageable units of government. With varying degrees of persuasiveness, the authors address philosophical, political, moral, and constitutional issues bearing on such a task.

Livingston, in a thoughtful essay, presents several possibilities. One, suggested as a starting point for debate by the late George Kennan, architect of the U.S. policy to contain the Soviet Union, is to divide the Union into “a dozen constituent republics”: New England, the Middle Atlantic states, the Middle West, the Northwest, the Southwest, Texas, the Old South, Florida, Alaska, and three self-governing urban regions, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Livingston concedes that Kennan’s idea “will cause some to panic,” but he insists that the idea of dividing America into several allied federations was shared by numerous early American leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Henry Clay, and possibly James Madison.

Hey now. This sounds more like it. If it were as simple as Blue America and Red America, one concern I’d have is Red America deciding that, what the hell, let’s go ahead and liberate the Blue Americans from liberal tyranny with a full scale invasion. And if not, you’d have instead one hyper-industrial state and another that makes most of the food. Awkward.

With lots of smaller nation-states, you have more incentive for normal, peaceful trade among allies, but no ideological interference. If the nation of New England (where I’d live) wants to enact socialized medicine and nationalize its banks, the opinions of legislators or voters in the conservative Old South or even the financial empires of the Middle Atlantic or New York City would be irrelevant.

It sounds…glorious.

Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure it’s far more complicated than I’m giving it credit for. And I want to check this book out to see what ideas are inside it.

But let me dream, goddamn it.

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12 thoughts on “Delicious Disunion

  1. My guess is that they are also advocating for a common currency. If so, the authors need not visit ancient Greece. They can look at Europe as it is today for what a currency union without a political union looks like in practice. It’s not pretty.

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  2. The authors agree on the unacceptability of top-down government as practiced in this country: having 435 House members, 100 senators, nine Supreme Court justices, and one president rule more than 300 million people in one-size-fits-all fashion. The authors share the belief, dating back to ancient Greece, that, to be genuinely self-governing, republics must be small in population and territory, i.e., wholly unlike America.

    It shouldn’t surprise that of the countries on Transparency International’s list, the least corrupt have at least three of these four traits:
    (1) Geographically small
    (2) Sparse population
    (3) Democratic government
    (4) A predominantly secular populace
    The Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Denmark) are examples of countries with all the positive traits. Canada (1) and Japan (2) are countries lacking one trait. Noticeably, there are no countries among the least corrupt which are autocratic and/or religious.
    The most corrupt countries have the reverse of the traits:
    (1) Geographically large
    (2) Dense population (in all or at least part of the country)
    (3) Dictatorship or other autocratic government
    (4) A predominantly religious populace
    Russia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan are examples of countries with all the negative traits. China (4), Bangladesh (1), and Mexico (3) are countries lacking one trait.
    http://www.transparency.org/cpi2012/results
    The bottom line is, if you want a free country, it must be easy for individuals to be heard and affect things (democracy and not being drowned out), and hard for corrupt people to hide (behind numbers or in isolation).
    The US probably would be better off separating into (two or three) countries. Most states stay in the “American Republic” while “jesusland” gets Kansas and everything east and south of it. Those in states like the Dakotas or Utah who want theocracy can move south (at their own expense) and sane people can move north (with financial help). Then split the debt and military evenly (but the AR gets all the nuclear weapons, we can’t risk that). Within ten years, jesusland will be a third world country and begging for reunion – but only on the AR’s terms.

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  3. If you split the USA then the red federation(s) would get a pro-rata share of the nukes. And someone like Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney would have their finger on the button.
    Still keen?
    Although if it were a bunch of smaller states, then maybe people would start noticing that stuff like education helps the economy. Maybe. Given how some people refuse to notice the obvious result of ignorance-only sex education, I’m not too hopeful.

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  4. American government has grown too large and too centralized
    An absurd argument.
    The U.S. government has always had this configuration and it works just fine. What is different now is the success of the fascist axis of the Republican right, big money, corporations, and all the Tea party morons who think deepities like “American government has grown too large and too centralized” actually make sense.
    I would love to give all these fascists their own country, just to to be able to not hear their complaining anymore.. Let ’em have the South again. Everything below the Mason-Dixon line for the Republicans, everything above for the Democrats. The government (or, the ‘gubmenn’ if you are headed to Georgia) could use their communist computers to facilitate the flow of citizens from North and South. Residential homes could be matched – families would simply move in to an equivalent structure; jobs switched. It would go swimmingly.
    And then, we could put up that wall the right-wing eejits have always wanted along the Mexican border, except now it would keep contained all the Tea Partyers, who eventually are going to realize that when they don’t pay taxes IN to the system, they don’t get to take Medicare, Medicaid food stamps, etc OUT of the system.
    Build that wall tall, build it strong. Let ’em enjoy their small, decentralized, low-taxation gubmenn with no environmental protection, no OSHA, no unions, no flouridated water; a land free, patriotic and pure with no gubmenn handouts for the poor, no worries about social justice, global warming, evolution, and most importantly, no fracking worries about the proper role of centralized government to protect the common good, except, of course, for the 1.2 trillion they are gonna have to fork out every year to keep their Pentagon happy.
    Meanwhile, north of the new border – imagine what we might be able to accomplish with a government redesigned without corporate corruption, dedicated to the reasonable solutions of short- as well as long-term problems. Sign me up.

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  5. Except, of course, that your new American Republic (as Canada does now) has to live next to the people who insist on polluting without restriction.
    I hope your walls go very high indeed, to keep your air safe from their pollution; that they run far into the ocean, to keep their pollution from washing north along your coasts with the Gulf Stream; that they run deep, for their fracking’s earthquakes not to break your cities’ backs.
    We can’t wall off our problems anymore. We have to confront them, because the world has become a very, very small place in a very, very large and uncaring universe.

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  6. As a lifelong progressive from a Deep South state, fuck that noise. I shudder to think of what my home would have been like without Federal intervention. Plus, your plan would abandon many vulnerable populations. The people least able to flee would suffer most.
    Lest we forget, the best case scenario here is that most people who are burdened with evil government manage to discard their homes and lives, so that that the fucked-up Northeast can wash its hands of its even-more-fucked-up siblings.

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  7. What’s to stop any of the smaller states from going to war with each other? With climate change causing mega droughts in the South, competition for resources could lead to wars. It would be nice to not worry about the Red States, but, to paraphrase Lincoln, a house divided cannot stand.

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  8. Yeah, no, this would only manage to throw vulnerable people to the wolves. The world has enough theocracies without us creating new ones.

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  9. @leftover1under: did Transparency International consider ethnic homogeneity or lack thereof as a trait that potentially affects internal division?

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  10. Comment submitted:Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and predict an outcome of war. The power structure in the rump nations, particularly the south, has need of an enemy to keep their populations under control and pointed in the right direction, i.e. at someone else. This is more or less the kind of thing the south has been doing for 150 years already. Failure will just make them go further right. It’d be like North and South Korea, which would suit the overlords perfectly fine.

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  11. Yeah, smaller is better for government, but bigger is better for economics. I mean, if the north had lost the Civil War and the South ended up with everything from Texas through California, I’m sure that today the North would have benefitted greatly from not having all those southern representatives and senators, and might have a progressive society today much like a European country. But would we be better off economically? I doubt it.

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  12. I mean, if the north had lost the Civil War and the South ended up with everything from Texas through California, I’m sure that today the North would have benefitted greatly from not having all those southern representatives and senators, and might have a progressive society today much like a European country.

    California?
    We were a Free State. Loyalties were divided in Civil War California, it’s true, but today, 1 out of 8 Americans is a Californian. And we’re a reliably Blue state.

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