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.
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.