A piece in The Economist argues that despite popular fatigue with our country’s countless foreign entanglements, Americans ought to appreciate those entanglements, which enable us to maintain our world primacy, and therefore our ability to enormously influence the workings of the world to our advantage.
I am sympathetic to this position. I take solace that it is currently we who are calling many of the global shots and not some other superstates, on the ascent as they may be.
But when I think this way, when I’m expressing a preference for the primacy of American values around the world, I admit, I’m not thinking about a great deal of what makes up America. I’m not thinking about Texas or Florida or Louisiana. I’m thinking about myversion of American values; progressive, with a strong emphasis on human rights. I’m thinking about “Blue America.”
So this gets tricky for me. Here’s one of the qualities the author of the Economist piece in question notes as a key factor in our
First is geography. Being self-contained makes America secure, whereas all other great powers have had to defend themselves against their neighbours. Even Britain at the height of empire in the 19th century was repeatedly distracted by the need to stop any one country dominating continental Europe. By contrast, America has friends to the north and south and fish to the east and west. Europeans warily eyeing nearby Russia, or Asians fearful of China, can ask Americans for help, safe in the knowledge that they have a home to go back to on the other side of the world.
This is very Germs-Guns-and-Steel-esque, ascribing geopolitical destiny in large part to geography, both in terms of location and land shape. And it makes perfect sense.
But here’s the thing. I have suggested, rather earnestly, that the United States would be far better off if it were not so damned united anymore. Rather, I’ve preferred the idea of smaller North American nations that better suit the increasingly-disparate ideologies of the various regions. So, for example, you’d have New England as one country, Texas as its own nation, etcetera, all trading and cooperating, but no longer bound by the same central power, and therefore able to get more done without haggling with polities with few shared interests.
If I got my way, though, there go the fruits of geography. Poor, naive New England or the tiny-yet-dense nation of New Amsterdam (which is what I’m now calling the nation-state of New York City) would be suddenly vulnerable to the potential aggressions of The Old South or what have you. Far-right representatives now commonly sent to Washington have already shown themselves to be more than happy to destabilize the global economy on a whim, and they tend to hail from those gun and machismo-worshipping regions that might be more inclined to threaten their neighbors. Given the power of an independent nation with a military of its own, who’s to say they wouldn’t behave just as irrationally and dangerously?
So not only is a unified, centrally-governed United States good for geopolitics, but it may also be the only thing standing between a secure New England and an army of ornery Texans marching on Boston. I’m probably exaggerating the potential for all-out armed conflict, but it does throw a wrench in my fantasy.