The Wall Street Journal has published an article about the potential devolution of the United States. Surprisingly, it is respectful, even somewhat favorable to the idea.
Paul Starobin writes, "Picture an America that is run not, as now, by a top-heavy Washington autocracy but, in freewheeling style, by an assemblage of largely autonomous regional republics reflecting the eclectic economic and cultural character of the society."
For such a thought to be permitted to draw breath in the WSJ, you've got to believe devolution is entering the mainstream, or at least several tributaries of the mainstream. And it is. Individual states passing resolutions declaring their sovereignty -- legally inconsequential, but symbolically important -- is as trendy as twittering.
Searching on Google for solid information about how many states have such urges is frustrating. The big legacy media, true to their calling ("if we decide you should know, we'll tell you"), seem disinclined to recognize the secessionist cause. And I'm not willing to take the word of just any blog for it.
MarketWatch, also part of the WSJ network, says that nine states have declared their sovereignty. They are Washington, New Hampshire, Arizona, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, California -- California! -- and Georgia. Its story adds that "possibly" Colorado, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Montana, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Alaska, Kansas, Alabama, Nevada, Maine, Illinois will follow.
The relationship between the states and the federal government has been controversial throughout our history. The struggle to devise a Constitution, and the first few election campaigns, were fraught with disagreement between the federalists and the anti-federalists. School textbooks claim the Civil War settled the issue forever. Wrong. It settled the issue for its time through brute military force, but the ideal of a country where power was divided among a central government, states, and localities has never died, for the simple reason that it is one of the finest political ideas of all time -- a brilliant stroke against potential tyranny.
In his WSJ article, Starobin says:
Devolved America is a vision faithful both to certain postindustrial realities as well as to the pluralistic heart of the American political tradition—a tradition that has been betrayed by the creeping centralization of power in Washington over the decades but may yet reassert itself as an animating spirit for the future. Consider this proposition: America of the 21st century, propelled by currents of modernity that tend to favor the little over the big, may trace a long circle back to the original small-government ideas of the American experiment. The present-day American Goliath may turn out to be a freak of a waning age of politics and economics as conducted on a super-sized scale—too large to make any rational sense in an emerging age of personal empowerment that harks back to the era of the yeoman farmer of America’s early days. The society may find blessed new life, as paradoxical as this may sound, in a return to a smaller form.If truth were temporarily in fashion, we would admit that there is no longer a "United States," and hasn't been for 40 years. That's approximately how long the "country" has been deeply split along ideological lines.
I have no wish at the moment to argue for one side or the other. The present point is that with such a wide gulf between sectors of the citizenry, Congress has been increasingly paralyzed. If not for other factors, I'd say that's a good thing on the whole: self-serving as they are, our representatives (to use the quaint old term) have such a dismal record of serving the public weal that for them to do nothing instead of something is usually a blessing.
But a power vacuum never lasts long. The federal legislative branch's dysfunction has allowed its powers to be usurped, de facto, by the executive (presidential) and judicial (federal court) branches of government. Presidents now feel not a twitch of hesitation in sending American armed forces off to fight without a congressional declaration of war (Afghanistan and Iraq are only the most recent manifestations of this constitutionally abhorrent practice, which goes back at least to Harry Truman and the Korean war). The federal courts have the ultimate trump card in their (also unconstitutional) assumed power to declare the will of the people (or of their state legislative or Congressional avatars, anyway) unconstitutional because they don't agree with it. There is no appeal. Look up the definition of "oligarchy."
I'm not entirely on-board with Starobin, who seems to see the secession question through the usual WSJ lens of economics and pro-immigrationism:
California? America’s broke, ill-governed and way-too-big nation-like state might be saved, truly saved, not by an emergency federal bailout, but by a merciful carve-up into a trio of republics that would rely on their own ingenuity in making their connections to the wider world. And while we’re at it, let’s make this project bi-national—economic logic suggests a natural multilingual combination between Greater San Diego and Mexico’s Northern Baja, and, to the Pacific north, between Seattle and Vancouver in a megaregion already dubbed “Cascadia” by economic cartographers.I would really hate to see any part of the present-day United States unite with utterly corrupt Mexico, dominated by criminal narcotics gangs. Or Canada, while our northern neighbor is in its current cultural Marxist dreamland. Still, part of the rationale for devolution is that local wishes should have far more scope than they do now, which is virtually zero. California has already in essence agreed, with the encouragement of the federal government, to become an annex of Mexico. To me it's an insane choice, but I'll accept it if California and similar bi-coastal states no longer have the power to enforce their ideology on states that reject it.
Obviously there are many practical problems that would attend secession of one or more areas. The causes for our national divided house are no longer mainly geographic. In a devolution, some people would have to move if they wanted to be where they would feel most comfortable, and some because of lack of means, age, health, or other reasons would be unable to. But many people of "blue" leanings find themselves in "red" regions and vice versa now. Naturally, it is to be hoped that each of the ex-U.S. regions would provide full civil rights including freedom of speech and the press for all its political minorities.
There are no perfect solutions to most problems, especially political ones. I cannot see that secession would create any more tension than there is now. To prevent it, the Washington Leviathan will have to tighten the screws on local government and individual liberty continually. More than anything, secession is the best opportunity to stop the insatiable appetite for growth of a federal government that is becoming an ultimate, unaccountable power over every aspect of our lives.
We should be working out the constitutional rules for peaceful, legal seccession now. Or we can risk having to deal with the wish of large and apparently growing numbers of Americans to leave the union the way we dealt with it in 1861-1865.