Monday, July 5, 2010

What if America fragmented?

It could be a good thing.

At least one newspaper, interestingly, The Arizona Republic, is open enough to secession to publish an opinion piece favorably speculating on what such an America would be like. This piece by Paul Starobin, staff correspondent for the National Journal and contributing editor to The Atlantic, offers some interesting insights on how secessionism could play out in the United States in the near 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 supersize 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.

Mr. Starobin speculates on how splitting California into not one, but three, independent republics (one of which merges with Baja California Norte in Mexico) could help resolve the state's fiscal problem. Naturally, he also refers to the immigration crisis in Arizona as a spur to that state's independence or to a regional federation that would include Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. He imagineers independent city-states, a concept Singapore proves to be workable. He cites Las Vegas and Greater Miami as possible examples. I would also favor an independent city-state in Chicago. Such an entity might enable Ohio and the old Northwest Territory to form a regional federation (the "Confederation of the Great Lakes"?)* based on mutual interests that are very different from those of the Windy City.
Even for the hard-edged secessionist crowd, with their rapt attentiveness to America's roots, popular texts in the future-trend genre mingle in their minds with the yellowed scrolls of the anti-federalists.


Mr. Starobin then writes about the thinking of the Anti-Federalists, concluding:
The anti-federalists lost their battle, but history, in certain respects, has redeemed their vision, for they anticipated how many Americans have come to feel about their nation's seat of federal power.

He seems to view the War between the States as an aberration. On the one hand, it was a righteous battle against slavery; on the other, it was the product of the centralizing influences of 19th century industrial society. In the 21st century, however, success will bless those societies that are the most inventive. In his view, smaller is better, citing the historical example of the city-states of the Italian Renaissance.

How to get from here to there?
Secessionists such as Texas' Miller pledge a commitment to peaceful methods. History suggests skepticism on this score: Even the American republic was born in a violent revolution. These days, Russian professor Igor Panarin, a former KGB analyst, has snagged publicity with his dystopian prediction of civil strife in a dismembered America whose jagged parts fall prey to foreign powers including Canada, Mexico and, in the case of Alaska, Russia, naturally.

Still, the precedent for any breakup of today's America is not necessarily the one set by the musket-bearing colonists' demanded departure from the British crown in the late 18th century or by the crisis-ridden dissolution of the U.S.S.R. at the end of the 20th century. Every empire, every too-big thing, fragments or shrinks according to its own unique character and to the age of history to which it belongs.

The most hopeful prospect for the U.S., should the decentralization impulse prove irresistible, is for Americans to draw on their natural inventiveness and democratic tradition by patenting a formula for getting the job done in a gradual and cooperative way.

And America isn't alone. The United Kingdom is beginning to split as Scotland works its way toward regaining its independence. Spain has been wrestling with independence movements in the Basque region and Catalonia. There is talk in India of splitting into approximately ten nations; and even China may not be exempt from the trend, once the aging Communist leadership dies off.

So, why not America as the global leader of a devolution? America's return to its origins - to its type - could turn out to be an act of creative political destruction, with "we the people" the better for it.
Why not, indeed? With Arizona leading the way...

* While I have toyed with this idea, I have reservations about it. The five states of the old Northwest Territory (excluding Minnesota and the city of Chicago) have a population of nearly 40 million, which is still too large for government on a human scale. Such a confederate government would have to be designed to be extremely weak. Experience with the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution shows just how difficult this is!

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