The next in a continuing series (most recently: Democracy and Its Contradictions).
Submitted by Free Radical
The Transition to a Free Society
The monster states created by modernity are not necessary for economic or political freedom or for the flourishing of culture; taking their history as a whole, they are responsible for spectacular losses of both. – Donald Livingston, “Dismantling Leviathan”i
The first, most fundamental, and most necessary step in the transition to a free society is the demise of the modern “monster state.” And the first, most fundamental, and most necessary step in this process is the demise of the monstrous American state, its erstwhile role as a beacon to the world having long ago given way to a superpower that brings not light but heat, pulling a shroud over its own people in the process. The monster will object that it only wants to keep its people warm and safe, of course, but as people elsewhere start kicking their shrouds off, it is increasingly clear that the status – as in statist – quo is changing and that neither suffocating domestic policies nor incendiary foreign ones will be tolerated much longer.
It is increasingly clear, moreover, that the American welfare-warfare state is on its last legs and that its use of the present crisis to extend its reach both at home and abroad is an act of desperation, its towering inferno of debt being inextinguishable for the simple reason that desperation is what fuels it. The United States Government isn’t fighting fire with fire, in other words; the American Empire is setting the world aflame with domestic overindulgence and foreign overextension, the difference being that it won’t merely become the latest victim of “imperial overstretch”; instead, it will become the last victim, its collapse igniting a worldwide devolution of power the likes of which the world has never known. For while it might be assumed that Russia or China will rush in to fill the resulting power vacuum, it is far more likely that the collapse of the American Empire will precipitate a worldwide devolution revolution that no state – least of all the “monster states” – will be able to withstand, as emboldened bodies politic and sympathetic international spectators frustrate central government efforts to suppress secessionist uprisings.
Granted, what is going on in Egypt and elsewhere has nothing to do with secession, as it involves regime change, not regime collapse. And granted, the temperament of the American people remains such that secession is something that was attempted in the past but for which the subject is now all but closed. However, as their central government moves ever closer to defaulting on its welfare obligations – both selectively (through raising the retirement age, means testing, and the like) and monetarily (through debasing the currency) – it will become clear to the American people that far from securing the blessings of liberty, what has instead been secured – for themselves and their posterity – is the curse of tyranny, the only alternative to which is a return to the principle upon which their nation was founded.
No matter that their central government no longer recognizes this principle, the fact is that is no law against – i.e., no Constitutional prohibition of – secession. On the contrary,
The procedure for joining the Union also applied to withdrawing from the Union. And the Tenth Amendment, which reserved to the states powers not delegated to the federal government, would seem to put the matter of secession with the states and the people.ii
So, too, would the fact that the delegations of three states, in ratifying the Constitution, specifically reserved not only each state’s right to withdraw from the Union but the people’s right to do so. For example,
The People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whosoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression …
Clearly, then, not only the state of Virginia but any number of it or any other state’s citizens can legally secede from the Union. But as the United States Supreme Court, however groundlessly, would no doubt rule against them were they to attempt to do so, let us dispense with the U.S. Government’s law altogether and appeal instead to the fact that one has no obligation to obey an immoral law but, on the contrary, a duty to break it. And let us imagine that the lawbreaking manifests itself in the form of a nonviolent protest, such that an initial fraction puts the “injury and oppression” of the American state to the test by standing up in defense of the right of self-determination and declaring its freedom accordingly. Moreover, let us do so by recalling the spectacle of a lone man confronting the armored emblem of the state in the capital city of a communist dictatorship. Glued to its television sets, the world watched in horror and fascination as the brave young man stood his ground while the mechanized monster tried in vain to outmaneuver him, the question being why it tried to outmaneuver him at all. That is, why didn’t the monster simply stay its course, the better for its monstrous master to leave no question as to who controlled whom?
The answer, of course, is that the whole world was watching. And given that the Chinese government remains humiliated to this day by this otherwise minor (if tremendously heroic) incident, one can only imagine the condemnation that the U.S. Government would suffer if faced with something similar. Imagine the spectacle, say, of a few thousand secessionists gathered in the same nonviolent civil disobedience that Gandhi, following Thoreau, used to liquefy the British Empire, to say nothing of the media onslaught that brought down the monstrous Mubarak regime in a matter of days. That is, imagine U.S. Government troops rolling in and dragging off American citizens, each clutching a copy of the Declaration of Independence, with cable news, Google, Facebook, and Twitter providing real-time worldwide coverage. Can one possibly believe that in light of such a blatant act of hypocrisy the American state could weather the resultant loss of whatever moral authority it still pretended to have? From his command post in the bowels of the White House, what would the president say to the nation and the world? What could he say? “We have no choice but to use military force against this unwarranted attack on America”? “We must once again preserve the Union at the expense of the principle upon which it was founded”? “If we in Washington allow these people the right of self-determination, we will soon find ourselves unemployed and having to survive, like you, on the economic means”?
The answer, of course is no, the American state could not weather such hypocrisy, to which we must add that the U.S. has a long history of secessionist movements, not to mention that one of the 20th century’s most prominent American diplomats decried the nation’s excessive size and the attendant loss of intimacy between the people and their government, stating flatly that the United States had long ago become ungovernable democratically and proposing that it be broken up into nine regional and three urban republics.iii Which is to say that both American history and the stark reality of the modern monster state speak to what must be done before the United States Government wreaks more havoc than either its own people of those of the rest of the world can withstand.
And while the aftermath of the U.S. Government’s collapse will obviously be a tumultuous time, comfort can be taken in the fact that what began as a loose federation of independent states can return to that independence with much less socioeconomic turmoil than that which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the American states – though victimized themselves by needless government intervention and fiscal irresponsibility – are nonetheless far more able to govern than their Soviet counterparts were. Thus, as order returns within and among the states, the devolution of power will be able to continue such that, in Tennyson’s words, Freedom slowly broadens down / From precedent to precedent, and genuinely free societies begin at long last to emerge.
So to that emergence we turn in my next submission: “The Governance of a Free Society.”
i Harper’s magazine, May, 2002.
ii Charles Adams, When In the Course of Human Events, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, Chapter 12, “The Trial of the Century that Never Was,” p. 181.
iii George F. Kennan, Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy, W.W. Norton and Company, 1993, Chapter 7.