Should the United States be broken up?

I’ve noted that an implicit motivation for promoting mass third-world immigration is divide et impera: as Federalist 10 makes clear, the more people, and the more diverse they are, the higher the position of those on top and the less likely those down below will be able to get together and cause problems for their rulers. It’s a trap: mass immigration makes the American governing classes increasingly independent of those they rule, so they become ever more able to impose policies like mass immigration that benefit them but not their subjects. (Here’s an account by a former aide to Vincente Fox of the political benefits of mass immigration for governing elites; here’s another of recent research findings confirming that diversity dissolves popular solidarity.)

So how can we escape from the trap? The short answer may be that we can’t. Still, you have to start somewhere, if only with speculations as to what a solution might look like. It seems clear that the growing gap between the people and the political order that rules them can’t be reduced without some sort of radical devolution, so why not talk about the most radical devolution possible, breaking up the United States into several independent federations? Here are some thoughts on the point:

  • It seems clear that the tendency of American government under the Constitution is toward centralization, and toward the recreation of America as one integrated nation. A centralized nation-state of 300 million covering most of the habitable part of an entire continent is however absurd. A nation-state requires bonds of common history, loyalty, sentiment and presumed destiny to a degree that can’t exist on such a scale. So what we get is a huge empire with an oppressive tendency to demand a degree of integration that might suit a single coherent nation.
  • Since inherited and customary connections aren’t enough to hold the country together, America has made up for the insufficiency by transforming itself into a religion. A political religion is not, however, a good thing. Caesar is not Christ, and even if vox populi were vox Dei the American political order is not the voice of the people. A big advantage of breaking up the United States would be that none of the sucessor states could pass itself off as a universal nation, the compulsory model for the whole world, or establish itself as a religion. That would likely make politics more sensible.
  • Breaking up the United States would make it possible to put the American political order more in line with original understandings. Republican institutions would make more sense on a smaller scale, and something a bit like Jefferson’s “Empire of Liberty” might become possible. A federal union of 50 states does not make much sense, since there’s such a disproportion between the size and power of the union and of its constituent members. Several federations with fewer members might make federalism more workable.
  • Decentralization has cultural as well as political benefits. As it is, the intelligent and ambitious seem to concentrate in a few major centers and devote themselves to climbing an immensely high pyramid. That tendency deprives intellectual life of depth, breadth and diversity and starves most of the country of leadership. If there were more and smaller major centers and they were scattered more over the whole continent things might improve.
  • I suppose the strongest objection to breaking up the United States has to do with war and peace. As things are, we overmatch everybody else, and that makes us safer. Still, something like NATO should be possible among smaller units, and for all the wonders of technology the Old World remains a long way away. And in any event, great power creates its own dangers. It was the extreme power of America that got us into Vietnam and Iraq, and that brought on 9/11.

7 thoughts on “Should the United States be broken up?”

  1. You’re starting to sound
    You’re starting to sound like the paleocons. Only you’re less grumpy 🙂

    Interesting. You use the phrase “implict motivation.” In your opinion, how conscious is the ruling class of divide et impera? It seems to me that it’s serendipitous. They set out to do this because they’re liberals not because they are conquerors. The independence of the ruling class from their subjects is just gravy.

    • I don’t think it’s conscious
      It’s standard though for people to look at patterns and find that they’re drawn to some and repulsed by others for reasons they never examine closely. If you’re in the government biz it’s not nice to think about a population dominated by a large group of people who think they own the place, have their own way of going about things, and might overmatch you. They aren’t as rational as you are, and they might do some damage. It’s much nicer to think of a population divided into lots of different sorts of people who can’t really pull it together overall without you to tell them what’s what. How does the diverse multicultural society fit into that opposition? It’s not necessary to say divide et impera to prefer the latter to the former, but the motive is nonetheless there.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

  2. Strongest objection
    Wouldn’t the strongest objection be tariffs and other impediments to cross-country trade? The laws and rules of trade would eventually diverge amongst the regions, and instead of having one ocean to ocean marketplace, we’d have several, which would cost more; maybe not much per item, but something.

    Meanwhile, as for war and peace, that might be one of the best reasons for breaking up. As you allude, being so overpowering, overmatching everyone else, presents a temptation to us to throw our weight around, and a temptation to others to challenge us. If we were a loose confederacy, we’d probably have a lower international profile; it would be more difficult for us to get together on actions like Vietnam or Iraq II (at the least there’d have to be four or five presidents overriding their respective constitutions to take us into an undeclared war as opposed to just one), and we’d be a more diffuse target.

    On the other hand, we’d probably have to pay more for the oil and see centralized emerging powers like China and Russia, and maybe even India, start to move in some of our privileges.

  3. Something we need to guard against
    Mr. Kalb, I agree that your points sound very logical and I hope things would turn out the way you suggest if we broke up the country.

    I would actually be primarily worried about the breakup not having the intended effect, or actually in some ways having a perverse effect. What I worry is that it does not address the problem of having a rootless governing class that is willing to undermine its country to suit its interests. At a minimum, a segment of the governing class would certainly continue to operate in much the same way in each of the separate states, quickly insisting on re-importing cheap nonwhite workers into those substates that had ended up with fewer of them and thus reintroducing the diversity problem. In a worst-case scenario, I can see it actually undermining the power of the opposition to the governing class, since that opposition would now be divided among several states, and thus accelerating the globalized governing class’s march toward a highly undemocratic de facto world government. What little cooperation there now is among rooted white Montanans, rooted black Louisianans, and rooted Hispanic Arizonans, would break down completely, while members of the governing class would continue to work together across borders. The governing class would do its best to ignore the borders that exist and construct stronger international institutions (such as the proposed North American Union) that transfer government farther from ordinary people and insulate it from accountability. The smaller substates might be all the more easily bought off by multinational corporations, which would demand huge concessions in return for “providing jobs”, just the way that many corporations today get states and localities to make them exempt from taxes so that they will move operations to a particular state or town.

    In the absence of a strong international anti-globalist movement, we have to be wary of actions that might make it possible for a unified, globalistic elite to escape the regulatory powers of states, and thus run roughshod over the states that still exist. We might have something like a re-feudalized world, where most people are forced to accept a modern form of serfdom to powers that are hardly answerable to any higher authority. In this nightmare scenario, the new North American substates would be forbidden, by force of private armies unattached to any state, to protect their own markets with tariffs, regulate population flows, or anything else that states are rightfully supposed to be able to do. Neoliberals’ hope of rendering nationalism completely obsolete would have been terrifyingly realized.

    My question for everyone, then, would be: What could we do to prevent a scenario where the governing class creates antidemocratic institutions that are outside the control of any state, and therefore rules the world all the more effectively against the will of regular folks?

    John Savage

    • Comparison to the EU
      Mr. Kalb, I’d also like to suggest, after just reading your piece, “What is the EU?”, that it might support what I was saying. European elites might be having success with their stealth campaign to emasculate European nations, while pretending there is no single European “state” until they have completed their campaign of “rationalizing” Europe. Discarding the American federal state might allow the governing class to create an alternative apparatus that is completely impervious to any kind of popular control. It would be an institution that aims at reuniting America (probably with Mexico and Canada) under a “rational”, almost totalitarian regime, while always disguising that intent. As you write, in the EU, “the function of nation states is to be that of churches in communist countries, a controlled way of accommodating tendencies that the authorities have not yet succeeded in eradicating.” The substates would not have to be eliminated by the aspiring totalitarian superstate, only subjected to absolute control over important matters. Euroskeptics are struggling to stand up against the EU now, despite much clearer concepts of national identity than we would have in newly created American fragment-states. Thus I’m afraid the smaller substates would lack what it takes to stand up against a centralizing conspiracy of their elites. Does anyone else envision this kind of path to Brave New World?

      John Savage


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