To Each Their Own
“The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” Tacitus
It is estimated that the Federal Government has created so many laws against crimes without victims that the average American can’t avoid at least three felonies or misdemeanors each day. There is a method to this madness and it is not to preserve and protect the liberties we cherish. It is in fact the means to subjugate the people and a cause of the polarization that infests us.
Back in April of last year I wrote a post titled “The Balkanization of America”. Since that time I have come to realize that the polarization I spoke of then, and feared would cause the fragmentation of this country, has reached a critical point. The issue now is not only how that process can be reversed, but what to do if it can’t with the inevitable choice between a violent or non-violent resolution.
What did the Founders intended regarding the issue of secession? As noted in the prior post referenced above, the constitution is silent on secession; this was not an oversight, but intentional. Madison et al made clear that the union was intended as a voluntary institution; as the principal author Madison records that there were proposals during the constitutional convention for a prohibition against secession that were rejected as contrary to the principles for which the Revolution was fought. The colonies had chosen to secede from the British common wealth, a treasonous crime against the king punishable by death; therefore they could not then compel a state to remain in the union against the wishes of its people. They also noted that the 1783 Treaty of Paris declared the thirteen colonies to be free, sovereign and independent states, each of whom signed the treaty.
While secession is often cited as the cause of the bloodiest war in American history, that is not so. The Civil War was ultimately about slavery. However, it is a fact that Lincoln was determined to preserve the union at all costs, and often stated that he would tolerate slavery in order to do so. Most of the North, even the abolitionist, did not support going to war over secession. So was there an alternative resolution to the death of 620,000 Americans? We may never know the answer to that as that option became moot. The Confederacy was formed February 4, 1861 among states that actually declared independence the prior year. During the time from the secessions until war started efforts were made to avoid it. However, if you declare being a sovereign state, and attack another sovereign state, then you have committed an act of war as the attack by the Confederacy on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 made war inevitable.
There are those that argue that the omission of such a constitutional prohibition does not necessarily constitute an accommodation for secession; that fails logically given the simple fact that compulsion to remain in the union is not an enumerated power. This fact was not lost on those in Congress who proposed constitutional amendments to prohibit secession; apparently Congress was aware that there was nothing unconstitutional about secession, otherwise they would not have proposed such amendments to begin with.
How does this history relate to our current dilemma? The late Walter Williams wrote “Now is not the time to pine for the days of agreeable politics. In recent decades, the US has gone through radical political and cultural transformations that are making the country progressively ungovernable. Any kind of national election from here on out will be viewed as illegitimate by the losing side due to the perceived high stakes of these affairs. No longer do America’s partisan coalitions treat each other as respectable competitors, but rather as existential threats that must be vanquished at the ballot box. As America’s social fabric continues withering and polarization intensifies, it’s only a matter of time before this kind of tension turns violent.”
Williams’ statement was proved prescient given the riots in the spring and summer of 2020, the 2020 presidential election and the January 6th riot at the Capital. While looting and arson are not part of a peaceful protest, neither is murder a part of making an arrest. Those events were not the underlying causes for polarization as is so often the case in history, just the matches that lite the fuse.
To reverse this dangerous process of polarization we need to decentralize power, the disease behind the symptom of polarization. No matter how those in power try to spin their various ideologies, when power is concentrated at one source, you create the means to alienate more people. As Justin Amash put it “Centralization multiplies the costs of human errors.” He went on to say, at the time he was forced to leave the Republican Party because he believed Trump committed impeachable offenses, that “No matter your circumstance, I’m asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us. The two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions.”
The constitution addresses this very concern of centralized power by specifically stating that the Federal government is limited to those powers as enumerated, all other powers being delegated to the people, i.e. the states. Unfortunately, that is not the way things have gone; as the French delegate to the US, Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1831, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” That day came in 1913 when the 16th Amendment was ratified; since then, Congress has had the means to do just that.
Politicians have always made outlandish promises to the electorate, but having the money to deliver on those promises became a powerful and dangerous tool; who can resist the promise of free healthcare, free education, free internet, free rent…essentially a welfare state. Those who understand that “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” see through such obvious shams as ultimately someone pays, and in this case, it’s the American tax payer, the “public” in Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation.
This creates resentment among those who pay of those who promote such ideas, and those who benefit from them. Politicians realize this, and so need to provide cover for such larcenous behavior; the most effective ways are to promote their ideas culturally, and enforce them legislatively. As Thomas Sowell observed, “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” However, when such methods are seen for what they are, that incites more resentment to the imposition of culture, laws and attitudes dictated from above; the “above” is the Federal Government, and the imposition comes from the politically elite.
The resulting social and political dynamic is polarization. There have been about a dozen movements for secession, ranging geographically from Vermont to Hawaii; the impetus for such movements is cultural, social, political and economic, and the advent of social media creates a chimeric growth with an even more alienating result. Add to this the efforts by politicians to censor those that object to the imposition of their cultural and social agenda and you have a threat to the very foundations of liberty so essential to a free society. Clearly in politics today hypocrisy has become a bona fide occupational qualification.
The reason to understand where the constitution stands on secession is not to promote the idea, but to consider it as the ultimate recourse to avoid violence. Following the 2016 presidential election, the people of California proposed secession and with the 2020 election, the people of Texas and some other states did the same. At some point such threats will become reality; we can then resort to violence to preserve a union no longer viable, or we take advantage of our own constitution to avoid that and provide for a non-violent resolution.