Decentralization For Freedom, by Dr. Donald Livingston

August 29, 2009

For the first time in 144 years State interposition (Madison) and State nullification and secession (Jefferson) have entered public discourse as remedies to usurpations by the central government of rights reserved to the sovereign people of the States by the Constitution. Since Americans are not in the habit of exercising these policy options, it is worthwhile to ask just what State legislators and governors can do to protect their citizens from usurpations by the central government.

First, they can begin by passing resolutions (as a number have done), declaring in no uncertain terms that all powers not delegated to the central government nor prohibited to the States by the Constitution are reserved by them; and that the States themselves have the authority to judge what is reserved and what is delegated–Supreme Court case law notwithstanding.

To deny this is to say that the central government can define the limits of its own power which flatly contradicts the Constitution’s language of State delegated and reserved powers.

Second, the States can insist that an office be set up in Congress to receive and respond to these resolutions. Resolutions are words.

They cost little to produce, but words have power. As the Scottish philosopher David Hume observed, political authority is based primarily on opinion not force. It is not merely iron bars that confine you to prison, it is also the guard’s opinion not to let you out. If you could change his mind, the bars could not restrain you.

A continuous flood of resolutions from the States about the constitutionality of this or that issue (and widely publicized), would serve to educate the public (and their rulers) about constitutional limits and alter the mind-set of politics in a decentralist direction.

Further, State legislators and governors should revive, where appropriate, the Jeffersonian discourse of State interposition, nullification, and secession as policy options. To deny this is to say that an American State is not a genuine political society at all, but a mere aggregate of individuals under control of a central government that alone can define the limits of its powers.

To hear such discourse in public speech can strengthen civic virtue and revive the long slumbering disposition of self-government that has been suppressed by a century of runaway centralization.

Lincoln understood the power of words, and advanced the cause of centralization by refusing to describe the States as sovereign political societies. He described them as mere counties authorized by central authority. He asked incredulously: “What is this particular sacredness of a State? If a State, in one instance, and a county in another should be equal in extent of territory, and equal in number of people, wherein is that State any better than a county?”

Lincoln was not describing the federative America that Jefferson and Madison founded, but an imagined and wished for centralized, unitary American state. It is time that the Lincolnian inversion of political discourse be inverted.

Third, In addition to changing the terms of discourse, State legislators and governors should engage in 10th amendment acts of recovering usurped authority. The least controversial of these acts would be simply to not accept federal money for projects that are judged unconstitutional, such as federal involvement in education. Refuse the money, and begin restoring state and local control over education or whatever the issue might be.

Fourth, in order to restore usurped constitutional authority, a State must be prepared, at some point, to resist federal intrusion. There is a long history of States doing just that. Georgia nullified the Supreme Court’s ruling in Chisholm vs. Georgia (1793); New England States nullified fugitive slave laws; and earlier New England townships nullified Jefferson’s embargo and the war of 1812 declared under Madison’s administration. Jefferson said “he felt the foundations of the government shaken under my feet by the New England townships.” Wisconsin was nullifying what it declared to be usurpations by the Supreme Court into the 1850s. There was a time when the States kept the central government under control.

Can this be done today? Before it is attempted a clarification is necessary. We must understand that any such constitutional challenge is a political one based on the States’ sovereign authority and not a matter justiciable by the courts. Genuine federalism in America can be recovered only by political action in the name of the State’s own authority and not by Supreme Court legalism.

Indeed, legalism only affirms that the Court has the final say over what powers the States have. When States interposed to block the Supreme Court’s orders to desegregate public schools in the South on the ground that such orders were unconstitutional, the move failed but only because racial segregation was not a popular issue.

Many scholars then and now thought that Brown v. Board of Education was bad constitutional law, i.e., that the court had abandoned its proper role of policing the Constitution in favor of social engineering. Most, however, approved of the engineering, and paid little regard to the constitutional cost.

But the process can be reversed. States can recover usurped authority by carefully choosing the right issue, at the right time, in the right circumstances, and for the right reasons. Such an act, of course, would require considerable political prudence and skill, and should not be attempted without a reasonable chance of support from public opinion. In such an act of lawful and constitutional resistance, the State would be answerable only to her other sister states. The action might spark a constitutional amendment as happened when Georgia nullified the Supreme Court’s ruling in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) that an individual could sue a state in federal court without the State’s permission.

The States agreed with Georgia’s nullification and promptly passed the 11th amendment that prohibited such suits. That is how American federalism was supposed to work. The three branches of the central government would check each other, but it would be up to the sovereign States to keep the central government itself in check. The Constitution was to be enforced through political action of the States not by the legalism of nine unelected Supreme Court justices.

Another outcome might be a political settlement that would allow a State, or a number of States, to opt out of a class of federal acts judged to be unconstitutional or fundamentally repugnant. Other federal systems allow this possibility. For instance, the Canadian Constitution has institutionalized federal nullification. Any Province can nullify acts of the central government in the area of civil rights within its own borders, even though other Provinces may enforce the act in theirs.

The States can also try to restrict unconstitutional acts of the central government through amending the Constitution, but that is virtually impossible. Two thirds of both Houses of Congress are required to pass an amendment which must then be ratified by three quarters of the States.

Since 1790, over 10,000 amendments have been proposed to Congress. Only 30 have passed the Congressional gate-keepers, and 27 have been ratified. The other path is that two thirds of the States can compel Congress to call a constitutional convention–a very high bar to meet. It is, therefore, virtually impossible to limit the central government’s power by constitutional amendment. It is worth noting that the framers of the Confederate Constitution sought to overcome this barrier to self-government in Article 1, Section 1 which enacted that if only three States concurred on a constitutional amendment, Congress would have to call a constitutional convention. And only two thirds of the States would be needed to ratify the amendment.

To all of this it is often said that State interposition, nullification, and secession were eliminated as policy options by the Civil War. Brute force, however, cannot settle moral and constitutional questions. Lincoln’s claim that the Union is older than the States; that it created the States; that a State is merely an administrative unit (like a county in a unitary state), are historical and moral claims that must stand on their own. They cannot be settled by superior firepower but only by reasons that persuade.

The problems of limiting central power in a federal system of State delegated and reserved powers, which brought forth the doctrines of State interposition, nullification, and secession as remedies, are as topical today as they were when first broached in the 1790s.

Or it will be said that, even so, too much water has gone over the dam. Institutions of the central government are so entrenched, so entangled with powerful interests, and this system has gone on for so long that people have lost any sense of civic virtue on the State and local level.

It is certainly true that the central government has intruded into nearly every aspect of life, and disentanglement will not occur overnight. But centralization in America is not as intense and debilitating as it was in the former Soviet Union, from which, nevertheless, 15 States recovered civic virtue and seceded.

Moreover, the current State sovereignty movement suggests that State and local civic virtue are not dead in America. But as mentioned above, a shift in the decentralist direction will require a long course of political re-education.

And the sort of education required is not academic but practical–one exemplified in the conduct and civic virtue of State legislators and governors who take to heart Madison’s admonition in the Virginia Resolutions (1798) that State governments not only have the constitutional right of “interposition” to protect their citizens against usurpations by the central government but the “duty” to do so.

Finally, there is the objection that the primacy of State political action over Supreme Court legalism could work when there were fewer States, but now that there are 50 States interposition and nullification have become impractical. But If true that means the Union has simply grown too large for the purposes of self-government; in which case the obvious response is that it should be divided through secession into smaller political units that make self-government viable.

Consider how dull our notion of self-government has become. Congress has capped the number of representatives in the House at 435, a majority of which is only 218 representatives. A majority in the Senate is 51. A majority of both Houses is a mere 269 people. This small number, with concurrence of the President, rules over 300 million people. But worse. Congress has long ago alienated much of its legislative responsibility to the Executive and Judicial branch. Its main interest is in distributing its vast revenue (which now is nearly 3 trillion dollars) to its clients.

The President and the Supreme Court are the dominant rulers. The Executive office makes war, and its bureaucracy makes laws. The Supreme Court, with only 9 unelected judges, has become the most important social policy making body in the Union, and makes claim to be the final authority on interpreting the Constitution. Never in history have so many been ruled by so few.

As the American empire grows in population and as the ratchet of centralization tightens with each turn, talk of self-government becomes increasingly meaningless. The ratio of representatives to population in the House of Representatives today is one representative for every 690,000 people–a vacuous ratio for representation. When the population reaches 435 million, there will be one “representative” for every million persons.

What to do? Expand the size of the House? No; it is about the right size for a legislative body. The only remedy is territorial division of the Union through secession into a number of different and independent political units.

Such a division can spring only from political action by the States, each acting in its sovereign capacity. And what form the new order might take (whether a number of federal unions, a number of independent states, whether these will be large or small states like Singapore, etc.) can only be determined by political action of the States themselves.

The central government of the United States (that is, 9 unelected judges, a congressional majority of only 269, and 1 CEO) cannot manage the bloated and unwieldy empire that a century of ritualistic centralization has produced; nor will it ever relinquish power.

George Kennan thought that a discourse on how to divide the Union was bound to develop out of pressure generated by the sheer oversized character of the regime. It is too early to say that the current State sovereignty movement is the beginning of that discourse, but it might well be the beginning of the beginning.
Dr. Donald Livingston, professor at Emory University in Atlanta, has been called the preeminent political philosopher of our day in Georgia.

Copyright © 2009, Tenth Amendment Center

Reasons For Texas To Secede

August 23, 2009

by Lane Haley, Perryton, Texas

As a native Texan, my reasons stem from Texas herself. The land, and the freedom she provides, is in my blood. More than 100 years ago, my great grandfather moved to the Texas Panhandle from central Missouri. He bought the first 640 acres of our ranch/farm from the railroad in the late 1890’s and moved here in a covered wagon around 1900 leaving his wife behind of her own decision.

For the next several years he worked the land, raised cattle, and built a home where there was nothing before. There were no neighbors, no roads, no fences, and no towns. He made numerous trips back to Missouri until he finally convinced my great grandmother, afraid to raise her son, my grandfather, on her own, to move here with him.

The condition of the move was a 2 story Missouri-style farm house. He built that house with his own hands to her specifications, and it stands there in the center of our ranch as a testimony of his dedication to the land and to his family. My great grandfather passed the land on to his son, who passed it on to my dad, who passed it on to me. For 4 generations we have worked the same land, pouring our blood sweat and tears into it through droughts, depressions, and wars; each with the hope that he can make it a little bigger than it was before and pass it along to his children. The land has made my family. We are the land. Today, I am the first generation to see the hope of that dream torn away by the hands of a despotic government.

The United States Constitution guarantees us numerous rights and liberties, but the ones most essential and inalienable are those of life, liberty, and property. As I am writing this entry, there are scores of constitution maggots in DC working to erode those very rights which we hold dear. The finest examples of this are the two pieces of legislation currently awaiting a vote: cap-and-trade and health care.

These two pieces of legislation are heinous by design. Health care, simply put, gives the government command of every aspect of an individual’s life, effectively turning citizens into subjects. Once the government owns an individual’s health, the government owns the individual, and every right guaranteed under the first 8 amendments of the US Constitution can be circumnavigated on the bases of public health and cost to the government. In fact, cap-and-trade can be implemented under the health care bill as a means to provide a healthier, and thereby more cost effective, environment for the population. The health care bill decimates the constitution and our personal freedoms denying us of liberty and, in some cases, life.

Cap-and-Trade threatens to deny many of us property. Woven in the fabric of the bill is an energy policy defunct of logic. It allocates billions of dollars for, and prioritizes alternative energy sources whose technologies do not work, and which take enormous amounts of land in order to be even remotely viable. The most prominent of these is wind-generated electricity. An average natural gas well requires less than one surface acre and produces energy consistently 365 days/ year. In order to produce the same amount of energy as a single gas well producing 2,000 MCF/ day, it requires 640 acres of turbines spaced 200 feet apart. Additionally, wind turbines only produce energy about 30% of the time. Since these companies do not own, and cannot afford to purchase at market price, the huge tracts of acreage required for their wind farms, they must either lease the land from surface owners or use eminent domain to acquire the land.

Oil and Gas Leases are an equitable agreement between the energy companies and the land owners. By contrast, the wind leases tend to be stacked entirely in favor of the wind company causing most land owners to reject the offers of wind companies and deny them access to their land. With a government push to move the nation toward “green energy”, it is implicit in the bill that such a move will be made at all costs.

As you read this, people in my area are being demonized by these companies for not agreeing to inequitable arrangements that favor only the wind company and threaten the property rights and sovereignty of the landowner over his/her own land. The move is already being made toward eminent domain by a number of these companies using federal subsidy dollars to back their initiatives. Mesa Energy (that’s T. Boone Pickens for those of you unfamiliar with his company name), among others, is already working the eminent domain route for wind in addition to water rights. While this argument sounds on the surface like a straw man, it is already happening with backing from the federal government through massive subsidies which these companies use to fund every aspect of their enterprises. Once the issue is prioritized through legislation, the effects will be magnified through direct government intervention. If the federal government decides that this is a priority, those of us in wind rich areas stand threatened by a massive federal land grab, clearly denying us of property.

The afterthought to this bill is the fact that it also places a direct assault on oil & gas, and agriculture; potentially putting greater than 3 million Texans out of work, costing the State an estimated $1.5 billion per year, and bankrupting our economy. It decimates the 10th amendment under the auspices of the 9th by mandating federal zoning laws, building codes, and business regulation on every edifice and entity in the US, thereby denying the people the right to self regulation and determination in their own communities, towns and states.

These ideas and their effects are not Texas. Texas is not, and never has been, open to socialism, despotism, or the oppression of her people. Texas is freedom. Everyone who has come here from the time of the Spanish conquistadors, to the colonists under Stephen F. Austin, to the corporate transplants of today have been transformed by Texas. I’ve lived in a lot of places, both in the United States and abroad, and there is no place as free or as beautiful as Texas. Texas creates Texans. Her plains and canyons extend indefinitely covered by an endless sky so blue you can touch it, ever calling to the traveler to take wings and fly. Her waters whisper to the dreamer to set sail in search of untold riches promised upon her shores. Her most desolate land springs forth bounty beyond imagination allowing her people to thrive. Her fertile soil bestows its gifts upon her people even in the harshest climates. The wind blowing across her plains and through the oaks, pines, and mesquite decry her untamed nature while ushering in every manner of blessing.

Whether it is a rolling thunderstorm in the panhandle, a hurricane in the Gulf, or the gentle rain of the piney woods, Texas is wild, extreme, and free, and full of blessing at every turn. She creates a people and a culture unique among the nations. She has molded us, and shaped us, and given us vision unlike any place else in the world. Texas creates Texans. Texas longs to be free today just as she has since the Spanish first explored her. She doesn’t deserve the confinement of an ever encroaching federal/ socialist system from distances far outside her borders. She deserves to be free and her people deserve independence. She deserves to be returned to her own. She deserves to be allowed to stand on her own, a bastion of freedom for the world to envy. Let her stand on her own. She is freedom. She is Texas!

Lane Haley, Perryton, Texas

Mr. Haley describes himself as a 37 year old, rancher and petroleum landman with a wife and two beautiful children.

Attributed to The Cypress Times

Secession, Five Years Later by William Buppert

August 21, 2009

Former Governor Lutrin was hard to find. Having served out his single term after shepherding Idaho from the corrupt and tyrannical claws of the rulers in DC and their agents throughout the land, he had quietly retired to his ranch near Sandpoint, ID in the northern panhandle in Year One of the Free State Alliance (FSA). The Alliance had expanded to embrace the former states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Eastern Washington, Nevada and British Columbia joined two years later by Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. The Alaskan Republic maintained very close ties with the FSA. Utah had gone her own way and established a Mormon theocracy. The West Coast states formed Pacifica but the Green Coalition which maintained tight control on the economy caused a brain-drain and economic collapse that splintered the coalition.

Since the break-up of these united States, all of California south of San Francisco had become part of the pan-Mexican rump state in Atzlan along with most of the American Southwest. Mexico has splintered into approximately ten separate states with alliances between the various 31 states that comprised Mexico ebbing and flowing on a daily basis. The decriminalization of drug laws in Pacifica and the Free State Alliance significantly weakened the strength of the Mexican drug cartels to finance their activities and the pan-Mexican economy started to flourish after nearly a century of economic and monetary penury.

Pacifica remained in force in the major cities like Portland and Seattle but had lost total control of the countryside in what had formerly been Washington and Oregon. The Dakotas finally allied with the Midwestern Alliance.

The American South had settled into an uneasy alliance with the United States Socialist Republic (USSR) which maintained their capital in the District of Columbia. Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire eventually broke away from the USSR to establish a system of Swiss-style cantons which the USSR battered for the first two years but eventually exhausted their ability to fight once the USSR economy collapsed into a miserable shambles that made Cuba look like 1990s Hong Kong.

Premiere Obama conceded defeat in an indirect fashion after assumption of his lifelong appointment at the circus-like Constitutional Convention in the USSR in 2012. The massive government intervention and adoption of total central planning had predictable results: the world’s first 100% marginal tax rate on the top fifty percent of earners had only surprised the Premiere’s Economic Council but no one else with the results. Tax receipts were down by 80% in the first year and disappeared in the second. Paul Krugman, the chairman of the council, was quoted as saying “[that] greed would be eliminated and a new man would emerge from the bold experiment.” The only thing that emerged were the tens of miles of refugees attempting to flee the USSR in the first year after which the borders were sealed and all the government’s guns were trained inward to prevent the citizens from escaping the latest economic nostrum – permanent employment in a government job assigned to you whether you liked it or not.

It is difficult to gauge how bad conditions are in the USSR. Like the Soviet Union during the twentieth century and Cuba afterwards, rumors were rampant. Gulags, reeducation camps, mass disappearances, famine and disease outbreaks were apparently the order of the day. Some of the crueler pundits referred to the Premiere as Kim Jong Obama and Barak Mugabe. Like the former northern part of the Koreas, it remains a rather strong military power but an economic basket case.

Fears of meddling on the part of China, Russia and Middle Eastern states proved to be unfounded as those nations grapple with their own economic and social collapse difficulties. While all manner of economic nonsense like Keynes and Marx were the “wave of the future” in the twentieth century, the twenty-first century is seeing a veritable renaissance in the works of Hayek, von Mises, Rothbard and Bastiat.

“It is almost as if the entire human race has finally awakened from the fever dream of the government supremacists who have inoculated them against freedom for five millennia and opened their eyes to the new possibilities” Mr. Lutrin insists as we gaze out over the huge forested valley outside his home near Sandpoint. He is fit and tanned and still participates in what some would term adrenal sports. He remains a devout Senior Instructor on the Appleseed Trail for the Revolutionary War Veterans Association teaching weekend marksmanship clinics throughout the FSA when he is not globetrotting. We are comfortably seated in a veranda near his workshop. Since retirement he has found lucrative work as a consultant around the world “deprogramming and devolving state industries into private hands” with his new venture firm, The Spooner Group. Asked if he misses being the governor of a state, he merely smirks and claims he would rather work for a living.

“Mr. Lutrin (he insists he not be referred to as governor), five years have passed since the first crisis which set the nation asunder and broke up the most powerful nation on the globe. On reflection, would you have done anything different?”

“No, my only regret is that I was left with a task that should have been done ten or a hundred years before me. I was asked recently who my favorite President was during the twentieth century and the only one I could come up with was Coolidge and possibly Harding. No one else even came close. The rest of the rascals were simply well-dressed pirates. Barry, a close economist friend of mine, claimed there was no such thing as governments, only interests…there is plenty of truth to that.”

“…but the bloodshed and misery which followed the wholesale destruction of the former Union when secession spread like wildfire…”

“Hold on, I am not the author of the naked aggression and sheer lunacy that emanated from the Federal government for most of its history after the War Between the States in the 1860s. What happened five years ago was inevitability and just so happened to occur on my watch. I take umbrage at your comparison because you are quite literally insisting that if a man sees a serial killer discharging his duties, I have an obligation to cower instead of cowboy up and stop it. Look, I come from five generations of Westerners who not only earned their living the hard way but tended to be resentful of any authority outside of the family. You could almost surmise that my Celtic blood gave me a predisposition to anti-authoritarianism. There are lines in the sand…”

“So you are justifying the civil war which broke out across the country?”

“I am an old-school libertarian, not a pacifist. I believe in the non-aggression axiom. No man has the right to start a fight but the aggrieved party damn sure has the right to put a stop to any visited upon him. You see, that may be one of the worst pathogens or memes the political class and its apologists has convinced people to believe – that they are utterly incapable of helping themselves unless they surrender their rights to a violent elite. John Wayne said it best if I recall: ‘I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I expect the same from them.’”

“That is rather simple…”

“I would like you to consider something. Imagine a society in which everyone took that to be the way proper folks behave. But think that there may be people who would ask themselves how they could take advantage of that. I am not talking about the entrepreneur or small business owner, I’m talking about the natural cross-section of humanity in which you have a certain group of folks for whom criminality and even psychopathy is simply the way they are wired or nurtured. Now some of those men would ask themselves how can I minimize risk and maximize gain? Here’s a pop quiz: what is the only group of criminals who have consistently evaded responsibility for their misbehavior, garnered tremendous rewards in money and prestige and, excepting rare instances like Nicolae Ceausescu, die abed fat and happy?

“I don’t…”

“Politicians. Throughout history with rare exceptions, they have been the decadent and greedy agents of death and destruction on humanity. 262 million corpses outside of warfare alone in the twentieth century stacked up as a paean to the Cult of the Politician. Hundreds of millions of humans hoodwinked into thinking that if only they would remit their fates to enlightened strangers, all the roads would be paved with gold and manna from heaven would provide succor for eternity. I think you would have to be a sociopath in the first place to want to rule over others.”

“But you were a politician. You were the governor of a state. Isn’t that rather hypocritical?”

“To a certain extent you are right. I compromised with the system and thought the only way to change it would be to wreck it from the inside. I did not enter office with the intention of secession and starting the whole ball of wax. Frankly, once I was in office, I could almost feel the sickness creeping over me. The feeling that maybe I could make a positive difference by punishing my fellow citizens to influence their behavior or using carrots and sticks on them as if they lab rats, as if I had the right to do so in the first place. Shame on me.

I had a constituent come to me one day and he and I had coffee together. Old and weather-beaten rancher who had seen the hard side of seventy years who put salt in his coffee. He was quite articulate and related a story to me. He asked me if I had ever had a difficult family member: alcohol or drug abuse, mentally retarded or a Down’s syndrome child. We both agreed we had. He made a very simple point: he said he would move heaven and earth to help his blood kin but even then a solution may not be available. In the end, no cure for Down’s or the son is not willing to give up his drink. No solution. Yet the politician’s siren song is that a group of disinterested strangers in a far-off castle will cure all these ills if the rancher would simply surrender a sizable portion of his wealth at gunpoint and be sanctioned by tens of thousands of laws he would have to obey on pain of death ultimately. Yet in the end, the politicians always make you worse off.”

“Certainly food for thought…”

“Look, we may be entering a new age here hundreds of years before I envisioned it possible. Men and women all over the globe may be waking up to the simple observation that empowering others to engage in violence or the threat of violence over their family and neighbors may be a distinctly unhealthy way to live.”

“Thank you, Governor Lutrin…”

“Please, call me Mr. Lutrin.”

Posted at 9-21-09

How Is America Going To End?

August 5, 2009

Who’s most likely to secede?
By Josh Levin
Posted at The Middlebury Institute website on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009, at 7:02 AM ET
In the American end times, our government will take one of two forms. One possibility is that federalism will give way to an all-powerful central government. The other option is decentralization—in the absence of a unifying national interest, the United States of America will fragment and be supplanted by regional governance.

America was designed to avoid these two extremes—to keep the states and the national government in balance. The United States will end when the equilibrium mandated by the Constitution no longer holds. Tomorrow, I’ll look at how the country might transition from democracy to totalitarianism. Today, I’ll focus on America’s disintegration.

Predictions of modern America’s collapse usually say more about the speaker than about the country’s condition. Igor Panarin, the Russian political scientist who believes the United States will break into six pieces in 2010, seems to be extrapolating from what happened to the Soviet Union. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who paid lip service to secession at a tax-day rally earlier this year, was less predicting America’s downfall than feeding chum to a riled-up, “Secede!”-chanting crowd. “[I]f Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people,” Perry said, “you know, who knows what might come out of that.”

Eric Zuelow, a history professor at the University of New England and the editor of The Nationalism Project, argues that “loud voices” like Perry’s bolster the country’s strength. The fact that we can debate our country’s legitimacy is a sign of national health. For the United States to fall to pieces, Zuelow says, it’ll take more than a demagogue on a PA. Americans will have to come to believe they’re no longer Americans.

It wasn’t always certain that the states would be as united as they are today. In An Empire Wilderness, Robert D. Kaplan explains that James Madison, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, envisioned America as “an enormous geographical space with governance but without patriotism, in which the federal government would be a mere ‘umpire,’ refereeing competing interests.” There are regional and ideological differences in the modern United States: People in the Deep South and the Pacific Northwest eat different foods, have different accents, and (generalizing broadly) have different lifestyles and values. But as compared with a place like the USSR, a constructed nation with immense regional diversity, the United States is bound together tightly by its shared origins, a common language and culture, and a widely held belief in the country’s mythologies (American exceptionalism, self-reliance, and social mobility). In times of perceived danger, Americans pull together. After 9/11, Zuelow says, “I don’t care where you were in the country, the response was We’ve been attacked. … It wasn’t, “We eat grits” and “We eat salmon.”

What kinds of countries fall apart? Jason Sorens, a political scientist at the University at Buffalo who studies contemporary secessionist movements, says that ethnicity, economics, and ideology all come into play. A secessionist sweet spot typically lies in a region with an embedded minority that has a common language and a history of prior independence. Latvia and Lithuania fit those requirements, as do the Serbs in Bosnia and Canada’s Quebecois. According to Sorens’ models, it’s no surprise that there aren’t any large-scale movements to break up the United States—the country is too prosperous and too cohesive. (Sorens’ own Free State Project—a push to get libertarians to swarm New Hampshire and influence local politics—is “not a secessionist movement,” he says, though “there are a lot of people [in the project] who would support that as a last resort.”)

That’s not to say that everyone who lives in America is content with the state of the union. As Wikipedia’s “list of U.S. state secession proposals” indicates, there’s no shortage of groups that want the country to split up. American secessionism, however, is less a populist movement than a collection of cranky, lonesome idealists.

Thomas Naylor, the brains behind the Second Vermont Republic—a group that bills itself as “perhaps the foremost active secessionist organization in the country”—bemoans the fact that his movement shares the separatist marquee with less serious-minded folk. Naylor mentions one squadron of Long Islanders who’ve given their “new country” a national animal (Atlantic blue marlin) and a national crustacean (blue crab). The League of the South is also a perpetual source of heartburn for Naylor—the retro-Confederate group insists on singing Dixie at meetings and has a strange obsession with returning American spelling to its traditional Southern roots. By contrast, Naylor likes what he sees out of the Texas Nationalist Movement. That independence-espousing organization doesn’t appear to be racist, homophobic, or violent, Naylor says, though on the last count “you can never be sure.”

Naylor is more soft-spoken than you’d expect for someone who regularly refers to America as an “evil empire.” He is 73 years old, stands a sturdy 6 feet 3, and has longish white hair that gives him the look of a founding father. A retired Duke economics professor, he was inspired to come to Vermont in 1993 after seeing an Oprah episode on downshifting your life. (One of the guests was a man who moved to Vermont to run a country inn.) In “Secession: How Vermont and All the Other States Can Save Themselves From the Empire”, Naylor writes that American civilization “promotes affluenza, technomania, e-mania, megalomania, robotism, globalization, and imperialism.” The Second Vermont Republic aspires to dissolve the union nonviolently and return Vermont to the independent status it held briefly in the late 18th centur. Naylor believes the mystique of a free Vermont or a free Novacadia—a secessionist joint venture with Maine, New Hampshire, and Canada’s four Atlantic provinces—would catalyze separatism throughout America. Ben and Jerry’s is “not in the ice cream business,” he explains. “They [are] in the Vermont business. We’re in the Vermont business also.”

I’m eating lunch at an outdoor cafe in Waitsfield, Vt., with Naylor and Rob Williams, the editor of the independence-espousing Vermont Commons newspaper. Secession, according to Williams, is “as American an impulse as apple pie.” The Declaration of Independence marked the United States’ secession from the British Empire. New England considered leaving the U.S. during the War of 1812, and Maine seceded from Massachusetts in 1820. Up until the Civil War, nobody questioned the idea that breaking free from the central government was legal and justifiable under the right circumstances.
Today, Williams admits, mutual revulsion at the idea of secession is one of the few things the left and right can agree on. “Abraham Lincoln did a number on us,” he says.

Naylor ultimately wants the Vermont legislature to call a statewide convention to consider articles of secession. That’s not happening soon, even in the land of Bernie Sanders. Kirkpatrick Sale, the founder of the secessionist think tank the Middlebury Institute (and, at 72, the other grand old man of American secessionism), acknowledges that it was “in the depths of the Bush administration that this secession movement began and gained strength.” Sale feared that left-wing enchantment with Barack Obama would hinder his cause, but he’s been heartened by the progress of the “state sovereignty movement”—bills being pushed by state lawmakers who want to curb federal authority.

At this point, the state sovereignty push reeks of wishful separatist thinking. But the fact that secession is a marginal idea today doesn’t mean it won’t ever come to pass. How might secession transition from a fringe idea to a country-ender? In my conversations with economists, political scientists, and futurists, three broad themes came up that I found the most persuasive: economic collapse, the rise of localism, and North American reshuffling.

Peter Schiff is one of the recession’s biggest winners. The Connecticut stockbroker, once a cable news piñata on account of his predictions of economic catastrophe, is now celebrated for his eerily accurate prophecies. Schiff, who has formed an exploratory committee in anticipation of a potential 2010 Senate run, believes America is going under thanks to a “phony economy” built on borrowed cash. The stimulus, he argues, will make things worse by temporarily taping over structural problems with unsustainable borrowing and spending. “After we do the wrong thing and destroy [the value of] our money, are we going to become a totalitarianist (sic) country?” Schiff asks. “Will there be a Soviet revolution or an American revolution?”

Let’s say there’s an American revolution—who leaves first? Once the feds “start imposing just huge taxes,” Schiff says, the states that have to pay more in than they’re getting back out will pull their stars off the flag. Schiff lists Texas and California as potential pull-out candidates, whereas “Florida probably wants to stay because of all the Social Security money.”

If taxation doesn’t cause a mass revolt, economic polarization could yank everything apart. “The Sun Belt states and the interior West are growing faster than the Midwest,” says secession scholar Jason Sorens. “If they get rich enough, they might see their membership in the U.S. as burdensome if they have to support dying industries in Ohio and New York.” (Sorens apparently hasn’t considered the possibility that Cleveland and Buffalo will become America’s oases thanks to global warming.)

A place like Texas has the means to support itself as an independent country. What it needs is an ideological spark. Northern Italy’s Lega Nord could be a potential model. Rather than emphasize a linguistic or ethnic difference, the political party has espoused independence for economic reasons. In Italy’s 1996 general elections, the political party won 10 percent of the vote nationwide by calling on rich, conservative northerners to go it alone in a state called Padania. In the last eight years, Lega Nord has moderated its separatist rhetoric as it’s become a part of Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition government. (Still, the party is regularly accused of xenophobia.)

For secession to tear the United States to pieces, somebody has to jump first. “As states leave, more states want to leave,” Schiff says, “which is why the government will try to say you can’t leave, or we’ll invade you.” The Second Vermont Republic’s Thomas Naylor agrees that someone has to set a secessionist example. But Naylor doesn’t believe that the U.S. would try to “enslave free Vermont.” (His farcical suggestion: “They could burn all the maples and destroy all the black-and-white Holsteins.”) If American troops did invade Montpelier, he says, it would destroy America’s moral authority just as attempts to stamp out anti-Communist movements in the Soviet Bloc eventually undercut the USSR.

The Institute for the Future’s Jamais Cascio contends that “very few national entities maintain their structural coherence for much more than a couple hundred years.” In Cascio’s 50-year forecast “The Long Crisis,” the United States breaks into eight pieces. By 2054, the Midwestern states have invaded the Gulf and Southern Federation, with New Columbia (the Atlantic seaboard) and Pacifica (the West coast) supplying arms to the Southern insurgents.

What could precipitate such a schism? Cascio foresees a shift to localism—a focus on eating where we live, on supplying our own energy (micro-wind and micro-solar), and on fabricating our own products (and possibly weapons) with industrial-grade 3-D printers. Allen Buchanan, the author of Secession: The Morality of Political Divorce From Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec, says that (while he’s not predicting this) climate change, a pandemic, or an economic collapse could lead to what he calls sauve qui peut secession—”let him save himself who can.”

This idea of a reversion back to a time when no kingdom or ruler had enough power to control a large territory squares with collapsists like Dmitry Orlov and James Howard Kunstler, who argue that America will revert to pre-industrial times in the post-petroleum age. In an essay called “Thriving in the Age of Collapse,” Orlov writes that a dearth of oil will force people “to stay put most of the time, perhaps making seasonal migrations, and to make use of what they have available in the immediate vicinity.” Not one to dwell on the negative, the Russian writer points out that societal collapse boosts one’s health and vigor: “[T]he air will be much cleaner, there will be no traffic jams, … [l]ocal culture will make a comeback, [and p]eople will get plenty of exercise walking around, carrying things, and performing manual labor.”

In 1995, a referendum on Quebec independence failed by less than 1 percent of the vote. What might have happened if Quebec had broken away, and Canada were severed into Western and Eastern chunks? As in Italy, where tax receipts from the wealthy North prop up the more-destitute South, Canada’s richer west side (Alberta and British Columbia) helps support the poorer Maritime provinces back east. Without Quebec keeping the country contiguous, Canada’s Westerners might want to go it alone rather than export their riches.

What would happen to the U.S. upon Canada’s disintegration? North America’s borders have remained pretty much static for the last century. (The same can’t be said for, say, Europe and Africa.) But this stability shouldn’t imply that our dividing lines make sense. In 1981’s Nine Nations of North America, Joel Garreau argued that the continent’s borders don’t reflect how we live. Garreau’s nine nations map—which highlighted regions where people share common values, culture, and natural resources—wasn’t intended to be predictive of a future breakup. Still, something like Canadian breaking could bring on a continental reordering. British Columbia might join Washington and Oregon to form a Pacific Northwest partnership—Ecotopia? The Republic of Cascadia?—and the Maritime provinces could flit away from Canada to become a part of Novacadia.

In the absence of logical borders, how have we stayed intact? Mostly because the Quebecois remain the continent’s only serious nationalist movement—a sizable embedded minority with its own identity and its own language. One path to continental disintegration is the radicalization of America’s Quebecois: Spanish-speaking immigrants.

No matter what immigration laws go on the books, the U.S. will still need cheap labor, and Mexicans and Central Americans will continue to head north to pursue this country’s higher wages. By 2050, by which time whites will be a minority in America, Hispanics are expected to make up 29 percent of the population.

Can we all just get along? In a lecture at the 2006 Pop!Tech conference, Juan Enriquez—the author of The Untied States of America: Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future—said it depends on how we treat Spanish speakers. If Lou Dobbs and the English-only crowd become the architects of America’s foreign policy, Enriquez argues, America is in peril. “How you treat people today is going to be remembered for a long time,” Enriquez says, noting that the license plates in Quebec read Je me souviens—I remember.

Charles Truxillo, a professor at the University of New Mexico, says it’s too late to save the United States we know today. Truxillo believes this century will see the birth of La República del Norte, a sovereign “Mexicano nation” in what’s now the American Southwest. “The U.S. ripped these areas off from Mexico in 1848,” he says, and the debt has come due. Rather than fight what’s inevitable, Truxillo says North America should toss out the melting pot and learn to love “autonomous sovereign zones”—a French-speaking nation for the Quebecois, a Spanish-speaking nation for the Latinos, and an English-speaking nation for the Anglophones.

It’s no accident that, when you ponder both secession and climate change, the most convincing end-of-America scenarios involve Canada and Mexico. For the last 160 years, America has been the hemisphere’s alpha dog. But the United States is not a closed system—we’re tightly integrated with our neighbors, and the forces that might crush the U.S. will also affect them. One conspiracy theory, pushed by loony swift-boat-truther Jerome Corsi, has it that the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will soon share a common passport, currency, and military. While the propaganda about the looming North American Union is completely bogus, it’s certainly true that we are not alone. Take away the artificial borders and we’re all just North Americans, clinging to each other for life. If America ends, so will Canada and Mexico. And if Canada or Mexico goes down the tubes, we won’t be long for this continent either.