The Breakdown of Nations

The L.A. Times' Mark Barabak reports on a new crop of grassroots measures -- most but not all of them in the West -- aimed at expanding the states' autonomy from the federal government. Here's an excerpt:

The Montana Firearms Freedom Act seeks to exempt from federal regulation any firearm, gun component or ammunition made and kept within the state's borders. The legislation, signed by Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, becomes law Oct. 1, though federal officials will likely act quickly to keep the measure from taking effect.

Legal experts are skeptical Montana will prevail in court, and even some proponents express their doubts. But supporters say the fight is a necessary step to change Washington's attitude. Similar bills have been introduced in nearly a half dozen states, and lawmakers in about a dozen more have expressed interest.

"We need 15, 25, 30 states to pass these types of legislation, so that we send a clear message to the country and to the national government," said Utah Rep. Carl Wimmer, a Republican from suburban Salt Lake City.

In addition to supporting a version of Montana's gun law, Wimmer is drafting legislation that would forbid local authorities to help enforce federal statutes inside Utah -- another bill that, if passed, would surely trigger a court fight.

Some elements of the trend, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry's refusal to accept a portion of Washington's stimulus money, are just a Republican reaction to a Democratic presidency. But as Schweitzer's support for the Montana gun bill suggests, this isn't a purely partisan phenomenon; there's a continuity between these rebellions and the Bush-era state and local revolts against Real ID, the PATRIOT Act, and No Child Left Behind. I'm curious how many of the lefties who supported the rebellions against Bush's diktats are sticking with the states' rights position now, and how many are fickle federalists in the Rick Perry tradition.

For a broader, more visionary look at the prospects for a more decentralized America, I recommend Paul Starobin's essay from last Saturday's Wall Street Journal, "Divided We Stand."

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  • ||

    "I'm curious how many of the lefties who supported the rebellions against Bush's diktats are sticking with the states' rights position now,"

    the answer would be zero

  • Jesse Walker||

    Schweitzer doesn't count?

  • ||

    Jesse,

    I am not familiar with Schweitzer but I find it hard to beleive that any "lefty" could be elected Governor of Montana. You said "lefties" not Dems. And there is still occasionally a difference.

  • dave b.||

    Montana seems to be the only state that truly espouses libertarian values in matters of privacy and small government. I live in Texas, and although it somehow has a slightly libertarian repuation, all of the pols here (except Ron Paul) are pro big gov't, pro Real ID busybodies. The fraudulent Rick Perry makes the news for his secession speech, but behind closed doors is all for higher taxes, mandatory vaccinations for your kids, eminent domain, law enforcement raids on citizens, etc. Not to mention the blatant toadying when GWB was in office. If i wasn't a black guy, I'd seriously consider moving to Montana, except the thought of being the only one there is a bit disconcerting.

  • ||

    For want of a better phrase, I would describe Schweitzer as a "Field & Stream" Democrat. He's totally in favor of gun rights, not just for hunting but also for self-defense and target shooting.

    One might say superficially that the more natural home for these mostly western voters (though see also PA, upstate NY, WI, MN and MI esp the UP) would be with the GOP but support for a welfare state and environmental regulations make them feel more at home with the Democrats.

    There are many qualifiers that should be added to the above like the fact that their support for environmental regs is driven by a desire to preserve natural habitat so there will be more places for them to shoot more game, a position that instantly puts them at odds with about every other member group of the Dem coalition.

  • ||

    Dave B,

    I lived in Texas for a while and quit the Republican Party there. Rick Perry was all for having State Alchohol agents hang out and arrest drunk people in bars because they "might drink and drive". Not trouble makers mind you. But arrest anyone they think is drinking too much. It was the most infuriating thing I have ever seen. I wrote Perry a letter telling him and his party to fuck off and I meant. The last time I voted in a Texas election was 2006 and I didn't vote for one Republican. I voted for all third parties. Fucking bastards.

  • Mike M.||

    Schweitzer is not a hard lefty; western/plains Democrats are generally FAR more centrist than their coastal and industrial midwestern counterparts.

    Even moderates in the west have been kind of irate for years that the federal government owns almost all of their land and has thus made it nearly impossible for them to grow and develop their states.

  • ||

    For a broader, more visionary look at the prospects for a more decentralized America, I recommend Paul Starobin's essay from last Saturday's Wall Street Journal, "Divided We Stand."

    I read that. I failed to see why he thought that devolution of power was inevitable. Certainly not within my lifetime. It took Rome a long time to actually fall. And it would go against the last 100+ years of American centralization. Not very many people hold an allegiance to their state or region. Plus, very few people actually want to have their viewpoint respected. They want it imposed on those hippy/redneck Others. Anything that de-escalates the culture war seems... unlikely. There are too many groups that exist solely because of it.

  • ||

    dave b.

    The northern plains and mountain west seems to be a much more live and let live sort of place. Neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to be overly concerned with the kind of lifestyle issues that the parties seem to be concerned with elsewhere.

    On the other hand, it seems like just about anywhere on the East Coast, from Maine to Florida, there's some nanny spying to see what you're eating or smoking or who you're having coitus with.

  • ||

    Mike M., I agree with your 11:42 post.

  • ||

    "They want it imposed on those hippy/redneck Others."

    I am not so sure about that. I think most evangelicals want to live in their communities and be let alone. I don't think many evengelicals in Tulsa are too concered how the people in Greenwich Village are living beyond hoping to save their souls. Sadly, a lot of people seemd to be very worried about how the people in Tulsa are living.

  • ||

    Sadly, a lot of people seemd to be very worried about how the people in Tulsa are living.

    They're not "worried", they just think that the people in Tulsa exist as a means to feed their left wing egos by needing their protection and superior judgement.

  • ||

    I live in a very conservative part of Texas (West Central). We just re-elected our mayor, who happens to be gay, with around 90% of the vote (beat that, San Francisco).

    People here tend to be pretty tolerant of what you do in your private life, and pretty resistant to the government sticking its nose in. There is little, if any, desire, to use the government as the big stick in cultural/social disputes.

    And, yes, Rick Perry is a tool.

  • ||

    RC, do you mean former mayor?

    http://www.advocate.com/news_detail_ektid85132.asp

    J.W. Lown, who 10 days ago was overwhelmingly reelected to his fourth term as mayor of San Angelo, Texas, abruptly resigned on Wednesday in order to pursue a relationship with a man who is not an American citizen, reports the San Angelo Standard-Times.

  • Aging Liberal Hippie Douche||

    They took ur gay lovers!

  • jtuf||

    The medical marijuana movement is a federalist movement in practice, even though few of its proponents see it that way.

  • ||

    Actually, I think I knew that Obama was not going to govern from the pragmatic center and was frightened of the unions and the party elite was when he did not pick a westerner for veep.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    from last Saturday's Wall Street Journal, "Divided We Stand." ....

    This perspective may seem especially fanciful at a time when the political tides all seem to be running in the opposite direction.

    Noooo!!!! Ya think?


    "The right of secession precedes the Constitution-the United States was born out of secession,"

    I wasn't 100% sure the author was smoking dope until this line.

    Lincoln of course had no choice but to preserve the union. I'm sure any modern day American president would have an entirely different attitude.



    the political and economic future may belong to the megaregions of the planet.

    Or, it may belong to the Obamacrats who have come to SAVE our asses, like it or not. Get a grip.



    Her conviction is that large systems tend not to endure-"they break apart, there's chaos, and at some point, new things form," she said.

    Sadly, her conviction -- along with the main drift of this whole article -- is a nice little delusion.


    The history of China is proof-positive that big systems can and do survive the long haul, albeit quite nicely at times and rotten at others.


    The history of the Romans in Europe and North Africa is proof-positive that BIG systems have big benefits that smaller "devolved" systems have (with a few rare exceptions) not been able to provide. For the population of Roman Europe (and I believe also North Africa but am not sure here) was far larger than it was either pre- or post-Roman.

    This was a direct consequence of the fact that under Roman rule, people could count on being able to travel and trade over huge distances. Safely, thank you, due to the law and order that Rome imposed.

    When the Roman Empire collapsed, the trade routes shut down because you couldn't transport your goods safely to market. At this point we got The Dark Ages, fuedalism, land-bound serfs and peasants. Many centuries of misery that no one should care to repeat.


    The bigger the region that you can manage to impose law and order over, the better things can (potentially) be for everyone.

    Europe's post-Roman Dark Ages -- this is the most likely outcome of a "devolved" America. Because what history shows is that far more often than not, people in small groups (or city- or nation-states) will not "spontaneously" provide the will and might to impose the kind of law and order that long distance trade requires.



    RC Dean, you do not live in anything approaching a typical American community.

  • Jesse Walker||

    The history of China is proof-positive that big systems can and do survive the long haul, albeit quite nicely at times and rotten at others.

    While I don't doubt that there are big systems that can survive for extended periods, China isn't an ideal example, given that it broke up into smaller states more than once.

    The bigger the region that you can manage to impose law and order over, the better things can (potentially) be for everyone.

    When large-scale trade returned to post-Roman Europe, the environment was one of small-scale political units (notably the cities) and privately produced law (the Law Merchant). The High Middle Ages were not a period of political centralization.

    At any rate, the idea that devolution must lead to lawlessness and the sort of conditions that historians used to call "the Dark Ages" is a Mad Max fantasy. How and why a system decentralizes is surely more important than the simple fact that it decentralizes.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Hmmm.

    Okay, I have to give you that, particularly the European Middle Ages.

    China is odd, in more ways than one. I have always been amazed, not that it broke up repeatedly but that it came back together again so many times. There were so many reasons it could/should have fragmented like Europe did.

    Thanks Jesse, good point. I'll have think a little harder about this.

    It would seem there are balance points of some sort, where things work well. Problem is that the ideal balance point shifts over the ages and it's hard to find.

    A clear disadvantage of big systems is that they don't adapt so well due to their own inertia.

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