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Our Constitution has long accommodated the reality that different communities have different ways of life. They want different rules, have distinct expectations, and each would feel the imposition of the rule of its neighbors as an intrusive affront.
This is not just the principle of federalism but the broader principle of liberty: we are each free to choose our destinies, worship God as we wish, maintain private spaces where we are free from government control, and, if we find a different manner of local rule congenial, we are free to set up voluntary associations and communities reflecting our priorities.
This worked reasonably well historically, but increasingly it has been limited by national rules, particularly those imposed in the name of protecting universal rights. The most salient example is the Civil War and, after that, the civil rights revolution.
Nonetheless, the default has been to “live and let live” and to recognize that the balance struck in any particular community might vary widely. Thus, the American system rests not only on classical liberalism, but a parallel principal of self-government.
A Divided Nation
The divergence of the desires and needs of the nation’s interior and those of the coastal ruling class has become more pronounced since the election of Trump. Even the “respectable” Democrats, exemplified by Hillary Clinton, have a barely concealed contempt for middle America. She, of course, infamously labeled Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables.” But Obama himself earlier let the mask slip, dismissing religion and guns as a false consciousness, to which the working class “clings bitterly” as transferred aggression from their economic and social decline.
Perhaps this insulting language is so casual and automatic, because this is also how the Republican Party has treated its voters. Until Trump, the GOP saw itself as one wing of a responsible governing class. All the talk of shrinking the government and the culture war was just overheated rhetoric that no one in power seriously believed. The party’s leadership functioned to divert its voters discontent into an agenda more palatable to the ruling class. Thus, every campaign sounded like the second coming of Paul Revere, but in the end, the practical outcome was some work on the margins related to tax cuts.
For issues like gay marriage, abortion, immigration, crime, and affirmative action, the Republican leadership mostly tried to avoid them altogether. After every electoral loss, the solution was to be less divisive and to focus on economic issues. This was the party leadership’s official recommendation following Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, as if this milquetoast establishment hack’s defeat was the result of him being too conservative.
The friction between the coasts and the interior is not merely political; it’s cultural, religious, economic, and demographic. The intensity of the friction has led, in recent times, to the suggestion we may be on the brink of a kind of civil war. We see hints of similar divisions in Europe, where Brexit and the Gilets Jaunes protests are fundamentally populist and have occasioned maniacal responses by the ruling class.
Separation Would Be Preferable to the Current Hostilities
One solution proffered from time to time is a peaceful separation. Observers on the Right and the Left have suggested that the rift is simply too deep and serious to be resolved, and that the mutual interest of everyone concerned would benefit by a divorce, whether deemed secession or an invigoration of local autonomy or something else.
I am sympathetic to this solution. While the justice of the Southern secession movement was always marred by its inextricable intertwining with the institution of slavery, in general, secession is an expression of freedom and, more specifically, the right of a people to self-rule and self-determination. There is much to be decided by government that is not necessarily amenable to technocratic solutions, but rather connects (or offends) on an emotional level, such as which languages will be official, whose heroes will be honored, and whose pieties observed. A self-governing nation-state must first be a nation; multiple, competing visions of who is in that nation, what defines it, and who are its friends and enemies, make the forced collection of different nations within a single polity both intolerable and unstable.
There is ample precedent for successful separations. The Soviet Union broke up in 1991, and while there were some conflicts on the margins—some of which remain unresolved—it certainly went better than the meltdown of Yugoslavia. The Czech Republic and Slovakia split peacefully and voluntarily in 1993. America supported Kosovo’s separation from Serbia in 1999, in spite of the fact that the ethnically Albanian Kosovars had a perfectly acceptable Albanian nation called Albania right next door.
One wonders if everyone has forgotten that our country itself began on the principle of secession. While the Declaration of Independence expresses the basic Lockean concept of government, it also defends the equality not of individual men, but of peoples. It begins, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Whether in these more recent cases or our own country’s founding, political differences can become so pronounced that living under the same regime, where one’s rights and power are controlled by another group seen as alien and threatening, is intolerable to both sides. Elections become high stakes, imposing alternating tyrannies or liberations in the eyes of a divided people, and justifying extralegal mechanisms to prevent such risks.
A peaceful national separation is probably a good idea. But those on the Right must face the most important obstacle: The Left would never ever let us leave.
The Left Is Totalitarian By Nature
Leftism is not simply one opinion among many. For the Left’s votaries, it’s closer to a religion. It’s not enough that one is himself a vegan, drives a Prius, doesn’t own guns, rejects the traditional family, or anything else that goes with the lifestyle. It is essential that everyone else does so. Any deviations are “backwardness” and “divisive” or worse.
That’s the whole point of the term progressive. It assumes history is linear and self-correcting. It takes for granted that there is something objectively correct about the leftist position, and that all reasonable people in time will adopt it. Anyone’s failure to adopt their views is not merely a point of view, it is an expression of selfishness, oppression, and hate. All disagreements are pathologized as moral failings and psychological defects, labeled with pseudoscientific terms like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the rest.
Leftism has evolved to to a point where it is totalitarian and intolerant. This is why the Left finds it unacceptable that a company—a type of private property—would refuse to provide contraceptives to its employees because of its owners’ religious views. This is why it matters to them that some obscure baker does not want to bake a cake. When their rigid and expansive notion of progress is at stake, all deviation is an affront, all other sources of authority, including religion, are secondary, and all people and institutions are enlisted to enforce uniform social standards. This is why “political correctness” is best understood not as some amusing or annoying novelty, but simply as applied leftism.
For all the talk of diversity and tolerance among the Left, this tolerance extends mostly to things most of us do not want to do. Most men and women do not want to change their sex or marry someone of the same sex. Most of us do not intend to leave the country our ancestors built. So the Left gives us the right to do things most of us do not want to do—gay rights, immigration—but takes away things that used to be commonplace, like supporting a family on a single income or governing our towns and cities without having to beg for the imprimatur of a hostile judiciary.
We see this leftist obsession with uniformity internationally as well. It is not enough for France or Germany to destroy themselves with mass Arabian and African immigration; Poland and Hungary must be punished for refusing to do so. “Democracy” has become an Orwellian word at home and abroad, where it is deemed endangered by the expression of majority rule and protected by the imposition of destructive ukases by bureaucrats, judges, and well-meaning secret police.
A peaceful separation requires some mutual respect and concern for the flourishing of the other. The Left, like crazed primitives engaged in honor killing, would instead exact revenge and command forced association rather than allow a divorce. The Left would be embarrassed and discredited if their ideology were rejected by the group it is supposedly benefiting with the promise of diversity, equality, and progress. Nailing shut the exits is a deliberate part of the Left’s utopian quest for uniformity and expansive labeling of all of its opinions and policies as nonnegotiable “human rights.”
The Left of today probably finds its origins in the Puritan spirit. Having lost its religious sanction, there remains, a tinkering, busybody mentality that provided the fuel for such varied political causes as Prohibition, the Social Gospel, and forced integration. As the anonymous Z Man has observed,
Unlike European mass movements, American movements are about communal salvation. For the American Left, it always starts from some version of “a society is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.” This is part of its inheritance from the Puritans. While the Puritans that settled in America believed in predestination, only God knew who was chosen. Clues about one’s fate could be found in good works, church attendance and prayer. Part of that was making sure others did the same things, as they sought to discover their destiny.
Utopianism is about building heaven on earth. Having abandoned the limits of traditional religion, politics has become larger, more intrusive, and higher stakes. The right is mostly engaged in defense, trying to protect private life from the intrusions of a hostile state and its army of snitches and regulators. Having found this group relentless, it is natural to wonder if separation may be the best solution, and it probably is.
But for the same reason they won’t relent against private businesses, private schools, small town bakers, and mischievous high school kids, there is little reason to think they would allow the resources, wealth, and people of the “red states” to leave peacefully. After all, if the departing group were seeking to build a country to preserve its traditional notions of government and culture, it would be a regressive force, undoubtedly labeled hateful and racist simply for wanting to keep things the way they are. For the Left, like the Puritans of Salem, it would be better if we burned at the stake.
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