The States in the union

The US people are different than when, in 1776, the population was just 1% of todays’ 300 million. Importantly then, citizens were almost entirely ethnically English speaking Protestants, with shared manners and customs. Sharing a belief also that religion was private and government was a necessary evil.

To a large extent that held true even into the 1950s. But 40+ years after the 1965 immigration act removed national quotas, US demographics include 100 million+ people differing massively in ethnicity, language, religion, and political and habitual attitudes and abilities.

The melting pot no longer needs to simply transfer energy to new ore, mined from the same lode as now heats the glowing pot, nor merely anneal tensions of class or creed. Instead it is tasked with forging an alloy, steering a course where the mid-way is disaster. And it is unclear that this new task can succeed, and still preserve the small government that characterized America up to the 1900s.

It seems to me that for America to succeed as a shining city on the hill in the 21st century, as she did in the 20th, she now faces a choice as difficult as that facing Lincoln – to risk even war (and the lives of 20% of fighting Southern men) for unity, or accept – tolerate- some real irritating, repugant diversity.

Americans still trade freely across state lines, and this trade has many virtues, minimizing poverty and maximizing efficiency, and, between nations, averting war between great powers. But trade in goods doesn’t determine what purpose people see in their lives: Whether they want a great orchestra, or want to learn about space or genetics, or want their children to learn Omar-Khyam and Quantum electrodynamics. That seems the diversity that is needed now in America: large-scale freedom to really experiment with goals in life, and social arrangements and values.

The EU has successfully emulated America in opening up freedom of trade that greases wheels and prevents war, but while Europeans almost universally enjoy the freedom of trade and ability to travel, whenever they are allowed, they vote against the many thousands of controls now imposed- right down to the number of hours that people can legally choose to work (!!!), and the sizes and measures in which goods can be sold.

The EU government is essentially a remote activist-court, self-tasked with making the laws that people “should” have voted for, but did not. The single currency energized commerce across the EU, leap-frogging the EU over the US in GNP. But legislatively it is becoming a dictatorship of the proletariate. That just won’t hold over time. And I think it can’t hold within America either.

When people disagree over which way to go forward, they have to divide and try both ways. The alternative, forcing one side to follow the other is very costly. The goal, then, would be to preserve the union of trade and defense and a slim set of rights (habeus corpus, double jeopardy, speech, association, trial by jury… hmm – perfect: no constitutional changes required!), but avoid the EU-model of an ever more intrusive state imposing what individuals choose not to do voluntarily.

Essentially winding the clock back to the core ideas of federation, emphasising states rights, but with minimal universal rights enforced, and with a tempered model of manifest destiny – more isolationist and less unilateral interventionist, and much more scope for between-state experimentation.