Americans Need Independence Again

Two-hundred and forty years ago, American colonists asserted their independence from Great Britain. For a decade the colonists had battled with Parliament over who could legislate for and tax them, with the colonists resorting to ever more open resistance and Parliament resorting to ever more oppressive attempts at enforcing its authority. By July of 1776, Americans had been openly fighting British troops for over a year, leading Americans to the uncomfortable realization that the colonies and Great Britain were at a point of separation.

Up until the Declaration of Independence, many Americans, even those resisting Parliament, expressed their devotion to the British Crown and their reluctance to separate from it. If the political issue of representation could be solved, they said, they would happily continue as subjects of the King. It was only after Parliament persisted in its claims of authority over the colonies and King George took Parliament’s side that the colonists decided it was time to separate.

Ultimately the political incompatibility between the colonies and Great Britain led to the Declaration of Independence.

Fast forward 240 years, and it is increasingly clear that Americans are hurtling towards another point of separation. The political differences in the country, which have always been significant, are today more inflammatory and the disagreements more rancorous than perhaps ever before. While the heightened emotions and posturing of a presidential election year amplify these disagreements, their existence is no passing trend. They are the direct result of hopelessly opposed visions of government and society competing for control of the national government – that is, for the power to mandate one vision or the other for all Americans.

These disagreements are many and varied:

One group wants to protect religious freedom, the other does not.

One group wants to codify forced association into law, the other does not.

One group wants to make it illegal for citizens to own guns, the other does not.

One group wants to cut welfare programs, the other does not.

One group wants to increase taxes, the other does not.

One group wants large-scale government involvement in all areas of society, the other does not.

And on and on.

In this environment, electoral results, tied as they are to the ascendance of policy preferences, are the cause of either jubilation or despair. A microcosm of this is the current presidential race. By November 8th, over 120 million Americans will have cast votes for a presidential candidate, and nearly half of these voters will be disappointed in the results, many to the point of desperation. In their minds, if not in reality, the opposing vision will have prevailed and they will be forced to live under the oppression of ideas they disagree with, at least for a four-year term.

But despite an annual occasion to recall their secessionist past, Americans never seem to consider if the current structure of government meets their needs or if the country is at a political impasse, one that would be best solved by separation. No, in modern America separation is off the table, not so much because it’s a bad idea but because it’s assumed, without much consideration, to be a crazy one.

It’s not clear why this is the case. Historically, secession is a uniquely American idea. America’s founding generation quite obviously seceded from Great Britain. Do modern Americans consider themselves to politically superior to their forefathers (and, if so, why do they celebrate Independence Day)?

Neither is the logic of separation obviously lacking. Is the idea of 535 legislators making laws for 300 million people so obviously superior or so clearly emanating from on high that no alternatives can be considered? Does the fact that one congressman represents an average of nearly 700,000 people leave nothing to be desired? Does this improve if we reduce the number of government representatives to nine judges or one president?

In short, can we truly expect the varied political preferences of the entire U.S. population to be adequately represented by fewer than 600 people? Can a political system that homogenizes 300 million individuals irrespective of their region, culture or overarching worldview qualify as being representative, much less moral? Can the same government adequately legislate for a Portland hipster, an Alabama country boy, a Broadway actress and a Montana mountain man?

The answer to these questions is obviously no. But not only do precious few Americans reach this conclusion, almost none even bother to ask the questions. Instead they continue to butt heads over irreconcilable political differences in the vain attempt to secure long-term political victories at the national level.

Much as Americans in 1776 reluctantly found themselves in the necessary position of declaring their independence, the time is fast approaching for a new generation of Americans to peacefully part ways in the realization that political freedom and happiness isn’t predicated on a union that holds no more utility for them.

They may realize that independence is preferable to the continual childish bickering of today’s political landscape. Rather than try to control each other, it’s time for Americans to once again prioritize governing themselves.

2 comments

  1. Do you ever have the feeling that were stepping out of the American golden age and into the long road downward? Perhaps its too cynical, but when comparing America nowadays to the Roman Empire, I see simlarities abound. If we align the two threads based upon their societal peaks (pax romana, cold war) several trends emerge. Granted, the Roman Republic/Empire lasted for nearly 2,100 years (kingdom-byzantine), yet it seems plausible that due to technological innovation and the speed at which material and information can be exchanged, changes would occur much more rapidly, thus the great acceleration of the late 20th century is porportional to the beginning of Pax Romana. Therefore, they correspond roughly as follows.

    kingdom-colonies (both early in developement, starting to form ideals about society and their place in it)
    republic-early nationhood (throwing off the shackles of monarchy, early solidification of a republican state)
    punic wars-lousiana purchase and following expansion (expansion of territory that is close to home)
    invasion of egypt and gaul-spanish american war (projection of power to protect vital assets and secure oversea territory)
    first triumvirate-civil war (reshuffling of internal powers)
    teutoburg forest-the great war (massive loss of life in warfare)
    second triumvirate-WWII (beginning of global hegemony and prosperity)
    creation of two states-collapse of the USSR (reshuffling of global power, while these are inverted it does seem however that they couldn’t thrive under such a system and instead must continually lose battles and concede territory)

    NB. obviously these arent perfect and I did skip over some major events in both nations, but I’ve tried to be as fair as possible.

    Following these events, the Romans in the west were pretty much doomed, as various factions fought over the decrepit corpse of the empire, yet in the east they managed to hang on, through decentralization (theme system, hehe) yet were eventually brought down by Arabs. Meanwhile in the US, we’re caught in what is going to be perpetual war in the middle east (unless major action can be taken to rebuild their society) and back home were as divided as ever. 9/11 was the start of mass terror attacks, and congress is indecisive. Meanwhile global warming looms and the balance of power in Europe is threatened.

    I have a feeling you’ve read the Texas Plan, Greg Abbotts’ plan to reform government, where he highlights (using a black light) the rot in the current system and submits nine proposals to “restore the rule of law.” Regardless of the proposals, the un-democratic, un-republican, entity he aims to fix is utterly shameful and invokes images of Romes’ politics, where money is king and actual values follow second.

    Taking note of the current state of affairs as well as historical patterns, I ask again, do you think were looking down the slope into some ‘new’ north america? It may not be in our life time, but I have a feeling that pieces are in play which cannot be stopped. Only hindsight will be enlightening, yet that’s what learning history is for…

    1. Apologies for the delay, this comment got caught in a spam folder.

      I don’t think that American comparisons to the Roman Empire are perfect, but I think there’s enough there to draw correlations. And, yes, I do think that America’s “Golden Age” has passed. The founders, who were steeped in classical education, consciously modeled themselves after the Roman Republic, and yet they realized that all Republics are dependent upon the virtue of their people and that the documentation of the decline of a Republic is a story of moral decay. Additionally, many founders understood that for any Republic to be a long-term success, its geographical region must be limited.

      I don’t think that many founders would observe modern America and be surprised that the Republic they built is essentially gone.

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