Nineteen years ago, a Russian professor named Igor Panarin predicted the disintegrtion of the United States “within a few years,” perhaps by 2010. He expected the nation to fracture into six parts. Obviously, his prediction didn’t come true, but the idea does not, today, seem as absurd as it did two decades ago. Indeed, with the increasingly difficult and seemingly irreconcilable divide between liberals and conservatives, between Democrats and Republicans, and between red states and blue states, and with talks about states seceding (e.g. Texas, California), or breaking up into several smaller states, it’s scarily within the realm of possibility. Obama and Trump may be causes, or they may be symptoms, but the distinction is academic.

It’s hard to imagine how America pulls back from this toxic split.

Actually, no it’s not.

In fact, America was built from the outset to handle significant divisions and disagreements. Our federalist system grants significant governing power and autonomy to the individual states, and people are free to sort themselves out based on which state does things the way they most prefer. America has in place a political system that can resolve the conflicts that arise from our differences today.

If only people let it.

The biggest obstacle to people sorting themselves by political leanings is the massive and increasing size and scope of the federal government. As Congress and the executive branch involve themselves in more and more aspects of our lives, the differences between the states become less significant, and people’s ability to sort themselves by wants and ideologies diminishes.

Imagine if the federal government was as involved in our lives as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. Imagine if things like education, welfare, social programs, labor laws, health insurance regulation, and countless other things that the federal government does was, instead, handled solely by each state, with the feds having a much more limited role in our lives. Imagine if the federal government restricted itself to national defense, protection of individual rights, managing economic disputes between states, and running a court system for the resolution of disputes. Imagine if the government in Washington DC actually limited itself to the duties specifically identified in the Constitution.

Were this the case, neither Obama nor Trump nor the next president would have enough power to make a hill-of-beans difference in your or my life. Were this the case, you and I would have far greater ability to alter government’s influence in our lives simply by moving to a state that better fit our political leanings. Were this the case, you and I would have far greater ability to associate with people who think as we do.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t life be less stressful? Easier? More fulfilling?

The obvious question is: Why isn’t this already the case?

The obvious answer is: Not enough people want this to be the case, because of the down side.

What down side, you might ask? What possible problem could there be if each of us lived among like-minded folks, in states that govern as we prefer?

Unfortunately, that’s not acceptable to some people. Some of us simply cannot abide the idea that people live lives in fashions we dislike and embrace beliefs that we disagree with. Some of us feel that our way is the only way the nation and the world should function. Some of us get angry at the idea that, in a nation where states have far greater autonomy, some people might actually enjoy life in a fashion we dislike or disapprove. Some react with fury to the possibility that someone else, thousands of miles away, may not conform to their world view.

Why is this so? Why do we feel so entitled to insist that others live our way? It’s one of the great unresolved questions in this libertarian’s mind. I’ve heard the arguments: the desire to assist the poor, to protect people from predation, to guide the less informed and less capable. But, none of these arguments stand up when those on whose behalf these protectors and white knights act try to think, act, and live differently.

About the only reason that makes any sense is that the people who cannot abide others living differently don’t actually care about others. Not as fellow humans, equal in their pursuit of happiness. To them, others are a means to an end, whether that end be the accrual of power or the selfish satisfaction derived from bending them to their will. This callousness, invariably and perversely cloaked in a mantle of exclusive caring (only we care about the welfare of others), is the root of the nation’s ills. If they did indeed care, they’d respect others’ life choices, and devote their personal resources (time, money, etc) to protecting and helping those who needed help. But, that would allow others to choose and think differently, and that’s intolerable, it seems.

The only way out of our toxic division is for all parties involved to start respecting differences of opinion, and in a meaningful, political way. Many insist on demanding respect for countless other differences, in an ever-more-granular fashion, but draw a hard line at differences of opinion. These differences are, in the eyes of many, irresolvable. When two parties are so deeply in conflict, it’s common practice to separate them. Whether that’s temporary or needs to be permanent need not be decided in the moment – the separation is a sufficient first step. A good number of conservatives recognize this. These are the folks who advocate for states rights and increased federalism (in the modern context). Very few liberals do, unfortunately. More should. Their lives and their goals would be better served if they embraced and accepted it, rather than insisting that the federal government do everything (and do it their way).

Would this solve everything, and remediate all disputes? Certainly not, especially since it is the federal government’s job to protect individual rights against the tyranny of the majority, even in deep-red and deep-blue states, and there are a lot of people from both sides who like infringing on others’ rights. But, there’s a whole lot else that would be ameliorated. If education, welfare, social programs and safety nets, commerce, transportation, and other functions were left to the states, there’d be far less power at the federal level, and thus far less potential for mischief and for tyranny-of-the-majority imposition on large swaths of the nation that object.

Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool big-government type, you should, at this point, recognize that it’d be much easier for you to push that agenda at the state level, provided you live among like-minded folks. So, why not do so? Why not leave those ignorant deplorables to their own devices? Why not embrace federalism and leave the red-staters alone?

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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