Small Is Beautiful

Bill Kauffman returns with his essay “Bye, Bye Miss American Empire,” in the latest issue of Orion Magazine. As he has done in the past, Kauffman makes a rather human plea for secession, arguing that the United States has grown too large for its own good, and we have suffered because of it. A few interesting bits:

“The left-right thing has got to go,” declares Ian Baldwin, cofounder of Chelsea Green Publishing and publisher of Vermont Commons. “We’re decentralists and we are up against a monster.”

What might replace left and right, liberal and conservative, as useful political bipolarities? Globalist and localist, perhaps, or placeless versus placeist. Baldwin argues that “peak oil and climate change are linked and irreversible events that will within a generation change how human beings live. The world economy will relocalize.” He dismisses homeland security as “fatherland security”—for “homeland,” with its Nazi-Soviet echoes, has never been what Americans call their country. What we need, says Baldwin, is “homestead security”: sustainable agriculture, small shops, a revival of craftsmanship, local citizenship, communal spirit. The vision is one of self-government. Independence from the empire but interdependence at the grassroots. Neighborliness. The other American Dream.

Decentralizing power would have the additional virtue of localizing those coalition-splitters known as “social issues.” Case in point: When one of the southern delegates at the Burlington convention calls abortion a heinous crime, I sit back to watch the fireworks. They are doused in the fresh waters of federalism. There is general agreement on a mind-your-own-damn-business principle. If Marin County wants to serve joints with school lunches and Tupelo, Mississippi, wants the Ten Commandments in the classroom, well, that’s up to the people of Marin and Tupelo. Ain’t none of my business. Yours, either.

Trust local people. That, really, is the soul of the case for secession. Bringing it all back home, as a small-town Minnesota boy who took the name Bob Dylan once wrote. For home is where secession must be rooted. Ideology of any sort is not so much a dead end as it is a road without end that carries the enthusiast far from any place resembling home. It unmoors him, it leaves her without anchorage, quick to blame societal ills on outsiders, on dark alien forces. I know: we live in the seventh year of the bloody and imperial Bush Octennium. If Dick Cheney isn’t a dark alien force I don’t know what is. But a healthy secessionist movement must be founded in love: love of a particular place, its people (of all ethnicities and colors), its culture, its language and books and music and baseball teams and, yes, its beer and flowers and punk rock clubs.