Sunday, April 23, 2006

E Pluribus Unum?

In the preceding post bemoaned the fact that the United States has become

a geographically defined collection of regionally, ethnically, politically, and culturally diverse identity groups. In that respect, what we ironically call the United States has become less coherent than at any time since the Civil War.

All of that splintering would be all right, if it weren't for the fact that most of the splinter groups try to use the power of the state to bring the other splinter groups to heel. What's so desperately needed is a return to federalism, in its original conception. As I wrote here,

[t]he constitutional contract charges the federal government with keeping peace among the States, ensuring uniformity in the rules of inter-State and international commerce, facing the world with a single foreign policy and a national armed force, and assuring the even-handed application of the Constitution and of constitutional laws. That is all.

With the federal government as a protective shield, citizens could "vote with their feet," choose their associates, and argue among themselves about the role of government. I explore that topic in "Finding Liberty," where I say that

[a]s long as there is meaningful exit there can be a race to the top. Exit serves liberty because it enables each person to find that place whose values come closest to his or her preferred way of life. Places deemed among the most attractive will grow in numbers and prosper; places deemed less attractive will wither, economically if not in terms of population. Under the right conditions . . . , the balance will tilt toward liberty, that is, toward a modus vivendi that seems, for most people, to offer happiness. That is the essence of federalism, as it was envisioned by the Framers.

That post is part of a series, "The Meaning of Liberty," the several parts of which are consolidated here . The bottom line of the series:

  • Liberty suffers when a central government does more than make war, conduct foreign affairs, and regulate inter-State commerce for the sole purpose of ensuring against the erection of barriers to trade.
  • Liberty suffers when a central government imposes rules on all at the instigation of the majority or coalitions of minorities.
  • Liberty thrives when the rules that govern relations among the members of a group are agreed among the members of the group -- even if those rules vary from group to group. One group's liberty may be another group's strait-jacket, and vice versa.

The motto of the United States -- e pluribus unum (out of many, one) -- will not be realized unless and until "Blue Staters" embrace true federalism.

P.S. Think of true federalism as being like a family in which all the children are grown. (No, I am not positing an all-wise, all-caring government as parent.) In most such families, the members get along best when each goes his or her own way, which is why Ma and Pa live in Michigan, Junior lives in Virginia, Sis lives in Iowa, and The Twins have split their act and gone to Oregon and Texas. They keep in touch, and they help each other through personal crises, but otherwise they stay out of each other's hair (as the saying goes).