I recently read Gilbert K. Chesterton’s first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, written in 1904, set (as it happens) in 1984, in a London which had divided into separate duchies and fiefdoms, each with its own medieval heraldry, and toll barriers. Chesterton was an opponent of progress and his contemporaries conviction that the early 20th century would lead, ineluctably, to larger and larger states, of ever greater size. In Chesterton’s utopia, everything would crumble into ever smaller granular sovereignties.
I was thinking of the Tea Party when reading Chesterton. He has long been a favorite of conservative thinkers, though he is too supple and clever to fit cleanly into any pigeon-hole and his medieval fantasy is more than simply turning back the clock, but challenges not only progressive thinkers but retrograde types who simply pine for some version of the good old days. Why, I have been thinking, does the Tea Party honor the Constitution? Don’t they know it is a counter-revolutionary document that had, as its main purpose, moving power from the states to an enhanced central government? Why wrestle with the ambiguities of the 9th and 10th amendments when what they really want to do is to go back to the Articles of Confederation?
That’s a restorationist dream I could come to enjoy. What we need are not stronger states, but to try to deal with fifty -independent republics. And without the ridiculous requirement for equal representation in the Senate, many of the states would split or reform along more meaningful lines. Liberals could institute single payer health care in their countries. Conservatives could try to give their citizens absolutely nothing until they are overthrown in a popular revolution, a la Tunisia. Let the up and coming superpowers, China, India, Brazil, deal with the problems of trying to run the world from the vantage of a massive state. Americans have spent their time trying to run the world, and we have done, at best, a mediocre job of it. Time to retire, time to relax. If the Tea Party want to turn the clock back, let us, lets do them one better, and try to turn the clock back to the Articles of Confederation, or even further, to when there were thirteen separately governed colonies, or further still, to when a series of independent native bands and groups ruled themselves without any central supervision whatsoever, and return to America’s original nomadic and overlapping sovereignties, or to when, before 12,000 years or so, animals in North America managed to live their lives without any government at all.