I just read that Dick Cheney was hissed and called a war criminal by some Ron Paul supporters at the current CPAC convention. I think that’s splendid, and I guess its way I’m not nearly as frightened by the tea party as are most progressives. I certainly find much to admire (and much that I disdain) in the hard libertarian core represented by Ron Paul, people who take the idea of smallness seriously enough to hate the big wars that America has been waging in recent years. I don’t know where the political enthusiasm for the bracing, radical change America so desperately needs will come from. One thing that is clear, is that it won’t come from progressives, and Obama’s presidency has been an opiate, utterly stultifying the chances for a revived liberalism.
This brings me to Bill Kauffman’s recent book, By Bye Miss American Empire, a call for separation and division of the fifty states, into many more, smaller entities, and looks with favor on secession of Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico (though he seems to be a bit on the fence about a separate South.) Kauffman is a genial reactionary anarchist, living nearby in Batavia, New York, and has written many books on the need for a revived localism and a foreign policy to match, and has written an interesting history of the America First movement before WWII. His books are all witty, generally well researched, and convey a sense of optimism about whatever hopeless cause he is writing about at the moment, which in this case are the efforts of upstate New Yorkers to separate from the big, bad city far away, and similar movements. I knew something about NY efforts, but knew next to nothing about similar movement in western Kansas, far northern California, and the upper peninsula of Michigan and elsewhere. And I had never considered before how the statehoods of Alaska and Hawaii were really chapters in a broader Cold War policy to expand, wherever possible, the effective limits of American influence, in which the wishes of local residents were almost as unimportant to American policy makers as were, say , the Guatemalans or Iranians of the time.
Me, I like New York State just as it is, stretching from Montauk to the Niagara River, and I am not convinced of the necessary virtues of smallness in political units. For every more or less peaceful breakup of a Soviet Union, there’s a Yuogoslavia; give me the relative centuries long peace of the Ottomans, to the Sykes-Picoted-Balfoured Middle East of the past century. But as a thought experiment, or as Kauffman refers to it more than once, an eidolon, it is worth thinking about dividing America into itty-bitty pieces. I think I am atmy political core an anarchist, though of a very different version than Kauffman. Still, Kauffman’s work is imbued with a sense of populist possibility which is heartening and infectious. He makes several paeans to the Tea Party in the course of his book, and if there were more Kauffmans and fewer Palins and Bachmanns, the Tea Party would get a whole lot more interesting.