Can Radical Federalism Save America?
Eminent conservative thinker Angelo Codevilla had an article titled "To Rescue a Nation" last week at the American Mind that’s very much worth reading. To save the republic means ending the escalating tensions and conflicts precipitated by growing divisions. A radical approach is necessary.
To allow divergent peoples to peacefully coexist and find some commonality of purpose so the nation may survive, differences must be accepted and governance made to conform to that reality. To achieve that good result, Codevilla asserts that we need a “radical de-centralization” or, as might be said, a radical federalization of the nation. It’s the remedy for saving the country from disunion or tyranny. But is this worthy goal achievable?
Per Codevilla’s radical decentralization prescription ventures beyond reducing the national government’s powers and devolving powers to the states (where, per the Constitution, many should have always resided), but granting far greater autonomy to jurisdictions within states, meaning counties and cities.
The nation is diverse within states. Red and blue Americans -- or using Codevilla’s terms, republican and Woke Americans -- aren’t strictly segregated into red and blue states, though continuing migrations from blue to red states are sharpening distinctions. To reduce conflict, to gain the tranquility and harmony necessary for the nation to adhere, prosper, and provide for a common defense, there has to be a multiplicity of jurisdictions that grant like peoples the autonomy to govern themselves in better alignment with their values and principles.
We’re tempted to say that Codevilla’s vision aligns the nation more closely with its inception, with the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union -- at least in that spirit. A looser federation of states and enhanced localities with Washington more focused on core functions -- national defense being preeminent – would boost chances of the United States continuing as one nation.
But there’s a sticking point, and it isn’t trifling. In fact, for the nation’s elites (the oligarchs -- Codevilla uses that descriptor, too) and the left, radical decentralization is precisely what they oppose. Whereas republican America would, and portions of Woke America may, welcome a significant decentralization, which amounts to a policy of “live and let live,” a radical centralization of the nation is what oligarchs and the left seek.
The oligarchs do so, principally, for power that leads to wealth. The left, which holds to Marxism, lusts for power and seeks wealth but also craves control over lives. Marxism -- not judged by its blarney, but by its practice – demonstrates that it’s about hierarchy, concentrations of power, and control -- not of an authoritarian stripe, but a totalitarian one, as history makes abundantly clear.
Today, these anti-liberty factions are playing a zero-sum game, and they’ve given no indications that they’re willing to compromise or are open to realignments of government that thwart their aspirations.
Codevilla is cognizant that the oligarchs and left aren’t interested in fellowship and fair accommodations. Republican America must wage “defensive battles” to dissuade these factions and induce their cooperation in radically federalizing America. Codevilla offers this solution to achieve that end:
Republican Americans’ success in [snip] defensive battles should convince the oligarchy to limit its absolute power to the people who want to live under it. The persons whom the republicans choose in successive elections will have substantial power to define the terms by which America’s tribes relate to one another. Maximum latitude for each and minimum interference with the other should be the guidelines. Affording maximum autonomy to each is essential to ensure peace among people who identify with civilizations at odds with each other.
Codevilla asserts that republican America needs a true national movement as a bulwark “because the oligarchy poses problems nationwide and can bring its whole force to bear against challenges at any point, fighting it effectively requires marshaling the bulk of Republicans, nationwide, for common action.”
Codevilla identifies specific defensive battles (which appear more offensive) that are vital to forcing the oligarchs’ and left’s cooperation: 1) Going after the tech giants’ monopoly and cartel powers and their censorship; 2) reining in corporations by enacting measures to protect employees from firings over politics or matters of conscience and breaking the alliance between corporations and Democrats; 3) reduce government financing of colleges and universities, which are the left’s idea generators and indoctrination centers, and make these institutions responsible for their students’ loan debts; and, finally, 4) tackling what Codevilla calls the “deadliest weapon in the war of annihilation [being waged] against our Republic.” Codevilla refers here to the justice system, intelligence services, and military.
Since the persons who actually wield these powers have careers that transcend electoral cycles, whoever would lead the republican nation can limit the harm they do by forcefully warning them that, sooner or later, a president will take office who, as the American republic’s vigorous partisan and unlike predecessors, will work terrible vengeance upon any and all persons who have served the oligarchy. Such leaders can show their seriousness by using whatever powers they may have to block funding for parts of the justice system, for the FBI and CIA, for certain of the armed forces’ activities, and especially for contractors whom they judge to be excessively tied to the oligarchy.
Codevilla says that to rally and lead a national movement a galvanizing figure must emerge. He doesn’t appear to be keen on Trump, because he believes Trump is too self-focused. Here we disagree. Trump has largely galvanized Red or republican America. As president, despite relentless hostilities, he accomplished for the nation. He drew large audiences, in person and across mediums, including last Saturday night at an Ohio rally. Yet, the organization behind Trump has been inchoate and most often ad hoc. Trump may be the General Washington republican America needs. What he requires are able lieutenants who can effectively organize behind him.
A critical consideration is that the oligarchs and left would offer robust counters to republican America’s “defensive” offensives. The stakes are sky-high for them. We must grasp the nature of the enemy.
Men and women, bent on domination, and in many cases, with years of sweat equity invested in achieving their aims, aren’t going to be quickly deterred. They will fight and fight hard. As we saw during the Trump presidency, they have no compunction about using false accusations and illegality (Russia Collusion hoax), destroying reputations, brazen disinformation (the January 6 “insurrection”), resorting to election chicanery, stoking public fear as a means of manipulation (COVID lockdowns), and loosing Antifa and BLM to incite riots. Exposed in 2020 was the ugliness and, in fact, ruthlessness, of anti-liberty factions. They can get uglier and more ruthless without a doubt.
Which isn’t an argument against fully joining the fight and committing to nothing less than total victory. Republican America has plenty at stake, too: the rule of law and liberty. It’s simply to impart the understanding that in war -- cold, hot, or somewhere in-between -- it’s best to anticipate a greater intensity of conflict for a longer duration than decent people would hope, particularly when wars are civil in nature.
The status quo is unsustainable. The question is, can republican America win the day, ushering in a fundamental decentralization of the nation, thereby permitting divergent peoples to share one nation, bound by some traditions and some shared beliefs and aspirations? Perhaps. Or will this clash between very different worldviews lead to the permanent partition of America? Or will it boil down to a zero-sum game, with one or the other side prevailing? Much awaits future events.
J. Robert Smith can be found on Parler @JRobertSmith and more so at Gab, again @JRobertSmith. He also blogs at Flyover.
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