James Leroy Wilson's blog

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On States and States' Rights

Two recent blog entries, here and here, get me thinking about localism and states' rights again, and why I go "conservative" on this issue.

I believe any debate about the best form of government depends on how we understand its purpose, and how the people are taxed. If we conceive the State as a high-falutin' concept such as "the collective pursuit of the Good," we'd probably construct a government different from one based on protecting our "rights and freedoms," which would be different from a "common-wealth" vision.

My own "ideal State," if we have to have the State, would be a "common-wealth" system, which I think would be best administered by a monarch. That might sound strange for a "left-libertarian," but I'm talking about a system I believe would provide the least hassle and cost for the libertarian. Besides, the land question is and always will be THE political problem, and I lean left there.

In this system, landholders would pay the king rent according to the value of their land, the king would use that money on infrastructure like bridges and courts, and then either pocket the rest or perhaps give each person in the realm a dividend. I call it the "Landlord State." The king would maintain the country as a landlord maintains a building: make a profit by doing it well. He'll make sure the tenants don't kill each other or trash the hallways and elevators. The people would otherwise be left alone to do as they please. And the king, likewise, would be left alone to spend the profits as he pleases. If he wants to spend it on a church, or an art museum, or on a medical research facility, that's his personal philanthropy doing it, not The State doing it. I believe the profit incentive of the king would be more efficient and fair than would a democracy that seeks to maintain the thing through a disinterested pursuit of the "public good."

What is now the USA would be composed of several hundred kingdoms; the world would be composed of many thousands of them. That allows greater freedom for individuals to flee a badly-run kingdom for another. Tyrannical kings would lose tenants fast. So would those who imposed high taxes without making improvements.

That's a fantasy, of course. I'm not about to dedicate my life toward establishing a throne. We are stuck with democratic republics with a class of looters who feel entitled to tax productive activity like work and investment, and with busy-bodies, whether religious or "progressive," who feel threatened by how other people want to live their own lives.

It is in this context that I value the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects states' rights. And why I believe in the right to secession. It is not because I think the states individually are so great. They don't have any greater moral right to infringe on our freedoms than does the federal government. They will have their share of petty tyrants and looters.

But, just as one who distrusts free markets must distrust government all the more, so it is that one who distrusts local government must distrust central government even more. All the rotten characteristics of the political soul are that much worse on the national scale: more money, more power, more fame. If the central government always overrules state and local government, then it will overturn some bad laws and restore some civil liberties, some of the time. But at the same time, it will impose a lot more bad laws and take away a lot more liberty.

The federal Constitutional republic was created to strengthen America's security and foreign policy, and to establish and maintain an internal free trade zone. Otherwise, the laws of New York, or Alabama, no more concern me than do the laws of Nova Scotia, Nigeria, or Mars. The advantage of 50 states instead of an all-powerful government is that some won't be as bad as others. One can escape from a bad one to go to a better one. The more the central government assumes the powers that the states once had, the less room, and fewer options, to escape. Better to tolerate tyranny in some places than to impose it everywhere.

The Constitution has its flaws, but the Tenth Amendment is a clear and concrete prohition of the federal government assuming illegitimate powers. It maintains the freedom to move from a particularly bad state to a not-so-bad one, a move which would be pointless if the federal government controlled everything. I will continue to invoke the Tenth Amendment as a means to combat the growth of the central government.


  1. It's nice to know that there are other monarchists out there.

    I agree that federalism has its points and that it would give us a shot at shopping for states based on our values. I just like to point out from time to time that states and localities can be pretty tyrannical. And a lot of folks who call for states' rights do so because they want to exercise more power over people in their states.

  2. Interesting how this morning early in a post on change, i made a snide remark concerning the tenth amendment, and that just happens to be the topic of your post here. What does that say about wavelength and the collective psyche? Glad to have you in the same marginal thought pattern.

    so - how would you determine the jurisdictional sovereignty of your monarchy and why cannot everybody start as a king and then bind themselves at their will?