Posts tagged Decentralism

Re: Government at Work

Thanks for the link.

Note that both of these tyrannies primarily involve local and state government.

Do they?

The Interstate Highway System and the earlier U.S. highway system, for example, certainly involve state and local government. But I’d hardly say that the federal government was only “secondarily” involved in them.

Similarly, police brutality has existed always and everywhere where there are unaccountable government police, regardless of what level of government was involved in running them. But the specific phenomenon of increasing numbers of police on city streets and increasing militarization of the arsenal, training, personnel, and attitudes of police, over the past 40 years or so, has largely been the result of locally-administered federally coordinated programs (e.g. the War on Drugs and targeted repression of political “extremism”), and it has been bankrolled by the federal government to the tune of billions if not trillions of dollars in domestic nation-building exercises like “homeland security” grants, federal “community policing” initiatives, free federal training, subsidized military equipment sales, etc. (Where would small-town cops in South Carolina be getting a tank, if it weren’t for federal grants and subsidized federal sales of U.S. military equipment to local cops?)

These aren’t examples of local tyranny where the Feds are just standing by watching, or where the Feds could even potentially be enlisted as a countervailing force.The Feds are actively complicit and have been one of the primary forces in making things as bad as they are.

Just as peaceful secession would actually have profoundly destabilized slavery in the Southern states — because it meant the end of Fugitive Slave laws, the moving of the line of freedom from the Canadian border to the Mason-Dixon, and the removal of Northern military resources from the effort to suppress Southern slave revolts and John Brown raids — I think there’s good reason to think that, ceteris paribus, without the Feds at their back, the local Growth Machine types and the local paramilitary constabulary would be in a much more precarious position than they are now.

Of course, this is no reason to cry about “federalism” or “judicial activism” or some other conservative claptrap when looking at the handful of specific cases where the Feds do act against locally-administered tyrannizing (say, Miranda, or the recent Gant decision). But if we’re trying to figure out how things would “work out” on balance, then we do have to look at how much these forms of tyrannizing are incited, coordinated, and bankrolled from the center.

Re: Worth reading

You write:

The Constitution gives the federal government ultimate authority over immigration, for good reason, in my view.

Well, but this just relocates the question. If the Constitution delegates authority in such-and-such a way, what gives authority to the United States Constitution to decide the question? (I can write “Open borders and amnesty for all” on a napkin, and then write “THIS IS A CONSTITUTION FOR THE UNITED STATES” on the top of it; but obviously just writing it down isn’t sufficient to actually delegate the authority.)

If the answer is the authorization of a handful of long-dead men, who were a tiny minority of the population even at the time, then I certainly don’t see where they get the right to impose positive obligations on hundreds of millions of people today as to who should properly make decisions about whether or not to forcibly exclude immigrants from homes or workplaces.

If the answer is unanimous consent by the people currently held subject to the Constitution’s provisions, well, clearly, it doesn’t have that, any more than the particular immigration policies have unanimous consent.

If the answer is the authorization of some subset of the people currently held subject to the Constitution’s provisions (say, the majority of eligible voters or somesuch), then, again, the question is what right one group has to dictate terms to the other group, who does not authorize or consent to the terms.

Both here and in my next point, a question for you is whether a federal compact like the Constitution represents a contract, obligation, and statement of purpose that carries significant weight for you, and if so (as I provisionally assume it does), how much.

A contract between whom? If it’s a contract among individual citizens of the United States, or between each individual citizen and the government, then it is certainly nothing of the sort: I never signed it, was never asked to sign it, and have never been expected to sign it before its terms would be inflicted upon me. I expect the same is true for you. Personally, if I had been asked to sign it, I certainly would have refused, if that meant I would not be held to its terms.

If the compact is understood as a contract among something other than individual citizens — say, among the governments of the several states — then it might very well count as a contract, but then it’s entirely unclear how it gains any authority to settle political questions for either individual citizen, or would-be immigrants, unless some other compact, contract, or other relationship independently establishes an obligation by those individual people to the governments of the several states. I for one never authorized any of the several states to act as my agent, or to contract obligations on my behalf, so if they have a binding contract amongst themselves or with the federal government, then I still don’t see, as yet, how that has anything to say about who I may or may not welcome onto my own property.

Taking care not to imply that immigrants are a “bad”, there’s still the possibility that one locality’s decision will affect its neighbors willy-nilly in ways they perhaps should not have to accept.

I’m not clear on what you have in mind here. Could you be more specific what kind of effects you have in mind that people should not have to accept?

I mean, after all, suppose that all the people in my neighborhood (E. Rochelle Ave.) want to have a very welcoming policy towards would-be immigrants, while all the people the next neighborhood over (University Ave.) wants to keep them all out. If we voluntarily choose to invite immigrant guests into our homes and apartments, to rent or sell land to them, to invite them to work in our shops, etc., while the people on University choose to turn them away, refuse to rent or sell to them, refuse them employent, etc., and if the different policies in each neighborhood are consistently respected, then how exactly does our welcoming policy on Rochelle “affect … willy-nilly” the exclusionists over on University? The immigrants won’t be in their homes or workplaces or renting neighboring property. The only effect is that if people from University want to come over to Rochelle, then they will encounter the immigrants that we have invited to live and work with us. But while I sympathize a great deal with people having to deal with unwanted effects on their own property or in their own communities, I have very little idea why I should care about whether or not people in one neighborhood get their way about how other people should use their own property or what communities other than their own community ought to look like. If the question is properly devolved, then I can’t imagine how it is any of a University resident’s business how we live over here on Rochelle; let alone any business of somebody in New York or Washington, D.C. who I choose to live or work with here in Las Vegas.

Call me crazy, but “states rights” and “local polity trumps all” seem to me to often be a smokescreen for “let us mistreat people the way we want to, come hell or high water.”

I’m not defending a “states’ rights” position.

While I think that, when there are disagreements between states over immigration policy, different states should be able to enact different policies, I also think that, when there are disagreements within a state over immigration policy, different communities should be able to enact different policies, and different neighborhoods within a community should be able to enact different policies, and, ultimately, different individual people should each be able to enact different policies about the use of their own homes and workplaces. I agree that many people who have defended “states’ rights” position use it as a smokescreen for shitty treatment of other, less powerful people within their state. But that’s precisely because they stop devolving the question once they get to the level of the state. Thus, for example, defending the right of states to peacefully secede from the jurisdiction of the federal government, but then turning around and insisting on the supposed right of state governments to brutally crush any efforts by enslaved Southern blacks to peacefully secede from the jurisdiction of state governments or their local taskmasters. The problem there was too little devolution and secession, not too much.

My whole point, on the other hand, is not to fetishize the claims of any particular level of centralized political authority (such as state or even municipal governments), but rather that the question should be devolved downward until you reach genuine consensus on the localized question — if necessary down to the neighborhood; if necessary down to the individual property-owner.

Thus, on the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, I think that the right approach for Northern whites to take would have been, first, the Garrisonian strategy of cutting all political ties with the slaveholding states — thus allowing for the repeal of all Fugitive Slave Laws in the North, removing Northern bayonets from the Southern slavers’ arsenal, and moving the line of freedom from Canada south to Ohio. And then, second, the Harriet Tubman and John Brown strategies of aiding slaves in their efforts to escape slavery, instigating and providing aid to slave uprisings, and aiding efforts to create autonomous Maroon communities within the South. That is to say, strategies that focused on solidarity with black people struggling for their own freedom, rather than strategies which focused on white political prerogatives, or on “saving” black people from slavery through the outside intervention of a white-led, white-manned, white-controlled military engaged in a conventional war of invasion and conquest. Solidarity-based strategies like those proposed by the radical abolitionists could, I think, have ended slavery with substantially less bloodshed (and especially less collateral damage against non-slaveholding Southern whites), and with substantially more empowering results for Southern blacks who had been empowered to fight for and win their own freedom, rather than having to depend on the goodwill, ongoing concern, and military campaigns of Northern whites for it. Indeed, I think that those strategies probably could have averted the dreadful century of immiseration, dispossession, lynch law, and American apartheid that ended up following the formal emancipation, precisely because the Northern white political and military apparatus ended up dropping that goodwill and that concern, and selling out Southern blacks, in the name of “reconciliation” with Southern whites.

To return to open immigration and “undercutting legal labor markets,” I think there’s a basic problem in the way you’re framing the issue. It’s true that, under certain circumstances, when large numbers of poor immigrants move to a particular community, the average wage for existing native-born workers will tend to go down as a result of competition. But the average wage for the immigrant workers goes up from what they could have expected had they not moved; after all, that’s generally why poor immigrants move long distances to begin with. But the status of the native-born workers as “legal” residents can’t be used as part of the justification for making a legal distinction between native-born and immigrant workers, without simply making the argument circular and thus begging the question. And if we are discussing some other difference between the two — like a difference in nationality, or language, or ethnicity, I don’t see how any of those could make the standard of living among the relatively more privileged native-born workers somehow more important than the standard of living among the relatively less privileged immigrant workers. Certainly U.S. workers deserve a decent standard of living, but so do Mexican workers, and it’s not at all clear to me why the former should be able to force the latter out of the country in order to support their own standards of living at the expense of Mexican workers’ standards of living. I think there is no way to treat this sort of market dynamic as a reason for excluding Mexican workers (say) except by tacitly or explicitly accepting the nativist premise that the lives an livelihoods of U.S. workers somehow matter more than the lives and livelihoods of Mexican workers, just because the one group are from the U.S. and the other group are from Mexico. Which claim I find morally and politically indefensible.

(For myself, I’d say that the best solution is to empower all workers, regardless of race, nationality, language, ethnicity, or any of the other lines which are used to divide us. But that’s best accomplished by means of fighting unions that organize the entire working class, and by transnational labor solidarity, not by means of political gamesmanship and immigration policies which protect the wages of one group of workers only by means of screwing other, even more vulnerable and exploited groups of workers out of homes and jobs that they’d otherwise be able to get.)

Does that help clarify?



There’s hypocrisy in the former–anti-liberty actions are obviously not what pro-liberty rhetoric promises, but segregation, slavery, the Confederacy are all legitimate instances of decentralization

No they aren’t.

Just ask a black man who tried to secede from the Dixie slave system, or a white man who tried to join up with secessionist blacks and form a break-away republic in the Appalachians. See what they got for their trouble.

The problem with the Confederates and their so-called “decentralist” and predecessors, is that they weren’t nearly decentralist enough. A “states’ rights” position, sure, but who gave you the idea that preserving the prerogatives of big centralized states, as large as mid-sized European countries and ruled from the state capitol by a handful of racially, sexually and economically privileged oligarchs, counts as a non-hypocritical form of decentralism?

Re: “Not just the signature on a series of essays”


… the decentralized republicanism advocated by Jefferson ….

You forgot to add an important qualifier. What you no doubt meant to say was “the decentralized republicanism advocated for white people by Jefferson.”

The system of rule that Jefferson advocated, and personally instituted, for black people, was not “decentralized republicanism,” but rather hereditary, personal, absolutist tyranny–tyranny of a form almost unparalleled in human history for its invasiveness, immiseration, and ruthless brutality against its unwilling subjects.

Roe and causation

Constant: the emancipation of the slaves by a decree from a victorious Washington DC was still very right.

Yes, I agree, and this in spite of my belief that the Southern states should have been left alone to secede in peace. Forcing white Southerners back into the Union at bayonet-point and achieving power over them through conquest and occupation was a moral crime, but using that position of power, once achieved, to declare Southern slaves emancipated, is no crime; kidnappers and robbers have no right to go on kidnapping and robbing, so there’s no victim in that particular case. And it’s a very foolish form of libertarianism that would object on “federalist” grounds. I think, actually, that most libertarians would agree, in the case of emancipation, and that “federalist” objections to Roe v. Wade really have much more to do with ambivalence about abortion than they do with a consistent decentralism.

Constant: And similarly, we might say, Roe v. Wade was handed down by Washington DC, and thus Rad Geek was really twisting the facts with his summary of what happened, but it was still a great thing for Washington DC to do.

Well, my claim wasn’t that Roe specifically didn’t originate in D.C. Obviously it did. I was making a causal claim, to the effect that something other than the good graces of the Nine made it inevitable that either Roe, or some similarly sweeping victory, would eventually be won. So the facts that I cite as an explanation are those that I think best support the relevant counterfactuals. If the Nine hadn’t handed down a (mostly) pro-choice ruling in Roe, then (I would argue) the abortion law repeal movement would have won through a different proximate cause, such as state-level legislative repeal, and/or through a growing network for safe and affordable illegal abortions. On the other hand, if not for the repeal movement, I doubt that Roe ever would have been handed down. Hence the claim that the movement is a better explanation for the eventual repeal than the Supreme Court is.