Thursday, May 10, 2007

The "Hole" in State's Rights

The doctrine of state's rights, or more broadly, decentralization, is a valid and useful one. It is undeniably true that the higher levels of government are particularly dangerous because they posses more power. Whichever level of government is highest will always constitute the ultimate arbiter in the "chain". A city or state is incapable of pulling off many of the things that federal/national governments can do. The doctrine of state's rights puts forth that the lower levels must be kept autonamous to prevent the federal government from usurping power. When the concept is applied down one level, it means that cities must likewise be kept autonamous from state governments.

However, most adherants of state's rights do not apply it beyond this level. What about keeping, say, the country club autonamous from the city? And, to take things further, what about keeping the individual autonamous from the city? Why must the concept stop at states or cities? Surely, if the principle rings true, then it applies consistantly across the board. And when the concept is consistantly applied at lower and lower levels, it eventually stops at the individual human being. The true autonomy in question is therefore always that of the individual. In a sense, the level of government becomes irrelevant because the real question is the individual vs. any government.

States do not have rights. Cities do not have rights. People do. There is a certain danger of allowing the state's rights concept to become an anthropromorphization of governments (governmental polylogism, if you will). States and cities are not autonamous decision makers, with minds, thoughts and actions of their own. Individual human beings are. Our use of the term state or city should only be an expression to indicate the cumulative result of the autonamous decisions of all individuals that make them up. If it is anything other than this, then it is anthropromorphic and polylogistic.

While state's rights can be very helpful as a tool in opposing federal laws, it is possible for it to be used as a tool to support state or city laws. I understand that many adherants of state's rights probably do not try to overtly use it this way, at least most of the time. However, there is nonetheless a danger of eliminating an unjust federal law and stopping there, allowing states to have that same unjust law. If we believe that, say, federal laws prohibiting drugs are a no-no, we should also believe the same for the same type of laws on the state and local levels. Consequentially, consistancy must lead us to be abolitionists. Strict adherance to state's rights can only be considered abolitionist with respect to federal laws.

The true question is about the individual vs. positive laws. The autonomy of the individual is a tool in opposing positive laws of all levels of government. If the federal government can secede from the united nations and if the state of Texas can secede from the federal government, then why can't Galveston secede from Texas? And why can't the individual in Galveston secede from Galveston? The individual is the ultimate and true unit of autonomy. The place to start methodologically is with the rights of person and property of each individual. The concentration on state vs. federal can blur this central question.

The state's rights doctrine also has another flaw in it, if I may suggest. While it is true that the federal government is worse than your city government because the politicians and bereaucrats are far away from you and therefore isolated from and inaccessable to you, it is also true that the city government's particular danger is that you are so closely accessable to it. To use an example of the absurdities that city governments can impose, consider fines being imposed by cities for growing your grass above a certain height (it's always defended with a 3rd party/externality arguement). City governments are filled with such laws over trivialities, which amount to telling people what to do with their own property. There is also a lot of government collusion with local buisiness, particularly with respect to zoning laws.

While state's rights is valid in various ways, it does not cut to the rub of the matter and is prone to misuse. In short, decentralization is a valid concept but most of its adherants do not consistantly apply it, they only apply it part of the way. The state's rights doctrine is, in fact, moderate decentralization. If one moderates it one step further, we get to the level of "national sovereignty" or centralization at the federal level; decentralization can only exist in this atmosphere to the extent that national governments remain independant from eachother. One step further than that lies unified global government, and hence no decentralization at all.

Thus, centralization and decentralization can be mapped out on a scale looking something like this, from the most decentralized to the most centralized:
  • Individualist Anarchism
  • City-State Republicanism
  • State Republicanism with city autonomy
  • State Republicanism without city autonomy
  • National Government with some state autonomy
  • National Government without state autonomy
  • Global Government with some national autonomy
  • Global Government with no national autonomy

No comments: