Nightcap

  1. The abolitionist hero ahead of his time Marcus Rediker, Aeon
  2. On guilt by association Chris Dillow, Stumbling and Mumbling
  3. The newest right-wing assault on federalism Ilya Somin, Volokh Conspiracy
  4. The Conquest of the World as Globe Soni Wadhwa, Asian Review of Books

From the Comments: More trade, more states?

Nguyen Ha left this thoughtful comment about my post on protectionism in Africa that I am embarrassed I missed:

Would you care to explain how “stronger economic ties will hasten the demise of current African states’ superficial institutions”?

What a tough question! First, though, I stated that it was my hope that deeper trading ties would lead to more states, not my prediction. My hope is based on current trends around the world: stronger economic ties have led to more states (and more aspirations for statehood within existing states).

The best academic treatment on this topic comes from Giacomo Ponzetto, an economist currently at CREI in Barcelona (he’s been mentioned at NOL on more than one occasion, too), and especially the Introduction and Section 5 of his working paper titled “Globalization and Political Structure.” Here:

As globalization proceeds, localities remove borders by increasing the size of countries. The number of countries declines and the mismatch between each locality is ideal and actual provision of public services grows. Eventually, this mismatch is large enough to justify a move to a two-level governance structure. The world political structure shifts from a few large countries to many small countries within a world economic union. The two-level structure is more expensive, but it is nonetheless desirable because it facilitates trade and improves preference-matching in the provision of public services.

By “two-level governance structure” Ponzetto means one level, a locality, that’s focused on delivering public goods to that specific locality, and another level, a world economic union, that’s focused on protecting property rights and eliminating border costs.

You can see this concept play out in a few different federative structures, especially the EU, the US, India, and China. In the European Union, multiple localities have tried to separate from countries (Catalonia from Spain, Scotland from UK) while still remaining part of the international economic union in place. Deeper trade ties, more states.

Three new states were created in India in 2000, and China is currently grappling with federalism as a way to keep up with its predictable economic success. The US hasn’t seen any new states added since 1959, but that’s because its system does a good enough job overall to keep all its member states content (happy, even).

The free trade zone in Africa will be interesting to watch because there are so many different variables at play than in China, the EU, India, or the US. India was governed by one overseas empire; the EU has been able to maintain stability because of American military power and the security umbrella it provides; China has been unified on and off again for centuries; and the US is, for all intents and purposes, a polity underscored by British cultural, economic, and political mores. Africa has none of these traits, yet its various leaders recognize that free trade leads to prosperity and often (not always) to better diplomatic ties.

If all goes well, and current trends elsewhere are any indication, Africa would see more states come into being to go along with its deeper economic ties. (This might be a major factor why Nigeria refused to join; Abuja fought a vicious civil war in the 1970s against separatists in Biafra and its leaders are probably tacitly aware of current global trends.) If all doesn’t go well, then violence and poverty will be just around the corner.

An update on the federalist debate in India

In recent days, numerous leaders in India’s South have spoken in one voice against the 15th Finance Commission — arguing that it is unfair to South Indian states. The bone of contention is a directive in the terms of reference given to the Finance Commission, which states that the distribution of revenues amongst states should be based on the 2011 census, as opposed to the 1971 census. During this period, South Indian states have fared well in controlling their population, while Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh – all northern states – have been unsuccessful. South Indian states have put forth the argument that they have been penalized for controlling their population, while states which have not fared particularly well have been rewarded.

Some leaders have also objected to the commission dubbing important welfare schemes as ‘populist’ without understanding the economic and social dynamics of different states.

Non-Economic Issues Continue reading

Lunchtime Links

  1. My country, your colony | why the Holocaust in Europe?
  2. compliance and defiance to national integration in Africa [pdf] | on doing economic history
  3. ethnonationalism and nation-building in Siberia [pdf] | cosmopolitanism and nationalism
  4. political centralization and government accountability [pdf] | decentralization in military command
  5. unified China and divided Europe [pdf] | unilateralism is not isolationism

Reply to ‘Classical Liberalism, Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism’

I write in reply to Edwin van de Haar’s post ‘Classical Liberalism, Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism’, which contains some generous remarks about my social media posts while putting forward a view different from my own about the role of the nation state. Edwin argues that the nation state is foundational to classical liberalism in that post. I have previously argued for the benefits of the United Kingdom staying in the European Union, just before the referendum which has put the UK on the path to leaving.

I will start with the doctrinal issues of how far classical liberalism might be considered as something that is embedded in the emergence of the nation state as we know it. It is true that classical liberalism arose as the nation state emerged and consolidated and it did not occur to classical liberals, on the whole, to question the state system as they knew it. That is a system defined in early modern natural law and contractual theory about law and state as one of a very unified system of sovereignty in a world of ‘a state of nature’, anarchy, or lawlessness between states.

We have to note at least one major deviation in the familiar list of classical liberal authors, which is Immanuel Kant, thinking of his essays ‘Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’ (1784) and ‘Perpetual Peace: a philosophical sketch’ (1795), which do not question the internal  sovereignty of states, but does argue for a law governed set of relations between states with a global institution of some sort to prevent republics going to war with each other.

We should consider John Stuart Mill’s thoughts on federal states in Considerations on Representative Government (1861), particularly chapter XVII, ‘Or Federal Representative Governments’ which looks at the possibility of a state with decentralised decision making functions. A nation state can be federalised, at least in principle, but what are the components of the federation other then sub-nations, where the population may even regard them as nations within the state. Mill was building on the experience of the United States since the constitution of 1787, and Switzerland, particularly since the federal constitution of 1848.

The United States and Switzerland did not come out of nowhere. The US consolidated the links between thirteen colonies of Great Britain while federal Switzerland built on the Swiss Confederation and its links with places like Geneva which were associated with the confederation, but were not part of it until the restructuring of European states in the Napoleonic period. The point here is that modern states may be federal as well as unitary states and that includes continuity with pre-modern links between at last partly self-governing regions-nations. We could even say that kind of state of associated states was the Medieval norm.

The example, and even idealisation, of this Medieval structure enters classical liberalism via Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748), along with the work of Swiss jurists of the time, particularly in Berne. Montesquieu was building on the experience of the kind of medieval and early modern monarchy where he thought there was liberty, moderation in government, distinguishing it from tyranny. In such situations different laws and assemblies for towns and for historic regions was quite normal under the monarchy. In so far as such states, like France, were tending to evolve in states based on the absolute sovereignty of the centre, in the formation of what we call a nation state, Montesquieu saw the danger of despotism.

The historical experience that Montesquieu was drawing on was the way that Medieval monarchies were constructed through assembling  patch work of  the monarch’s personal domains, regions with their own lords and institutions, and church domains, along with increasingly self-governing towns. He also looked at the antique experiences of allying republics in a federation, which he thought was preserved in the Netherlands and Switzerland of his time. Germany, which at that time was a kind of federal/confederal empire of very varied forms of sub-imperial sovereign units including princes with lands outside the Empire, was also a form of federation for Montesquieu.

If we go back to the German history of the century before Montesquieu, the idea of the modern nation state is strongly associated with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Thirty Years war, focused on Germany, but drawing in most of Europe. ‘Westphalian state system’ has become a label for an internal system of states which are completely sovereign internally and face each other as equal legal personalities with no higher instance of sovereignty or collective instrument for enforcing the laws of nations, which do have some basis in the natural law doctrines of the time, and earlier.

The trouble with this understanding of Westphalia is that though it has some truth for Europe outside the German Empire (officially known as the Holy Roman Empire), it is very misleading for the Empire, and therefore for those European powers, including Sweden and Denmark, which had land within the Empire. The princes, cities and other territorial units within the Empire were under the legal authority of the Emperor, who largely served as a judge of interstate disputes though with far greater powers in the lands of the Habsburg family (consolidated as the Austrian Empire in the Napoleonic era) which always had the Emperor, though the Emperor was legally an elective office. The Habsburgs land extended outside the Empire into central Europe so the Westphalian system of Imperial authority brought in other European nations and extended outside the Empire strictly speaking.

Westphalia modified a system rooted in the Middle Ages of Germany as a middle European federation or confederation, drawing in other parts of Europe and therefore anchoring a European system of some kind. Periods of dominance by France or Spain complicate this story, but French claims always overlapped with Imperial claims and the peak of Spanish power was when the Spanish monarchy was from the same family as the German Emperors.

The Napoleonic era disrupted these arrangements severely, but we can see Napoleon as trying to revive the original Empire of the Romans under Charlemagne in the ninth century, which united France, Germany and neighbouring territories under a Frankish over-king. Charlemagne was know as ‘father of Europe’ in his time, perhaps more in connection with Europe as Christendom and his wars against Muslims in Spain, then with Europe as we might think of it now, but this is part of the story of what it is for there to be a Europe and a European system. Coronation by the Pope and recognition of the Frankish kingdom as heir to ancient Rome connects the medieval German Empire with the first great European political system, the Roman Empire.

The aftermath of the Napoleonic period in Germany was a confederation, which again included those European powers (the United Kingdom was one) which had lands in Germany. This evolved into the German Empire founded in 1871, which was itself an extraordinary mixture of Greater Prussia, federation, democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, and so on. It was more of a nation state than German predecessor systems in that it was a sovereign unified part of the international state system. The size and growing economic power of the Kaiserreich, incorporating Polish, French and Danish speaking areas, made it a destabilising force in Europe. Too big for the security of other European states, too small to anchor a European system.

The First World War and the Second World War were both consequences of this unstable system. The European Union is in large part an attempt to solve the problem by creating a European system which Germany anchors, though since unification the dominance of Germany has become an issue again. Whatever the problems, the EU provides a better framework for structuring a European system in which Germany is both contained and can exert influence in a consensual manner.

Returning to the issue of the nation state, Germany was never a nation state in the strictest sense of a very unitary state with a single language and ethnicity. France has usually been taken as the model of the nation state ‘strictly speaking’, but even so it has only been a country of speakers of standard French since the late nineteenth century. As it is now, it includes speakers of Breton, Basque, Occitan and Alsace German. Corsica has special status and Alsace-Lorraine also has some special arrangements in recognition of its specificities.

The European world before the First World War was more of a Europe of multi-national Empires than nations, with four Empires (German Hohenzollern, Austrian Habsburg, Turkish Ottoman, Russian Romanov) dominating the centre and east. Spain in practice has always been an extended Castille in which other regions-nations have played variable distinct roles. The United Kingdom never completely integrated as a nation state; even at the peak of integration in the nineteenth century, Scotland kept its own legal, state church and educational system and since then in a rather complicated way the UK has become more loosely integrated and may lose Scotland in a few years.

Even with the imminent departure of the UK from the EU, Europe continues to be a political system, not just an aggregate of nation states. The larger European states are not nation states in the strictest sense. Even without the EU, European states accept various kinds of obligation with regard to north Atlantic security and global trade which limit sovereignty. The UK will negotiate some kind of membership of the internal market of the EU and its passport union aspect, as well as participation in various EU schemes. It will therefore continue to be part of a European system anchored by Germany.

Ever since the Romans, Europe has needed a European system of some kind, and the German anchor schemes going back to 800 have recognised the Roman precedent. In reality there has never been a Europe of nation states and the periods closest to that model ended in catastrophic wars. Disaggregation of the European system as it is now may not result in war, but it has the potential to unleash trade wars, protectionism, competitive currency devaluation, erosion of chances to live, work, and study abroad, associated labour market sclerosis, destabilising struggles for political-diplomatic dominance, and an incapacity to ally in order to deal with global and strategic issues affecting Europe, including migration flows, Russian expansionism, and Middle Eastern conflict and terror.

(more on the consequences of the UK leave referendum soon)

The Case Against Galactic Government?

Samuel Hammond, a friend of a friend, has recently written a blog post musing about whether trade between Mars and Earth should be discouraged. The basic premise is that the case for colonizing Mars is to decrease the likelihood of a catastrophe leading to the extinction of humanity due to a black crow event.

Inter-planetary trade would allow both planets to minimize the harms of minor to moderate events, Samuel seems to acknowledge this. This is how international trade today helps nations minimize the harms of localized events. The harm of the ongoing drought in California has been lessened due to ability of consumers to tap into markets elsewhere to meet their demands.  What Samuel is concerned about is those events whose danger increases in proportion to the inter-connectivity of markets. Samuel gives the example of financial markets, but allow me to introduce another similar danger: the Mule.

2-mule-foundation
The Mule, primary antagonist in I. Asimov’s Foundation & Empire

In Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi universe much of the known galaxy in the distant future comes under the rule of the Foundation Federation. The Foundation is a liberal galactic government that promotes intra-galactic trade, but grants each planet wide freedom to settle its internal matters. It has waged wars of defense, but is notable in that it has never waged a war of conquest and its members have all joined voluntarily. I would go as far to say it is an ideal form of galactic government. However the Foundation’s promotion of galactic inter-connectivity backfires when the Mule, a mutant human with the ability to influence minds, takes control of the government elite. The Mule is a single man but, due to the hyper-connectivity of the Foundation, can assume control with a few well placed followers. Almost overnight the Mule transform the liberal Foundation into his personal dictatorship. The last bastions of freedom are those regions of space controlled by pirates free traders.

Eventually the Mule is defeated and liberal government restored, but only because of the efforts of those polities outside the Foundation’s control. If the Foundation had been a monopolis, a government that controlled all of humanity, then it is doubtful the Mule would have been defeated. Inter-connectivity can yield significant benefits, but as outlined above it can also maximize the damage of black crow events.

Does this mean that Samuel is correct and that any further space colonies must be separated from Earth in terms of trade and governance? Not quite. Although I think Samuel’s concerns serve as an argument against extreme inter-connectivity between worlds, I do not think it is sufficient to justify actively building barriers between worlds. Rather I interpret black crow events as arguments in favor of tolerating the existence of rogue nations, such as North Korea, Somalia, and other contemporary nations that exist outside the primary world system.

As space exploration becomes a reality I think all efforts should be made to promote inter-connectivity between the various worlds. We should promote Earth-Mars relations. We should not however oppose those who wish to live in the asteroid belt and minimize their contact with the rest of us. This break away colonies will arise naturally and need not be actively created, only tolerated. These break away colonies will be founded by an assortment of pirates, religious zealots, political dissidents, and other outcasts. By tolerating their existence we will reap the benefit of space exploration while minimizing the likelihood of black crow events to destroy all of humanity.

What is the proper role of government? Galactic Edition

Mordanicus of Fascinating Future, a sci-fi blog, is musing over the purpose of galactic government. As Mordanicus points out, galactic empires are a staple of science fiction. They can be found in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, Firefly and Foundation universes.

…the feasibility of a galactic empire is questionable.

In Asimov’s description of the galactic empire, it consists of 25 million inhabited planets and 500 quadrillion people, 20 billion per planet on average. It is hard to even imagine a planetary empire, and no such thing has ever existed in human history, let alone such enormous empire.

The fundamental issue with an empire of this size is effective control by the central government. Its sheer size makes it inevitable to delegate many administrative powers to “local” planetary official. But the more power is transferred to individual planets, the less power remains with the central government. The question is then what is the proper function of the imperial government?

What is the purpose of these empires though? In those sci-fi universes with aliens these empires serve some defensive role for our Milky Way galaxy, but in many sci-fi universes there is no clear visible external threat.  What is the purpose of the empire then? Or is it simply a way for wealth distribution by those living in the Saturn beltway?

I personally view merit in a galactic empire if it were able to maintain internal peace. I have no doubt that in a space faring civilization there will be pirates and I believe that there are economies of scale in galactic trade route policing.

There is also merit in an empire that can keep rogue planetary governments in check. A galactic empire would be restrained in its ability to govern on its own given the largess of space and would need to delegate many functions to different layers of government. An empire would however still serve as a last layer of resort for those petitioning against their planetary government.

What about NOL readers? Are you convinced that space piracy warrants an empire? Or would a space faring civilization be better government by planetary or sub-planetary governments?

Read the full post from Mordanicus here.

Scotland, Nation, and Liberty

As I start writing voting is coming to an end in Scotland with regard to a referendum on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom comprises England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. There are those in Cornwall, a peninsula on the extreme south-west of England who argue that is should be represented as an entity on  level with those four components of the UK, as it was regarded as distinct from England into the sixteenth century, never having being properly incorporated into Roman Britannia or Anglo-Saxon Wessex (the Old English kingdom in the south west, which became the nucleus of the Medieval English state).

From the 10th century onwards Anglo-Saxon kings asserted supremacy over Scotland with varying degrees of success in obtaining some recognition of overlordship from Scottish kings. Wars between Scotland and England led to victory for Scotland in the fourteenth century when the English monarchy ended attempts to use force to demand Scottish subordination, or even incorporation of Scotland, and European states accepted Scotland as a sovereign entity. In the early seventeenth century, Queen Elizabeth I of England died childless so that the heir to the English crown was King James VI of Scotland who became James I of England. He moved his court from Edinburgh to London, and pushed for the union of two kingdoms in his person to become a state union of England and Scotland as Great Britain. (At this time, Wales was treated as a part of England.)

The English Parliament resisted the creation of Great Britain, but by the early eighteenth century there was mutual interest in the trade and economic advantages of state union with accompany reductions on trade barriers, particularly after the failure of a brief attempt at Scottish empire building in Central America.  An Act of Union was passed by the English Parliament in 1707 and then by the Scottish Parliament in 1708, which abolished the Scottish Parliament. It also left in place major differences in laws, the legal system, education, and the state church, which have lasted until the present day.

Before the personal union of Scotland and England under James VI/I, Scotland itself went through a process of internal integration, or colonisation of the peripheral regions by the centre, as all nations have. This included the 1493  abolition of the Lord of the Isles, which indicated sovereignty over an area covering the highland and island areas of Scotland, and which has a complex history in relation to all the neighbouring powers. The incorporation  of that region, what could easily have been a separate sovereign nation if history had gone a bit differently, was not completed until 1745, that is after the Act of Union, when a British army destroyed an attempted restoration of the Stuart family of James VI/I. The attempted restoration is known as the Jacobite Rebellion. Jacobite refers to the latinised form of James, in honour of James II, who was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 due to his Catholic religion, fears that he was attempting to enforce that religion as a state church instead of the existing Protestant established church, and fears that he was creating an absolute monarchy with a decorative role only for Parliament.

The Jacobite Rebellion itself divided Scotland between the traditional semi-feudal highland chiefs and the commercial world of the Lowlands. As a consequence of the failure of the Rebellion, British law was enforced fully for the first time beyond the Highland line, while restrictions were placed of Highland customs, clothing, and language. The language of the Highlands was Gaelic (a Celtic language relate to Irish, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton).   This was the triumph of the Scots (a dialect of English, or a language which is very close to English depending on point of view) and English speaking Lowlanders and the end of the process initiated by the early Stuart overthrow of the Lords of the Isles.

The United Kingdom was formed by the 1800 Act of Union, which abolished the Irish parliament. Most of Ireland left to form what is now the Republic of Ireland in the early 1920s, but Northern Ireland remained, now with its own parliament, which is why there is still a UK, not just Great Britain.

All this history is to indicate the long historical nature and the complexity of the  relations between England and Scotland, with regard to sovereignty, identity, and so on. Scotland like England was itself a work in progress before union, and the integration of Scotland into what might be taken as a single nation, was completed over one hundred years after the Act of Union, over two hundred years after the union of crowns, under the leadership of the British crown, which at that time was unified with the German princedom of Hanover.

Scotland was never assimilated into England, even when there was no parliament, and Scotland has always been distinct from England than Wales in at least two respects:

  1. there is a higher proportion of trade within Scotland than with England, than of internal Welsh trading activity compared with trade with England;
  2. Wales’s contact with urban centres is just as much with the nearby English cities of Bristol, Birmingham, and Liverpool as with its own cities (principally Swansea and Cardiff) while Scotland is very focused on its own cities (principally Edinburgh and Glasgow).

However, Wales is more distinct from England in language since twenty per cent  speak Welsh fluently, everyone studies Welsh at school, and Wales is officially bilingual, even gesturing towards Welsh language priority. Gaelic speakers are about one per cent of the Scottish population.

The Welsh-Scottish comparison serves to show that ways of assessing national identity and distinctness vary and that there is no one way of evaluating this, so there can be no one institutional and political strategy for accommodating national differences within a state. The level and intensity of Scottish distinctness and identity has amounted to a nation now divided almost exactly down the middle about whether it wishes to separate from the UK.

This is not just an issue of identity though, as a large part of the Scottish independence vote is based on a belief that Scotland is egalitarian, welfarist, communal, social democratic, or even socialist, in comparison with England and that the countries are polar opposites on these issues. Another part of support for independence is the hope that North Sea oil will bring more benefit to Scotland if a Scottish government is collecting the tax revenue, accompanied by the belief that taxation at the UK level is some kind of resource theft.

Building on the historical, political, and institutional account above, what conclusions am I drawing? The first thing to state is of course that Scotland has every right to leave the UK if it so wishes, that it is a good thing that a referendum is being held to test what Scots want, and that if independence is what is wanted, then the government of the residual UK use must take a positive and co-operative approach to the departure of Scotland.

However, I certainly don’t believe that Scotland should separate. Part of that is the emotional patriotism of an Englishman, call it nationalism no problem, based on centuries of shared enterprise and struggle, good (the defeat of National Socialist Germany) and bad (imperialism). The Scots took a disproportionately large part in the trading, colonising, and military aspects of that joint history, and during that history many Scots went to England and became part of English society, John Stuart Mill’s father is a notable example. One of the great flourishing moments of that history was the Scottish Enlightenment of David Hume, Adam Smith, and others, which always involved education, travel, and interaction in England as well as Scotland.

Why peace behind centuries of joint enterprise in which despite centralising processes, differences of identity and in institutions proved to be compatible with the growth of commercial society, civil society, liberty under law, parliamentary government, science and culture, and the twentieth century struggle against totalitarianism.

There’s  a lot for liberty advocates to admire there, without denying that a lot of worse things happened as well, and surely we should be disposed to favour building on that rather than destroying it. Many liberty advocates have a preference for small nations where maybe there is more chance of intelligent laws and policies, less remote from everyday reality and individual understanding of particular realities.

I can only agree with the provision that such a result can be achieved through forms of federalism which are decentralising rather than centralising so that the federal centre is largely responsible for trade, foreign and defence policy, and the lower region and national levels do everything else in an innovative, flexible, diverse, and competitive way.

There is still some benefit in the UK remaining as a unified power for defence and military purposes. It is would not be good from a liberty point of view for a country that in its military budget and capacities, its diplomatic and transnational weight, is still a match for nearly all the major powers. The UK whatever its faults is one of the more liberty  oriented parts of the world, and no good would come from lessening its strategic and diplomatic weight. Of course those liberty advocates who prefer very neutralist and almost pacifist attitudes to international relations will not be impressed, but we live in a world where states with low levels of inner liberty and little respect for the rights of others exist, and should be at least matched by powers that are more liberty oriented at home and more respectful of the rights in the international sphere. The role of liberal democracies has not always been admirable in this sphere, but better those errors than unchecked aggression from authoritarian states.

The institutions of liberty are more likely to flourish in democratic states, where a multiplicity of national and regional identities flourish, than in attempts to break away based on some inclination, of some degree of intensity, that singular national identity is better than multiplicity and that national identity needs unrestrained state sovereignty. In the particular case of Scotland, the Scottish National Party, and others for independence, are relying on the dream of a more socialist country where ‘Scottish’ oil is protected from the English to fund an expanding state, without having a plausible explanation for the currency to be used on independence, or any sense of reality about how international markets testing the prudence of a new state are likely to drive it towards high interest rates and displays of deficit reduction.

The political consequences of a subsequent disillusion with social democratic dreams mingled with existing  assumptions of a morally superior Scottish community, and related anti-English feeling, in economically disruptive circumstances could be most severe and disturbing. Even on a more optimistic assumption about the future in which Scotland moves smoothly into a more social democratic future, nothing is gained from a pro-liberty point of view. Pro-liberty commentators who think that because Hume and Smith were Scots that an independent Scotland will be guided by Enlightenment classical liberalism have completely lost the plot.

“The Economic Origins of Territorial States”

That’s the title for a paper by Scott Abramson in the Department of Politics at Princeton. Among the gems in this excellent paper:

[…[ before the French Revolution, before the era of the mass conscript army, wealth could not only purchase the technologies of violence, but also the manpower required to prosecute major wars. That is, rather than being an age when large states dominated militarily, this was a period where the population and natural resource advantages of territorial states provided little benefit in the production of violence. Leaders of states could, for a negotiated price, hire a Hessian colonel or an Italian condotierro and retain their men for a campaign season just as they could use these resources to purchase the most advanced technologies of coercion like siege artillery or rearms. It was by virtue of their economic capacity city-states like Genoa and Florence or groups of independent towns like the Swabian league could raise armies that matched or even exceeded those of territorial states like France or England

and

[…] the relationship between geographic scale and survival probability is the opposite of what war-making theories predict. Over this span small states were more likely to survive than their larger counterparts. In other words, rather than being an age of the territorial state” the period between 1500 and 1800 was one in which small political communities not only persisted but remained the typical form of political organization.

Read the rest of the paper here. So small territorial units dominated much of Europe during the initial phase of modernity and industrialization. What I’m trying to piece together is a way to incorporate the ability of small states to provide for themselves while at the same time maintaining ties with multiple neighbors in a way that binds them economically and politically, but without the coercive apparatus of a central government.

I think Madison was thinking about the same thing when he drafted the federal republic of the US, but it seems to me there is a right way to do federal republics (US) and a wrong way (Latin America). Does this make sense?

From the Comments: Federalism, Small States and Central Banks

Rick Searle asks the following question after reading my argument with George Ayittey on secession in Africa:

Brandon, how do you respond to the geopolitical and macro-economic arguments in favor of strong federalism rather than small-state nationalism? The experience of Central Europe after the First World War seems to offer a telling example of what happens when you break-up multi-national states along ethnic lines. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created a power vacuum which Hitler and Stalin were only too glad to fill. All of the thriving national states you have named exist under the implied or real security guarantee of the US.

Secondly, whatever the attraction of economic integration without political integration seems to be coming apart at the seams with the example of the European Union as we speak.

Breaking up Africa’s multi-ethnic states- unless they were replaced with a robust form of federalism- would, thus, seem to condemn that continent to perpetual interference by the big powers, and economic weakness.

Rick,

Thanks for chiming in. Your question and comments are very good ones.

how do you respond to the geopolitical and macro-economic arguments in favor of strong federalism rather than small-state nationalism?

As far as strong federalism goes, it is actually my preferred system of governance for the withering away of the state. Unfortunately, strong federal republics are few and far between in history. There are very hard to maintain and even harder to govern effectively. The best way to achieve a strong federal state is to start small and work your way up to a confederation, and if all sides want more political integration, then it would be wise to start putting together a federal state.

As far as small-state nationalism goes, I don’t want that. At all. What I am in favor of is smaller states without the nationalism. Remember, of all the small states I’ve listed most are fairly multi-ethnic. Denmark isn’t (I blame the crappy weather), but is still very open to immigration and international firms, while South Korea is currently trying to push an immigration reform bill through its parliament. Small states are good, nationalism is bad. More on this just below, but first:

The experience of Central Europe after the First World War seems to offer a telling example of what happens when you break-up multi-national states along ethnic lines. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created a power vacuum which Hitler and Stalin were only too glad to fill.

Ah, great example Rick. Just to be clear: I don’t want to go around breaking states up. That would be both pompous and disastrous. Playing god is something only Leftists do! All I am saying is this: if a region within a state wants to secede from another state, then the international community should recognize this secession. There are a couple of caveats, of course. Doing this in China or Russia’s backyard would be a bad idea, but in the post-colonial world I think this is something that we should be looking at as a policy option to stunt the violence and poverty in these areas.

Recognizing the legitimacy of the secession would have three effects that would stop the violence for a time: 1) it would require that the new states prove their worth in the international community in the form of not persecuting minorities in their new state, 2) it would deter the state that just lost the region to secession from attacking another sovereign state for fear of reprisals and 3) the recognition of independence would inevitably lead to talks by both sides. Perhaps they could figure out a way to re-federate a few years on down the line, or perhaps they could come to some sort of agreement on trade. Whatever they do, they would at least be talking instead of fighting.

Failure to build an international consensus to recognize the independence of regions seeking independence will lead to more of the wars we have seen in much of the post-colonial world, as well as in the Caucasus and the Balkans.

Back to the nationalism you brought up earlier. A lot of states that try to secede are actually very multi-ethnic. Azawad, in Mali, for example, is a good example of a multi-ethnic region trying to break free from Bamako’s inept rule. With the advent of the market economy throughout the world (see my reply to NEO above), nationalism will continue to decline in prominence, and the areas of the world where nationalism is prevalent will be the hottest ones on the planet. States that thrive on nationalism are going to have to struggle to assert their authority over their people, and where there is nationalist promotion in government, there we will see most of the violence. I am thinking of China, Russia, Israel, Palestine, North Korea, and India-Pakistan.

In other cases, secession has taken place within a state that is largely homogenous ethnically. Somaliland, a democratic, relatively prosperous, but unrecognized state in the north of Somalia is a case in point. They want out of Somalia until all the violence and competition for the center of power dies down. They are open to re-federating, but in the meantime…

All of the thriving national states you have named exist under the implied or real security guarantee of the US.

Yes, but isn’t this in itself a form of confederation, or loose federalism? I’m all for more integration between the US and other societies, by the way. If we could get these states to integrate further economically, and could make our political borders largely irrelevant within the confederation: then security costs would largely be paid for. My co-blogger Jacques Delacroix has actually written one of the most stimulating papers on the subject of integration between states: “If Mexicans and Americans Could Cross the Border Freely.” I highly recommend it. Remember, one of the pillars of individualism is internationalism. Hayek, among others, lamented that we had lost this fight to the Marxists in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Secondly, whatever the attraction of economic integration without political integration seems to be coming apart at the seams with the example of the European Union as we speak.

Ah, but the problems of the EU don’t stem from economic integration, they stem from more political integration. The European Central Bank – a political creation if I’ve ever seen one – and proposed measures for a European parliament with more delegated powers is what has caused the strife in the Eurozone, not the ability of Greeks to work and vote in France, and vice versa.

Breaking up Africa’s multi-ethnic states- unless they were replaced with a robust form of federalism- would, thus, seem to condemn that continent to perpetual interference by the big powers, and economic weakness.

Agreed! But again, I don’t want to go around breaking up states. One big hole I see in my support for secession theory so far is the question of what if: what if the new state’s neighbors don’t play ball economically? Won’t that new state be isolated? Co-blogger Fred Foldvary actually wrote an article on this subject using Turkey’s rejection from the EU as an example: “Let Turkey Join NAFTA.” Another highly recommended piece!

Whew. Thanks again for contributing to the conversation, Rick, and don’t be bashful in throwing more fastballs my way. It helps me learn and clarify my thoughts!

A Conservative

Why I Am One

The bizarre bohemian bilge that plagues conventionally left-wing schools of thought, whether from Marx or Rawls or Chomsky, is just not for me. For the most part anyways. Since I’ve become more (this is an understatement; I have gone much farther than, say, Glenn Beck) of a libertarian (a classical liberal while socialists are usually just reverse reactionaries), I’ve learned to make some exceptions. This has tended to be more on the level of semi-reluctant tolerance than on that of open-armed embrace.

As you can see, therefore, I am a conservative because my cultural values and my outlook on life are certainly not (socially) liberal. I find that the libertinism and relativism of most left-wing ideologies, to say nothing of the economic ignorance and denial that accompanies them, were they commonplace, are incompatible with the maintenance of a free society. Generally, the only commendable quality I find in left-wing ideologies is compassion. And then only where it is sincere and/or reasonable, the latter being far more rare than the former. A moral people, as per conservatism, and yet a compassionate people, as per liberalism, is what is needed in order to establish and then preserve a free society. That is not to say that immoral or indifferent people should be given less rights or that they should be driven forth into the wastelands (although, and I think Hans-Hermann Hoppe is absolutely correct on this, they could be excluded from covenant communities without violating anyone’s rights).

Why I Am Not One

Conservatism is about conserving things. But what if the thing being conserved is a tradition of liberalism? Can not then a conservative also be a liberal? Liberalism is about freedom of thought and action. But what if the thoughts or actions are conservative? Can not then a liberal also be a conservative? The dichotomy and at times mutual exclusivity between the two is merely the result of certain factions that were never interested in (or at least not consistent in their solutions towards) conserving freedom or the freedom to conserve in the first place, but because they had one or two important (and perhaps only at the specific point in history that certain factions coalesced) things in common, the labels were adopted. This was then compounded by certain pseudo-liberals falsely characterizing all conservatives as illiberal or intolerant, and certain pseudo-conservatives falsely characterizing all liberals as intemperate or nihilistic. In the United States this was made even worse, at least for the realm of national politics, by the electoral college, which mathematically favors a two-party system because having three or more major parties would necessarily prevent presidential nominees from garnering the 271 electors necessary to win. Continue reading