Sunday, April 19, 2009

Does Rick Perry see the future?

Not long after the end of the First World War Germans, now able to cross the border with Switzerland freely, began showing up at the office of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. They described dreams that he believed foretold a great social and political upheaval in Germany. He later wrote of his frustrations whenever he related this information to others since for them there seemed to be not a cloud in the sky.

Fast forward to today. We recently heard the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, speak openly of the possibility of secession from the United States, something that might be classified as a waking dream or fantasy. History records the woeful consequences last time anyone took that idea to its logical conclusion in the United States, and so, not surprisingly, few people are taking it seriously for the moment. The immediate reason behind the mention--made while addressing a group participating in the recent April 15th tax protests--was probably that Perry faces a primary next year against fellow Republican, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

As it turns out, Perry may be doing more than positioning himself further to the political right in preparation for a primary battle; he may be channeling a sentiment that is more widespread than people believe. Texas has a long history of secession movements. One was active there in the early 1980s when I lived in the state. The beef then was that Texas's oil wealth was being expropriated through the windfall profits tax and sent to Washington. But the rest of the country is not immune. Wikipedia lists 17 groups working for some sort of secession across the United States.

The Rachel Maddow Show reported that besides Texas, legislators in six other states have introduced bills meant to affirm their states' "sovereignty." Oklahoma has already passed its resolution. Just in case you wondered, the other states are Arizona, Montana, Michigan, Missouri and Washington.

All of this might be regarded as so much posturing among politicians eager to draw attention to themselves--or simply tin-foil-hat thinking among members of the secessionist movements. But once you push aside the racially-tinged states' rights arguments and realize that 1) the movement has a foothold (however tenuous) beyond the South and 2) that at least one group, the Second Vermont Republic, can be considered progressive in its principles, the idea of secession yields to a more nuanced interpretation.

The social and political upheaval which the dreams of Jung's German patients presaged eventually expressed itself in the rise of the Nazi Party. Secession, however, is a more fitting kind of upheaval in the United States, a society for whom rebellion is a more dominant trait. I am reminded of a class of American college juniors and seniors to whom I showed Adolf Hitler's speech to the Nazi youth during the Nuremberg rally of 1934. Remember, I told them, this is before World War II, before the concentration camps, and before the Kristallnacht. No one knows anything about these things because they haven't yet happened. The speech did come after the Reichstag fire and the granting by the German legislature to Hitler the right to rule by decree. While controversial and outspokenly anti-Semitic, Hitler in the fall of 1934 was still widely seen as more and less just another politician who, in this case, was making just another speech to the nation's youth.

Hitler covered the usual shibboleths: be thrifty, stay physically fit, study hard, get involved in your community and work for the betterment of the nation. Nothing remarkable here. Was there anything he said, I asked the class, that any American politician wouldn't say to American youth today? A flurry of hands went up. The students said it almost in unison: "Be obedient." No American politician would invoke such a sentiment whether he believed it important or not.

Many of my acquaintances kept telling me during the Bush Administration that America was on the verge of becoming a fascist state and that (according to a few) President George W. Bush would not step down when his term ended. I, on the other hand, have long feared the anarchical tendencies in American life: the states' rights ideology, the vigilantism often seen in the pre-civil rights South, the secessionist movements and every kind of centrifugal political force pursued in the name of localism, but really a pretext for 1) undermining the rights of unionized workers, women, ethnic and racial minorities, and gays and lesbians and 2) destroying the environment in contravention of federal law.

The need for relocalization of the economy in the wake of peak oil and climate change is forcing me to re-examine my views. I am of the belief, however, that should relocalization become a widespread adaptation strategy or simply be forced upon us, the locale where one lives in the United States will become of increasing importance--not only because the availability of basic resources needed for human survival differs from place to place, but also because retrograde notions of human rights, governance and education are likely to be reinstituted (probably gradually) in some areas of the country, particularly the South and West.

It is no surprise, then, that relocalization of economic activity implies relocalization of governmental power. In fact, a kind of precursor to secession, nullification, has already appeared in the form of city councils resolving not to cooperate with federal officials in enforcing the so-called Patriot Act. It has also manifested itself in cities and states proceeding with climate change initiatives when the federal government's official policy was that climate change was not a problem. My previous piece, "The New Nullification," details several other examples.

My sense is that the United States will not undergo a sudden, sharp devolution of power to states and municipalities. In fact, for now with the money flowing freely from the federal government--borrowed and printed though it may be--states and cities are unlikely to pull away from the central government in any meaningful way. Even the Texas legislature, controlled by Gov. Rick Perry's party, the Republicans, thinks it's a bad idea to refuse federal aid and go it alone.

But as it becomes impractical or impossible to provide such massive federal aid on a continuous basis--and I believe this will prove difficult during what I expect to be a lengthy economic downturn similar to the 1930s--the necessity to find local solutions to a persistent crisis may become more acute. For this reason an ongoing economic slump may end up feeding continued calls for secession as well as create receptivity to genuinely useful relocalization efforts.


cjryan2000 said...


I've often wrestled with this dark side of relocalization cognizant that some who advocate these efforts may have ulterior motives. And there is a part of many Americans, I believe, that believes that our power and reach should be used to address oppression everywhere we can. As progressive as I personally am, there is no nation that can right all wrongs nor is there any individual who can take on all the World's problems. With that said, should relocalization occur in an orderly, planned fashion, there will be a percentage of communities that will engage in repression. That much I am nearly certain about. Hopefully the community that I would be settled in would not be one of those...but if it was, hopefully I would have the freedom to resettle. Perhaps not. Ideally we can retain enough federal or state framework, maybe within a libertarian context, to ensure freedom of movement, protection of minorities, and some measure of constitutional protection and guiding principles. Of course I'm playing devil's advocate here but argue that we cannot worry about what other distant communities will do since the difficulties inherent in relocalizing one's own community will be complex enough. Finally, perhaps the strategic resettlement that might occur (see my Sept. 2008 piece entitled Parallel Culture, Part II at ) may soften the shakeout by rearranging some peoples within a more generally homogeneous social context (i.e. evangelicals). Anyway, it should be an interesting decade coming up.

Chris R.
The Localizer Blog

Anonymous said...

trust me, moron perry doesn't have the intellect to think that far. I know, I worked as a lobbyist in Austin and have met the man.

a glass of water is far more intelligent that that clod.

And only 18% of the state even talks about seceding. Seceding would be a colossally stupid idea.

given the fact that we have such a huge coast, when climate change goes full gear in about 15 years, most of that coast will be flooded and since the meat of Texas's wealth is in that area, Texas will be a far far poorer state by that time and we will need all the help we can get.

the secede movement is nothing more than the fringe nut bags doing all they can to try and get out of paying their taxes.

Just remember this, the crazy teabaggers protested on tax paid lands (parks) protected by tax paid police. morons, simply morons.

Anonymous said...

The immense majority of Americans are obese, historically and geographically ignorant, mentally lazy, overworked, victims of political myths concerning the US, culturally manipulated by a vapid and extremely degenerate mass media which, politically, is little more than the US equivalent of Pravda. No, they'll open a bag of chips and watch 'the game' or 'American Idol,' no matter how loud they gripe. And if, by some miracle, they get off their couches by the tens or hundreds of thousands, they will be met by automatic weaponry and tanks. That will disperse them pretty quickly. The only solution is to "unplug" to the extent possible. Do not vote, do not bank with a major bank, throw out the tv, consume minimally, do not patronize chain stores to the extent possble, buy and produce locally, try to get off the grid, form neighborhood and town associations, coops, local currencies, local power, and so on. Ignore the politicians. In short, an alternate reality. Of course, if people actually do that, it will also constitute a miracle.

Damien Perrotin said...

As seen from Europe, Texas is not the place I would expect to secede. I would have rather thought of the larger Indian reservations - Navajoland comes to mind.

Besides, last time Texas did success was not exactly a resounding success

That, however, is probably an European bias; Down here, secession or regional autonomy is strongly linked to ethnicity and those days, it tends to be rather progressive - at least most of the time in most places.

In the British and French Celtic fringe, home rule parties tend to be big on localization or are moving in that direction.

They also tend to be be bigger than your average american secessionist grouplets and ready to work within established institution, which is a must if you take relocalization seriously.

Maybe their American counterparts might follow their exepmle instead of replaying the Civil War, because that's how they often look seen from here.