There seems to be two great currents in human history that are now colliding with one another. On the one hand, there is a definite long term trend toward larger organizational units. The first human settlements were tiny camps that become villages and then grew into towns. These towns were the administrative centers for the surrounding farm and pasture lands. Those towns grew into cities and eventually city-states. The Bronze Age was peak city-state.
The city state gave way to the regional power that was a collection of city-states speaking the same language and having a shared history. Eventually, after a lot of war and conquest, we got nations, mostly composed of people with a shared genealogy and culture. There are exceptions, but the nations of Europe mostly track the ethnic grouping of the continent. The 20th century gave us world government, in bits and pieces. The European Union is all about creating a super-state.
Now, the other great current is disaggregation. This is where large complex social organizational units break up into smaller units. The Czechs split from the Slovaks. The Walloons and Flemings are close the breaking up Belgium. Scotland may be ready to bolt the UK. Quebec is once again making noises about leaving Canada. The Catalans want to leave Spain and the Venetians want to leave Italy. Of course, Iraq is about to break into pieces.
In the US, we have states making noises about breaking into smaller states. This is not exactly new, but it is usually confined to cranks. On the other hand, people fond of federalism really are advocating the reintroduction of autonomous zones based in the natural divisions int he country. It’s not a big leap from there to having a big state lead a walkout of the union. California is moving closer than many realize to having it on the ballot in two years.
Advocates for Six Californias, a plan to split the Golden State into a half dozen separate states, are holding a petition drive this weekend to get their plan on the ballot in 2016.
Tom Knorr, holds a State of Jefferson flag in Corning, Calif. The idea of forming their own state has been a topic among local secession dreamers for more than a century in the state. (Terry Chea / Associated Press)
The idea is the brainchild of Timothy Draper, a venture capitalist from Menlo Park – or as he hopes to some day call it, the state of Silicon Valley. Draper has sunk $2 million into signature gathering for the proposal. He maintains it will break bureaucratic deadlock in Sacramento (proposed state of North California) and attract more business.
“California has become the worst managed state in the country,” he told The Times this spring. “It just is too big and too ungovernable.”
Anna Morris, spokeswoman for Six Californias, said in an e-mail that the group has collected “a significant amount of signatures and are hoping to get the remaining signatures we need this weekend.”“For people who put our chances at zero, we say that we are dedicated to challenging the status quo and are hopeful that Six Californias will be the much needed refresh for state government,” she said.
Joe Rodota, the co-chair of OneCalifornia, an opposition group, downplayed the significance of getting signatures on a petition.
“This is just a process that pretty much any well-funded interest can pursue,” said Rodota, former cabinet secretary for Gov. Pete Wilson. The real challenge, he said, is ballot approval and “it’s just very difficult to get a yes vote historically.”
Times political columnist George Skelton called Six Californias “crazy” and “really crackpot,” but he noted that attempts to break up the state have been around since its inception and can be highly diverting if never successful.
“Go ahead and put this thing on the ballot,” he wrote in April. “We could use some fun.”
There’s a strong argument for breaking up California. It’s too big to operate as a state, but not competent enough to be a country. A better argument is for state government to get much smaller and let local government take on more responsibility. You could keep the state intact if county and city government were left to their own devises for providing services. The great mistake of centralization is the belief that spreading the misery makes it go away. The opposite actually happens.
There’s no record of the centralizers ceding control back to the locals, at least not without a bloodbath, so it is unlikely to happen. That’s the problem we see everywhere in America. Things like education policy, food charity, housing charity and health care arrangements have been handed to the Federal government and there’s little chance they hand them back to the states. Even staggering, outlandish incompetence is not enough to get the pols thinking about devolution.
The same thing is happening in states like California. State government took over the schools, the police and the collection of taxes. Cities, counties and towns are just administrative arms of the state, often working at cross purposes with state agencies that allegedly run things. The result is anarcho-tyranny. The locals have no real power, so they harass local business and citizens, who just try to play by the rules. The state government is to big to do the job, so we get anarchy.
The two trends I described at the start of the post are in conflict. Logic says one force must prevail, but look at Iraq. Logic says it should be broken up or it should have one sect dominate the rest. Yet, it staggers on as a weirdly inefficient and incomprehensible version of Switzerland. It is a federation of people who have no business being in the same country, but have no will or interest in being their own country. That seems to be the problem with California and America as a whole.