It’s interesting to watch the UK currently going through what could be called its “federalist growing pangs,” especially as an American who (not to brag) has a pretty solid understanding of how states, rights, liberty, and economies work (all 4 of those are much more interwoven than the average person thinks), because we in the United States have already fought that battle. We fought it during the 19th century, and it was called the Civil War.
For those who aren’t aware, slavery was the catalyst to the Civil War, a fact that really can’t be disputed, but it’s not exactly fair to say that it’s the cause of the American Civil War. In reality, States’ Rights and the Tenth Amendment–the question of whether a centralized authority governed a state, or whether the state governed itself–were the cause of the Civil War, and slavery (abhorrent though it was) was merely the catalyst that brought States’ Rights to a boiling point.
Since even before the Constitution was drafted and the Federal Government formed, there was discussion about whether the Federal Government should have the authority to legislate over member states, and, if so, what parameters were acceptable. This is most evident in the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers (which I have read, but it’s been years, so forgive me), when Hamilton and Jefferson argued opposing viewpoints. Hamilton, a statist, argued in favor of a stronger Federal Government, while Jefferson argued for states’ rights and self-governance.
It has to be accepted that the two are at odds. For every power the Federal Government has, that is one power that the member-state does not have. If the Federal Government has the authority to determine what is and isn’t marriage, then the people of Mississippi who want to define marriage differently are, in effect, governed by the Federal Government, and not by themselves. While there can obviously be times when this is critical–such as if the state of Mississippi turned Gay Hunting into a year-long hunting season–the question of “when it is critical” is one that was debated extensively by the founders.
While I’m not going to launch into another long tirade about what is and isn’t a right, a few things must be pointed out. First, rights are not granted by governments. Let’s say that you have a box. I attack you and take the box from you. Years later, you get back up, fight back, and reclaim your box. Finally, I say, “Fine. Keep your box, then.”
Did I give you a box?
No, obviously not. That I stopped taking something from you, or that I returned something I had previously taken, is not the same as giving you something. And the course of human history makes it clear that rights are the box, because it’s inescapable that, in the earliest days of homo sapiens’ existence, a person could say and do pretty much anything they wanted. It doesn’t matter how far back we have to go–if we have to go back to the trees of the African plains, then so be it. The fact remains that liberty and rights are the natural state of affairs and that, in the very beginning, we had all rights.
It was not until the invention of the state that rights came under attack, and “come under attack” did they. Fast forward from the first chieftains and tribes to England in the 12th century, and you’ll find a mass of people whose “rights” are stomped upon at every turn; they could not be more unlike the ancient homo sapiens who spoke, thought, and lived freely. After much oppression, the British people came together, rose up, and took the box back with the Magna Carta. They did not then take back the entire box, but they took back a lot of it, and the past 800 years of human history have essentially been the people forcibly taking back more and more of the box.
To assert that rights are granted by a government is to fundamentally misunderstand rights, liberty, and human nature. Being able to speak, think, and act freely is the natural state of affairs. No right can be granted by a government. The government can either restrict a right or acknowledge a right, but it cannot create them. You are thinking of “social privileges,” but not rights. And you can argue all day long that this social privilege or that social privilege should be ubiquitous–that’s fine–but don’t call them rights, because they’re not, and calling them rights obscures your actual point of view.
The Confederate States had 150 years ago the opportunity to double down on the principles of liberty and self-governance that the Federal Government had been cracking down on, virtually since its inception. They did not take this highroad, though, and they merely used states’ rights as a mask to hide the fact that they wanted to keep slaves. To further backup the claim that the issue was never truly slavery and that slavery was merely the catalyst, consider this excerpt from one of Lincoln’s letters, where he reveals that his only concern is keeping the union together (e.g., continuing the encroachment of the Federal Government):
If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. … What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union.
Slavery was merely the mask around which the question of states’ rights was decided. It was always about self-governance versus centralized authority, and the Confederacy’s failure to stand on principles ensured their defeat.
When secession petitions circulated the Internet a few years ago, Obama responded to them by saying that the founders intended the union to be perpetual. This is such a flagrant violation of self-governance that it hardly needs to be addressed, but let’s address it anyway. The founders are dead. Their intentions, their desires, their motives, and their concerns no longer apply to this world, and they certainly do not apply to modern politics, because we are not governed by the dead. The idea that the founders had the right to impose a government upon us that we could never abolish or escape from is abhorrent to the thinking mind. They had no more right to consign us forever to a union than we have to sign our future great grandchildren to a union. The idea is absurd, and that a President of the United States so poorly understands the nature of liberty that he believes it is relevant what dead people wanted is horrifying.
It would be interesting to see a referendum go before the people of Mississippi that asked whether we should withdraw from the union. Of course, there’d be immediate arguments that we’re part of the same landmass (an argument that is ridiculous, since, so is Mexico and so is Canada, yet neither of them are required to be part of the United States), but it would be more interesting to see how it played out and whether a state would even be allowed to secede. I would bet “No.”
Similarly, I don’t think the UK’s referendum will matter. Even if support for withdrawing falls 80%, I don’t think it will be allowed to happen. Either the current UK government will pull some kind of shenanigans (the referendum isn’t legally binding, after all) to wave it away, or the EU will impose itself upon the UK. For whatever reason, despite knowing it for thousands of years, we have yet to apply the very basic truth that no centralized authority has ever allowed one of its members to just leave.
I’ve been pointing out for years that the United States and the European Union are identical in nature and structure, and that we have simply forgotten that. We have forgotten that our own 50 states are states, are individual republics and nations. California, Germany, New York, Texas, Russia–these are all states. Accepting anything less is the equivalent of relinquishing our right to self-governance.
That is the question that now stands before the UK. Are they ready to surrender the idea of self-governance, ostensibly forever, since even the United States, who fought this war 150 years ago, has not reclaimed its right? There are many arguments that put the cart before the horse, especially on the European Court of Human Rights and other matters, most of which are direct products of the UK people, and they argue that pulling away from those will diminish their own standing. What a bizarre concept. If your principles created that institution, then your principles do not rely upon that institution. Another of those things that should never have to be pointed out…
While I do personally think the UK should go with self-governance, there is a huge disconnect between the American mindset and the European mindset–an almost irreconcilable disconnect. The disconnect is almost as severe as the one between Americans and Asians, and it’s caused by the same question: Individual versus Society.
Me, I’ll side with the individual every single time. Even when they’re assholes.
For your amusement, the whole of the quote I pulled is:
I would save the Union. … If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. … What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union.” In this masterful message, Lincoln reaffirmed his support for abolition without apologizing for the pace of change, while also subtly preparing pro-slavery Union loyalists for the announcement to come.
…and it came from http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/emancipation-150/i-would-save-the-union.html .
Pay attention to the author’s remarks. “In this masterful message, Lincoln reaffirmed his support for abolition…”
No, he didn’t. He, like, literally did the exact opposite of that. The only thing he affirmed was his ambivalence for abolition. He affirmed his support for keeping the Union together, and he affirmed that slavery and/or abolition were only means to that end, and that he didn’t care at all which was the one that achieved that end. How can someone be so brainwashed and so thick that they literally read the opposite from what was actually said? Lincoln basically said “I don’t care about slaves. I just want to keep the Union together, and I’ll do whatever is necessary to ensure that.” And from that, this dumbass takes away Lincoln’s affirmation for abolition???