The Secession Solution

Article by Kirkpatrick Sale.


Aristotle declared that there should be a limit to the size of states. But really, what did he know? He lived at a time when the entire population of the world was somewhere around 50 million—about the size of England today. Athens, where he lived, would have been under 100,000 people. He couldn’t even imagine a world (ours) of 6.8 billion, or a city (Tokyo) of 36 mil­­lion. How is he going to help us?

He, at least, knew this much:

“Experience shows that a very populous city can rarely, if ever, be well governed; since all cities which have a reputation for good government have a limit of population. We may argue on grounds of reason, and the same result will follow: for law is order, and good law is good order; but a very great multitude cannot be orderly.”

So political units, Aristotle said, have to be limited. And it is with that understanding that we now may start contemplating what in today’s world would constitute the ideal, or optimum, size of a political state.

This is not some sort of idle philosopher’s quest but the foundation of a serious reordering of our political landscape, and a reordering such as the process of secession—indeed, only the process of secession—could provide. The U.S. provides abundant evidence that a state as large as 310 million people is ungovernable. One scholar recently said that we are in the fourth decade of the U.S. Congress’ inability to pass a single measure of social consequence. Bloated and corrupted beyond its ability to address any of the problems it has created as an empire, it is a blatant failure. So what could replace it, and at what size? The answer is the independent states of America.

Let us start by looking at modern nations to give us some clue as to population sizes that actually work.

Among the nations that are recognized models of statecraft, eight are below 500,000—Luxembourg, Malta, Iceland, Barbados, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and San Marino.

Of the 14 states generally reckoned freest in the world, 9 have populations below Switzerland’s, at 7.7 million, and 11 below Sweden’s, at 9.3 million; the only sizable states are Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany (the largest, at 81 mil­­lion).There are other national rankings. Literacy: Of the 46 countries that claim a literacy rate of 99 or better, 25 are below 7.5 million. Health: Measured by the World Health Organization, 9 of the top 20 are under 7 million. In 2009 rankings of happiness and standard of living, the top countries were Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Austria, and Finland; all but Canada and Australia have small populations.

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1 reply »

  1. Interesting argument. However states of 3 to 5 million are still far too large for the average individual to have any meaningful opportunity to take part in the governance of their environment. I’d guess 90% of people spend 95% of their time in their home neighbourhood (suburb or town) and that as transport costs rise this trend will become even more pronounced than it is. Since they are best qualified to make decisions about that area and not at all others it seems reasonable that those home neighbourhoods should be the extent of their sovereignty.

    Plus we have the social argument that people must, if they are at all capable of it, be responsible for their own governance or degenerate into the kind of infantile idiocy that characterises the population of the West today.

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