Things Fall Apart,’ Ready or Not

Adbusters, January 2006
‘Things Fall Apart,’ Ready or Not
Kirkpatrick Sale

We might as well admit it: as Yeats put it, “things fall apart, the center cannot hold,.” If you want to know the dominant political trend of the moment, and the most likely political and economic scenario of the future, there it is.
On the global sphere, things have been falling apart in a sweeping way since 1945.  The five empires that existed then—English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Soviet—have all collapsed, spinning off scores of smaller, independent states.  The United Nations began with 51 nations in 1945, today it has 193. Czechoslovakia has split in two, Yugoslavia in seven (counting Kosovo and  Montenegro). And there are strong and serious movements for the further breakdown of nations in Catalonia, Basque country, Scotland, Lapland, Sardinia, Sicily, Sudan, Congo, Kashmir, Aceh, Chechnya, Dagestan, South Osetttia, Kurdistan, Quebec, British Columbia, and some Indian nations of North America.
It’s not too much to say that imperialism and globalism have failed—that’s the thrust of John Ralston Saul’s recent The Collapse of Globalism—and the nation state has become resurgent, though in many places on a smaller scale.   The strength of many of the new smaller nations is in fact what has been called nationalism, arguing a basic unity of culture and society that supports the political identity, as in, for example, Croatia, Slovenia, Kazakstan, and Georgia.
That is the trend, and it is by and large a good one, toward greater freedom, greater autonomy, and in some cases greater democracy.  It has proved that smaller states are economically viable for the most part, a lesson that Liechtenstein,  Luxemburg, Monaco, Cayman Islands, Iceland, Belgium, Oman, San Marino, and Singapore, among others, gave proof of long ago. Indeed, in many cases it is the separation itself that has spurred economic life, since new institutions and administrators are required and new goods and services are created to replace those provided by outsiders.
This is even the trend, in a nascent way, even in the United States, where there are by my count at least 28 separatist organizations, some decades old, as in Alaska and Hawaii,  some formed in response to the 2004 Presidential “election,” as in California and Michigan.  The Vermont secessionist movement, begun essentially as an anti-Iraq war group in 2003, has nearly a thousand members now, has pushed through a state law for the annual observation of  the day Vermont became an independent nation in 1777, and has even conducted a convention to put the case for secession in the State House in the capital, Montpelier. And it has spun off a think-tank, the Middlebury Institute, beginning this fall for “the study of separatism, secession, and self-determination” in the U.S. and beyond.
Whether or not secession in the U.S. is practical, as a number of perfectly serious hard-headed people are saying, may not actually even be an important question—it may simply become necessary.  For one thing, as hurricane Katrina has glaringly shown, the Federal government is a clumsy, bureaucratic, politicized, and insensitive instrument (and as the rebuilding will show, corrupt as well), and states and localities that give themselves over to depending on it are in real trouble.  If communities or  states want to survive an emergency of any kind, they are going to have to develop agencies and institutions of their own, grounded in local realities, resources, and capabilities.  This is exactly what a secessionist state would be best able to develop, at an efficient and democratic scale.
For another, an increasing crowd of people is predicting that an economic crunch is coming, made up of dwindling oil supplies, sky-high gasoline prices, severe weather crises, global warming dislocations, collapse of the dollar, and unsupportable national debt, and will be upon us faster than we think.  And if that happens, none of the global and national systems and corporations that now dominate the economy will be able to survive.  The global economy will collapse, and take the American empire down with it, and the Great Depression of the 1930s will look like prosperity.
It is then that smaller political and social units will be essential for survival and will arise where people have the sense and strength to establish self-sufficient and self-directing polities, whether they be states (or confederations of states), bioregions, cities, or communities.  It is then that state secession will make sense in a multitude of ways, not only desirable as a means of extraction from the crumbling national economy but necessary as a means of concentrating on the development of local resources for local needs. And  it becomes possible because the national apparatus will be essentially powerless to prevent it.
Of course it would be easiest to shrug off the impending doom as the predictions of madmen and malcontents, and go about business as usual, fueling the $700 trillion national debt and the $200 billion trade deficit and assuming oil production will never peak.  But it would be terribly foolish. The only sensible thing to do is to start thinking now about ways to survive and even thrive at a smaller scale.  James Howard Kunstler, who has analyzed the coming crunch in his new book, The Long Emergency, has said that the new economy will require us to downscale and re-scale virtually everything we do and how we do it, from the kind of communities we physically inhabit to the way we grow our food to the way we work and trade the products of our work.  Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local.
It would only prudent to start figuring out now just how to make that economy work, what resources we have in our immediate area and how they can best be utilized, what kinds of governance we would need and at what levels.
Things fall apart, and now secession begins to make a lot of sense.