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June 29, 2007

Bill Kauffman on Secessionism

Michael Blowhard writes:

Daer Blowhards --

Radical-reactionary eco-regionalist lyrical-crank / hometown-boy Bill Kauffman writes a beauty of an essay for Orion magazine. His subject is secessionism, and the American tradition of secessionism.

Great (and typical Bill Kauffman) passage:

The stream of secession is fed by many American springs: the participatory democracy dreams of the New Left, the small-is-beautiful ethos of the greens, the traditional conservative suspicion (fading fast under the Bush eraser) of big government and remote bureaucracy, and that old-fashioned American blend of don't-tread-on-me libertarianism with I'll-give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back communalism.

Reveling in variety and contradiction -- I like that.

Even for someone fond of America, it's hard not to fantasize about secession these days, isn't it? Hillary, Bloomberg, Romney ... Could we do any worse? Bill Kauffman makes a distinction that I find very useful: between the inhuman America of Empire (Bush, Hillary, Viacom, Halliburton, etc), and the human-scale real America (you, me, our friends, our communities). Since it makes perfect sense to me to love the latter while wishing ill to the former, I do sometimes find myself wondering: Well, why not just detach from the bastards?

2Blowhards did a five-part interview with Bill Kauffman not so long ago. Here's my intro to his work; here's Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. I urge you to give 'em a read -- Bill is nothing if not big-hearted, super-smart, and fearlessly provocative.

Orion, the magazine running Bill's current piece, is a funny publication -- it's home to earnest eco-bores and brilliant whackjobs both. But it's well worth exploring. I notice that Orion features a page of short videos in which James Kunstler (another firebrand fave of mine) explains his view that we're about to hit the wall where oil is concerned. Kunstler blogs here, and makes irresistable fun of trendy-ludicrous architecture here.

Some more along these lines: Here's The Vermont Commons, a newspaper devoted to the secession movement. Kirkpatrick Sale spells out the appeal of decentralism here. Clark Stooksbury blogs from a Reactionary Radical point of view here. Here's an interview with the legendary curmudgeon, writer, and eco-anarchist Edward Abbey. Here's a terrific Shawn Ritenour introduction to the green-friendly free-market economist Wilhelm Ropke, a special favorite of mine.

I did some Small is Beautiful linkage here; wrote an introduction to Jane Jacobs here; blogged here about how various the eco-worlds are; and praised Nina Planck's book "Real Food" here.

Bill Kauffman's latest book is the very moving and interesting "Look Homeward, America."



UPDATE: Clark Stooksbury reviews Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy" here. Luke Lea's thoughts often run along these lines too.

posted by Michael at June 29, 2007


Everyone always talks about secession, but how about its complement, expulsion? Tired of those troublesome cry-babies in New Orleans - expel them from the Union. California too bonkers for you? Out, out, out. The only problem I can see is that you'd probably all vote to expel DC and then just stop.

Posted by: dearieme on June 29, 2007 4:27 PM

Thanks for the plug. I hope that Kauffman expands the notion into a book on seccessionist movements. To self promote on a related matter, I reviewed Bill McKibben's (a Reactionary Radical in my book) Deep Economy here

Posted by: clark on June 29, 2007 5:39 PM

Hey, and don't forget my "New Towns, New Country" proposal, which is a kind of internal semi-seccesionism a la Amish I suppose. Here is the url:

Posted by: Luke Lea on June 29, 2007 6:04 PM

Can you imagine what the actual living would be like in a secessionist Vermont, say? Filled with those oh-so-tolerant perfect people? Makes the skin crawl. But then, I've actually lived in the place, surrounded by those people. You want a straightjacket? Go seceed.

Posted by: ricpic on June 29, 2007 7:35 PM

If he hasn't read it already, I think Bill Kauffman will greatly enjoy Jane Jacobs' book, "The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Separation." Actually, it's about more than "just" Quebec and has lots of fascinating information about various secessionist movements through time -- particularly the peaceful secession of Norway from Sweden in the early 20th (?) Century.

Also of interest along these lines is Jacobs' "Cities and the Wealth of Nations," which makes a case for the economic benefits of autonomous city-states.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on June 29, 2007 8:42 PM

Mr Stooksbury fears that China may be following our Western ways. It appears we're unhappy, anxious...and, of course, overheating the third planet from the sun. What sort of company does Mr. Stooksbury keep? (Rhetorical)

Years ago I read a book on China by an American academic who made the interesting point that the ultimate disaster had already occurred: mass starvation over large areas of China, lasting for centuries. Mao's stupendous economic bungling was merely a brief reprise of this immemorial horror.

I am proud to live in an era when theorising Brahmins are able to gaze in disgust at obese Wal Mart shoppers as they fritter their money on frivolous excess. (It seems that before you can love the masses they must first be quaint.)

The late John Simon was so right. The most wonderful and unaccountable factor in human development is human ingenuity. Those Wal Mart-addicted fatties will make many babies who will grow up to find solutions to the thorniest problems...even as new problems arise for subsequent generations.

In the meantime, we need to deal with our own generation's most pressing problem: Global Ingratitude.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on June 30, 2007 5:15 AM

...why not just detach from the bastards?

I didn't realize the bastards had so helpfully grouped themselves into one geographical location.

Posted by: David Fleck on June 30, 2007 7:31 AM

I'm sorry Michael, but I love both the Americas you've described, the small scale and the huge corporate empire. They're both great.

It is the great genius of American society and governance that both exist side by side.

I live in both, and have done so all my life. I grew up in small town Illinois, lived in Chicago, San Francisco and New York City and I now split my time between NYC and Woodstock.

There is no crisis here, there is no terrible dilemma to resolve. The U.S. is so great, it's hard for me to understand how you've managed to convince yourself that there's something terrible going on that needs fixing. When I look at the cultures of jazz, blues and rock and roll, I see a culture that is admired and revered throughout the world.

One of the real turning points of my life was working, over a decade ago, for the wealthiest corporate law firm in the world. I traveled for several years to just about every major city in the U.S., and I spent a lot of personal time with corporate executives and the partners of that law firm, some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this society. Much to my surprise, I discovered that they are almost uniformly well-intentioned, generous and charming people. I also came to trust them.

And, as a result of the student loan programs, these people are not uniformly children of the rich. The CEO of my former employer is a good old boy from small town Oregon, an evangelical Christian (in the best, most charitable sense), and an all around good guy.

The corporate and military empire of America is a good thing. It's part of what makes the U.S. so powerful and wealthy... and it's a wonderful thing that the U.S. is so powerful and wealthy.

The editor of the Woodstock Times wrote, in his editorial last week, something to this effect: "Why can't the U.S. be respected by the rest of the world for something other than its enormous military power?"

This type of thinking is widespread in Woodstock, and I shudder every time I hear it. When I hear it, I think, "Yeah, and the tooth fairy should leave $20 under every kid's pillow, and angels should dance on my front lawn." The world does harbor evil. As the only society in the world left to defend democracy and liberty, the U.S. must have the courage to fight that evil.

I really have difficult understanding what motivates you to write this way, Michael. It is inexplicable. We are the good guys. The people who run our corporations and military are good guys. What in the world is it that makes you think otherwise? This America that we live in is the brilliant invention of the wisest men this world has ever seen. I'm just shaking my head and trying to understand what motivates you to suggest otherwise. You do not even seem to comprehend the moral and intellectual brilliance of Abraham Lincoln. This makes me shudder. What reality are you inhabiting? You know of something better than what humans have done here?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on June 30, 2007 7:59 AM

Had the most recent immigration bill not been defeated, you would have seen some genuine movement in this direction. But don't worry, every divisive political crisis we have had since the 1960's has frayed the bonds of unity within this country a little more, and sooner or later they will snap. Whether what ensues will be the big 'ol block party that nitwits like Kauffman envision, or something darker, whether the balance will be positive or negative, remains to be seen. But it will happen, if only because the nitwits on the other side (Bush, Kennedy, McCain, et al) won't stop pushing...

Posted by: tschafer on June 30, 2007 8:20 AM

It was M Pompidou who said "I like Germany so much I'm glad there's two of them".

Posted by: dearieme on June 30, 2007 5:25 PM

"radical-reactionary eco-regionalist lyrical-crank/hometown-boy"

I love a precise stereotype!

Posted by: nz conservative on June 30, 2007 8:14 PM

Empire vs. Particularism. This to-and-fro battle of mankind has been going on for five thousand years. We're probably due a return to Particularism for a spell.

Posted by: Bob Grier on July 1, 2007 8:35 PM

As a native Californian, I've often fantasized about seceding. Hell, we're the 8th (or 6th or whatever this week's numbers are) largest economy in the world, we provide all you lovely people in the US with a generous portion of your fruits and vegetables, and we conduct all the social experiments (for better and worse) that, if they work, the rest of the country eventually adopts. It's here that people come to start things like Google, Yahoo, Genentech, etc. We make all the movies you enjoy. And our physical geography, in terms of variety and flat out beauty, is hard to beat.

Yes, the Sovereign Nation of California!

I'm only half-kidding. I love the US, but get very tired of going to other states and hearing people rag on my state. Without a doubt, California is the burning engine of ideas for this country.

Posted by: the patriarch on July 2, 2007 10:15 AM

Secession on the Iron Range of Minnesota?:

"Independent spirit thrives in Kinney".

Posted by: Dave Lull on July 8, 2007 12:54 PM

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