The Secession Solution

A data-based plea for the Independent States of America

| January-February 2011


Elly Walton /

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.

james boyd
1/28/2011 11:19:09 AM

As a resident of New Mexico, I can safely say that this will never happen (at least, not without violence). My state has two senators, just as many as California does. Why should a net recipient of federal funds be at all interested in splitting up the union? Furthermore, what would limit the inevitable possibility of war over natural resources, space, or people between states? Normally I expect rather astute reporting and analysis from Utne reader, but this is pure bile, no doubt printed in order to solicit the reflexive comments in favor of this hare-brained plan from solipsistic Northern-Californians (and, to be fair, cranky Southwesterners like me).

1/17/2011 3:38:31 PM

I really liked to see this article. It says exactly what I've been thinking about for a long time. We in San Francisco, as a progressive (leaning towards liberal) city, have always been saying that Northern California should be a separate state from Southern California. We are totally opposite in thinking and politics. However, if you are basing this on population size we would be very small. I would like to see Washington, Oregon and Northern California together as a separate state or country.

1/17/2011 10:58:36 AM

The idea sounds logical on the surface but there are serious flaws in the concept. How would states that split divide the "assets" and infrastructure (state parks, state road systems, etc)? How would those that merged combine differently managed ones? The process could lead to some very messy relationships--not unlike disfuncional marriages or hostile divorces.

Pete Hart
1/17/2011 9:32:12 AM

I didn't thoroughly read the article, but: 1. I didn't see any mention of Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia (1975) 2. And following in the footsteps of Callenbach, I would hope that Northern California would split from the rest of the state to join Washington State and Oregon. Finally, I don't think that many Oklahomans would enjoy hooking up with Texas.

Bob Bennett
1/17/2011 8:38:14 AM

I am all for forcing California to secede. From my experiences there roughly 20 years ago, the U.S. constitution is routinely ignored there, unless of course you have lots of money to afford a good attorney. When security for the elites over rides everything else, as it does in California only trouble can result. Of course, part of California's problems ... and the nations are the result of the short-sighted Miranda decision. Among other things this decision required all counties to provide an attorney to all defendants who face six months or more imprisonment. Most states, including California, have a one year possible sentence for misdemeanors, which means that everyone gets an attorney, and the plea bargain system which has resulted to avoid the costs of trials effectly does not allow those who believe themself innocent to come to trial. Meanwhile minor crime is rewarded by the attorney's stock phrase "Plea no contest and I can get you out of jail by tomorrow." Some states, like Nevada, have 6 month possible sentence for misdemeanor, but still require attorney as it is one day more than Miranda lets a person face a judge him or herself.