What is Germany?
It’s a land, and its people; it is defined by geography, and by a mystical connection of ethnicity, people and language; the Germans call it “Volk“, which literally means “Folk”, but whose metaphorical meaning is far, far deeper – indeed, deeper than most Americans can gather, given our cultural history. It ties Germans – ethnic Germans, born in Germany who grow up speaking German – to a place, a history, and a culture. The same holds true for most of the world’s nations; the French, the Uighur, the Naga, the Swedes and Navajo and Russians and Malay and most other nations in between. It’s one of the reasons that while one can immigrate to Germany or France or Nagaland or Sweden, one can not “become” French or Navajo or Swedish; it’s how you’re born.
And no matter what form each of those governments have taken over the years, it’s always been the same country. Germany has been Germany, whether governed by the Holy Roman Emperor, dozens of dukes, Kaisers, gangs, Führers or a stable parliamentary Democracy, Germany is always Germany (or France, or Malaysia, or Sweden, or…).
And if part of Germany (etc) – say, Rheinland-Pfalz wanted to “leave” Germany?
It’s an absurd question. It’d be like you or I wanting to “leave” the human race and become a python. You were born human. You can be nothing else. Rheinland-Pfalz has always been German; come democracy or dictator, it always will be.
Rheinland-Pfalz can no more depart Germany and become part of, say, Canada than you can become a python.
So what is America?
Well, we’re not a people united by land, culture, history, language and ethnicity, that’s for sure. Even taking the hyper-simplistic far-left route and saying we’re “a nation founded for the benefit of white anglo-saxons” ignores the fact that white people of Anglo-Saxon descent have spent the last five centuries making killing other white Anglo-Saxons, and similar white Mediterraneans and Slavs, to an art and science. The idea that you can create a cohesive nation out of Irish and English, or of Germans and Poles, or French and Spaniards, would have been considered absurd at any other place and time in history.
So what is America, if not ethnicity and culture and language?
Is it a piece of real estate between Mexico and Canada with a government in Washington and fifty regional offices? A political collection of 300-odd-million people who exist for no reason other than to be a political collection of 300-odd-million people?
Or is it a cohesive series of radical ideas that happened to find 200-odd years of generally-successful political traction – ideas like “all people are created equal” and people being “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights”, especially “life, liberty andthe pursuit of happiness”?
That’s a fairly simple question: most people will answer the latter. It’s basic high school civics (or it used to be; I shudder to ask what kids are learning today – but that’s another issue).
At least, they’ll answer the latter under normal circumstances. It’s when things get dicey that the answers get more interesting.
In a comment thread the other day about an effigy-lynching in Plains, Georgia, a commenter wrote “are you aware that 33% of Georgians believe Georgia should secede from the Union – do you STILL think it’s specious to suggest they advocate a climate of hate.”
Leaving aside the gaping, almost-unbridgeable logic gap – secession does not equal “hate”, not in any logically coherent sense – it was an interesting question.
So what if a third of Georgians (allegedly) favor secession?
Let’s call the original question: what is America? Is it a place, or is it a series of ideas?
Ideas – right?
But what if America stops representing those ideas?
I’m not sure who I’m more angry at:
- Democrats today, for their long, concerted effort to frame every discussion about the Tenth Amendment, to say nothing of the purely rhetorical idea of “secession”, in terms that are usually variants on “Oooh, you support slavery“. It’s cheap abusive rhetoric that makes rational discussion impossible. But then, that’s the goal.
- The Confederacy, for giving the left the eternal opening to forever tie the concept of states rights to slavery and Jim Crow in the first place. Of all the liberties that should be the turf of the States and The People by the grace of the Tenth Amendment – commerce, regulation, taxation, and everything in the Bill of Rights – those geniuses just had to tie us and the whole issue to the “right” to own and oppress other humans. Thanks for nothing, Bubba.
So to a big swathe of the American people, discussing something as benign as the Tenth Amendment, to say nothing of the much-more-loaded idea of secession, is a little like mentioning Keyser Söze; it’s just not something you do in polite company.
And some of the people who do talk about secession are, to be polite, a tad overheated; I chided some of the more drama-prone elements on the right, and before that some of the more spoiled, overweening, whiny elements on the left for taking, ironically, more or less the same approach; “the government isn’t what we want it to be, so let’s secede rather than bring things back into balance at the polls”. Any talk of “secession” is, in our current situation, utterly misguided.
And conservatives who say “But Obama’s different” are just as wrong, so far, as the idiot liberals who frothed about the coming re-education camps and predicted Bush wouldn’t leave office last year. Obama’s grabbing power, sure – but it’s hardly the first time in American history we’ve had an Administration gather more power to itself. Polk? Lincoln? FDR? Nixon? Clinton? Bush’s spending? The mission, again, is to repudiate Obama at the polls (and I’m a lot more confident this will happen now than I was even six months ago).
But what if at some hypothetical point in the future the American goverment does stop being about “all people are created equal” and being “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights”, especially “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? What if – hypothetically – a big chunk of the United States ceased to believe in any of those ideals – or adopted a version of those ideals that was so perverted as to be unrecognizable?
Would the rest of the nation be bound to go along with it, because of a precedent set in 1865 over a dispute that had, in the end, was over an issue that everyone but everyone today agrees had no lasting objective merit (slavery and oppression)?
Or should their allegiance be to the ideals themselves?