It should be obvious to all at this point that a very great part of our nation’s political sickness is due to the ever-increasing concentration of power in the hands of the Federal leviathan in Washington, at the expense of local government. (That this is, even at this late stage of the disease, not obvious to many millions of citizens does not augur well for the nation’s prospects, as it makes it far more likely that, the proper treatment not being applied, the disease will progress until the patient dies.) Even if subsidiarity were not a sound principle for all hierarchical organizations, he United States is simply far too large, and far too diverse in political and cultural tradition, for one-size-fits-all regulation by remote and largely unaccountable administrators to provide good government, or to promote harmony and cohesion.
At the time of the Framing, a group of writers known collectively as the Anti-Federalists foresaw this problem, and wrote extensively about it. (You are far more likely to have read The Federalist Papers than the writings of this equally articulate opposition, for the same simple reason that you’ve probably never read Thomas Hutchinson’s Strictures Upon The Declaration of Independence: the Anti-Federalists didn’t win.)
The Cato Institute’s Trevor Burrus has published an essay today illustrating the prescience of the Anti-Federalists. What they feared has come to pass, in exactly the way they predicted.
For many, the city on the Potomac might as well be a later-stage Rome, sliding into decadent splendor and orgiastic self-absorption. Or, in the words of ‘Cato’ [probably New York governor George Clinton], the “federal city” would be “the asylum of the base, idle, avaricious and ambitious,” that would “possess a language and manners different from yours.”
A national government imbued with unrestrained power would be a bad idea, thought [Robert] Yates, because the people of the country were too diverse to be effectively centrally governed. A remote, national government given such great powers would cause a “constant clashing of opinions; and the representatives of one part will be continually striving against those of the other.”
This was because the “laws and customs of the several states are, in many respects, very diverse, and in some opposite; each would be in favor of its own interests and customs, and, of consequence, a legislature, formed of representatives from the respective parts, would not only be too numerous to act with any care or decision, but would be composed of such heterogeneous and discordant principles, as would constantly be contending with each other.”
Quoting the Constitution’s preamble, Cato sounded the same concerns:
[W]hoever seriously considers the immense extent of territory comprehended within the limits of the United States, together with the variety of its climates, productions, and commerce, the difference of extent, and number of inhabitants in all; the dissimilitude of interest, morals, and politics, in almost every one, will receive it as an intuitive truth, that a consolidated republican form of government therein, can never form a perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to you and your posterity.[/em>
It is well-known in the engineering disciplines that too-tight “coupling” is at the root of many, if not most, failures of complex systems. Far more robust are loosely coupled systems, in which components interact with, and depend on, each other no more than is necessary; in which the actions of each component affect the actions of others only so far as is essential for the operation of the system as a whole; in which friction between components is minimized; and in which the failure of a single component does not unnecessarily cause the failure of others. This is precisely the opposite of the systems that govern us today, at both the national and global level.
Read the whole thing here.