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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Bye Bye, Miss American Empire: Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America's Political Map

Bye Bye, Miss American Empire: Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America's Political Map

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Bill Kauffman

Throughout American history, the right of states to secede has been considered alternately sacrosanct and treacherous, and despite the Civil War, the idea has never quite left the American mindset. Modern secessionist movements appear periodically (an … see full wiki

Author: Bill Kauffman
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
1 review about Bye Bye, Miss American Empire: Neighborhood...

Love the birds, not the cage

  • Oct 10, 2010
Rating:
+3
In one sense, "Bye, Bye, Miss American Empire" is a book for and about people for whom the main problem with Tom Woods' great Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century is that it doesn't go far enough. And yet, while objection to, and reaction against, Leviathan is a fundamental part of this book and a key motivator for many of the people and movements it profiles, there's something still deeper going on here too. That, as anyone familiar with Bill Kauffman's work could tell you, is a powerful love of the small, the immediate, the local. That, ultimately, makes this book not so much an argument *against* empire (although it's certainly that) as it is an argument *for* political communities on a human scale.

This volume combines introductions to various historic and contemporary American secessionist movements, and key figures behind them, with Kauffman's own thoughts on the questions of unity and separation. Though a believer in the right -- and sometimes the desirability -- for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another (to quote Mr. Jefferson), he is far from an uncritical admirer of everything that might result. But then, that's exactly the point. As he writes in a discussion of same-sex marriage in Vermont, "devolution is the great defuser of explosive issues: Let Utah be Utah, let San Francisco be San Francisco, let Vermont be Vermont" (p. 230). Or, elsewhere, "The Hawaiian islands are almost five thousand miles from my Genesee County. In what way, other than in the profound but, in practice, attenuated sense that 'we are all brothers under the skin,' are a Hawaiian (of whatever ethnic background) and I countrymen? Why, pray tell, should I have even a whisper of a say in how he lives his life or his government is organized? And vice versa" (p. 148). Support for secession relies to a large extent on what P.J. O'Rourke called the two essential rules of civilized society: Mind your own business, and, Keep your hands to yourself. Which is precisely why those who look to Washington, DC to solve all our problems, or who want to use US power to solve other countries' problems, find secession so unthinkable.

But as Kauffman shows, the unthinkable, it's being thought. And it's being written about, in Kauffman's own distinctive and memorable prose. I was fascinated to read, not only about movements I knew something about -- like those to divide California into two or even three U.S. states; the abortive State of Jefferson movement; or the various strains of independence activists in Hawai`i -- but also less familiar ones like New York City or upstate New York statehood, the Alaska Independence Party, or anti-statehood activists in Puerto Rico. (It's one of the latter, by the way, who has one of the best lines in the whole book, when Kauffman quotes the late Puerto Rican nationalist Pedro Albizu Campos to the effect that imperialists and expansionists care about "the cage, not the birds" [p. 180].) And as the creator, sole advocate -- and now, I suppose, ambassador to New England -- of an anarcho-monarchist thought experiment called the Kingdom of Cascadia, I enjoyed the author's all-too-brief look into Pacific-Northwestern secession ideas.

Woods' Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century is getting a lot of attention in various circles and parties, Tea and otherwise, and I say Amen and more power to it. But personally, I think Kauffman has identified the better solution, and the one that, as he describes it in his final paragraph, is "a blessed sign of hope" for the future. "Three hundred million people cannot be ruled from a single city. The center, or rather central authority, cannot hold. Something's gotta rive" (p. 240). As a solution that's based not solely on politics, but on community, on affection, and on human values and human scale, it's one we should be brave enough to consider and discuss.

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