Should We Hope for Civil War?

Exclusive to STR

April 28, 2008

It is no news that politics act centralizing. In Europe, the free regions subjected to a distant, and therefore practically powerless, monarch are forever gone, and have step by step been forced to give up whatever powers they had. The nation states took over, but are now giving way to the super-national entity called the European Union.

The same development has been going on in the United States , where the power structures were even more clearly defined legally. The states' right to secede was brutally canceled by the federal government, and their rights to govern themselves have since long been undermined--and have evaporated. The conclusion we must draw is that even a very strict legal framework based on state rule will give up to a federal power even if that federal power is legally crippled through power-sharing.

This is the historical rule of politics: political powers at a higher level will always find a way to cooperate in order to extract more powers from lower levels, just like new and even higher levels will form and eventually undermine the ones currently thought of as absolute powers. This political logic tells us what to expect: a world government, starting as an inter-state body for organization and coordination between super-national states, will form and eventually take over.

Even though the logic of politics--indeed, the rule of politics--is all too clear, it does not mean undermined levels of government and rule easily let go of power. In a legal framework such as that under which the United States rule claims its powers, lower levels of political power can hold on to their powers to a degree that nation-states in the European Union cannot. They can challenge the centralization of power by the federal government, and will of course--in their own self interest--do so. As we will see shortly in the future, European nation-states will not have that opportunity to keep their "prince's right" (even though they will, undoubtedly, try).

This makes the situation in the United States much more interesting than in the European Union. Unless a popular revolution takes place--and this is hardly likely, since Europeans tend to love government--Europe is already lost. This might not necessarily be the case in the United States , even though it does not look good (at all).

Take the issue of medical marijuana as an example of the struggle between state and federal levels of power. While the state of California has legally approved of medical marijuana, the federal government through one of its militant agencies--the Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA--is still persecuting legal users. We therefore have the strange situation where state licensed physicians hand their patients receipts for medical marijuana as treatment for painful, deadly diseases; where the patients can use their receipts in legal stores to purchase marijuana to ease their pain; but where both physicians, their patients, and stores face the threat of being federal-legally assaulted and imprisoned for state-legal and state-approved actions.

It is also the case that stores selling legal herbs, including marijuana, are repeatedly attacked by the DEA, have their merchandise and equipment stolen, and have their stores literally butchered by the so-called law-enforcing agency. At the same time, their business is perfectly legal in the state!

What we are seeing is a small-scale civil war, where the state's legislature is using its legal right to legislate for the state while the federal agency is enforcing conflicting federal policies. Of course, when politicians struggle and fight, there is only one category of losers: people like you and me.

On the other hand, the same is true when levels of government do not fight each other, meaning the higher level is still in its infancy or has already won the struggle for power. As we know all too well, politics in its very essence means the rest of us lose, and we lose big time.

In the case of California versus the federal government, it is obvious that the state legislature is indirectly opposing the federal government taking over the former state's rights. But the state of California does not dare to explicitly and publicly oppose the federal government, which means it will eventually lose. According to the logic of politics, state powers will be collectively centralized under the rule of the federal government and we will eventually see an American Union take the place of the United States .

The alternative would be for the state of California to condemn the DEA raids in state territory, and use its police force to protect legal businesses from attacks and at the same time protect users of the substances that are legal. This would, in minarchist terminology, be to exercise the legitimate powers of government: to protect rights and bring rights violators (DEA agents) to justice.

Standing up for the legal code in the state would mean outright civil war, with the state of California taking on the federal attacker. In such a war, military or not, there would undoubtedly be a large number of victims--and the victims would to a large part not be state or federal thugs, the true victims would be the people subjected to the unleashed forces of government. As a libertarian, understanding the logic of politics and expecting politicians to act in their (not our) self-interest, it is not clear what to wish for. Should we hope for civil war?

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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

Has a passion for justice.