The False Distinction between States’ Rights and Individual Rights
On several occasions I have been in the company of Randians (followers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy), some of the most notorious of whom advocate carpet bombing the Muslim parts of the Middle East with nuclear bombs, who have loudly and smugly denounced the Jeffersonian/American system of states’ rights, federalism, and decentralized government. In doing so they champion — directly or indirectly — the opposite: centralized governmental bureaucracy and executive autocracy. Their smug and condescending (and supremely ignorant) line of argument usually goes like this: 1) Put on a sh_ _ -eating grin; 2) Then loudly proclaim: “There is no such thing as states’ rights, only individual rights!”; 3) Then widen the sh_ _-eating grin as much as possible as though you have just won the Super Bowl (or the lottery).
Duh. The fatal flaw in this argument is caused by a complete unawareness of the meaning of states’ rights, another word for federalism, in American history. As Clyde Wilson explained (in “Secession: The Last Bulwark of Our Liberties,” David Gordon, editor, Secession, State, and Liberty, p. 93):
“In American terms, the government of the people can only mean the people of the states as living, historical, corporate, indestructible, political communities. The whole of the Constitution rests upon its acceptance by the people acting through their states [see Article 7]. The whole of the government reflects this by the representation of the states in every legitimate proceeding. There is no place in the Constitution as originally understood where a mere numerical majority in some branch of the government can do as it pleases. The sovereign power resides, ultimately, in the people of the states. Even today, three-fourths of the states can amend the Constitution . . . . In no other way can we say the sovereign people have spoken . . . . States’ rights is the American government, however much in abeyance its practice may have become.”
In other words, the founders believed that if government was to be constructed in a way that would preserve rather than destroy life, liberty and property, it would be necessary for the people organized in political communities at the state and local level, armed with the rights of nullification and secession (or the threat thereof) to enforce such a system. There could be no other way. Letting the central government itself become the sole arbiter of constitutionality through its “supreme” court would be the heights of folly and the germ of tyranny, the Jeffersonians, especially, believed. They could not have been more correct.
Some of the most outspoken Randians, like regime libertarians and left-wing statists, worship Lincoln and libel and smear his critics because it was Lincoln, more than anyone else, who fathered the centralized governmental bureaucracy that they all hope to influence with their writings and speeches. As such, they are the Don Quixotes of the literary/public policy/academic world. For as the renowned historian Forrest McDonald explained (in his book, Requiem: Variations of Eighteenth-Century Themes):
“Political scientists and historians are in agreement that federalism is the greatest contribution of the Founding Fathers to the science of government. It is also the only feature of the Constitution that has been successfully exported, that can be employed to protect liberty elsewhere in the world. Yet what we invented, and others imitate, no longer exists on its native shores” (emphasis added).
As Clyde Wilson wrote on another occasion, the deification of Lincoln by the Republican Party propaganda machine after his death eventually led to a deification of the presidency in general (Happy Presidents’ Day!), and then to government in general. And to think that Americans used to criticize and ridicule the Soviets for erecting all those statues of their political leaders.