For all the discussion in the United States today about the proper function and role of our federal government, there are a few arguments that seem to always surface when discussing state power. These arguments are not exclusive to our mainstream political parties either. Our politicians always boast what is best for the “national interest,” and about the proper role of our government in “protecting our liberties.” We have been taught that we live in a great “representative republic,” where our diverse views are considered and represented throughout the governing process.
With all of the nationalist rhetoric, we seem to forget that even the founders created a strong, centralized government that protected the economic ruling class. In the founders day, only white male property owners were deemed worthy enough by law to engage in politics. Males with no property did not make the equal cut, women did not have the rights of men, and the slave trade treated human beings as commodities while the rights of indigenous people were systematically violated. Those who made it out of feudalism then had to deal with their socio-economic status in a new class society. Today, in the era of too big to fail, it is corporate monopolies and financial institutions that benefit from the public. As George W. Bush said: “We must abandon free market principles to save the free market.” What he meant was: “We again need to exploit the middle and working classes to serve our economic ruling class.”
We should make no mistake, state institutions are hurdles to democracy. Today, our civil liberties are being sacrificed at the national level. The civil rights that the public enjoys today are being curtailed in the name of our “national interest.” This loss of liberty at the hand of the state, however, should not be surprising. Challenges to our power structure and the advancement of libertarianism has never been championed by the corporate/state apparatus. These movements, rather, have been accomplished by organized people, from a diverse history of social movements, from free association among individuals, with co-operation and consensus building. Indeed, groups such as Moutain Justice are a heroes for environmentalists, not the EPA, and organizations such as SNCC accomplished great strides for civil rights, not the Department of Justice. The state is not democratic, it is centralized and hierarchical. Democracy and justice has come from we the people.
State institutions are full of conflicts of interest. Can the interests of citizens really be represented in the halls of power? At every turn we see invested corporate interests, “oversight” of economic liberty, bail outs, a revolving door between government officials and the business/banking community, austerity measures and more. The Department of Interior, charged with protecting and managing our National Parks is the same bureaucracy that issues mountaintop removal permits and leases public lands to oil and gas companies. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are often used as jobs programs (especially now, with the natural gas boom) rather than institutions dedicated to protecting our environment and serving the public interest. Even as 40,000 strong marched on DC for “Forward on Climate,” our nations largest climate protest in history, Obama and top administration officials were golfing with oil and gas tycoons. Even still, with all the corporate welfare, even in the age of too big to fail, state capitalism is somehow still the American way and challenging the status quo is unpatriotic. It is red ruin on wheels to elevate working people.
With all of this in mind, I wish to make the case for state decentralization. I wish to make the case for what I like to call “Freedom out of Bounds.” I am not speaking of the freedom of businessmen and politicians to write laws that centralize our economy to state monopolies. I am instead arguing that we need the freedom of concerned and engaged citizens to fully take part in the democratic process. The freedom to have our institutions truly represent our democratic consensus, NOT the whims of different administrations and special interests. Decentralization of the state, and the relinquishing of state power would truly be liberation. The top down approach of the rule of law would be gone, and grass roots consensus building would be empowered. Decentralization would put checks on the power structure, unlike our three branches of government today. This “radical” idea, liberty, cedes power to the powerless, not state officials. The spontaneous order of democratic movements have done much better than state bureaucracies and “innovation” from the state capitalist system in enhancing and bettering our everyday lives. If our institutions were decentralized, freed from the “public” and private sectors, and worked within the market form then our institutions would be a democratic check to the halls of power.
When I mention the market form, I am referencing how people engage in exchanging their labor for goods and/or services. I am not talking about big economies that are almost autonomous to human interaction because of the current state capitalist system. The current system places emphasis on mass consumption of goods, not the products of human labor. I do not advocate the economic rhetoric of today which champions spending instead of savings and growth at no cost. This system encourages debt and is incredibly harmful to the environment. I speak of markets and labor, rather, based on human terms. The left libertarian market form will not allow special interests and big business to reign tyranny over the public (as modern “movement” libertarians and anarcho-capitalists defend corporatism). I find beauty in the thought of people regulating markets, labor, business and the state (for as long as it exists), as opposed to the other way around. This free market form allows for more economic, social and environmental justice.
There is far too much power concentrated in the hands of our institutions right now. Our economic elite (mostly – not all) choose to ignore science, ignore democratic movements and place barriers in front of those seeking social, economic and environmental justice because these movements do not support special interests or the status-quo. Instead we should vision and champion a society that allows the free flow of information, science and progress. Let our democratic values and the fruits of our labor spread without restriction. Let us allow democratic action, as opposed to despotism, determine how great we can be.
Too be radical is to work within the given system and change its institutions. When engaged movements address the power structure, said movements can then change the government. In moving forward, we must remember that states are not voluntary, mutual or peaceful. The state is not democratic. States rather are monopoly organizations, bureaucratic in nature. The state seeks to systemize democratic movements. Decentralizing power and growing alternative, civic institutions will return power to where it belongs – to the people.
I do not personally think a perfect society will ever exist. In a way though, that is the beauty of our species. We will constantly be solving problems and advancing civilization (if we can make it past the ominous clouds of climate change and nuclear weapons – and I believe we can). Our achievements as a species will be even greater without the burden of centralized power. In its absence we will be more efficient in solving the complex wicked problems of today and we will see progress beyond any time in our human history. Decentralizing authority will fuel the social power revolution and let liberty spread her wings.