Someone at Students For Liberty, a group which I am a big fan of, has taken a whack at the “states’ rights movement”, as he calls it. He rightly points out that Ron Paul is a huge believer in states’ rights, but wrongly believes that diminishes Paul as a candidate and champion of liberty. This concept, my young friend, is called FEDERALISM. Our republic was founded on it, and, the excesses of the federal leviathan notwithstanding, it remains the bedrock of American governance. It’s the legal manifestation of the fact that the states CREATED the federal government, not the reverse, hence the name “United States of America”. Also note that the nation is often referred to, and has been since the earliest days of the republic as “these United States”. Plural. The idea is that the Founding Fathers understood that the states were and are very, very different from one another culturally, economically and politically, and brought about a weak, limited federal government to reflect that and limit its ability to arrogate power and authority to itself. This left the states to handle their own internal affairs, for the most part. The federal government really has a very limited purview, as one may note by reading our federal Constitution.
It’s also worth remembering that it is easier to petition your local or state government than it is the federal government. This has always been the case throughout human history; the bigger the government and/or political unit, the harder it is to influence, and the more power it aggregates as a by-product. It’s really easy to sit upon the libertarian ivory tower and say “…advocates of liberty should abandon the “states’ rights” movement—which is, at best, a potential cork in the hull of a sinking ship—and instead direct their efforts toward a long-term, lasting cultural and philosophical shift in favor of individualism and rights-respecting government.” Okay, but in a pragmatic sense, what sorts of governmental arrangements are most conducive to that? And perhaps more importantly, how do we relate the philosophy of liberty to the vast, vast majority of citizens who are unfamiliar with it, using institutions and ideas they ARE familiar with? I know! How about we have a conversation about bringing government as close to the people as we can… and that old saw “That government governs best which governs least?” Some old chap with a powdered wig said that… Jefferson, I believe, was his name. Smart guy.
In a practical sense, the closer a government is to its people, the easier it is to influence, cajole, petition, or threaten. I can pick up the phone or send an email and actually reach the Arlington County Board, or even my state Delegate or Senator personally. Ever tried that with your U.S. Representative, to say nothing of U.S. Senators, or the denizens of the numerous unconstitutional federal departments and agencies we’re buried under? Right, that’s what I thought. States are merely smaller political units, and the author is correct in saying that they have no intrinsic rights as such. However, one look at the Constitution will tell you that they possess quite some number of enumerated rights. If you’re going to try and stand for liberty and against the massive federal leviathan state which is the REAL enemy of every libertarian, paleoconservative, objectivist and every other flavor of liberty activist, the states are the proper vessels for your ambitions. Let’s just agree that we want the local government to do only what we CANNOT do for ourselves, the state to do only what the local governments cannot, and leave the federal government to deliver the mail, provide for the common defense, handle foreign policy, resolve disputes between states, and sit down and shut up otherwise.