The fear of regionalism, fragmentation and disintegration

News May 11, 2023

There is a fear, not least among liberals and libertarians, that unbridled regionalism could end in disaster. Universal principles, laws and order are needed. And everyone should fall in line. This is often a poorly concealed demand even from the greatest advocates of liberty.

But in a free society where state power is restricted, what can actually prevent breakaway and secession?

Should the limited government intervene with the military if municipalities and regions choose to declare independence or autonomy?

Those who strive for freedom should probably get used to the idea that regionalism is not a risk, but rather a requirement in a freer society. Where cities and counties can make their own rules and cultivate their own culture. It would be like a patchwork of small states, each with their own little quirks.

And this is a success story. The Classical/Hellenistic culture of ancient Greece (500 BC – 0) consisted of a number of competing small states. Not even Alexander managed to unite the Greeks in the long run, and after a few years the empire split into smaller parts. And it was here in this dynamic environment that temple gates opened by steam power were built, sophisticated clockwork was constructed, the circumference of the earth was calculated, and architecture constantly saw new heights. The empire-building Romans and Byzantines mostly freeloaded on the inventions of the time, but added too little themselves.

During the High Middle Ages/Renaissance (1300-1500), we again reached new heights in science, art and architecture. And it was during this time that America was discovered. When Columbus failed to finance his expedition at one court, he simply moved on to the next and did better there. Contemporary Europe was a patchwork of small dynamic city-states competing with each other.

Europe during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution (1750-1850) had a similar foundation. Neither Germany nor Italy was yet united. And the heartland of the British Empire consisted of several small kingdoms in a union, not even speaking the same language. And the United States was still a loose federation of states, before the Civil War increased the size of the federal government.

Europeans soon succeeded in conquering the world. The former empires of China, Japan, India and the Middle East were museum-like and stagnant in terms of science, technology and innovation. Universalism, centralization, bureaucracy, ultra-conservatism and autocracy contributed to a social paralysis from which they could hardly escape. Even though they were once totally superior to us, in everything.

And today we still live with the idea that the small always leads to the big, that villages merge into cities, which merge into regions, countries and empires. A development that cannot be stopped. That is why we have the EU, a powerful alliance of European states, which nowadays mostly paralyzes our economy and vitality, and spreads discord between peoples. And the central bureaucrats in Brussels fight over who gets to hold the highest office and draft the most intricate laws.

We are in the midst of disintegration, with different countries finally realizing their value and cultural uniqueness. And realizing that freedom and independence were not so bad after all. Perhaps membership of the Union became too suffocating?

Let’s go back to where we started, our municipalities and regions, and their right to self-determination. The fear shared by many is that if municipalities were given their freedom, they would make the wrong choice. That some of them would turn brown, red or dark blue. That they would lose the universal values that we so closely associate with Western culture. These values that were originally created by a patchwork of countries, which of course we have already forgotten, but still. Something would be lost – if socialists built their own city, or if old conservatives ruled cities and counties.

Maybe there would even be a bit left for the libertarians, where they could create their own society, and live in peace? Like in the famous book, where the rich and successful flee statism, bureaucracy and stupidity, to build a new society in a remote and hidden valley. Let the best society win. Let people vote with their feet. Freedom is not about everyone wearing the same suit, or even the same shoes. Freedom is, to some extent, about being able to choose for yourself.