A question that I asked myself today was: What would I consider myself- an Arizonan, or an American? Surely, a lot of people would think “Why not both?”, and thats a reasonable question. What I mean is, where do my loyalties lie? What am I in relation to the country as a whole?
This took me down a rabbit-hole that led me to a final question.
How can we define the American “state”? In general, the term “state” is synonymous with the term “nation”, which is how many Americans viewed their states during the early years of our republic. In elementary school, we were essentially taught that the American Civil War was fought over slavery, which is of course true, but it denies us the opportunity to discuss the larger debate at the time. I am of course referring to the huge debate of state’s rights during the mid-19th century. Now before we go any further, it is important to note the positive things our Federal government brings to us (an abolition of slavery, our modern banking system, and most notably, it forces the country as a whole to modernize (in terms of progressivism) faster than it would if the states were sovereign). As we move forward, we will be looking into the Confederacy’s rationale for the conflict.
It is a shame, to say the least, that the Civil War was fought on such inhumane grounds as it was. The sheer fact that it was fought over slavery mars the merit of the center point of the debate over slavery. In essence, it can be boiled down to a question of whether or not the citizens of another faraway state, such as Vermont, have any innate right to help determine how a citizen in Arizona should be allowed to live. It’s kind of odd to think about, isn’t it? We go through our lives all the time without realizing that a large amount of our local legislature and politics are dictated by the decisions of non-Arizonans. Perhaps another way of looking at it is to imagine the US as the European Union, with Vermont being represented by, say, Lithuania, and Arizona being represented by Catalonia in eastern Spain. Who are the Lithuanians to have a say in what the Catalonians do? This, to be fair, is a much more extreme example than Arizona and Vermont, but it still illustrates the point that anti-federalists such as the authors of Brutus and Cato were trying to make.
Cato III, in my humble opinion, was the best look into a huge problem in our nation, identity. On page 15 of Federalists and Antifederalists, Cato quotes Montesquieu’s argument that “It is natural for a republic to have only a small territory”, because the larger a territory becomes, the more variation in culture there is, and, in Montesquieu’s view, the higher the chances that ambitious men would seize power and exercise that power on the defenseless. “In large republics,” Montesquieu continues, “the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views” (Ibid). This is a very central reason as to why it has become so difficult to advance in our societal discourse; because there are simply so many opinions that it makes it extremely difficult for anything to be done without compromising between a ridiculous number of people (many of them from faraway lands, who would not understand Arizona as her own citizens do).
Today, we really only see this argument in the hot debates of our time, like abortion or gun regulation. However, think about just how alike our states have become since the Civil War. In most cases, whatever you are allowed to do in Arizona, is also allowed in Virginia or Vermont, and vice-versa. Are we really in our own states, or just inside a country with boundary lines that, since their drawing, have become essentially effete?