Alphabet Soup and the Neo-Kleinstaaterei

The history of human civilization is a history with a clear tendency towards the larger and more complex entities. From Families to Bands to Tribes to Chiefdoms to Kingdoms to States. It is one in which the number of relevant political entities has gone from more to less. Thus in Germania circa 15AD there was a patchwork of a few hundred tribes and tribal confederations, in 1015AD there were multiple competing lines of authority involving the Emporer, the Pope and about twenty Imperial principalities, plus a plethora of free cities, bishoprics, monasteries and estates, which would evolve into the tiny states, the kleinstaaterei, and in 2015AD that same bit of territory is controlled by only thirteen states, plus the EU. Indeed, we now have an extra layer of supranational governance and an alphabet soup of regional coordination agencies – NATO, NAFTA, NORAD, CCTS, ASEAN, WTO and OAS to name but a few. Despite the historical trend we are actually in anti-consolidation phase. In 1915 there were only sixty some sovereign states. Today, nearly two hundred. What accounts for these dual trends, the consolidation of governance in international agencies with a multiplication of the number of sovereign states? The UN identifies ten major government functions. Some of these, like Recreation, Culture and Religion, will, on average, be best served by smaller states, with a cohesive culture, unified identity, and tight link between ruler and ruled. Others, like Defence, will tend, on average, to be best accomplished by larger states, either due to greater and more diverse resources, or more effective rule making powers. The migration of governance functions to supranational institutions has, unsurprisingly, focused on those functions best accomplished by larger entities, and thus, increasingly, has made it unnecessary for small nations or proto-nations to subsume themselves in a larger state. There are six main functions which, I argue, have, in the more distant past, worked to drive territorial consolidation, and which now are either attenuated, or have in fact reversed their salience.

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Sorry About Your Friend

Charlie* came by the house today, looking like the bottom of a city garbage tote in the middle of July, if it were hot, which it’s not. I noticed right away that he couldn’t hear what I was saying; I kept having to repeat myself.

Eventually the conversation turned black, concerning a piece of property over which is some familial contention and striving. He said, “I have insurance. I’ll burn the [expletive] thing down before I let them put a For Sale sign in front of it. Ricky would have helped me.”

Ordinarily, Charlie is a nice enough guy. He takes care of his mother, who is 93, and he greets me and my children kindly, even going so far as to fetch the boys frozen popsicles when it’s hot out, which is rarely but is known to happen. The boys are forbidden to go into his house, first, out of prudence, second, because Charlie is known to invite young men into his house, whereupon he offers them drugs, then performs unspeakable acts of a sexual nature upon them while they are passed out. He represents a problem, the outbreak of leprosy in our otherwise holy camp.

“Ricky,” he continued. “Ricky Matt. He was my best friend. He’s laid out at the funeral home today.” Ah.

Ordinarily, Charlie is not fractured drunk and high by noon. His best friend was shot in the head three times by State Police after he pointed a shotgun at them. Ricky and David Sweat had had an argument in a cabin because Ricky had drunk himself into a stupor. The plan had been to make for Canada, and they were nearing the goal. This happens: self-destructive persons cannot fathom success, and they sabotage themselves. So they split up, and they were both captured.

The more pitiful of the two was killed, stone drunk. They could smell the alcohol pouring out with his blood and brains from feet away. They even offered to show Charlie the pictures of his friend. He said to me, “I didn’t want to look at them. They told me there were three holes and lots of brains.”

My neighbor was standing in front of me, suppressing the mourning reflexes with a heavy consumption of alcohol and drugs.

For fifteen years, Ricky and Charlie had written each other, dating back to when Ricky was in Mexico. After Ricky escaped from prison, State Troopers ransacked Charlie’s house (1, 2, 3…8 houses from mine), looking for all those letters and any indication of Ricky’s whereabouts or intentions. Charlie said, “I told them to get lost; they were wasting their time.” He stood there, staring at me, stupefied.

“Sorry about your friend,” I said. I wondered what it must be like to have a best friend’s violent death celebrated on television.

“He would have helped me burn it down. He always looked out for me. I know he went and did some bad things…”


*Charlie is a pseudonym