Can more local self-rule save a collapsing, ‘Late-Roman’ America?

Can more local self-rule save a collapsing, ‘Late-Roman’ America? By Glenn Reynolds.

Observed from some angles, the United States is falling apart. All over, we’re seeing signs of fragmentation.

At the smallest scale, the tony community of Buckhead, Ga., may be seceding from Atlanta. Mayor Keisha Bottoms’ anti-anti-crime strategy has led to a predictable criminal surge. Buckhead wants escape from dysfunction — via self-rule. …

For most of US history, the trend has been toward bigness and consolidation. But now people are wanting to make things smaller.

States are also asserting themselves. First we had “sanctuary” laws involving illegal immigration. Then we had states legalizing marijuana and essentially daring the feds to do something about it. (The feds, for the most part, backed down). Now cities and states are declaring “sanctuary” status for gun rights, pledging not to cooperate with the enforcement of federal gun laws.

Left and right, in other words, are resisting federal rule when it comes to their pet issues.

And recently it’s gone beyond resistance. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is sending law enforcers to assist Texas and Arizona. Faced with the Biden administration’s reluctance to secure the border, threatened states are cooperating with one another to do a job once left to federal authorities.

Any one of these developments might be unimportant, maybe even amusing. But put together, they have a certain late-Roman-Empire flavor. And there’s more.

As Charles Murray writes in his new book, “Facing Reality,” the federal government is at a low point in terms of perceived legitimacy. In 1964, 77 percent of Americans said they trust the federal government to do the right thing all or most of the time, according to Gallup. That number dropped to 15 percent in 2011 and has hovered between 15 and 20 percent since.

A government distrusted by more than 80 percent of its population has a legitimacy problem.

The federal government makes more and more laws and regulations but has no real ability to enforce them without cooperation from state and local governments and from the people themselves. When people see the government as less legitimate, they are less likely to go along.

Given that according to a recent Rasmussen poll more than 40 percent of Americans believe the 2020 election was stolen (and that number is no doubt highest in the red states) legitimacy is in short supply.