Friday, June 13, 2014

Breaking Up Is Easy To Do

In advance of the Scottish Independence vote, Tom Shakespeare makes some interesting observations at the BBC.
Scotland would end up a nice size, about five and a quarter million people. As Mr Salmond wishfully dreams, that's about the same population as those prosperous egalitarian Nordic countries across the North Sea which once ravaged our shores with swords and axes, rather than sombre detective stories and traditional knit pullovers.

Meanwhile, setting Wales aside, England would be left with a cumbersome 53 million plus. Which represents a bit of a problem.

Because size does matter. It seems to me that progressive, reasonable, pacific and prosperous states - like the Nordic countries, or Switzerland or New Zealand - tend to be less than 10 million people. That's almost intimate, for a nation. Citizens of smaller countries feel pride and connection. The population is small enough to have deliberative public policy, which takes account of local needs. The health service and the education service seem less distant from everyday lives. Folk feel more involved and valued. I can imagine how Scotland might achieve that, with only five million. But what about the rest of us?

Here's where those years of studying Anglo-Saxon history come in. Before Alfred the Great unified the English in resistance to the Danes, England was not one country. Between about 500 and 850 AD, it was a heptarchy, meaning seven kingdoms, although in truth the number tended to fluctuate. If memory serves, the leading members of the heptarchy comprised Northumbria, Wessex, Mercia, and East Anglia. The others were Sussex, Kent and Essex, although there was quite a bit of boundary change happening for the three centuries or so that this era lasted - all very much Game of Thrones.

What happens if we put away again the swords and spears, and think in terms of England as heptarchy? Divide 50 million by seven, and you would get a neat set of seven countries, each at seven million souls. Wessex gets the West country and Bristol and the Thames Valley and the South Coast. Cornwall has just been recognised as a distinct region, and this way the whole South West gets to control its own destiny.

Mercia would be the Midlands and up as far as Manchester, home of manufacturing, with heavy metal and indie music as important exports. Northumbria has the rest of the North. East Anglia could take over Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire as well as Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. That leaves Kent and Sussex to fight over the South East, with London as a new statelet on its own. I haven't done the maths yet, but I imagine you could do something neat to balance it all out. So then you would have Scotland, Wales and seven English territories on the island of Britain, all of approximately the same scale, and all with a chance of building a sense of identity for themselves. It's no coincidence, that these statelets would be about the same size as the average American state or a Nordic country.
A Point of View: Taking England back to the Dark Ages (BBC) But in the end, he chickens out: "My view is that we need fewer borders, not more. That's why the European Union makes sense to me. I worry that if we were to go back to historical precedent for the basis of our political units, we would end up fighting medieval battles, not with bows and arrows, but with immigration rules and tax regimes. In the 21st Century, surely it's time to celebrate what unites us, not what divides us."

Apparently he hasn’t read (or has he?) The Breakdown of Nations by Leopold Kohr. Someone thankfully put it online. Kohr writes:
This, then, would be the new political map of Europe. With the great powers of France, Great Britain, Italy, and Germany eliminated, we now find in their place a multitude of small states such as Burgundy, Picardy, Normandy, Navarre, Alsace, Lorraine, Saar, Savoy, Lom-bardy, Naples, Venice, a Papal State, Bavaria, Baden, Hesse, Hanover, Brunswick, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, and so forth.

A division of the great powers alone, however, would not be enough. With France, Italy, Germany, and Great Britain dissolved, the present medium powers such as Spain, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Poland would loom disproportionately large in the new set-up of nations. This means that, if left intact, they would no longer be medium but large powers. Their sub-critical mass would have become critical and nothing would have been gained by dividing the others. So these must be divided too, and as a result another crop of small states appears on our new map such as Aragon, Valencia, Catalonia, Castile, Galicia, Warsaw, Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Ruthenia, Slavonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Transylvania, Moldavia, Walachia, Bessarabia, and so forth.

From this extensive list, one fact emerges already now. There is nothing artificial in this new map. It is, in fact, Europe's natural and original landscape. Not a single name had to be invented. They are all still there and, as the numerous autonomy movements of the Macedonians, Sicilians, Basques, Catalans, Scots, Bavarians, Welsh, Slovaks, or Normans show, still very much alive. The great powers are the ones which are artificial structures and which, because they are artificial, need such consuming efforts to maintain themselves. As they did not come into existence by natural development but by conquest, so they cannot maintain themselves except by conquest -- the constant reconquest of their own citizens through a flow of patriotic propaganda setting in at the cradle and ending only at the grave.

But nothing that needs so colossal an effort for its survival is natural. If a Celtic-speaking inhabitant of Brittany knew by instinct or tradition that he is of the same French nationality as the German-speaking Alsatian, the French-speaking Burgundian, or the Catalan-speaking inhabitant of the South of France, he would not have to be told so all his life. Even so, the various groups composing the great powers grasp every opportunity of freeing themselves of the propagandized glory of greatness, trying instead to recede, whenever they can, into the narrow limits of their valleys and provinces, where alone they feel at home. Hundreds of years of joint living and great power propaganda could neither erase sentiments of autonomy nor accomplish what every small state has achieved without effort -- natural loyalty and meaningful nationality.

Hence, the division of the great powers, whatever it might signify, would not constitute a return of Europe to an artificial, but to its natural, state....
Contra Shakespeare, Kohr goes on to explain in the next section how this will lead to less conflict, not more. Just as there is a Dunbar's number for individuals, I wonder if there is a "natural" size for healthy, stable, prosperous, non-despotic nation-states.

The Russians, too have apparently been thinking about this: What Europe Will Look Like In 2035 If Russian Tabloids Have Their Way (io9)
Eerily, the maps show an annexed Crimea (which has happened), along with an absorbed Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, an area that's currently experiencing something akin to a proto-civil war.

Elsewhere, European nations appear divided along ethnic lines, primarily the result of renewed tensions wrought by economic turmoil, burgeoning nativism, and growing EU skepticism. It shows an independent Scotland (which is actually happening), and a united Ireland. The Basque Country has split from Spain, leaving the rest of the country as a Spanish Confederacy. France also loses some territory to the Basques, but experiences "multicultural collapse" due to the failure to assimilate immigrants from France's former African colonies, resulting in the creation of an "Arab Piedmont" in the south east. Belgium also splits along ethnic-linguistic lines.In central Europe, Italy splits in two, Bosnia-Herzogovina is wiped out and absorbed by Croatia and Serbia, and Turkey obtains Albania and Kosovo.
And the winner for the most colorful national independence movement goes to the Guglmänner of Bavaria:

The Guglmänner (Gugl is an old word for hood – they are named after the hooded mourners that accompanied medieval funerals) know how to stage a good publicity stunt. They have marched through Munich carrying flaming torches, once sank balloons into Lake Starnberg printed with the slogans "It was murder!" and "The tomb is empty!" and and this year, apart from the usual commemoration, they intend to release a new 15-minute documentary. Based on a historical crime-scene sketch, this will create a "logical causal connection" to explain the "true circumstances" of the king's death.

Despite their special demands (they once lobbied for a Bavarian euro coin featuring Ludwig, rather than Germany's eagle, which is too Prussian for them), the Guglmänner see the EU as an opportunity. "There are other European regions where the people had to become part of nation states in the 18th and 19th centuries," Richard H says. "But today, we could be given independence under the EU. The old nation state is really out of date."

In the Guglmänner's vision, Bavaria is an independent state with its own parliament and government, within the EU. And Richard H wants one other thing: "Of course with a king – because a people need a figure to identify with. It doesn't matter if it's a president or a king. But a king – well, that would suit Bavaria."
The Guglmänner, Bavaria's black-hooded secret independence movement (The Guardian)

In 1981, Joel Garreau proposed North America dissolve into nine nations: The Nine Nations of North America (Wikipedia)
...Garreau suggests that North America can be divided into nine nations, which have distinctive economic and cultural features. He also argues that conventional national and state borders are largely artificial and irrelevant, and that his "nations" provide a more accurate way of understanding the true nature of North American society. Paul Meartz of Mayville State University called it "a classic text on the current regionalization of North America". The Nations reflected here are included in a Michael F. Flynn short story, in which all the Nine Nations have gained independence.
Incidentally, here is the United States broken up into equal population U.S. states. What do you think? Is it time to go our separate ways?


  1. I wonder how much traveling and moving the people doing the dividing have done. For Example: I'm looking at Ozark. The culture in Rolla MO (northern point) is nothing like the culture in Memphis TN and Springfield and Little Rock differ from both. Rolla is more like St. Louis and Springfield closer to Kansas City than to Memphis. (I've lived everywhere but Springfield)

    I write a Disunited States. My map is here:

  2. Democracy does not scale up well- an argument for smaller states. But smaller states also benefit from not providing for their own security- they tend to rely on alliances (like NATO) with larger states. If they all had to provide for their own defence, I don't know what the world would look like. I wonder if Ukraine regrets giving up its nuclear missiles.

  3. It's happening. I want Czechia divided into a true federation of Bohemia and Moravia. And root for the Ruthenians to get their own space, as the map shows. Go Scotland! (Sounds like this Shakespeare in the end opted for the politically correct line, his job might be on the line.) Back to local/regional color and dialects! Defense will be provided by alliances.

    Are Americans ready? No. :-)

  4. It looks my own home state may be contemplating such a move:

    The cheese stands alone indeed. Although any independent Wisconsin would naturally incorporate the bizarre geographical accident that is "Upper Michigan."

  5. Interesting... certainly the thought of a multiplicity of smaller states feels better to me. One of my main beefs with the European Union has been the way the nation states have dominated the political process despite the lip-service paid to the principle of subsidiarity - that decisions should be taken as close as possible to where they have their effects.

    The nation state is an unnecessary half-way house between local issues best taken on a regional basis, and international issues best dealt with across the Union. But the main function of power is to preserve itself, so we have a Europe of (outdated) nations, where a Europe of regions would be much more satisfactory.

    The Euro has been one big disaster as it couldn't work without political union - we should have stuck with the Ecu, which was a common currency, but not a single currency. It could work as an international (inter-regional...) trade currency, but all the regional currencies should float against it.

    Only one thought alarmed me in the whole piece - in Tom Shakespeare's piece about the Heptarchy he proposes to put Leicestershire under the yoke of East Anglian domination. The man is crazy! Leicestershire was, is, and ever shall be Mercian. King Offa is spinning in his grave. We are Saxons, not Angles.... ;-))

  6. Kurdistan to the Kurds! Nip a little from Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq... and yer home free.


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