States’ Rights: Amanda Speak, You Listen!

Amanda Marcotte reminds us of the origin of the states’ rights claim (italics mine):

For the slower (willfully and not) people out there, the rhetoric about protecting the innocent states from the all-powerful federal government–rhetoric that would have basically every stalwart Republican and Libertarian out there pumping his fist in solidarity–is referencing Alabama’s “right” to prevent black people from voting, with violence if necessary.
It’s important to have long memories, because the language about “small government” and “states rights” is with us today, and there’s no reason to think the basic meaning has changed significantly from the days when it was about stopping black people from voting. “States rights” dresses itself up as anti-tyrannical language, but it’s actually pro-tyranny. It’s about crafting a nation that makes it the easiest to use government power to override individual rights.

In a larger sense, states’ rights also represents a withdrawal by social conservatives (both those motivated by religion or race) from the national community:

In the pre-desegregation South, massive resistance was the concerted effort (and battle cry) by private citizens and state officials to oppose desegregation. The reason I bring this up is that the failure of massive resistance led to the de facto withdrawl–and resegregation–of whites into suburban enclaves. It also led to the adoption of ‘anti-government’ politics by the white middle class: perceived government misspending wasn’t originally for ‘welfare queens’ but for black swimming pools, schools, parks, public golf courses, and libraries (and just about every other public service too, including transportation). The urge to secede withdraw was so strong that Georgia and Virginia attempted to privatize their entire public school systems (these efforts stalled when the voucher system underlying this scheme was declared unconstitutional).

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9 Responses to States’ Rights: Amanda Speak, You Listen!

  1. J-Dog says:

    Great reminder, or for you youngsters out there, maybe a Heads Up from when anti-war actually meant something.

  2. Mark P says:

    That’s partially right, but it doesn’t go back far enough. The original states’ rights movement resulted in the Civil War. The “right” the South fought for was, of course, the right to own human beings. Today I think it’s fair to say the movement has bred true.

  3. Colugo says:

    The notion of state’s rights: For both liberals and conservatives, a good thing when one agrees with a state’s particular policy but a bad thing when one disagrees.
    Gay marriage, medical marijuana, school segregation, anti-discrimination laws, abortion, environmental regulation, immigration enforcement etc.
    Nobody really cares about “states rights” as a principle in itself. I really don’t. Invocation of state sovereignty all depends on whose ox is being gored on a particular issue.

  4. Mike says:

    It is interesting how those who do not know history are the ones who want to use a few historical tid bits to gore an ox. The issue of states rights has been around long before the civil right era or the civil war. States rights were invoked even before the Constitution was ratified. Many people did not want to set up a strong central government as they feared tyrranny.
    I know that many posters on this blog have a strong liberal faith that causes them to reject facts and reality that do not fit in with their belief system, but there is always a chance that knowledge will set these posters free.

  5. Mike,
    The tyranny that many of the original founders feared was based on the fear that the anti-slave states would overrule the slave states; also, after the Louisiana Purchase, many wanted states rights so the new states would not automatically become free states. That was the tyranny they feared. Slightly different tune, same beat.

  6. Michael Schmidt says:

    I dunno, the appeal of “states’ rights” to me seems to depend a lot on who’s running the federal government. Right now, I’d like to see California’s right to impose stricter automobile efficiency standards being honored.

  7. “Nobody really cares about “states rights” as a principle in itself. I really don’t.”
    I do.
    What is your source for saying that the Founders only cared about states’ rights because they were thinking of slave states vs. free states when they created the Constitution? The states existed before the Constitution and had to ratify the Constitution to create the federal government. It makes sense that they would want themselves to have more power than the federal government. That’s the way it was intended.

  8. Libertarian Girl,
    My source is Joseph Ellis’American creation : triumphs and tragedies at the founding of the republic. And actually, what you’re talking about are the Articles of Confederation, which failed so badly, the Founders centralized more power in the federal government.
    Besides, have you ever watched a state government up and close and personal? It’s every bit as incompetent as the federal government, and often more so. Also, most people have even less idea what is happening at the state and local levels, so the idea that local and state governments are more responsive is ludicrous.
    Ultimately, if you believe that the government shouldn’t do much of anything (and if you believe that, kiss most of the research discussed on ScienceBlogs goodbye), then this states rights are for you. If you think that, as an entire nation, we need to marshal resources to solve problems, including expanding civil liberties to all Americans regardless of their own state, then states’ rights is an impediment to that.
    There’s also a long history of using states’ rights to impede racial integration as well as other important things, such as worker protection, and so on.

  9. I’ll add Ellis’ book to my list of books to read.
    I wasn’t referring to the Articles of Confederation, but to the Constitution– for the first 80 years or so, the US had a much smaller central government than it does now.
    I have seen state governments up close and personal, and while yes, they are incompetent, the lawmakers are more accessible and less susceptible to lobbyists. Usually, you’ll have an office of your state senator in your county and your representative in your town and you can meet with them personally. Some people may get to meet with members of Congress, but it’s rare. I also haven’t seen state governments reach quite the level of incompetency that the federal government has– $12 billion in cash sent on a raft to Iraq and gone missing, the FBI’s wiretaps shut off for non-payment of the phone bill, cash in a lawmaker’s freezer and his fellow lawmakers say his office can’t be searched… can you think of similar incidents in state government? They usually don’t reach that $12 billion level if/when they do occur.
    “Ultimately, if you believe that the government shouldn’t do much of anything (and if you believe that, kiss most of the research discussed on ScienceBlogs goodbye)”
    Actually, no, you wouldn’t have to kiss any research goodbye. Just say goodbye to NIH grant applications, Nobel Prize-winning research being turned down, scientists saying that their obscure insect research has something to do with AIDS in order to get funding, spending all your lab grant in September in order to get funding not cut for the next year, etc. There would still be plenty of research occurring, and even more of it, if you took the same amount of money and subtracted the bureaucracy. Edison and Tesla didn’t have government grants to do what they did. This is a modern phenomenon. Universities, nonprofits, and corporations could conduct research (as some do now) much better and more efficiently than the federal government (think stem cell research and other research that is sure to be banned by the gov.)

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