Posted: February 10th, 2010 by Militant Libertarian
Yes, Aristotle declared there to be a limit to the size of states: “a limit, as there is to other things, plants, animals, implements; for none of these retain their natural power when they are too large…, but they either wholly lose their nature, or are spoiled,” so he said. But, really, what the hell did he know? He lived at a time when the entire population of the world was somewhere around 50 million people—about the size of England today—the population of the Greek-speaking city-states, which were not united in a nation, in all may have been 8 million, and Athens, where he lived, considered a large city, would have been under 100,000 people. Limits? He couldn’t even imagine a world (ours) of 6.8 billion, a nation (China) of 1.3 billion, or a city (Tokyo) of 36 million. How is he going to help us?
It is because, firstly, he did know that there are limits: “Experience shows that a very populous city can rarely, if ever, be well governed; since all cities which have a reputation for good government have a limit of population. We may argue on grounds of reason, and the same result will follow: for law is order, and good law is good order; but a very great multitude cannot be orderly.” And it doesn’t matter if that city is 1 million or 36 million–political entities at such sizes could certainly not be democratic in any sense, could not possibly function with anything approaching efficiency, and could exist only with great inequities of wealth and material comfort.
And because, secondly, he did know that human beings are of a certain limited size of brain and comprehension, and that putting them in the aggregate does not make them any smarter—or as another philosopher, Lemuel Gulliver, once said, “Reason does not extend itself with the bulk of the body.” There is a human scale to human politics, defined by human nature, that functions well only in such aggregations as do not overstress and overburden the… quite capable and ingenious but limited human brain and human capacity.
So political units, Aristotle said—he thought mostly in terms of cities, not knowing nations—but even if we may extend those units with the experience of 2000 more years to larger units such as nations, they have to be limited: limited by human nature and human experience. And it is with that maxim of Aristotle’s that we now may start contemplating what in today’s world would constitute the ideal, or let us say the optimum, size of a state, with these two overriding criteria: “sufficient,” in Aristotle’s words, “ for a good life in the political community”—that would be some form of democracy—and “the largest number which suffices for the purposes of a good life”—that would be efficiency. Democracy and efficiency.
And hark– this is not some sort of idle philosopher’s quest. It is, or could be, the foundation of a serious reordering of our political world, and a reordering such as the process of secession—indeed, only the process of secession, as I see it—could provide. We have abundant evidence that a state as large as 305 million people is ungovernable—some scholar said in the paper just this past Sunday that we are in the fourth decade of the inability of Congress to pass a single measure of social consequence. Bloated and corrupted beyond its ability to address, much less solve, any of the problems as an empire it has created, it is a blatant failure. So let us be bold to ask, what could replace it, and at what size? The answer, as will appear, is the independent states, that is to say nations, of America.
Let us start by looking first at real-world figures of modern-day nations to give us some clue as to population sizes that actually work.
Of all the world’s political entities—there are 223 of them, counting the smallest independent islands—45 are below 250,000 people, 67 below 1 million, 108 below 5 million; in fact 50 per cent of nations are below 5.5 million, and a full 58 per cent are smaller than Switzerland’s population of 7.7 million (Wikipedia: World populations by rank). That says right there that it is obvious that most countries in the world function with quite relatively small populations. And looking at the nations that are recognized models of statecraft, there are eight of them even below 500,000—Luxemburg, Malta, Iceland, Barbados, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and San Marino—and the example of Iceland, with the world’s oldest parliament and an unquestioned beacon of democracy (troubles of its banking aside), suggests that 319,000 people is all you would need. Going up a bit in size, there are another nine models of good governance below 5 million, including Singapore, Norway, Costa Rico, Ireland, New Zealand, Estonia, Luxembourg, and Malta.
Next, let’s look at the size of the most prosperous nations ranked by per capita Gross Domestic Product (Wikipedia: List of countries by GDP, CIA Factbook). (Parenthetically let me say that I realize GDP is a crude and entirely uncritical measure of economic worth, and reflects all kinds of growth, much undesirable, but until we have nations devoted to steady-state economies instead this is the best way to gauge economic performance.) Eighteen of the top 20 by GDP rank (a total of 27 countries because of ties) are small, under 5 million, and all but one of the top ten are under 5 million (that’s the U.S., at ten, the others being Liechtenstein, Qatar, Luxembourg, Bermuda, Norway, Kuwait, Jersey, Singapore, and Brunei in order); the average size of those nine is 1.9 million. The average size of all 27 of the top economic nations, excluding the U.S., is 5.1 million.
You are beginning to get the picture.
Let’s take another measure—freedom, as reckoned by three different rating sites, Freedom House, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist, using measures of civil liberties, open elections, free media, and the like. Of the 14 states reckoned freest in the world, nine of them (64 per cent) have populations below Switzerland at 7.7 million, 11 below Sweden at 9.3 million, and the only sizeable states are Canada, United Kingdom, and Germany, the largest, at 81 million.