Thursday June 27, 2013

This spring the Vermont Independence Press of Waitsfield came out with a collection of essays published since 2005 in its quarterly magazine Vermont Commons. It's entitled "Most Likely to Secede," but very little of it gets into the arguments for getting Vermont out of the decadent United States.

The argument for Vermont Independence is the need for Vermont to secede from the United States of America and return to its status, until 1791, of an independent republic. The Second Vermont Republic partisans' main rationale for their proposal was, when it first appeared, to get suffering Vermonters out from under the corporate-dominated, globalized, rich-serving, pro-nuclear, war-making, immoral and generally hateful Bush-Cheney Empire.

Not so much is heard of that any more, since America is now led by corporate-dominated, globalized, rich-serving, pro-nuclear, war-making, debt-increasing administration of Barack Obama, "who has proved to be a good friend of the corporate and Wall Street interests that underwrite his campaigns" (Ron Miller).

In fact only three of the 35 authors included in the book explicitly advocate Vermont secession. Of more interest and value is the book's subtitle: "what the independence movement can teach us about reclaiming community and creating a human scale vision for the 21st Century." The authors do not necessarily agree with all ideas offered by the others (notably so in my case; I wrote the historical essay on "Left and Right Decentralism"). But the authors share a broad consensus about what a future decentralist Vermont could come to look like.

It would cease to be "a nation of overfed clowns who believed that it was possible to get something for nothing, who ravaged the landscape in an orgy of wanton carelessness, who believed we were entitled to lives of everlasting comfort and convenience and expected the rest of the world to pay for it." (James Howard Kunstler).

It would, as with the Amish, be more dependent on its own people for the provision of food, clothing and shelter, making use of "intermediate technology" understandable and repairable by local people. The most extreme version of this is Kirkpatrick Sale's: "using raw local (instead of imported) materials, nurturing local ingenuity without patent and copyright restrictions, and agreeing to abandon as unnecessary and undesirable almost everything manufactured at the factory level anywhere and anyhow."

It would produce its own sustenance, using ecological design, organic crops, permaculture, soil nourishment, and Community Supported Agriculture. Its energy consumption would be considerably reduced, through efficiency in design, lifestyle changes, home-based work, draft animals, conservation, and replacement of grid electricity with local hydro, wind, solar and biomass.

It would educate its young people in a wide variety of settings, on a human scale, "rejecting the yoke of standardization and enforced conformity" (Ron Miller). (The obvious way to do that is to install parental choice, but that's too much for Miller to bite off.)

Its health care would be decentralized and community based, where patients consider the effects on the community of demanding expensive high tech "solutions" (Thomas Naylor). A community culture supporting wise nutrition and healthful lifestyles would improve public health. Interestingly, Naylor believes the Vermont single payer health care plan "will never see the light of day. Neither the governor nor the members of the legislature have a clue as to how much it will cost or how it will be financed. It's pure pie in the sky."

Finally, the new resilient, sustainable, low-impact Vermont would have a culture of democratic concern for "the commons" (water, air, the town square). Its citizens would be tied together not only by interactions and common civic endeavors, but also through electronic Front Porch Forums (made possible, one might observe, by the global computer industry and the Internet). Its diverse local currency plans would deter financial leakage out of their areas of circulation, and thus stimulate local economies.

There are some obvious omissions, impracticalities, and weak points in this vision, but it would be unkind to dwell on them. What is refreshing about the book is that the authors, unlike socialists, do not envision or support the idea of some right-thinking vanguard seizing political power and coercing the population into taking assigned places in the Grand Design.

They look forward to an active, public spirited citizenry, free to reshape their local communities through their own efforts, examples, persuasion, and enterprise. This is a goal worth supporting, and despite its title, "Most Likely to Secede" offers many ways to get there.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen institute.