14th Century Federalism

I'm currently reading Froissart's Chronicles, an interesting and often accurate account of the Hundred Years' War. There are several passages that may be worth noting on Catallarchy, but perhaps one of the most interesting features of the book is who is French and who is English, and who is both or neither. “France” refers to the area under the direct control of the king, the region referred to as Île-de-France. “England” is more intuitive, and it means the part of that island that is not Scotland or Wales.

Though the countries are similar in their political organization, France is much less tightly controlled by its king. Perhaps this is because it is larger, or perhaps because it is more accessible from other parts of Europe. [This is just speculation on my part--does any Catallarchy reader have a convincing answer?]

What about the rest of what we now consider France? Regions like Normandy, Brittany, Gascony, etc.? These are culturally French, they might marry French, and they speak French (also the Duke of Normandy is next in line for the French throne, being the son of the reigning king). Gascony is a strange case. Its people are always referred to as Gascons, never as Frenchmen, and though they come from what we consider France, they are considered English during the narrative (at least, thus far) because they fight alongside the English.

The example given in the glossary of terms (Under “FRENCH”) is the town of La Rochelle on the continent. It was at first English because the townspeople were loyal to the king of England, but they became French after getting rid of their English military presence and pledging themselves to the king of France.

This is federalism at its finest. How great would it be for my native state (Texas) to redeclare itself independent and though largely culturally American, not have to go along with whatever terrible policies were being directed from Washington D.C. (currently, to our great shame, by a native son)? Or for my current state (Georgia) to decide thanks, we'll do it our own way. There are still large domains of government power assigned to the states, it's true, but in this historical account the subdomains can be culturally French and still be completely independent of the king's control. Not only do they call their own shots, they often oppose him in battle.

Not surprisingly (or explicitly mentioned), the king of France doesn't get to exercise dictatorial control over the lives of “French” subjects. There's always the threat that they might become “English” if his hand gets too heavy. They didn't seem to be big issues in the 14th century, but maybe in later chapters I'll read that the French subregions control their own drug and immigration policies. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Also: the French-language Froissart entry on Wikipedia has links to some beautiful illustrated manuscripts. (Follow the "manuscrit français #" links.)

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Seems to me that the 13

Seems to me that the 13 colonies formed a confederation because it was mutually beneficial for them to do so. However, now we have reached a point where many people think that it not to their net benefit to be part of this federation, and want to leave.

Some say thay since joining the federation was voluntary, but not unilateral (i.e., each new applicant state has to be accepted by the federal body) then leaving it should also be voluntary, and perhaps not unilateral.

So then we have to ask, if a state could organize and pass a vote for secession, what could they do (outside of war) to make the other party - the federal government - amenable to accepting that vote, and allowing secession? Is monetary compensation required? Can the seceding state be broken up if some parts of it want to secede, but others stay in the union? What if Atlanta voted to stay in the union, but the rest of Georgia voted for secession, and secession won, would the Atlantans have a "right" to stay in the union?

Also, what barriers can be placed on vacillating states that exit, then want to re-enter the confederation?

SC tried that once. As I

SC tried that once. As I recall, Georgia went along for the ride. It didn’t work out too well.

If at first you don't secede...

The problem with federalism

The problem with federalism is that it is unstable, relying on uncertainty between the central and peripheral polities. Inevitably one or the other party will eventually "win". The is why the federalist position in the EU has such a bad rep in the UK.

'Or for my current state

'Or for my current state (Georgia) to decide thanks, we’ll do it our own way.'

SC tried that once. As I recall, Georgia went along for the ride. It didn't work out too well.

Brandon: "Besides, why would

Brandon:
"Besides, why would we want to keep North Carolina, anyway?"

That's an interesting point we have been looking at this problem entirely from the point of view of the states. If the state in this hypothetical situtation has every moral right to withdraw unilaterally from the federalist contract(secede). Does not the federal entity not also have the right to unilaterally withdraw (kick the worthless tar heels out). The only thing preventing that now is Article V of the constitution which prohibits depriving a state of it's senators without it's consent. Since only states have senators it thus becomes impossible for the state to become some sort of nebulous, autonomous senator possesing entity

Brad: Understood. I guess I

Brad:
Understood. I guess I didn’t see that you were proposing a hypothetical situation. But since our federal government is not likely to ever “allow” states to opt-out, it becomes a matter of political will and military might.

I don't see the political will to stop secession from the United States anymore, so it seems to me that, to all intents and purposes, US Federal Government will allow secession, even if we never formally adopt a Constitutional amendment to clarify the issue. Think of Quebec. There's been serious talk of secession from Canada for years, but I don't believe that Canada has ever threatened war to stop them.

Joe:
I’m not so sure that this is true of states, though I would be willing to defend the claim that individuals have an inherent moral right to secession...[but] States...may secede if and only if they do not currently owe any debts to the rest of the federation.

I don't see that this is a valid distinction. How can the federation keep the state if all citizens of that state choose to secede? Or do you mean that the federation must retain control over the land and that citizens must physically emigrate in order to secede?

So it might be true currently that California and Georgia could bail out. North Carolina, on the other hand, might owe some money.
http://www.taxfoundation.org/northcarolina/taxingspending.html

I don't accept the idea of implicit debt. In the absence of an explicit agreement otherwise, relationships like this are assumed to be at will, even if it does work out better for one party than for the other. Without an explicit agreement, would you say that an employer has a right to keep an employee in bondage until he repays training costs? I don't think courts even honor an explicit agreement of that sort.

Besides, why would we want to keep North Carolina, anyway? If it's not pulling its own weight now, why would we expect it to start doing so in the future? If it's a tax sinkhole, we should kick it out unilaterally, or at least stop spending so much money on it.

Brad, _I guess I didn’t

Brad,

_I guess I didn’t see that you were proposing a hypothetical situation._

Yeah, I wasn't clear enough about that. Sorry.

_I think even in our system states have an inherent moral right to secession_

I'm not so sure that this is true of states, though I would be willing to defend the claim that *individuals* have an inherent moral right to secession. States may also have such rights, though in the case of states, I would want to argue that the right is a _prima facie_ one only. States, in other words, may secede if and only if they do not currently owe any debts to the rest of the federation. So it might be true currently that California and Georgia could bail out. North Carolina, on the other hand, might owe some money.
http://www.taxfoundation.org/northcarolina/taxingspending.html

Rather, I was directing my

Rather, I was directing my concerns to a hypothetical: were the U.S. to restructure itself such that it allowed states to opt out, what would such a system have to look like. I think that to make any sort of opt out scheme work, it will have to be the case that there is a pretty big penalty for opting in (or out), for the reasons that I specify above.

Understood. I guess I didn't see that you were proposing a hypothetical situation. But since our federal government is not likely to ever "allow" states to opt-out, it becomes a matter of political will and military might. I think even in our system states have an inherent moral right to secession, but I'm sure the feds don't agree with me on that...

Brad, Sorry that I'm still

Brad,

Sorry that I'm still being unclear. I completely agree with you that you and I as individuals have no contractual obligation to obey any laws, whether those of Georgia or of the U.S. or Atlanta or anyplace else. Neither of us, most likely, has ever explicitly consented to obey the law. Tacit consent fails for a whole host of reasons. So no one is morally obligated to obey the laws of any state. Morally speaking, we're all free agents already.

My comments about seeing federalism as akin to a mortgage is not really directed at the society that we actually live in today. If that's our standard, then I would argue that while we are not morally obligated to obey the law, there isn't in fact any way to opt out.

Rather, I was directing my concerns to a hypothetical: were the U.S. to restructure itself such that it allowed states to opt out, what would such a system have to look like. I think that to make any sort of opt out scheme work, it will have to be the case that there is a pretty big penalty for opting in (or out), for the reasons that I specify above.

Keep in mind that things like armies and navies have to be continually upgraded. So even if Georgia has paid its share already for the military that we have today, the problem is still going to arise at some point. Once there is a system in place that allows for easy exit, there are going to have to be penalties attached for leaving.

I agree that the electricity example is a nice model. It's worth noting, though, that early on, extension of power grids were heavily subsidized, especially in rural regions. So electricity companies have never had to charge the sorts of penalties I'm discussing precisely because someone else is _already_ picking up the tab. I don't see any sort of analogous mechanism in the proposed federation.

David Rossie, And of course

David Rossie,

And of course the French eventually routed the English by the creation of a professional standing army (which by itself means greater government power to tax, etc.) and the wholesale adoption new technology that the English were to slow to accept (cannon).

I read Norman Davies'

I read Norman Davies' history of the Isles, and what he writes may give a little insight into why England was more unified than France:

"Louis VII of France (r. 1137-80) was the central point in this political web of personal and territorial relationships. As the sixth monarch of the Capetian dynasty, his political influence was much greater than the size of the royal domain in the Ile de France might have suggested. Successor, as he claimed, to Charlemagne, he would have ceded precedence to none, not even to the kings and emperors of Germany, whose formal status, enhanced by papal investiture, was techincally superior. Although he often lacked the means to hold his numerous vassals to their oaths of loyalty and obedience, he had persoanlly recieved the homage of all of the great dukes and counts in his kingdom. Among the crusaders of 1148 he was the direct fuedal superior of the Counts of Perche, Champagne, Flanders, and Provence, as also of the families from which all the princes and kings of Outremer were descended. Int he unfolding drama of England, he was the active feudal lord of all the interested parties - the Dukes of Normandy, the Counts of Anjou, the Count of Boulogne, and, as would soon emerge, the Dukes of Aquitaine. ... every claimant to the to the medieval English throne from 1066 onwards possessed honors, titles, estates, and family connections which subordinated them to the French monarchs. In the feudal order, no King of England ever stood so high as the Kings of France. England's independence was a technical abstraction. The people who ran England were not fully independent."

England was, for centuries, politically no different than Anjou, Normandy, or Gascony. So in the federalism that was France, England would more likely be united than the French feudal system as a whole. On top of that, the Normans did to England in the 11th and 12th centuries what happened to France much, much later: consolidation. By the time The Hundred Years War came around, England was growing out of its feudal subordinate position and challenging the French kingdom itself. Looking at the English state's point of view, England's rise in stature can be an argument for decentralization in the short run and centralization in the long run.

Brandon, _More importantly,

Brandon,

_More importantly, I never signed any contract with any federation. Those who did are long dead, and I cannot be bound by a contract to which I was not a party._

Agreed. I wasn't arguing that you in fact have an obligation _right now_ to the government. Far from it. I actually think that you don't have any moral obligation to obey the law, for very much the reason that you give.

My point was only that, _if_ we take a federalist approach to government, then it's not clear to me why we ought not view that as being like a mortgage. See my response to Brad for my arguments about why that's the right way to view things.

Joe, To keep that analogy

Joe,
To keep that analogy going, say the state of Georgia has been around over 200 years. Haven't they paid back that investment? What about states like California, which pay more money out to the federal government than they usually receive in benefits? Do they get a quicker opt-out?

I did hesitate to bring up cell phone companies, because they usually do give you a free or cheap phone in exchange for a specified length of contract. Again, much like a mortgage, that is essentially a loan that needs to be repaid. Many things, such as a cable, gas, electric, water, etc, can be turned on and off at will. I.e. just because the Electric company just spent $500,000 bringing power to your neighborhood doesn't mean you can't disconnect from the grid and use solar power on your own property. There is no contract implying that you will continue. Such as with the states (which have been opted in for over 200 years, I might add), there is no contract that states that they have to continue that agreement.

I have to echo Brandon, in that there really isn't any legal or contractual obligation to remain in this Union. As he said, the problem of secession is primarily one of whether the federal government has the will and might to stop it, which, incidentally, is what it took 140 years ago to keep the union together.

It's a thorny issue, but I don't see a legal or contractual justification for viewing our relationship to the federal government like a mortgage instead of like our relationship to the electric or gas company.

Brad, I'm not sure that

Brad,

I'm not sure that service contracts are really as easy to escape as you make them out to be. Don't many of those very same providers usually require some sort of fee to break the contract early? After all, many service providers have to make at least some sort of up-front investment (they give you a cell phone or run a cable to your house). Ensuring that you buy their service for a specified time period allows them to recoup those costs.

States, however, will have to make a much bigger up-front investment. Adding more territory might, for instance, require increasing the size of the army. That's a lot of hardware which requires considerable capital. Most of that cost is defrayed by _continued_ tax money. But if a state were to opt in, requiring the addition of a few new F-117s, and then bailed out just a year later, then the state is stuck with the cost of that new equipment, a cost that would have been recouped over the course of several years.

So it seems to me that one of two things has to happen. Either a state would have to pay a pretty hefty up-front fee to cover all of the up-front charges, thus allowing the state to enter with a zero balance, or the federation would have to charge a pretty hefty penalty for breaking the contract early.

You might object here that, really, the addition or subtraction of Georgia isn't going to alter the size of the Army. That's probably true, given that an Army already exists. But it is going to create a problem when the policy gets universalized. When large numbers of states start to opt in and back out, then the size of the military necessary to protect the entire group will vary pretty significantly. Once again, though, states can short the federation by opting out early _after_ the federation has already invested in expensive infrastructure.

The disanalogy between federalism and cell phone companies is the huge difference in cost between giving me a free phone up front and adding another infantry division. I don't see how you solve the problem without either (a) charging such a high entry or exit fee that joining or leaving become cost-prohibitive, or (b) simply requiring that states cannot leave until they have repaid the full amount of the obligation (i.e., treating the contract more like a mortgage than like a service provider).

Josh, Well, that's true

Josh,

Well, that's true throughout all of "France"; Provencal was spoken in Provence for example. "France" was a welter of tongues well until the 19th century.

This a seriously strange reading of Froissart, and of the history of the Hundred Years' War generally, that is for sure.

They spoke French in

They spoke French in Brittany in the 14th century? I doubt that. They probably spoke Breton, a Celtic language closely related to Welsh.

- Josh

My question, then, is why we

My question, then, is why we should think of the relationship between states and the federation as analogous to an employment contract rather than as analogous to a mortgage?

Two reasons. First, in the case of the mortgage, a debt is owed. You borrow money to buy a house, and you have to give the money back. There is no similar debt in the case of joining a federation. More importantly, I never signed any contract with any federation. Those who did are long dead, and I cannot be bound by a contract to which I was not a party.

Besides, laws and contracts don't apply to governments. They can and do break and rewrite them at will. Whether a state can secede is purely a function of whether the federation has the political will and military might necessary to stop it.

Brian, _If “balance of

Brian,

_If “balance of power” can work with mutually antagonistic nations, why couldn’t it work with states who tend to have more in common?_

But balance of power didn't work out particularly well. We don't, by the way, really rely on this any more; if we did, there would be at least one or two more superpowers out there.

What balance of power did get were two wars named for the number of years that they went on (30 and 7, respectively), some dude named Napoleon, and a couple of World Wars. And these were, mostly, wars fought by Europeans, who, by and large, share lots of the same culture and have much in common. The relative peace of the past 50 years had a lot more to do with MAD than with the balance of powers per se. The relative peace of the past 15 years has a lot to do with the fact that most of the world knows that there is at least some chance that, if they get too far out of line, the Americans _might_ decide to send some troops.

Note that I'm not claiming that _actually_ sending troops has done all that much. It's the knowledge that Americans will sometimes intervene (without any real rhyme or reason) that, I think, helps to keep hostilities at a relatively low level.

Joe, I consider the

Joe,
I consider the contract to be more like an employment contract, or perhaps a contract to provide services, such as the water or cable company.

A mortgage is a contract that has certain responsibilities and obligations to be repaid. You can break the contract (i.e. not continue paying monthly), but only by paying a one-time fee (the balance of the loan). On the other hand, when you sign a contract with say your cable company, or cell phone provider, typically you can break that contract at any time. You cease to pay them for their services, and they cease to provide them.

I think the federal government relationship to the states would be similar. We supply tax dollars to the federal government in exchange for things like supporting our army, continuing certain federal programs that provide services back to the states (or citizens within the states). Who's to say that there would be any problem with ceasing to provide that money, while the federal government ceases to provide those services?

From a purely legal standpoint, I don't see this as being a problem the same way that breaking a contract for repaying a loan would be. The main thing I could see as a big issue with this is that much like Canada, any state that would secede would have a free rider issue with the US government, because the US Army wouldn't allow a foreign power to invade territory so close to its own. Beyond that, though, I cease to see the legal issue. And considering that "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants", I don't think the founders had any problem with the act of secession.

"SC tried that once. As I

"SC tried that once. As I recall, Georgia went along for the ride. It didn’t work out too well."

Heh. Did the Confederacy fail because it seceded, or because a certain someone invaded and torched it? I retort with:

The 13 colonies tried that once. As I recall, Georgia went along for the ride. It did work out pretty well. Despite having the same stupid slavery problem.

"If at first you don’t secede…"

The gods of humor frown upon you. :)

"The problem with federalism is that it is unstable, relying on uncertainty between the central and peripheral polities. Inevitably one or the other party will eventually “win"."

Isn't this a description of global politics as well? If "balance of power" can work with mutually antagonistic nations, why couldn't it work with states who tend to have more in common? Why don't "central" and "peripheral" policies make national politics inherently unstable?

"If you can get a majority of the states to agree, then a state can leave."

It seems like that wouldn't work. The kind of problems that would inspire a state to secede would be unfavorable laws within the federal government -- which obviously the majority must have supported. The entire point of secession is that you have a minority viewpoint. If we (say) enacted tariffs on a certain state's products, we certainly wouldn't want to let them secede and lose all that tax revenue.

"Can the seceding state be broken up if some parts of it want to secede, but others stay in the union? What if Atlanta voted to stay in the union, but the rest of Georgia voted for secession, and secession won, would the Atlantans have a “right” to stay in the union?
"

It seems like we currently manage to handle far more complex issues in our society. If Georgia can secede from the union, than surely Atlanta can secede from Georgia and join the union. The really good thing about federalism is our increased mobility. People can move! If I like the laws in the new founded Republic of Georgia, I can move there. If I find myself overruled by those crazy Neo-secessionists, I can leave for the Union. That's the whole point of federalism.

"Also, what barriers can be placed on vacillating states that exit, then want to re-enter the confederation?"

I agree with your statement that entrance is voluntary and multilateral (majority vote to accept them) and that exit is voluntary and unilateral. We'd all have to vote to let those people back in.

The idea of secession has

The idea of secession has always puzzled me a bit. Most contracts are such that they cannot be broken unilaterally. If I don't like my mortgage any more, I'm still stuck paying it back. The same is true if I enter into a business arrangement; once the contract is made, I have to fill my part of it even if I decide later that I don't want to. The only way that I can get out of it is if, (a) there is some kind of escape clause built in, or (b) the other side agrees to let me out. The only sort of ordinary contract that allows either part to get out of it is an employment contract. For the most part, either side can decide to end the relationship at any time. Most other contracts are not like this.

My question, then, is why we should think of the relationship between states and the federation as analogous to an employment contract rather than as analogous to a mortgage? Aren't there pretty good reasons for thinking that an agreement to join a federation ought to be a pretty tough thing to get out of?

France's political

France's political disorganization allowed for the sort of depradations which the English and their Burgundian allies committed in that war.

Barry P.,

If you can get a majority of the states to agree, then a state can leave.