Here at home, it is not just that taxation and government are different in red and blue states, or that for the last two decades national elections have hinged on what the shrinking number of purple-state voters prefer. Social and cultural questions are also dividing us, almost as much as slavery did in the 1850s. Fault lines over abortion, the role of religion, gay marriage, affirmative action, welfare, illegal immigration, and gun ownership are starting to manifest themselves regionally. We have long had the Blue–Gray game; soon will there be a Red–Blue Bowl? If Mexico plays against the U.S. soccer team in Merced, Fresno, or L.A., will the spectators root for the country in which they live or the country that they left?
Europe may in the not-too-distant future end up as it was in the 16th century, before the rise of the nation state. If current trends continue, the United States may unwind in the reverse of the manner in which frontiers became territories and then states. No entity is ensured perpetual union. The process of forming nations and empires and then disassembling them back into small city states or provincial units is certainly not novel, but rather ancient, and more likely fluid and cyclical than linear — even if the process takes decades or at times centuries. When an empire or even a nation state can no longer guarantee locals that the increased security and wealth of a vast union makes it well worth transcending their parochial customs and ethnic profiles, then we have a Greece of 1,500 city states, or a medieval Europe of castles and moats.
Why is there today a nostalgia for localism? Shrinking Western populations with growing numbers of elderly and unemployed can no longer sustain their present level of redistributive taxation and entitlements. Europe, which can endure neither the disease of insolvency nor the supposed medicine of austerity, is only a decade ahead of what we should expect here in the United States, or what we see now in California — a construct more than a state, where the Central Valley is to the coast as Mississippi is to Massachusetts.