Part One: Empire and Overshoot

The primary argument made by the writers in Vermont Commons is that modern political and economic systems have grown too large and overbearing. Governments, corporations, educational systems, global food supply chains, mass media, and other institutions are controlled by powerful forces that are distant from, and indifferent to, the diverse needs and preferences of citizens and their communities. In sum, the United States has developed into a classic empire—a massive, centralized concentration of power that dominates local economies, regional cultures, and other nations through military intimidation and economic exploitation.

The contributors to Vermont Commons are not asking how this power­ful nation state ought to be ruled—whether by “liberal” or “conserva­tive” principles—but whether its institutions should have so much power in the first place. We pose this radical, challenging question out of two major concerns, one moral and philosophical, the other quite practical and empirical:

  1. Morally, the concentration of power is profoundly anti-democratic. It reduces individuals and localities to impotent, irrelevant ciphers in the vital decisions that shape society. At their worst, empires employ deadly violence against elements of their own population or other nations to further their aims.
  2. Empirically, empires inevitably overshoot the resource base (energy, agricultural land, human, and cultural capital) that enable their growth, and the result has always been, and will apparently always be, collapse. For several reasons, most primarily the declining availability of cheap oil, we believe that the American empire is perilously close to a tipping point into collapse.

In this first part of Most Likely to Secede, Ian Baldwin, the cofounder of Vermont Commons, and other writers share concerns about the moral and political effects of empire and provide an overview of the challenge. The essays in this section should make it clear that the network of criti­cal observers (we are not yet influential enough to constitute a “move­ment”) is not a partisan crusade, nor is it obsessed with any particular issue. Although the next section of this book discusses specific problems individually, it is the totality of these problems, and their root causes in the overgrown and overly powerful institutions of the modern age, that concern the writers here.