The 500 State Project07-09-2021
The United States of America was created not as a democratic state but as a federal constitutional republic with democratically elected representatives. As Alexis de Tocqueville saw, the spirit of American democracy came out of the townships in New England. And Hannah Arendt argues that the greatest innovation and central idea of the United States Constitutions was the dispersion and expansion of federated powers alongside a rejection of central government and sovereignty. The spirit of the republic was local self-government even though that republic violated its spirit as it prohibited women and slaves from voting and participating in the institutions of republican self-rule. The crimes of the past need to be addressed and responded to. At the same time there is a need to reinvigorate the spirit of republican self-government. One idea to revitalize American democracy is the practice of sortition and citizen assemblies, which will be the topic of the Hannah Arendt Center Conference on October 14-15, 2021. Another idea is to break the states up into smaller states. I have long proposed a “500 state project,” by which we would break the 50 states up into 500 states. Noah Millman makes this argument.
[S]ince the addition of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959, America hasn’t increased the number of states, and unless some future president winds up buying Greenland, the United States is unlikely to expand territorially. Nonetheless it continues to expand — demographically. Since 1960, the country has added over 150 million people through a combination of immigration and natural population increase. Yet we haven’t upped our state count.
This is a problem. America needs new states not only to provide representation for those living in territories but also more urgently to provide adequate representation to those who have congressional representation but whose votes perversely carry less weight because of their state’s size.
And America needs new states to improve the internal governance of the states and the country. We need new states — and the place to start is to carve them out of the largest states that already exist.
Since 1980, about 40 percent of America’s population growth has accrued to only three megastates: California, Texas and Florida. California has more than eight times the population of the median U.S. state; on its own, Los Angeles County would be the 10th-largest state in the union. The four largest states by population now make up roughly one-third of the population of the entire United States — more than the smallest 34 put together.