I’m writing in response to Roger Bowen’s Maine Voices column of Sept. 17 (“Consider a peaceful devolution of America into several nations”), which blithely muses through some selective speculative essays and historical fiction on the breakup of the United States into smaller, more culturally aligned regional factions as independent, unconfederated nation-states without considering any of the logistical, economic, diplomatic, infrastructural and defense nightmares these scenarios would cause in the real world.

Millions would die if this “devolution” were applied with the slapdash consideration Mr. Bowen affords it, and the global economy, if not immediately and forcefully commandeered by China, would be left in tatters. Civilization as we know it would experience “devolution” to the barest levels of privation and suffering.

While chin-scratching in after reading some interesting books about possible future scenarios can be a rewarding inner experience, entire disciplines, norms and institutions have been developed over the course of centuries – even before the birth of the concept of the republic and the nation-state – and Mr. Bowen completely elides the colossal history and framework of statecraft at the peril of instigating even more secessionist fever dreams in those even less informed than he shows himself to be.

There are dozens upon dozens of potentially catastrophic outcomes the average armchair philosopher simply does not have the faculties to accommodate in the “breakup” scenario. Any serious consideration of such a monumental issue would surely include commentary from several experts actually working in these disparate fields.

Without delving into the devastating vagaries of settler colonialism and worker exploitation, the United States is the largest and most prosperous economy in human history. We have one of the largest nuclear arsenals on Earth and the best-funded military apparatus of any nation in exponential degrees.

The U.S. government owns and manages more than 27 percent of land in the country. The vastly uneven resource and population distribution across the sprawling landmass of the U.S. is mitigated by interstate commerce; federated governmental structure that redistributes these resources more evenly to assure a basic standard of living, and shared defense interests.


A plurality of communities in the U.S. are structurally dependent on the resource wealth of other regions of the country, and this affects everything from education funding, municipal infrastructure and local zoning to disaster response, energy distribution and large industry. The U.S. has scores of trade agreements and defense treaties with a host of countries, regions, coalitions and organizations the world over.

The U.S. has led the development of international organizations that attempt to address myriad issues for the purposes of global stability and increasing prosperity; slowing nuclear proliferation; promoting global health initiatives, and preventing authoritarian overreach.

While I agree with Mr. Bowen on the appalling state of partisan factionalism, and how such a binary cultural rift seems at recent points irreparable, the vague “solutions” that he gleans from casual novelists are far more problematic than my few paragraphs can even begin to outline. Volumes could be and have been written by people far more informed than either myself or Mr. Bowen on every facet of this grand issue, and none were given consideration over entertaining works of fiction by non-experts.

For those who want to truly consider the structural complexities and detailed interdisciplinary considerations that Mr. Bowen’s short essay on “devolution” fails to, I strongly urge you to drop any historical and speculative fiction from your reading list.

These pieces are great at helping form questions or ideas about what else may be possible, but they offer the reader nothing in the way of real-world answers to the open-ended questions they pose.

Fiction has the luxury of not having to worry about issues it fails to consider. Reality doesn’t. Plot holes in fiction don’t result in nuclear annihilation or mass starvation. Plot holes in complex, real-world geopolitics most definitely do.

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