We must, therefore, emphasize that “we” are not the government; the government is not “us.” The government does not in any accurate sense “represent” the majority of the people.
Murray Rothbard wrote this in his popular Anatomy of the State. His point still stands to this day. The state cannot be said to represent “us” in any accurate or serious way. It may be even more true today than ever before. However, what is murkier today is who “us” even is. If “we” are not the government, then who are “we?”
“We” would logically reference what Rothbard described as separate from the state, the nation:
Everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person into one or several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. He is generally born into a “country.”
While this would make sense as who “we” are, I struggle to believe this—in any meaningful way—describes anything that brings “us” as Americans together. Taking Rothbard’s descriptors piece by piece, almost none of them still apply. Everyone is born into a family which includes ethnic groups, but America has long been known as a melting pot with any number of ethnic heritages among its people, so it would be nonsense to say this played a role in bringing together the American nation. Generally speaking, there is a common language across America, however, it is merely the language of our former rulers—the British. If this drew us together as a nation, then we’d be equally drawn to Australia.
As for the “overlapping communities” we have almost no such communities drawing Americans together. Ethnic groups and cultures we’ve already addressed vary widely within America. Specific values have never been less cohesive than they are today. In the state of Texas, the average person likely believes that an abortion is committing murder against a child. In the state of California, the average person believes that an abortion is a sacred right for women.
In the state of New York, it was quite recently believed that going out without a mask was posing imminent harm to vulnerable people. At the same time, in the state of Florida it was almost ridiculous in many places to wear a mask. To pretend these groups have shared values is simply something of the past.
Religious beliefs do not hold as a common thread considering the country was founded in part on the freedom of religion. From that, many traditions diverge among the people. In fact, even the few traditions that are common among the residents of America are extremely varied across regions. While we are born into a specific place and are somewhat geographically together, we’ve expanded far beyond any real sense of vicinity.
Having expanded this far, in what way is a Floridian really any closer to an Oregonian than a Canadian? A New Yorker is far closer to a Canadian than a Texan. The only detail that holds true of this definition of a nation is that each person is born into a “country,” but what does that really say?
What this says is that “American” only means one thing: a citizen of the United States government. Nothing more. Sure, “we” are not our government, and our government is not “us.” But “we” really doesn’t apply to any substantial group of people anymore other than the group of people subject to this government that does not represent us. A Floridian or a Texan or a New Yorker has a very real culture that makes them a “we.”
But it’s been a long time since America meant the land of the free, the home of the brave or since political leaders have referred to the bill of rights or to the declaration of independence (unless it benefited their “cause.”). “We” as Americans are no longer a cohesive group. And that should not necessarily be looked at as a negative. Those of us that fall under the mantle of American can take this and recognize that there still exist many nations and cultures among us, we don’t need to fight to preserve one that no longer exists.