The Conservatism of Secession

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Although
the idea of secession has enjoyed a considerable comeback in recent
years, the idea still has to catch on with many conservatives who
consider themselves "patriotic" in the old sense. These
fine men and women loathe the anti-gun, anti-freedom and anti-religion
agenda of the left, yet their brand of patriotism does not allow
them to admit that remaining in union with those who despise them
will eventually corrupt the whole crowd. They insist that their
children continue to be educated in leftist school, that their businesses
be subject to leftist regulation, and their families be harassed
by leftist federal agents. This all must be endured to avoid turning
their backs on their country. For them, loyalty to the idea of "America"
has managed to take precedence over the idea of "liberty."
This attitude invariably leads to rationalization that secession
is too radical an idea and any talk of it is simply treason.

The
true nature of secession, however, is that it is moderate and nonviolent.
Secession never profits from violence, and it strives to conserve
that which is valued in a society. Unbeknownst to many, the most
famous and articulate secessionists in American history are not
folks with names like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, but people
with names like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The original
Americans were secessionists, and they did it in order to preserve
their society, not to destroy it. The founding generation saw that
the American colonies were about to be radicalized. The surge in
royal executive power during the 1760's and 1770's alarmed the colonists
and they feared that their way of life might be destroyed. In order
to preserve their "English liberties" as they called them,
the colonists decided to withdraw from a governmental entity they
saw as a threat to their value system. They did not wish to engage
in regicide or to indulge in vengeful slaughter. They only sought
to conserve a system they feared would be taken from them. Edmund
Burke saw this clearly from the Parliament in London. Burke could
appreciate that American politics, American values, and even American
religion was not like that which existed in England. As the conflict
drew on, Burke predicted that if the British were to win the war,
the American colonies would have to be remade in a new image in
order to remain a part of the British Empire. That which made America
what is was would have to be expunged from the earth. Burke did
not wish to revolutionize America or anywhere else. The fact that
Burke supported the American Revolution while condemning the French
Revolution is a compelling fact. While the French Revolution sought
to overturn and destroy an established order, the American Revolution
sought only to conserve an established order which was being destroyed
by British intrusion.

Men
like Washington, Franklin and Adams were conservatives. They had
no interest in overturning the American order. They wished only
to return to an America that freely conducted business on its own
terms as it had before the days of the stamp act, the intolerable
acts, and the blockading of Boston harbor. The Judiciary Act of
1789 enacted during the Washington administration created a judicial
system astoundingly similar to the British Judicial system. Through
judicial power, the act brought every corner of the nation under
the control of the federal government, leading historian Charles
Beard to declare, "In a word– something like the old British
imperial control over provincial legislatures was reestablished."
Both Beard and 20th century conservative Russell Kirk
considered the American revolution to be a "triumph of conservatism."
The founding generation enjoyed their English liberties, and they
were not going to stand for having them taken away. English liberties
became "rights" and liberty became something that rose
above empires and national boundaries. The colonists rightly saw
that Britain was one of the most free societies in the world in
the 18th century. Naturally, they would seek to preserve
what was good about the British system. That which they preserved,
however, was only to be used for the preservation of the rights
that many colonists had given their lives to conserve.

Here
in modern America, we face the same problem. The politics, values,
and religion of the Southern, Western, and rural people of America
are not like those in the coastal cities. Secessionists do not seek
to overturn the government in Washington, or to destroy the governments
of Massachusetts, New York, and California. What we wish to do,
is to avoid the radicalization that urban leftists wish to force
on us. It is they who wish to revolutionize and to destroy. It is
they who want to put an end to our churches, our private schools,
our local governments, and our civic organizations. They wish to
sweep away traditional American culture and traditional American
institutions.

For
generations now, compromise has regularly amounted to a leftist
victory. This is not a battle that can be won. They have the advantage
in numbers and self-righteous rhetoric. Like the Colonists who fought
to preserve their British liberties, modern Americans should consider
their "American liberties" and examine how they have changed
in the last generation. If any vestige of these liberties are to
be preserved in the long run, it must be saved now.

We
are approaching the time when as Jefferson wrote, "it becomes
necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have
connected them with another." To dismiss secession as radical
and dangerous will only allow the true radicalization of all America.
For you patriots who value "America," remember that America
stands for something other than the Army and the Navy and lines
on a map. If America does not protect liberty, then it has ceased
to be America. Secession is an effort to protect those liberties
and institutions that make us Americans. It is truly the moderate
choice.

December
1, 2000

Ryan
McMaken is a graduate student in American politics at the University
of Colorado. He edits the Western
Mercury
.

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