Secession: The Final Frontier

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Secession:
How Vermont and All the Other States Can Save Themselves from the
Empire
. By
Thomas H. Naylor. Foreword by Kirkpatrick Sale. Feral House, 2008.
119 pages.

As a general
matter, most Americans insist on placing their collective faith
in "democracy" as the primary means to address the escalating
problems of rising consumer and commodity prices, the value of the
U.S. dollar on the edge of free-fall, a foreign policy based on
aggressive imperialism, and the gradual erosion of the nation's
infrastructure and natural resources. These are undoubtedly issues
of great importance and concern. And yet, Americans seem to have
either lost total faith in the electoral process and feel utterly
powerless, or they still honestly believe that their votes for the
"right" presidential candidate will "make a difference"
or lead to "change" (Obama, anyone?). This stark reality
of democratic politics applies just as well to the average citizen
living in the rest of the Americas, much of Europe, Australia, parts
of Asia and South America, or in any other country purportedly based
on democratic values.

Pitted against
this global democratic status quo is the political concept of "secession."
Secession is commonly defined as the consensual exit of a group
of people and territory from an existing nation-state. In many cases
(but not all), what results from secession is the emergence of new
politically-sovereign entities. That said, it is not too much of
a stretch to note that secession remains a difficult concept for
the average person to intellectually digest. Even with the relatively
peaceful political break-up of the former Soviet Union and Eastern
bloc countries over fifteen years ago, citizens residing in democracies
the world over barely give secession a serious thought. And political
establishments in those democracies refuse to recognize secession
as a legitimate tool for effecting meaningful political and socioeconomic
change. To them, secession remains a threat to "territorial
integrity."

Nevertheless,
is it possible that now, in the early part of the 21st
century, the idea of secession may soon catch political fire and
inspire millions of people to push for political decentralization
and dismemberment of the world's existing nation-states?

In his important
new book, Secession: How Vermont and All the Other States Can
Save Themselves from the Empire, Thomas H. Naylor concludes
that efforts to reform the "American Empire" are futile,
and that secession is the only feasible mechanism that can be used
to disentangle the United States in the most peaceful and least
chaotic manner possible. This conclusion may seem somewhat unusual
coming from someone like Naylor, who is not exactly your run-of-the-mill
radical, judging by his "establishment" credentials as
an Emeritus Professor of Economics at Duke University and former
CEO of a successful computer software firm.

Naylor
begins Secession with a dedication to, of all people, the
famed American diplomat and foreign policy guru George F. Kennan.
Kennan is most famous for having developed the foreign policy of
"containing" Communist expansion during the Truman Administration
of the 1950s. However, what is not widely-known is that by the early
1990s, in the twilight of his life, Kennan became a strong sympathizer
for an independent Vermont and proponent of breaking up the United
States into "a dozen constituent republics" as a means
to roll back aggressive American foreign policy imperialism. Having
been the father of containment diplomacy, it is reasonable to assume
that Kennan may have known a thing or two about the dangers of aggressive
imperialist expansion and how to combat it. Indeed, it is fascinating
to note that Naylor considers Kennan to be "a major source
of inspiration for the Second Vermont Republic," even going
so far as to deem him as its "godfather." For those that
do not know, the Second Vermont Republic is the name given by Naylor
and others to a future Vermont that will perhaps one day become
its own sovereign independent republic, broken free from the yoke
of the current territorial borders of the United States.

The foreword
to Secession is provided by Kirkpatrick Sale. He is perhaps
best known as one of the political Left's most prominent journalists
and a prolific author of numerous books with topics ranging from
environmentalism and radical political decentralization to neo-Ludditeism
and bioregionalism. Sale has focused his energies on becoming a
preeminent advocate of secession, and in particular, the secession
of Vermont from the United States. In his foreword, Sale
lays out in a few short paragraphs how a small group of attendees
to a "Radical Consultation" conference in Middlebury,
Vermont in 2004, went from completely rejecting American electoral
politics to whole-heartedly embracing secession for effecting political
change. By the end of that conference, Sale, along with Naylor and
a few others, founded the Middlebury Institute. According to its
Declaration, the Middlebury Institute is a think-tank created in
order to "place secession on the national agenda, encourage
secessionist organizations, develop communication among existing
and future secessionist groups, and create a body of scholarship
to examine and promote the ideas and principles of secessionism."
Secession certainly represents a contribution to that body
of scholarship.

Naylor begins
Secession by declaring that the United States today is an
imperial power centralized in the hands of an oligarchic federal
government that exercises too much of that power both at home and
abroad. Early on, Naylor offers the following insight, which sets
the tone for the arguments he makes throughout the book:

A cursory
study of world history reveals a self-evident truth. No major
empire anywhere at any time in history has ever proven to be sustainable.
Sustainability refers to the ability of a community, a town, a
city, or a nation-state to ensure the availability of political,
economic, agricultural, social, cultural, and environmental resources
for future generations… (p. 28)

Naylor proceeds
to offer a litany of arguments describing how the United States
has become "unsustainable." In standard left-liberal style,
he rails against big businesses like Wal-Mart that exploit their
workforce and threaten to wipe out their smaller, local "mom
and pop" competitors in Vermont and other parts of the nation.
Naylor further bemoans the "total market control" of large
fast-food corporations such as McDonald's that wield tremendous
buying power over the nation's food supplies, to the detriment of
small family farms. Both Naylor and Sale also point to the unsustainability
of global warming, overused natural resources and excessive American
importation and consumption of the world's oil supplies.

In making such
arguments, it is worth noting that Naylor either misses or ignores
an important economic insight, consistently put forth by Austrian
School economists in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises, that large-scale
economic production, when channeled toward the service of the individual
consumer and not governmentally-privileged corporations, provides
lasting social benefits to society as a whole. Such large-scale
production for large-scale consumption is indicative of capitalism
in its most genuinely laissez-faire form, unlike the business-government
economic fascism that left-liberals such as Naylor and Sale appear
too often to mislabel as genuine, free market capitalism.

As much as
Naylor and Sale may be perceived by "right-wingers" as
spokesmen for the political Left with all their talk of "sustainability"
and the evils of McDonald's and Wal-Mart, their arguments for secession
nevertheless share much in common with right-libertarian political
thought. For instance, Naylor perceives America to be electorally
corrupt and essentially a one-party system in which no real difference
exists between the Republicans and Democrats when it comes to foreign
policy. In reading this, one is reminded of the "War Party"
label that Antiwar.com writer and libertarian Justin Raimondo often
ascribes to the bipartisan Republican/Democrat foreign policy consensus
in Washington, D.C.

Naylor also
recognizes that American imperialism is comprised of "both
external and internal imperialism." Again, this dichotomy of
imperialism may remind one of a similar "welfare/warfare state"
dichotomy conceived by libertarian and Austrian School economist
Murray Rothbard to describe the U.S. federal government as a symbiotic,
interrelated domestic and foreign policy leviathan. Naylor even
cites libertarians Lew Rockwell and Thomas DiLorenzo as authorities
on America's internal imperialism, originating with the oppressive
violations of civil liberties committed by former U.S. President
Abraham Lincoln's administration in the 1860s and continuing through
to the present day with the current regime of President George W.
Bush.

In a recent
talk delivered at the Future of Freedom Foundation’s conference
on “Restoring the Republic: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties”
last month, Rockwell himself indirectly, but in a very cogent way,
expands on Naylor's attempt to put the purpose for secession in
its proper perspective:

…Think of
your local and state governments. They tax and spend. They manipulate
and intervene. As with all governments from the beginning of time,
they generally retard social progress and muck things up as much
as possible. What they do not do, however, is wage massive global
wars, run huge deficits, accumulate trillions in debt, reduce
the value of money, bail out foreign governments, provide endless
credits to failing enterprises, administer hugely expensive and
destructive social insurance schemes, or bring about immense swings
in business activity.

State and
local governments are awful and they must be relentlessly checked,
but they are not anything like the threat of the federal government.
Neither are they as arrogant and convinced of their own infallibility
and indispensability. They lack the aura of invincibility that
the central government enjoys….

From their
own divergent political perspectives, Naylor (despiser of Wal-Mart)
and Rockwell (defender of Wal-Mart) put forth essentially the same
argument in favor of dismantling the federal government through
secession. This coming together of "left" and "right"
may represent a new common ground among thinkers from different
political places who happen to share the same anti-imperialist foreign
policy values and understand that radical political decentralization
may be the only true means to achieve those values. With the emergence
of the Middlebury Institute, this ideological common ground could
lead to a growing political coalition for secession in the future
as the American socioeconomic and geopolitical landscape continues
to degenerate and the average American becomes increasingly disillusioned
with the political status quo.

That being
said, Naylor's primary and more selfish motive as a secessionist
is to achieve a sovereign Vermont republic, wholly independent of
the United States. To that end, he devotes a chapter that describes
in some detail the uniqueness of Vermont as a state known for its
political independence, grass-roots democracy, local markets, cultural
heritage, and focus on clean environmental living. Naylor recites
the importance of Vermont's colonial heritage and streak of independence
as originating largely from its favorite son, the colonial-era hero
Ethan Allan. In telling Vermont's story, Naylor provides a moral
justification for preserving Vermont against the heavy hand of the
U.S. federal government and all the "mega"-sized institutions
that it bolsters. It makes one think – if some day the majority
of Vermonters wish to preserve their unique values and way of life
within an independent Vermont, who are others to tell them "no"?
And if Vermonters could do it, why not others?

Perhaps the
most important chapter in Secession is the cleverly-entitled
"Untied States of America." By substituting "Untied"
for "United," Naylor paints an effective picture of the
precise purpose for secession. According to Naylor, secession is
not meant to be disruptive or chaotic. Rather, secession is meant
to, among other things, "disengage." In fact, this is
one of the four "Ds" of secession that Naylor lists –
the other three being "Denunciation," "Demystification,"
and "Defiance." To all four of these "Ds", one
could add a fifth "D" — "Demolition" — which
is exactly what Naylor does when he thoroughly refutes a number
of preconceived notions and attitudes that most Americans have when
it comes to the alleged unconstitutionality of secession and the
overly-glorified Abraham Lincoln (in the course of "demolishing"
Lincoln, Naylor cites generously to DiLorenzo's The
Real Lincoln
and Lincoln
Unmasked
). Reading Naylor here will make one at least rethink,
and in all likelihood utterly reject, that oft-repeated and false
notion that secession is nothing more than code for "slavery"
and "states' rights."

With Secession,
Thomas Naylor provides the average person trapped in the "black-box"
of democracy with a short, easy-to-read book that lays out a new
political frontier using persuasive and well-reasoned arguments.
Unlike most books published on secession, written mostly by political
philosophers attempting to weigh the costs and benefits of secession
under the assumption of some hypothetical Rawlsian "democratically
just" state, Secession is one of the few books available
that offers a truly normative case for breaking up the United States
and many other of the world's nation-states, using interdisciplinary
arguments based on economics, politics, history, culture, and, most
importantly, reason. Secession is a path-breaking contribution
to the secession literature, and arguably the first of many books
on the topic that are sure to follow in the years to come.

July
11, 2008

Andrei
Kreptul [send him mail]
is an attorney in Seattle, Washington.

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