St. Abraham's War and Current Foreign Policy
by Walter Block
A century and a half after the war against Southern secession, the foreign policy of our country is still hampered by this tragic event. That is, had the war of federal aggression not taken place, had the South been allowed to leave peacefully, America would be in a far better position to exert a positive direction on several events which trouble the globe at the present time.
This does not imply that a libertarian US foreign policy would include the role of world policeman; organizing non-constitutional standing armies; stationing soldiers abroad in, literally, hundred of other countries; posting battle ships in every sea and ocean known to man.
No. A proper foreign policy would be informed by George Washington's "Farewell Address" advice: to aim for friendly commercial relations with all nations, but political relations with none; to wish for the safety and happiness of all counties, but to fight to protect only our own.
But this is not to deny that Americans can play a mediating and conciliatory role in foreign affairs. Yes, politicians, bureaucrats and other hirelings of the state would be precluded from any such activities. And this should go for weekends too. After all, they already have full time jobs that ought to prevent them from gadding about the globe, mixing into other people's business. Executives in private firms are typically contractually prevented from doing anything on their free time incompatible with their full time commitments, and the same ought to apply to government "diplomats."
However, there is nothing in the principles of libertarianism to prevent private citizens from being arbitrators and mediators on the world stage. Surely members of the American Arbitration Association, ex-judges, marriage counselors, etc., could make an important contribution in the direction of putting out some of the many conflagrations now besetting this sorry world.
Except for one thing.
Any American who tried to do so would be engaging in this task with one hand, not to say two, tied behind his back. This is because the clear, obvious, and just (partial) solution to most if not all of the problems of humanity is secession, and this country has a history of repudiating just that sort of occurrence. Nor have we as a society apologized for this moral outrage. Instead, Abraham Lincoln is still seen by most as a sort of secular saint. With the exception of Tom DiLorenzo, Jeff Hummel, David Gordon, Clyde Wilson — and just a very few others — our historians, political scientists and other intellectuals are still defending the actions of the monster Lincoln. Consider a few examples indicating how such a stance would undermine any efforts at being honest brokers in curing the trouble spots of the earth.
Russia is in the midst of fighting a bloody war with this group of individuals, and has been for almost a decade. Tens of thousands of people have been killed. One of them might have invented the cure for cancer.
Is there any reason why the Chechens cannot be allowed to go their separate way? To deny this is especially problematic in view of the fact that some dozens of other former jurisdictions of the former Soviet Union have already been allowed to set up separate countries. What is the relevant difference between Chechnya, on the one hand, and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, to say nothing of East Germany, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Croatia, Albania, Poland, Romania, Armenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, on the other, such that the latter should be allowed to secede and not the former?
One would be hard put to offer any justification for this different treatment. And yet, so deeply embedded is the notion that every country is perfectly constituted, just as it is, at any given time, that maniacal opposition to the departure of this little sliver of land has caused the needless death of thousands of precious human beings.
But could an American advocate the secession of Chechnya? Such a position would be undercut due to our own history with regard to the similar demand on the part of the Confederacy, which was squelched.
India and Pakistan have been at each other's throats for decades over the fate of Kashmir. They have already fought three inconclusive wars to settle this issue. Thousands of precious human beings have perished in these skirmishes. One of them might have composed a symphony, the equal of any of Mozart's. If a nuclear war between these two powers comes about as a result of this dispute, the estimates are that 12 million more will be murdered.
When England left this troubled subcontinent in 1947 the plan that was taken up was that the majority Hindu areas would go to India, and that similarly populated Muslim regions would be amalgamated into Pakistan. As a recipe for peace based on vast and in many cases forced migration, what can be said in behalf of this plan is that there were probably worse alternatives.
But Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu prince. He decided to "give" it to India, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of residents were Muslim. Pakistan has been trying, ever since, to incorporate this territory on the ground that it is the rightful owner, and India has been struggling, with equal fervor, to uphold the doctrine that no political separation may ever take place, for any reason.
Now the obvious and just solution is to allow the Kashmiris to secede from India. Then, it could either join Pakistan, or remain as a separate political entity, along the Bangladesh model. But would such a course of action be recommended by any American with a straight face? To ask this question is to answer it.
Jews and Arabs have been slaughtering each other for years in this troubled part of the world. One of these dead, conceivably, might have invented a travel machine or technique that could have allowed us to explore and colonize not only additional planets in this solar system, but in other galaxies as well.
One simple answer to this firestorm is a geographical and political separation of these two peoples. (This would not entirely solve the crisis; there would still remain the issue of which pieces of land would be controlled by which countries, an issue outside our present focus. But such partition would at least be a step in the right direction).
However, no American, not even a private citizen, could recommend any such plan with clean hands while the Confederate states are still held by the US Colossus. First we have to set straight our own house, before any of us can recommend separation to other jurisdictions, without fear of the justified charge of hypocrisy.
How far should secession go for the libertarian? To ask this is to ask: What is the optimal number of countries in the world? The bottom line answer is, one for each person, or six billion different nations. In the just society, we are each sovereign individuals.
The reigning ideology, of course, makes no such course of action practicable in the present day. But this principle still illuminates the issue, however politically infeasible. It at least establishes a presumption in world affairs: whenever a minority wishes to secede from a majority, they should be allowed to do so. Other things equal, the more countries the better. But more. Minorities should be encouraged to break into smaller political entities, if only this will bring us closer to the libertarian ideal number of countries. Further, voluntary separation is part and parcel of freedom of association. The extent to which a person is not free to associate with others of his choosing is the extent to which is he not free but rather a slave.
This principle has no logical, coherent or ethical stopping point (short, of course, of the libertarian ultimate goal of one person per nation). That is, the seceding country may be, in turn, seceded from. If it is just for the Confederate States to leave the US, then it is equally licit for, say, Louisiana to depart from the Confederacy. And if this is legitimate, then it is also proper for Shreveport, for example, to get out from under the control of the Cajun State.
Applied to the Middle East, the result might well be a political archipelago, along the lines of a country comprised of parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, or what is now Pakistan plus Bangladesh, but if this is the will of the people, down to the neighborhood, or, even to the individual level, well then so be it, at least if we want to cleave to any notion of morality. Certainly, it should be applied to Ireland, to Quebec, to Somalia, and even to the suburbs of the city of Los Angeles.
Secession will not cure all the world's ills, but it will bring us a step closer to this goal. When and if the US ceases to imprison the Confederacy, we will be in a far better position to bring about world peace; or, at least, to help put out many local conflagrations.
June 20, 2002
Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans.
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