I have discussed secession in two fictional conversations published on LRC prior to penning this one, and wanted to devote this essay to what secession is. The common definition is "[t]o withdraw formally from membership in an organization, association, or alliance." We seem to be of two minds on this in these united States: the War of Northern Aggression (1860—65) as portrayed in academia and the media paints a dark and malevolent picture of secession as a means to keep humans in bondage and sanctify evil deeds. As a revisionist historian, I have learned to take these assumptions with a grain of salt. Just look at the LRC King Lincoln archives for a dose of real history and not the mass-manufactured hagiographic state worship that passes for most history today. On the other hand, we are a nation birthed and mid-wifed through secession from England to establish our embryonic nation and expand across the continent. It was, after all, the Anti-Federalist papers that provided the original antivenin to big government here. Secession is a topic that can either get you labeled an oddball in conversation or quickly lead to your demise in less tolerant states. So let’s examine this from the bottom up.
Secession is the reduction of a larger enclave or polity into a smaller component of the same. It is devolution of power to subsidiary levels which then become the prevailing framework for rule and law. If the twentieth century is any measure, the benefits of economies of scale in enormous nation states have a much darker side in the equation — the bureaucratization of tyranny and slaughter. This has led the more enlightened of the victim populations to seek redress through autonomous regions or breakaway nation-states of much smaller dimensions. Dig deep into the current crisis between Russia and Georgia and you will find that secession is the root of the conflict. Actually, there is most likely a seed of desired autonomy at the heart of most conflicts. Of course, the French and Russian Revolutions proved that conquest can seduce the most ardent supporters of liberty with the malevolent visions of paradise on Earth once at the helm of the ship of state.
Let’s look at this from an individual’s perspective, using the logic of the state and its sanctions on secession: there should be no divorces. Period. Union forever no matter how dysfunctional or lethal. If we infer the same response at this atomistic level, the two parties which want a separation would be compelled through sanction or violence to remain together for eternity.
I am often told that contracts are a form from which one cannot honorably secede, yet the law and common understanding dictate that if one party to the contract has violated or cheated its intent and constraints, the contract is null and void. Lysander Spooner, the individualist anarchist giant of the 19th century, went so far as to claim that the Constitution is not binding to those who were not alive to sign and agree to it. Whether you agree or not, the argument is logically compelling insofar as chattel slavery in this nation and the world passed through generations by enslaving the newborn children of slaves. No consent from any party.
Let’s face it, the argument for smaller polities is a minority opinion resisted by the weight of almost the whole population of America if not the world. I think the ancient Greeks were onto something when they speculated on the carrying capacities of political communities before size dictated descent into tyranny. Most people have been convinced through the media and the government education system that bigger is better, that the notion of diverse communities is to be entertained only through a collectivist mindset and lens. Diversity is all the rage but the rainbow is evident and embraced for physical characteristics only and the intellectual/emotional internal landscape must be in monochromatic lockstep with government supremacism and the mindless patriotic gore that attends all the wars we have fought since 1898. Mind you, the nationalist notion of America went into overdrive during and after the War to Save Josef Stalin (1939—45). Before that time, technology and transportation had kept marginal polities and regions distinctive. I often think the stateless advocates for anarcho-capitalism are in the same boat as the English intellectuals in the 1780s that opposed the universal institution of slavery, both chattel and indentured. It may be decades if not hundreds of years before humanity wakes up as a species and objects to strangers dictating through violence their every behavior and decision in the current statist model of human organization. A number of intriguing possibilities abound from medieval Iceland to the canton system in Switzerland (is there a relationship between smaller and diverse polities in Switzerland, neutrality and lack of imperial ambition?). Fundamentally, we cannot achieve even that idyll until we have slowly and tirelessly devolved, diluted and atomized the size of existing political communities.
There are a huge variety of these movements throughout the world. Here in these united States, small elements in Texas, Vermont and Hawaii have all made significant noises about their desires to secede. The primary reason the notion is gaining traction is that the dirty little secret remains — the Federal Leviathan in DC cannot be reformed — ever. The organizational dynamics, nature of democracy and institutional corruption have all led to this sad but inevitable conclusion. Ron Paul has lit a fire and I am a stalwart supporter of the lion’s share of his philosophy but DC will never return to Constitutional constraints or the limited government vision he so eloquently champions. Under no circumstances should there be a desire to violently overthrow the existing political structures in these united States as it would violate the libertarian prime directive of non-aggression. I think it is time to reconsider the advantages of smaller polities and the peaceful dissolution of what was once the lamp of liberty for the world.
A note in the margin: in my previous essay, I credited Boston T. Party in his novel Molon Labe! with a concept that belonged to Matthew Bracken who wrote the book, Enemies Foreign and Domestic. Both these gentlemen write ripping good yarns that bring to life the libertarian vision in the novel.