Happy Secession Day! This July 4th, what’s more American than celebrating the right of people everywhere to self determination and freedom from tyrants?
In Episode 116 of the Brion McClanahan Show: The Winds of Change, Brion discussed the positive movement towards decentralization, and how many different people (including millennials) were supportive of secession – especially in light of the hateful rhetoric and extreme divisiveness not seen in the United States since the 1850’s. And in the popular Tom Woods Show from December 4, 2013, Tom discussed the complex subject of secession by addressing some of the common prejudices and misconceptions regarding decentralization in the United States. Woods agreed that when engaging people on this particular subject, it’s important to note that secession may indeed be unconventional, and contrary to what many may have learned in public school. “But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”
Secession – Loved by Americans Since 1776? Despite the United States claiming to uphold such ideals as liberty, freedom and independence, it’s ironic that when it comes to the confines of American political discourse, there’s a small range of things people are not allowed to talk about – or even support. Like the recent subject of Catalonian independence, in which many Americans have surprisingly sided against the efforts of the Catalonian people to seek independence and freedom. Woods notes that, “just because this view is held by neither Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, does not in itself invalidate it…when we think about things like farm subsidies or even foreign policy, we can have civil disagreements about them…but yet for some reason, when you talk about secession, the assumption is you must be crazy, there’s something wrong with you. And yet there’s no reason, right off the bat, that you would think people ought to draw that conclusion. Wouldn’t this just seem to be a practical question?”
“Why would it be forbidden to question where the boundary lines are drawn…Why can’t you just say maybe this unit should be two units, or maybe it should be three units, or maybe it should be ten units?” Tom noted, expressing that when the discussion is framed this way, even a person with a modicum of intellectual curiosity would have to consider what’s so special about the particular shape – or boundary – of a country. For example, is the shape of the United States somehow sacred? So much so, that you can’t even talk about it or debate it?
A Sacred Shape…“I think part of the reason that we resist this topic of secession is that in the United States in particular, there has been what we might call sacralizing the secular. You take a secular thing – that is, a thing that doesn’t have a religious meaning or dimension to it, namely ‘The Union’ or ‘The Union of States established by the Constitution’ – and this Union is routinely spoken of as if it’s a sacred thing. We see this throughout U.S. history. This religious language that is used to describe the United States…This no doubt derives from the ‘City on a Hill’ rhetoric that goes back to the Puritans appropriating it from the Bible. And then John F. Kennedy yes, but mostly Ronald Reagan appropriated it in turn from the Puritans, and took this Biblical image of the Church and adapted it so that words that were supposed to describe the Christian Church now describe the United States. You might think Christians would find this blasphemous, but they’re the ones that most cheer it on, oddly enough.”
Mr. Woods then discussed how the work of two 17th century intellectuals, Johannes Althusius, a theorist of the Dutch Federation, and Thomas Hobbes, encapsulates much of the history of the West in terms of political organization. And over the years, we’ve moved from Althusius to Hobbes. For example, in Politica, Althusius writes how society is made up of different groups with specific rights and liberties that couldn’t be modified or intruded upon by any of the others. Even Kings, whose power were often hemmed in by other institutions, couldn’t just bark out irresistible commands to the others. “That’s how society was arranged. Not just a bunch of isolated individuals, atomized individuals, but a balancing act of all different power centers whose symbiotic relation constituted society.”
The Hobbesian Leviathan: On the other hand, there’s the system Hobbes discusses in Leviathan (1651). “Hobbes describes a society not as a system of levels, but precisely as a single, flat plane consisting of isolated, atomized, undifferentiated individuals. At the center of this society is a single, infallible power center, with any subsidiary bodies having whatever liberties the center deigns to acknowledge. And those liberties and rights may be cancelled at any time…Under this system, where you have a single, irresistible, infallible, indestructible, power center at the center, if one of these subsidiary groups resist, it’s not a virtue. It’s not a virtue to be cheered. It’s treason.”
Secession Superstitions: “So when you hear people talking about Nullification as treason, and secession as treason, it’s this Hobbesian superstition that they have haplessly absorbed…especially in the wake of the French Revolution. We have now all around the world for the most part, the type of state Hobbes described…and how has that experiment gone? Well, we’ve had totalitarian regimes that scarcely could have been dreamed of in the past, we’ve had total war on a scale that was not seen…on a smaller scale we have impossible levels of debt and bureaucracy. These governments have established a set of self-perpetuating fiefdoms that rule over us and seem impossible to dismantle. And yet despite this horrifying record of the Hobbes model, the question of the proper size of the political unit and whether secession or decentralization are desirable is not even raised.”
History Supports Secession: While the Tenth Amendment in the Constitution, and Virginia, New York and Rhode Island’s rescission clauses (which detailed these states could withdraw from the federal union) point to the sovereignty of the states in America, there’s plenty of other sources to look. For example, “The Declaration of Independence does not speak of a single blob, it speaks of free and independent states,” Mr. Wood notes. “And by states, they mean places like Spain and France. They have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. The British in the Treaty of Paris acknowledged the independence not of a single blob, but of a group of states. Again, the Compact Theory. The States created the Union. The States came first and the people of the states are the sovereigns…In the Law of Nations (1758), Emerich de Vattel noted how Sovereign states can enter into federations without compromising or impairing their sovereignty. They’re exercising their sovereignty when they enter a Union like the United States – therefore they could obviously continue to be as sovereign as before. Which means if they have the sovereign power to join such a union, they have the sovereign power to withdraw.”
Also see McClanahan Academy for a great university-level course on Secession Here.
P.S. Want to celebrate that American notion of freedom and self determination through secession? Check out some of the other cool artwork available at my store! Imagine how awesome you’ll look on Independence Day (or any other day) by making a great and unique statement for liberty and freedom in your community!