Saturday, December 16, 2017

The dangerous dream of secession

A fundamental requirement for lasting peace and prosperity is to reject government by coercive monopolies such as we have had for all of human history.  How anyone can expect a government invested with a monopoly on violence to restrain itself from bullying people whenever it can get away with it is difficult to understand.  Most people apparently refuse to explore alternatives to statism and hope their particular government doesn’t go the way of Zimbabwe or Venezuela — or Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.  

As I’ve detailed in my book The Fall of Tyranny, The Rise of Liberty we have two strong trends working in our favor: the inevitable blowup of state finances, coupled with the exponential growth of digital technologies.  The result of these forces — state bankruptcy and exponential tech growth — will put individuals and voluntary associations front and center in everyday life.  

Recently, and paradoxically, mankind’s number one futurist Ray Kurzweil has predicted that nation states will become the horse and buggy of our future, while assuring the world a universal basic income (UBI) will emerge from the sick beds of declining states.  Come again?  Kurzweil and his billionaire pal Mark Zuckerberg, who’s also touting a UBI and saying “People like me should pay for it,” ought to look more closely at their positions.  

The exponential pace of technology is evolving into a merger of humans with their technology as miniaturization on an atomic scale enables an enhancement or replacement of our biological substrate.  As Kurzweil notes in The Singularity is Near, “all of these technologies quickly become so inexpensive as to become almost free.”  Humans enhanced with nanotech won’t need a UBI even if states were able to provide it.  

Count us out

There is an age-old means to free people from coercive states rather than wait for them to implode from gangster-driven economics — secession.  It amounts to a public declaration that a certain group of people no longer considers themselves subject to their state’s jurisdiction.  It’s quite possible a tidal wave of secessions will occur as states grow more debt-drenched, bureaucracy-laden and weaker.  

The only problem with secession is the state.  States survive by bleeding its subjects, literally (wars) or figuratively (taxes).  Fewer subjects means less blood.  A state that loses too much blood imperils its survival.  Plus it’s a sign of weakness if it can’t check the bleeding, and no state can afford to look weak among the community of like bullies.  

Arguments about the legality of secession are so much noise.  The most important issue is whether or not the state will allow it to happen peacefully, which is not much of an issue historically.  As we’ve seen recently, Spain crushed the Catalonia declaration of independence with a combination of force, lies and political double-talk.  And other states have rallied in support of Spain.

Americans celebrate their 1776 secession once a year, but almost no one calls it that.  “Independence Day” — great.  “Fourth of July” — certainly.  “Secession Day”?  Politically incorrect.  Yet, if the Declaration of Independence is not a declaration of secession, nothing is.  It is the source of American pride.

In the U.S. the legitimacy of secession as such was not an issue for the first 71 years of its existence.  Instead, the issue was debated in terms of its appropriateness under certain conditions.

In the introduction to Secession, State, and Liberty, David Gordon notes that opponents of secession will sometimes concede that 
secession is to be allowed should the government violate individual rights, but not otherwise. A group may not renounce duly-constituted authority just because it would rather be governed by others. 
Gordon asks the obvious: What is the justification for making secession dependent on violations of rights?  The judge and jury of the decision to secede is the seceding group, whether their grievances are well-founded or not.  The decision may be unwise but it is theirs and theirs alone.   Besides, what government would ever acknowledge they’re violating the rights of their citizens?  Who will determine whether secession is “allowed”?

Allen Buchanan, who Gordon describes as the most influential philosopher on secession, argues that any group that violates individual rights has no right to secede.  For this reason Buchanan rejects the legitimacy of Southern secession in 1861.  Again, Gordon asks, why did slavery in the South make secession illegitimate?

To many contemporary abolitionists the Southern threat to secede was a gift from God because it would no longer require enforcement of fugitive slave laws, without which slavery would eventually end.

Secession as the foundation of the American republic

In The Real Lincoln author Thomas DiLorenzo tells us about constitutional theorist William Rawle,
who, in 1825, published a book, A View of the Constitution, that would become the text for the one course on the Constitution taught at West Point to virtually all the top military leaders who would later participate in the War between the States. . . . 
In addition to being one of the most distinguished and prominent abolitionists of his time, Rawle was an articulate proponent of a constitutional right of secession. He believed that there was an implied right of secession in the Constitution and that this right should be enjoyed by the individual states.
The implied right came from the 10th Amendment.  Since the Constitution did not prohibit secession, it was legal under the law.   In Rawle’s words: “The states may wholly withdraw from the Union . . . .  The secession of a state from the Union depends on the will of the people of such state.”  

A proposal to outlaw secession was presented at the constitutional convention but was rejected after James Madison convinced members that “The use of force against a State, would look more like a declaration of war, than an infliction of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.” [quoted in The Real Lincoln]

As it happened the slave states of Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia remained loyal to the Union until April 15, 1861 when Lincoln called for a 75,000-man militia to “suppress” the Deep South states that had already seceded.  South Carolina had taken Lincoln’s bait and bombarded Fort Sumter three days earlier, giving Lincoln the appearance of defending the Union from an aggressor.   

As John Denson argues in The Costs of War: America’s Pyrrhic Victories, the most important question to ask was not “Why did the South secede?” but rather “Why did the North refuse to let the South go?”  The war on Southern secession was a war on liberty, even though the secessionists were slave states.

Northern newspaper editorials before Fort Sumter often supported the legitimacy of the southern states to secede (source: Howard Cecil Perkins, Northern Editorials on Secession, quoted in The Real Lincoln, pp. 107-109):
Bangor Daily Union (11/13/60) - A state coerced to remain in the Union is “a subject province” and can never be “a co-equal member of the American Union.” 
Brooklyn Daily Eagle (11/13/60) - “ . . . let them [the Southern states] go.” 
Kinosha (Wisconsin) Democrat (1/11/61) - Secession is “the very germ of liberty . . . the right of secession inheres to the people of every sovereign state.
Detroit Free Press (2/19/61) - “An attempt to subjugate the seceded states, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil . . .” 
New York Tribune (2/5/61) - Lincoln’s latest speech contained “the arguments of the tyrant—force, compulsion, and power.”  If the southern states want to secede, “they have a clear right to do so."
With sentiment in the North open to secession, why did Lincoln pursue war?   The un-American American System of high tariffs, corporate welfare, and a central bank Lincoln had championed all his political life was in jeopardy if the South were allowed to leave the Union.  The favors dealt to one group had to be funded by another, and the South had been on the short end of that arrangement.

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery,” he explained to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in 1862.  But he wasn’t saving the Union — not a union of free and independent states.  He was destroying it.  

In his address to the Second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, calling on the colonies to declare their independence, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proclaimed “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."  The seceding southern states were clearly united in their determination to be “absolved from all allegiance” to the federal government.  Their connection was dissolved but not the political entity known as the United States.  Had it been otherwise the South would have seceded unopposed.

The seceding South posed no threat to the Union.  What it threatened was the Union’s unconstitutional usurpations.  I wonder how many of those favoring Lincoln’s “object” understood that the object was to destroy the fragile American republic.

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