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Ethics of Secession - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

Feb. 2nd, 2003

12:17 pm - Ethics of Secession

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"...Despite the rhetoric of liberal democracy, actual consent is not necessary to political legitimacy...Separatists cannot base their arguments on a right to opt out because no such right exists in democratic theory.

Government by the consent of the governed does not necessarily encompass a right to opt out. It only requires that within the existing political unit a right to participate through electoral processes be available. Moreover participatory rights do not entail a right to secede...."

Lea Brilmayer (1991) Secession and self-determination: a territorial interpretation. Yale Journal of International Law 16, 177-202, p.184-185.

Quoted from "The Ethics of Secession."
http://web.inter.nl.net/users/Paul.Treanor/secession.html

Comments:

From:ex_ben
Date:February 2nd, 2003 09:48 am (UTC)
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That's interesting, but what is your opinion on the right to secession?
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From:crasch
Date:February 2nd, 2003 08:49 pm (UTC)
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I agree with von Mises:

"No people and no part of a people [should] be held against its will in a political association it does not want"
(Ludwig von Mises, "Nation, State, and Economy", New York: New York University Press, 1983, p. 34)

I think that a generally recognized right to secession would be a useful check on state power, as well as a way to defuse irreconcilable value conflicts. Robert W. McGee wrote a superb article, Secession Reconsidered; I generally agree with his analysis. It's available here:

http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/11_1/11_1_2.pdf
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From:mindwalker
Date:February 2nd, 2003 11:59 pm (UTC)
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I'm currently reading The Real Lincoln by Thomas J. DiLorenzo. It's a very interesting book that explores Lincoln's real motives in prosecuting the war against the southern states. It has lots of interesting information about secession, and provides evidence that up until the beginning of the war most of the states considered secession a right of any state. There were many debates about whether secession was the best option, but few questioned the right of any state to secede from the union. This was true even among the northern states, some of which also had strong pro-secession movements.

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From:new_iconoclast
Date:February 3rd, 2003 06:22 am (UTC)
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Like many abstract political arguments, the right of secession is in favor when it's convenient or of benefit, and out of favor when it no longer serves. Thus, the New England states considered secession to get out from under an economically-devastating trade embargo prior to the War of 1812, but when the South considered it 50 years later to protect slavery, it became anathema.

If you were Lincoln, and had worked all your life to get where you were, and saw half of your power base threatening to scoot out from under you, your natural reaction would be to do as he did. If you were really committed to principles of self-determination, you might resist the temptation, but Lincoln's ambition overruled his principles. Politicians back then were no more committed in action to the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution than they are today, except in rhetoric. Most 19th-century politicians showed some signs of at least having read both documents at some point in their lives, unlike today's crew.
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From:crasch
Date:February 6th, 2003 03:20 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the note. The Real Lincoln's on my "to read" list. What do you think would happen if a modern state tried to secede?
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From:mindwalker
Date:February 6th, 2003 04:57 pm (UTC)
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Based on the current attitudes of the federal government toward states' rights, I don't think an attempt at secession would go over very well. The feds still actively prosecute those who grow medical marijuana in California, even though that state legalized it for medical purposes. On the other hand, they are claiming federal laws were broken, not state laws, so if an actual secession were to take place, that might be different. The trick is getting the USA to actually recognize the secession, which I doubt would be easy. We'd probably see spin doctors on all the talk shows telling us how the secession was somehow not legal or valid, even if the citizens of that state had voted for it.

Despite my concerns, I'd still like to find out what would happen if a state tried to secede. I think the first step might be simply a state's refusing to enforce unconstitutional federal laws, and then a move toward secession if that doesn't prove to be enough. Are you familiar with the Free State Project? freestate They are trying to get 20,000 libertarians to move to a relatively low-population state, in order to have a major influence on state government. If successful, it could also result in the eventual secession of that state, if necessary to make it a truly free state.


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From:crasch
Date:February 6th, 2003 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for your thoughts.

I agree that the Feds would fight a secession attempt. But I don't think that they would fight secession per se. Rather, they'd demonize the state for some other reason, and attempt to take over the state in order to fight demon drugs, terrorists, etc. I also think you'd see attempts to locate military bases, nuclear waste dumps, etc. in the state to "punish" them.

That said, I think that the Feds would ultimately back down, as long as the citizens of the seceding state didn't attack the Feds physically. If the leaders of secession movement used only non-violent resistance tactics, then the Feds would have difficult time tarring them with the terrorist brush. I think a successful secession movement would also have to establish contacts with major media outlets before making the formal attempt, so that the media spins it a s "secessionist davids against federal goliath" rather than "right-wing terrorists fomenting rebellion".

( BTW, I'm aware of the Free State Project--I started the freestate LJ community. )
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From:mindwalker
Date:February 6th, 2003 10:28 pm (UTC)
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I agree on all points. There will certainly be obstacles to pulling it off successfully, but it's not impossible. The first step is getting enough individuals to vote with their feet.

( BTW, I'm aware of the Free State Project--I started the freestate LJ community. )

Ah, silly me. I should have remembered that and/or would have known if I'd just bothered to look :)
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From:auriam
Date:February 3rd, 2003 12:30 am (UTC)
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Theoretically, the idea of "owning" land or "property" is nothing more than a human thought-construct, without objective reality, and only enforced by human action. Therefore, strictly deterministically speaking, there is nothing to stop anyone from 'declaring' any piece of land to be 'owned' by anyone he/she decides should 'own' it. Events and situations have no meaning in themselves; only what we give to them. The idea of 'nation' or 'state' is nothing more than a delusion of those who believe they have power to keep others from declaring the same. Might makes right, if you even believe in 'right'.
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From:new_iconoclast
Date:February 3rd, 2003 06:14 am (UTC)

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Horsecrap. Ownership of private property is the basis of civilized society. It is properly a function both of divinely-appointed stewardship over the Earth and its contents and a basis by which individuals can meet their own material needs and contribute to the material well-being of others.

Calling the idea of nationhood a "delusion" might go over well with some postmodernist professor somewhere who thinks that Foucault once had a coherent thought, but it has little or no meaning in the real world. If it comforts you, however, more power to you.
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From:new_iconoclast
Date:February 3rd, 2003 06:52 am (UTC)

If at first you don't secede . . .

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Ms. Brilmayer's theory, while it may be true in individual cases, doesn't hold true for the specifics of the American republic. Much as I would like to secede from the Federal income tax system, I think I would pay an unacceptable price for it. Nor do I think I have any right to "nullify" law on an individual level. I certainly do have the right to disobey the law, but not to whine about the consequences. Think of that as a form of civil disobedience.

But, the American republic was conceived and established as a voluntary compact of sovereign states ("state" originally meant what we now think of as "nation," not "administrative subdivision"). Although the Founders may have considered secession so unlikely as to be almost unthinkable due to the system they had set up to preserve the rights of (political, not racial) minorities, they certainly did not claim it to be impossible nor illegitimate. After all, they had in effect seceded from the British Empire, and had been forced to fight a war to get Britain to recognize that. The very continued existence of states within the Federal Union after 1789 was in itself a means of limiting Federal power and protecting the rights of "the people" to have some voice in and control over their own affairs; hence the specific wording of the Tenth Amendment.

(Read that one to your Congresscritter; odds are, especially if s/he's a Democrat, s/he's never heard of it.)

Ultimately, what Jefferson called the right "for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them" can only be achieved if the mother country is willing to let the seceders go, or if the separation can be enforced by arms. Although I agree with crasch that secession or the threat thereof can serve as a check on central power, that's only true if the threat works. In the American case it backfired, and the result was a bigger and badder Federal behemoth than ever - a disasterous precedent and a burden we labor under to this day.
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