“All we ask is to be let alone” – Jefferson Davis
Secession. It’s all the talk these days. After the re-election of president Obama, petitioners in conservative-leaning states have rallied behind the idea of leaving the union. (Side note – it turns out that liberals were also talking about secession … back in 2004 with the Bush re-election)
One suspects that this is all talk and will eventually amount to nothing, but it does bring out an interesting realization about the American electorate – or any electorate in a democracy. When a political party or ideology wins an election in a democracy, they praise the goodness of majority-rule (and say things like “elections have consequences”). When a party or ideology loses an election, the demand recognition of individual liberties above majority rule (or states-rights, as is often invoked in secession discussion).
As an aside, it turns out that secession is in the news beyond America. Everybody knows that Greece may end up out of the European Union (whether by choice or by force) – and that a large number of Greeks (and Spaniards and Italians for that matter) favor leaving the EU. Even within countries though, the tensions of fiscal crises are leading to discussions of “leaving the union” – most recently in Catalonia, Spain.
As with American secessionism, I suspect “cooler heads will prevail” in Spain and things will hold together. (On the other hand, Greece is almost surely gone from the EU … but “when” is anybody’s guess.)
As a matter of principle, I prefer individual liberties over majority rule. The reason is simple: I am an individual, and individuals were created in the image of God – but the majority of individuals will rebel against God on a moment’s notice, and they can hardly be trusted to rule. On that front, secession would seem to be a useful tool, even if just a threat. As we’ve discussed before, ideologies that invade upon individual liberties tend to rely on authoritarian rule. If people can choose freedom they will – so if you want to deprive them of their freedom, you have to take away their choices. Secession is a rather crude, broad-brush mode of “choice” in that vein. “If you treat us too poorly [as with Catalonia] we will take our ball and go home.”
Having said that, it is useful I think to note the differences (and similarities, oddly enough) between today’s secessionist talk and that of the Confederacy 150 years ago.
While there were myriad reasons for the secession of the Confederate States, the rose-colored glasses of history allow us to view it as “states-rights over majority rule”. The southern states were not in the majority on the federal level. When Jefferson Davis said they wanted to be “let alone” what he meant was they wanted to opt-out of majority rule when they were not in the majority.
It is obvious, however, that their move to “states rights” was not based in human rights over majority rule. They still wanted to ability to deprive men of basic human freedoms (the slaves) by majority rule, but they didn’t want a different majority to take away that power by its own majority rule.
I point this out because today’s reactionary secessionists actually do tend to fall back on human rights and individual liberties. Yes, they use states rights and “interposition” as a means to an end (as Bastiat so eloquently put it in “the Law” the true purpose of government is organized, collective defense of individual liberties … in this case it is the states that serve as a collective group defense of individual liberties against incursion by the feds). What they really want is to be let alone … and are willing to leave others alone in return.
Again, I don’t think this latest burst of secessionist talk in the US will come to anything (though the eurozone might possibly come unraveled). But the new secessionists are by-and-large not the Confederates. They do make their argument in individual liberties over majority rule – and that is a good argument to make.
It is also interesting to note that liberal reaction to all of this: strip petition signers of their citizenship. Got that? “We won the election, if you disagree with us you are a racist (by definition) and we will punish you for daring to hope to extricate yourself from our majority rule.” I hate to keep throwing down the same accusation of fascism over and over again, but these guys keep proving it right over and over again.