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24. Can we justify secessionism?
  A strong decentralization.viewpoint:  

A strong centralization viewpoint:
Only a viable threat of secession can  
Secessionism leads to destructive divi-
really restrain tyrannical centralization    
siveness rather than good decentralization
Secessionism is the political analog of  
It is fundamentally different than spin-offs
corporate spin-offs and downsizing  
because of governmental, patriotic issues
Results can be peaceful and may im-  
It can create war danger and may threat-
  prove productive friendly competition    
en groups that deserve special protection

Sample argument (anarcho-libertarian) view: If you genuinely believe in decentralization and liberty, you must logically be open to the idea of secessionism. After all, big businesses often spin off subsidiaries to increase transparency, incentives, innovativeness, and responsiveness to consumers. Political decentralization can accomplish analogous ends. Furthermore, just as competition improves business products, if North America had lots of competing states, they would be less likely to overly tax or otherwise oppress their citizens, knowing that their most productive citizens could more easily go elsewhere. The fact that government by definition is the territorial monopolist on violence makes it inherently dangerous, and all the more reason to restrain it with the threat of secessionism. In fact, following the American Revolution, most Americans believed that the Federal government must be kept weaker than the state governments to prevent it from growing like a cancer. The existence of many independent states in North America does not necessarily mean they will war with each other any more than little Scandinavian countries have been at each other's throats.
. . .

Sample argument (authoritarian-statist) view: America did not lose 640,000 men during the Civil War so that a bunch of neo-Confederate, right wing kooks can repeat that gory episode with another round of secessionism. Regardless of its flaws, the U.S. Government today has the best legal minds and remains the embodiment of the accumulated historical experience and collective wisdom of the American people. We generally cannot trust secessionists to come up with something better than what we currently have to protect individual freedoms from sea to shining sea. Government is fundamentally different from businesses because it can legitimately demand patriotic devotion and hence command a quasi-religious power of life and death from its subjects in time of war. Therefore business analogies do not apply. Lastly, "secessionism" can have philosophical linkages to "white separatism" and "white nationalism" which is racist and potentially dangerous. If North America breaks apart into separate countries, they might continually fight each other like Balkan countries. Any tendency in this direction must be suppressed to help protect minorities and prevent a possible outbreak of violence that could lead to a general conflagration.

(Last updated 13 Aug 2007)

If you believe that the same types of decentralization arguments that apply to corporate downsizings and spin-offs in a free enterprise market should also apply to government, then secessionism should be a regular tool used by countries to restore government innovativeness, efficiency, competitiveness, accountability, and responsiveness to its constituencies. After, these are kinds of positive results are usually associated with using a break-up to "fix" a big, arrogant, corrupt corporation, so why should things be different in regard to fixing failed countries?

In my centralized vs. decentralized article, I compare corporate spin-offs with political separatism and secessionism:

On a national political level, the innovative output per capita of the tiny Greek City states of the heroic and classical periods dwarfed the accomplishments the Greek Empire of Alexander's Ptolemaic successors or the Roman Empire at its height. The small northern Italian states of the Renaissance dwarfed the innovative output of the united Italy that came later. Tiny quasi-Odinist Iceland as a medieval offshoot of Norway dwarfed the literary and intellectual output of the rest of Christianized and consolidated Scandinavia. A few renegade colonies at the time of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin dwarfed the innovative output per capita of the rest of the British Empire. Similarly the young American, Roman, Grecian, Swiss, Renaissance Italian, and Dutch republics seemed to foster a vastly greater level of innovative social and political thinking than their mature forms a couple of centuries later.

Some political spin off examples include the way Great Britain peacefully divested Canada, New Zealand, and Australia beginning in the late 19th century. Despite their greater autonomy, these "children" paid back dividends through favorable trade relations. They also provided troops during the World Wars.

Spin-offs and secessionism are by no means irrevocable; for example, Scotland has been both united and disunited back and forth with England many times. Norway has been both united and disunited with Denmark. Neither unification nor secessionism are necessarily things that are worth fighting bloody wars over one way or the other.

I personally believe that among whites, Nordic and Celtic peoples in particular have strong innate libertarian tendencies and function better in smaller countries than in big empires. Later in my libertarian racial nationalist discussion I delve into the idea that the U.S. Constitution should have have contained pre-programmed spin-off provisions similar to the Thermo Electron business plan. That way we would have avoided the War Between the States and numerous incredibly wasteful overseas imperial adventures. We would have also avoided a one-size-fits all monetary policy under the sinister Federal Reserve Banking System and the growth of the high taxation, Zionist-dominated, open borders, big Federal Government police state.

Let us be very generous. Let us imagine for the sake of argument that the U.S. Government today could be characterized as a fair, noble, wise, efficient, and benevolent entity. Let us also try to imagine that it actually does more good than harm. Even in view of all of this, on basic principle, I would still advocate seriously exploring the idea of peacefully divesting portions of America with separate currencies, military forces, border control, and other instruments of local sovereignty. On balance, increasing political decentralization is a good thing.

Simple Form, Lean Staff (this phrase courtesy of In Search of Excellence): Small companies tend to have fewer layers of management to slow down decision-making. They tend to be less encumbered by rank, formalities, and protocols. They also tend to have smaller staffs, whose members tend to know each other better and work more cohesively. Corporate leaders are more likely to take responsibility and show initiative than engage in bureaucratic blame and responsibility-shifting games. In short, small companies tend to be vastly more flexible, efficient, and responsive compared to large companies.

On a national political level, the start-up U.S. government back in the early 1800's was more likely to leave citizens alone and not tax them, and that in itself says a lot. It showed greater concern for its "product quality" as a "service business" by keeping itself much better constrained within its charter, namely the Articles of Confederation, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

Better focus: Small companies tend to have fewer product lines, which can mean better management focus in areas of core competency. This can also imply greater closeness to the customer.

On a national political level, smaller countries tend to have fewer layers of government and tend to be more responsive to local needs. They tend to be less interested in changing the world with imperial adventures and are more focused on internal affairs.

Although the aggressiveness of Israel today would seem to comprise a major exception to this observation, actually it is not. AIPAC and other Jewish organizations control the U.S. Government. Jewish interests exert imperial power elsewhere in international finance. The state of Israel is merely the tip of a uniquely international iceberg.

Greater Transparency: Small companies tend to be less complex than large corporations, and easier to monitor. With fewer product lines and layers of management, it is easier to connect management performance with business results.

In contrast, CEO's of large companies often like to increase the size and complexity of their organizations to hide their incompetence. In his 15 Oct 2001 Forbes column, Kenneth L. Fisher provided a classic example: "So what does [the new Hewlett Packard CEO Carly] Fiorina do two days after the [HP] stock hits a five-year low? Announce that HP is acquiring Compaq Computer for $25 billion. For Fiorina's career this deal is a time-buying smokescreen. Now no one ever will be able to see if she accomplished anything fundamental for at least several more years. The time and energy spent integrating Compaq will take center stage and obscure her past mistakes at HP."

National political example: In terms of the level of integrity, accountability, and efficiency in government, the best experiences Americans ever had was during the colonial period and the first decades of the young republic. Never has government done so much with so little in term of serving the direct interests of its constituents. In terms of helping to increase their land base, defending liberty, and dealing with their direct enemies (hostile Indians and French and British imperialists), it is hard to beat a track record that includes throwing off the yoke of the greatest maritime empire on the planet and extending land available for settlement all the way from the eastern seaboard to the Pacific.

Conversely the worst governments Americans have ever had has been in the last one hundred years. The era of big government has been characterized by obnoxiously invasive social reengineering programs at home, continual destruction of the value of the currency, and incredibly wasteful, pointless, and destructive adventures overseas.

Greater stakeholdership: Small company managers tend tend to have proportionately large share positions in their companies. They also tend to have more pride and ego invested in the success of their companies, particularly when they are inventor-entrepreneurs. In contrast, the professional managements of big companies are more likely game the system to carve out perks for themselves regardless of underlying corporate performance.

National political example: In his excellent book Democracy: The God that Failed., Dr. Hans-Hermann Hoppe describes how it is critically important that a nation's leaders have a sense of long term caretakership. Unfortunately certain types of social democracy can incentivize politicians to focus on creating regulations and spending public money to make names for themselves in the short term, even though all of this may grow disastrously out of control over the long run. As countries become ever larger and filled with increasingly disparate factions, this irresponsible behavior tends to only grow worse. I discuss his anarcho-libertarian perspective in greater detail later in this article.

From the libertarian racial nationalist perspective, small countries imply more homogeneous populations whose leaders tend to identify more with the common citizenry. This helps to provide a greater sense of stakeholdership and longer term perspective towards serving their interests.

Small companies help keep big companies honest. In addition to providing product competition, they can threaten to hire talented people away from large firms. Dr. Murray Rothbard observed in one of his Mises Institute lectures that the most practical threat to achieve real wage increases is not a union strike, but the ability of employees to jump ship to higher paying jobs elsewhere. (The political analog is what libertarian professor Dr. Ralph Raico calls "preserving the right of exit" in defense of liberty). In fact, small businesses create most of the new jobs in America. In the real world, it is impossible to have a fair contractual negotiation if neither party is free to pick up its marbles and go elsewhere.

National political example: In his Mises Institute lectures, Dr. Ralph Raico claims that the break up of Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire aided the cause of liberty. With the existence of more competing states and principalities, if rulers became abusive, it was much easier for their most productive people to pick up and move elsewhere. One of the best deterrents to tyranny is the ability of people to split from the program as either individual separatists or as national secessionists. In fact, this was a belief explicitly stated by Thomas Jefferson in his Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.

One of my irritations that usually accompanies picking up books about the U.S. Constitution written in the Twentieth Century is that so many of them carry the implicit assumption that the Union victory was an inherently good thing and fatalistically "meant to be." Furthermore, upholding constitutional government merely entails fine-tuning constitutional language. It is all about figuring out better ways to interpret the language or amend it to stay up with "modern times." It is all ultimately about "perfecting the union."

I think that late Dr. Murray Rothbard did some good work to help us think outside the box on constitutional issues. He raised the point that internal checks and balances between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the Federal government are necessarily inadequate. A single central government is usually always incapable of policing itself if it enjoys monopoly power. The reason is that even if the different branches can continue to hold each other in check relative to each other, they still have a common interest in growing the size of government together. The only viable solution is to have a true federal system, where the central government is always kept weaker than the state governments. Switzerland seems to provide an example of true federal system that has shown stability and viability for significant historical periods.

If we take the view that the most importance issue involves maintaining a structural power relationship between the Federal and state governments in a true federal system, and that we must preserve the right of exit at all times to keep Federal power in check. In this case, the actual language contained in a constitution may be of minor importance. If the right power structure is maintained where the central government is always kept weaker than the state governments, and the right of exit is preserved, then the interpretation of the constitution will generally fall in line with the de facto power structure. In contrast, if the central government gains the upper hand, then every line of the Constitution, no matter how well written, will become a potential trap door for evasion, hair-splitting, and perverted reinterpretation to help justify continued growth in central government power.

Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo, author of The Real Lincoln, said in one of his Mises Institute lectures that the great pivot point in American history was not the Lincoln dictatorship, although that certainly played a key role in sending America along an irreversible trajectory towards unlimited imperial government. However, to find the real seeds of runaway federal government, we really need to go back to the Articles of Confederation and look at the structural changes that were made as a result of the secretive meeting in Philadelphia that created the U.S. Constitution. This meeting was ostensibly convened to amend the Articles of Confederation, but instead created a whole new document. Author Gary North calls it "The Conspiracy in Philadelphia." To the extent that the public was not notified in advance and given a chance to debate the issues, the meeting in Philadelphia violated republican principles. Quite frankly, it had many characteristics of a coup de etat. According to Dr. Murray Rothbard, it was led by New York bankers who were more interested in consolidating Revolutionary War debt under a powerful central government than in maintaining the level of state sovereignty that might have been in the best long term interests of the citizens of each state.

When we go back to the late 18th century, we see clear evidence that all the states took their sovereignty rights seriously and kept secessionism on the table as a last resort to deter Federal abuse of power. According to Dr. Kevin R. C. Gutzman, in The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, secession was constitutional. After all, there is certainly nothing in the Constitution that prohibits it. Under the tenth amendment of the Bill of Rights, all rights not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states. Furthermore, in the Treaty of 1783 that ended the American War of Independence, the King of England recognized each of the thirteen former colonies separately as sovereign, independent states. A number of states such as Virginia even ratified the Constitution under the provision that they could leave the union if they saw fit. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 penned by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison asserted the right of secession as the best deterrent available to curb Federal abuses of power and protect individual liberty. In fact, the representatives of New England states who met for the Hartford Convention of 1815 also took it for granted they had a right to secede.

I hold the opinion that all the hand-wringing about possible secession that took place during this period was symptomatic of the fact that the states had already given up too much of their sovereignty rights. After all, when countries are secure about their own capacity for self-determination, we do not see them showing much anxiety over the possibility of pulling out of treaties and compacts. When it comes to their advantage to pull out, they simply pull out. As an example, if the United States decided to pull out of NAFTA, the United Nations, or NATO tomorrow morning, it could easily do it without a lot of gnashing and wailing of teeth.

Therefore, I think we really need to compare the Articles of Confederation with the earlier colonial period. The states gave away most of their sovereignty rights in this document alone. In Article IV the states are not allowed to block the ingress or egress of people from other states or set separate duties or trade restriction. When a country can no longer control the flow of trade and people across its border, that is a gigantic sovereignty concession. Furthermore, Articles VI and VII bound the states to wage war and carry on diplomacy only through the Confederation. Who ever heard of a truly sovereign country that cannot form defense alliances with other countries as it deems fit for its own protection? Furthermore, it gave Congress the right to tax the states, plus create its own Continental Army that could pass through the states at will.

No, we need to go back a bit further in time from the "Conspiracy in Philadelphia" to see how the fix was in. I believe that if a country or state is really serious about retaining its national sovereignty, it does not allow an external body (such as the United Nations or NATO headquarters in Europe as a contemporary example) to tax and raise its own army that it can move at will through its territory. Nor does it delegate to that external body the exclusive right to wage war and carry on diplomacy in its behalf. Nor does it give away its right to control the flow of people and trade across its borders.

Interestingly enough, according to Dr. Thomas E. Woods in his Mises Institute lectures on American colonial history, prior to the American Revolution the colonies resisted three separate efforts for all of them to be united under one government based in North America. Up until the War of Independence, each colony had its own militia forces and often made decisions to go to war independently of the other colonies. They also frequently raised their own funds for war separately.

The history of America after the Constitutional Convention is essentially one of the Federal government assuming an ever larger role in running an ever larger national army and navy. It eventually completely usurped the role of colonial militias in the job of clearing western lands of Indians, and as such its army served as a de facto standing imperial force. Starting with the campaigns to secure the Ohio Valley and Creek territories, through the War of 1812, and on through its efforts to consolidate its Louisiana Purchase and its spoils from the Mexican War, the Federal Government became more and more of a independent creator of new states who felt beholden to it. No longer was the Federal government merely a creature of the original sovereign thirteen colonies. The Federal government was also able to promulgate an ultra fast economic growth track that brought in a substantial population of recent immigrants who felt a stronger sense of obligation and attachment to the Federal government than to any particular state. When the War of Southern Independence commenced in 1861, the Federal government had accumulated enough taxing and military power and political authority over enough American citizens to ruthlessly suppress the defenders of states' rights. In fact, it achieved such complete monopoly power, that is was then able to use perpetual forms of intimidation to take secessionism off the table for good as a serious political alternative.

Rewinding the tape, I take a more radical view than Dr. DiLorenzo. I see the dragon seeds behind all of this originating with the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution simply added an extra step or two towards more centralization when four steps had already been taken in the Articles of Confederation compared to the prior colonial period.

The de facto level of sovereignty within each colony during the colonial period had been substantial. For many decades prior to the costly French and Indian War, the colonies had enjoyed benign neglect from Britain. They had been mostly free to run their own internal affairs, levy their own taxes, and wage their own battles against Indians.

Regarding the pro-centralization viewpoint:

Many Americans believe that if states had retained more sovereignty rights, this would have led to considerable bloodshed because of border battles and other types of disputes. I discuss Dr. Murray Rothbard's alternative viewpoint in my centralization vs. decentralization article:

Dr. Murray Rothbard believed that if North America had divided itself into numerous independent countries, the wars that might have followed would have likely been relatively small and highly localized. In contrast, while united in megastates, Americans and Canadians have been sucked into very expensive large-scale wars overseas. Dr. Rothbard pointed out that it did not make sense that Americans would fight to save the union in order to save America from future internal wars when the price tag of 640,000 people killed seemed to be far greater than the likely costs of all the future wars in the next century that unionists were ostensibly trying to avoid in the first place.

In regard to entering World War I, a divided North America would have been less likely to have overwhelming gone over to either side. In fact, there is strong evidence that if America had stayed out of World War I, the European combatants would have declared an armistice by 1917 rather than fight on for nearly two more extremely bloody years. Prolonging the war cost millions more lives and vastly more treasure. It created the onerous Versailles Treaty peace terms and conditions of total exhaustion that encouraged the rise of Bolshevism, Nazism, and Fascism, and ultimately the resumption of World War I in the form of World War II.

Contrary to the Unionist argument that if North America divided into many independent countries, that they would all be fighting with each other, we might consider cases where the opposite is true. Many small Scandinavian countries and many small central European countries such as Switzerland and Liechtenstein have enjoyed very long periods of peace. Many German principalities during the late Middle Ages when Germany was highly fragmented also enjoyed relatively long periods of peace. The same was true for quite a few provinces of France and Italy which enjoyed high degrees of autonomy for many centuries up until around the 19th century.

Return to question 24

Proceed to commentary for question 25


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