As a state grows, it always tries to find more ways to limit the freedom of its people. In the best case, this might take the form of pervasive surveillance and perpetual nudges. Yet it rarely stops there. The state might decide to support ill-advised adventurism overseas, establish secret police to track and punish dissenters, or worse. Really, there’s no limit to the atrocities a large state can visit upon its own people or the rest of the world.
Keeping the state limited requires eternal vigilance, but the tendency is for it to grow out of control nonetheless. One obvious method to check a growing state is to split it into two or more smaller ones. The principle of secession, that people may choose to disassociate from a government that no longer serves their interests, seems obvious. Yet once the state has co-opted education, it teaches the people that its borders and unity are sacred, and that any attempt to check its power is evil. This, despite the fact that a significant and permanent minority might exist that would much rather make its own way.
People are taught a variety of ridiculous arguments to oppose any agitators for secession, but I argue that most of these arguments are extremely flawed, especially in the case of the United States. Below, I will break down five of the most faulty (yet somehow most common) arguments against secession. Most of them are vulnerable to a simple reductio ad absurdum, but some will require a little more work. In any case, these five arguments are frequently heard, and, fortunately, easily dispelled.
The Civil War Solved This
A rifle pointed at one’s head is not an argument. Certainly, there are cases in history where one armed group conquered another, yet this is not considered to be philosophy by any reasonable person. If armed duress is an argument, then there is no such thing as robbery. After all, the victim clearly handed over his property voluntarily once the robber’s superior might was made clear.
Another reductio: this statement applies no matter how bad things actually get. Imagine a situation where the U.S. federal government was as nakedly oppressive as the Soviet Union during war communism or the darkest depths of Stalin’s reign. Would some long-past historical event still be a reason not to try and escape the clutches of such a government? No. The purpose of this argument is merely to offer a barely-concealed threat: “Any attempt you make to oppose me,” says the statist, licking his lips eagerly, “will be countered with deadly force.” Can anyone be blamed for trying to sever ties with such a psychopath?
Even worse, this is a particularly strange argument for an American to make. It would be just as reasonable to shoot back, “The Revolutionary War solved this first.” The statist would do well to remember that the revolutionary forces focused their fire on the officers and other leaders of the British occupiers during that conflict.
We Must Stick Together to Remain a Superpower
This is another peculiar argument. The vast majority of states survive just fine without being an international military superpower, and some nations manage to become commercial or economic superpowers without projecting military might on their neighbors. Especially in the case of America, the loss of its ability to bully other countries around the world and mass murder innocents is a feature of secession, not a bug. The military power necessary for effective defense is far lower than that required to project military power halfway across the world. Less projection of military power leaves more resources for our people to grow and be fulfilled.
Again, this argument can be drawn to absurdity. After all, if it is important for a state to stick together to influence other nations, would it not be even better for existing states to consolidate and increase their influence? The logical conclusion is a world state in which a tiny minority exercises absolute authority over the rest of humanity, cowed into submission and stripped of any notion of sovereignty. Since each person would be a subject of the world state, there would be no hypothetical borders to cite as a reason not to meddle with them.
Where Will the Lines Be?
One might simply reply that the lines will be wherever the people decide. There is no need to draw up detailed maps and plans for two, or three, or any number of daughter states for the breakup of the U.S. The breakups do not need to follow existing state lines and there is no need to limit the number of daughter states. Let a thousand, or even ten thousand tiny states flourish and serve ten thousand different groups of people. There is no need for the daughter states to even have contiguous borders. America today has non-contiguous borders.
The prospect of small city-states isolated in a sea of rural nation-states is no problem. There are already several prosperous small states in Europe today. The smaller states would have less surplus military might to attack and oppress their neighbors, and they would have the right to band together in mutual defense, or to convince foreign states to aid them in the worst case. It is worth remembering that the U.S. and its allies in Western Europe managed to support West Berlin through over a year of full blockade using 1940s technology. Today, this might be accomplished even more cheaply and easily, and any states attempting to block humanitarian aid would be subject to similar or greater sanctions in a freer world.
Who Will Enforce It?
This is another strange question to hear from an American. Obviously, in the worst case, the people seeking their freedom will. But really, this question is an attempt to steal a base. Why is it a certainty that some kind of enforcement will be necessary? Again, the principles of the Declaration of Independence apply.
“…it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
The requirement that a seceding people be certain of their ability to enforce their secession is another absurdity, as it applies no matter how oppressive the state they are seceding from is. At some point, the risk of conflict must overcome the tolerance for tyranny.
Yet, secession may not even require a military response. As noted above, the reduction in state size will discourage military projection. Even one good external ally might have enough deterrent power to dissuade a state from aggression against a seceding people. But the more obvious counterargument is that only a tyrannical state will try to hold people against their will, or punish those who decided to leave. If the two neighboring states so decide, they can coexist with as little military buildup on their borders as France and Belgium, or Belgium and the Netherlands.
We Can’t Let Them Win
This is an argument that cuts both ways—both sides might intransigently claim such, but reality is clearly opposed. Right now, even the most self-righteous leftists and rightists largely ignore their cultural disagreements with the world outside America. Proclaimed efforts to bring progressive values to Afghanistan, etc. are treated as cynical jokes by both sides. Corporations change the logos of their Western branches for progressive issues, but the unchanged logos of their Middle Eastern branches rarely receive significant public backlash.
The great value of secession is that it gives us all an opportunity to re-calibrate the level of our obligations. Once the undesirable actions are outside our borders, there will be much less zeal for moral indignation. The fight to keep pernicious influences away from our children will be lessened, as the other side will be able to run things their way for their own children, whether that leads them to self-destruction or not.
A good tactician realizes when a battle cannot be won and organizes a retreat to regroup. There are groups on all sides that will never be convinced away from their positions. Secession gives the vast middle a chance, and a choice—or choices, ideally. If secession happens, then intransigents on all sides will be able to go their own ways and show the value (or lack thereof) of their policies without forcing them on others. The reach and power of social experimenters will be limited. Those that wish to stay behind and continue the political fight can do so, but the vast energy now wasted on wrangling the state to support certain cultural norms will be drastically reduced, and fuzzy half-measures that never provide clear answers will be largely eliminated.
In conclusion, we have seen that five very common arguments against secession are deeply flawed. Those that are not simply absurd are easily defeated by appeals to logic and history. Secession allows us to reduce military adventurism, decrease the scope of the state, and waste fewer resources fighting undesired cultural influences, especially on education. Secession offers an opportunity for deeply opposed groups to go their own ways and seek happiness on their own terms. The sooner people can be convinced of this smart and peaceful solution, the sooner they can decide their own associations and start living better lives.