Of all the contemporary scholars and theorists of the state of which I am aware, the one whose work I find by far the most compelling is the Dutch-Israeli military historianÂ Martin Van Creveld. It is his position that the conventional nation-state system that emerged from the time of the Treaty of Westphalia is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, for a variety of reasons. Van Creveld outlined his theories in a lecture to the Mises Institute some years ago. The text of it can be viewed here:
A recent work that has gotten some attention in the mainstream press is Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort, aÂ book that describes how Americans are in the process of mutually self-segregating along cultural, political, economic, ethnic, racial and religious lines, not only on the basis of the well-known “red state/blue state” divide but also on a more localized, neighborhood basis.
Now comes a new poll from the highly respected Zogby International polling group, commissioned by the Middlebury Institute, that indicates support for secession is much higher than many, including myself, would have suspected. What do the numbers show?
More than 20 per cent of American adults – one in every five – agrees that â€œany state or region has the right to peaceably secede from the United States and become an independent republic.â€ Another similar percentage (18.2 per cent) even says that they â€œwould support a secessionist effort in my state.â€
This is rather extraordinary. I would have predicted something like three percent agreeing on the “right to secede” with maybe one percent supporting such an effort.
The support for secession held true for every region in the country, though the percentage was slightly higher in the South (25.8) and the East (23.6). The figures were also consistent for every age group, but backing was strongest among younger adults, as high as 39.9 per cent in the 18-24 year category and 23.6 for 25-34 year olds.
Not much surprise here. Of course, support for secession is going to be highest in the South. The higher support among young people is consistent with Van Creveld’s view that the state is breaking down in partÂ because of its inability to hold on to the allegiance of younger people. The super-patriotic WW2 generation is starting to die out, and the older generation is now the Vietnam generation.
Broken down by race, the highest percentage agreeing with the right to secede was among Hispanics (42.6) and African-Americans (39.5), with â€œother and mixedâ€ accounting for 21.1 per cent and whites 17.1 per cent. On the question of giving support to secessionist efforts, slightly more blacks (32.7 per cent) than Hispanics (31.6) agreed, with 20.2 per cent â€œotherâ€ and 14.5 per cent white.
This is interesting. Apparently, many racial minorities do not regard secessionism as “racist”, despite the claims of professional “anti-racists” to the contrary. The higher support among Hispanics is possibly due to the influence of the reconquista movement, and it is also possible that the influence of groups like the Nation of Islam have much to do with the higher support among blacks. Indeed, the higher support in the South may ironically be due in part to the large black population in the South. Also, I have long believed that a genuine revolutionary movement would have to be rooted in the lumpenproletarian and underclass populations, and the racial minorities are disproportionately represented in these socio-economic groupings.
The currently faltering economy may have played a part in the endorsement of statesâ€™ right to secede, with 18.7 per cent of those considering themselves in the â€œinvestor classâ€ agreeing, along with 21.2 per cent of non-investors.
This is a bit confusing. How is an “investor” defined? An “investor” can be anyone who owns a single share of stock anywhere. A method of defining class positions more precisely might have indicated a wider gap between classes on this issue than what these numbers would indicate, although it is certainly possible support for secession can come from the affluent as well as the poor. The Lombard League of Northern Italy has considerable middle to upper-middle class support.
To gauge the extent to which support for secession comes from a sense that the country as it is now made up is not working, a separate question was asked about agreement that â€œthe United Statesâ€™ system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections.â€ As many as 44.3 per cent agreed strongly or somewhat, as against 29.9 per cent who strongly disagreed.
These are about the numbers I would have expected.
-32 percent of mainline liberals were sympathetic to secession as an idea.
-28 percent of “ultra-liberal” were supportive.
-17 percent of mainline conservatives were supportive.
This should dispel the myth of secession as a “right-wing extremist” movement. What this seems to indicate is that “conservatives” are hindered by jingoism and can’t bear to countenance an end to the empire, and the hard-core Left does not want to cede territory to the Right. Hence, the lower numbers of supporters among these than among “liberals”, a generic term that probably includes a wide assortment of people who are genuine liberals, moderates, non-jingoist paleoconservative types, libertarians, progressives, anti-authoritarian leftists, ecological radicals, counterculturalists, ACLU-types, populistsÂ or simply those who would classify themselves as “not a Republican”.
-38 percent of those with less than a high school diploma would support secession, while less than 10 percent of college graduates were pro-secession.
This probably represents a class division as much as anything else. The more educated tend to be more affluent, with a greater stake in preserving the system, and less inclined to sympathize with radicalism or upheaval.
-18 percent would support a secessionist effort in their state.
That’s roughly one in six. We need to double or preferably triple this percentage so as to give ourselves either a majority or a large, well-organized, vocalÂ minority. So how do we do this?
As I see it, supporters of secesssionist movements could probably be broken down into three basic categories:
1. Leaders and Activists. Many of these are likely to be people who are culturally and politically alienated from the mainstream to a much greater degree that the “average” person expressing political discontent. For instance, thus far the leadership of various secession groups has been drawn from the ranks of environmental radicals, anarchists, hard-core libertarians, neo-confederates or “southern nationalists”, members of the religious right who are to the right of the Republican Party, anti-establishment conservatives and others whose ideology is not exactly representative of prevailing opinion in American society at large. This is to be expected, as a greater degree of political alienation is naturally going to spawn greater support for something like secession.
2. Constituents. These would be those who support secessionist ideas and sympathize with secession movements in their own communities or regions, but are probably not as ideologically radical as many hard-core activists are. For instance, these people simply think the Empire has gotten too far out of hand with its war-mongering or civil liberties abuses, or its economic policies, or they might simply think it would be better if their town, county, city, state or region had more or complete autonomy over their own affairs.
3. Critical Mass. A “critical mass”, as I’m using the term here, would be those persons who either support secession, either actively or passively, or who do not actively oppose secession, out of a sense of immediate personal self-interest or some single issue they feel will be advanced under a secessionist regime. These people are not likely to be ideological radicals in any serious way, and may well be indifferent to higher political considerations like foreign policy, the overall state of the economy, and major social questions but feel, for example, that they will simply profit personally from the likelihood of lower taxes in the event of secession, or the greater availability of health care (whether public or private), or that some issue of importance to them personally, like the right to bear arms or abortion rights or the repeal of municipal zoning ordinances or legalized marijuana, will be advanced if secession takes place.
If one in six Americans would support a secession movement in their state, then it is important to have a secession movement in every state and also to identify those states where secesssion is likely to be the most popular (probably in the South and the East according to the Zogby poll). It is also important to begin cultivating leaders, activists, and constituents for such movements with the eventual goal of achieving a critical mass. Individual secession movements should orient their political programs towards the political and cultural environment they find themselves in. Most of the currently existing secession movements are doing this. The League of the South reflects the conservative values typical to many Southerners while the Second Vermont Republic represents the unusual liberal-libertarian hybrid that state is known for.
The need to reach a wider constituency can present certain conflicts. One of these involves the radical versus moderate dichotomy. Should secessionists “tone it down” in order to make secession more palatable to those with stronger residual attachments to the empire? Or should secessionists “turn up the volume” and adopt a more confrontational approach? I think a happy medium is in order. There is a such thing as trying to appeal to fence-straddlers to such a degree that the hard-core that acts as the real engine of any movement loses its morale in the face of perceived constant sell-outs. However, the inflammatory approach is not necessary advisable, either. Not only will this drive away potential converts, but it will be increasingly dangerous in the ever-degenerating political environment we find ourselves in. A certain amount of prudence is in order.
Another matter concerns the issue of ideological conflicts within particular secession movements, or between the leaders and activistsÂ of these movements and their prospective constituents. Here, a certain amount of prudence and pragmatism is necessary as well. Serious ideological conflicts can only be resolved with still more secession. Bishop’s The Big Sort indicates that Americans are naturally separating themselves not only on a regional but on a highly localized basis. Therefore, some degree of hard-core decentralization is in order. A realistic pan-secessionist movement will likely feature “red state” secessionist tendencies with “conservative” leadership and values, with serious territorial concessions made to others, while “blue state” secession movements will display “liberal” values, and make similar concessions out of necessity. Alan recently raised this issue in the Comments section:
“Most and perhaps all secessionist movements need to reduce their territorial claims and this certainly includes the LOS. They need to claim only a small contiguous area that avoids the big cities and probably the communities of color. SVR will probably have to reduce their territory as well, and Cascadia certainly must abandon itâ€™s claims on Idaho and Montana. There just arenâ€™t enough secessionists to build majorities in whole states and regions like that. Ideology is OT but territoy is certainly not and both LOS and Cascadian territorial claims are hugely excessive. Secessionists without excessive territorial claims include Christian Exodus, Free Town Project, and Liberty Districts.”
There is nothing inherently wrong withÂ a secession movement making seemingly extravagant territorial claims. After all, that’s the way it’s frequently done in business negotiations or in lawsuits. One party asks for an outlandish price or settlement and then negotiates their way down. Yet, as a practical matter, secession will only work if large numbers of people do not view it as forcing them under a political roof they find even more objectionable than the present system.
It is also important to distinguish the single-issue of secession from wider ideological agendas. An excellent role model on how to deal with this matter is conservative Christian and Texas Independence activist Larry Kilgore. Mr. Kilgore would be considered a “right-wing Christian theocrat” by the standards of all “mainstream” ideologies, yet he ran for the Senate in the Republican primary this year and received around 225,000 votes. He did so not as an ideological Christian theocrat but as a single-issue advocate of Texas independence, campaigning on a platform of using his position as Senator solely for the purpose of advocating and negotiating Texas independence if he were to be elected.
The issue of the relationship between “extremist” movements and secessionism is likely to be a sticky one. Some secession movements may be guided by ideological outlooks that are relatively middle of the road while others may seem bizarre or threatening to many people. The standard answer to objections raised by the participation of “extremists” should be that the worse their ideas or beliefs are, the better that they be separated from others. Also, persons with unusual beliefs are likely to be much more motivated to do the groundwork for a secession movement that someone who shares many beliefs with supporters of the System. As a hypothetical illustration, a secession movement in Oklahoma or Kentucky might have cults of polygamists, UFO believers, racists, or users of hallucinogenic drugs among its most hard core adherents. It may well be from the ranks of these people that the movement’s most dedicated activists and even some leaders are drawn. Yet it is unlikely that such groups would ever be numerically large enough to conquer significant pieces of territory. Instead, the scenario might be that a state secedes, and the “extremists” who comprise its hard-line activists congregate into a single town and set up a sovereign city-state while everyone else goes about their business as usual.
There is also the need to actually address issues that are of interest or concern to large numbers of people. Economic questions are foremost among these. What will be done about Social Security? Welfare recipients? Veterans? State-dependent business entities? Banking? Some like, Sean Gabb and Kevin Carson, have offered some viable and practical solutions to these matters. Race is another issue. Support for secession is apparently surprisingly high (relatively speaking) among the minorities. Perhaps an offer of reparations and sovereignty along the lines proposed by the Americans for Self-Determination Plan would push those numbers higher.
Of course, there is the wider consideration of how to proceed once the critical mass is finally achieved. In Democracy: The God That Failed, Hans-Hermann Hoppe offers some suggestions. Hoppe argues that “an important lesson must be learned by comparing the failed second American experiment with secession with the first one.”
The first American secession was facilitated significantly by the fact that at the center of power in Britain, public opinion concerning the secessionists was hardly unified. In fact, many prominent British figures such as Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, for instance, openly sympathized with the secessionists. Apart from purely ideological reasons, which rarely affect more than a handful of philosophical minds, this lack of a unified opposition to the the American secessionists in British public opinion can be attributed to two complementary factors. On the one hand, a multitude of regional and cultural-religious affiliations as well as of personal and family ties between Britain and the American colonies existed. On the other hand, the American events were considered far from home and the potential loss of the colonies as economically insignificant. To be sure, at the center of political power, which had shifted to the northern states of the U.S. by then, opposition to the secessionist Southern Confederacy was not unified, and the Confederate cause also had supporters in the North. However, fewer cultural bonds and kinship existed between the American North and South than had existed between Britain and the American colonists, and the secession of the Southern Confederacy involved about half the territory and a third of the entire population of the U.S. and thus struck Northerners as close to home and as a significant economic loss. Therefore, it was comparatively easier for the northern power elite to mold a unified front of “progressive” Yankee culture versus a culturally backwardÂ and “reactionary” Dixieland.
I’m not quite certain how the first part of Hoppe’s argument applies to the present political situation in the United States. To be sure, secession by regions of any size would be a significant and, from the perspective of the “power elite”, unacceptable economic loss. That much is understood. However, it is far less clear that cultural homogeneity of the type shared by American colonists and Englishmen in the eighteenth century is currently present. If anything, the “cultural divide” is wider today than it was at the onset of the Civil War in 1861. The Confederate Constitution was virtually identical to the U.S. Constitution minus certain points of economic contention. Then as now, the South was a hotbed for religious fundamentalism, but there was a thriving evangelicalism in the North that would be considered “fundamentalist” by today’s standards. Slavery was certainly a major point of contention, yet most whites of the time, North or South, were certainly “racist” by modern standards and not a few opponents of slavery actually favored repatriation of the slaves to Africa. It is likely there are fewer “cultural bonds and kinship” among Americans today than there were in 1861. The Civil War was toÂ a large degree a war between left-wing evangelical Christians and right-wing evangelical Christians and anti-slavery racists and pro-slavery racists. Other than that and some regional economic differences pitting southern agriculture against northern industry, the Union and the Confederacy were virtally identical in terms of race, religion, preferred political and economic systems and, for the most part, culture.
Where Hoppe’s analysis is more solid relates to his pointÂ about the efforts of the northern elite to depict the “war between the states” as a battle of enlightened progressives and backward reactionaries. This is precisely how groups like the SPLC attempt to depict anti-government movements today. It doesn’t appear to work very well if the statistics gathered by Zogby are accurate, as sympathy for secession appears to be higher among the “left-wing” constituents like racial minorities, young people, the poor, the less educated and “liberals”, though there’s no doubt plenty of secessionist sentiment among the “far right” (those so far right as to be outside the Republican Party)Â as well. Hoppe offers his own ideas on how secession might be achieved:
” In light of these considerations, the, it appears strategically advisable not to attempt again what in 1861 failed so painfully: for contiguous states or even the entire South trying to break away from the tyranny of Washington, D.C. Rather, a modern liberal-libertarian strategy of secession should take its cues from the European Middle Ages when, from about the twelfth until well into the seventeenth century (with the emergence of a modern central state), Europe was characterized by the existence of hundreds of free and independent cities, interspersed into a predominately feudal social structure. By choosing this model and striving to create a U.S. punctuated by a large and increasing number of territorially disconnected free cities-a multitude of Hong Kongs, Singapores, Monacos and Liechtensteins strewn out over the entire continent-two otherwise unattainable but central objectives can be accomplished. First, besides recognizing the fact that the liberal-libertarian potential is distributed highly unevenly across the country, such a strategy of piecemeal withdrawal renders secession less threatening politically, socially and economically. Second, by pursuing this strategy simultaneously at a great number of locations all over the country, it becomes exceedinly difficult for the central state to create a unified opposition in public opinion to the secessionists which would secure the level of popular support and voluntary cooperation necessary for a successful crackdown.”
I would agree thatÂ a strategy of secession by scattered units rather than by a contiguous geographical region is more viable for a number of reasons. First, such an arrangement is more conducive to the prevention of the emergence of yet another tyrannical central state following secession from the present tyrannical central state. Second, such an approach is likely more compatible with the need to accommodate the kinds of cultural and ideological diversity that would be found in a modern pan-secessionist effort. Third, as Hoppe recognizes, secessionist potential varies widely from location to location. Fourth, the current process of self-separation Americans are undergoing is just as much a matter of conflict between cities and counties, races and ethnic groups, social classes and religious, cultural or “moral” outlooks as it is a conflict between regions.
However, I am not convinced that the present ruling class would be any less offended by secession on the part of scattered clusters of city-states than it would by secession by a unified block of states in the South, West, East or on the West Coast. Yes, the latter may end up suffering the same fate as the Confederacy, but the former may well suffer the same fate as the people at Waco in 1993. This is an empire that claims the right to interfere in the internal politics of remote African nations. The overlords of this system will certainly not let, say, Chicago or Dallas or even Kennesaw County simply say, “So long, feds, we ain’t payin’ you no more taxes.”
Secession will likely need to be doneÂ by clusters of insurgent city-states of the type Hoppe suggests, and these may well reflect an amazing variety of beliefs and cultural systems, but they will need to be at least somewhat supportive of one another in the political and military realm (though not necessarily in the wider cultural or ideological realm) if they are to avoid the fate of the Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese.