Ludwig von Mises was one of the most important economists of the twentieth century and a leading voice for self-determination and right of secession. He called his proposal for voluntary government based on the consent of the government ‘democracy’ – obviously a very different understanding of the word than is common in today’s society. Dr Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a contemporary advocate of free-market Austrian Economics who was heavily influenced by Mises, writes about the views of Mises with regards to self-determination and how different ethnic and national groups may live in relative proximity to one another in peace. The passage below comes from pages 79-80 of Hoppe’s important bookDemocracy – The God that Failed:
As Mises rejected a princely stated as incompatible with the protection of private rights, what was to b substituted for it? His answer was democracy and democratic government. However, Mises’s definition of democratic government is fundamentally different from its colloquial meaning. Mises grew up in a multinational state [the Austro-Hungarian Empire] and was painfully aware of the antiliberal results of majority rule in ethnically mixed territories. Rather than majority rule, to Mises democracy meant literally “self-determination, self-government, self-rule,” and accordingly, a democratic government was an essentially voluntary membership organization in that it recognized each of its constituents’ unrestricted right to secession. “Liberalism,” explained Mises, “forces no one against his will into the structure of the state. Whoever wants to emigrate is not held back. When a part of the people of a state wants to drop out of the union, liberalism does not hinder it from doing so. Colonies that want to become independent need only do so. The nation as an organic entity can be neither increased nor reduced by changes in states; the world as a whole can neither win nor lose from them.
The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they below at the time, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and international wars…. If it were in any way possible to great this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done.”
Hence, Mises’s answer as to how to assure that a government will protect property rights is through the threat of unlimited secession and its own characteristic of voluntary membership.
Take a look at the map above of ethnic groups in the United States. Most people live around other people who are of a similar background to themselves. This is a healthy and natural tendency among human beings to feel most comfortable around and ultimately marry and have children with those of their own ethnic group and culture. It perpetuates the diversity of our species. Without this tendency the diversity we see around the world would not exist as all the populations, races, religions and cultures would merge into a single boring and homogeneous mass. In the United States, as in other multi-national states around the plant, most people vote based on their ethnic and cultural identity. In practice, this means that various ethnic and cultural groups struggle politically to control the central government of the US to use that government to benefit their own group at the expense of other groups. The system is involuntary, as well, and has been since 1865. Once a territory is conquered or demographically deluged and forced into the United States it is not allowed to peacefully exit the Union. As demographics change in areas and groups rise or fall in population so too does power change hands as social pressures and conflicts appear. Clearly, this is not the sort of system that provides for stability and social cooperation. The system promotes conflict between national groups and as the power of the state is constantly increased the incentive for groups in power to exploit other groups is escalated. Contrast this awful system to the sort of system that Mises advocated. Imagine if Mises’s values were to prevail politically and socially in the United States. What could we expect? It seems natural to believe that most groups would want to govern themselves in their territory for the good of their own culture and ethnic group. It seems reasonable to anticipate that the several large and historic cultural and ethnic groups (which elsewhere in the world are understood to be nations of people) would embrace self-determination. For example, the fairly homogeneous Appalachian region could constitute a self-government territory. The mostly Black counties stretching through portions of South Carolina all the way to Mississippi might constitute another self-governing territory. The mostly Mexican region of the Southwest, the mostly Germanic-Scandinavian region of the upper Midwest and the mostly Mormon-area of the West might make up other self-governing territories. Such territories could be based upon the ties of religion, culture, ethnicity, etc but it would be voluntary since secession would always be available. Territory would change hands peacefully based on land-ownership and population rather than fixed and artificial lines on maps enforced by military units. There would also likely be many enclaves of other self-governing cultures or groups of people within larger territories. Since affiliation and government would be voluntary, this would be a peaceful and cooperative alternative to constant struggle between them and those of other nearby groups. Each would be allowed to govern its own affairs and would have no claim on the productivity, wealth or resources of others. This would eliminate the centralised struggle for supremacy and the ability to dominate other groups that characterises the present system of the United States. It would allow for diverse groups of people to maintain their ethnic and cultural identity and to govern themselves.
All the values which we are told that the US is based upon – self-government, liberty, self-determination, local autonomy, diversity, etc- would be furthered under such a system much more so than they are under today’s system. Other benefits of such a system would be the lack of ability for any sort of centralised banking system to run a counterfeiting operation as does the current Federal Reserve system. No massive military force which dominates the planet and runs thousands of foreign bases and is constantly attacking other countries could arise from such a system. Immigration would be handled on a local level by the various self-governing territories for the benefit of the people in that territory rather than used a weapon by politicians to remake society as it is today. The sort of de-centralised system described here would not be nirvana on Earth. Problems would still exist as we humans are flawed creatures. However, such a system would eliminate most of the major systemic problems we face today. It would be a clean break with the current failed system and would offer hope for a renaissance of liberty and self-government here in North America. This is one example of how the current multi-national and declining US Empire could be peacefully broken up and how communities of people with real bonds to each other might govern themselves in a post-USA America.