The Daily Bell is pleased to present this exclusive interview with Thomas H. Naylor (left).
Introduction: Thomas H. Naylor, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University, is a writer and a political activist who has taught at Middlebury College and the University of Vermont. For 30 years he taught economics, management science and computer science at Duke. As an international management consultant specializing in strategic management, Dr. Naylor has advised major corporations and governments in over 30 countries. During the 1970s he was President of SIMPLAN Systems, a 50-person computer software firm whose clients were Fortune 500 companies in the US and abroad. Recognizing that the United States had become more like its former nemesis the Soviet Union than most Americans care to admit, in 2003 he founded the Second Vermont Republic, a nonviolent citizens network and think tank opposed to the tyranny of corporate America and the US government and committed to the return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic. Ode Magazine editor Jay Walljasper dubbed him, “Tom Paine for the 21st century.” The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Adbusters, Christian Science Monitor, The Nation and Business Week have published his articles. For additional information, visit http://www.vermontrepublic.org.
Thomas H. Naylor: I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1950s where my father admonished me to “be cautious” and always be concerned about “what people will think.” I was never very cautious nor very concerned about what people thought. I used to refuse to stand when Dixie was played at Ole Miss football games, and I understood fully the significance of that decision.
After three years at Millsaps College I moved to the Great Satan, New York City, and entered Columbia University where I earned a B.S. in Industrial Engineering. Two years later I received my M.B.A. from Indiana University. Summer jobs at International Paper Company, Sun Oil and Dow Chemical convinced me that Corporate America was not for me. At I.U. I became interested in computers, which played an important role in my life for the next 20 years.
In 1961 I began teaching management science at Tulane University while working on my Ph.D. in Economics. Upon completing my Ph.D. I joined the faculty of Duke University where I taught economics, management science and computer science for 30 years. For 6 years I taught all of the courses in Corporate Strategy at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
In 1969 I co-founded the L.Q.C. Lamar Society, an organization of progressive young Southerners committed to the premise, ironically, that the South should return to the Union, get off the race kick and start solving its own problems. By 1972 literally all of the important progressive political leaders in the South, black and white, were members of the Lamar Society. Some of them included Jimmy Carter, Winthrop Rockefeller, Terry Sanford, Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young.
During the 1970s I was president of SIMPLAN Systems, a 50-person computer software firm whose clients included Fortune 500 companies such as General Motors, United Air Lines, McDonald’s, IBM, Shell Oil, Texaco, Monsanto, Pacific Gas & Electric and Kuwait International Petroleum. I was a strategic management consultant to major corporations and governments in over 30 countries. The happiest day of my life was when I sold the company to a bunch of Germans for a profit in 1979.
As a result of the fact that the Russians illegally published one of my books on computer based planning models and free market models, in the Soviet Union in 1974, I received a steady flow of Soviet and Eastern European visitors to Duke until 1991. This gave rise to a 1982 visit to Moscow for a preview of perestroika three years before Gorbachev came to power. My book was being used to build computer simulation models to evaluate the effects of introducing free market capitalism into the Soviet economy. Throughout the 1980s I made frequent visits to the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. In 1985 I married a Polish psychiatrist. My life would never be the same.
Between 1982 and 1991 I became a self-appointed, unpaid, cheerleader for Gorbachev, whom I considered to be the greatest political leader of the 20th century. During this period The N.Y. Times published several of my pieces about the Soviet Union.
On the evening of January 16, 1991, ten minutes before the bombing began in Baghdad, William H. Willimon, Dean of the Duke Chapel, and I launched a freshman seminar on “The Search for Meaning.” Three years later Willimon, my wife Magdalena and I published a book bearing the same title. This was the first of five books Willimon and I would co-author, the last of which was Downsizing the USA in 1997.
In 1993, my wife, son Alexander and I moved to Vermont in search of community. We found it. Vermont is different – very different. It is all about the politics of human scale – small towns, small businesses, small schools and small churches.
Vermont provides a communitarian alternative to the dehumanized, mass-production, mass-consumption, overregulated, narcissistic lifestyle which pervades most of America – an alternative to the politics of money, power, speed, greed, gridlock and fear of terrorism.
Recognizing that the United States had become more like its former nemesis the Soviet Union than most Americans care to admit, in 2003 I founded the Second Vermont Republic, a nonviolent citizens network and think tank opposed to the tyranny of Corporate America and the US government and committed to the return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic, as it had been between 1777 and 1791.
Daily Bell: How did you come to be involved in the Vermont secessionist movement?
Thomas H. Naylor: Nearly three years before I moved to Vermont, on October 9, 1990, The Bennington Bannerpublished my article entitled “Should the U.S. Be Downsized?” Four years later in Challenge (Nov.-Dec. 1994) I wrote, “The time has come both for the individual states and the federal government to begin planning the rational downsizing of America.” Continuing, I suggested that Vermont might lead the way by helping “save our nation from the debilitating effects of big government and big business” and by “providing an independent role model for the other states to follow.”
In 1997 William H. Willimon and I published Downsizing the U.S.A., which not only called for Vermont independence, but the peaceful dissolution of the American Empire. We argued that the US government had become too big, too centralized, too powerful, too undemocratic, too militaristic, too imperialistic, too materialistic and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities. However, since we were in the midst of the greatest economic boom in history, few Americans were interested in downsizing anything. The name of the game was “up, up and away.” Only bigger and faster were thought to be better.
For the most part, before September 11, 2001, my call for Vermont independence and the dissolution of the Empire fell on deaf ears. It was as though I were speaking to an audience of one, namely myself. But a year or so after 9/11 that gradually began to change. On March 5, 2003, two weeks before the second war with Iraq began, I spoke at an anti-war rally at Johnson State College and decided to test-market the idea of an independent Vermont.
Basically, my pitch to the students was, “If you want to prevent future wars in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, we have no choice but to break up the United States into smaller regions and that process should begin with Vermont declaring its independence from the United States.” They were stunned, but they got it. Their positive response literally provided the energy to launch the Second Vermont Republic.
Ten days after the bombing began in Baghdad on March 19, 2003, we held the first of four monthly meetings at the Village Cup in Jericho to discuss how such a movement might evolve. These meetings were attended by only a handful of people. Early on we decided not to become a political party but rather a civic club. The name “Second Vermont Republic” was proposed by Jeffersonville high school student Walker Brook and registered with the Secretary of State on June 19, 2003.
Over lunch in the backyard of the Bread & Puppet Theater Museum in Glover, Vermont on July 18, 2003, the puppeteers, under the leadership of Peter Schumann, agreed to cooperate with the Second Vermont Republic to promote Vermont independence.
In conjunction with the release of my book The Vermont Manifesto on October 11, 2003, the first statewide meeting of the Second Vermont Republic was held in the New Building of Bread & Puppet Theater in Glover. The daylong meeting was attended by around 50 people.
During the two preceding years I received a dozen or so letters from Ambassador George F. Kennan and Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith voicing their support for a Second Vermont Republic. About the idea of Vermont independence, Kennan said, “I see nothing fanciful, and nothing towards the realization of which the efforts of enlightened people might not be usefully directed.” Galbraith added, “I must assure you of my pleasure in, and approval of, your views of the Second Vermont Republic.”
Daily Bell: Tell us more about the movement itself. How has it unfolded and where it is going?
Thomas H. Naylor: The Second Vermont Republic is a nonviolent citizens’ network and think tank committed to: (1) the peaceful breakup of meganations such as the United States, Russia and China; (2) the political independence of breakaway states such as Quebec, Scotland and Vermont; and (3) a strategic alliance with other small, democratic, nonviolent, affluent, socially responsible, cooperative, egalitarian, sustainable, ecofriendly nations such as Austria, Finland and Switzerland which share a high degree of environmental integrity and a strong sense of community.
Supporters of the Second Vermont Republic subscribe to the following set of principles:
1. Political Independence
2. Human Scale
4. Economic Solidarity
5. Power Sharing
6. Equal Opportunity
7. Tension Reduction
October 11, 2003 – SVR holds first statewide meeting at Bread & Puppet Theater in Glover, VT.
June 19, 2004 – Parade in downtown Montpelier with Bread & Puppet followed by State House rally attended by 350 people. Vermont declares independence.
November 5-7, 2004 – SVR and the Fourth World sponsor an international conference on “After the Fall of America, Then What?” The Middlebury Institute is launched.
January 15, 2005 – SVR celebrates Vermont Independence Day at the Langdon Street Café in Montpelier.
March 4, 2005 – SVR holds a memorial service to commemorate the day in 1791 when Vermont joined the Union.
April 22, 2005 – Award-winning journal Vermont Commons is launched.
April 2005 – Vermont Legislature adopts resolution naming January as Vermont History and Independence month.
June 3-5, 2005 – SVR officially represented at the fifteenth national Congress of the Parti Québécois in Quebec City.
October 28, 2005 – SVR holds first statewide convention on secession in the US since 1861. The event takes place in the House Chamber of the State House and is attended by 300 people.
November 3-5, 2006 – Middlebury Institute holds First North American Secessionist Convention in Burlington, VT. The convention attracts delegates from 16 secessionist organizations in 18 states.
April 12, 2007 – UVM Center for Rural Studies releases results of its annual “Vermonter Poll” showing that thirteen percent of eligible voters in Vermont support secession, up from eight percent a year earlier.
June 3, 2007 – Associated Press releases a piece entitled “In Vermont, Nascent Secession Movement Gains Traction.” Article is run worldwide by hundreds of newspapers, websites, radio stations and TV stations.
June 4-5, 2007 – SVR founder Thomas H. Naylor is interviewed by Fox News three separate times including The O’Reilly Factor.
October 3-4, 2007 – Second North American Secessionist Convention takes place in Chattanooga, TN. Representatives from thirty states attend. It too receives worldwide media attention.
November 7, 2008 – Second Statewide Convention on Vermont Independence in the House Chamber of the State House in Montpelier.
November 14-16, 2008 – Third North American Secession Convention in Manchester, NH.
May 22, 2009 – Dennis Steele launches Radio Free Vermont, a Vermont based music Internet station.
October 6, 2009 – SVR issues Scott Nearing 50 clover silver token.
January 15, 2010 – Ten secessionists announce their candidacy for the November 2nd election including candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor, seven Senate seats and one House seat.
January 10, 2011 – SVR named one of the “Top 10 Aspiring Nations” in the world by Time magazine.
September 14, 2012 – Third Statewide Convention on Vermont Independence in the House Chamber of the State House in Montpelier. Keynote speakers: Morris Berman and Lierre Keith.
Daily Bell: It is not so much in the news these days. Is it less of a force?
Thomas H. Naylor: Three events put SVR on the political radar screen so to speak: (1) George W. Bush‘s response to 9/11 – the war on terror; (2) the 2003 war in Iraq; and (3) the 2004 re-election of Bush. Bush was probably the movement’s greatest asset.
Vermont is perhaps the most left-wing state in the nation. Two-thirds of the voters supported Barack Obama in his 2008 election bid. To the political left in Vermont, led by Senator Bernie Sanders, Obama represented the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. After three years some Vermonters on the political left have finally figured out that Obama does not walk on water and is merely a smirk-free George W. Bush. But because he is smarter, more articulate and more charismatic than Bush, he is much more dangerous. Secession is a very tough sell in Vermont as well as elsewhere. In January of 2009 it became a much tougher sell.
Abraham Lincoln really did a number on us 150 years ago. He convinced most Americans on the political Right as well as the Left that secession is a complete anathema. Secession is thought by most to be immoral, illegal and unconstitutional. Never mind the Declaration of Independence, the fact that the United States was born out of secession from England, the tenth amendment to the Constitution and the escape clauses which three of the original thirteen states had built into their respective constitutions. Secession immediately conjures up images of slavery, theCivil War, racism and violence. Many otherwise intelligent Americans neither know how to pronounce or spell the word secession. More often than not it is pronounced as though the correct spelling were s-u-c-c-e-s-s-i-o-n.
Because of the perceived absurdity of tiny Vermont confronting the most powerful empire of all-time, the Second Vermont Republic has arguably attracted more attention outside of Vermont than within. It’s classic David and Goliath.
Since its inception SVR has employed two quite different parallel strategies in its efforts to promote secession – a hard sell approach and a soft sell approach. Neither has proven to be particularly effective.
The hard sell paradigm confronts the issue head-on. Because of its size, the United States government has become unmanageable and unfixable. Our nation has lost its moral authority and is unsustainable. A state such as Vermont either goes down with the Titanic or seeks other options. Secession is one such option. But because of its association with the Civil War, secession is toxic as hell. The mere mention of the word brings forth the charges of racism from the political left. It is virtually impossible to have an intelligent conversation about the subject with a liberal ideologue.
The alternative paradigm speaks of political independence as though it were some desired state of being achievable in the future only after a state such as Vermont achieves economic, energy and agricultural independence. Middlebury College environmentalist Bill McKibben has wrongheadedly convinced many Vermonters that political independence is an impossible dream without food and energy independence. McKibben is apparently unaware of the fact that Japan, the third largest economy in the world, imports every drop of oil that it consumes as well as most of its food. Secession is not a synonym for economic isolationism.
The problem with the soft sell paradigm is that its supporters are so busy planting organic gardens, building root cellars, cutting their own wood, acquiring solar panels and driving their Priuses that they don’t even notice the nine hundred pound gorilla in the room, namely, the American Empire. So benign is the soft sell approach that is adherents never get around to talking about political independence.
Nine years of experience with the Second Vermont Republic have convinced me that the real issue is neither Vermont, states’ rights, secession, political independence, energy independence, agricultural independence, nor economic independence but rather the American Empire itself. In the words of economist Paul Craig Roberts, “The United States is an immoral country, with an immoral people and an immoral government. Americans no longer have a moral conscience. They have gone over to the Dark Side.”
There is no longer any moral justification whatsoever for the existence of the United States. The only morally defensible alternative to empire is peaceful dissolution.
So long as the Empire remains intact, there will be no end to all of the nasty little wars, corporate personhood, Wall Street dominance and our unconditional support for the Israeli military machine. These are all gifts from the Empire.
Peaceful dissolution could be initiated at the state, regional or national level through some combination of demonstrations, strikes, protests, tax revolts, civil disobedience and eventually secession. The US Congress could even initiate dissolution but don’t hold your breath over that option.
Since dissolution would be nationwide in scope, it would arguably be less self-centered and less ethnocentric than if a single state such as Alaska, Texas, or Vermont tries to go it alone. Everyone has skin in the game so to speak. The primary focus would not be on “What’s in it for my state?” but rather on ending global dominance and military madness, stopping the exploitation of the poor and the middle class by the superrich, curbing the use of fossil fuels and other natural resources, curtailing the dependence on economic growth at any cost, reining in corruption and deceit and ending the suppression of civil liberties.
Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, for example, might join the four Atlantic provinces of Canada to create a little country the size of Denmark and call it New Acadia. Upstate New York and New York City might split into two separate countries. Chicago and Los Angeles could become independent city-states. Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas might go it alone with South Texas and South Florida splitting off separately. It’s not hard to imagine California being divided into three countries and Washington, Oregon and British Columbia evolving into Cascadia. A New South and a Rocky Mountain Republic also seem like likely possibilities.
We have no illusion that a large number of Americans will embrace dissolution any time soon. Our problems will have to become a lot worse before that happens. But the time to start the conversation is now! How many people predicted the 1991 implosion of the Soviet Union? Planned, orderly dissolution is surely preferable to unexpected collapse and utter chaos.
Daily Bell: Tell us about the books you have written on secession and how you came to focus so forcefully on this issue.
Thomas H. Naylor: I have published three books on secession: Downsizing the USA (with William Willimon, 1997),The Vermont Manifesto (2003) and Secession (2008). Given the level of ignorance about secession in the United States, the degree to which it has been demonizedand the fact that there were virtually no books on the subject, I decided to take a shot at it.
Daily Bell: What are you doing now? How do you make a living? Are you switching careers in a sense?
Thomas H. Naylor: I spend most of my time writing about Vermont independence and the peaceful dissolution of the American Empire. I write for the SVR website as well as Counter Punch.
My personal income comes from my Duke retirement, book royalties, speaking fees and investments in gold. My wife has a real job.
As my friend, Yale economist Martin Shubik, used to say, the Second Vermont Republic keeps me out of the pool halls.
Daily Bell: It is interesting that you have degrees in science and industrial engineering. You also received a Masters in Business from Indiana University in 1961 and a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics from Tulane University in 1964. How did you become so motivated to learn so much?
Thomas H. Naylor: Mathematics, computers and economic theory provide the underlying linkages connecting my academic disciplines. These tools are also useful for conceptualizing complex socio-economic, political problems. As for motivation, if one grew up in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1950s, one couldn’t avoid being imbued with a heavy dose of the Protestant ethic and an intense desire to get out of Dodge.
Daily Bell: Did you intend to become a kind of Renaissance man?
Thomas H. Naylor: One of the advantages of teaching at Duke University was that it afforded me the opportunity and the freedom to reinvent myself every few years. By that I mean the freedom to go into some totally unrelated field about which I knew nothing. Although I began my career as an econometric model builder in 1964, I became actively involved in Southern politics in 1969 and also launched a ten-year career in corporate simulation model building that year. SIMPLAN Systems was started in 1971. During the 1980s I did a lot of consulting for major companies in strategic planning. Beginning in 1982 and continuing until the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were my passions. Then in 1991 I turned to the search for meaning and French writer Albert Camus. Today I am at work on a philosophy of peaceful rebellion against the human condition – separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness and death.
Daily Bell: You taught at Duke, which is known as a communally oriented academy. Did you absorb this ethos?
Thomas H. Naylor: Clearly, I benefited from the sense of community at Duke University. However, my interest in community took a quantum leap forward in 1992 while my wife and I were working on “The Search for Meaning.” We decided to take a family vacation in Switzerland, Austria and Northern Italy to see if life in Alpine villages was all that it was cracked up to be. We wrote about this in our book and moved to Vermont in search of community.
Daily Bell: Do you consider yourself a socialist? A progressive? How would you peg yourself?
Thomas H. Naylor: I am a left-leaning libertarian with strong anarchist tendencies. This means that I believe there are two enemies, the US government and Corporate America, the latter of which owns the former.
Although I voted for Nixon in 1960, Kennedy had won me over by 1962. I remained a liberal Democrat until the early 1990s when slick Willie Clinton pushed me over the brink. In addition to being a pathological liar, Clinton was a conservative Republican disguised as a liberal Democrat. He gave the Republicans their every wish. He made me realize that there is absolutely no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. They are both corrupt to the core.
Daily Bell: You taught economics. Are you a Keynesian? An Austrian?
Thomas H. Naylor: I am mostly a pragmatic eclectic. Every time I was being considered for promotion (twice) at Duke there was only one issue. “Is Naylor a real economist or not?” It was probably the right question.
Basically, I am favorably disposed towards markets. I am also a gold bug. Does that make me an Austrian? On the other hand I am not averse to the use of government spending to stimulate the economy. Does that make me a Keynesian?
Two of my favorite economists were Joan Robinson, a Marxist, and Leopold Kohr, an Austrian.
Daily Bell: Can you give us a critique of why Austrian economics has expanded so fast? Coincidence? Internet?
Daily Bell: What kind of impact has the Internet had on the world and your movement?
Thomas H. Naylor: The Vermont independence network has no doubt benefited from the Internet. We have four websites and most of our supporters communicate via e-mail. However, I am not nearly so sanguine about the Internet as most. It may be one of the most anti-intellectual, anti-educational, anti-creative, anti-social devices ever invented – capable of destroying community, undermining democracy, creating a spiritual vacuum, inducing emotional instability and downloading the human mind.
My view of the Internet is similar to Henry David Thoreau’s view of the magnetic telegraph. “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas may have nothing important to communicate. We are eager to tunnel the Atlantic and bring the Old World nearer the New, but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”
Microsoft’s Bill Gates and others claim that the Internet leads to empowerment and enhanced democracy. But who is being empowered by whom? As e-mania has exploded, voter turnout has declined, as well as every other form of civic participation including involvement in religious groups, town meetings, local school activities, civic clubs, union meetings and political organizations. People transfixed by PCs and cell phones have little time to participate in anything and are a threat to no one.
If one surfs the Internet one can find hundreds, if not thousands, of Web sites espousing every conceivable political philosophy. There are endless blogs and chat rooms devoted to the discussion of politics. But is anyone really listening to all of this electronic chatter? Above all, what the Net does extremely well is keep us busy – distracted from noticing what the cipherpriests are doing to us in the name of freedom and democracy. Social networks like Facebook are more of the same.
While individual Internet junkies pretend to be doing their own thing, in reality they are insignificant pawns in a vast global experiment in commercially controlled anarchy. They are, in fact, doing precisely what the high priests would have them do.
Daily Bell: Is the Internet a kind of modern Gutenberg Press?
Thomas H. Naylor: I believe I have already answered this question. I have no e-mail address, no cell phone and no telephone answering machine but I do have a copy machine.
Daily Bell: You were president in the 1970s of a 50-person computer software firm with Fortune 500 clients worldwide. You were also an international management consultant advising major corporations and governments in over thirty countries. What do you think of corporate America? Is it a problem?
Thomas H. Naylor: I have the same problem with Corporate America that I do with the US government – size! Many American corporations, banks and other financial institutions, just like the federal government, are simply too big. In the words of Leopold Kohr:
There seems only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness. It appears to be the one and only problem permeating all creation. Wherever something is wrong, something is too big.
Daily Bell: Are modern corporations a problem? Do you they need to be further regulated?
Thomas H. Naylor: Big corporations are a problem. Small ones are not.
If Vermont had been an independent republic ten years or so ago, it could have kept Wal-Mart out. However, the US Constitution makes it virtually impossible to do so. Wal-Mart is the Great Satan of Corporate America.
I am against all forms of bigness – big government, big business, big cities, big farms, big schools, big universities, big buildings, big churches, big military and big social welfare.
Daily Bell: Your articles have appeared in so many publications. What is your main message?
Thomas H. Naylor: The American Empire is a metaphor for the human condition – separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness and death. Peacefully rebel against the money, power, speed, greed and size of the icons of the Empire – the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, Wall Street, the Internet, Fox News, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, as well as the churches, schools and universities which try to appease them. Live life to the fullest and try to die happy.
Daily Bell: Why did you move to Vermont? Was your activism mostly as a result of the increased activity of the USmilitary industrial complex?
Thomas H. Naylor: During my last four years at Duke we actually lived in Richmond, Virginia where I commuted back to Duke weekly. Unfortunately, Richmond was going to hell in a hand basket. There were 160 homicides for 200,000 people during our last year. In a big year Vermont experiences a dozen murders for a population of 625,000 people. My wife had three personal friends independently murdered in Richmond.
The move to Vermont was motivated by a longing for community and the search for a proxy for an Alpine village. Vermont is neat, clean, rural, green, democratic, nonviolent, safe, noncommercial, egalitarian and humane. It is a mirror image of the way America once was, but no longer knows how to be.
Supporters of the Second Vermont Republic would like to free themselves from a government which condones illegal wars with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, unconditional support for the Israeli military machine, a foreign policy based on full-spectrum dominance and imperial overstretch, multitrillion dollar budget deficits, endless Wall Street bailouts, corporate greed and fraud, environmental degradation, dependence on imported oil and a culture of deceit.
Daily Bell: Should the US cut back on welfare as well as the military-industrial complex, or should the US aggressively provide more military aid to countries that have been apparently identified as potentially in danger of “terrorist” destabilization?
Thomas H. Naylor: There is no such thing as a just war. Wars are about money, power, wealth, size and greed. Wars are fought not to achieve social justice, but to serve the interests of political elites pretending to be patriots, who demonize their alleged enemies so as to manipulate their minions into sacrificing their lives for false ideals.
The threat of Islamic terrorism is a problem of our government’s own making. It is grounded in American arrogance, ignorance, racism, imperialism and support for the terrorist state of Israel. President Bush’s so-called war on terror was an insidious campaign to create fear and hatred among Americans and Europeans towards Muslims so as to rationalize a foreign policy aimed at doing whatever is necessary to control their oil in the Middle East. Under President Obama it’s more of the same. Plus the threat of terrorism helps justify trillion-dollar plus defense budgets, 1.6 million American troops stationed in 1,000 bases in over 153 countries, special operations strike forces in 120 countries and pilotless drone aircraft operating worldwide.
Daily Bell: You were involved in the 2004 “radical consultation” among various grass roots secessionist groups in Middlebury, Vermont, which resulted in the creation of the Middlebury Institute. Tell us about that.
Thomas H. Naylor: November 5-7, 2004, forty people from eleven states and England attended a conference at the Middlebury Inn co-sponsored by SVR and the Fourth World of Wessex, England entitled “After the Fall of America, Then What?” The Fourth World, which published The Fourth World Review, a periodical inspired by Leopold Kohr and Fritz Schumacher, was committed to small nations, small communities, small farms, small shops, the human scale and the inalienable sovereignty of the human spirit. Speakers included Kirkpatrick Sale, Robert Allio, Frank Bryan and Thomas H. Naylor.
The underlying premise of the conference was that the United States had become unsustainable, ungovernable and unfixable. If that were indeed the case, then do we go down with the Titanic or seek other alternatives? Among the options discussed at Middlebury were denial, compliance and political reform, proven to be dead-ends; revolution, rebellion and implosion, equally problematic; and decentralization, devolution and peaceful dissolution. The conference also included a mock town meeting.
At the close of the meeting over half of the delegates signed The Middlebury Declaration, which called for the creation of a movement that would “place secession on the national agenda, encourage secessionist organizations, develop communication among existing and future secessionist groups and create a body of scholarship to examine and promote the ideas and principles of secessionism.” The Middlebury Institute headed by Kirkpatrick Sale is now engaged in the pursuit of these goals. The Middlebury Institute sponsored three North American Secession Conventions in Burlington, VT (2006), Chattanooga, TN (2007) and Manchester, NH (2008).
Daily Bell: You were criticized when it was alleged that some advisory board members had affiliations with Neo-Confederate groups, such as the League of the South (LOS). Can you tell us how that happened and what was your rebuttal?
Thomas H. Naylor: From the outset we expected to be attacked by right-wing, flag-waving, superpatriots, since we were calling for the peaceful dissolution of the American Empire. What we had not expected was that beginning in February 2007, we would become the target of a vicious five-year smear campaign spearheaded by the cash cow of the civil rights movement, the hate-mongering, witch-hunting, left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center accusing SVR and its founders of racism. In 2008 they issued a so-called “Intelligence Report” on SVR which read like a government document written by either the CIA, the FBI, or the Israeli Mossad. In reality these charges had absolutely nothing to do with racism. They were, in fact, payback for the articles which I had written criticizing the US government for its unconditional support of the apartheid state of Israel which routinely engages in genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.
Daily Bell: We have identified a lot of Green influences on the Vermont secession movement. Are you behind a carbon tax agenda?
Thomas H. Naylor: I think it is safe to say that there is a strong green influence in the Vermont independence movement. Although Vermont Commons, the multi-media voice of Vermont independence has most likely published some pieces about the carbon tax, it is not one of our passions. Remember, we are more interested in dissolving the Empire rather than fixing it.
Daily Bell: Is the world running out of oil?
Thomas H. Naylor: Although a geologist I am not, I tend to agree with James Howard Kunstler that the world is most likely running out of oil. Kunstler was the keynote speaker for both our 2005 and 2008 statewide conventions.
If one looks closely at all of the wars the US is engaged in, hegemony of the supply of crude oil appears to be the common subtext, not freedom and democracy. I think they are all about oil.
Daily Bell: Does the world need a UN style carbon solution – carbon tax, etc?
Thomas H. Naylor: I’m not a big fan of the UN, just one of many international organizations which is too big to manage. Others include the World Bank, IMF, NATO and the EU. The UN is merely a front organization for the US State Department.
Daily Bell: Are you pro Smart Meter in order to track and tax people’s carbon usage?
Thomas H. Naylor: I am unconditionally opposed to the so-called smart meters. Big Brother lives on.
Daily Bell: Is the Vermont secessionist movement formally Green, as the Huffington Post suggested?
Thomas H. Naylor: The SVR mission statement says:
Sustainability: We celebrate and support Vermont’s small, clean, green, sustainable, socially responsible towns, farms, businesses, schools, and churches. We encourage family-owned farms and businesses to produce innovative, premium-quality, healthy products. We also believe that energy independence is an essential goal towards which to strive.
Daily Bell: The New Hampshire secessionist movement is not Green. Is this why you have not made common cause with them?
Thomas H. Naylor: I am assuming you are referring to the New Hampshire Free State Project. It is not a secession movement. Its primary aim seems to be to abolish the government of New Hampshire and create a state that has no government and no taxes. SVR is not in that business.
Also, a couple of years ago I spoke at the Free State’s annual convention. Half of the people there were actually carrying loaded weapons, as if to say “Mine is bigger than yours.” Vermont has no gun control laws, but you will not find people at the SVR statewide convention walking around with loaded weapons. Frankly, I thought it looked pretty stupid!
Daily Bell: Where do you stand on Ron Paul? Will you vote for him? Will your movement endorse him? Why or why not? Is he a friend of secessionism?
Thomas H. Naylor: I like Ron Paul a lot. After all he is a graduate of the Duke University Medical School, just like my wife. Ironically, I met him in 1995 at a secession conference sponsored by the Von Mises Institute in Charleston, SC. It may have been the most interesting conference I ever attended.
I find myself in complete agreement with his positions on foreign policy, reduced military spending, Israel and theFederal Reserve. But in his heart of hearts, Ron Paul seems to believe that the US government is still fixable. All we need do is return to the Constitution and everything will be just fine. But it will never happen. Our Congress is owned, operated and controlled by Wall Street and Corporate America. They like the way the Constitution is being interpreted and will see to it that nothing changes.
In the end, Ron Paul, not unlike the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, is just another distraction preventing the American people from seeing that America is in a death spiral. We will not be able to reform our way out. This is the endgame! The vast majority of Americans are in a complete state of denial. Congressman Paul, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are there to make sure we don’t wake up.
Daily Bell: Where do you stand generally on the US as empire? Ron Paul disagrees with this sort of Leviathan.
Thomas H. Naylor: A nation that has nearly 1,000 military bases in 153 countries, by definition, cannot be anything other than an empire.
President Obama’s 2012 “Proud to be an American” State of the Union address was little more than a collection of narcissistic American clichés aggrandizing our military prowess and hyping war with Iran. Among the Republican candidates for president, only Ron Paul has not engaged in this form of demagogic drivel. As today’s most war-like nation, America’s penchant for trying to solve complex geopolitical problems with simplistically violent and destructive military solutions goes virtually unchallenged.
Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing new about the notion of American exceptionalism. Its historical origins can be traced back to the concept of “Manifest Destiny” or “God’s will” to justify our annihilation of Native Americans starting in the 16th century. Although our nation was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the story of how Native Americans were relentlessly forced to abandon their homes and lands and move into Indian territories to make room for American states is one of arrogance, greed and raw military power.
The barbaric conquest of Native Americans continued for several hundred years and involved many of our most cherished national heroes, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Andrew Jackson, to mention only a few. Adding insult to injury, the US government has violated over 300 treaties, which were signed to protect the rights of the American Indians.
In over 200 years, the North American continent has never been attacked – nor even seriously threatened with invasion by Japan, Germany, the Soviet Union, or anyone else. Despite this fact, over a million Americans have been killed in wars and trillions of dollars have been spent by the military – $13 trillion on the Cold War alone.
Far from defending its homeland, Washington has drafted citizens to die in the battlefields of Europe (twice), on tropical Pacific islands and in the jungles of Southeast Asia. On dozens of occasions political leaders have used minor incidents as provocation to justify sending troops to such far-flung places as China, Russia, Egypt, Greenland, Uruguay, the Samoa Islands, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Lebanon and Iraq. Today the United States has a military presence in 153 countries.
Back in the 1980s, even as it was accusing the Soviet Union of excessive military aggression, the Reagan administration was participating in nine known wars – Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Chad, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Morocco and Nicaragua. The US bombed Tripoli after the CIA alleged that Libyan secret forces blew up a nightclub in West Berlin, invaded Grenada and repeatedly attempted to remove Panamanian dictator Manual Noriega.
President Bush I deployed over a half million American troops, 50 warships and over 1,000 warplanes to the Persian Gulf in 1991 at the “invitation of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to teach Saddam Hussein a lesson.” Most Americans proudly supported this little war. President Clinton’s repeated bombing of Iraq invoked a similar response, even though the Iraqi people had never inflicted any harm on the United States. It matters not whether we send troops to Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, or Kosovo or bomb Afghanistan, Pakistan or Libya. America is “exceptional.” “We’re number one,” and might makes right.
And since 9/11 the Bush-Obama war on terror has just been more of the same. Full spectrum dominance and imperial overstretch are the premises on which American foreign policy is based. All of which leads to so-called “smart diplomacy” that means sending in drones, Navy Seals and Delta Force death squads to show who’s boss. That’s what American exceptionalism is all about – Empire!
Daily Bell: You don’t think the US is governable anymore. Do you believe in smaller government?
Thomas H. Naylor: Just as it was impossible to manage 280 million people from one central bureau in Moscow, so too is it impossible to manage 310 million people from Washington. The Soviet Union was too big and contained too many heterogeneous republics, ethnic minorities, religions and nationalities to be run by Kremlin bureaucrats. Why should we be surprised that gridlock is the rule on Capital Hill? What else could we expect from one legislative body trying to represent so many heterogeneous states, ethnic minorities, political ideologies and religious sects? The United States is ungovernable and, therefore, unfixable. It is but one of eleven countries in the world which has a population of over 100 million people, all of which are ungovernable.
I believe the time has come for the smaller nation of the world to confront the meganations and say, “Enough is enough. We refuse to continue condoning your plundering the planet in pursuit of resources and markets to quench your insatiable appetite for consumer goods and services.” These small nations should call for the nonviolent breakup of the United States, China, Russia, India, Japan and the other meganations of the world.
A small group of peaceful, sustainable, cooperative, democratic, egalitarian, ecofriendly nations might lead the way. Such a group might include Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
What these five European nations have in common is that they are tiny, very affluent, nonviolent, democratic and socially responsible. They also have a high degree of environmental integrity and a strong sense of community. Although Denmark and Norway are members of NATO, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland are neutral. Once considered classical European democratic socialist states, the four Nordic states in the group have become much more market-oriented in recent years. Not only is Switzerland the wealthiest of the lot but it is also the most market-oriented country in the world, with the weakest central government, the most decentralized social welfare system and a long tradition of direct democracy. What’s more, all of these countries work, and they work very well. Compared to the United States they have fewer big cities, less traffic congestion, less pollution, less poverty, less crime, less drug abuse and fewer social welfare problems.
Three other small countries that might also join the party are environmentally friendly Costa Rica, which has no army, ecovillages pioneer Senegal and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Since 1982 the king of Bhutan has been trying to make Gross National Happiness the national priority rather than Gross National Product. Although still a work-in-progress, policies instituted by the king are aimed at ensuring that prosperity is shared across society and that it is balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive government.
This group of small, nonviolent, sustainable countries could evolve into the Small Nations’ Alliance. Such an alliance might encourage the nonviolent breakup of meganations, the peaceful coexistence of a community of like-minded, small nations and the independence of small breakaway states such as Quebec, Tibet and Vermont from larger nations. The Small Nations’ Alliance could become a sort of international cheerleader supporting breakaway nations.
We do not envision the SNA as an international governing body with the power to impose its collective will on others. Rather we see it as a role model encouraging others to decentralize, downsize, localize, demilitarize, simplify and humanize their lives. Membership in the SNA will be open to those nations who subscribe to the principles of the SNA and are approved for membership by a consensus of SNA members. The only mechanism available for enforcing policies endorsed by the SNA would be expulsion from the organization for noncompliance.
According to Leopold Kohr: “A small-state world would not only solve the problems of social brutality and war; it would solve the problems of oppression and tyranny. It would solve all problems arising from power.”
Daily Bell: What should government do?
Thomas H. Naylor:
Power Sharing. Vermont’s strong democratic tradition is grounded in its town meetings. We favor devolution of political power from the state back to local communities, making the governing structure for towns, schools, hospitals and social services much like that of Switzerland. Shared power also underlies our approach to international relations.
Equal Opportunity. We support equal access for all Vermont citizens to quality education, housing, employment and health care.
Tension Reduction. Consistent with Vermont’s long tradition of “live and let live” and nonviolence, we do no condone any form of state-sponsored violence. An independent Vermont will have no standing army. In its place will be a voluntary citizens’ brigade to reduce tension and restore order in the event of civil unrest and to provide assistance when natural disasters occur. Tension reduction is the bedrock principle on which all international conflicts are to be resolved.
Community. We support a strong sense of community among our citizens and their neighbors including their international neighbors.
Daily Bell: Is government always force? Is force necessary within the context of the human condition? Should rulers always use force?
Thomas H. Naylor: A common underlying problem throughout the United States is over institutionalization. An institution is a self-perpetuating social organization created to achieve a specific purpose that enables its founders and their allies to maintain power and control over other members through a set of formal rules and regulations. Over institutionalization has overwhelmed America and resulted in a loss of community; economic, political and social chaos; as well as violence and war, so says Butler D. Shaffer in his prescient book Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival (2004).
Our lives have become hopelessly entangled with and therefore controlled by, a plethora of institutions. We have become increasingly registered, licensed, taxed and digitized. According to Professor Shaffer, “We are born in hospitals, educated in schools, married in churches, employed in business establishments or government agencies, supervised by political authorities, retired with institutional pension plans and government security benefits, and we return to hospitals to die.” (p. 20)
Continuing, Shaffer adds, “The political State has not established order; religions have not made us more moral; education has not blessed us with wisdom; the mass-marketed affluence or our industrial system has not provided us with security; our ideologies have not advanced our understanding.” (p.269) “Institutions are the principal means by which conflict is produced and managed in society. The success of institutions depends upon the creation of those conditions in which personal and social conflict flourish.” (p.6) “In unity there is vulnerability, not strength.” (p. 292)
No institution better illustrates the problem of overinstitutionalization than the government of the United States of America. The US is currently engaged in a never-ending war against Islam disguised as a war on terrorism.
According to Leopold Kohr: “For whenever a nation becomes large enough to accumulate the critical mass of power, it will in the end accumulate it. And when it has acquired it, it will become an aggressor, its previous record and intentions to the contrary notwithstanding.”
Daily Bell: What is the future of your movement and the US secessionist movement in general?
Thomas H. Naylor: Secession is a radical form of rebellion grounded in anger and fear with a positive vision of the future. For reasons stated previously, secession is a very tough sell in Vermont and elsewhere.
The decision to secede necessarily involves a very personal, painful four-step process:
1. Denunciation. The United States has lost its moral authority and is unsustainable, ungovernable and unfixable.
2. Disengagement. I don’t want to go down with the Titanic.
3. Demystification. Secession is a viable option constitutionally, politically and economically.
4. Defiance. I personally want to help take my state back from big business, big market and big government, and I want to do so peacefully.
By far the most difficult step in the process of deciding to embrace secession is the emotional one of letting go of one’s images of America as “the home of the free and the brave” and “the greatest nation in the world.” These images have been ingrained in most of us since early childhood. Reinforced by World War II, the Cold War, an uncritical education system and our pro-American media, they are very difficult and painful to shake.
The decision to secede involves reaching the point where you are unwilling to risk going down with the Titanic and must seek out other options while there are still other options on the table. Secession is one such option. But it may very well be the only viable option available to us.
The Second Vermont Republic has neither the resources not the persuasive powers to convince people to consider secession. Unfortunately, our problems will have to become much worse before a significant number of people will become more interested in secession in Vermont or elsewhere. However, some combination of the collapse of the euro, war with Iran, or the election of Mitt Romney could give rise to a dramatic increase in interest in secession.
Our next major event will take place in the House Chamber of the Vermont State House in Montpelier on September 14, 201. It will be our Third Statewide Convention on Vermont Independence. Keynote speakers will be Morris Berman, author of Why America Failed, and Lierre Keith, co-author of Deep Green Resistance.
Daily Bell: Are you worried about growing authoritarianism in the US?
Thomas H. Naylor: Yes. Virtually everything we ever accused the Soviets of back in the 1980s we are guilty of in spades. Ronald Reagan was right when he accused the Soviet Union of being an evil empire. What he overlooked was the fact that it was not the only evil empire in the world.
Daily Bell: Any more books planned?
Thomas H. Naylor: Since shortly after 9/11 I have been working on a theory and philosophy of rebellion called Rebél. Its preface follows:
REBÉLWhat are the people of Germany doing? Sleeping. Their sleep is filled with nightmares and anxiety, but they are sleeping. We have awaited their awakening for so long, yet they continue to remain stolid, stubborn, and silent as to the crimes committed in their names, as if the entire world and its own destiny had become alien to them. All agree: the German people slumber on amid the twilight of their gods. They do not love liberty, because they hate criticism. That is why they are sleeping today.
September 17, 1944
Albert Camus’s insightful description of life in Nazi Germany, which appeared in the clandestine Resistance newspaper Combat a few weeks after the Liberation of Paris, could just as well have been written about life in the United States today. Not unlike the people of Nazi Germany, the American people are also asleep.
We have slept through the annihilation of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Palestine, a war with Islam, the rendition of terrorist suspects, prisoner abuse and torture, the suppression of civil liberties, citizen surveillance, corporate greed, pandering to the rich and powerful, global warming, full spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, and a culture of deceit. Massive military spending, multi-trillion dollar budget deficits and Wall Street bailouts, mounting trade deficits, and a precipitous decline in the value of the dollar have gone virtually unnoticed.
During our long period of slumber the United States government has lost its moral authority. It is owned, operated, and controlled by Wall Street, Corporate America, and the Israeli Lobby with the full complicity of the national media. The United States has become ungovernable, unfixable, and, therefore, unsustainable economically, politically, militarily, and environmentally. It has evolved into the wealthiest, most powerful, most materialistic, most racist, most militaristic, most violent empire of all times.
Paraphrasing H.L. Mencken, “The leaders we admire most are those who tell us the biggest lies. Those whom we trust the least are those who tell us the truth.”
While claiming to be individualists, we behave as world-class conformists. We think the same, share many of the same religious beliefs, vote the same, watch the same TV programs, visit the same websites, and buy the same low-priced Chinese plastic yuck from Wal-Mart. “All the women are strong, the men are all good looking, and all the children are above average,” just as they are in Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegon. And we all pretend to be happy. But is it really true?
Even though we spend over $10 trillion annually on consumer goods and services, $2.5 trillion of which is for health care, and billions more on spiritual gurus and religious shamans, are we as happy as we pretend to be? I think not, because what we are up against is the human condition, God’s gift to us in the Garden of Eden from which there is no escape – separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and death. Not a pretty sight. Our feel-good religious leaders to whom we turn for spiritual solace try unsuccessfully to sugarcoat it. French existentialist Albert Camus called it absurd.
Unfortunately, the American Empire itself is a metaphor for the human condition. Tens of millions are drawn to the Empire in search of a refuge from the human condition only to discover that the Empire is an integral part of the problem, not the solution.
What are our options in terms of possible responses to the existential angst produced by the human condition? Escape, denial, engagement, and confrontation.
First, we may escape the human condition altogether through suicide. We may choose death and nothingness now over the pain and suffering associated with separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and fear of eventual death.
Second, we may deny the human condition through a life based on having—owning, possessing, manipulating, and controlling people, power, money, machines, and material wealth. Through having we try to find security and certainty in an otherwise uncertain world. Our compulsive desire to have leads to affluenza, technomania, cybermania, megalomania, robotism, globalization, and imperialism. Some call it technofascism. It often leads us into the arms of the Empire in search of a safe haven, which turns out to be illusory.
Third, we may choose to engage the human condition through being—by our creations, our personal relationships, our spirituality, our sense of community, and our stand towards pain, suffering and death. So-called simple living is a popular form of being. But if the world is going to hell in a hand basket, for how long can a life based only on being allay our angst?
Fourth, we may confront the human condition and peacefully rebél against the money, power, speed, greed, and size of the icons of the Empire—the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, Wall Street, the Internet, Google, Facebook, Fox News, Wal-Mart, Apple, and McDonald’s, as well as the churches, schools, and universities which suck up to them.
Rebél is a philosophy of rebellion. It provides us with the faith to claw meaning out of meaninglessness, the energy to connect with those from whom we are separate, the power to surmount powerlessness, and the strength to face death rather than deny it. Since the word rebel has more than one meaning, we use Rebél to connote resistance to authority and control.
Two rebels are our role models—Jesus Christ and Albert Camus. One was thought to have been the Son of God, the Messiah, the other a French agnostic. One offered a message of hope; the other admonished us to “live only with what we know.” Both had an uncanny grasp of the human condition and an unwavering predisposition towards nonviolent rebellion against it. Somewhat surprisingly, the Holy Bible turns out to be one of the best handbooks a rebel can read whether one be an atheist, an agnostic, or a believer.
If life is absurd, is there any reason to believe that tomorrow or the day after will be any different from yesterday or the day before, as in the movie Ground Hog Day starring Bill Murray? Even though no cosmic source of meaning has been revealed to us, we find ourselves drawn to Camus’s idea that the purpose of life is to die happy and that the path to a happy death leads straight to rebellion.
Therefore, rebél against the human condition and the Empire, live life to the fullest, and try to die happy by mindfully defining your personal legacy, which some call your soul.
However, Camus warns us that rebellion is no bed of roses. “Conformity is one of the nihilistic temptations of rebellion. It demonstrates how the rebel who takes action is tempted to succumb, if he forgets his origins, to the most absolute conformity.”
Rebél is not for everyone, particularly not the faint of heart, for it offers no spiritual elixir or magic potion to relieve our existential pain. It is neither a fire insurance policy against hell, nor a ticket to heaven. It is not a touchy-feely, self-help, feel-good, be-happy philosophy promising pie-in-the-sky to its adherents. Religious fundamentalists, pacifists, and those in search of a spiritual nirvana are not likely to be drawn to Rebél. Although it may not be what we learned in Sunday school, it surely beats nothingness.
Rebél is about the peaceful denunciation, demystification, and defiance of the tyranny of ciphers, which psychiatrist M. Scott Peck called people of the lie. Its radical imperative involves disengagement, decryption, decentralization, downsizing, and dissolution.
In the meantime,
Thomas H. Naylor
Daily Bell: Sites, articles and information you’d like to recommend?
Thomas H. Naylor:
Morris Berman, Why America Failed (2011).
Aric McBay, Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen, Deep Green Resistance (2011).
Thomas H. Naylor and William H. Willimon, Downsizing the USA (1997).
Thomas H. Naylor, Secession (2008).
Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (1849).
Daily Bell: Thanks for sitting down with us.
Thomas H. Naylor: It was my pleasure. Imagine…Free Vermont!