By Kirkpatrick Sale
In the wake of the Scottish “no” vote on secession last month, former presidential contender Ron Paul has declared that this was inspirational for the cause of secession not only around the world but right here in the United States. It is here, he said, that there is a “growing movement” for secession that is “deeply American:” “Americans who embrace secession are acting in the grand American tradition,” most especially the original departure from Great Britain that Scotland failed to emulate.
This has of course upset the usual crowd of knee-jerk patriots who always argue that secession is illegal or unconstitutional or anti-American, and anyway the Civil War settled all that. But Paul is supported by a new survey by Reuters/Ipsos that shows that 24 per cent of Americans believe that secession is not only legal but something they would support in their own states. That’s a quarter of the land—80 million people, almost 15 million more than voted for Obama in the last election.
And that’s a solid number, not a temporary cabal of discontents. A Zogby Poll I commissioned in 2008 for the Middlebury Institute, a think-tank I started “for the study of separatism, secession, and self-determination,” found that 22 per cent of Americans supported the right of secession and 18 per cent would support a secessionist movement in the state they lived in. Four years later a poll by the Public Policy Polling outfit found that 31 per cent of whites, 46 percent of Hispanics, favored secession.
And just after the 2012 election every single state in the union filed petitions asking the federal government for permission to secede, receiving at least 675,000 signatures (by some counts more than 800,000) nationwide. (South Carolina, too, with at least 20,000 signatures, though an exact number was not provided by either the White House or the news media.) Needless to say, the government did not give its permission, the White House arguing that the Founding Fathers provided for “a more perfect union” but “did not provide a right to walk away from it.” Though in fact it is clear that most of them, including James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, assumed that right, and three states (Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island) specifically claimed it when they agreed to join the union. But the White House memory goes no farther back than 1861.
Secession was assumed by the founders to be a means of curtailing government overreach and providing a means to limit federal power, and Paul argued that it serves that very purpose today. Secession is the “ultimate rejection of centralized government and the ideologies of Keynesianism, welfarism, and militarism,” he said, joining a growing chorus of Americans deeply troubled not only by the extension and intrusion of the federal government (NSA, IRS, Obamacare, TSA…) but its apparent incapability (Secret Service, Veterans Affairs, ISIS, Iraqi army, Ebola, national debt, Benghazi, CDC, climate change…) at this size.
Attacking the giantism of government, Paul even argued that “support for secession should cheer all supporters of freedom, as devolving to smaller units of government is one of the best ways to guarantee peace, prosperity, liberty.” Here he is on quite solid ground, as numerous studies have indicated that the most successful nations in terms of per capita income, GDP, democracy, liberty, efficiency, freedom, even education and health care, are under Switzerland’s size of 7.7 million people, and a majority of those are under 5 million.
This is surely the reason that the world has seen an enormous expansion in the number of nations over the last 70 years. When the United Nations was begun in 1945 there were 51 recognized nations, today there are 193 (excluding Taiwan and the Vatican), the vast majority of them small. The lesson of this past century is that empires (including the American empire) don’t work and are likely to create the wars that bring such misery and destruction, and that smaller units are far more stable, peaceful, prosperous, and efficient.
I would not go so far as Paul to say that smaller units “guarantee” his named benefits, for I’m afraid that there are no such certainties. But there is ample evidence that if you want such things as peace and liberty you are far more likely to find them at the level of 5 million people than at upward sizes.
Surely that is occurring to more and more people these days, and it’s hardly any wonder. Whether that will translate into an actual movement toward secession in this country, as it has in the rest of the world, is an open question, given the political passivity and unquestioning patriotism that is the chief byproduct of our government-run schools. But in these days of the obvious failure of big systems, it certainly seems worth thinking about.
(Reprinted from the Charleston Post and Courier, October 20, 2014.)
Kirkpatrick Sale [ send him mail] is the author of a dozen books,
including Human Scale and Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution, and is the Director of the Middlebury Institute for the Study of Separation, Secession, and Self-Determination.
Copyright © 2014 Kirkpatrick Sale
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