"Freedom in general may be defined as the absence of obstacles to the realization of desires." ~ Bertrand Russell
To Secede or Not to Secede...Is That the Question?
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December 30, 2008
I recently attended the 3rd North American Secessionist Convention held in Manchester , New Hampshire .
While the topic of secession is not uncommon to readers of this daily journal, the idea of secession is unique and unappealing to most Americans. The term often brings forth images of the Civil War, slavery, the assassination of a President and a defeated Confederacy. Americans seem blissfully unaware that the Declaration of Independence was an act of secession from Great Britain and that the history of nation-states throughout the world is replete with sections breaking away from larger political bodies to go their own separate way, the latest being the attempt of South Ossetia to leave the nation of Georgia.
Because secession is a frequent fact of geopolitical life, the Middlebury Institute was founded a few years ago in Cold Springs , New York , to promote the serious study of separatism, secession and self-determination in North America . The Institute publishes scholarly papers on the subject of secession and hosts an annual convention where representatives from the thirty-odd secessionist groups in North America get together to give progress reports to each other. The Institute also encourages observers to attend and it was in that capacity that I listened to the presentations.
On the long flights from Seattle to Manchester , I couldn't help but wonder what I would find, perhaps a room full of looney-tune characters or ranting, wild-eyed radicals. I found neither. What I did find was a group of serious men and women concerned about the direction the United States was going at home and abroad. Law professors were in attendance as well as scholars from several disciplines. Many were there because of an interest in the subject and to assess the feasibility of secession. Those representing secessionist groups came from Texas , New England , the Deep South , Alaska , Hawaii and other locales across the continent.
What was striking was the political diversity. Liberal progressives, libertarians, and paleoconservatives were in abundance, all drawn together by what they perceived as a federal government running amok while centralizing its power, a government that is corruptly serving the interests of large corporations and other powerful groups at the expense of the people, a government leading the nation into empire building with the resultant endless wars and economic crises, a government that has obligated Americans to pay nearly $100 trillion of unfunded liabilities, and a government that finds it increasingly impossible to recognize and allow regional differences in culture, economies, values and lifestyle. In short, they spoke of a government that has no moral authority. Despite their political differences on many issues, they believed that it was no longer merely a case of Left versus Right, but rather, a case of all versus the Empire.
They advocated that secession be placed on the national political agenda, and that, ultimately, the United States must be and will be dissolved into individual states or regions of states that will become independent republics better serving their citizens through smaller central governments closer to home. Each republic could then determine for itself the nature of its government, whether statist or minimalist, progressive or conservative. If a person didn't like how their republic governed. they could emigrate to another area more to their liking, as thousands of African-Americans did when they moved North after the Civil War.
No one seemed to believe that any of this would happen soon. But they thought the time would come when an increasingly oppressive and corrupt federal government would make secession a desirable alternative. The secessionist groups did not promote violence, believing that several regions deciding to secede at the same time with the recognition of many of the world's nations could be negotiated and peacefully accomplished.
The many hours on the return home allowed me to contemplate all that I heard. While I remain uncertain of secession's eventual triumph, I couldn't help but recall the words of the renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead, 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.'