Over the past couple of weeks, I have drawn the friendly criticisms of several fellow conservatives for what seemed to them as advocating what is still considered to be taboo: Secession. In every case, there was no immediate opportunity to explain my reasoning due to the complexities involved in arriving at such a grave conclusion, as preliminary as such a conclusion may be in its very nature.
Just what is the philosophical justification for a new secessionist movement, and what are the realities as well as legalities involved, is a complex subject matter that requires insight to where I am coming from and the painstaking process I have gone through before arriving at this improbable conclusion. I call it the harsh light of reality I was desperately trying to avoid most of my adult life.
Who Am I and Why Even Read Just Another Opinion?
We are all products of our upbringing. Our families, education, life experiences and environment as a whole determine to a great extent who we are and what makes us tick. Why is this important? I will answer that by posing another question. If you knew that someone had mediocre education, no sign of intellectual curiosity, and little diversity of life experience, would you value their opinions as much as you would someone with the opposite qualities? The answer is a resounding no. The following, therefore, is not an exercise in self-aggrandizing; to the contrary it is an open window to my perspectives.
First of all, I am a naturalized
citizen. As such, I have a different level of
appreciation for U.S.
than your typical second or later generation American. Having lived in several countries and
travelled to over 40, many in my formative years, I have experienced what few
have. I have seen the pros and cons in
every culture and appreciated their differences. I have learned about their governmental
structures and weighed their constitutions throughout years, and arrived at the
inescapable conclusion that the America is by far superior to any other
nation around the world in its foundation.
I did not arrive at this conclusion because I read it from other sources
or was influenced by others’ opinions. I
arrived at it because, like others before me – famously including Alexis de
Tocqueville in the 18th century as well as countless lesser known
mortals like me that followed – I observed the alternatives and formed my
opinions after an extensive amount of firsthand experience. That is true knowledge in its classical
I am a classicist by training (I can assure you that very few students today in America would survive the rigors of my Swiss boarding school decades ago). As such, I believe that a strong foundation in liberal arts and logic is the only one that allows us to truly comprehend the deep philosophical underpinnings of the issues that are at stake today.
Why is classicism critical to the central issue we are discussing? The short answer is that we have gradually abandoned this approach to solving our problems over the past century. Yes, we are still advancing but mostly thanks to the momentum of all the advances before. The reason why western civilization became the greatest and drove along humanity in to modern ages is because of classicism. Mankind existed for a million years as various species, without any meaningful advancement. It was western classicism that was born in ancient
that ignited the true renaissance of man two and a half millennium ago. Since man’s natural intellectual evolution
cannot in itself explain why mankind advanced so much in about 2500 years
whereas they had been pretty stagnant for a million, classicism is the only
inescapable answer. Greece
We must constantly ask ourselves whether our views are consistent with logic and supported by empirical evidence. Since available historical context and evidence is constantly changing as new history is made, this is a continuous process that one must adopt for all their lives. I believe that this type of a philosophical approach is the only consistent one with a high level of intellectual integrity. As a result of this ongoing process, I have arrived at a set of conclusions. Although I sympathize with the spirit of what seemingly more level headed conservatives are saying, I am now skeptical about taking the high road to our salvation (by that I mean through conventionally accepted political means).
At a certain point, I discovered that there are really only two kinds of human beings. One kind believes in self reliance and responsibility. This is our kind - the kind that founded the greatest nation ever devised by man in modern times. The other kind believes in what they perceive to be the humanitarian qualities of a collectivist system that sacrifices God given individual rights for sake of rights of the society as a whole. Wholesale rights attributed to the masses can only come at the expense of individual rights because nothing is free and everything must be earned in life.
As a result of my life of travelling and experiencing different countries of the world, my education both in academia as well as life, becoming intimately familiar with our (U.S.) founding, and interacting with people of differing political philosophies, I have reached nirvana of sorts. Here it is:
Individualists (call them conservatives or classical liberals) and collectivists (call them progressive liberals, socialists, Marxists, whatever) cannot coexist. Progressivism must feed from the fruits of individualism in order to survive, therefore it must dominate it. Each side must simply win over the other or perish in the long run. We are in the latter stages of this struggle that has been ongoing for a long time now.
Our individual rights are but a speed bump to progressives. They reject all notion of God given rights because the moment they accept such natural rights attributable to the individual, their positions become untenable; thus their rejection of morality and embracing of moral relativism and utilitarianism. There is so much to discuss here, but in the interest of time, we’ll skip it.
So what can be done if coexistence is long term impossibility? Surely, as civilized people, we cannot even momentarily entertain despotic measures, though collectivists have historically proven to have no reservations about employing extreme measures themselves. Isn’t our only solution, then, self segregation of sorts? Looking at history and following a series of logical conclusions, does secession still sound like a non-starter as an alternative?
Legality Issues Surrounding Secession:
First, let’s be clear about one thing: There is absolutely nothing in the U.S. Constitution that either outright recognizes or denies the right of secession. The very nature of the Constitution is that it was ratified by states with the understanding that it was the voluntary consent of sovereign states to be governed by a central government, for the benefit of all, and if that is true, then a state can (theoretically) voluntarily withdraw its consent to be a part of the Union that no longer is beneficial to said State(s). In America, we believe that the laws should rule the government, not the people, and that the government is the servant of the people, yet today, in America, it is the other way around. Just look at how this Administration has circumvented the separation of powers by nullifying existing laws like DOMA, ignoring court orders, etc., etc.
Currently the federal government has or is in the process of suing several states over issues concerning immigration and election laws. In every case, the states are trying to enforce the laws that are in the books already while the federal government is trying to circumvent these laws just because it politically benefits the Administration. The situation has escalated to the point where the State of Arizona has filed a ballot initiative declaring that voters could get the right to overrule federal laws and mandates. It simply states that a federal document may not be violated by any government -- including the federal government. This, my friends, is the direct result of federalism being choked off by the left, and will further escalate as time goes on. These are the first baby steps in the direction of secession, make no mistake about it.
My conclusion is not one of whether starting afresh is an option but rather whether it is doable. Our forefathers did it when despotism of their masters reached an unacceptable level. Later, both President James Buchanan and Thomas Jefferson stated that the basis of the United States is the consent of its citizens to be part of the Union. Should any state desire to secede, it should be allowed to do so. Some scholars claim that the right of secession is built into the Constitution while others claim that it is the natural right for revolution as envisaged and acted upon by the founders of the United States.
Moreover, historical context also argues that secession is not illegal. When the Union forced the Confederate forces to surrender at Appomattox, they insisted that these states also surrender their right to secede from the Union. Therefore, it can be stated that the USG admitted that the Confederate States did have that right in the first place because how can they surrender a right, unless they had the right to secede in the first place?
Furthermore, Chief Justice John Marshall, in Gibbons v. Ogden stated “limitations of a power furnish a strong argument in favor of the existence of that power [secession].”
Also, consider this famous passage: “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.” Thus it can be inferred that some sort of right of secession is legal as this comes from the Declaration of Independence, and in the writings of both John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.
Finally (among many more examples), Abraham Lincoln said “Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.” What he was talking about should not be interpreted as being through elections only, because rising up connotes clearly something different than elections.
As far as legal precedence is concerned, the track record is not necessarily all disappointing. The SCOTUS has commented that revolution or consent of the states could lead to a successful secession. It is only unilateral secession that has been deemed unlawful. With over half the states being red states, the road all of a sudden does not seem as steep.
Going back, in 1860, prior to the Civil War, there were no SCOTUS decisions claiming secession to be illegal. There were no laws regarding it. Even President Buchanan admitted he had no power to stop southern states from seceding. He clearly said he had no authority to stop them. If constitutionally it was illegal to secede, would that make sense? Because of that reason, many still rightly argue that the civil war was unjustified on the part of the North. That being said, economics of the day and slavery, which had been tearing the union apart for many decades, played a big part. The dynamics today are as different as day and night. For one, we are more civilized in our approach to things. Our economy is a lot more diverse as well. There are no slavery type issues (other than us becoming slaves of sorts).
So, in the absence of solid anti-secessionist references in the Constitution or in current law, and completely different dynamics, I believe that secession would not lead to any violence. And perhaps, the biggest reason for that belief is that I reject the thought that any soldier in modern day America, would fire on a fellow American. We are infinitely more sophisticated than we were as a nation in the 1860s. I however admit it would be a long and hard road filled with rhetoric.
So, how might a U.S. that has divorced its ideologies look like? I will venture a guess that within 20 years, the red union that has reaffirmed its belief in the original constitution will be once again a global leader while the blue union that sticks to its collectivist ideology will resemble East Germany of old.
To secede or not to secede? I will answer with a question of my own. What is more moral – oppressing others who believe otherwise, or being a part of a country that reflects your philosophy, by your own free will?
It is a simple question with a complex answer. All I can ask of you is to think long and hard the implications of taking no action at all.