Friday, October 2, 2009

State Secession and Counter-Economics

Dave Montgomery of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram surveys the rise of secession movements across the United States:

Fanned by angry contempt for Washington, secession movements have sprouted up in perhaps more than a dozen states in recent years. In Vermont, retired economics professor Thomas Naylor leads the Second Vermont Republic, a self-styled citizens network dedicated to extracting the sparsely populated New England state from "the American Empire."

And on the other side of the continent, Northwestern separatists envision a "Republic of Cascadia" carved out of Oregon, Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia.

While most Americans dismiss the breakaway sentiments, sociologists and political experts say they are part of a larger anti-Washington wave that is rapidly spreading across the country.

The article quotes Vermont secessionist Thomas Naylor, who makes his case succinctly:

"The empire has lost its moral authority. It’s unsustainable, ungovernable and unfixable," he said. "We want out."

Montgomery engages in pointless, liberal hand wringing over tangential issues of racism, environmentalism, and capital punishment (on the last point, he absurdly lumps a theoretically independent Texas together with Iran and North Korea, in a desperate invocation of the ridiculous "Axis of Evil" concept). He avoids examining the constitutional merits of secession, which makes this a typically shallow MSM piece. Yet his moderate tone, and willingness to let the activists occasionally speak for themselves, presents the secessionists in an almost favorable light. In fact, he unwittingly aids them by giving readers the names of secessionist organizations, so that these can be Googled and contacted by potential recruits.

Will any of these tiny organizations gain sufficient political influence to achieve their goals? Based on the historical record of American secession, I doubt it. Both the American Revolution and the War Between the States (a.k.a. the Civil War) were instigated and led by men who already held power: sitting politicians at the state level. Those leaders were careful to deliberate amongst themselves to ensure coordinated action, to marshal their forces, and to present a united front to the central government. There are no signs of this yet. If the governors of several or more states call a convention and propose an anti-federal alliance, then we'll know the stage is being set for a regional revolt.

However, there is another kind of secession, which radical libertarians call counter-economics. This strategy does not pit local governments against the center, but calls for individuals and small networks of people to set up a parallel economy. The goal is not power, but freedom. Polish Solidarity activist Wiktor Kulerski described it this way:

“This movement should create a situation in which authorities will control empty stores, but not the market; the employment of workers, but not their livelihood; the official media, but not the circulation of information; printing plants, but not the publishing movement; the mail and telephones, but not communications; and the school system, but not education.”

Kulerski's words appear in a fine article published by The Freeman, "A Tribute to the Polish People". It's a fascinating study of how to beat a modern police state without resorting to violence, which is a game the state usually wins. Significantly, the Poles were able to outmaneuver and undercut their oppressors even though they had no cell phones or Internet. Of the six points Kulerski enumerates, the American state is already retreating in the fields of information, publishing, communications, and education.

The two secession strategies are not mutually exclusive, and it's reasonable to expect that counter-economics will do much to pave the way for a territorial breakup or shrinkage of the present United States. The more useless the central government is seen to be, the more willing are citizens and local politicians to part company with it.


Michael Panzner has posted a thoughtful treatment of this subject on his blog: "Secession Talk Going Mainstream?"

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Robin. This resonates with my Biblical Rebellion series, but there are much older and better pieces with the same sentiment. If we don't passively ride along, the state eventually stops moving.