Secession is often derided by liberals as some kind of cock-a-mammy right wing nut idea from Texas. But the idea of being free to leave an organization or union or union of states should not be dismissed out of hand. In modern times, thoughtful people have come up with pretty solid theories to support this kind of freedom that both right and left should think about.
Back in the 19th century all kinds of unification was going on. Germany was forming into a nation state from a bunch of principalities. Italy too thought putting a bunch of papal states and counties together was a good idea. But anarchist thinkers were wary of the nation state. They liked the idea of confederations of regions made from smaller groups. In 1867, the anarchist writer Michael Bakunin wrote about a United States of Europe. He said that he wished to see
“…a new organization based soley upon the interests, needs, and inclinations of the populace, and owning no principle other than that of the free federation of individuals into communes, communes into provinces, provinces into nations, and the latter into the United States, first of Europe, then of the whole world.
But this world view needed to always include the right to secession.
“Just because a region has formed part of a State, even by voluntary accession, it by no means follows that it incurs any obligation to remain tied to it for ever. No obligation in perpetuity is acceptable to human justice…The right of free union and equally free secession comes first and foremost among all political rights; without it, confederation would be nothing but centralisation in disguise.
(from Colin Ward “Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction” p.84-85.)
Right now, in the region of Catalonia (Catalunya) in Spain there is serious talk of seceding from Spain and going it alone and joining the EU. Vermont has a secessionist movement. Neither of these are wing nut ideas, but ways of seeking more say, more autonomy in the lives of the citizens of these regions while acknowledging that they live in a global village. To govern without a central authority is not impossible. Ward gives the example of mailing a letter from the U.S. to China without a central world post office. Same for railroads. It’s a different kind of federalism, that frankly, I’m still trying to figure out.
In September 20, 2012’s “Counterpunch”, Morris Berman in “The Waning of the Modern Ages” speaks of secession in order to stem the crisis of climate change. The world needs a no growth policy since we no longer have the space to keep expanding and dumping garbage into empty land and supposedly endless supplies of water.
“…our job is to dismantle capitalism before it dismantles us. Again, this does not mean taking on Wall Street, which I don’t believe can succeed. But it does mean leaving the field: for example, seceding. (Movements for secession do exist at this point, Vermont being a prominent example.) And if that’s not quite viable right now, there is at least the possibility of living in a different way, as David Ehrenfeld suggests. My guess is that “dual process”—the disintegration of capitalism and the concomitant emergence of an alternative socioeconomic formation—is going to be the central story of the rest of this century. And I suspect that austerity will be part of this, because as capitalism collapses and we run out of resources—petroleum in particular—what choice will we have?
We still need a revolution. What we did in 1776 was a war for independence, but we retained much of the old feudal system with a House of Lords, (the Senate) and a Monarch (Executive Branch) rather than the more democratic institutions of the northern town hall meetings. But it may start by learning more about the Zapatistas in Chiapas or reviving the mutual aid societies of the union movements. In may be that we reinvigorate that old hippie idea of “dropping out”; of seceding by coming together with our neighbors or fellow workers to change the way we live and do work. (For inspiration and further study I’m reading “Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History” by Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic simultaneously with Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Dancing in the Streets”).
As David Graeber says in his essays called “Revolutions in Reverse”, we at least have to start the conversation that there is an alternative to capitalism and warring nation states. And the first step is to look at language and not dismiss an idea like secession without some thought.