As the Austrian Economist Mises wrote in 1927: “The situation of having to belong to a state to which one does not wish to belong is no less onerous if it is the result of an election than if one must endure it as the consequence of a military conquest.”
I’m sure this sentiment is shared by many of you. Mises understood that mass democracy was no substitute for liberal society, but rather the enemy of it. Of course he was right: nearly 100 years later, we have been conquered and occupied by the state and its phony veneer of democratic elections. The federal government is now the putative ruler of nearly every aspect of life in America.
That’s why we’re here today entertaining the audacious idea of secession — an idea Mises elevated to a defining principle of classical liberalism.
It’s tempting, and entirely human, to close our eyes tight and resist radical change — to live in America’s past.
But to borrow a line from the novelist L.P. Hartley, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” The America we thought we knew is a mirage; a memory, a foreign country.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely why we should take secession seriously, both conceptually — as consistent with libertarianism — and as a real alternative for the future.
Does anyone really believe that a physically vast, multicultural, social democratic welfare state of 330 million people, with hugely diverse economic, social, and cultural interests, can be commanded from DC indefinitely without intense conflict and economic strife?
Does anyone really believe that we can unite under a state that endlessly divides us? Rich vs. poor, black vs. white, Hispanic vs. Anglo, men vs. women, old vs. young, secularists vs. Christians, gays vs. traditionalists, taxpayers vs. entitlement recipients, urban vs. rural, red state vs. blue state, and the political class vs. everybody?
Frankly it seems clear the federal government is hell-bent on Balkanizing America anyway. So why not seek out ways to split apart rationally and nonviolently? Why dismiss secession, the pragmatic alternative that’s staring us in the face?
Since most of us in the room are Americans, my focus today is on the political and cultural situation here at home. But the same principles of self-ownership, self-determination, and decentralization apply universally — whether we’re considering Texas independence or dozens of active breakaway movements in places like Venice, Catalonia, Scotland, and Belgium.
I truly believe secession movements represent the last best hope for reclaiming our birthright: the great classical liberal tradition and the civilization it made possible. In a world gone mad with state power, secession offers hope that truly liberal societies, organized around civil society and markets rather than central governments, can still exist.
Secession as a “Bottom-Up” Revolution….
“But how could this ever really happen?” you’re probably thinking.
Wouldn’t creating a viable secession movement in the US necessarily mean convincing a majority of Americans, or at least a majority of the electorate, to join a mass political campaign much like a presidential election?
I say no. Building a libertarian secession movement need not involve mass political organizing: in fact, national political movements that pander to the Left and Right may well be hopelessly naïve and wasteful of time and resources.
Instead, our focus should be on hyper-localized resistance to the federal government in the form of a “bottom-up” revolution, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe terms it.
Hoppe counsels us to use what little daylight the state affords us defensively: just as force is justified only in self-defense, the use of democratic means is justified only when used to achieve nondemocratic, libertarian, pro-private property ends.
In other words, a bottom-up revolution employs both persuasion and democratic mechanisms to secede at the individual, family, community, and local level — in a million ways that involve turning our backs on the central government rather than attempting to bend its will.
Secession, properly understood, means withdrawing consent and walking away from DC — not trying to capture it politically and “converting the King.”
Secession is Not a Political Movement!
Why is the road to secession not political, at least not at the national level? Frankly, any notion of a libertarian takeover of the political apparatus in DC is fantasy, and even if a political sea change did occur the army of 4.3 million federal employees is not simply going to disappear.
Convincing Americans to adopt a libertarian political system — even if such an oxymoron were possible — is a hopeless endeavor in our current culture.
Politics is a trailing indicator. Culture leads, politics follows. There cannot be a political sea change in America unless and until there is a philosophical, educational, and cultural sea change. Over the last 100 years progressives have overtaken education, media, fine arts, literature, and pop culture — and thus as a result they have overtaken politics. Not the other way around.
This is why our movement, the libertarian movement, must be a battle for hearts and minds. It must be an intellectual revolution of ideas, because right now bad ideas run the world. We can’t expect a libertarian political miracle to occur in an illibertarian society….
All of us, regardless of ideological bent and regardless of whether we know it or not, are married to a very violent, abusive spendthrift. It’s time, ladies and gentlemen, to get a divorce from DC.
This article is adapted from a talk presented at the Houston Mises Circle, January 24, 2015. – Mises Institute –