Catalonia, California and the Problem with Secession

Californians who are pushing for that state to secede from the U.S. are drawing fresh inspiration from events in Spain and the effort by Catalans to break away and form an independent Catalonian republic (according to an article I saw).

As a general proposition I support secession, wherever it occurs or is proposed. The problem is that it never goes far enough.

Should the Catalans succeed in seceding, will they allow the province of Girona to pull out of Catalonia if the people there start having second thoughts? Will the government of a newly minted California Republic permit Orange County to extricate itself from beneath the thumb of Sacramento?

If the people of Granollers decide they don’t want to be ruled by politicians assembled in Barcelona, will they be allowed to go their own way — either to rejoin Spain or to form their own mini-state?

What if the folks of Redding, Crescent City, Happy Camp and other towns in the far north of California attempt to form the breakaway state of Liberty, an idea that has been entertained off and on for years? Will they be suppressed by troops flying the new national Bear Flag? Occupied? Killed if they resist?

Secession proponents rightly pose this question: Why should people be forced to remain in a union which no longer serves their needs or represents their interests? Indeed. However, few of them follow their own logic to its conclusion.

I have no such reticence.

States (provinces) should be able to secede from nations, counties from states, cities and towns from counties, and individuals from all of it. You can be a good neighbor without imposing your will on others through statist “government.”

A good thing about secession, at least on the surface, is that it decentralizes things and brings government closer to the people being governed. There’s also psychological value, I think, in demonstrating that political boundaries are not sacrosanct or etched in eternal stone.

The bad thing about secession — and it’s a very bad thing — is that it almost always entails creation of yet another coercive state that restricts people’s freedom, controls their property and taxes away their wealth.

After the American colonies’ secession from Great Britain, which was in many ways a tax revolt, the military leader of the revolutionists ended up becoming a political gangster who actively crushed resistance to taxes (see Whiskey Rebellion).

Most secession movements represent, at best, the desires of the majority of people in a region at a particular moment, and often not even that. Why must those who oppose secession submit to being ruled by their neighbors just because they are on the losing side of some referendum? Depending on who one’s neighbors are, that might be worse than continued rule by distant politicians and bureaucrats.

North Carolina  (where I live) was arguably the most divided on the secession question of all the states that eventually formed the Confederate States of America. Unionist sentiment was strong here, before and after Fort Sumter. Yet the secessionists, dominated by politically powerful planters, prevailed, plunging all North Carolinians into a war in which more of them died than died from any other southern state.

This isn’t a brief for Abraham Lincoln, by the way, or for the war he cruelly and needlessly waged on the entire southern population; Lincoln vies with Wilson as the worst one in my personal anti-pantheon of presidential villains. It’s merely to point out that unless secession is recognized as a freedom that extends down to the individual, it always violates rights — namely, the rights of people who prefer to remain within the “mother” country, as well as anyone who would rather not be ruled at all.

North Carolina’s secessionists didn’t offer to let the state’s pro-Union residents go their own way or form their own self-governing enclaves. And they certainly didn’t ask the slaves what they wanted.

The history of the various “free state” projects in the South shows that the Confederate government was prepared to deal as harshly with its own secessionists as Lincoln did with his. Of course, any slave caught trying to secede by running away from the plantation could expect as little mercy from the authorities as he could from his master.

The problem with secession in the South was that its advocates only favored self-government for themselves and those who agreed with them. A new Catalonian or California republic will embody the same hypocrisy. Count on it.

I’m glad that more people are taking secession seriously, even if they aren’t ready to take it to the logical conclusion of individual secession. Notice how it’s acceptable now in progressive circles to talk about an idea that the Left had previously consigned to the domain of rednecks and racists (thanks, Donald Trump)!

We all embrace the principle of secession already in most areas of life. We “secede” from one job to take another. We “secede” from social organizations that no longer serve us by the simple expedient of ceasing to show up. Some of us make the decision to “secede” from marriages or business partnerships. These might be good or bad decisions, but no one sends armies to prevent these little personal secessions, which must take place a million times a day.

Where is the logic or morality in insisting that human beings can’t be allowed the same freedom to decide, on an individual basis, which unions they will belong to in the political realm? Or who gets to be the boss of them in that realm — or whether they even need such a boss?