Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Secession is a Right

In the truly amazing flood of abuse unleashed against Sarah Palin and her family in the progressive portions of the press and the internet over this unforgettable Labor Day Weekend, one of the less vitriolic bits was the claim that she is a "secessionist nut case" because she once belonged to the Alaskan Independence Party, which holds that the process that made Alaska a state in 1958 was not legally valid. This, unfortunately, turns out to be untrue (the McCain campaign furnished a document that seems to prove that she has been registered as a Republican continuously since 1982, long before she allegedly belonged to this "fringe" party).

I say "unfortunately," not because I want to join in the recent hatefest, but because I believe that secession is an human right.

Why is secession "nutty"? Is everyone in this country so young they do not remember the secessionist movements in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania? Does nobody have any conception of how many secessionist movements there have been?

I think it would be a good thing if a powerful secessionist movement were to arise, forcing us at last to discuss this issue. You might think that secession is a dead issue in this country, but when did it become so? The issue was never settled as a result of judicial or legislative processes, nor of rational discussion. It was settled, so far as it was, by the brutal means of war. As Bertrand Russell famously said, war does not determine who is right, only who is left.

Until the Civil War, secession in this country was perhaps most often associated, not with the cause of slavery, but with the New England abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison (Wikipedia photo, above). They wanted the North to secede from the union. Then they would no longer have to obey the monstrous Fugitive Slave Law, which required them to return escaped slaves to their "owners." In time we could have ended slavery without a war that killed more Americans than (to this day!) all America's other wars combined.

The issue of secession raises important questions about the nature of the state. Is the state really an organization whose members members have no right to resign? Could there really be such an organization? What could give it such extensive rights over the freedom of its members? To my way of thinking, insofar as the Civil War answered these questions, it answered them in the wrong way.

Abraham Lincoln said that preserving the union was more important for him than ending slavery. I have always thought that this showed a grotesquely distorted sense of values. It meant that his right to force people to belong to the organization he headed is more important than the black man's right to be free.

People have pointed out that Palin's alleged belief that states have a right to seceded from the union is inconsistent with McCain's idea of "country first." That of course is true. But doesn't that phrase epitomize McCain's belligerent nationalism? Shouldn't we be glad if he has added someone to the ticket who dissents from it? I'd like to see a politician who says freedom first, justice first, or peace first. Country? For me, it doesn't even belong on that list.

[Note: I am not a Republican, do not intend to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket, and I am not arguing for anyone else doing so. If you comment on this post, please talk about secession and not whether either of these people ought to be elected. For the moment, that is off the topic.]
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