Does it Have to be a Bad Thing?

In the previous article, Keith has given his reasons for why he believes secession is a bad idea. First of all, it must be pointed out that we fully agree, in the US context, that the divide between 'red' and 'blue', this is to say between Republicans and Democrats, as such is largely artificial. As Keith rightly points out, both parties are deeply statist and believe in the welfare/warfare State. However, we would note that one can nevertheless see strong regional differences in the mentality of the inhabitants of various US states – in spite of an overarching trait of cultural homogeneity, which is provided by the common language, the media and modern means of communication. We think every US citizen would probably agree that people in say, Kentucky or Alabama, on average have a slightly different outlook than people in NY City or Lost Angeles (note that we say 'different', not 'better' or 'worse').


We disagree that the main motive of the civil war was the question of slavery. Although propaganda to that effect was waged during the conflict already, there is a considerable body of serious historical research that suggests that the actual reason for the conflict was related to trade and tariffs. We could perhaps say, that with regard to the slavery question, the right side won (although Lincoln, in his very own words, originally had precisely zero intention of emancipating blacks); but with regard to the trade question the wrong side did (namely the mercantilistic Eastern establishment). For those interested in the revisionist account (which differs considerably from the public school version of history) there are e.g. books like 'The Real Lincoln' by Thomas di Lorenzo (the link leads to a review of the book by Thomas Gordon). Di Lorenzo himself can be seen and heard in this presentation on what he calls 'Lincoln's Tariff War':



Lincoln's Tariff War, a presentation by Thomas di Lorenzo



However, we didn't want to discuss the civil war here, but more generally the idea of secession, and whether it has merit. We agree with Keith that 'rights' rest with the individual. The government is not supposed to 'grant' us any rights – if one has to have a government (a dubious proposition by itself), then its only function should be to defend the rights we already possess. The absolutist political theories developed in the Renaissance period in Europe should have no place in modern-day thinking about rights. This holds of course  for so-called 'state's rights' just as it holds for those of the federal government: their rights are granted to them provisionally by the people, not the other way around, or that is how it should be, anyway.

Keith's main worry, which he expresses in the second half of his article, would be that if the United States were to hypothetically break up into 50 different countries, this could dangerously impede the flow of commerce,  could lead to a multitude of dubious currencies being issued and even to war. 

However, he fails to mention one very salutary effect: there would no longer be a federal government – the biggest part of Leviathan would cease to exist. There would presumably also no longer be a Federal Reserve and its fiat dollar, a salutary development is ever there was one!

Not only that, the worries are only relevant if one continues to think about autonomous regions in the modern-day view as 'nation states', a view that we have inherited from the time of absolutism. However, why should anyone think about these things that way? Why indeed should there be 'borders', 'tariffs', 'passports' or any of the trappings of nation states in a future US consisting of many independent autonomous regions – the former 'states'?

For that matter, let us take a step back and consider a different country for a moment – Spain. In Spain there is a debate over whether Catalonia should become independent. For the Catalans themselves independence is a highly emotional issue, and one many are squarely supporting it. The main problem the Catalans have is simply that they are today ruled from Madrid, a place that cares mainly about…Madrid.

The Catalans clearly care more about Barcelona. They even have their own language (in effect both Spanish and Catalan are spoken in Catalonia, but Catalan is the region's original language) and are in other ways culturally distinct from the rest of Spain. Historically, the former Kingdoms of Aragon (Catalonia) and Castile (Spain) began to grow together when King Martin I of Aragon died without leaving a heir in 1410, which put a member of the Castilian dynasty of Tramastera,  Ferdinand of Antequera in charge – he became Ferdinand I of Aragon. His grandson Ferdinand II then married Isabella I of Castile in 1469, and this event is today generally regarded as the beginning of the unified Kingdom of Spain, although there was still a lot of upheaval between then and today, such as the Reaper's war in the 17th century, when Catalonia rebelled against Spain with French aid. More upheaval struck in the early 18th century in the 'War of Succession', in which France and the Habsburgs battled over who was going to rule Spain (the Habsburgs lost their claim to the Spanish crown in the process).

Anyway, the 'Reaper's War' is emblematic, as the cause of this particular conflict was precisely that the Catalans felt Spain had violated Catalonia's  rights. In other words, it was about Catalonia's autonomy, which was in fact restored after the conflict ended. Even today, Catalonia is an 'autonomous community', but many of its people want it to be sligthtly more than that. One reason is economic: Catalonia is subsidizing the rest of Spain, and many of its people resent the fact. After all, this subsidization is not the result of charity, but is enforced by taxation. The edicts and impositions of the currently nearly insolvent Spanish sovereign are becoming ever more burdensome.

However, here is what the Catalonians also want: they want to remain part of the EU – in other words, they want to retain free trade, and free movement of capital and people with the rest of Europe, including of course the rest of Spain. It is even a good bet that they would continue to use the common currency, flawed as it is.


Competition Between Polities

There was a time when Germany consisted of a patchwork of politically independent mini-statelets, and while none of them were democratic, not one of them had taxes even remotely resembling what German citizens have to pay for the federal Moloch's upkeep today.




Pre-1871 Germany – a patchwork of statelets (note though that the Prussian hegemony was already on the march at the time this map refers to). Germany consisted of 39 independent states until 1866. However, before 1794, there were  more than 360 independent states!



Although the travel document known as the 'passe-porte' was invented during the reign of the 'Sun King' Louis XIV (there are earlier examples of travel documents, but not by that name),  not coincidentally the epitome of the absolutist, mercantilist Rennaissance ruler who oppressed his subjects in myriad ways, thought he was ordained by God and threw the development of the French economy back by decades through the ministrations of his chief economic edicts enforcer Colbert,  no-one actually used a passport in Europe in the mid 19th century. It had become impossible to enforce the control system as rail travel exploded.

One big advantage the citizens of the old 'patchwork' Germany had, especially its pre-1794 version,  was that they could very easily 'vote with their feet'. The next duchy was usually only a day's walk away! This was the main check on rulers – they had to keep their citizens happy, lest they simply melted away. As might be imagined, this tended to have salutary effects on things like taxation and regulations. In effect, the statelets had to compete for the affection of their inhabitants. This is something the modern-day 'centralizers' and 'federalists' of the EU want to do away with. And who are the main proponents of this grouping in the EU today? Why, they are mostly coming from the nations with the by far highest taxes of course. Many are leftists, but all of them are definitely committed statists (consider for instance the Spinelli Group).

But what about money? Every single one of these German statelets indeed issued its own money. Consider some of the money that circulated in the 18th and 19th century:



Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Courant

Mecklenburg-Schwerin: 32 Courant Shillings, 1797




Bavarian Guilders

Bavaria, 2 Guilders, 1855



Sterntaler, Hesse-Kassel

Hesse-Kassel, 1 Sternthaler,  1778



Saxony, Conventionsthaler

Saxony, 1 Conventionsthaler, 1788



Notice something? These coins all have similarities – the main one is that they are all made of silver. In fact, they all follow a system of weights established in AD 1566. In AD 1559 (!) the German states abandoned the fixed ratio between gold and silver coins that had obtained until then (realizing it kept falling prey to economic law). The 1566 system of weights established that the 'Thaler' (this is where the term 'dollar' comes from) had to have a weight of 29.23 grams, consisting of 889/1000 silver.

Many German coins had inscriptions like “XX eine feine Marck” (read: 20 of these coins equal 'one fine Mark', a fixed weight of silver).  Obviously, there were no problems with payment across the 360 states that existed before 1794. Who cares whose face is stamped on the coin? The silver weight was the decisive criterion.

Therefore,  a big country splitting into autonomous regions (we do not need to call them 'states', do we?) need not lead to a negative outcome. Even if these regions still had governments and administrations, those would at least be a great deal closer to the governed than the often distant center in a huge unified nation state. This would definitely be a whole lot cheaper for starters. In the case of the US, the imperial ambitions of the current federal government would fall by the wayside (boo-hoo), which would have the distinct advantage that the term 'blow-back' would disappear from the dictionary again.

Political competition would likely heat up considerably, with every region eager to attract as many creative and industrious people as possible. The people themselves would keep up the pressure, as they could choose to go wherever they stood to be treated best.

At the moment, no-one can escape the depredations of the center. It may be worth considering in this context that those ruling at the center are nowadays considered life-forms less deserving of respect than cockroaches and head lice.


“It takes real skill to be less appreciated than one of the most phobia-inducing insects on the planet, but somehow Congress managed, hitting new lows in a recent Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey that found even cockroaches more appealing.

Also more popular than Congress: root canals, NFL replacement referees, head lice, Canadian rock band Nickelback, colonoscopies, carnies (that is, carnival employees), traffic jams, Donald Trump, France, Genghis Khan, used-car salesmen, Washington political pundits and brussels sprouts.”


In the EU, the cancerous bureaucratic growth that is now roosting in Brussels is in that sense wholly unnecessary.

What exactly is it about 'free trade and free movement of people and capital across borders' that requires hundreds of thousands of pages of regulations administered by an expensive and overbearing bureaucracy? Besides, we want the incandescent light bulb back, yesterday if possible.

As far as we are concerned, we thought pre-unification patchwork Germany was more interesting and likeable that today's debt-burdened giant nation state (even if it has apparently ditched its intermittent militaristic past). Somehow we don't think it would be a bad thing if it all broke up again, and the same holds true for other big nation states in Europe. Who needs them?

A more diverse collection of much smaller polities would allow for political experiments that are impossible today. We are of course referring to experiments that go in the direction of more liberty, fewer taxes and fewer regulations – something that is far more likely to develop when people have the choice of easily wandering off into a neighboring  autonomous region any time they wish. 

There is actually no reason to assume that such a more diverse political dispensation would result in impediments to commerce or greater incentives for war. In fact, the opposite is probably the case. Historically, the states that adopted mercantilism and absolutism were all large territories – by contrast, even the political and commercial elites of a very small territory cannot possibly hope to gain from anything but openness. War would likely be considered too much effort. We see examples for this even today, in city states like Singapore or quasi-city states like Hong Kong. Similarly the lowest tax jurisdictions in Europe are all tiny countries. What's not to like?


Depictions via Wikimedia Commons



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4 Responses to “Secession – An Alternative View”

  • Aka77:

    Great article,with very solid arguments!We can only hope that political fragmentation takes place as fast as possible,for the benefits greatly outweigh any real or imagined costs.I myself have long left a large,corrupt,inefficient and predatory country and have since lived in various “statelets”,with great benefit to my health and wealth!And as an interesting aside,these places also tend to sport a wide array of truly exceptional restaurants!

  • When the various nations go broke, the outlying areas can cede the capitals to the international (central) bankers and tell them and the bureaucrats to stay the hell out of the other areas. That will be the best reason to secede in the US, to get rid of DC, its wars and debt. Few ordinary Americans are responsible for the nonsense, the theft and graft going on in DC. I’m sure the rest of the world is also so arranged.

  • georgew:

    Well put Pater. I’d like to draw attention to the human tyranny aspect as well. There is always the advantage of decentralizing power, for we know that only with highly concentrated power, in the hands of a large Govt, do the greatest (in scope and degree) atrocities in human history occur.

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