Three blog posts recently on secession:
- OK, the first is technically on nullification - the Mises Institute interviews Tom Woods on his new book on state nullification. For those of you not familiar with him, Tom Woods is an Austrian-oriented historian that I have a big problem with when it comes to the 1920-21 depression. But that's another matter. His new book is on nullification.
- David Ribar, a fairly liberal economics professor at UNC, an alum of my alma mater (William and Mary), former professor at my other alma mater (The George Washington University), and one-time co-panelist at a Southern Economic Association conference, does a round-up of recent secession-happy Republicans, and reviews one case in particular.
I actually think secession isn't as unreasonable a position as a lot of people think it is. I don't see how you can admire the founders and admire Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence in particular and not be ethically and legally fine with secession. We cannot be a nation of, by, and for the people if the people are not free to withdraw their consent to their government (an enormous irony of Lincoln's famous address).
Nullification, I think, is a different matter. It may have been a tenable position in the early antebellum period, when the institutions of governance were being worked out. But decisions were made, institutions developed, and social contracts (much as I hate that term) were forged. Nullification now is repudiation of that institutional evolution. You cannot remain in the Union and repudiate the terms of Union at the same time. To a certain extent, then, I suppose all I'm really saying is that nullification amounts to secession. I oppose the very idea of nullification as a course of action that stands independent of outright secession.
So I actually wouldn't be as critical as Ribar is, but I wouldn't be as enthusiastic as Woods is. My question for secessionists isn't so much "how could you think this is legal or ethical", as it is "how could you possibly think this is necessary or desirable"? They are treating the dumbest move on the part of the South like it was its greatest triumph. I'm not as dismissive of the Confederacy as a lot of people are, and I hold a fairly nuanced view of the Civil War. But even a "less dismissive than average" view of the Confederacy I think can still be nothing more than a qualified disapproval. Even those positively disposed towards the South as a civilization have to recognize the attending evils of the Confederacy, and not just the evils but the unforgivable blunders. And secession is among those blunders. It's not a question of "can they do that?" for me. They can. It's a question of "why would you do that?". The leaders of the secessionist movements in the antebellum South need to be regarded, even by sympathetic Southerners, with "impotent fury" (to quote Harper Lee). One might defensibly say "with Lincoln's army marching and threatening my home, I'll pick up my gun and fight". One cannot defensibly argue that secession was intelligent, or well-advised, or in the interests of the South. It's even more infuriating that so many secessionists, then and now, uphold Washington specifically as an icon; Washington! - one of the greatest examples of what it means to be a "Union man".
Anyway, I'm not lawyer but the legal niceties of secession never bothered me all that much. The right to secede seems to me to follow naturally from the right to incorporate a state in the first place. Any statute on the books that would oppose that right simply begs the question. After all - it's precisely that statue book that presumably one is seceding from! The question of why one would even consider the prospect of secession, so long as the United States remains such a paragon of republicanism, liberty, and democratic representation - that is a question that I simply can't answer.
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