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Sunday, July 14, 2024 - 06:11 PM


First Published in 1994


Please suppress the alarm you are likely to feel when you hear someone saying that a State or States should be allowed to secede from the United States. That alarm you may feel is a conditioned reflex which was carefully nurtured over several generations by the advocates of a strong central government.

Before 1860 most Americans would not have felt that instant, automatic alarm or revulsion at hearing the word secession. In those days some of the most patriotic Americans not only heard and entertained the term with a tranquil feeling but also considered it the solution of choice if the central government tried to exercise powers not specifically given to it by the Constitution. Of course, there were people still living in 1860 whose fathers and uncles had taken up arms against the British military for the very purpose of seceding from Britain. As the noted economist Dr. Walter Williams says, “The framers had a deathly fear of federal government abuse. They saw State sovereignty as a protection. That’s why they gave us the 9th and 10th Amendments. They saw secession as the ultimate protection against Washington tyranny.”

Consider the hypocrisy of United States policy at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Our nation’s official position was that, yes, the small republics being held against their will as a part of the Soviet Union had the right to be free and that it was wrong of the Soviet Union to use force to prevent their secession.

So let’s look at the subject of secession again and think of the ways that secession could solve many problems associated with the people in states belonging to a gigantic, imperial world power.

Why Size Matters to a Republic

Donald Livingston, Professor Emeritus, Emory University, has studied the question of why the size of human organizations is important: “A jury of 12 is well suited in size to determine the facts of a case. But a jury of 120 would be dysfunctional… The same holds for the functioning of other social entities such as committees, lawmaking assemblies, and bureaucracies and the ratio of population to representation (e. g. one representative for every million persons is not representation at all). None of these can function well if they are too large or out of scale.” Dr. Livingston says that the Greek civilization was different from the large centralized empires of the time like the Persian, Roman, Babylonian, and Egyptian. “It was composed of some 1,500 small republics.” He says that the achievements of the Greek culture in architecture, science, mathematics, literature, medicine, and the arts show “conclusively that large centralized states comprising millions are not necessary for the cultivation of human excellence.”

These passages are from a book of essays edited and published by Dr. Livingston entitled “Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century.” I heartily recommend this book. In addition to Livingston’s introduction and another essay, the book includes essays by six other scholars on topics related to secession.