Hoppean.org

In modern day America, precious little remains of a once strong decentralist tradition. Despite owing its existence to an act of secession, mere intermittent rumblings about secession in states like Texas, California, and Alaska over the years have elicited little more than scorn and ridicule as a response. When Conservatism Inc. types and leftists don't respond with laughter, they simply call Texans and Alaskans crazy for even mentioning secession. But could secession be half as crazy as the idea that the United States could continue in its current, highly centralized form with 330 million people—many of whom share little in common with each other—under mass democracy? In an interesting development, more people are beginning to reach this conclusion from very different places. George Mason University law professor, F.H. Buckley, is just one such establishment conservative considering this seriously. Buckley's book, American Secession: The Looming Threat of a National Breakup, prompted Steve Sailer to write an article considering the possibility in Taki's Magazine early this year. [1] While Sailer's article criticizes Buckley's specific proposal of secession along party lines, the purpose of this article is neither to advocate for Buckley's proposal nor defend it against Sailer's critique. With that said, it's significant that this idea is even being raised. It is also not my purpose to predict the likelihood of any specific secession movement arising, although it is not too far-fetched to suppose, as Buckley does, that Trump's relection combined with Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death or retirement could lead to increased calls for secession in a state like California. Lest we forget the bitter fight over Justice Kavanaugh's nomination?

The significance of this should not be underestimated. Most secessionist movements have hitherto been limited to militias, libertarians, ethno-nationalists and other right-wingers generally outside of the mainstream conservative movement; yet, left-wing Californians are increasingly willing to consider anything as an alternative to being governed by Trump. However, it is my contention that secession will eventually cease to be a choice. While the Soviet Union collapsed in large part due to the economic calculation problem under socialism [2] and the loss of legitimacy that came from the numerous revelations of unprecedented terror and mass murder, the numerous nationalities long suppressed under Communist totalitarianism could ultimately not be replaced with a new Soviet man and much of the Soviet Union split along ethnic lines. Now, the bloated, highly-centralized, multicultural states of the West face the very same issues of multiple disparate ethnic groups and inevitable bankruptcy. To understand why secession and decentralization present the only viable solution for libertarians, we must first identify the central problem with the state.

As Hans-Hermann Hoppe wrote, “every minimal government has the inherent tendency to become a maximal government. Once the principle of government—judicial monopoly and the power to tax—is incorrectly accepted as just, any notion of restraining government power and safeguarding individual liberty and property is illusory.” [3] Needless to say, ideas such as limited government or minarchism must be dismissed as fool's errands, much as longtime constitutionalist Joe Sobran eventually did. [4] However, it is instructive to inquire why it is that states inevitably tend towards expansion and centralization, we can better evaluate which approaches can help property owners protect themselves against expropriation by the state, and which approaches are hopelessly futile. Hoppe writes:

A state is a territorial monopolist of compulsion—an agency which may engage in continual, institutionalized property rights violations and the exploitation—in the form of expropriation, taxation, and regulation—of private property owners. Assuming no more than self-interest on the part of government agents, all states (governments) can be expected to make use of this monopoly and thus exhibit a tendency toward increased exploitation. On the one hand, this means increased domestic exploitation (and internal taxation). On the other hand, and this aspect in particular will be of interest in the following, it means territorial expansionism. States will always try to enlarge their exploitation and tax base. In doing so, however, they will come into conflict with other, competing states. The competition between states qua territorial monopolists of compulsion is by its very nature an eliminative competition. That is, there can be only one monopolist of exploitation and taxation in any given area; thus, the competition between different states can be expected to promote a tendency toward increased political centralization and ultimately one single world state. A glance at Western history suffices to illustrate the validity of this conclusion. At the beginning of this millenium, for instance, Europe consisted of thousands of independent political units. Now, only several dozen such units remain. [5]

Constitutions do little to counter this tendency. Despite deep roots in natural rights and skepticism of government, the current constitutional system in the U.S. has proven to be a total failure. While this alone doesn't prove that any constitutional system will fail, as Rothbard explained, the system's reliance on the state's own courts and judges makes it inconceivable that these beneficiaries of the same regime will harm their own self-interest by limiting their own benefactor:

It is true that, in the United States, at least, we have a constitution that imposes strict limits on some powers of government. But, as we have discovered in the past century, no constitution can interpret or enforce itself; it must be interpreted by men. And if the ultimate power to interpret a constitution is given to the government's own Supreme Court, then the inevitable tendency is for the Court to continue to place its imprimatur on ever-broader powers for its own government. Furthermore, the highly touted "checks and balances" and "separation of powers" in the American government are flimsy indeed, since in the final analysis all of these divisions are part of the same government and are governed by the same set of rulers. [6]

It should be clear, then, that the fundamental problems with the United States Constitution were not in the text of the document, but in the constitutional system itself. Thus, even if a “better” constitution were written without any of the specific clauses that resulted in the greatest expansions of state power and most infamous Supreme Court decisions, [7] the courts would find other clauses to exploit, or simply disregard the constitution altogether, as Abraham Lincoln did. [8] Indeed, Thomas Jefferson observed the three branches of the federal government were already cooperating to expand rather than check each other's power as early as 1825. “It is but too evident, that the three ruling branches of [the Federal Government] are in combination to strip their colleagues, the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them, and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic.” [9]

The state's inherently expansionist tendencies and the assumption of self-interest also emphatically rule out the democratic solution of electing libertarians to repeal legislation. This idea is particularly insidious for not only does the democratic state rely on the same expropriation for its existence as any other state, but the democratic system raises the social degree of time-preference and thus, encourages increased expropriation at an accelerated rate. [10] As with the inevitable failure of constitutions, this conclusion can be supported by both theoretical insight and the empirical facts of the democratic twentieth century, which saw unprecedented growth in the size and scope of governments everywhere. More specifically, we can point to the elections of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980 and Republican majorities in 1994 and 2010, all on significantly laissez-faire/libertarian platforms and rhetoric didn't so much as put a speed bump in the way of the state's continued expansion. Finally, as Jeff Deist concluced, “libertarianism will never be a mass —which is to say majority — political movement.” Therefore, we “make a fatal mistake when we dilute our message to seek approval from people who seemingly are hardwired to oppose us. And we waste precious time and energy. What’s important is not convincing those who fundamentally disagree with us, but the degree to which we can extract ourselves from their political control.” [11]

We have seen clearly why elections and constitutions must fail, but why should secession be any more successful? To be sure, there are also significant obstacles in the way of secession, but the problem of convincing a majority is not among them. [12] In contrast to democracy, secession is anti-majoritarian in that it necessarily involves a smaller number breaking away from a larger one. This means that secession rejects the idea that rights come from the state and should be subject to a vote. Furthermore, unlike the reliance on the integrity of the state's courts and judges, secession is a deliberate act on the part of the secessionists against the state that rules over them. Whereas the state naturally tends towards expansion and thus, leads us away from our libertarian goal, the act of secession is precisely the opposite and begins the path towards the ultimate libertarian end of private law and natural order. In other words, as Rothbard explained, once the principle of secession is granted, the logical conclusion is our end of independent neighborhoods, communities and eventually, individual households:

But more profoundly, would a laissez-fairist recognize the right of a region of a country to secede from that country? Is it legitimate for West Ruitania to secede from Ruritania? If not, why not? And if so, then how can there be a logical stopping-point to the secession? May not a small district secede, and then a city, and then a borough of that city, and then a block, and then finally a particular individual? Once admit any right of secession whatever, and there is no logical stopping-point short of the right of individual secession, which logically entails anarchism, since then individuals may secede and patronize their own defense agencies, and the State has crumbled. [13]

As we shall see, secession can promote economic integration and prosperity. Ceteris paribus, centralization tends to promote economic stagnation and disintegration. This is so because as one state controls a larger area, it becomes more difficult for the citizens under its control to emigrate making it easier for a state to increase its expropriation of private property owners without all of its most productive citizens fleeing. [14] In contrast, the threat of emigration can lead to less taxation and regulation and thus more capital accumulation, investment, technological advances and a higher standard of living. Granted, whether this is the case in a particular instance depends on whether the expansionist state has more or less liberal economic policies than the reduced or eliminated state. While it may seem counterintuitive, increased prosperity can accompany increased centralization for a time. That is, in the aforementioned eliminative competition, the states that typically win are the states with more economic resources at their disposal. Those states tend to be the ones that regulate the economy relatively less than their opponents allowing resources to be allocated more efficiently, which gives the state more wealth to expropriate in the form of taxation. [15] However, this will ultimately prove to be temporary as the more economically liberal states defeat their less liberal opponents, they control larger territories making emigration much more difficult for its subjects and removing the incentives to limit exploitation and expropriation of the population.

In contrast, secession and decentralization tend to promote economic progress and integration in the long run. For one, a state in control of comparatively more natural resources is more capable of existing with autarky whereas smaller states are under more pressure to trade. [16] Moreover, the increasingly centralized international order has substituted a system of freely fluctuating paper currencies with the U.S. dollar as reserve currency for the classical gold standard. [17] Just as we can reveal the impoverishment caused by protectionism by imagining a single protectionist household, the absurdity of the current monetary order is revealed by imagining each household issued its own paper currency. It should be apparent that the result would be a primitive system of barter. While disintegration of the monetary order has not proceeded that far, as opposed to a truly international money like gold, this system of multiple currencies is a system of partial barter. Money emerged when commodities with proven marketability began being used to overcome the coincidence of wants and faciliate exchange. [18] Contrary to the basic purpose of money as a medium of exchange, multiple currencies make trade more difficult. Indeed, the very purpose of the introduction of paper money is never to faciliate exchange. Rather, its purpose is to fund the state's expansion, both abroad and at home, while also enriching the state's agents and collaborators. We need only look to American history to see this repeatedly demonstrated. The War between the States, which led to the modern centralized American state, was made possible by the Legal Tender Act of 1862, which empowered the Secretary of the Treasury to issue “greenbacks,” which were not immediately redeemable in gold, and the National Currency Acts of 1863 and 1864, which created a system of nationally chartered banks. Additionally, a 10 percent tax on state bank notes was imposed to secure a federal monopoly. [19] Similarly, FDR officially took America off the gold standard before establishing the modern welfare state and maneuvering the U.S. into the same Second World War that established the current international order. [20] Furthermore, because the dollar risks depreciation against the other currencies, a world banking cartel was established in the form of supranational organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund not only increasing centralization at the expense of national sovereignty, but allowing for coordinated inflation. [21] Thus, secession and decentralization would eventually require the restoration of sound money in the form of a universally accepted commodity like gold—which doesn't bear the stamp of any specific government, but was instead established through centuries of free exchange—and the abandonment of the current system, which hinders, rather than faciliates exchange. [22]

While secession was universally acknowledged as a right in the United States until the 1860s, Ludwig von Mises also wrote in favor of secession. Whenever people find themselves part of a political union they do not wish to belong to, Mises argued, the right of secession must be respected in order to ensure peace:

If a democratic republic finds that its existing boundaries, as shaped by the course of history before the transition to liberalism, no longer correspond to the political wishes of the people, they must be peacefully changed to conform to the results of a plebiscite expressing the people's will. It must always be possible to shift the boundaries of the state if the will of the inhabitants of an area to attach themselves to a state other than the one to which they presently belong has made itself clearly known. … The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars. . . . . However, the right of self-determination of which we speak is not the right of self-determination of nations, but rather the right of self-determination of the inhabitants of every territory large enough to form an independent administrative unit. If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done. This is impracticable only because of compelling technical considerations, which make it necessary that a region be governed as a single administrative unit and that the right of self-determination be restricted to the will of the majority of the inhabitants of areas large enough to count as territorial units in the administration of the country. [23]

In the present day, this doesn't happen as frequently through the old form of imperial expansion and conquest. Rather, the state now uses immigration policy to expand its reach and power. Worse still, under democracy, perverse incentives prevent democratic leaders from discriminating in favor of quality and instead, tend to discriminate in favor of more welfare dependents. [24] Because the American voters were not enabling the state to expand rapidly enough, the state's policy makers have taken the Brechtian approach of replacing Americans with people more to their liking. Peter Brimelow explains:

In 1953, there were riots in East Berlin against the Soviet-imposed Communist regime. These riots were extremely embarrassing to the East German Communists. They claimed their dictatorship was justified in the name of the working class. Now that same working class was taking to the barricades, in classic revolutionary style, to oppose them. According to left-wing playwright Bertolt Brecht, then recently returned to Berlin, the secretary of the Authors Union actually had leaflets distributed that said the people had forfeited the government's confidence and could win it back only by working harder. This struck even Brecht as a little much. Hence the bitterness of his famous joke in the poem cited at the head of this chapter — why didn't the government just dissolve the people and elect another one? For good or ill, the U.S. political elite seems to be taking Brecht's suggestion seriously. As we have seen, the United States is now in the grip of an ethnic revolution. That grip is strengthening inexorably because of immigration. That immigration was caused by the 1965 Immigration Act. And that 1965 Immigration Act was the creation of politicians — some of whom are still in office. Just as Brecht suggested, the American nation as it had evolved by 1965 is being dissolved by public policy — by the U.S. Government. [25]

Prior to the Hart-Cellar immigration act taking effect in 1967, nearly 89 percent of the immigrants since 1820 had been of European descent [26] providing ethnic reinforcement for an America that was still almost 89 percent white in 1960—down slightly from just under 90 percent twenty years earlier. [27] By 1990, that number had fallen to less than 76 percent with some 85 percent of the 16.7 legal immigrants coming from the Third World(47 percent from Latin America and the Caribbean; 34 percent from Asia) in the twenty-five years between 1968 and 1993. [28] Due to the seemingly inexorable replacement of the American population through immigration policy, non-Hispanic whites accounted for just 60.5 percent of the population in 2018 and were expected to fall below 50 percent of the population by 2045—a mere 80 years after the Hart-Cellar act was passed. [29] Such rapid change is unprecedented and more and more Americans will find themselves part of a multicultural, multiracial political union they did not choose to be a part of. Thus, in order to avoid conflict and allow self-determination, these Americans must be allowed to opt out of of a government intent on replacing them and saddling them with ever-higher tax burdens.

Ultimately denial of secession and the present mass immigration are both examples of the same problem—forced integration. [30] And as with other forms of forced integration, the result is conflict. Therefore, in addition to checking the inherent tendency towards conflicts abroad, secession also promotes domestic peace through the freedom of association between private property owners. While forced integration between members of the same racial, ethnic, linguistic or religious group would still be a source of conflict, as Mises noted, ethnically homogeneous nations were the result when self-determination was allowed. [31] Rothbard's observations were similar:

Every nation has enjoyed a homogeneous, and therefore successfully harmonious, cultural and ethno-national base. This does not mean, of course, that every single resident of say, Sweden, must be ethnically and culturally Swedish. But it does mean that beyond a certain tipping point, an infusion of heterogeneous elements into the Swedish mix will begin to tear the nation asunder. Beyond a small quantity, national heterogeneity simply does not work, the "nation" disintegrates into more than one nation, and the need for separation becomes acute. [32]

Indeed, the history of diverse, multicultural societies offers little reassurance. [33] In fact, Yugoslavia had been hailed as a model multi-ethnic society before its dramatic dissolution along ethnic lines a mere 73 years after its creation. [34] Given the fact that diversity decreases trust and social cohesion, [35] the current practice of Western states promoting diversity through mass immigration and forced integration must be considered especially alarming. Moreover, as Hoppe explains, this forced integration on a mass scale has had the effect of diluting distinct cultures and promoting cultural relativism:

Forced integration, as also illustrated by measures such as busing, rent controls, affirmative action, antidiscrimination laws and, as will be explained shortly, “free immigration,” invariably creates tension, hatred, and conflict. In contrast, voluntary separation leads to social harmony and peace. Under forced integration any mistake can be blamed on a “foreign” group or culture and all success claimed as one’s own; hence there is little reason for any culture to learn from another. Under a regime of “separate but equal,” one must face up to the reality not only of cultural diversity but in particular of visibly different ranks of cultural advancement. If a secessionist people wishes to improve or maintain its position vis-á-vis a competing one, nothing but discriminative learning will help. It must imitate, assimilate, and, if possible, improve upon the skills, traits, practices, and rules characteristic of more advanced societies, and it must avoid those characteristic of less advanced societies. Rather than promoting a downward leveling of cultures as under forced integration, secession stimulates a cooperative process of cultural selection and advancement. [36]

Similarly, Lew Rockwell pointed out that the “the very cultures that the incoming migrants are said to enrich us with could not have developed had they been constantly bombarded with waves of immigration by peoples of radically different cultures. So the multicultural argument doesn't even make sense.” [37] The demographic trends look even more ominous when we consider that race relations between blacks and whites have yet to be solved. [38] As of this writing, riots and looting have occurred in hundreds of locations across the United States all because of the demonstrably false narrative of police “racism.” [39] Of course, this original biracial mix in America was not the result of freedom of association, and with constant inflammatory reminders of this fact, there would appear to be little hope of race relations improving. As Brimelow predicted, its only a matter of time before these differences result in secession:

Even when the American population was more homogeneous, Americans had difficulty understanding one another. "Sectionalism" has always been a factor in politics, with for example the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard disagreeing about isolationism in the 1930s. But it's going to get harder. The experience of an Anglo-Cuban society like Greater Miami is going to have little in common with an Anglo-black society like Atlanta or even with an Anglo-Mexican society like San Antonio. These will be communities as different from one another as any in the civilized world. They will verge on being separate nations. And the existence of these different communities will raise the classic problem of federalism: why should any one of them submit in a larger political unit to the majority when it shares nothing with that majority? Particularly if the community is being visibly taxed for others' benefit. All large political units will have difficulty containing these contradictions. This will begin locally (Staten Island trying to leave New York City), proceed to the state level (the northern counties trying to leave California) . . . and eventually could appear nationally (the Pacific Northwest going off with an independent British Columbia and Alberta?). [40]

Why indeed. It's foolish to expect the situation to be resolved through Democratic means for the reasons we mentioned earlier. Immigration restrictionists have won major electoral victories such as the 2014 defeat of House Majority leader Eric Cantor and the 2016 Presidential election of Donald Trump only to see mass immigration continue unabated. And patriotic immigration reform will only become more difficult over time as demographics continue to change. However, if immigration were made a state issue again as it was until 1875, [41] it is plausible to believe the situation would improve. In the first place, the state governments would be somewhat more responsive to people who actually have to associate with the immigrants. Moreover, if the immigration policy of a particular state were particularly unsatisfactory, this state would risk the emigration of more productive citizens to other states. As with earlier examples, history also seems to support this conclusion. As Brimelow noted:

even European immigration was carefully monitored, for example to screen out potential paupers and threats to public health. Arguably, this scrutiny was actually stricter when immigration policy was the responsibility of the individual states, as it was until 1875. [42]

However, the problems extend far beyond racial and ethnic differences. Lest we forget the many Democrats reacting to news of Trump's election with public displays reminiscent of North Koreans at Kim Jong Il's funeral. On the other hand, ask Republicans if they'd like to risk being governed by Hillary Clinton. As Jeff Deist explained, there's a much better solution for both parties:

One of the great ironies of our time is that both the political Left and Right complain bitterly about the other, but steadfastly refuse to consider, once again, the obvious solution staring us in the face. Now one might think progressives would champion the Tenth Amendment and states’ rights, because it would liberate them from the Neanderthal right wingers who stand in the way of their progressive utopia. Imagine California or Massachusetts having every progressive policy firmly in place, without any preemptive federal legislation or federal courts to get in their way, and without having to share federal tax revenues with the hated red states. Imagine an experiment where residents of the San Francisco bay area were free to live under a political and social regime of their liking, while residents of Salt Lake City were free to do the same. Surely both communities would be much happier with this commonsense arrangement than the current one, whereby both have to defer to Washington! But in fact progressives strongly oppose federalism and states’ rights, much less secession! The reason, of course, is that progressives believe they’re winning and they don’t intend for a minute to let anyone walk away from what they have planned for us. [43]

However, as Deist has noted more recently, the election of Trump was a rude awakening for progressives who found out that there were a lot more “deplorables” than they had previously counted on. [44] In light of this development, progressives would be well-advised to consider whether exercising some control over right-wingers is so important to them that they'd rather be governed by Trump than have the opportunity to enact their entire progressive programs.

Of course, all of this begs the question: how can a contemporary secession movement succeed in avoiding the fate of the Confederacy and a repeat of the War for Southern Independence? Indeed, any secession movement would almost certainly be badly overmatched against the United States military. Furthermore, geography presents another obstacle. Finally, there's the question of publicly owned resources and how to avoid the so-called privatization that occurred in the former Soviet Union.

First, any secession movement must make its peaceful intentions clear. The federal government will launch an all out propaganda campaign aided and abetted by the entire media establishment as in the case of Waco, but there are serious doubts public opinion would abide such force again on an even larger scale domestically if it were understood that the issue was simply about peaceful separation and self-determination. This is why it is imperative for secessionists to communicate well and make a common sense appeal such as the one made by Jeff Deist above. While secession has led to war in our country's history and Lincoln is unfortunately celebrated for his tyranny and atrocities, modern technology assures that similar atrocities would be recorded and broadcast for all of the world to see. This is no minor point: seeing the Vietnam war on television helped turn public opinion against it. And public opinion will ultimately decide whether or not secessionist movements succeed. With every ruling class greatly outnumbered by the people over whom they rule, in the final analysis, their power depends on tacit support or at least acceptance by the population. Consequently, a seccessionist movement can critically wound a ruling class by delegitimizing them.

However, if the secession movement were similar in size and economic importance to the Conferacy, it would be much easier for the federal government to justify aggression, particularly with years of indoctrination courtesy of the Lincoln cult. Hoppe's analysis points to several crucial lessons we can learn from this failure:

While it is important in this regard that the memory of the secessionist past of the U.S. be kept alive, it is even more important for the success of a liberal-libertarian revolution to avoid the mistakes of the second failed attempt at secession. Fortunately, the issue of slavery, which complicated and obscured the situation in 1861, has been resolved. However, another important lesson must be learned by comparing the failed second American experiment with secession to the successful first one. The first American secession was facilitated significantly by the fact that at the center of power in Britain, public opinion concerning the secessionists was hardly unified. In fact, many prominent British figures such as Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, for instance, openly sympathized with the secessionists. Apart from purely ideological reasons, which rarely affect more than a handful of philosophical minds, this lack of a unified opposition to the American secessionists in British public opinion can be attributed to two complementary factors. On the one hand, a multitude of regional and cultural-religious affiliations as well as of personal and family ties between Britain and the American colonists existed. On the other hand, the American events were considered far from home and the potential loss of the colonies as economically insignificant. In both regards, the situation in 1861 was distinctly different. To be sure, at the center of political power, which had shifted to the northern states of the U.S. by then, opposition to the secessionist Southern Confederacy was not unified, and the Confederate cause also had supporters in the North. However, fewer cultural bonds and kinship ties existed between the American North and South than had existed between Britain and the American colonists, and the secession of the Southern Confederacy involved about half the territory and a third of the entire population of the U.S. and thus struck Northerners as close to home and as a significant economic loss. Therefore, it was comparatively easier for the northern power elite to mold a unified front of "progressive" Yankee culture versus a culturally backward and "reactionary" Dixieland. [45]

Thus, Hoppe concludes that rather than multiple states or even a single state, a successful strategy will require many much smaller secession movements simultaneously across the country:

In light of these considerations, then, it appears strategically advisable not to attempt again what in 1861 failed so painfully: for contiguous states or even the entire South trying to break away from the tyranny of Washington, D.C. Rather, a modern liberal-libertarian strategy of secession should take its cues from the European Middle Ages when, from about the twelfth until well into the seventeenth century (with the emergence of the modern central state), Europe was characterized by the existence of hundreds of free and independent cities, interspersed into a predominantly feudal social structure. By choosing this model and striving to create a U.S. punctuated by a large and increasing number of territorially disconnected free cities—a multitude of Hong Kongs, Singapores, Monacos, and Liechtensteins strewn out over the entire continent—two otherwise unattainable but central objectives can be accomplished. First, besides recognizing the fact that the liberal-libertarian potential is distributed highly unevenly across the country, such a strategy of piecemeal withdrawal renders secession less threatening politically, socially, and economically. Second, by pursuing this strategy simultaneously at a great number of locations all over the country, it becomes exceedingly difficult for the central state to create a unified opposition in public opinion to the secessionists which would secure the level of popular support and voluntary cooperation necessary for a successful crackdown. [46]

Of course, some coordinated migration will likely be necessary before secessionist movements exist in sufficient numbers, but this strategy—along with a broader strategy of decentralization—stands a good chance of succeeding in reversing the process of centralization and restoring private property rights. An integral part of this decentralization should be a restoration of the old American tradition of nullification. In fact, as a practical matter, nullification has a much greater chance of succeeding and paving the way for our ultimate end of secession. As Tom Woods explains, nullification

begins with the axiomatic point that a federal law that violates the constitution is no law at all. It is void and of no effect. Nullification simply pushes this uncontroversial point a step further: if a law is unconstitutional and therefore void and of no effect, it is up to the states, the parties to the federal compact, to declare it so and thus refuse to enforce it. It would be foolish and vain to wait for the federal government or a branch thereof to condemn its own law. Nullification provides a shielf between the people of a state and an unconstitutional law from the federal government. [47]

In order to maximize public sympathy, the significance of nullification throughout America history should be emphasized. [48] To assure skeptics of the legitimacy of this idea, it is crucial to stress that both Thomas Jefferson and James Maidson were outspoken proponents of nullification. As Woods further argues, latent sympathies among the American people could make this a propitious strategy:

To my surprise, a significant number of Americans are already sympathetic to nullification, without necessarily having heard of the idea before or weighed the arguments for and against. According to a February 2010 Rasmussen Reports poll, 59 percent of likely voters believe the states should have the right to opt out of federal government programs of which they disapprove. Just 25 percent disagree, while another 15 percent are not sure. This is not exactly the same thing as nullification, which involves the refusal to enforce unconstitutional laws, not simply laws the states do not like. But these numbers are significant all the same. [49]

In this sense, the tenth amendment of the constitution should be used to our advantage. This will not be accomplished by Supreme Court judges. Instead, the tenth amendment will rely on the people and the states. Like secession, nullification takes us closer to our libertarian end by undermining an overreaching federal government, bringing us closer to local self-government and asserting self determination. Also like secession, nullification rejects democracy and substitutes the rule of law for the rule of men.

With regard to the desocialization of public property, this cannot be done by the state auctioning it off to the highest bidder. As in this case of the former Soviet Union or the reunited Germany, [50] this sort of privatization will favor oligarchs and others connected to the state. More importantly, from the standpoint of libertarian ethics, this would be the equivalent of allowing a thief to sell stolen property and keep the proceeds. Instead, just as a thief should be required to return the property he stole to its rightful owner, property controlled by the state should be returned to the last known legitimate private owner. [51] In cases where this cannot be determined, ownership would be transfer

Regarding socialist property that is not reclaimed in this way, syndicalist ideas should be implemented; that is, the ownership of assets should immediately be transferred to those who use them — the farmland to the farmers, the factories to the workers, the streets to the street workers or the residents, the schools to the teachers, the bureaus to the bureaucrats, and so on. To break up the mostly over-sized socialist production conglomerates, the syndicalist principle should be applied to those production units in which a given individual’s work is actually performed, i.e., to individual office buildings, schools, streets or blocks of streets, factories and farms. Unlike syndicalism, yet of the utmost importance, the property shares thus acquired should be freely trade-able and a stock market established so as to allow a separation of the functions of owner-capitalists and non-owning employees, and the smooth and continuous transfer of assets from less into more value-productive hands. [52] However, this does not apply to government employees(e.g., public school teachers should receive no ownership of public schools) because their salaries are paid out of taxes. Thus, like welfare-recipients, public sector employees are really tax-consumers and should be excluded from receiving private ownership of formerly public property. Hoppe continues:

Publicly owned buildings and structures were all financed by taxes, and as far as undeveloped public land is concerned, it is the result of a public, i.e., tax-funded and enforced, policy prohibiting the private appropriation and development of nature and natural resources. Hence, it would appear that it is taxpayers, in accordance with their amount of taxes paid, who should be given title to public buildings and structures, while undeveloped public land simply should be opened up to private homesteading. . . . . As regards undeveloped public land available for private homesteading activities, every public land manager, ranger, etc., should be excluded for a similar reason from homesteading land currently occupied and formerly guarded by him against potential private developers. He may be permitted to homestead other public land that is presently occupied and formerly guarded against private development by other government agents. But to allow him to homestead land he currently occupies would give him an advantage over other potential homesteaders that would be manifestly unfair in light of the fact that it was he, paid in this by taxpayers, who had previously kept these taxpayers off and away from this land. [53]

As Rothbard cautioned, desocialization should proceed quickly and not be phased in:

It is, again, generally accepted that free markets must be arrived at quickly, and that phasing them in slowly and gradually will only delay the goal indefinitely. It is well known that the giant socialist bureaucracy will only seize upon such delay to obstruct the goal altogether. But there are further important reasons for speed. One, because the free market is an interconnected web or lattice-work; it is made of innumerable parts which intricately mesh together through a network of producers and entrepreneurs exchanging property titles, motivated by a search for profits and avoidance of losses, and calculating by means of a free price system. Holding back, freeing only a few areas at a time, will only impose continuous distortions that will cripple the workings of the market and discredit it in the eyes of an already fearful and suspicious public. But there is also another vital point: the fact that you cannot plan markets applies also to planning for phasing them in. Much as they might delude themselves otherwise, governments and their economic advisers are not in a position of wise Olympians above the economic arena, carefully planning to install the market step by measured step, deciding what to do first, what second, etc. Economists and bureaucrats are no better at planning phase-ins than they are at dictating any other aspect of the market. To achieve genuine freedom, the role of government and its advisers must be confined to setting their subjects free, as fast and as completely as it takes to unlock their shackles. After that, the proper role of government and its advisers is to get and keep out of the subjects' way. [54]

In sum, privatization should proceed along the lines Rothbard proposed: 1. Enormous and drastic reductions in taxes, government employment, and government spending. 2. Complete privatization of government assets: where possible to return them to the original expropriated owners or their heirs; failing that, granting shares to productive workers and peasants who had worked on these assets. 3. Honoring complete and secure property rights for all owners of private property. Since full property rights imply the complete freedom to make exchanges and transfer property, there must be no government interference in such exchanges. 4. Depriving the government of the power to create new money, best done by a fundamental reform that at one and the same time liquidates the central bank and uses its gold to redeem its notes and deposits at a newly defined unit of gold weight of existing currencies. [55]

Finally, it behooves us to consider a few more issues that presently receive considerable attention. In a previous article, I wrote about the centralizing effects of anti-zoning laws and the preferable alternative of local control, if not our ideal of private control. As I wrote then, it is imperative that libertarians always reject any forms of centralization, even if the measure superficially appears to increase freedom. Let us consider the USMCA, which is billed as a free trade agreement. Of course, the truth is very different. In actual fact, the agreement usurps the power delegated to Congress in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution to regulate foreign trade by creating a supranational “free trade commission.” [56] Withdrawing from supranational agreements and organizations like this is one realistic way decentralization may proceed. This should be part of an overall libertarian strategy of nationalism based on what Rothbard called the genuine nation. [57] Indeed, as Jeff Deist urged, libertarians should seize on the rising nationalism throughout the West:

Yet libertarians are busy promoting universalism and centralization even as the world moves in the other direction. Trump and Brexit rocked the globalist narrative. Nationalism is on the rise throughout Europe, forcing the EU to defend itself, secession and breakaway movements exist in Scotland, in Catalonia, in Belgium, in Andalusia, even in California. Federalism and states’ rights are suddenly popular with progressives in the US. The world desperately wants to turn its back on Washington and Brussels and the UN and the IMF and all of the globalist institutions. Average people smell a rat. We should seize on this. [58]

While secession may still be years away, libertarians can begin by attempting to influence the culture in a way that is ultimately conducive to our end. This was expounded on by Rothbard in one of final works:

it is important to begin, and particularly to change our political culture, which treats "democracy," or the "right" to vote, as the supreme political good. . . . . In the modern world, democracy or voting is only important either to join in or ratify the use of the government to control others, or to use it as a way of preventing one's self or one's group from being controlled. Voting, however, is at best, an inefficient instrument for self-defense, and it is far better to replace it by breaking up central government power altogether. [59]

The importance of culture can't be overstated. As Jeff Deist put it, “Culture leads, politics follows. There cannot be a political sea change in America unless and until there is a philosophical, educational, and cultural sea change.” [60] One way libertarians can create a culture conducive to decentralization is through strong local communities. As I previously wrote, this is one of the fundamental prerequisites for a successful decentralist strategy, but much more importantly, this allows for fulfilling lives to be led in the present, regardless of the state.

It should be clear why a successful libertarian strategy must reject politics in favor of a decentralist strategy. In pursuing this strategy, libertarians must also avoid the universalist trap Jeff Deist warned about. [61] As we have seen, one need not be a libertarian to support decentralization, and a successful movement must be cognizant of this fact and proceed accordingly. With the lessons learned from American history along with close families and communities and the principle of nullification to pave the way, we can once again begin to envision a future in which secession triumphs.


The Footnotes can be seen here.