Although the desirability of secession may be gaining ground in some people’s minds, the feasibility remains an issue of widespread concern. Just how would secession work, exactly? This is a legitimate question that deserves more attention than it has received, so I will offer a few ideas for how to make secession happen. With luck, this will spark creative discussion and produce other strategies beyond the ones I can come up with on my own.
A formal declaration of independence by any state or other American territory is unlikely in the immediate future, unless perhaps we confront a total societal breakdown, martial law, or other calamity that pulls the veil from everyone’s eyes at once. Leaving aside those scenarios for the moment, secession will have to become a de facto reality before it graduates into a de jure status of full legal sovereignty, since the federal tendrils run far too broad and deep in modern life to expect an immediate break. Recall that the revolution against Great Britain succeeded because Americans already had come to view themselves as an independent and self-sufficient people — the Declaration was merely the capstone to years of growing sentiment.
In contrast, Americans today have been taught almost since birth to regard the Union in a manner that can be described only as idolatrous; most retain this teaching and honestly believe that the federal government protects the downtrodden from the caprices of local misfits. For their part, state and local representatives tend to see themselves as mere adjutants to the federal government, often collaborating with federal agencies on local matters and kowtowing in the hopes of securing additional funding. Our decennial brush with the census is a grim reminder of this fact, as state leaders clamor to collect their share of the federal loot. A dedicated minority attempting to harvest secession from this infertile soil will come up empty-handed, so we must enrich the soil first. Fortunately, there are several ways to accomplish this.
One of the most obvious strategies is the one we’re engaged in on this very site: discourse. The more we discuss the feared “s” word openly, the less fear it will inspire. We must make sure not to limit ourselves to online discourse; rather, we must be bold enough speak of secession with family, friends, and acquaintances regardless of the scorn it might provoke.
Even if we win no converts, the mere act of discussing secession will help legitimize it and bring it into the “mainstream” field of play. Conversely, our discourse must also focus on de-legitimizingthe modern federal government and all its unconstitutional works. Educate yourselves for this sort of discussion by reading the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and any number of books advertised on this or other websites.
The independent-minded must also get involved in state and local politics, either to run for office or to elect leaders who care about serving their constituents rather than faraway elites. Governors play an important role in this regard, for they possess the dynamism of the executive branch and can make rapid decisions. With a good governor and/or legislature in place, the state can begin to resist unlawful federal programs and thereby impress upon the public mind that the federal government is a hostile and disruptive force. This requires a thoughtful strategy of challenging federal power in those particular areas where public opinion already clashes with it. By siding with the public on these “hot button” issues, the state will have increased its legitimacy at the expense of the federal government’s own and paved the way for greater independence in the future.
A stark example of this is unfolding before our eyes in Arizona, where Governor Jan Brewer is honoring her constituents’ wish to stem the invasion from Mexico. For a long time the federal government has compelled Arizona and other states not only to tolerate this invasion, but tosubsidize it, a sickening policy that Arizonans overwhelmingly want to abolish. If the federal government steps in and quashes the people’s will on an issue of this emotional magnitude, it will have gone a long way toward losing the people’s respect and obedience.
The same calculus applies to gun rights in Montana and the drug war in California, both instances where the state government has chosen to pursue a course that deviates from unpopular federal policy. At a critical point, the state may gather enough spine to “interpose” its judgment and formally refuse to observe a federal law. Another term for this is “nullification,” which is a smaller version of secession (i.e., the refusal to observe all federal authority).
If a state indeed nullifies an unpopular federal law, it will have crossed the Rubicon and dared the federal government to enforce its will against that of the people. If the federal government does so, it will lose legitimacy and alienate the people even further; if it does not, it will lose face and encourage people to seek even more of the self-governance being denied them.
Apart from outright resistance, state governments should wean themselves from federal funds as soon as possible. Recent holdings by the Supreme Court prohibit the federal government from “commandeering” state officials into carrying out federal programs, which leaves bribery as the favored option. The Supreme Court has blessed this sordid manner of spending, which the federal government avidly uses to entice state governments into promoting a legion of unconstitutional programs.
By now many states display an addiction worthy of a drug addict, and no true measure of independence can ever be achieved until they kick it. This will be challenging, though, because every recipient of federal plunder will run to the nearest newspaper or television camera to squeal whenever the spigot runs dry — schools, hospitals, police departments, military bases, and disaster relief all generate sympathy as well as jobs, so people will have to ask themselves whether they prefer self-ownership or thirty pieces of silver.
An even subtler approach is for the states to begin duplicating activities that the federal government considers its own, most notably in the realm of foreign relations. According to modern dogma, the President is the sole representative of the United States on the world stage, a title he milks to enter “executive agreements” that lack the necessary advice and consent of the Senate but still carry the force of law. If he is going to conduct affairs in a manner not provided for by the Constitution, then governors should do so as well.
By entering treaties and maintaining relationships directly with foreign nations, a governor will help diminish the President’s legitimacy and increase his own state’s standing as an independent power on the world stage. If push comes to shove, a foreign nation might even do that state a favor by extending diplomatic recognition. After all, this is how the United States bestowed legitimacy on the province of Kosovo in its fight to secede from Serbia, so the same dynamic might one day work in reverse to our advantage.
With time, a state employing a combination of such tactics will mature and grow sufficiently independent to make a clean break from the Titanic on the Potomac. Note that these are only a few ideas for making secession a reality. Surely there are others, and everyone who cares about recapturing American liberty should devote some energy to exploring them. If it turns out that secession is just around the corner and does not require any elaborate preparation, I will be happy to be proven wrong.