Catalonia & Secession

As the Catalan pursuit of independence crisis heats up and edges ever closer toward significant violence in that pursuit, it seems a prime time to share some thoughts on secession.

To premise, I have a strong patriotic streak for both my countries–the United States and Peru. And so that may premise (and hopefully alleviate opposition to) what many people might find radical. Not that I care primarily about alleviating strong opposition; I expect to come across plenty of it in this and other posts.

But nevertheless, here are five key points I want to point out in the discussion of Catalan secession/independence. As usual, I am not here on a soap box, but rather hope to provoke thought.

First, the notion that we are one nation, rather than a collection of nations, wasn’t the original vision of the United States held by the Founders (with perhaps a few exceptions), and yet I don’t think anyone would accuse them of lack of patriotism. It’s just that their patriotism lie first with their country (state) (or perhaps even moreso with their local communities) and then with the federal union of their states, and last of all with Great Britain, even though nearly 1/3rd of all Americans were still quite patriotic to Great Britain and opposed secession. (That means fewer Americans were for secession from GB, and yet even more–apparently–prepared to fight, die and kill to gain it, than those in Catalonia.)

Second, true and historical conservatism emphasizes the natural, organic and (traditionally, as it were) Biblical concepts of loyalty and relationship. Whereas political boundaries are fundamentally arbitrary (from a human standpoint), as the case in Spain points out (the Catalans don’t even speak Spanish as their primary language), the true and valuable relationship and groups and bonds have nothing to do with political boundaries. The Father of Conservatism and English politician, Edmund Burke (who I discuss here), supported the American Revolution because he believed they were fighting to preserve their political, legal and economic traditions of localism and self-government. If California seceded, my relationship with people in California (where most of my extended family lives) remains unchanged (it may take a few more steps to visit them, but then, should we have a one-world government so I can more easily visit my family members who live all over the world?) For myself, per Philippians 4, I am a citizen of heaven, loyal first to the Lord (at least, that is my striving), then my family, my local church, my associations (ie, the school where I teach), and the global church. Only after those come my town, state, and country. That’s a large part of what it meant originally to be conservative. True, meaningful and genuine relationship does not change based on where we draw a political boundary.

Third, large centralized states are the antithesis to liberty. Take the one-world government example. The more distant the seat of power and the larger the jurisdiction, the less important an impact the local regions and the people in them hold. Hitler hated states rights, and writes openly so in Mein Kampf, because he understood that he could not achieve his agenda if he did not have absolute and total control. Germany had been a federation of sovereign nations until unification in 1870-1, but even then the German states still had numerous elements of sovereignty that Hitler sought to dissolve entirely. Consider the contrast between the words of British Politician Lord Acton and German Nazi Leader Adolph Hitler.

“I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will…. ” – Lord Acton

Nearly 60 years later, Hitler would write:

“[The Nazis] would totally eliminate states’ rights altogether: Since for us the state as such is only a form, but the essential is its content, the nation, the people, it is clear that everything else must be subordinated to its sovereign interests.” – Adolph Hitler

In addition to the last point, smaller political jurisdictions are more prone to facilitate liberty for the same reason Hitler hated them. Don’t like the system here? Move over there. That’s obviously easier said than done (though the smaller the units, the easier it is), but it’s certainly easier than escaping the oppression of a distant government, such as the Tibetans in China.

Fourth, there is no need for a change in political boundaries to have a long-term negative effect on economics, so long as people can trade freely across political lines. You see this clearly in the European Union, the Pacific Free Trade Zone, et cetera. If Catalonia secedes, for example, there would be no natural reason (though there could be artificial ones) that they couldn’t continue to trade with Spain and the rest of Europe, in or out of the EU. The same goes, in theory, for Great Britain with regard to Brexit, though the EU may impose various tariffs as a way to “punish” them. There will be temporary economic decisions to be made that might unsettle the waters for a bit, but is that enough justification to force a people–against their will–to remain within a certain political boundary? The same argument could be made of the American Revolutionaries, who openly declared they would go to war for what the Catalan people have so far tried to achieve through peaceful referendum (the violence there a tragic result, but not intent, yet). If California seceded and no artificial barriers were imposed, resources would flow across the border just as before and we would still get much of our produce from California, just like we do from Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, et cetera.

Fifth, where do we place the burden of proof? One social media comment raised an interesting point: our perspective tends to change when we consider our own country.  This person made the point that it’s easy to sympathize with the Catalan people, but reject any such notions shared by our neighbors. “I favor Catalan independence, but heaven forbid Texan independence.” But how do we justify he discrepancy? If the U.N. suddenly becomes more powerful and declares all countries involved to be the U.N. Nation, for example, does the burden of proof suddenly fall on the U.S. to demonstrate overwhelmingly why it has a right to secede? Do you assume that the central government always has a right to maintain the peoples within its borders unless they can either fight for or 100% prove “why” they should be independent? Is there any objective measure that can be used to say, “this group has the right to secede and this group doesn’t”? Where do you draw the line? On economic grounds? On grounds of patriotism? At what point does the larger political unit no longer get to subordinate the smaller to its control? Can we both favor Kurdish secession because of the oppression they have experienced under the Iraqi Arabs and at the same time oppose Catalan secession, or Californian secession, because we don’t think they have a good enough reason? Or is any form of disallowing political secession a form of oppression?

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Alcohol, Drugs, Guns, Violence and… the Real Issue?

Alcoholism is blamed for violence.

Ban alcohol. They tried that.

Drugs are blamed for violence.

Ban drugs. They tried that.

Guns are blamed for violence.

Ban guns. They’re trying that.

As for that last point, yes, I am a firm supporter of the 2nd Amendment in its originalist intent: that weapons are one of the best defense against tyranny. Over 100 million people were murdered by their own governments in the 20th century. How many of those governments might have been far more hesitant to take such action had their populations been armed?

But no, this is not a post to go over why an armed population is so important. This is also not a post to discuss the well-argued case that banning guns is an ineffective way to reduce violence. Cars and knives have been perfectly effective weapons in Europe.

This post calls attention to what is often forgotten, ignored or otherwise not generally considered. And like all those calls for action I started with, I, too, have a call for action. A much different one. One that gets to the heart of the issue.

Journalist Johann Hari spent years studying the global war on drugs in countries all over the world. In an interview he did with Tom Woods, he noted a significant conclusion of his research. It was one of those conclusions that is both so obvious and so apparent that you wonder why it strikes you with such profundity.

The real issue with violence or malicious behavior of the sort that causes events like the tragic Las Vegas shooting is not alcohol, drugs or guns.

Studies have revealed that about 10% of alcohol users use to abuse and the violence that tends to come with that. (According to a study done by Professor David Nutt and published in British The Lancet, alcohol was rated as the most harmful drug.) Interestingly, the statistic for drug abuse is about the same: 10%. So what makes about 90% of users to use these drugs in a way that we don’t typically consider “abuse” and the other 10% to do so?

Now, before I go on, I am also not using this post to push my opinion on drug laws. These are but a few of many destructive things in this world, and what we choose to try and legislate against or not is not my purpose here.

So what is the most common factor causing about 10% of users to use into abuse and violence?

As study after study has shown (and logic should lead us to even without statistical analysis), the answer is: a lack of meaningful relationships. Isolation. A lack of love and care by and for those around them. Or trauma without loving support to help them through.

The issue isn’t the thing that is abused. The issue is broken relationships.*

Logic follows that line of reasoning to anything else with which people can cause harm, such as guns or other weapons.

So this is a call to action. Want to really concentrate your efforts in a meaningful way? Love, care for and cherish those who are vulnerable. Those who are isolated. Those who are hurting and broken. Those without friends. Those who face prejudice. Be a friend to those nobody else will. A mentor to those who are shunned. Those who have no meaningful relationships in their lives.

Don’t tell me you really care while you spend your time calling your representative, lobbying them to sign anti-gun regulation, or to pour more money into drug-bust squads, until you start addressing the real issue that causes the violence. No larger police force, more prison cells, more stringent gun regulations or prohibition campaigns will solve the issue. As a friend recently posted, “People, not programs, change people.”

To the Church and fellow Christians: there is no excuse for acting in any fashion other than Christ did to the individual who fits the descriptions above. Be the Samaritan who was willing to credit all expenses of the dying man on the side of the road to his own account. Only Christ can change people’s hearts, but His love through you can often change their minds and through that access their hearts.

Remember when I said this wouldn’t be a soap-box blog? Well, I did say “usually.”

Recognize the real issue. Legislation and police action may be able to change the source and tool of abuse and violence, but it cannot bring meaningful change to the real issue. That is up to individuals — you and I — loving and caring for and treating with dignity … other individuals.

*And because there is always that person who makes entirely illogical conclusions and delights in flimsy assumptions, no, I don’t think this absolves anyone of the responsibility of their actions. Each individual is entirely responsible for their actions and should be held accountable as necessary. But as “love covers a multitude of sins,” so love can act against the inclinations of abuse and violence far better than any law prohibiting it.

Also, I’m not delusional with expectations that if we just “love” enough, all our problems will go away. Attacks that claim I am that naive will likely come. I’m just saying that we understand the real problem, then we can better concentrate on what really matters. 

For those who raise the argument that much violence is committed by those who more committed to ideology than suffering isolation (for example, those inclined to violence in the KKK, Neo-Nazi groups, Antifa, Neo-Communists, the radical ideologies of Islam, et cetera), I will cede that it is probably true for some. Still, even for many driven by ideology, many often arrive at those conclusions because of the comradery and sense of “belonging” they find–even if superficially–within those groups that they felt lacking prior. This is often true for gang members, as well.

I’ve discussed individual responsibility here

I’ve discussed the fallacy and foolishness of collectivist thinking here.

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A Logical System of Justice?

My 10th grade class, which studies the historical narrative from circa 1600 to 1865 with a focus on Western Civilization (Europe and the Americas), has been spending some time studying the history of Anglo-British law as it developed through the Middle Ages and up through the Glorious Revolution, forming much of what was called English Common Law. I’ve already discussed some of this history briefly in an earlier post.

And in the course of our learning, I teach them that the U.S. judicial system of not based on a system of reparation. (And to note, it was not entirely so in Great Britain, either, as time went on. British royalty increasingly was quite prone to assume that they were the source of law, and the highest levels of the English judicial system were originally appointed by the king and carried his mandate. And when many of the colonists rebelled in 1765-1783, many were doing so on the basis that the English authorities were abandoning their traditional principles. And if you subscribe to my email, my upcoming email begins with an example of a jury trial condemning an English Catholic to death for refusing to admit that the king was the head of the church.)

Understandably, they are surprised. Nobody has presented law in this way before, and it seems so straight-forward to them.

I’ve been teaching them about the difference between negativism and positivism. Negativism (from which are derived negative rights, as I discuss in this post) is the idea that law comes before and outside of government. The opposite is positivism, which says law comes from government … if it is legislated to be wrong (or right), then it is wrong (or right). Negativism says it is wrong to steal, regardless of what the government says. Positivism says it is wrong to steal because the government says it is wrong.

The implication? In the development of English law through the Middle Ages onward, most law, accordingly, was developed through litigation (the legal process) instead of legislation (the law-making process) as negativism was the presumption. If someone was robbed, they could be provided compensation even without a law saying that stealing was wrong. And the guilty party was forced to pay reparations.

And this is where my students can see something obvious. If negativism is the presumption, then the person wronged has to be compensated. If I steal my neighbor’s truck, then I owe him…a truck. That’s called reparation. If I sell that truck and then don’t have money for a new one, then I make reparation by working until my wages have fully compensated my neighbor.

Seems like a logical approach to justice, right? Even the judicial system of the Mosaic Law given to the Hebrews as they left Egypt was built almost entirely on reparations. The person harmed was to be repaid by the guilty party.

That’s not what we have in the United States.

In the United States legal code, the government is essentially always the party that is wronged. It is the government that receives “reparation”.

If I am guilty of extortion, the U.S. system of justice requires that I pay the government a fine and spend time in prison, based on its own assessment of the crime, rather than the extent of the harm. And that money doesn’t go to my neighbor. It goes to the government. The law doesn’t require reparation to the party harmed (who will usually only get compensated if they had the right insurance), as assumed by negativism. Rather, it  treats the government like the harmed party, based on an assumption of positivism.

And yes, there are exceptions. People can file suit for reparation of damages. Unfortunately, this is inaccessible for most people given how high legal and lawyer fees are. But why are fees so high? Because the convoluted system of laws that requires an army of lawyers and their aids to navigate through.

The U.S. legal system as it is today is based on positivism. The laws are not based on negativism, based on natural rights outside of government. If the government wants to take one person’s property and give it to another because thinks the second person would make “better” use of it, then they can. The Supreme Court said so in Kelo v. City of New London (2005).

The main question I want to be drawn from this is: where do laws come from? Do you believe in negativism, which assumes a standard of right and wrong outside of government? Or do you believe in positivism, which says the government is the standard of right and wrong? And what are the implications for the system of justice?

Something to think about.