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?
Thumbnail photo credit: bbc.com