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Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The Case of Colonialism: Secession for Thee, But Not for Me | The Libertarian Institute

Posted by M. C. on June 12, 2021

Although Western regimes like the United States like to talk a lot about self-determination for others outside the U.S. itself, the regime and its supporters steadfastly deny that the nation contains any minority groups—ideological, religious, or otherwise—that ought to be granted autonomy in the fashion of colonized populations in Africa or Asia. Even when the Left emphasizes the existence of “oppressed minorities” the answer always lies in a larger, more active regime, and in promises of more “democracy.”

https://libertarianinstitute.org/articles/the-case-of-colonialism-secession-for-thee-but-not-for-me/

by Ryan McMaken

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The twentieth century was a century of secession. Since the end of the Second World War, the number of independent states in the world has nearly tripled as new states, through acts of secession, came into existence. This was driven largely by the wave of decolonization that occurred following the Second World War.1

From the late 1940s through the 1970s, across Africa and Asia—and even in Europe, as in the case of Malta—dozens of colonial territories declared independence through referenda and other strategies.

Throughout these processes of decolonization, much of the international community—including the United States—was supportive. Following the Second World War, the United States explicitly supported decolonization efforts, and was often quick to recognize the new countries’ sovereignty and establish diplomatic relations.

The U.S. frequently supported these acts of secession because, it was said, it was morally imperative so as to respect the rights of “self-determination” denied to the world’s colonized territories. Moreover, many of the world’s sovereign states supported this global spree of secessionist movements, from the US, to the Soviet Union and China, and within many international organizations like the United Nations.

Yet, when secession is suggested in other contexts, today’s regimes are far less enthusiastic and generally condemn the very idea of secession.

For example, the Spanish regime today opposes independence for Catalonia and for the Basque Country. The Russians fought a long and bloody war to prevent independence for Chechnya. The U.S. regime would clearly take a very dim view of any member state or region that attempted to declare independence.

Doesn’t this illustrate a glaring inconsistency in thinking? If self-determination is desirable for African or Asian colonies, why is secession verboten in other situations?

The answer is it’s easy to support secession in far-off territories of little strategic value. When secession hits “close to home,” on the other hand, regimes that have long pretended to be in favor of self-determination will quickly turn on a dime and begin to manufacture a multitude of reasons as to why secession and self-determination are not, in fact, tolerable after all.

Defining down the Meaning of “Colony”

The idea of national self-determination as an explicit political movement originates with the American Revolution. As Jefferson and his colleagues stated in the Declaration of Independence, “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish” a government deemed to be abusive by the governed. Obviously—given that the Declaration of Independence was a declaration of secession—these strategies rightfully employed by “the people” included secession.

It is easy to apply the Jefferson’s notion of self-determination to any colony, whether in North America in the eighteenth century, or in Africa in the twentieth. Thus, governments looking to show off their humanitarian chops—what we might today call “virtue signaling”—will embrace secession. But only for purposes of decolonization—and regimes are very careful to limit what they mean by “colonies” and “decolonization.”

In this way of thinking, there’s a bright shiny line between a population oppressed by colonizers, and one that isn’t. Cases like Nigeria or India, for example, offer easy cases. Nigeria and India were both controlled by Britain and subject to British political domination. But, both these places are far away from Britain itself, and their populations—at least in the mid twentieth century—were easy to distinguish visually from the British population. In other words, the people in these colonies “looked like” what one expects to see in foreigners exploited by colonizers. Moreover, these populations did not have direct representation in Parliament.

Yet none of these factors are really the key issues in determining if a population is denied self-determination. Yes, the Indians and the Nigerians did not have votes in Parliament. Yes, the Indians and the Nigerians often had interests very different from those of their rulers who governed from thousands of miles away.

But colonization and the denial of self-determination is not just something that occurs in faraway lands where people look different and speak different languages.

In his 1927 book Liberalism, Mises contends that the denial of self-determination is most certainly not just for people who live in colonial territories. Indeed, self-determination is routinely denied even within polities that are democratic. Mises writes:

The situation of having to belong to a state to which one does not wish to belong is no less onerous if it is the result of an election than if one must endure it as the consequence of a military conquest…. To be a member of a national minority always means that one is a second-class citizen.

In other words, if a person, for whatever reason, is forced to be part of a nation-state or empire in which he does not wish to be a part—even if he can vote in elections—his situation is not fundamentally different from one who has been “colonized” via military conquest.

After all, any group or any “people”—to use Jefferson’s term—which is in a permanent voting minority will indeed find itself at an immense disadvantage. Mises illustrates this in the case of a person who is part of a linguistic minority:

See the rest here

This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute

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