Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

On Secession and Small States

Posted by M. C. on October 13, 2022

if you give up one of the two principles [i.e., universal rights and local control] you risk giving up liberty. Both are important. Neither should prevail over the other. A local government that violates rights is intolerable. A central government that rules in the name of universal rights is similarly intolerable.

Ryan McMaken

[This article was adapted from a talk delivered at the 2022 Supporters Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.]

The international system we live in today is a system composed of numerous states. There are, in fact, about 200 of them, most of which exercise a substantial amount of autonomy and sovereignty. They are functionally independent states. Moreover, the number of sovereign states in the world has nearly tripled since 1945.  Because of this, the international order has become much more decentralized over the past 80 years, and this is largely due to the success of many secession movements. 

The new states are smaller than the ones that came before them, however, and this all reminds us that there is a basic arithmetic to secession and decentralization in the world. Since the entire surface of the world—outside of Antarctica, of course—is already claimed by states, that means that when we split one political jurisdiction up into pieces, those new pieces will necessarily be smaller than the old state from which they came. 

During the decolonization period following the Second World War. Dozens of new states were formed out of the territories of the old empires they left. This meant the new status quo had a larger number of smaller states. The same thing occurred after the end of the Cold War. As the Soviet Union collapsed, it left 15 new smaller states in its wake. 

So in the current world, secession—when successful—is an event that reduces the size and scope of states. It reduces the territory and the populations over which a single central institution exercises monopoly power. 

Secession and State Size as Two Sides of One Coin

So, if we’re going to talk about secession, then, it’s also important to explicitly to address the issue of “what is the correct size of states.” Is smaller better? 

Now before we go further, I know my audience here, so there’s no need to come up to me afterward and say “well, states are bad so the correct size of states is that they don’t exist at all.” I get it. I agree that’s the end goal. Moreover political communities don’t have to be states at all. They could be other types of non-state polities. But that’s all for another speech.  

For now, we’ll stick to talking about states, as we are already saddled with living in a world composed of states right now.  Until the day comes that a majority of the population wants to abolish all states, it makes sense in the meantime to look to ways that will reduce the power of states, localize that power, and take at least some of it out of the hands of some of the most powerful ruling state elites. 

And the reason we have to address the issue of the size of states, is because many people do believe that bigger is better. They believe that larger states are essential for economic success, for peace, and for trade. Also, many people think that state size doesn’t matter at all. They think every problem of conflict within a political jurisdiction can be solved with democracy. Just let people vote, and there is no need for people to have political independence or a separate polity of their own. People who believe that are going to heartily oppose secession. 

And, of course, states’ agents themselves will oppose it because states want to be big. Being big and getting bigger is an important goal of every state. It’s a major part of what we call state building. States want to consolidate power, annex territories, increase their taxable population. What we want is the opposite of that. We want state unbuilding. State demolition. 

For many in the public, however the idea that bigger is good, or at least that size doesn’t matter, has its limits. For example, most people already have in their minds some upper limit as to the “correct” size of states. To see this, simply ask a person if he or she wants to live under a single global state.

See the rest here

Be seeing you


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