A lot of people I really like happen to be fans of secession movements. One that comes to mind is Robert Murphy. I’m a big fan of his podcast, and he usually has smart takes on cultural trends, economics, and ethics. I especially enjoy his 5 part series on the World Economic Forum. He also tends to take his pacifism seriously, which is why I think he is mistaken on his views in regard to secession. I’m of the opinion that secession is a dangerous game, one that is almost certain to result in a war. I’m also of the opinion that there isn’t really ever a “good guy” in a war, industrial killing isn’t something that happens when reasonable people are at the wheel.
But Mr. Murphy is generally a reasonable person. Reasonable people are capable of being mistaken, and the purpose of this article is to try and convince either him or others that secession isn’t the panacea that they think it is, and that libertarians would be best served by putting their efforts toward other strategies that I believe are more effective toward bringing about the liberty we both wish to have for ourselves and for the world. I’ll do that by focusing on his packet titled “Common Sense; The Case for an Independent Texas“, because I think that although he diagnoses problems effectively and accurately, I believe he has made a massive error in the section labeled, “If Texans were to actually do this, wouldn’t this cause a civil war-like the last time?”
A Casus Belli
Mr. Murphy states in this section, “When Texans vote to sever ties with the U.S. federal government, it is crucial that they do so in a peaceful manner. It is critical that Texans—both as private citizens and as agents of government—respect the body and property of any U.S. loyalist who chooses to remain in Texas. There can be no pretext by which the U.S. government can invade while claiming to be acting in ‘defense.'”
This sounds reasonable. Libertarians like peace. If the Texan Revolutionaries are peaceful, then no problem, right? I disagree. I’ll go through the several problems with this logic.
1: Bob Murphy has no control over how peaceful the millions of people in Texas are.
You cannot control the actions of others. The more people who are included in your group, the less likely you’ll be able to prevent certain members of the group in behaving in reckless ways, especially if the enemy is smarter than your dumbest constituents. If your dumbest constituents can be baited into providing a justification for war (a casus belli), then the war is on.
2: Pretext for war is almost always manufactured.
Throughout history, false flags, fifth columns, and plethora of cloak-and-dagger tactics are used to get the enemy to provide a legitimate-enough sounding casus belli. The justification doesn’t need to be amazing, it just needs to be enough to cause argument. For a ridiculous example, when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the casus belli was non-existant weapons of mass destruction. Even after it was exposed to be a total lie, the US faced very little international punishment as a result of this obvious fib. A more recent example of this can be found in Yemen. When the US signed the Iran Nuclear Deal, that annoyed Saudi Arabia, so they demanded that the US assist them in their war against the Houthis in Yemen. The US agreed to this in order to “placate” them. This has resulted in the death of well over a hundred thousand women and children, from dysentary, starvation, and other preventable diseases. The US has never been held accountable for this, and it isn’t even mentioned on the news, despite having the flakiest casus belli that could possibly exist, ie “We didn’t do it, Saudi Arabia did, we just helped”.
3: Never underestimate the power of the US to claim something to be defensive.
I can imagine the headlines now…
“Radical right-wing separatists take over Texas state house, declare sovereignty over Texas”
“White supremacy run wild: How domestic terrorists tried to conquer Texas”
“The humanitarian crisis in Texas reaches new heights as reactionary neo-nationalists declare a new regime lead by right-wing insurgent groups”
The US war machine and the neocon elite love a good war, and are incredibly creative in coming up with ways to pin it as defensive. They utilize their influence in the media and on social media to convince a significant portion of Americans and people across the world that their wars are always just, proper, and decent, and most Americans, whether they agree or not, don’t care enough to complain. Americans would be rallying for the “Legitimate” Texan government, and by that I mean the Texan government will just be seen as illigitimate and the inevitable CIA-backed puppet regime will be seen as legitimate. Texans who do not support secession, which there are likely to be a lot of, are very likely to spend their time supporting this narrative.
In the next paragraph, Mr. Murphy continues, “We can distill the discussion down to a simple statement, because the necessary condition for a peaceful withdrawal is quite simple: When Texans leave the Union, the sitting U.S. president chooses not to drop bombs on them in retaliation. That’s all that needs to happen, to ensure that Texan secession won’t lead to another civil war. “
I disagree that this discussion can be distilled to such a simple statement. War is much more complex and nuanced than this. For instance, they might just go and arrest specific members of the revolutionary elements. Armed and organized military and law enforcement groups within the state are going to have divided loyalties, and this is likely to result in violence even before the president responds. A civil war might break out before the US is involved at all. The federal government may try to simply ignore the independence of Texas and continue to enforce federal laws. It may use laws designed for the mob and Al Qaeda to send some revolutionaries to Guantanamo Bay. None of this requires them bomb Texas.
Perhaps Mr. Murphy is using “Bombs” as a metaphor for violent action in general, but I think it is important to point out that not all acts of violence are seen as acts of violence to your average Joe. The ATF deciding to confiscate firearms from a Republic of Texas military unit on the grounds that they are not authorized to have certain weapons is an act of violence from our point of view, but it isn’t from the perspective of the typical American.
Another factor that makes this simple statement wrong is that the US may not be involved in a civil war at all. If only 2/3ds of voters decide to secede, that means that 1/3d of voters would prefer to not secede. That is potentionally 10 million people in the state of Texas who do not support the new regime. Many of them may not be inspired to take up arms in defense of American values, but undoubtedly many of them will, and acts of violence against pro-American groups are very likely to be seen as acts of aggression against the United States itself.
Brexit and Waco
Mr. Murphy continues, “Consider: Although there was talk of a potential trade war, nobody worried that continental Europe would launch cruise missiles into London because of the Brexit vote. Likewise, in this day and age of guerilla media and ubiquitous smartphones, it would be difficult for an American administration to justify images of children in Dallas having their limbs blown off, just because their parents had read the Declaration of Independence and apparently took Thomas Jefferson literally”
There is a massive difference between an EU that somewhat resembles a federalized state and the United States. The EU is less than 100 years old and is hardly a centralized government that takes precedence over the laws of the member states. It is nowhere near as centrally powerful as the United States government is. If you ask a European where they’re from, they don’t say “Europe”, they say “France” or “Germany” or “Italy” or whatever. They are clearly more loyal to the state they are from than they are to the European Union as a concept. One could make the case that the US would be better that way, but we do not live in that world.
Mr. Murphy claims that it would be difficult for an American administration to justify images of children in Dallas having their limbs blown off, but I would like to remind him that a mere 2 hours south of Dallas is the town of Waco, where the ATF murdered over 20 children. Many were shot, many burned to death, some reports indicate a toddler was stabbed somehow, but Clinton won re-election. The ATF maintains a page on their website called “Remembering Waco” where they honor the ATF agents who died during their participation in the massacre. They even tweet about it on the anniversary. It may be difficult for politicians to defend dead children, but they certainly can manage it if they put their minds to it.
On the topic of the Declaration of Independence, it’s common for pro-secession libertarians to cite this document. There’s a lot of things in this document that the founders of the United States used to justify their act of rebellion against the British crown. Certainly, for any libertarian, exerpts such as “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”, and “… whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government” certainly seem to help the case of secession. However, rarely do they mention the last line of the Declaration of Independence.
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
This is a very important part of the document; the founders knew that though they preferred a peaceful secession, this alone doesn’t guarantee a peaceful secession. They knew that the enemy would consider it an act of treason, and they knew that their lives may be forfeit. They knew that they were embarking on what may end up being a long and deadly war, one that they might not win, but which could result in the deaths of thousands. They were unfortunately right in this conviction, counting only those who died on the battlefield there were 6,800 American deaths (plus about 1,700 dead American loyalists) , over 8,000 British deaths, over 2,000 French deaths, nearly 2,000 German deaths. These may sound like small numbers in an age where the global population is 7 billion and counting, but it is important to keep in mind that kingmaker is not a game that is played peacefully. You must prepare for war.
In the next paragraph, Mr. Murphy continues, “In any event, it is precisely to reduce the scope of violence that this pamphlet has been written. Bloodshed among Americans is imminent; a restoration of the Republic of Texas will provide a relief valve to cool conflicts in the remaining states. Furthermore, by placing a spotlight on the possibility of Texas secession, proponents can get American public intellectuals “on record” regarding the appropriate U.S. government response. Presumably even writers at the New York Times and Vox will admit—however grudgingly—that it would be unethical to slaughter their fellow citizens merely for wanting to dissociate from Washington.”
Though I applaud his intentions, I do not see how a restoration of the Republic of Texas will provide a relief valve to cool conflicts ion the remaining states. I also doubt that the hack frauds at the New York Times and Vox will admit that it would be unethical to slaughter their fellow citizens merely wanting to dissociate from Washington, they never have had any issue running interference for the war party in the past.
The domestic abuse metaphor
Mr. Murphy continues, “But suppose progressive pundits do call the secessionists’ bluff, and declare—even when the notion is still an abstract hypothetical—that any U.S. state with the temerity to believe in self-determination should be bombed into submission. Even so, that would be all the more reason for every Texan to support secession, if not openly, then at least in the privacy of one’s thoughts. The moment a woman realizes she is only staying with her boyfriend because she fears he’ll beat her if she tries to leave…is exactly the moment she needs to begin planning her escape.”
This metaphor is incomplete and unpersuasive to me for several reasons. If you decide to stop dating someone who is an abuser, that’s all well and dandy. It’s your life and if you want to risk it that’s your prerogative. You should not be able to make that decision for other people; if others are not interested in breaking up with an abusive lover it is not ethical to compel them to separate.
A better analogy, in my mind, is to imagine there’s a wild mad-dog killer on the loose. When cornered by the police, he grabs a young damsel and causes her distress by using her as a human shield. The killer informs the police to stay back, lest he end the poor girls life.
One of the police officers is not a fan of using violence, so he says, “Listen, lady, it’s unethical for him to kill you just because you don’t want to be a human shield. What’s keeping you there? Hell, the fact that he will kill you if you leave should mean that you should want to escape all the more. There’s a chance that he’s bluffing, too. There have been instances in other human-shield situations where people have simply walked away and the killer didn’t kill them, so why not peacefully separate?”
Imagine that the damsel in distress finds this logic convincing, and decides to waddle away from her captor. Imagine she gets shot and dies. Surely the police officer advocating for her to peacefully separate isn’t responsible for the murder, the ethical responsibility lies in the mad-dog killer. Somehow I don’t think that would make the police officer feel any better. I get the sense that the police officer, despite his peace-loving nature, and despite the fact that he didn’t pull the trigger to kill the lady, would still feel somewhat guilty for her untimely demise.
I do not wish to sound like I think libertarianism is doomed to fail. I believe libertarianism is poised to win in the long term, and we are at an especially critical point in the nature of our activism and outreach, one which has the potential to utterly topple the authoritarian world order and bring about a future that is more in-line with the freedom and culture that both Mr. Murphy and I share. I simply disagree that secession is the way to do it, for the reasons I outlined above. I will now make a pitch for the Free State Project.
Liberty lives in New Hampshire. Texas isn’t even in second place, there is nothing in second place. New Hampshire is the most free place on the planet, and it got this way through dedicated libertarian activists who moved here for the purpose of bringing about liberty in our lifetime. We’ve had a massive amount of success in the strategy of physical concentration, and this strategy is proven to be effective at bringing about serious change. In not even 20 years, libertarian politicians have taken over the state house to the point where nothing goes through unless the liberty crowd approves. This means that over time we will be able to nullify federal edicts, and using the 10th amendment make it so that the state is less impactful on the daily lives of Granite Staters. We have momentum, and though we focus on NH-level tyranny primarily (It is the Free State Project, after all), I believe that in the future we will see more wide-spread nullification of federal over-reach in the state of New Hampshire.
In history, we see that those who believe strongly in their visions can sometimes overstep their bounds, not know when to call it quits, and that this often ruins them. Hitler probably wouldn’t have been defeated if he just stopped in Poland and called it a day. Napoleon could probably have retired if he decided not to gun it for Moscow. Caesar likely wouldn’t have been assassinated if he didn’t start resembling a king so much. This pattern repeats throughout history, and is exemplified by Icarus. It may not be the case in Texas that liberty is on such a victory streak, but in New Hampshire it is, and if we don’t fly too close to the sun by declaring independence we’re likely to keep it going.
Also, consider our opponent. Our opponents send their kids to public school and are upset when legislation is introduced that prevents them from being prayed upon and groomed by teachers under the guise of LGBT acceptance. Our opponents actively encourage their children to transition genders, often rendering their children infertile and incapable of producing future offspring. They actively encourage themselves and each other to avoid having children, and view abortion as a method of birth control. They are not people that are likely to be able to tide the upcoming storms, and though we can shed a tear for the terrible lives they must have lead that brought them to their current mental illness, the simple fact of the matter is that if we must have enemies, we should be thankful that these are they.
We can’t lose. All we need to do is focus on nullification, buy houses in New Hampshire, and do our best to spread a love of liberty around the world, and we’ll defeat this enemy. They’re not the Nazis. They’re idiots. The federal government is a problem, but we can overcome it. Let’s just make sure we defeat our enemies in ways that don’t result in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and let’s be sure we can recognize when our actions will lead to that.
EDIT: Fixed a typo