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South Ossetia and the Morality of Secession:

Russia and its client regime in South Ossetia have been citing the precedent of Kosovo's recent secession from Serbia as a justification for Russia's effort to detach South Ossetia from Georgia. It's unlikely that the "Kosovo precedent" is the true motive for Russia's massive attack on Georgia; after all, the Russians have been supporting secessionist movements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the early 1990s - long before Kosovar independence was on the table. Be that as it may, the Kosovo and South Ossetia cases both raise the issue of the justification of secession. When, if ever, should a region have the right to separate from its central government?

I. The Comparative Approach to Evaluating Secession Movements.

Russia's "Kosovo precedent" argument poses a false dichotomy: either all secessionist movements are justified or none are. In reality, the moral legitimacy of secession varies from case to case. The worse the existing government and the better the new one the secessionists are likely to set up, the stronger the justification for secession. A secessionist movement that seeks to establish a new state in order to engage in repression is very different from one intended to defend its own people against oppression by the central government.

Thus, as I noted in this post, the southern states' attempted secession in 1861 was indefensible because undertaken for the purpose of extending and protecting the horrendous institution of slavery; however, it would have been a different case if free states had seceded in order to prevent a proslavery federal government from forcing them to accept the "peculiar institution" against their will.

The Kosovo case is at the opposite pole from that of the Confederates. The Kosovar Albanians had been victims of mass murder and "ethnic cleansing" at the hands of the Serbian government; although the regime that instituted these policies was no longer in power by the time Kosovo formally declared independence earlier this year, extreme nationalists retain enough influence in Serbian politics that the Kosovar Albanians could not reasonably be expected to accept the return of Serbian rule. Moreover, the 2008 declaration of independence simply ratified a de facto secession that had already been in place for nine years. So the key point at issue is the legitimacy of Kosovo's de facto separation from Serbia back in 1999.

This is not to say that the Kosovo Albanians haven't committed some human rights violations of their own or that their new government is a model regime. However, there is little question that Kosovo's secession after occupation by NATO forces in 1999 prevented a great deal more injustice than it caused.

South Ossetia is an intermediate case between these two. The Ossetian separatists claim that the Georgian government discriminated against ethnic Ossetians in various ways. Even if some of the claims are true, there was nothing remotely comparable to what was done to the Kosovars. Moreover, an independent South Ossetia is likely to come under the control of Russia (as it largely has already). And the Russian government is itself often repressive, and surely cannot be trusted to protect the rights of the ethnic Georgians who live in the area. Thus, at least to this nonexpert, the question of whether South Ossetian secession would reduce ethnic oppression or increase it is a close call. The issue certainly can't be resolved through ritualistic citation of the "Kosovo precedent."

The basic point, however, is that the morality of secession must be considered on a case by case basis. The key variable is the relative quality of the central government as compared to the new regime the secessionists seek to establish.

II. The Case Against a Presumption in Favor of Status Quo Governments.

My approach is at odds with the conventional view that there should be a heavy presumption in favor of the "territorial integrity" of existing states. I don't have time and space for a detailed critique of that position. So I will briefly note three major points against it. First, most existing states were themselves established through coercion, putting down potential opposition by force. I don't think that the results of such processes are entitled to automatic deference. Second, the international law norms that exalt the integrity of status quo governments were, of course, established by status quo governments, which have an obvious conflict of interest here. Existing states - particularly those that oppress large portions of their population - have an obvious interest in establishing a monopoly over their subjects by denying them the opportunity to set up new and potentially better governments through secession. I see little reason to defer to such transparently self-interested "lawmaking." Finally, I am unconvinced by claims that abandoning the presumption against secession would lead to uncontrolled chaos through endlessly proliferating secession movements. Given the substantial transition costs of setting up a new government and breaking ties with the old one, few regions are likely to attempt secession without strong genuine grievances against the previous government. Even a peaceful secession will carry significant costs. It is telling that the "Kosovo precedent" (like the secession of the various former Soviet republics from Russia in the 1990s) has not led to establishment of any new secession movements anywhere in the world. Secession movements are usually driven by local grievances and agendas, not by "precedents" arising from events in other parts of the world.

The comparative framework I advocate in this post doesn't consider the hard question of whether a region should be allowed to secede if the potential new government is likely to be both no worse and no better than the current one. Should such a region have the right to secede anyway if the majority of its people wish to do so? If time permits, I will take up that issue in a later post.

UPDATE: I fully recognize that I haven't define such key concepts as "oppression" in this post. I can't possibly develop a comprehensive theory of political morality here. The post is limited to arguing that the moral legitimacy of secession should be evaluated through a comparative approach. People with differing political philosophies can legitimately disagree over which factors should be weighed in determining which government is better, and how much weight should be assigned to each.

Contentious:
IS: "I fully recognize that I have attempted to define such key concepts as "oppression" in this post. "

? "I fully recognize that I have NOT attempted to define such key concepts as "oppression" in this post. "
8.11.2008 2:09am
Ilya Somin:
Contentious,

I fixed that error before seeing your comment. But thanks for pointing it out.
8.11.2008 2:16am
Alaska:
I would disagree. I would argue that any group should be able to secede for whatever reason they desire, whether morally repugnant or not. For that reason, the reason that the South sought to secede from the Union is immaterial.

Murray Rothbard argued that there were two just wars in American history - the wars of secession. He said this despite his own opposition to chattel slavery. I think that Murray's right in arguing that the South had the inherent right to secede from the Union, even if one disagrees with the reason for their withdrawal.

I am also not prepared to say that the South seceded solely to perpetuate slavery. One of the chief arguments is in the Emancipation Proclamation itself. The Emancipation Proclamation guaranteed that territories currently rebelling against the federal government could re-enter the government keeping their slaves. It seems to me that if the war was fought solely to perpetuate slavery, the war should have ended when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

Having said that, I do agree that the issue of slavery was a large issue in the War Between the States. To suggest otherwise would ignore a great deal of history. However, there were a great many Southerners who opposed slavery and yet believed that it was necessary to secede from the Union, in large part because of Washington's protectionist tariffs and increasing power.

None of this is intended in any way to be a defense of the institution of slavery in the Old South. The South did a great disservice to those of us who believe that secession is a fundamental right by inextricably linking it to a practice that is the very antithesis of individual liberty.

Very interesting and thought-provoking post.
8.11.2008 2:44am
Displaced Midwesterner:
Ilya, thanks for the interesting post. I definitely have to agree with the idea that the legitimacy of secession is something that must be analyzed case-by-case. There is no magical formula for justice in either the idea of unlimited self-determination or total status quo territorial integrity.

However, I do think a weak presumption against presumption is better than no presumption either way. The points you raise are valid, but in a genuinely close call the externalities and dislocations flowing from the creation of a state probably favor the status quo. The fact that only movements with "strong genuine grievances" will attempt secession doesn't help this, because in a close call you are really concerned with whether those guys with strong grievances are going to better or worse than those they have grievances against, but you cannot be sure one way or the other. But you can be certain that no matter how serious the grievances, the transition costs will be high.
8.11.2008 2:49am
Displaced Midwesterner:
Hmm, "weak presumption against presumption" should be "weak presumption against secession." Although the former is an interesting little mindbender to ponder if you are feeling bored.
8.11.2008 2:52am
Ilya Somin:
I am also not prepared to say that the South seceded solely to perpetuate slavery. One of the chief arguments is in the Emancipation Proclamation itself. The Emancipation Proclamation guaranteed that territories currently rebelling against the federal government could re-enter the government keeping their slaves. It seems to me that if the war was fought solely to perpetuate slavery, the war should have ended when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.


The Confederates didn't believe Lincoln's promises to protect slavery if they reentered the union. They thought that slavery would inevitably fall apart over time without a supportive federal government, regardless of Lincoln's personal intentions. Moreover, Lincoln never backed off from his commitment to block the further extension of slavery - which was the immediate cause of the war. For a good discussion of the southern slaveowners' fears on these points and the centrality of slavery to secession, see William Freehling's book, The South vs. the South.


Having said that, I do agree that the issue of slavery was a large issue in the War Between the States. To suggest otherwise would ignore a great deal of history. However, there were a great many Southerners who opposed slavery and yet believed that it was necessary to secede from the Union, in large part because of Washington's protectionist tariffs and increasing power.

Of the few antislavery white southerners of any prominence, virtually all stayed loyal to the Union. Not a single southern abolitionist or free soiler of any note supported the Confederacy.

As for the tariffs, the Republican party had a large enough pro-free trade faction (led by Sec. of Treasury Salmon P. Chase, among others) that the SOuth could almost certainly have blocked any major tariff increases by working with antitariff Republicans in Congress.

The tariff was not a major cause of secession and was rarely if ever cited as such by Confederate leaders in 1861.
8.11.2008 3:12am
political morality:
As you point out, you are not attempting to elaborate a theory of political morality; however, I find the diverse theories of political morality to be a major source of confusion in your theory. I'm sure there are entirely contradictory theories of political morality which would allow a secessionist movement to claim moral justification in secession while the sovereign justifies their opposition to the secession. In fact, some of your critiques of the presumption in favor of the status quo could be answered by alternative morality, such as the importance of (enforced) social cohesiveness, and the strength of a superior economy, which has the ability to benefit all. I find your theory unworkable because of such highly diverse political morality.
8.11.2008 3:15am
Joshua:
Alaska: I would disagree. I would argue that any group should be able to secede for whatever reason they desire, whether morally repugnant or not. For that reason, the reason that the South sought to secede from the Union is immaterial.

I'm with you... sort of. To be more precise, it seems to me that secession falls squarely in the realm of "might makes right". If you are able to win a war of secession, or convince your erstwhile parent state of same short of an actual war, then ipso facto you have the right to secede. If you aren't able to do either of the above, then ipso facto you don't have the right to secede.
8.11.2008 4:20am
ReaderY:
The great thing about this country is that we have an organization we call "the Mafia". Many other countries have a similar organization, except they call it "the Government."

One of the problems with this country is that we are sufficiently insular that we tend to assume that the kinds of considerations and arguments we would use for the organization we call "the Government" have relevance and bearing to any organization, whatever its character, that happens to have the same name.
8.11.2008 4:23am
A. Zarkov (mail):
'The Kosovar Albanians had been victims of mass murder and "ethnic cleansing" at the hands of the Serbian government...'

Here we have a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black as the US (with its WWII Allies) engaged in extensive cleansing of ethnic Germans throughout Europe, causing over 2 million deaths. Is 2 million out of 16 not "mass murder?" Or is ethnic cleansing simply ok when we do it?
8.11.2008 5:12am
Ricardo (mail):
Here we have a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black as the US (with its WWII Allies) engaged in extensive cleansing of ethnic Germans throughout Europe, causing over 2 million deaths. Is 2 million out of 16 not "mass murder?" Or is ethnic cleansing simply ok when we do it?

This is a rather veiled reference to U.S. ally Josef Stalin -- no stranger to ethnic cleansing and mass murder -- expelling ethnic Germans east of the Oder River and other areas in the Soviet occupation zone that did not become part of the DDR. I'm not aware of direct U.S. participation in any of the numerous atrocities committed against German civilians "throughout Europe" but do share if you have citations.

In any case, I've never subscribed to the moral theory that says the U.S. government did "x" in the past therefore "x" is moral and just.
8.11.2008 5:28am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Speaking of succession movements, we have one right here in the US. In a speech this year, Mexican President Calderon said,
"I have said that Mexico does not stop at its border, that wherever there is a Mexican, there is Mexico. And, for this reason, the government action on behalf of our countrymen is guided by principles, for the defense and protection of their rights."
Sounds a little like Kosovo being a part of greater Albania doesn't it? California is already about 1/3 Mexican and it's not unusual to see Mexican immigrants flying the Mexican flag, demanding instruction in Spanish etc. La Raza certainly thinks California was stolen from Mexico and therefore the border is illegitimate. One day California will be over 50% Mexican, so it then will it be ok for CA to succeed from the US? Somin's case for an independent Kovsovo looks like it might one day apply here.
8.11.2008 5:37am
political morality:
@A.Zarkov
While I take issue with the idea that Mexicans "demand instruction in Spanish etc." as unwarranted stereotyping, this does bring to mind another issue: what happens to resources in the secessionist state? To whom do they belong? I suppose it seems intuitive that natural resources would remain, but what of infrastructure placed by the sovereign? What of resources and property held by private corporations and public corporations from the sovereign? What of banks and mints? I'm sure all of these issues have been addressed in secession situations, but I know nothing of the solutions to these problems. Any insight?
8.11.2008 6:15am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Ricardo:

"I'm not aware of direct U.S. participation in any of the numerous atrocities committed against German civilians "throughout Europe" but do share if you have citations."

You can start with the Potsdam Agreement which calls for ethnic cleansing under the euphemism of "population transfers." See Section 12. Then take a look at the Yalta Conference which calls for "reparations in kind," and look at Section V 2(c), "German labor." That actually means slave labor and subsequently 800,000 ethnic Germans were sent to the USSR as slave labor. But the USSR was not the only country to use German slave labor. You call also read about the expusions in the Wikipedia article on Expulsion of Germans after World War II. The plight of the Sudeten Germans is covered here And read about the Beneš decrees which confiscated (without compensation) all the real and personal property of the Sudeten Germans.

If you really want details then the following books provide them including American complicity in mistreatment (including torture) of German POWs and the use of slave labor.

Endgame 1945, by David Stafford

After the Reich by Giles MacDonogh. Don't miss chapter 15 "Where are our men?" Details of the missing 2 million German POWS.

Crimes and Mercies, by James Bacque.

A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, by Alfred-Maurice de Zayas. Gives details on the 800,000 sent to work in Stalin's mines-- 40% died.

All of the above books provide numerous citations to primary sources. Sorry you can't blame it all on Stalin, the US, the UK, France and other European countries were deeply involved in the mistreatment of ethnic German populations, including starvation after the war. Don't forget more German civilians died in the the four years after the war than during the war. What do you think killed them?
8.11.2008 6:25am
trad and anon:
I would disagree. I would argue that any group should be able to secede for whatever reason they desire, whether morally repugnant or not. For that reason, the reason that the South sought to secede from the Union is immaterial.
It seems to me that the Southern secession is illegitimate even without the slavery issue, because secession was not decided by the Southern people. Secession was dictated by the Southern governments, which represented only a minority of the people: the white men. The slaves got no vote, and the few free blacks got no vote in practice. The white women didn't get a vote either (though their opinions on secession were probably different from those of the white men). Since Southern whites no doubt differed on the secession issue, I doubt there was even majority support.

And there is the slavery issue on top of that. I am sympathetic to secession movements where the people of the region feel, with reasonable justification, that they are being oppressed, ill-treated, or otherwise poorly served by the current government. Cases where a majority favors secession so they can oppress a particular group (usually a racial, ethnic, and/or religious group) are a different matter.
8.11.2008 6:26am
poul (mail) (www):
interestingly, the author makes two major points, and both are utterly wrong.

first, albanian kosovars by now successfully completed genocide against serbs in kosovo in some parts, ethnic cleansing in others. if this is not the ultimate oppression, i don't know what is.

second, the oppression of osetins by georgian regime was very real and well documented, while theoretical possibility of oppression of georgians in south osetia if it becomes independent is, well, theoretical speculation.

thus, if anything, independence for south osetia is *more* justified than for kosovo.
8.11.2008 6:36am
trad and anon:
Sounds a little like Kosovo being a part of greater Albania doesn't it? California is already about 1/3 Mexican and it's not unusual to see Mexican immigrants flying the Mexican flag, demanding instruction in Spanish etc. La Raza certainly thinks California was stolen from Mexico and therefore the border is illegitimate. One day California will be over 50% Mexican, so it then will it be ok for CA to succeed from the US? Somin's case for an independent Kovsovo looks like it might one day apply here.
I agree with political morality about much of this being unwarranted stereotyping.

As for the issue at hand, I'm a Californian, and I would be rather distressed if California were to leave the U.S. and become part of Mexico. But it seems to me that if Mexican immigrants were to become distressed enough with their adopted homeland that they could get a majority of Californians to vote for secession, it would be wrongful for the U.S. to prevent that secession by overthrowing the Californian government by force of arms. That is what these arguments over secession are really about, because war is the only practical remedy open to the national government where a region purports to secede.

As I see it, the only justification for using the U.S. military against California in such circumstances is if the Mexican government were worse than it currently is (or at least my impression of how bad it is). Wars really suck, so you need a very strong justification to start one.
8.11.2008 6:40am
A. Zarkov (mail):
political morality:

"...what happens to resources in the secessionist state?"


Private property could remain with the original owners. In a peaceful succession, I imagine this would happen. In the event of a major conflict, the new government could confiscate everything and expel the inhabitants it doesn't like. Government owned property is another matter.

"While I take issue with the idea that Mexicans "demand instruction in Spanish etc."

You don't think they do? Why do we have bilingual instruction in the public schools? Ballots in Spanish? How come hospitals, courts, Social Security and other government offices provide Spanish translation? Listen to what La Raza demands and various immigration advocacy groups say.
8.11.2008 6:43am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"As I see it, the only justification for using the U.S. military against California in such circumstances is if the Mexican government were worse than it currently is (or at least my impression of how bad it is)."

So who decides if the Mexican government is worse? I'm sorry, I would hope the US government would prevent succession by any means necessary including war. We fought the whole Civil War over this very question. Are you saying 620,000 Americans died in vain? Don't you want your government to protect the soverignity of the nation state? I guess not.
8.11.2008 6:52am
trad and anon:
I forgot to correct this little gem:
California is already about 1/3 Mexican
Wrong! California is about 1/3 Hispanic. Most of those people are Americans, not Mexicans. Nor are all of the Hispanics in California even of Mexican origin (though they're no doubt a substantial majority).
8.11.2008 6:52am
trad and anon:
So who decides if the Mexican government is worse?
For practical purposes, the U.S. government has to make the decision, since theyr'e the ones who have to decide whether to go to war or not. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're (morally) right.
I'm sorry, I would hope the US government would prevent succession by any means necessary including war. We fought the whole Civil War over this very question. Are you saying 620,000 Americans died in vain? Don't you want your government to protect the soverignity of the nation state? I guess not.
Did you even read my post?
8.11.2008 7:00am
trad and anon:
And, for that matter, would the Canadian government be obliged to go to war to prevent Quebec from seceding, if the people of that province voted for it? I think that idea is crazy.
8.11.2008 7:05am
Public_Defender (mail):
Thanks for the nice post. One thing I haven't seen in the coverage of the breakup of the Soviet Union and its client states is coverage about how to draw lines.

We need theory about how lines should be drawn, but I fear the reality is that the lines are drawn by those with power. The US and NATO had the power to draw a line in Kosovo. Saddam did not have the power to erase the line between Iraq and Kuwait. Russia, alas, has the power to draw the lines between it and Georgia.
8.11.2008 7:06am
political morality:
@ A. Zarkov

"Government owned property is another matter."

What matter is that? This is what I'm curious about. I can think of possible outcomes for what happens to all property, what I'm curious about is: (1) what has happened historically, in both peaceful and violent secession? and (2) what results are justifiable with what reasoning?

"You don't think they do? Why do we have bilingual instruction in the public schools? Ballots in Spanish? How come hospitals, courts, Social Security and other government offices provide Spanish translation? Listen to what La Raza demands and various immigration advocacy groups say."

I don't think they do. I'm sure some individuals do, but some individuals in Louisiana have also passed chemical castration for sex offenders. That doesn't mean all Louisiana citizens want to castrate sex offenders.

I would say that we have bilingual instruction in public schools for several reasons. Politicians want to get the votes of liberals and of immigrants. Some politicians genuinely care about educating the children of American, regardless of ethnicity, and that is better achieved when instruction can occur in part in a language the children already know.

Ballots are in Spanish because we don't want to disenfranchise Spanish speaking U.S. citizens. (If they're not citizens, they can't vote, right?) But I don't here anyone clamoring over the lack of bilingual ballots in my precinct.

Social Security and government offices probably provide Spanish translation to avoid a lot of miscommunication. I would imagine that's the reason for translation.

La Raza can't change American law. And I doubt that any advocacy groups have a lot of backing from those they claim to advocate for.

And the examples I usually hear about hospitals and business having bilingual options, such as the whole "why do I have to press 1?" argument are pretty annoying. Obviously, commercial entities are responding to market forces. They want spanish-speaking business, so they offer Spanish-speaking services. If you don't like it, boycott the hospitals and businesses to let them know you'd rather be served somewhere that's afraid of other languages. Geno's Cheesesteaks here in Philly famously made a point of not wanting Spanish-speaking business. Well, they lost my business along with it, because I like the option of being able to order my food in my broken Spanish and dining multi-culturally.

I've worked with a lot of Mexican-Americans over the years, and I've found that few of them ever use America's services (such as unemployment) despite being eligible, because of a do-it-yourself ethic that many Americans claim when they vote against such services, but eschew when they lose their job. And I've never known a Mexican-American who demanded anything from our government. Now, I'm sure there are those who do, but it isn't fair to lump them all together.

And I don't want to be rude, but there is a huge difference between secession and succession, and I just want to point that out for future reference. Please don't take it as a pedagogical browbeat, it's only meant to be helpful.
8.11.2008 7:08am
sputnik (mail):
obviously to me you do not have right , complete , unbiased and multisourced information, Ilya on the history of the conflict in Kosovo , Ossetia or Abkhazia.
FOX or many American outlets are not covering the full and true picture....
I would also like to see any confirmation to the claim( which nobody ever provided since USA and NATO had engaged in that operation)) about ethnic cleansing and mass murders in Kosovo
8.11.2008 7:44am
NaG (mail):
It is too facile to weigh the legitimacy of secession based on whether we think the new regime is more "oppressive" than the old one. I am a libertarian, and I certainly favor government that limits itself to the defense of individual rights and a few other basic services, but I cannot then rule that my view of government becomes the yardstick for measuring how others want their government. If a bunch of Christians, or Jews, or Muslims want to become an independent religious state that I believe is oppressive, who am I to discount their beliefs and wishes? Same goes for any ethnicity or sub-nationality.

I think the Declaration has it mostly right: it is the right of the People, whoever they may be, to break away from a government they believe is oppressive of their interests to form their own nation. The only caveat is: it takes force. The former government will never willingly give up a province. Sadly, therefore, succession is a much simpler rule than Ilya proposes: might makes right.
8.11.2008 9:04am
ParatrooperJJ (mail):
You have fallen for the common misconception that the Civil War had anything to do with slavery. It was about economics, not slavery. The agricultural south could have survived quite handily, the indsutrial north was going to go down the tubes fast without a source of raw materials.
8.11.2008 10:09am
corneille1640 (mail):

Second, the international law norms that exalt the integrity of status quo governments were, of course, established by status quo governments, which have an obvious conflict of interest here. Existing states - particularly those that oppress large portions of their population - have an obvious interest in establishing a monopoly over their subjects by denying them the opportunity to set up new and potentially better governments through secession. I see little reason to defer to such transparently self-interested "lawmaking."

I agree we should be cautious and keep in mind existing states' self interest in promoting a presumption against secession. But the fact they're self-interested in itself is not an argument against the presumption against secession. One may promote a "right" result even if one's motivations are less than noble.

It also seems to me that secession, whether justified or not, involves coercion: at least a few people in a seceding state are likely to oppose secession, and those people's wills are overridden when a state secedes. Maybe if secession has enough popular support and it is otherwise less harmful than not, then secession is justified. Still, one can't escape the fact that it involves coercion.
8.11.2008 10:24am
Roundhead (mail) (www):
*there is little question that Kosovo's secession after occupation by NATO forces in 1999 prevented a great deal more injustice than it caused.*

I don't disagree that often with the writers on this blog, but this statement is just false.

the NATO terror-bombing of Serbia and Kosovo in 1999 (this is the only correct term for it) in fact killed several thousand more civilians than had died at the hands of EITHER the Kosovars or Serbians.

Post-war examinations found none of the "mass graves" that were the product of the genocide that the terror-bombing was supposed to prevent.

I'm not alleging the Clinton, Blair, Chirac governments knew this in advance; however, unlike with Iraq, the above fact simply vanished down the memory hole in the summer of 1999, when no mass graves were discovered.

Even now, `libertarian' blogs are repeating the lie that there was a genocide in Kosovo in 1998-99.
8.11.2008 10:51am
Adam J:
ParatrooperJJ - Nice, I love historical revisionism.
8.11.2008 10:55am
r.friedman (mail):
We in the USA are neither accustomed to nor good at the question of national minorities. Our basic WASP culture, assimilation pressure, all-consuming commercialism and comparatively high levels of social and geographic mobility have served to homgenize the US; the rapid influx of Latios is really our first major challenge on this score. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, ethnic-religious-language minorities centered in historic locations remain the norm. These differences have been exaggerated by imperial powers pursuing divide-and-conquer strategies.

Since the First World War, there have been two conflicting solutions to the national problem. The Wilsonian idea was to have nation states for each minority in its historic territory. This fell victim to competing claims for the same territory (Yugoslavia and the Kurds) and realpolitik (the Armenian genocide). The communist idea was to have a pluralist, egalitarian society. This fell victim to nationality prejudice and Stalin's paranoic megalomania.

The break-up of the Soviet bloc has led to fragmentation along national-ethnic lines (even the Czechs and Slovaks). This has caused problems particularly where historic centers of culture have become home to other national minorities (Kosovo vis-a-vis Serbia, South Ossetia vis-a-vis Georgia). This is to be compared with the break-up of the colonial dominance of Africa, which consciously took place along the trans-tribal colonial boundaries to avoid
wars to establish tribal boundaries. Instead, there has been intra-tribal strife within countries (Kenya, Rwanda, Congo).

While there are clearly advantages to maintaining a unified state in the historic territory of Georgia, these prospects may have been eliminated by the Reaganoid neo-con project of destroying the Soviet Union rather than permitting a Gorbachevian relaxation into federation. Combined with the urge to gain control over Azerbaijani oil, we may have promoted a new (hopefully) Cold War. But the consequences could have been much worse had this happened with Georgia in NATO.
8.11.2008 11:05am
Ken Arromdee:
It seems to me that the Southern secession is illegitimate even without the slavery issue, because secession was not decided by the Southern people. Secession was dictated by the Southern governments, which represented only a minority of the people: the white men. The slaves got no vote, and the few free blacks got no vote in practice. The white women didn't get a vote either (though their opinions on secession were probably different from those of the white men). Since Southern whites no doubt differed on the secession issue, I doubt there was even majority support.

By this reasoning, you would have opposed the secession of the original 13 colonies from Britain.
8.11.2008 11:14am
pluribus:
NaG:

I think the Declaration has it mostly right. . . . might makes right.


This is a gross non-sequitur. The first part of your quoted statement doesn't agree with the last part. If you believe in the Declaration and its "decent respect for the opinion of mankind," surely the answer is "right makes might," as Lincoln argued, not "might makes right."

It would be nonsense to argue that the extermination of the Jews was morally right if the Nazis had the "might" to win the Second World War, but wrong only if they didn't have the "might." The kind of moral indifference that equates "right" with "might" is both demeaning and dangerous.
8.11.2008 11:23am
pluribus:

I don't want to be rude, but there is a huge difference between secession and succession.

This confusion seems to come up every time secession is discussed here. Yes, the two concepts are different, and the difference is important, not merely linguistic. Further, there is always somebody who doesn't understand the difference between secession and revolution. The American war for Independence was a revolution, not a secession. That's what it was called by the participants, and that's what it has been called by historians ever since. The separtion of the slaveholding states in 1860 and 1861 was called secession, and has been called that by historians ever since. The wars of independence in Latin America were revolutions, not secessions. There are different ways a territory or region can separate from another. Secession is one. Revolution is another. Foreign invasion is another. What we are seeing in Osetia right now seems to resemble a foreign invasion.
8.11.2008 11:33am
A.S.:
My approach is at odds with the conventional view that there should be a heavy presumption in favor of the "territorial integrity" of existing states.

I agree that there should not be a "heavy presumption" in favor of territorial integrity. I cannot figure from Ilya's post, however, whether he thinks there should be any presumption at all. I do not think there should be any presumption in favor of territorial integrity. The only thing that matters is the right (if any) of self determination of the persons living in a particular territory. If those persons have a right of self determination, the interest of persons living elsewhere must give way; simply put, the interest of persons living far away from an area in the territorial integrity of their country should not possibly outweigh the interest in self-determination of persons living in an area.

That said, I think Ilya's balancing approach far, far too skewed against self-determination. People should almost always be permitted to self-determine through secession. Ilya states that the key determinant in whether a people should be permitted to self-determine is "the relative quality of the central government as compared to the new regime the secessionists seek to establish". But by what standard do we judge the quality of governments, and, more importantly, why should we as outsiders be the judge of the quality of governments ahead of the people who have to live under the governments???

The major problem I have with Ilya's proposal is he proposes to substitute his judgement as to the relative quality of governments for the judgement of the people who have to live under those governments. The South Ossetians think that an independent government (or the Russian government) is better than the relatively democratic Georgian government. Ilya thinks that he knows better than the South Ossetians as to what form of government is better for the South Ossetians, and therefore, we ought to listen to Ilya's judgement on this matter rather than the South Ossetian peoples' judgement.

Well, much as I like Ilya, I have no reason to think that his judgement as to the quality of governments is any good. Unless there is a very, very good reason not to, I will take the judgement of the people who are going to have to live with their own independent goverment, or under the Russian government.
8.11.2008 11:43am
MarkField (mail):

My approach is at odds with the conventional view that there should be a heavy presumption in favor of the "territorial integrity" of existing states.


I think Jefferson stated the rule correctly:

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."
8.11.2008 11:45am
Jim at FSU (mail):
This has nothing to do with the legitimate right of South Ossetia to secede because South Ossetia has been under the direct total control of Moscow since the 90s with an extensive military and internal security apparatus in place. The South Ossetians aren't exercising a right to secede any more than they can exercise a right to speak freely on political matters. The South Ossetians can't fart without permission from Moscow.

So long as South Ossetia continues to be a puppet of the kremlin, any "right to secede" that they exercise is a de facto military action of Russia against Georgia. The current drama is just an excuse for Russia to make a de jure annexation while (more importantly) destroying Georgia's pipeline and democratic, US-friendly government. Everyone seems to realize this except the US media.
8.11.2008 12:04pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Compare this situation to the largely anglo population of Tejas y Coahuila. If the US had moved troops into the province and then supported the "right to secede" of the Tejans through direct military action, it would rightly have been seen as a US invasion of Mexico, regardless of the legitimacy of the Tejan claims against the awful Mexican government.

However, the Texas War of Independence is seen in a completely different light from the Mexican American War that took place later, precisely because Texas rose up without external prodding or support and jettisoned the government itself. The later war was between the US and Mexico because they both wanted more territory.

Which does the current "South Ossetia" conflict seem more like? I think it is telling that the South Ossetians aren't actually doing any of the fighting, at least not any that can be discerned amongst the flood of soviet Russian armor.
8.11.2008 12:11pm
Ken Arromdee:
Further, there is always somebody who doesn't understand the difference between secession and revolution. The American war for Independence was a revolution, not a secession.

Since the difference is so easy to determine, would you mind explaining it?
8.11.2008 12:29pm
pluribus:
r.friedman:

Since the First World War, there have been two conflicting solutions to the national problem. The Wilsonian idea was to have nation states for each minority in its historic territory. . . . The communist idea was to have a pluralist, egalitarian society. This fell victim to nationality prejudice and Stalin's paranoic megalomania.

In theory, perhaps, the Soviet Union was pluralist and egalitarian. In fact, it was a continuation of the Czarist-led Russian Empire. It was an empire ruled by force from Moscow. The Russian claims to Siberia or Ukraine or Georgia was not egalitarian, but imperialistic. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was a much-delayed application of the idea of national self-determination, akin to the dissolution of the French and British empires after WWII.
8.11.2008 12:37pm
pluribus:
Ken Arromdee:

Since the difference is so easy to determine, would you mind explaining it?

I missed that part about "easy to determine". Why don't you play it back for us? The American Civil War wasn't easy, but it was determinative.

If you will, kindly quote the passages in which Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Patrick Henry, or any of the other leaders of the American Revolution used the words "secede" or "secession." Are they in the Declaration of Independence? If so, kindly quote. Or is it true, as I suspect, that you just invented that historical absurdity in a lame effort to show some moral equivalence between 1776 and 1861. Sorry, they weren't equivalent.
8.11.2008 12:46pm
TDPerkins (mail):

It was about economics, not slavery.


Slavery was about several things, the economics of the Southern ruling class, being foremost.

What the War of the Southern Treason was about was the southern ruling class attempting to stay the big fish in their pond by making their pond smaller.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.11.2008 12:52pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
political morality:

Most of the immigrants in California who self identify as "Hispanic" are of Mexican origin, and a large fraction are here illegally. The census does indeed report that about 1/3 of California is Hispanic, but no one really knows how many illegal Mexican immigrants don't get counted. Whether the1/3 figure is exactly correct or not is immaterial. California has a very large number of people of Mexican origin who have not assimilated and who are not likely to assimilate under the current conditions. This is a long term problem, which could end up in the desire for secession.

"Geno's Cheesesteaks here in Philly ... not wanting Spanish-speaking business. Well, they lost my business ... because I like the option of being able to order my food in my broken Spanish and dining multi-culturally."


If you are fluent in English, why would you want to order in a language where you have little or no fluency in an English speaking country at an Italian restaurant that has requested people order in English? Why not try to order in Italian, that would make more sense?

"I've worked with a lot of Mexican-Americans over the years, and I've found that few of them ever use America's services (such as unemployment) despite being eligible, because of a do-it-yourself ethic that many Americans..."


The people you work with are obviously not representative of the Mexicans in California. So great is the demand for services from Mexicans that the state has a serious budget crisis.


"... but there is a huge difference between secession and succession..."

There is and I know the difference. It was a mistake, the kind one makes when you type while tired.
8.11.2008 1:09pm
Jim at FSU (mail):

In fact, it was a continuation of the Czarist-led Russian Empire.


It never ceases to amaze me how few people understand this.

When I looked back into the economic history of pre-communist Russia, it amazed me to see that the idea of forced industrialization and urbanization implemented in X year plans was not invented by the Communists. Come to think of it, neither were mass executions, suppression of dissent and so on.

As much as I despise the various collectivisms on their merits, I increasingly feel that much of the evil the Russian communists perpetrated against their own was due to their being Russians rather than communists. The communism made their economy more inefficient, but I don't think it significantly changed the mode of governance.

The Swedish are at least as socialistic as the Soviets ever were, if not more so, but when was the last time you heard of them invading Norway or putting guns to the heads of farmers who didn't want to work in a factory?

I hope that one of the many knowledgeable Russian expats here will correct me on this if I am wrong.
8.11.2008 1:11pm
Pluribus (mail):
Jim at FSU:

[T]he Texas War of Independence is seen in a completely different light from the Mexican American War that took place later, precisely because Texas rose up without external prodding or support and jettisoned the government itself.

Slavery was banned by the Mexican constitution in 1824 and by statute in 1829. The independent Texas Republic, of course, legalized chattel slavery as it existed in the American South. In 1861, Texas again sought to separate itself, this time from the United States. Slavery remained legal in Texas from 1836 until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 again abolished it. The Texas War of Independence is celebrated at the Alamo as a great victory of Anglos over Mexicans, ignoring the fact that it was a victory for slavery. Keeping this in mind may help us to judge the morality of Texas's effort to separate itself from Mexico in 1836 and from the U.S. in 1861.
8.11.2008 1:17pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Then please explain why all the other provinces of Northern Mexico revolted at the same time. None of them had slavery practices, only Tejas.

The truth is that the Mexican government sucked then even worse than it sucks now and everyone wanted to leave it then, just like they do now.

The Alamo isn't celebrated as a victory because it wasn't one for the Texans. It is celebrated (unless I misunderstand) as a brave fight to the death against greater numbers and long odds. People respect that.
8.11.2008 1:24pm
pluribus:
Jim at FSU:
I agree with some of what you say about the Russian and Communist influences in the Soviet Union, but it is ridiculous to say that the Swedish "are at least as socialistic as the Soviets ever were, if not more so." Sweden is a functioning democracy with competetive political parties and free elections. Private property is recognized and in many respects quite profitable (think of Volvo and a few other large capitalist enterprises). Human rights are respected in Sweden, even for those who criticize the government. None of this was true in the Soviet Union, where the government owned and controlled all property, private property was banned, and the Communist party had a political monopoly, enforced at the cost of horrendous human rights violations.
8.11.2008 1:26pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Dunno if wikipedia is correct but it says on Texas:


Returning from his hacienda, Santa Anna renounced the government's policies and overthrew the presidency, forcing Gomez Farías and many of his supporters to flee Mexico for the United States. Santa Anna declared that Mexico was not ready for democracy, became an openly Conservative centralist, and appointed himself dictator.


Which promptly lead to revolt and the ensuing brutality....

Much of Mexico led by the states of Yucatan, Zacatecas, and Coahuila, promptly rose in revolt against Santa Anna's actions. Santa Anna spent two years suppressing the revolts. Under the Liberal banner, the Mexican state of Zacatecas revolted against Santa Anna. The revolt was brutally crushed in May 1835. As a reward, Santa Anna allowed his soldiers two days of rape and pillage in the capital city of Zacatecas; civilians were massacred by the thousands


Which led to Tejas deciding it wanted in on the revolting....

The Texians as a whole were relatively loyal to a constitutional Mexico into August, despite their disgust over what had happened to Austin, the horrific events in Zacatecas, the call to disarm militias, the order to expel all illegal immigrants, and particularly the dissolution of the Constitution of 1824. In August, the continued increasing presence of Mexican troops, their unrelenting demand for individual radical Texian leaders to be delivered for military trial, and major legislative land scandals began to erode the Texians' support for the Peace party and attachment to Mexico, and to build support for the War Party and independence.
8.11.2008 1:30pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
I completely forgot about the lack of private ownership in USSR. It seems like such an insane policy in retrospect.
8.11.2008 1:33pm
Ken Arromdee:
I missed that part about "easy to determine". Why don't you play it back for us? The American Civil War wasn't easy, but it was determinative.

For you, the difference between secession and "revolution" was so obvious it didn't even need to be explained. In other words, you found it easy to determine.

In any case, why not just explain the difference? As far as I can tell, there is none, except for terminology, unless you want to claim that if it fails it's secession and if it succeeds it's revolution.
8.11.2008 1:35pm
pluribus:
Jim at FSU:

Then please explain why all the other provinces of Northern Mexico revolted at the same time. None of them had slavery practices, only Tejas.

The truth is that the Mexican government sucked then even worse than it sucks now and everyone wanted to leave it then, just like they do now.

The Alamo isn't celebrated as a victory because it wasn't one for the Texans. It is celebrated (unless I misunderstand) as a brave fight to the death against greater numbers and long odds. People respect that.

What a mess of apples and oranges.

1. Pleas name all the other northern provinces, when they revolted, and what the results of their revolutions were?
2. How many of those provinces became independent republics with legal protection for chattel slavery?
3. Does the fact that Santa Anna was a tyrant prove that the Texans didn't support slavery all the way up to 1865?
4. Did the so-called Texans originate in Texas, or did they come there from slaveholding states of the American South? My information is that both Austin and Houson were Virginians by birth.
5. What made these Virginians feel a compulsion to "liberate" a part of Mexico?
8.11.2008 1:40pm
Mark Bahner (www):
Hi,

I don't know much about South Ossetia/Georgia, but it seems to me that, in far more cases than not, secessiion could be negiotiated without bloodshed.

I'm very convinced that was the case in the U.S. Civil War. What a monumental waste.

Mark
8.11.2008 1:49pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Pluribus, I already posted a response above you that anticipates your request for more details. They were revolting because Santa Anna had declared himself dictator, abolished the constitution and generally acted like a dick. Tejas came to the party relatively late compared to the other provinces.
8.11.2008 1:52pm
pluribus:
Ken Arromdee:

For you, the difference between secession and "revolution" was so obvious it didn't even need to be explained. In other words, you found it easy to determine.

Ken, don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say "easy to determine" and I didn't say "obvious." I said secession and revolution are different, as they are.
The short answer is that revolution is an uprising against an oppressive government, justified when there is no legal or peaceful means of removing the oppression. The Declaration of Independence detailed a long list of the oppressive measures enforced against the American colonies by the British government. And it is helpful to note that in 1776 the American colonies were not part of England or Britain. They were oveseas colonies, ruled by Britain.
Secession is the withdrawal of one part of a governmental unit from a larger governmental unit, provided for in the laws of that governmental unit.
The secession of 1861 was justified by its proponents on the ground that the Constitution permitted just such a withdrawal. There was no such argument in 1776. The American Revolution was recognized by its leaders as an illegal, even treasonous rebellion, justified on moral but not on legal grounds. No serious historians call 1776 secession. People who seek to justify the secession of 1861 like to say, well it was just like the American Revolution. Of course, it wasn't the same at all.
This has been extensively discussed here previously. I do not propose to repeat the very lengthy discussion here.
8.11.2008 1:54pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Generally speaking, just because Tejas had slavery didn't mean that it was the main driver of their political decision making process. There was much debate on the subject of revolution, just like there was much debate on the subject of which side to join in the civil war. Most of it was not focused on the issue of slavery.

Remember that Texas wasn't a cotton state, it was primarily a cattle state. Far less labor intensive and thus far less need for slaves. Texas also didn't have a large class of influential people that had earned fortunes off slavery and were dependent on slavery for the continuation of that good fortune.

Simply put, Texas wasn't as connected to slavery as you seem to believe.
8.11.2008 1:58pm
Mark Bahner (www):
"So who decides if the Mexican government is worse? I'm sorry, I would hope the US government would prevent succession by any means necessary including war. We fought the whole Civil War over this very question. Are you saying 620,000 Americans died in vain?"

In a word, yes.
8.11.2008 2:00pm
MarkField (mail):

Since the difference is so easy to determine, would you mind explaining it?


Pluribus is doing yeoman's duty here, so let me step in on this issue. Revolution is a natural right which always exists. It is independent of law. The claim regarding secession is a claim that the legal system itself (Constitution or otherwise) permits a departure from the Union. It's the difference between a legal claim and a claim of natural right.
8.11.2008 2:01pm
pluribus:
Jim, I of course agree that Santa Anna was a tyrant, as I stated above. He was also a revolutionist, having overthrown the legal government of Mexico. But Santa Anna's tyranny does not disprove the fact that the American Southerners who fought for Texas Independence in 1836 were slaveholders from the American South and that the result of the revolution of 1836 was, at least in part, to legalize chattel slavery in Texas, where it had previously been illegal. Before they finally decided to break with the Union in 1861, the slaveholding states of the South relentlessly sought to expand the territory subject to slavery. They were able to expand it into the former French territory of Louisiana (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri), the former Spanish territory of Florida, and the former Spanish and Mexican territory of Texas. They openly declared their intentions to expand it into New Mexico, into the rest of Mexico, into Cuba, and into Central America. All of that is curiously missing from the presentations in the Alamo. If "secession" is to be judged on moral grounds, the slavery component of 1836 should not be overlooked.
8.11.2008 2:06pm
shawn-non-anonymous:
Russia believes the South Ossetians can leave Georgia.

Do they think the Chechnyans can leave Russia?
8.11.2008 2:09pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
More interestingly, do the Russians believe the North Ossetians can leave Russia? If the Ossetians are entitled to their own homeland purchased via Russian blood and iron, why not also the part that comes from Russia? And yes, why is South Ossetia entitled to that which the Chechnyans are not in terms of self determination and freedom from ethnic cleansing?

pluribus:
Most of the Tejan settlers were poor anglo farmers, not wealthy slave owners. Most of Tejas did not own slaves. Additionally, although slavery was illegal, the law remained almost entirely unenforced by Mexico. As a result, slavery was essentially a non-issue in the decision to revolt.

Why do you keep coming back to this slavery thing? It didn't have any influence on the Texan decision to revolt.

Yes, the southern slave owning states (of which Texas was admitted as a member) did (as a group) push for maximum expansion of slavery so that they could prevent it from being outlawed. But I propose this was much more because of the deep south than because of marginally southern states like Florida and Texas that had only minor slave populations and agicultural industries that did not rely on having lots of slaves.
8.11.2008 2:19pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Alaska: I would disagree. I would argue that any group should be able to secede for whatever reason they desire, whether morally repugnant or not. For that reason, the reason that the South sought to secede from the Union is immaterial.
Hmm. To me that sounds like "I should be able to shoot someone who breaks into my house, because anybody should be able to defend themselves and their home, even if they're bad people. Therefore, it doesn't matter whether someone is breaking into my home to steal my television or whether someone is breaking into my home to rescue the child I've kidnapped and held for ransom."
8.11.2008 2:21pm
Dave N (mail):
Mark Field,

Thank you. You provided a very clear definition and distinction between "secession" and "revolution."

I would add, "Keep up the good work," except we are too often on opposite sides of various other issues.
8.11.2008 3:15pm
Ken Arromdee:
Secession is the withdrawal of one part of a governmental unit from a larger governmental unit, provided for in the laws of that governmental unit.

If that's what you mean, then while the American Revolution wasn't a secession, and the Civil War didn't involve a secession, neither Kosovo nor South Ossetia were secessions either.
8.11.2008 3:53pm
MarkField (mail):

I would add, "Keep up the good work," except we are too often on opposite sides of various other issues.


Not to worry -- I'm a redemptionist.
8.11.2008 4:20pm
pluribus:
Jim at FSU:

The Alamo . . . is celebrated (unless I misunderstand) as a brave fight to the death against greater numbers and long odds. People respect that.

What people respect the Japanese who fought to the death against greater numbers and long odds on Okinawa? Certainly I don't. Their cause was bad, and they were wrong to fight to the death for it.

Why do you keep coming back to this slavery thing? It didn't have any influence on the Texan decision to revolt.

You brought Texas into the discussion of secession, not I. I merely pointed out that it was slaveholders in both 1836 and 1861 who were proponents of the separation of Texas, first from Mexico and then from the United States. I regard slavery as central to the history of 19th century America. It was the all-consuming issue that nearly destroyed the country, and it was a great moral wrong. American territorial expansion between 1789 and 1861 was fed almost entirely by Southern desires to expand slavery, and in fact slavery did expand during that period into the huge chunks of territory acquired from Spain, France, and Mexico. Thoreau refused to pay his tax for the Mexican War because he realized it was a war to expand slavery and he opposed it on that ground. Lincoln opposed the Mexican War, recognizing it as a bold act of aggression against a weaker neighbor. And both before and after the Mexican War, Southern slaveholders openly discussed their territorial ambitions in Cuba, the rest of Mexico, and Central America. The American conquest of Texas was part of the expansion of chattel slavery from the American South.
But thanks for asking.
8.11.2008 6:44pm
MarkField (mail):

I regard slavery as central to the history of 19th century America. It was the all-consuming issue that nearly destroyed the country, and it was a great moral wrong. American territorial expansion between 1789 and 1861 was fed almost entirely by Southern desires to expand slavery, and in fact slavery did expand during that period into the huge chunks of territory acquired from Spain, France, and Mexico. Thoreau refused to pay his tax for the Mexican War because he realized it was a war to expand slavery and he opposed it on that ground. Lincoln opposed the Mexican War, recognizing it as a bold act of aggression against a weaker neighbor. And both before and after the Mexican War, Southern slaveholders openly discussed their territorial ambitions in Cuba, the rest of Mexico, and Central America. The American conquest of Texas was part of the expansion of chattel slavery from the American South.


Exactly right.
8.11.2008 8:18pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Revolution is a natural right which always exists. It is independent of law.

So the Bolsheviks were just exercising their natural rights?
8.11.2008 10:22pm
NaG (mail):
pluribus: Congratulations for needlessly violating Godwin's Law. I really wonder how it made sense in your mind to draw a likeness between secession and the Holocaust, because it made absolutely no sense in print.

That said, despite an ellipsis that violates all sorts of journalistic rules in properly quoting people, you have something of a point regarding the Declaration. But here's the thing: "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" necessarily requires that we allow people to decide to secede for their own reasons, which not be the same as some right-thinking libertarian would decide. So that's part one. Second, the Declaration requires that when the People are being abused, "it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." New Guards? What're those? Sounds a lot like military to me. Sounds like the Declaration recognizes that people can't be expected to simply state, "We're more morally right than you, so we now have our own country, buzz off," and get it. No, they've got to defend it. It's part of their duty. Don't do that, and your "right" doesn't count much against the "might."

I know it would be nice to live in a world where espousing our libertarian values were enough to win the day. But it's not. The Founders knew that, too. That is why they said, "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." They knew they were putting their lives on the line, not to mention the lives of their families. Don't forget the Jefferson quote about the Tree of Liberty and the blood of patriots and all.
8.11.2008 10:31pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Revolution is a natural right which always exists. It is independent of law.

So the Bolsheviks were just exercising their natural rights?
Well, no. The right always exists, but it can only be exercised in certain situations. (It's like lethal self-defense in that respect; the right always exists, but one can only exercise it if one's life is in danger.) Overthrowing the Kerensky government would not be such a situation.

In any case, even if the Bolsheviks had the right of revolution, they didn't have the right to impose Bolshevism.
8.11.2008 10:35pm
MarkField (mail):
What DMN said.
8.11.2008 10:43pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Well, no. The right always exists, but it can only be exercised in certain situations.

Considering that the situation in Russia in 1917 was certainly much more dire than that of the American Colonies in 1775 and that the Kerensky government was certainly much more incompetent than that of George III, I don't know how you can seriously argue that the American colonists had the right to revolt while the Russians, be they Bolsheviks or whoever, did not.
8.11.2008 10:49pm
MarkField (mail):
The Russian people had a right to revolt. Nobody had a right to institute Bolshevism. It's certainly possible to say that Bolshevism was untried in 1917. That's fine. In that case, though, it's clear the Russian people had a right to revolt against that.
8.11.2008 11:30pm
TDPerkins (mail):

So the Bolsheviks were just exercising their natural rights?


No. The so called "Mensheviks" were. Funny thing is, they were actually in the majority.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.12.2008 12:32am
Denitsa (www):
I think it's nonsense to analyse the moral right of one region to declare independence. Moral is a slave of its time and reality doesn't follow morality or principles.

And yes, Kossovo is a precedent, since it puts the question whether one region can split its country and declare independence or join another in our time. Especially by force.

Even the reason behind both conflicts are the same-in both cases we have one country- Albania in the case of Kosovo and Russia in the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that work on the minds of people from another country. They give them passports, money, support, whatever. The genocide is just a provocation, nothing more.
The only difference is that in the Serbia case-we had a pro-Russian country that was split, in Georgia's case we have a pro-American country that is split. Does that give us the moral "right" to condemn the one and support the other, when they are basically the same?

It's funny how you always turn the world around US constitution and US civil war. The truth is, world don't care about that. And one more thing, again, there is no moral right in any form of aggression. Death has no moral base, no matter how hard you try to justify it.

As for independence, for me the only reason for one country to invade another in our time is to stop a genocide. And to make sure that when it leaves, the genocide won't happen again. But that shouldn't leave to "independence". The only way of declaring independence should be peacefully. Which isn't the case of Kossovo's peaceful declaration since if Serbia moved, it would be trashed by USA. It means absolutely peaceful decision based on mutual benefits.
8.12.2008 8:42am
pluribus:
NaG:

I really wonder how it made sense in your mind to draw a likeness between secession and the Holocaust, because it made absolutely no sense in print.

Of course, I did no such thing. I merely mentioned the attempted Jewish extermination in the course of an argument about whether might makes right, as one of the other posters here suggested. I said it doesn't and pointed to the attempted extermination of the Jews by the Nazis to reinforce my point. I simply said that if the Nazis had the "might" to win WWII, it would not have made their Jewish policy "right." If you connect that to secession, it's your problem, not mine.

Maybe somebody has "drawn a likeness" between the Holocaust and secession, I don't know. A likeness has been drawn between slavery and the Holocaust, but not by me. See Vessel of Evil: American Slavery and the Holocaust by Laurence Thomas (Temple University, 1993). I haven't read the book and can't tell you anything about it.
8.12.2008 10:34am
Hoosier:
I don't know how you can seriously argue that the American colonists had the right to revolt while the Russians, be they Bolsheviks or whoever, did not.

Easy. The Bolsheviks did not "revolt." Theirs was not a revolution. It was a coup. A very, very small number of people captured the government though an armed attack. It then set about imposing its rule upon the rest of the nation, primarily via force and terror.

This is not a revolution in the sense of the actual Russian Revolution of February, 1917. It was not broad-based, nor did its leaders intent for it to be.

For this reason, historians are increasingly replacing the phrase "October Revolution" with the more accurate "Bolshevik Coup."
8.12.2008 1:00pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
Today, Georgian patriots are against secession.

But just wait a few months, and then they will all be in favor. After all, they don't want to be absorbed into Russia.
8.12.2008 4:39pm
ejo:
interesting debate-why not bring international law or the International Court of Justice into it as well. I am sure the impact on Russia's actions will be about the same as the how many angels dance on the head of a pin debate on secession versus revolution.

can someone tell me why there aren't calls for trying Putin for war crimes? we get them all the time for Bushitler, Rummy, etc. in this matter, the usual suspects are silent-almost think the calls for the indictment of Bush are nonsense for political gain.
8.12.2008 6:50pm
markm (mail):

Secession is the withdrawal of one part of a governmental unit from a larger governmental unit, provided for in the laws of that governmental unit.

The secession must be extremely rare. The only time I know of that part of one nation peacefully seceded from another is when Norway and Sweden split up - and I doubt that there were any pre-existing laws enabling such a split.
8.12.2008 9:19pm
NaG (mail):
publius: "Of course, I did no such thing. I merely mentioned the attempted Jewish extermination in the course of an argument about whether might makes right, as one of the other posters here suggested."

Don't be dense. Just because might may ultimately make right when it comes to secession doesn't equate applying "might makes right" in every other context. Likewise, "do unto others as you would have others do to you" does not extend to allow a masochist to smack around the neighbors.
8.12.2008 10:55pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The secession must be extremely rare. The only time I know of that part of one nation peacefully seceded from another is when Norway and Sweden split up -
Czechoslovakia.
8.13.2008 12:49am
neurodoc:
"The secession must be extremely rare. The only time I know of that part of one nation peacefully seceded from another is when Norway and Sweden split up -"

"Czechoslovakia"

Slovenia from Yugoslavia?
8.13.2008 6:07pm
Grumpy Old Man (mail) (www):
The war known to the north as the Civil War did not start over slavery. Lincoln was perfectly happy with slavery in the non-seceding states.

Even the Emancipation Proclamation only purported to free the slaves in the unoccpied parts of the South.

Secession, up until 1861, was generally recognized as the right of the states.

In the rest of the world, abolition took place more or less peacefully. Only here was it accompanied by mass slaughter.

If you take a radical position in favor of self-determination, it's not necessary to carve out an exception for the Confederacy.
8.14.2008 2:58pm