Most of us, at one time or another, want to secede. Why would I want to remain in the same nation with race-bitten voters who think that every use of government power to help others only creates deadbeats at their expense, despite all evidence to the contrary? Why would they want to share the same nation with me, who believes that liberty makes no sense without a significant governmental presence to gaurantee adequate equality? Every once in a while, some Texans speak of secession from the rest of us, encouraging liberal Austin to threaten secession from Texas. But thenTexas has done this before, seceding first from Mexico, and then the United States, in hopes of protecting that “peculiar institution” that they thought threatened by the federal tyranny.
Scotland’s threatened secession from the United Kingdom is comparable, as some exclaim (e.g., Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky), to the imagined secession of the liberal Northeast from the U. S. out of disgust with the continued nefarious influence of the Old Confederacy. Scotland prefers a strengthened, rather than “reformed,” National Health Care system and generally prefers liberal or socialist programs more commonly seen in continental Europe than in Westminster’s preferred choices.
And here lies the final irony: Scotland assumes membership in the European Union would follow independence, even as a government rendered even more “conservative” in London by a Scottish secession would be likely to favor withdrawal from the EU. Secession in one form or another iis apparently a favored policy preference for many voters. If you don’t like what others want or believe, break away from them and form your own lirttle independent world. It seems an odd way to think in an age of enhanced globalization and incrreased interdependence.
At least such choices will take place in a reasonably democratic way, much as Slovaks voted for independence from the Czechs, and Catalonia might some day secede from Spain, changing fundamentally our idea of what Spain is as much as Scotland’s secession would change the very idea of a “United” Kingdom. In other places, secession has meant civil war and massive bloodshed, whether in our own Civil War in the nineteenth century, or the massive slaughters of the partition of British India in 1947, the massacres in Nigeria in the 1960s, or the Tamil insurgency and its repressio in Sri Lanka in the early part of this century.
I do not doubt that secession may sometimes be the best solution. Yet, it suggests a fundamental contradiction in the democratic promise–the notion that we have a right to live in a political community with whom we share common values versus the idea that we need to learn to share the world we live in with those who may not agree with us, Sometimes the differences can be too deep to avoid secession. Nonetheless, it is also the case that differences often reflect what James Madison would have called the “passions” of the moment, rather than a rational understanding of what truly matters.
Consider the original Pilgrims who settled in North America. They assumed that they could create a new world different from all the rest, bound up in a compact that would override individual differences and guarantee a shared world in accodance with what they determined was God’s will. Essentially, they favored a kind of secession from the dominant values and institutions of the Britain of their day. The comittment and sacrfice to achieve this end can be seen as admirable. Yet they found within the space of one generation that most of what they had dreamed of was dissipated, as new colonists came with new or different ways of looking at the world. Theocracy was replaced with a more secular, market-based society driven by individual appetites.
We have to share the world with others. That’s the hell of it. Let’s hope that Scotland understands that problem, and assumes that independence represents how they will share the world, not how to secede from it.