A National Divorce Is the Only Solution

Chuck DeVore wanders through the tumultuous history of the U.S. in the 1780s and 1790s in search of evidence to buttress his view that a national divorce is a bad idea. Specifically,

Breaking up is hard enough — creating a new government that can both secure liberty and survive is even harder.

No one who writes seriously about a national divorce (a.k.a., voluntary partition) would claim that it would be easily accomplished, or that the aftermath would be smooth sailing. But the prospect of turbulence shouldn’t deter those of us who believe that a national divorce is the only peaceful way to secure something like liberty for the citizens of a majority of the disunited States of America.

In any event, DeVore focuses on the wrong period of American history. The relevant period is the 1770s, when the political leaders of the thirteen colonies (“the united States of America”) declared that

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.

That, dear readers, is the relevant historical parallel.

DeVore veers from irrelevant history to an irrelevant prescription for undoing the long train of abuses and susurpations that has issued from Washington for more than a century:

[L]et us strive to repair the nation we have.

Returning to the Constitution would be a great first step. The surest route to doing that would be to end federal primacy over state power via restoring the original meaning of the Commerce Clause, while forcing Congress to legislate rather than hiding behind unelected bureaucrats by rediscovering the nondelegation doctrine.

This is nonsense upon stilts, to apply Bentham’s diagnosis to a somewhat different political perversion. The last thing that the abusers and usurpers of the real Constitution will allow is a return to it and to its many limits on the central government (the real Commerce Clause being just one of them).

The only solution, for lovers of liberty, is a national divorce, which could be accomplished without bloodshed. To do that, however, requires concerted action by the top elected officials of a significant number of States. What is a significant number in this case? Republicans have complete control of the governorships and legislatures of 23 States. A coalition of two-thirds to three-fourths of those States (i.e., 16 or more) would be a significant fraction (about one-third of the number of States in the present disunion).

How would such a coalition proceed to declare its independence of the presently constituted United States of America? The details are here (scroll down to F. Secession).

Would the central government try to prevent secession by 16 or more States? Almost certainly, but not through all-out war — at first. The most likely counter-strategy would be to take the matter to the Supreme Court, where a majority of justices would rule that secession is unconstitutional, despite strong arguments to the contrary (see F. Secession at the link above). Further, the central government would have manufacture “evidence” that the governments of the seceding States are not “republican”, giving the Court another straw to grasp in its eagerness not to incur the wrath of Congress (and suffer the indignity of being “stacked”). So the Court’s ruling would not only invalidate secession but also declare the governments of the seceding States to be illegitimate.

With such a ruling in hand, the central government would recognize provisional governments for the seceding States, governments whose executives and legislatures consist of dissenting citizens of the seceding States. Resistance by a seceding State to the installation of a provisional government would give the central government an excuse to use force to install that government and enforce its edicts. (The president would invoke the Insurrection Act.) Capitulation by one or two seceding States would discourage the rest, and the central government would reassert itself as the de facto government of every State, as it is now for all practical purposes.

How, then, could secession be made to work? The next time there is a Republican president and the GOP has a firm grip on Congress, which could come as soon as 2025, the central government should stand aside while the secession movement plays out. The GOP-controlled States, by the same token, must act vigorously to set themselves up under a new (i.e., old) Constitution so that their independence is secured the next time the pendulum swings back to the Democrat party. And the pendulum would surely swing back in succeeding elections, given the absence of a large number of GOP-controlled States from the diminished union.

But so what? The deed would have been done and a significant fraction of Americans would be living in something more like liberty. Half a loaf, in this case especially, is vastly superior to none.

What about the citizens of GOP-controlled States of the old union that didn’t secede when given the opportunity to do so unopposed? And what about the citizens of Blue States who chafe under leftist dictatorships? They might well be stuck in the old union — which is likely to be more oppressive than ever. But that won’t preclude the new union from welcoming immigrants from the old one — if they pass rigorous ideological background checks. (Why repeat the experience of once-conservative Southern States, like Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, which succumbed to the allure of economic growth and were inundated by carpetbaggers, or Texas, which is always on the verge of succumbing?)

What about the common defense and trade between the old and new unions, which are the only aspects of disunion that might be problematic? (The new union can print enough money to provide Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for those who are already dependent on such things, or soon will be, and give due notice the everyone else that the feeding trough won’t be refilled after a date certain.) I would expect the government of the old union to act foolishly and spitefully by (a) drastically reducing its defense spending and (b) erecting onerous trade barriers between the two Americas, including strict controls on the exportation of computer technology, products, and services to the new union.

The good news is that the creation of a new union means that its government could make a fresh start on defense and trade.

Meaning no disrespect to the members of today’s armed forces, I must say that those forces are mainly irrelevant to the defense of Americans and their overseas interests. This is a subject that deserves a long blog post devoted to it, and perhaps I will someday publish such a post. For now, I’ll just say that America’s defense forces ought to exploit America’s technological superiority and become far less focused on the relics of the past: huge ships, heavily armored army divisions, supersonic aircraft, and amphibious forces. For a lot less money, America could confound its enemies — near and far — in ways that Israel is exploring.

Trade is a two-way street (in fact, a multi-dimensional street that carries traffic in many directions). If the leaders of the old union want to curtail trade with the new union and make their citizens even worse off than they will become by tilting at the “climate change” windmill, so be it. The entrepreneurial spirit and know-how of the new America will readily take up the slack of diminished trade with the old regime. Computer technology, products, and services are easily replicated, to the extent that they need replication. (The States of the new union, “elite” opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, will have their share of people who are quite as capable as the geeks of Washington State and California.)

So, unlike Chuck DeVore, I say this about a national divorce: Bring it on! If I’m not on the right side of the divide when it happens, I will try my damnedest to get there before I’m too old to move again.