by Rob Gillespie
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
I‘m sure many of the people who follow The Libertarian Enterprise also follow Tom Woods, and if you don’t, you should. He is a staunch libertarian, a thoroughgoing scholar, and a bestselling author. For over 2200 episodes now – nine years – he has been blogging about American political history (one of his bestsellers is the Politically Incorrect Guide to American History), libertarian culture, Austrian economics, literature, music, comedy, the CCP Virus scam, the FED, the Libertarian Party, Ron Paul, the history of libertarian political and economic thought and interviewing other scholars and commentators on these topics. Over that span he has written dozens of books, of which this is the latest. Of those 2200+ podcasts, 110 have dealt with decentralization, secession or nullification.
And now the time has come. With the regressive Marxists firmly in control of the Dem party – and their arrogance and stupidity firmly in control of them, the rest of us really need to think about leaving. It is no wonder the political class – mainly, but not only in the Democrat party – has always supported slavery or one kind or another. It was Dems, and the “progressive” wing of the Republican party that finally got the income tax ratified (between 1909 and 1913) and everybody has been a slave to government ever since. These people in the “political class” have long held the attitude that they owned everybody else, but they were cagey enough to keep it under wraps. In their current arrogance they just don’t seem to care if they outright display it. (They really don’t won’t us to talk about it, and thus all the censorship edicts, and the weaponization of the DOJ and FBI against anybody who dares criticize them, but it seems like a lot of people are talking openly about it, anyway.)
Multiple secessions may turn out to be the only answer. I think Woods has so concluded and that’s why he has put together this book. And I think he’s not the only one to see it. Obviously, in the US, you see things blatantly in Texas, Florida, Virginia, South Dakota, in twenty-two states (and growing) with constitutional carry laws, and an increasing number passing electoral integrity bills to remind the feds that THEY, and not Nancy Pelosi or Joe Xiden set the election rules. (Biden, of course, refuses to let go of his delusion, based, of course, on his firm belief – shared with all the Dem elite – that the Constitution is toilet paper and they, which is the feds can and will make all the rules for elections regardless of what it says.) Or another example: many of the people of eastern Oregon would like to get out from under a dem/regressive governor who has turned Portland into a burned-out war zone. (They keep talking about joining Idaho.)
In Canada we had the trucker convoy and Justin the Groper’s absolutist reaction to it. But that was from the West. We’ve always had Quebec wanting to leave – they actually held a secession referendum in 1995, which lost because the voters didn’t want to give up the billions in federal handouts they were getting – but that’s mostly because Ottawa wasn’t fascist enough to suit their pols: local governments enacted laws forbidding Muslim women from covering their faces with hijabs or burkas and the provincial government supported them. In 2020 they reversed themselves and required everyone to wear face diapers, and then imposed curfews in 2021 as part of their CCP virus tyranny. Now we have the possible new Alberta premier proposing an Alberta Sovereignty Act as one of her first bills after she takes office. Albertans want their petroleum industry back (it is a provincial jurisdiction, according to our constitution, but our feds regard it as toilet paper just as your feds regard yours). We have the leaders of Saskatchewan and Manitoba joining Alberta in demanding an end to the federal carbon tax, and telling little Justin that he’d better not try to wreck their agriculture with his Dutch-style nitrogen quotas. The Maritime provinces have also recently spoken out against Turdeau’s idiotic climate regime. He is, of course, ignoring all of them. He figures he has until 2025 to do whatever he wants (and ruin as many westerners as he can…) Just like your elites, he doesn’t care that we can all see his totalitarianism. He thinks nobody can do anything about it.
And we mustn’t forget Europe. We had Brexit, and now half of Europe – Hungary, Poland, the Czechs and Slovaks, the Greeks, the Italians, the farmers in the Netherlands and Spain, the people (but of course not the “leader”) of France are massively rising against their international oligarchs in Brussels and in Davos.
Despite the fact that I am Canadian, I know the US has secession and nullification entwined in its whole history. It’s what you were founded on, wasn’t it? I have always admired that. I moved to Alberta for university partly because of the oil industry and party because I believed the culture and attitudes of people there made it seem the most American part of Canada. (While I was there, little Justin’s father, Pierre Trudeau, converted me to an Alberta separatist when he made his family’s first attempt to destroy the oil industry, leading up to his “national energy program” in 1980. I did not miss the fact that its initials matched those of Stalin’s “new economic policy” of 1921. I wondered if it was deliberate – he was a well-educated commie, a good buddy of Fidel Castro…) It was a clear attempt to destroy the Alberta economy, but it failed, mainly because the OPEC-instigated “energy crisis” of 1979 and its higher prices inspired more oil companies to explore and produce in Alberta, thus actually expanding the provincial economy. Separatism thus fell into the background, but now his son (or is he?…) is determined to complete the old man’s work.
So where does the basis of secession come from? This book is about its philosophical and historical origins, and that’s the first thing Woods covers. I learned something there already. I think we all know of the statist philosopher Thomas Hobbes, but here, Woods introduces us to his essentially proto- libertarian opposite, Johannes Althusius. Unlike Hobbes, Althusius saw a society as arising, not from an amorphous mass of indistinguishable units, which therefore had to be herded together by a ruling elite – although how they got to be distinguished from the blob all around them, Hobbes does not vouchsafe – but from individuals cooperating together starting in small groups. For him, according to Woods, the household (obviously a group of individuals who have come together voluntarily and stay together acting cooperatively) is the basic political unit. Various households might group together to cooperate in a larger basis, forming a village, and nearby villages, for the same reason, might work together forming what might become known as a province. This is the basis on which the United States was actually aggregated. It originates in the “compact theory”. All of the colonies entering the union in 1787 and 1788 did so as separate sovereign entities who retained the right to exit from the union if they so desired. Many of them threatened to act on that desire long before the 1861 breakup. They obviously didn’t, but regarded its use as a perfectly legitimate negotiating tool.
And for those who think that “there it goes; statism forming,” it doesn’t seem to have worked that way. In the middle ages there were a plethora of independent European city-states that were very free. Woods notes that “by today’s standards, medieval cities were oases of freedom in the midst of a feudal society.” It’s why so many peasants were keen to escape their share-cropperish status as essentially slaves on a baron’s lands. (If they got to a city, the city would not hand them back and the baron had no power to make them.) So you can see the kings of the countries surrounding those cities did not get to act like they are portrayed these days. They needed those cities and their production. They needed the trade hubs, the bustling ports those cities were. Also, since they did not have the power which governments all claim today, to force the peasants to fight for them, and everyone else to pay for it, they had to ask if the cities would send some aid, or if their supposedly subservient barons would lend them some of their paid (not conscripted from the local peasants) troops. And the barons did not have to put up with a king who thought he was an absolute overlord. That is the origin of the Magna Carta. King John was forced to cede some of his privilege to the barons.The Magna Carta contains a number of items which can easily be seen as acknowledgments of things that came to be regarded as individual natural rights (and which, naturally, all been repealed by the UK government in the last 150 years…).
According to Joe Biden, Justin the Groper, Klaus Schwab, comrade Xi, “Dear Leader” Kim, Ursula von der Leyen, Nicola Sturgeon, Vlad “the Impaler” (ras)Putin, Salma Lakhani, Doug Ford, Gretchen Witchmer, Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Jagmeet Singh, Jacinda Ardern, Olaf Scholz, and their likes around the world, and especially George Soros, who owns all of them, they – personally, or at least through their powerful government positions – are the source of all of our individual rights, and thus have the power to dispense or revoke them at will. (Actually, what they really believe is that they own us all; that we are their property, or at least their government property.) And since they are largely in charge, that is exactly how they are acting.
Donald Trump, Pierre Poillievre, Kristi Noem, Ron DeSantis, Danielle Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Lysander Spooner, Rose Wilder Lane, Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Tom Woods himself, understand, as Woods says, that “the liberties of the various bodies outside the center preceded the central authority, and it was the job of the central authority, at least in principle, to protect and defend those pre-existing liberties.” But they’re not in charge of anything, and we’re stuck with the first group. That’s why Woods proposes a “national divorce”.
There are areas of every US state, every country, whose people would like to escape their sois-disant overlords who are treating them as property. That’s the basis on which your American Revolution started. It’s right in the wording of the Declaration of Independence. It’s been done before and it sure looks like time to do it again.
That’s Chapter One. Two through Seven are a series of interviews drawn from episodes of Woods’ podcast with a number of thinkers, commentators, scholars, on various aspects of how it could be done. No one is suggesting it could be easy, but they all believe it is necessary if we’re to avoid internal and external war, and maybe even have a chance to live peaceful, productive lives, and they offer concrete arguments to deal with the objectors out there.
In Chapter 2, Tom talks with Jeff Deist, one of his most prolific pod guests through the years on why decentralization and secession are really the only way forward from the mess we’re in. This is taken from episode #1565. They point out that what started as a constitutional democratic republic of 6 million people just isn’t working any more with 320 million. And how could it? It’s just too unwieldy. They look at the objections trying to drag the “civil” war and slavery into it, and counter them. (Sometimes, I thought, kind of weakly, but their arguments could easily be developed further.) They look at the problems that would have to be negotiated, like the national debt, division of powers, etc., etc. They look at other, smaller countries and how they are able to be more cohesive because of their smaller closer-set populations. They also note the problems with some such countries.
It’s necessary at this point to insert some outside material that developed from an almost immediate reaction to the book. It came from an organization called LearnLiberty.org, which Woods describes rather charitably as “blue-pilled”. (I think el Neil would have called them LINOs…) His commentary can be found in his episode #2188, of August 23. These people’s objection to secession seems to be that it won’t necessarily immediately produce a libertarian situation in any territory or group seceding. It’s like they haven’t noticed that we already aren’t living in a libertarian society now, even before the “horrors” of secession. But because some of us wanting to leave and try something our way, or a different way doesn’t guarantee a result they would approve, nobody should even try it.
In Chapter 3, taken from episode #1963, he discusses nuts-and-bolts issues with Brion McClanahan, another frequent guest on his ‘cast. Would people need to negotiate? What about federal property within the area? How would they split the national debt? And what if the feds wouldn’t be willing to negotiate? Woods doesn’t even think the chances of that are good. He notes, “There’s no chance of reconciliation between the various groups in American society at this point. We just see the world differently. Some people want to lord it over others, and others don’t want to be lorded over, and there’s no way to reconcile that.” He thinks the result might be that even parts of individual states may break away, and wonders what’s wrong with that. They talk about the process by which the colonies started their secession program from the British Empire, and the political process by which what became the Confederate states seceded. They go over what the Constitution says about admitting new States to the union vs what it says about expelling states from the union, which turns out to be nothing: there’s no provision forbidding it. McClanahan concludes the discussion by saying “The United States is a big place, and your political community is where you need to focus your attention. Not somewhere else. That’s why I always say ‘think locally, act locally’ on my podcast, because that’s what you’ve got to do. It’s how you have to start living your life.”
In Chapter 4, Woods talks with author and commentator Michael Malice on the fallout of Brexit (2016) in Episode 694. They go over those same arguments that LINOs seem to be stuck with about this, namely that the UK government after Brexit will be just as statist as the one before it, so why bother? Malice, however, sees it the opposite way. He thinks it’s “a repudiation of the ruling caste and a moving of the Overton window. It’s telling a lot of self-appointed apparatchiks that your views don’t matter and you don’t have the ability – you never had the right but you don’t even have the ability to exercise absolute control as you did until quite recently”. He sees it as having given the would-be oligarchs the finger, which they richly deserved. He’s also pleased to point out that they’re incapable of learning from their mistakes; something we should all be grateful for. There’s a good deal more here, all of it richly interesting.
In Chapter 5 (from Episode 1575) Woods talks with one F.H. Buckley, a law professor at George Mason University about the potential for a national breakup. This man understands the compact theory of the union. Woods covered it somewhat in Chapter 1,and there is more discussion and description of its functioning here. Buckley goes over the wrong-headed ideas treating the Union as practically sacred, and how they’ve clouded far too many people’s thinking over the past two centuries so that they can’t see any possibility that a national breakup could be a good thing. He also notes that “Just about every country in the world is staring down a secession movement,” and wonders why we think we’re the exception. He doesn’t think we’ll see any way over it. He notes that in 1995, when Quebec brought in its separatist legislation, including complete suppression of the English language there, about 300,000 English speakers essentially seceded from Montreal. They voted with their feet, and moved to Toronto and points further west. And now we’re seeing people individually secede from blue states like the People’s Republic of California, or Illinois, or New York, and joining Texas, or Florida. He expects this to keep up. He says that we wouldn’t see a war, “But U-Haul would make out like bandits.”
Speaking of Texas, in Chapter 6, Woods talks Texit with Daniel Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement. This is drawn from Episode 1967, just a year ago. He thinks secessionism in the US is all but inevitable. He notes that in 1945, just after WWII, there were 54 sovereign countries in the world, but by 2000 there were 192 (!). And yet, the two of them have to discuss the fact that to far too many people, the idea of other people being self-governing is anathema, not to be tolerated. They note the incompatible worldviews held by different groups in just the US. They talk about how, every two years we have this big fight over control of a central government that just wants to dominate everyone. The question comes up of whether it’s only red states that are talking about it, and Mr. Miller cites a survey indicating that “a majority of Democrats” in the Pacific states (which have recently demonstrated just how “blue” they are) would consider withdrawing from the Union. (My personal take on this is that that would be wonderful, because maybe British Columbia could join them, and then, after a big earthquake, they would all physically separate and drift out to sea…)
He sees Texas experiencing an influx of “political, cultural and economic refugees from other states, where their core values are not represented in their state government.” I think it would be fair to observe that Florida is experiencing the same thing. He sees the whole border issue as being a big driver for Texas independence. The question then comes up of what happens if the federal government simply refuses to let Texas (or whatever other state) go and he’s not so sure they would be able to stop them. He cites polls indicating that almost half of active-duty military people believe the states have an absolute right to withdraw. (And yes, we can note that the people in charge right now are trying to remake the military in their woke image, but we can also note that there are now massive shortfalls in recruiting response.) He thinks that, if Texans follow a set, lawful process the feds won’t have anything to do but stamp their feet and scream just like the Eurocrats in Brussels did after the successful Brexit vote. I hope he’s right but I don’t know… Anyway, he quotes some very interesting sections of the Texas constitution holding that only Texas has any need to hold any referendum on Texas secession, to form a new government, as it were. A Texas Independence Referendum bill is being supported now by the GOP in the legislature.
This chapter in particular talks about all the objections and propaganda talking-points that will be raised to any such action, and they go over how they could be handled. They don’t really cover “answers” to all the objections to individual sovereignty and national divorce, because there really are no “answers”, and the people raising the objections – and especially those from the regressive left – don’t want answers anyway. (All they are really interested in is browbeating as many people as possible into giving up and not even considering the idea.) They discuss and show ways the process can be dealt with, and how, in some cases, some of them have already been dealt with in Texas. These are examples others could follow.
And, just to show that it isn’t just us libertarians, and “right wingers” who are interested in and support this concept, in the final chapter he talks with one Kirkpatrick Sale, who he describes as a “member of the new left” in the 1960s, and who is the author of numerous books (Episode 261, 2014). What Mr. Sale shows himself to be is an anti-authoritarian, whether they be Stalinists on the left or Nazis on the right. He essentially says that the left/right, red/blue thing is bullshit. He explains how he got “assigned” to the left even though he didn’t think of himself as being there, in particular, or indeed anywhere else except anti-authoritarian. He notes that today’s progressives have “never met a large government they didn’t like.” He also notes that (and, again, this was 2014) a Reuters poll found that 24% of Americans believed that secession was legal, and would participate in it in their own state. That’s eighty million people – the same number who supposedly voted for Joe Biden in 2020. Very interesting. He notes that it’s obvious to very many people that the federal government is failing everybody in just about every way, and suggests that it’s equally obvious that the only thing that will save any of us is secession. Woods notes that he knows some people on the left who are willing to work with libertarians, particularly on things like ending war, but most of them they just don’t want to. Sale believes that’s because most leftists “don’t really want to increase liberty and individual choice…” He believes, and I agree with this, that “They want to have a certain national consensus that is enforced nationwide.” (This again goes back to the whole power and treating people as property thing that I have mentioned before in this article.)
He tells us that he was interested in participatory democracy back in the ’60s, but there’s no way to have it at the scale of things today. He asserts that for it to work, it has to happen at a very local, regional, level. And he believes now that the only way that that is ever going to happen is through secession. (I would say that I don’t care how “participatory” it is, as long as it is one of the basic observed ground rules that there is no right to a democratic vote to abrogate anyone’s individual rights, there is no such thing as a legitimate democratic vote to violate the ZAP.) He notes the idea that smaller is better, and observes that the most successful states in the world, in terms of economic success and political freedom are pretty small; usually under seven million.
Woods then wonders why we have these elections every four years which are essentially like an on-paper civil war, and where everybody knows that whoever “wins” is going to oppress the ones who “lost”. He wonders why so many people just have to see their idea of how others should live rammed down their throats. Sale points out the complicity of the state educational system in this inability to leave each other alone.
Sale finishes by calling secession “obvious” – both then and now. He connects it to states’ rights, noting the success at the state level of ending gay marriage bans, and legalizing, at least in some senses, marijuana use. (Others in the book have observed that the federal government has been unwilling – or perhaps unable – to do anything about it.) So he suggests, at the end of the interview, that reinvigorating the concept of states’ rights might be a good starting point.
Now, there’s an awful lot of material here, and I can’t help feeling like I’ve rambled all over the place with it, but I haven’t even reproduced all the arguments. The book is 78 pages plus the appendix. You need to download and read it, and analyze it yourself. As I mentioned, I have been advocating for the slogan “Nothing Secedes Like Secession” since the late 1970s. For me, this book was like preaching to the choir. It still brought me a lot of new knowledge, and I could find very little to disagree with, except that I thought some of the arguments could have been even stronger. Woods is a consummate scholar, and he brings a great depth of knowledge to back up his ideas. He has brought to us a group of people whose ideas and work he also knows very well, and displayed their thought to us, whether they agree entirely with him or not.
As I have said, I agree with a great deal of what is presented here. As el Neil has said, “your mileage may vary”. You may agree more or less, or not at all. Having it out there to look at is what advances the development of knowledge. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Sources of material. First thing you want to do is order the book. It’s free at National Divorce. A download link will be emailed to you.
Woods’ podcasts can be found on YouTube (well, except for the ones they blocked because he had the temerity to suggest that Covid was a fraud or the jab might be dangerous…) and on Rumble.
His main website is tomwoods.com There you can find many other free downloadble ebooks, his Liberty Classroom, places to more closely interact with him, and links to the Ron Paul home schooling curriculum.
For a thorough look through his 2200+ podcasts, open tomwoods.com/episodes
The range of material he has covered is absolutely breathtaking.
Tom Woods, National Divorce
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