It is not often I read about Vermont secession from financial analysts – more of a thing we get to over beer #6 up at the Inn at Long Trail on Sherburne Pass. But, Agora Financial puts forth an interesting riff about the undercurrent of secessionist feeling in the United States. It starts with the ancient tensions between the South and the North, but careens into the less well known movements in the Northeast, specifically my home state.
“About 12 or 13 years ago,” a reader writes, “I was predicting that the United States would break up into between eight-11 new countries, and I tried to guess the time frame that it would occur.
“I knew that the federal government would do everything that it could to keep it going, so my best guess was that the breakup would take place about the year 2025. However, since Obama was elected, he has drastically increased government spending and debt, radically increased socialism and now it looks as if he’s about to get us into another Middle East war. My new prediction is just 2017, only five years away.
“If I were the governor of a state, I think that I would be speaking to the governors of the states adjoining mine and making plans in advance. There was very little advance notice when the old Soviet Union broke up, and I’m guessing that we won’t have much time either.”
“This secession business is near and dear to our hearts,” writes a reader from the state that’s home to the Second Vermont Republic movement.
“Imagine (a la The Mouse that Roared) Vermont leaving the dear old US of A and merging with the Canadian separatists. We would then declare war on the U.S. and Canada and proceed to lose. Given the war reparations that we could expect from such an arrangement, we would all have our pensions and health care guaranteed for life… more beer?”
OK, the “radical increase of socialism” in America almost consigns this to the paranoid superpartisan pile.* But the piece talks about the historical undercurrents of sentiment about small nations, and I believe that this is part of a larger trend around the world, a response to the failure of neoliberal organizations. Most places in the world began with smaller states that were sucked up, at different points, into a larger nation, usually sometime in the 19th century. As the authority of federal authorities is eroded from poor leadership, people naturally gravitate back to an older concept of national unity.
Full disclosure: I am a Vermont separatist. Vermont was a nation for around 14 years prior to joining the United States, and the sentiment of Vermont as an independent place never left the Green Mountains. My family has been in Vermont since the days of the Republic, and I was raised to believe that we were Vermonters first, Americans second. Now, Vermont has always given more than its share of blood for American wars – Revolutionary, Civil, Great Wars, and now, unfortunately, Iraq and Afghanistan. We always get out and push when required – but we never forget the words of Ethan Allen, “You will come here and you will know, the gods of the hills are not the gods of the valleys.” And so, as America is gripped by various madnesses, my initial response has always been, in the words of Ethan Allen again, to retreat to the hills and caves of the Green Mountains and make war on all mankind. I don’t mean we’re going to invade Connecticut or New Jersey, but it does mean that when idiots in New York and Washington coordinate the biggest, stupidest housing bubble and financial crash ever, we’re pretty tempted to blow up the bridges over the Connecticut river and Lake Champlain, block I-91 at the Massachusetts border, and let everyone south of us work it out while we tend to our cows.
And yet, this is probably silly. Vermont has been part of the United States, sharing a common currency and language since 1791. Your average Vermonter doesn’t care much about Virginia and Texas or what happens to them, but it would be a pretty big change for an actual secession. For now.
But what about Quebec and Catalonia? Those are two nations with different languages that the entities that federate their region into a recognized nation-state. The notion of Quebec as a new, separate nation is more logical now than it ever has been, despite the angry dismissive protestations of, say, every single person west of Ottawa. And the Catalans have never liked being Spanish, maintaining a separate language in the face of grotesque abuse from Spanish dictators such as Francisco Franco. The Basques are in the same position, having resisted cultural occupation for – wow – about 3000 years. Then there are the Bretons, the Corsicans, the Alsatians, the Frieslanders in the north of the Netherlands, the Flems and Wallons in Belgium, and last but not least the Scots, who are voting in 2014 to separate from the “Sassenach” down in England. All of these people have varying claims on self-determination. And a couple of guys named Bernanke and Draghi might just help them on their way.
A commenter on Twitter recently pointed out to me than a Federal Europe might work a lot better with 40 states – or 50 states! – than with the 27 they have now. After all, there is widespread suspicion that larger states with a history of Empire (say, just for a couple examples, GERMANY and FRANCE) are trying to control small countries through Brussels regulation and central bank policies.
What if those countries were broken down into their component parts? What if Spain loses Euskadi (the Basques) Galicia (the Celts in the northeast of the country) and Barcelona? What if Corsica finally shakes off France? And the Bretons finally muster the courage to make their country official? And the Bavarians tell Berliners to take a hike? And just consider the Scots gone. They might function better as a group of smaller states that try to govern in earnest through a central federal authority, rather than have this significant imbalance of power between megastates like Germany and smaller, weaker states such as Portugal and Greece.
This may sound crazy, like most of what I write. But what I will point out is that separatist movements are always, always, always underestimated by people living in the capital cities of an empire. If you are from Chicago and live in Washington DC and have never been told by your grandparents that you’re not really an American first – you will think that this kind of thing is impossible. If you’re in London or Berlin, and particularly if your success comes from a large bureaucracy that can only exist in sprawling nation-states, you’re always going to think that the Scots are nuts for going it alone.
But from the inside of those places, speaking a different language in your kitchen than you do at the bank – you dream of a day when you don’t have those people in the supposed “capital” of your “country” deciding your fate for you. You stew. You dream. You play your folk music. You gripe with your neighbors about how one day, you’re going to be free of these screwups and their cockamamie complex financial schemes. And one day, you vote on a referendum to make it reality.
Below is a wacky scenario from a Russian political scientist about how the United States might look after a series of secessions. The notion of Missouri being under Canadian control is super amusing to me since people here generally do not know where it is, but it still deserves consideration along with several other potential permutations of a world when our institutions stop serving our needs and begin disintegrating.
If you’re sitting in New York or Madrid maybe it seems crazy, but people in your chair usually think that way until it’s too late.
*Ed. note: Commenters, if you’re going to try to argue this socialism point, you are welcome to, so long as you begin by stating that you foreswear Social Security and Medicare. You don’t get to complain about socialism while insisting that I pay for your socialized entitlements. Thanks.