Following the re-election of President Obama on November 6, 2012, petitions to secede from the United States were submitted by residents of all 50 states. These petitions were filed through the Obama administration’s “We The People” initiative, which was launched in 2011 with the stated intention of giving citizens an additional avenue of voicing their concerns to the administration. Eight of these petitions, along with one calling for the deportation of everyone who signed a secession petition, gained enough signatures to receive an official response from the Obama administration.
The official response was written by Jon Carson (pictured above), the Director of the Office of Public Engagement. Let us analyze some key parts of this response from a philosophical libertarian perspective.
“Our founding fathers established the Constitution of the United States ‘in order to form a more perfect union’ through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.”
True self-government is not a state matter, but an individual matter. If the individual has the ability to govern himself, then all external government is unnecessary. If the individual does not have the ability to govern himself, then an external government would be necessary, but would be populated by individuals who are likewise incapable of self-governance. This is a contradiction, therefore self-government cannot be provided externally.
“They enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all.”
This reflects a view that democratic voting is a virtue. In reality, democracy merely allows the evil of state power to be wielded by many rather than by the few or the one, as in an oligarchy or monarchy. It does nothing about the immorality of the initiation of force that is essential to the functionality of the state. The only essential change is that dictatorial edicts are mostly replaced by large segments of the population initiating force against each other through the voting booth.
“But they did not provide a right to walk away from it. As President Abraham Lincoln explained in his first inaugural address in 1861, ‘in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual.’ In the years that followed, more than 600,000 Americans died in a long and bloody civil war that vindicated the principle that the Constitution establishes a permanent union between the States. And shortly after the Civil War ended, the Supreme Court confirmed that ‘[t]he Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.'”
This political philosophy has its roots in the social contract, which posits that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the state (in whatever form it may exist in a certain geographical area), in exchange for protection of their remaining freedoms. The problem with this view is that it violates the non-aggression principle, the natural right of voluntary association, and the will theory of contract. In Secession, Walter Block defines secession as the right to keep one’s property rights intact and either to shift allegiance to another political entity or none at all, and then argues that the right to secede is part of the right to free and voluntary association. If this right is violated, then those who are not free to secede, to dissolve bonds that they do not wish to continue, are in effect slaves to a ruler, (in this case, the will of the majority in a constitutional republic governed by democratic principles), but the invariable result is a loss of essential liberty. In No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, Lysander Spooner argues that a supposed social contract cannot be used to justify the existence of the state, because government will initiate force against anyone who does not wish to enter into such a contract. As a result, such a contract cannot be considered legitimate because it is involuntary.
Of course, such a response from a government official is to be expected, as it is not in the interest of those who work for the state to present arguments that undermine the foundations of the state. That being said, Mr. Carson could have tried a bit harder, and could have made arguments that require more than a cursory refutation.