Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Once Again on Secession

By Robert Wenzel

A commenter at the post, What if the Separatists Succeed in Catalonia?, writes:
To argue that Catalonian secession would diminish Catalonians' collective freedom would be to argue, as a corollary, that the Spanish state currently safeguards Catalonians' freedom.
I'm not sure that's an argument that libertarians should be making.
I believe that at the heart of this comment is the foundation of the "secession is always good" faction of the libertarian movement.

It is thinking in terms of some type of "collective freedom," by which what is really meant is
not freedom of the individual but simply coercion by a different ruler over a given region.

It is not about "the Spanish state currently safeguards Catalonians' freedom." For the libertarian, it is about what ruling body will interfere the least in a regions freedoms. By all indications, the separatist movement in Catalonia is being led by socialists that would move the region away from the freedoms that do exist under Spanish rule.

How can a libertarian possibly think this is a good for people in Catalonia who prefer to live under the least oppressive state?

I have previously pointed out that it is not necessarily an "all or nothing" good or bad when it comes to secession.

I have argued that to an outsider (outside the region of the secession) smaller governments are almost always good since smaller governments have fewer men and resources to launch wars.

However, what goes on internally in an area of secession is not necessarily good.

If country X is relatively free, but region Z institutes harsh socialist rule after secession, it is not an advantage to the people of region Z who prefers the freedom of country X.

Libertarianism is about the non-aggression principle. It is not about a ruler who rules over fewer subjects being always preferable to a ruler who rules over more subjects.

No one who appreciates liberty is going to pick up his bags and leave the United States to move to North Korea because Kim Jung-un rules over fewer people than Donald Trump.

Further, libertarianism is not about majority rule, if 51% of the people in region Z desire socialism, while 49% desire free markets, no libertarian in good standing can think that socialism is okay in that region based on some type of "collective freedom" to march toward socialism---when it would clearly violate the desires and non-aggression principle for 49% of the people, when the alternative is to remain in a freer larger state.

I repeat, libertarianism is not about the size of the ruling state, it is about more liberty.

Finally, the last desperate defense for those who hold the view that "separation is always good" argue that a separation of a more totalitarian region would result in less of a totalitarian "drag" on the remainder of the country. This might be the case for specific secessionists movements but is not a general rule.

Let us take for example, again, take democratic country X which, we now add,  has a population close to that of Spain of around 47 million with a region Z, desirous of breaking away, with a population of some 8 million (similar to Catalonia). If 51% of the people are for breaking away in Z and are desirous of a more socialist government, then that population's voting power in the country X amounts to approximately 4 million or approx. 8.5%. Thus that vote in itself will not necessarily be a socialist drag on the entire country X. It would be dependent on the voting mix of those outside of region Z and whether the additional 8.5% would put socialist ideas into play.

So again, we see that there is no general rule here about secession and "drag" but simply different outcomes based on the specifics of the situation.

The idea that being ruled by a leader who has no respect for NAP, but rules over fewer people than a ruler over a larger region that allows more freedom is a faulty libertarian position.

There is no such thing as "collective freedom," that is simply a code word for majority rule. One would think that libertarians would get that the basic idea that libertarianism advances is freedom for the individual and that it is not some game of musical chairs where under certain circumstances, "collective freedom" can result in less freedom that should be cheered on.

Specifically, with regard to Catalonia, I believe Daniel Lacalle based on the above notions makes a very strong case why secession is not a desirable outcome for the people of Catalonia.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of  EconomicPolicyJournal.com and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Sunday Morning with Robert Wenzel.


  1. Yes, but if rump Spain is actually freer than Catalonia, freedom seeking current Catalonians can also vote with feet and move away. This about giving people more options; maybe some socialists will move to independent Catalonia. It also sets an important modern precedent that borders are not eternal.

  2. Common man libertarianism:
    "Live and let live"
    "To each his own"

    To those who want to secede to their own socialist paradise (Catalonia, California), Godspeed. To those who live in said regions who don't want to live in their socialist paradises, continue to press secession. Secede from the secessionists. It's time to get the ball rolling. Time to divide and subdivide the nations. Or is Robert comfortable with the status quo of 200 or so States?

  3. Robert,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment! First, I will admit that "collective freedom" was probably not the best choice of words. I should have said something like "total" or "aggregate" freedom. I of course agree with you that majority decision-making cuts no moral and little utilitarian ice.

    Anyway, I don't deny that the Catalonian state is full of local would-be tyrants. I was simply pointing out that the only fundamental change resulting from secession is that the Spanish national state authorities would be stripped of their perceived legitimacy. To say that the secession would result in less freedom is to imply that the Spanish state currently is effectively protecting the Catalonians from the local thugs.

    This strikes me as being little different from the argument that government police ought to continue operating because they protect the citizens from criminals. But as libertarians we know well that the state is NOT an effective protector of its subjects, and so it seems paradoxical to declare that they would be worse off as a result of the withdrawal of a state agency.

  4. Says a commenter to the above Mises interview:

    "Individuals have the right, under the NAP, to form covenant communities - even covenant communities that embrace communism. Libertarians who say "you are not free enough" are central planners; I have no other term to use to describe this situation.

    For those in Catalina who do not want secession, the answer for libertarians is to support the next secession."


  5. I think it's shortsighted to argue the point based on what the potential new rulers are saying they'll do in the region that may secede. Rulers come and go and change their policies.

    The question is, what can a state get away with in the long term on a relative basis in a large vs. small area? The fundamental point is that, for a given culture/society, the smaller the area ruled the weaker the state over the long term, as it has fewer people to plunder, the people are closer to their rulers and it's more of an issue for the state if people leave.

    Comparing the US to North Korea is not relevant. The correct comparison is a smaller US vs. the current US, or a smaller NK vs. the current NK.