Breaking Out of the Empire Box
Three days after the 2008 presidential election, no matter which political party takes the White House, a convention will be held in
This may sound unlikely, if not impossible. Yet a recent Zogby poll commissioned by the Middlebury Institute, a think tank studying "separatism, secession, and self-determination," indicates that that 20 percent of Americans think "any state or region has the right to peaceably secede from the United States and become an independent republic." More than 18 percent told pollsters that they "would support a secessionist effort in my state."
Could it happen? Frank Bryan, a political scientist who co-authored a 1989 book that called for restructuring Vermont democracy along decentralist lines, has argued that "the cachet of secession would make the new republic a magnet" and "people would obviously relish coming to the Republic of Vermont, the Switzerland of North America." For Thomas Naylor, the former
As you might guess, there's no shortage of skeptics. According to
But the underlying issue isn't whether there is legal authority, but why millions of people across the country think it's a reasonable and attractive idea. An answer worth considering is provided by Rob Williams, editor of Vermont Commons, a newspaper that covers secession and related issues. "The argument for secession is that the
The Anti-Mason movement - which elected two governors and ran a candidate for president in 1832 - lasted only a decade, and most of its political leaders eventually joined either the short-lived Whig Party or the more durable Republicans. Along the way, however, it pointed out the dangers of elite groups and, on a practical level, initiated changes in the way political parties operated. The Anti-Masonic Party wasn't only the first third party in US national politics. It introduced the concept of nominating conventions and the adoption of party platforms, reforms soon embraced by the other parties.
This wasn't the only time a short-lived political movement produced unexpected change. In 1912, the new Progressive Party, formed by Theodore Roosevelt when he lost the Republican nomination to William Howard Taft, led to the election of Woodrow Wilson.
So, what can a campaign for secession accomplish, even if the goal isn't achieved? To answer that, consider the basic agenda underpinning the
In a recent article assessing whether
Naylor aims for the fences, calling secession a rebellion against empire designed to retake control from big institutions, and help people care for themselves and others by "decentralizing, downsizing, localizing, demilitarizing, simplifying, and humanizing our lives." In some ways, the movement is reminiscent of an earlier effort in
In 1976, dissidents from the Democratic and Republican Parties attempted to create a "third way" called the Decentralist League of Vermont. The group was convened by Bob O'Brien, who had just lost the Democratic primary for governor, and John McClaughry, a Republican scornful of his Party's leadership. Each invited allies for a series of meetings to define a joint agenda. Contrary to some accounts, left-wing leaders such as Murray Bookchin and Bernie Sanders weren't involved, finding an alliance with people on the political Right unappealing at the time.
Although the Decentralist League lasted only a few years, ultimately disbanding when its Left wing opted for electoral politics and Right signed on for the Reagan "revolution," it pointed to what might unite people who find the current national and global order unsustainable and dangerous. Taking a im at all forms of centralized power and wealth, the League asserted that decentralism is the best way to preserve diversity, increase self-sufficiency, and satisfy human needs.
"Decentralists believe in the progressive dismantling of bureaucratic structures which stifle creativity and spontaneity, and of economic and political institutions which diminish individual and community power," said the group's Statement of Principles. The political platform included support for local citizen alliances; widespread ownership of industry by employees; a viable and diverse agricultural base; a decent level of income for all; education that stresses self-reliance, creativity, and a combination of learning and work; technologies that increase energy self-sufficiency; and mediation of disputes rather than reliance on regulations and adversary proceedings.
On the other hand, the League's demise underlines the fragility of a left-right alliance, which also has recently created difficulties for the
Greg Guma writes about media and politics on his website, Maverick Media (http://muckraker-gg.blogspot.com). The full text of the Decentralist League's Statement of Principles can be found there.