In my last post, I discussed secession and its place in the modern world. Today I will take the idea of secession to its logical extreme and discuss why it is a critical part of any just theory of government. Before I do, I will once again attempt to separate the idea of government from the State.
In almost every article I have written over the past year or so, there has been one theme that stands out: liberty good, government bad. And, to a large degree, that is the theme echoed by most every libertarian. But it is actually not true. Government itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it need not encroach upon our liberty. What is bad is the modern practice of government as the State with a capital “S.” We can do better.
In my series on property a few months back, I concluded that property, at least property in the form of land and natural resources, was, in part, a social construct and likely required some sort of social contract between individuals living in close proximity to one another. By banding together, they would agree to respect one another’s property rights and defend all against any outsiders who might try to invade their space. I even alluded to the idea that this group could agree to require certain behaviors and to ban others, as long as all parties were in agreement. Hmmm…sounds like a government to me. How is this different from what we have right now?
The single biggest difference is that, under my theory of the social contract, anyone may at any time and for any reason withdraw their consent and exit the group. Now they may be required to divest themselves of any real estate they own and to leave the community, but they would always be free to leave. And that wouldn’t just apply to future generations who had never agreed to the social arrangement, but even to those who had initially signed it. No one can sign away the right to change their mind. We don’t allow people to sell themselves into slavery nor do we compel someone to work, even if they have signed an employment contract. There must always exist the opportunity to opt out, to secede if you will.
The massive colossus of the modern nation-state fails the “opt out” rule and it fails the social contract model on a number of levels. First, there was never unanimous consent within the territory they claim the right to rule. There never could be when you are taking about millions and millions of people scattered over hundreds of thousands of square miles. The simple size makes it practically impossible for every person to have ever consented to the government that rules over them. Not only does the size prevent the formation of a legitimate government, it makes individual secession too difficult. Our legitimate units of government are necessarily small, both in terms of population and physical size.
In a world made up of literally millions of self-governing enclaves, it is fair to say that conflicts would arise from time to time. Ideally, such conflicts would be resolved peacefully, using some method of arbitration agreed to in advance. This is legitimate. Such agreements built up over time might very well look a great deal like a loose confederacy, with some common courts and even a common defense force. But the day to day operation of the individual units would be very different from place to place and that is as it should be. Some might closely resemble the kind of highly regulated States we live in today. Others would have almost no rules whatsoever. Each would have to respect those who choose to opt out though none would be specifically required to take in outsiders. That would also be determined by the property owners, individually or within the rules agreed to in the social contract.
As always, when discussing social contract theory, we are engaged in a thought experiment. I do not know if any currently existing government units fulfill the requirements I have laid out. I suspect that almost no such units exist anywhere but I do believe they have existed throughout human history. But that is a topic for another day. Speaking of days, I do hope you have had a great one. We’ll be back next week with more good, clean libertarian fun.