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Why the regime lets other people decide for themselves but not Americans

Self-determination means being able to make laws for your own community without Washington, DC, looking over your shoulder and telling you what to do. This is something most people can do. Why can't the U.S.?

People in the United States who are against secession often choose from a number of reasons why no state should be able to break away from the rest of the country. Some people who are against secession say it's bad for national security. Others oppose secession because they are proud to be American and say that "we" shouldn't "give up on America."

Antisecessionists Believe Self-Determination Leads to “Bad” Laws

One of the most common reasons to be against secession is the fear that "bad" laws will be made in places that are given their own governments. That is, we're told that without federal "oversight" of state and local communities, independent states would deny basic "rights" like getting an abortion, voting without an ID, or making sure that every cake-shop owner is forced to bake cakes for same-sex couples. We're told that these independent governments wouldn't follow "progressive" rules like bans on fossil fuels and paying workers a minimum wage set by the federal government. So, the story goes, these places must be forced, if necessary by the military, to follow the rules and laws of the US government.

But there is a lot more tolerance for the rest of the world, which is made up of more than 190 independent states with their own laws. Only in a few places, like Russia, Iran, and Syria, do we hear that the US government needs to step in to make sure that people there follow the "right" laws—by force, of course. Everywhere else, like Peru, India, Canada, or Poland, it's fine for laws to be made locally based on what people value there. people tell us. After all, those places are democracies, and we're told that democratic institutions create "legitimate" governments.

Why does the US government "allow" some governments to make their own decisions, but any area that is currently inside US borders, even if it has a democratically elected government, will never be able to make its own decisions? The answer seems to be a mix of nationalism, a half-baked version of the "social contract" theory, and the desire to control others "for their own good."

Antisecession Is about Extending Washington’s Control

Many people on all sides of the political spectrum are against secession in order to stop "bad" policy. They do this because they believe that the US Supreme Court and other federal technocrats can "protect rights" by deciding whether or not states and local governments follow federal ideas of "good" law. On the Left, however, there seems to be a strong desire to stop state and local governments in the US from making their own decisions. In a recent article in The Nation, Paul Blest argues that "blue-state secession" would be "cruel" because it would let red-state governments run without interference from the US federal government. This would probably let conservatives break the human rights of "marginalized people" on a large scale. Blest thinks that secession shouldn't be considered because it would make it harder for the federal government to "accommodate" transgender students and make it easier for women to get abortions (among other presumed benefits of federal control).

In fact, many on the Left find it disgusting to think that American separatists might be able to run governments anywhere without a federal watchdog. This is clear from a recent article in New Republic by Brynn Tannehill, who warns that conservative state officials are "lining up" to pass new laws against birth control, "ban books," "rig democracy," and generally oppress groups that conservatives are said to hate. Tannehill says that all of this is part of a plan by conservatives to make "two Americas," or, as CNN put it in July, "a nation within a nation." Tannehill thinks that the answer, whether this leads to "soft secession" or "hard secession," is for the Left to reassert federal control over these separatists and make sure that red states are forced to follow federal policies that are more progressive. If nothing is done, these states will keep falling into a "hellscape" that doesn't get better.

Most of the World Gets to Make Its Own Laws

The hysteria about abortion or voter ID, on the other hand, never seems to spread outside of the US. This is true even though many "progressive" European states have stricter gestational limits on abortion than Roe v. Wade, and even though abortion is mostly illegal in Poland. Latin America has many different restrictions on abortions that progressives in the US would call intolerable if they were used here. Abortion is against the law in Iraq, where, so we were told, thousands of Americans died to set up a progressive democracy. So long as these countries are considered "allies" by the US government, we never hear that the US needs to start a humanitarian military operation there to protect a "right" decided by the US Supreme Court. In the same way, most democracies require proof of identity to vote, even though American leftists say this is "rigging democracy." In some parts of Latin America and eastern Europe, same-sex marriage is illegal. In about half a dozen European countries, only civil unions between same-sex couples are legal. Marriage between people of the same gender is illegal in most of Africa and the Muslim world. Again, where are the calls for federal agents to be sent to all of these places to protect human rights? There's no doubt that people who support abortion and same-sex marriage will want the laws in these other countries to be "improved." But almost everyone agrees that these changes should be made through local institutions and that local autonomy should be respected, more or less.

Mises Wire

Three Ways They Justify Denying Self-Determination to Americans

But in Texas, Idaho, or Arizona, much smaller differences from the progressive consensus are seen as serious violations of human rights. Imagine if the government of Arizona said, "We are now subject to federal law like Mexico, but we will make our own laws based on our own democratic institutions." That is, Arizona would be saying that it has the same right as the rest of the world to make its own rules without asking Washington for permission. Even global elites would agree that Arizona is a "democracy" because it has an elected legislature and all the other institutions that make a democracy. Would Arizona then have the same amount of freedom to decide for itself as any other democracy on the planet? Of course not. Instead, we would be sure to hear howls of protest from Washington elites and calls for the US government to send in the marines to make sure that these traitors and "authoritarians" in Arizona follow orders from Washington. We would hear that any attempt to protect local sovereignty would be a disaster for human rights and must be done for bad reasons, most likely racism.

To keep Arizonans from having the same right to self-determination as Mexicans right across the border, people who are against secession have to show that the people who live inside the border drawn by politicians a long time ago are "special."

There are a few different plans at work here. One argument is that there is no "need" for local self-government in the US because all residents of US member states are "represented" in Congress. That is, seven million Arizonans are "represented" in the House of Representatives by nine Arizonans, who make up 2% of the House's voting population. Two US senators "represent" the 7 million people who live in Arizona. The US Congress has 11 people from Arizona and 524 people who are not from Arizona. For many people who are against secession, this is what passes for democracy and political representation, and they say it's a good enough reason to keep people from choosing for themselves. Arizonans have no real say in federal laws that affect their state. Instead, about 500 people from other states decide what those laws are. Arizonans could always try to change these laws in federal court, where nine judges, none of whom are from Arizona, would make the final decision.

There is also the nationalist argument, which is based on feelings and sad appeals to national unity and a sense of solidarity. These are the people who say "we're all Americans" over and over again. Because of this, no part of the "free" United States is ever allowed to leave. These people also tell us, with less and less proof each year, that people in California have the same basic values as people in Texas, Idaho, or Kansas. Americans have a "natural bond" because of this. But if this supposed bond were as strong or natural as supporters say, more than one-third of Americans polled would not support secession. Notably, it's not up to regular people to decide for themselves if they "feel" American or feel a connection with other "Americans" 2,000 miles away. In the warm embrace of the "homeland," elites in Washington will tell you with whom you share a special spiritual and national bond.

The idea of a "social contract" is another argument that is used to say that people can't decide for themselves. From this point of view, everyone who lives in a US member state has agreed to follow all US laws in some way. It's never quite clear how this free-will agreement with US law comes about. There is no doubt that no living American helped write or sign the US Constitution. Some people who believe in the social contract theory say that US residents give "tacit consent" to US laws by not leaving the country. Adam Smith and David Hume talked about this silly idea a long time ago. They made fun of John Locke for coming up with it. The idea stays the same, though.

Also, many parts of what we now call "the United States" were not even added to the country through a process that everyone agreed to. Before Louisiana became a part of the United States, the people who lived there did not get a vote. In fact, the French-speaking people in Louisiana were very angry about how badly their new Anglo masters treated them. The Floridas and the Pacific Northwest were added as a result of talks between major powers, not because the people there wanted them to be. A war of conquest gave the US almost all of the American Southwest and California. After the war, the Mexicans were forced to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Because of these wars, diplomatic maneuvers, and historical accidents, we are now told that being a part of the United States is all about agreeing to things in a friendly way. So, any part of the United States that wants to break away from the rest will never be able to decide for itself again.

Any way you look at it, the way a US state "joined the union" one or two hundred years ago doesn't really show "consent" in 2022. Even though some people signed a constitution hundreds of years ago, that doesn't mean that people don't have the right to choose for themselves today. People who live in US member states are not fundamentally different from people in other parts of the world. Everyone has the right to run their own lives without the approval of elites in Washington.

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