Book Review of American Secession: The Looming Threat of a National Breakup by F.H. Buckley

Few people have written non-fiction books advocating for a future split of the USA. Dr. Michael Hart wrote a really good book called Restoring America, but unfortunately the first half of the book is nothing but a discussion of race issues.  Daniel Miller’s book TEXIT is by far the best, but it only addresses Texas secession. The content in Douglas MacKinnon’s book The Secessionist States of America would fit on two pages.

Now, it’s true that there are two books on future American secession that are collections of essays, but they are academic rather than an argument for taking a course of action. One is edited by David Gordon called Secession, State and Liberty.  The other, edited by Donald Livingston, is called Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century.  I guess I’m more attracted to free internet essays, because I haven’t read these.

F.H. Buckley, a pro-Trump law professor at George Mason University and editor of the American Spectator (a conservative magazine) is an American, but formerly a Canadian who lived in Quebec throughout the Quebec secessionist years. His book American Secession: The Looming Threat of a National Breakup is not detailed or long, but it is easy to read, engaging, and quick. The book is a philosophical overview of the potential for American secession that draws from the extensive debate on Quebec secession he witnessed over the decades. Buckley writes of gridlock in DC here:

…we are now facing another constitutional crisis, as we did in the 1850s, when Congress was unable to compromise on slavery or avert the impending civil war. Today again, changes that must be made seemingly can’t be made because of our divisions and failure to compromise. The Constitution was designed for another country , one in which people agreed on fundamental principles, and that’s not today’s America. We are divided on things that used to unite us.

Buckley is strongest when, as a law professor, he masterfully recounts in several pages why secession is constitutional:

The delegates thought of the government under the Articles of Confederation , and then under the Constitution they were drafting , as a compact among thirteen states, and they believed that when one state thought its rights had been traduced by the federal government it could withdraw from the compact, even as one party can rescind a contract when the other party has breached it . That’s what Madison argued , first in the Constitutional Convention, then in Federalist 43 and then in the Virginia Ratifying Convention. It was an argument he would repeat in drafting the 1798 Virginia Resolutions. In its ratifying convention , Virginia reserved the right to secede when the powers granted to the federal government had been perverted, to the injury or oppression of the state.  That, said Madison, would safeguard Virginia should it object to the federal government.  So Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution was expressly conditioned on a right of secession. How then could it be deemed unconditional?

Buckley breaks new ground with an analysis that finds significant inverse correlations between the population of a country and the happiness, income, and corruption of its people. Buckley argues that secession has advantages because empirically, a review of polling and economic data shows that nations that are smaller are happier and richer than nations that are larger.

The United States is very wealthy, but we’re not as rich as we’d be with less public corruption. That’s the message from Figure 6.1 , which plots a country’s wealth (the 2017 per capita gross domestic product) against its 2016 CPI ranking. Among the 141 countries examined, corrupt and poor Venezuela is in the lower left corner, while honest and rich Luxembourg and Singapore are in the top right corner. The diagonal line represents a statistical regression that captures the relation between wealth and honesty, or between public corruption and poverty. The model tells us that if America, with a CPI ranking of 75, could move up to Canada’s 82, the resulting increase in national wealth would amount to a $6,000 pay raise for every American. It would be a $ 12,000 increase if we moved to New Zealand’s 89.

He proposes that American states stop short of full secession, and settle for “home rule,” where only a few things such as foreign policy are handled by the central government. This leaves less to the central government than the US Constitution ever has. I believe that this would only work in a federation of red states, not in a 50-state Union, because blue states have proven with Roe v Wade that they can’t respect the wishes of red states. 

Because “home rule” could be defined in many ways, Buckley does not give details on this. If home rule includes the right of freedom of movement among all the states, then immigration is necessarily left in the hands of the central government, which is a non-starter for real conservatives.

If a decentralization movement gained enough momentum to change the US to a “home rule” system, how would they maintain that system without their own armies to enforce their sovereignty?  It’s the proven military firepower to enforce a decision to secede that forces other states to respect the rights of a state. If a decentralization movement gained enough momentum to change the US to a “home rule” system, they would be sorely tempted to persevere until they had acquired the right of a state to its own military. What would tempt them to stop short of full secession? They could look forward to, after secession, joining a federation of like-minded states on their own terms, and be free of imperialistic blue states.

Setting aside my skepticism of maintaining any kind of federation with traitorous, blasphemous, and soon-to-be bankrupt blue states, FH Buckley’s book American Secession is otherwise well-reasoned and has a realistic and accurate point of view. It’s certainly worth the cost of the book.  I’d say only Daniel Miller’s book TEXIT is more worthy of your time. TEXIT is applicable to any state with access to international waters. You’ll hardly find any overlap between American Secession and TEXIT, so they’re a good pair.

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