Mises Wire

Do We Need a "National Divorce"? It's Not a New Idea

News reports have been studded in recent weeks with talk of a “national divorce.” Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has been the face of the national divorce movement, but she is hardly alone in her view that Republican and Democrat states need to go their separate ways. For example, a March poll of American adults found that 20 percent of respondents favored splitting the country up along red and blue lines.

At the state level, too, talk of secession and redrawing state borders is heating up. Californians fed up with high taxes, crippling government regulations, and Jabba the Hutt–level bloated bureaucracy have long been discussing splitting their state into three, with six counties stretching from Monterey to Los Angeles forming the stump of California while northern California and southern California strike out on their own. The eastern two-thirds of Oregon appears overwhelmingly to favor joining “Greater Idaho,” thereby escaping the lunacy of the Antifa-addled Pacific coast. And if the TEXIT Referendum Act clears the Texas state legislature, Texans could vote on secession as early as November of this year.

Such talk of breaking up states and even the country into pieces is wonderful, welcome, and long overdue. A word of correction is in order on the “national divorce” front, however. There can be no national divorce because there was never a national marriage.

There is no “United States.” A great American philosopher named Lysander Spooner pointed out in the nineteenth century that the Constitution has “no authority” and binds no one to anything. Americans today continue to live as though we were wedded to, and by, a political compact from an age when grown men strutted around in tights and buckled shoes. But it’s a mirage, a will-o’-the-wisp.

This is not to say that state power isn’t real. It is. All too real, in fact. The government in Washington and the various state and local governments throughout the land lord it over us, stealing our money (which they also counterfeit) while subjecting us to humiliating deference rituals and involving us in gangland wars on a global stage.

Most of us go along with the rigamarole. Some of us, perhaps afflicted with Stockholm syndrome, even act as though dying for our captors were noble and sweet.

So, when talk of a national divorce crops up, or when we hear activists or our neighbors speaking of seceding from the “Union,” we often gasp in horror. The very idea! The red and blue states may not get along very well, but we are stuck with one another, so we had better learn to live with it. George Washington said so, and so did Thomas Jefferson, and so here we are.

But consider the points which Lysander Spooner raised about the putative nuptials which brought our “Union” into being. Here is how Spooner opens his 1870 tract No Treason no. 6, The Constitution of No Authority:

The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. And the Constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children. It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. That is to say, the instrument does not purport to be an agreement between any body but “the people” then existing; nor does it, either expressly or impliedly, assert any right, power, or disposition, on their part, to bind anybody but themselves.

Spooner’s arguments are, to my mind, irrefutable. You say you want a national divorce? Well, first show me our national marriage certificate. If you produce a copy of the Constitution, I will have to ask you to show me where on that document you see your name and mine, and our signatures affirming our desire to be married. If you can’t do that, then, sorry, but I can’t divorce whom I never wed.

This is a glib assessment. The reality, of course, is much more complicated. Yes, it is true that extracting oneself from the “constitution of no authority” will be much more difficult than simply stating that the document is null and void. There is more to secession than simply walking away.

As a March police shooting in Utah amply demonstrated, when an American declares himself free of government tyranny, the government almost always responds by killing that American on the spot. (Those who know the name “Ashli Babbitt” don’t need to be reminded of what government does to patriots.)

But while Americans will have to fight the government for our freedom, we should be clear on the terms of what we propose to do. What we seek is our rightful liberty. We don’t need a national divorce because we were never hitched in the first place.

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