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Peace and Prosperity

A Libertarian Perspective on Separatist Movements


With separatist movements in the northern Iraq region of the Kurds, and in Catalonia, grabbing headlines, it is an appropriate time to think about such movements.

Murray Rothbard once wrote:
There runs through For a New Liberty (and most of the rest of my work as well) a deep and pervasive hatred of the State and all of its works, based on the conviction that the State is the enemy of mankind. 
This is an understandable position for anyone who is an advocate of a Private Property Society.  It is sound and noble. Noble, because although sound, it goes against the perspective of the masses and the house intellectuals.

If we take this Rothbard insight of hate of the state as our guiding light, what should we make of separatist movements?

We should recognize that separatist movements are not the discarding of state rule. They are merely the reorganizations of state rule over given areas.

The reorganization can lead to a state rule that is less oppressive or more oppressive. A separatist movement, without an understanding of the new rule that will replace the old rule, tells us nothing as to whether the separatist movement is moving away from or toward liberty--whether it will result in more statism or less statism.

Just because the region of rule will be smaller does not imply a move toward liberty, Both North Korea and Cuba are relatively small countries but have horrific totalitarian rule.

Thus, more must be asked if one is in the middle of a domestic separatist movement. Namely: What will come in its place?

For an outsider looking at a separatist movement, the perspective is different, For the outsider, almost always, smaller governments are preferable to larger governments, because larger governments are almost always more capable of launching wars. (The United States has much greater nuclear capability and other military resources than North Korea).

Governments that maintain a larger region have more men and resources to use in war. Thus, for the outsider, separatist movements are a positive as they lead to steps in the direction of greater peace.

But it is the domestic separatist movement fighter who must be careful that his actions will not, from a domestic perspective, lead to more chains. The idea of separatism fills the air with high energy by the battlers for such, but rarely is the questioned asked: What will come in its place?

And in the end, domestically, that is the most important question.

Reprinted with permission from Target Liberty.
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