Recently, the people of Catalonia voted in favour of seceding from Spain.
In the recent election, secessionist parties secured 72 out of the 135 seats, confirming that the majority of voters want secession. Artur Mas, region president of Catalonia and the leader of the Junts pel Sí movement, is seeking independence from Spain in 18 months.
This is great news for libertarians the world over, as, to our minds, this is a clear step forward for the Catalan people and for those who seek greater freedom from governments worldwide. And, of course, any blow against the present trend toward empires is a step in the right direction.
But, this is not the whole picture and, if we’re going to look at the greater truth instead of the truth that we’d like to see, things get a bit more complicated.
Can They Pull it Off?
First off, the mere fact that a majority of Catalans have, at this point, voted for independence is not sufficient to assure separation from Spain. Although Catalonia became a province of Spain through a rather arbitrary occurrence (a royal marriage in 1469) and Catalans have for centuries repeatedly behaved more as a conquered people than as loyal Spanish subjects, the territory has remained under Spanish rule for the most obvious of reasons: Spain has the greater power and is able to dominate.
Although many Catalans seek a legally-recognised referendum from Madrid, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called the separatist plan “a nonsense” and has stated that he will block it through the courts.
It is perennially true that, once a given politician in any country feels he “owns” a piece of geography and its population, he will almost invariably hold onto it regardless of the will of the people, using force if necessary.
And then, there are the practical benefits to being the ruler of a territory. In the case of Catalonia, Madrid has historically exacted more tax from Catalonia than it has paid out in benefits. Catalonia is a cash cow for the Madrid government. Surveys demonstrate that the majority of Catalans would choose to remain within Spain if they could be granted a more favourable tax regime.
And so, what appears at first glance to be a victory in the quest for independence may not be quite so significant.
Out of the Pan and into the Fire?
But, let’s say that the secessionists prevail, that they achieve their goal. What then? Would Catalonia become a beacon of freedom for all the world to see? Well, possibly not. Artur Mas has already planned a central bank, tax authority, and even a Catalonian armed forces. In so doing, he is hoping to begin his reign in much the same way that the vast majority of politicians do, seeking to create controls that will assure his own power and wealth. (Cue The Who, singing “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.”)
And let’s not forget that all Catalans are not unified on the subject of independence. Polls over the years have flipped back and forth between a majority in favour of independence and a majority opposed to independence. As American independence visionary, Thomas Jefferson said:
Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%.
In any move for independence, there are always those who unwillingly must pay for the new “freedom”, whether it be real or only imagined.
This is not to say that the secessionists are wrong. It is only to say that, when considering change, it’s wise to step back and assess the overall situation, not merely the immediate goals of the movement.
The Way of the Future?
Finally, there is the world view. Internationally, the vote in Catalonia is being covered in the media, especially in Europe, where there are literally scores of secessionist movements, some of them with considerable support. Catalonia gives these efforts renewed vigour and, surely, with the EU shaking to its flimsy foundations, every successful move toward secession by any territory brings an end of the EU ever closer.
And, to a lesser extent, there are secessionist movements around the globe. In the U.S., (which became a country as a result of independence from the UK), all 50 states have received secession petitions filed by their citizens. These have been signed by as few as 2,656 people (Vermont) to as many as 125,000 (Texas).
It’s important to note that these numbers are not large and the state and federal governments of the U.S. can easily claim that secessionists are merely a crackpot fringe. However, when the empire, be it the EU, the U.S., or any other, past or present, reaches the point at which the government has become overlarge, overly domineering, and overly rapacious as to taxation and other forms of confiscation, secession movements will arise. (To be sure, the 1861 American secession of the southern states was not undertaken over the slavery issue, but over the increased power and economic dominance of the northern states over the southern states.)
And this is to be expected. It’s the primary business of any government to grow its own power and wealth at the expense of its people. It’s therefore in the best interests of the people to do all they can to limit the size (and therefore the power) of their government.
Even under the best forms of Government, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny. – Thomas Jefferson
A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have. – Thomas Jefferson
Small countries are more free and prosperous than large nation-states. – Ron Holland
All of the above bear remembering. But a word on that last one, by Ron Holland. My own country, the Cayman Islands, is quite small (population 58,000); small enough that each of us who takes an interest can access our political leaders in a personal way. We find that this level of direct contract not only keeps them accessible to us, but places a lid on their ability to expand their ambitions to “rule”, rather than to “serve.”
And, indeed, the Cayman Islands are decidedly freer and more prosperous than any of the world’s current empires.
A long-held belief by the Amish, the Hutterites, and some sociologists is that the ideal population is a mere 150 people, the greatest number that an individual can relate to in a very personal and inter-dependent way. Certainly these communities are far more peaceful and rarely produce dictatorial leaders.
The concept of secession is an admirable one and a move to secession will often arise whenever a government overreaches to the point of intolerance. In the case of empires, secession has served to increase freedom from the days of the fall of the Roman Empire on. Political leaders will always seek to create empires, whether large or small. The alternative to the ability to secede is the acceptance of tyranny and, therefore, secession, whilst not a panacea, is an essential tool of liberty.
Editor’s Note: It’s not all doom and gloom; the world is your oyster, and there are very attractive jurisdictions that are cause for optimism. Some are ideal places to reside. Others are great places to park some savings or to invest in. Others are optimal for conducting business. Yet others are perfect for obtaining a second passport. You can find out our favorite jurisdictions in Going Global.
Normally, this book retails for $99. But we believe this book is so important, especially right now, that we’ve arranged a way for U.S. residents to get a free hardback copy mailed to their doorsteps. International residents will only receive the e-book. Click here to learn more.