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Revolution vs Secession

July 1, 2009

(this post is part of Wednesday: Secession vs. Revolution in our Secession Week Blogging)

If you’re like most Americans, this Saturday, you’ll commemorate America’s independence with barbecue and fireworks.  When asked about the larger meaning of the 4th of July, you’d probably respond with, “It officially began the American Revolution.”  I’d like to suggest that this event should be more appropriately referred to as the American Secession.

Revolution and Secession are very different things.  Revolution is an attempt by a relatively small group of people to gain control over the machinery that rules a relatively larger group of people.  Secession is a relatively small group of people breaking off from the larger machinery.  The difference is crucial.  Take the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Thomas Jefferson and the other signatories wanted to “dissolve the political bands” between England and the American colonies, to break away.  They had no intention of obtaining power in London, no designs on ruling England and its other colonies around the world.  They simply wanted to become part of a separate political entity.

Revolutions, on the other hand, are about gaining power over the same territory and often, the same political machine.  If an already tyrannical power exists, revolutionaries have to overpower it to replace it.  You can imagine the result is often worse than the status quo.  The French Revolution overthrew an abusive regime but resulted in the Reign of Terror and numerous wars.  The October Revolution replaced an oppressive tsar with a government that tortured, starved, and executed its citizens in massive numbers.  To quote a wise man, “Revolution is the hell of it.”

The American Secession allowed the colonies to thrive under a smaller, more local government.  The secessions of the Baltic Republics from the former Soviet Union allowed the enactment of economic reforms that resulted in a period of unprecedented economic growth.  Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia, though involuntary, set the stage for its transformation from third world outpost to one of the richest nations in the world leaving Malaysia far behind.

Granted, there are cases where revolutions have been a step in the right direction, usually when there is a clear separation between the rulers and the ruled.  In modern democracies though, the distinction is less clear; we all rule over each other and seek rent from the larger society.

Though there are exceptions, in general revolution is aggressive, violent, and power-seeking, whereas the act of secession is peaceful.

So this Saturday night, when the fireworks fly and you contemplate the complete transformation of the modest Republic into the modern colossal state, remember the choice the colonials made by seceeding from the British empire, and hoist one not to the hope of a future revolution, but to the peaceful turning away and moving apart from the state.  Hoist one to secession.

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  1. Secession Week: Wednesday – Secession vs. Revolution « Let A Thousand Nations Bloom
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