California should secede from the United States, kick out the U.S. military, withhold all its U.S. taxes, invest in its infrastructure and educational systems, lead the world in sustainable energy, welcome refugees and immigrants, join the International Criminal Court, join and push for the democratization of the United Nations, sign onto the Convention on the Rights of the Child, join the world in banning land mines and cluster bombs and depleted uranium and nuclear weapons and racial discrimination and discrimination against women and in banning weapons in space, join the world in establishing rights of migrant workers, regulating the arms trade, providing protection from disappearances, defending the rights of people with disabilities, and joining the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, offer non-military humanitarian aid to the world, and hold elections without legalized bribery.
Seceding from a rogue state is not an anti-global move, not balkanization, not splintering, not ethnic cleansing. California would be a good influence on the United 49 states, just as the North would have been on the South had the U.S. Civil War not happened. Of course, Oregon and Hawaii and other states should have the right to join California if it agrees to have them, just as any people anywhere on earth should have the right to secede from any government that does not represent it — a right the United States recognized in Yugoslavia but not in Crimea for biased, non-substantive reasons.
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 they have as much right as anyone else, it ought not to be beneath them to point out the obvious reasons to those willfully unable to see. The U.S. Senate prevents the U.S. House from doing most anything not sufficiently regressive to please the U.S. Senate. The U.S. Senate gives the 40 million people of California no greater representation than the 0.6 million people of Wyoming. This is taxation without representation. The U.S. president has assumed vast and unconstitutional powers and does not represent the majority of U.S. voters or Californian voters. This is taxation without representation. This is abuse that no people need endure.
The U.S. Civil War is thought of as having made secession a crime, but the horror of that civil war actually makes secession appear a wise alternative. A peaceful northern neighbor unwilling to provide industry or to return people who escaped from slavery could have ended slavery without mass slaughter. Secession by the South was motivated by support for slavery, and there are all kinds of ugly motives for secessionist tendencies down to this day. But there are admirable motives as well, including opposition to war taxes and empire.
Of course it’s not just the Civil War that makes us long for federal supremacy. It’s Jim Crow. It’s Arizona Apartheid. There are states that would move right if they detached and others that would move left. But it’s not clear to me that the people of Arizona would have a harder time undoing racist laws if, instead of appealing to a broken federal government thousands of miles away, they were forced to appeal only to themselves and to establish for themselves international respect and recognition.
Slavery in the U.S. South was widespread through World War II, Jim Crow through the 1960s, mass incarceration through the current day, and bitterness over the Civil War for the foreseeable future. Had the U.S. avoided civil war through a compromise that restricted slavery to existing slave states, or even through a compromise that allowed its possible expansion, or through simply allowing states to secede without war, the net result might have been good or bad. A few things are certain. The bitterness over the war would not exist, the 700,000 killed and many more injured and the incredible destruction of burned cities and fields would not have happened, and war would not have been glorified during the childhoods of the generation that would launch global U.S. imperialism at the dawn of the 20th century.
Very likely, in addition, slavery would have ended more quickly and more thoroughly than it did. Of course, that cannot be stated with certainty. But a nation half-slave, half-free that sought to work through problems without war would have very likely ended slavery through some form of compensated emancipation fairly quickly, bringing up the rear in a global process of liberation. Two or more smaller nations that sought to avoid war would have very likely also put an end to slavery in the one or more nations maintaining it, in part because of international and economic forces and the absence of a fugitive slave law, but also because smaller nations, all else equal, have an easier time achieving democracy. If we had smaller nations on this continent now, or if we were to choose to in the future, we would see the ability of people to bring popular pressure to bear on the governments soar.
Of course, it’s anything but an easy moral question whether 4 million people should be left enslaved another moment, or whether a nation should launch a war that might benefit them, though in the end it actually brought very limited and short-lived gains along with 700,000 killed and numerous disastrous results for decades to come. Not only are the results known only after the war, but the moral question has been invented after the war. Many in the North did not want a war to free slaves. A draft had to finally be created, as in the South as well, to compel people to kill and die. And those in power in Washington, including President-elect Lincoln, did not want war to free the slaves, only to prevent the expansion of slavery westward. When the South would not agree to restricting slavery to its current boundaries, Northern decision makers chose to launch a war over “union” — preferring slaughter to permitting the South, or some part of it, to leave.
Today it should not strike us as an easy moral question whether to stick with a union that threatens the climate of the entire planet for untold generations to come.