I can’t tell you whether Brexit will be a good thing for the UK. No one can. The economic and social consequences of Brexit are tied to far too many factors. Predictions are for fools, especially in this case.
I also can’t tell you that Brits had noble or well-informed intentions when voting. Some did, I’m sure, but many others seem to have been motivated by xenophobia and nativism.
What I can tell you is that Brexit is good for America, not in the sense of economic benefits that will result from a weakened pound or anything of the sort. That all remains to be seen.
What is good for America about Brexit is that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union illustrates that ties don’t need to bind forever. Just as married couples have a right to divorce if things are not working, so too do states. And thankfully a wife does not need a husband’s permission to divorce, or vice versa. Likewise, Britain does not need the EU’s permission to leave.
In the early 1800’s it was widely recognized that individual American states had the right to leave the Union. Indeed, the constitution of Jefferson’s home state of Virginia made explicit its right to dissolve its ties to the United States. New York and Rhode Island were similarly explicit.
Because of the Civil War and its ugly associations with slavery, secession became a dirty word. But there is nothing more American than secession. American independence in 1776 was not a revolution. It was not an attempt to overthrow the King, and it bears little resemblance to the French Revolution. Rather, American independence in 1776 was a secession. Today there are secessionist movements in Texas, California, Vermont, New Hampshire, and other states. So if the UK can Brexit, why can’t the Lone Star State Texit?
Most constitutional scholars interpret the Fourteenth Amendment as settling the matter and making secession illegal. The amendment asserts that a citizen’s allegiance is first and foremost to the federal government, and most scholars read that as precluding secession. They may be correct, but that understanding is ripe for a challenge.
American frustration is palpable; our differences may be irreconcilable. But divorce is a big step, especially if not everyone agrees. A very large minority of Brits, for example, are unhappy with Brexit. On this side of the pond, there is talk of Texit and Calexit, though these movements lack majority support. Chaos would ensue if Texas or California voted to secede.
But what about Vermont? It’s much smaller than Texas and California. Recently I suggested that Bernie Sanders’ supporters should move to Vermont and vote for secession. That way Bernie could become president after all, President of Vermont.
My suggestion was inspired by the Free State Project, which encourages libertarians to move to New Hampshire where they can form a critical mass that will be able to enhance freedom by changing local laws. 2,000 people have moved to New Hampshire already and 20,000 have pledged to move within five years. Even more in line with my take on the issue is the Foundation for New Hampshire Independence (FNHI). Although they don’t use the word, secession is the goal of FNHI.
Maybe nothing will come of FNHI, but it’s fun to imagine. And that is precisely what I have done in my new novel Free Dakota, imagine. North Dakota has vast territory but only 700,000 residents. What if a charismatic leader promised a libertarian paradise on the prairie? Would enough people move there to make it happen? Who would go? How would the Feds stop them?
It’s messy in a fictional world, and no doubt it would be even messier in the real world. But it’s worth talking about. Secession, or at least the talk of it, would put power back in the hands of the states. Each state could be a true experiment in democracy. Vermont could become a democratic socialist republic; New Hampshire could become a libertarian republic; maybe there’d be minarchy (or anarchy) in North Dakota. I’d be willing to bet that it wouldn’t work out well in all cases, but I’d also be willing to bet that it would be worth trying for the sake of the lessons learned. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
* William Irwin is Herve A. LeBlanc Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of Philosophy at King’s College (Pennsylvania). He is the author of the political novel Free Dakota as well as The Free Market Existentialist: Capitalism without Consumerism.