Book Review: Secession: The Morality Of Public Divorce

Secession:  The Morality Of Public Divorce, by Allen Buchanan

My own thoughts on divorce can be quoted from scripture in verses like Malachi 2:16, which says:  ““For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,” says the Lord of hosts.  “Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.””  The author would have us believe that there is a strong moral power in favor of allowing nations to split up without any cause except that they wanted to be free and independent, with no concern for improper takings, no care for the benefits of union, and nothing to be considered except for the selfish desire of some people to be free.  On top of this the author then manages to admit that there is no constitutional right to secede according to the US Constitution or others and then claims that this right out to be enshrined.  Since the author does not presume that union is in fact desirable, it is difficult for a reader who does have that assumption to fully understand what sort of political divorces the author has in mind.  There are plenty of misguided unions that deserve to be broken up, but even where this is the case (see South Sudan, Bosnia, Georgia) there is often a lack of in those breakaway states, and so the process merely continues on a smaller level.

This book is a bit more than 150 pages long and it is divided into five chapters.  After a preface and acknowledgements the author discusses the problems of succession and posits the need for a general theory on divorce (1) as well as a plan for the book and a note on what he means by it.  The author then seeks to stack the deck to make a case for secession with a look at group rights and issues of redistributive justice (2).  The author then gives a straw man case for the moral case against succession that does not include the moral supremacy of union and the moral problem of rebelliousness (3).  After that the author discusses the need for a constitutional right to secede to be recognized (4) before concluding with a discussion of various secession movements and reasons why some would be supported and not others, opining that slavery gets in the way of the Confederacy being recognized as a moral case for secession.

The author’s goal in this book is to set a standard for secession that views it as a moral option superior to union.  There are certainly some people who feel this way, but I am not one of them.  That said, even if one does not believe in a generic moral right of secession under any and all circumstances, there is still plenty of room to argue that if certain substantive conditions are met that a state no longer has the right to claim authority over its people or territory.  Tyranny and anarchy are states that anyone who has the power to do so has the right to claim, although it should be expected that there would be terms provided on granting such a state (as should be the case) and that plenty of even good cases for partition and secession would and should be opposed.  Most readers, even those as fond of union as I am, will see some cases where a region has a strong case of being free because of the corrupt and hostile behavior of a central government and in providing some separatist regimes (like Somaliland and Taiwan) with all of the help and recognition that are possible.  It is a shame, though, that the author does not manage to make his case as clearly as he wishes to.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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