Untimely Observations

Secession and the Future of American Statecraft

The late, great George Kennan was not only one of the most influential and important diplomats in American history, but he was also a serious man of the Right in every important aspect of his thought. With regards to foreign policy, he combined humility with unsentimental realism. Kennan recognized the ideological threat posed by Soviet Communism, but considered the militarization of U.S. foreign policy and extravagant interventions in places such as Indochina to be an inappropriate and unnecessary response. He was particularly opposed to entangling American foreign policy objectives with ideological crusades. In an interview with The New York Review of Books in 1999, the 95-year-old Kennan remarked, "This whole tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world strikes me as un-thought-through, vainglorious and undesirable." What was Kennan's preferred alternative? He insisted, "I would like to see our government gradually withdraw from its public advocacy of democracy and human rights. I submit that governments should deal with other governments as such, and should avoid unnecessary involvement, particularly personal involvement, with their leaders."

In his 1993 book, Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy, Kennan described the United States in its present condition as a "monster country" that suffers from "the hubris of inordinate size" and proposed that America be ""decentralized into something like a dozen constituent republics, absorbing not only the powers of the existing states but a considerable part of those of the present federal establishment." He further suggested that the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago should become the equivalent of semi-autonomous city-states. Kennan's vision was not far removed from that of the self-proclaimed "left-conservative" Norman Mailer, who ran for mayor of New York in 1969 on a platform having the city become the 51st state and devolving the municipal government to the boroughs by re-constituting them as independent townships. More recent thinkers, such as Vermont's Thomas Naylor, have gone even further, calling for full-blown secession of particular states or regions from the authority of the federal government altogether. Indeed, Naylor's colleague Dennis Steele is currently running a maverick campaign for governor for the sake of advocating completely independent nationhood for the Green Mountain State. While the Vermont secessionist effort has a left-libertarian flavor to it, the emerging regional independence movements in various corners of North America transcend the left/right paradigm. Texas' Larry Kilgore, an unabashed Christian theocrat and a proponent of complete secession by the Lone Star State, won 225, 897 votes in the 2008 Texas Republican Senate primary.

The most serious arguments against such efforts offered by a thinker on the genuine Right were those of Sam Francis. He dismissed secessionism as an "infantile disorder" and remarked, "I do not believe that secessionism will prosper as a serious political movement, but I do worry that it will prosper to the point of becoming a serious political distraction; a distraction from the imperative that Middle Americans now face of constructing their own autonomous political movement that can take back their nation rather than assisting the new underclass and the globalist ruling class in breaking it up." Dr. Francis preferred instead the more moderate but still radical by contemporary political standards goal of reasserting the Tenth Amendment. I do not know which is the least feasible objective, full-blown secession or restoration of an authentic federalism. Either way, it appears that the revolution by the "Middle American Radicals" that Francis hoped for is dead in the water and, as John Derbyshire has recently written, the Tea Partiers are well on their way to being just another arm of the neocon-friendly establishment.

Still, interesting things are happening in American society. A work published in 2008 by Bill Bishop, a center-left journalist, and titled "The Big Sort," showed how Americans are in the process of self-separating into more or less segregated enclaves along the lines of political ideology and party affiliation, religion, culture, race, ethnicity, income, age, and other such demographic concerns. Further, this process is taking place less at the state level, and more on the level of counties, towns, municipalities, or even precincts and neighborhoods. Efforts by the elites to the contrary not withstanding, Americans are apparently doing what human beings naturally do anyway: seeking out others of their own kind with whom they form communities. This state of affairs seems to fit fairly well with the decentralist vision offered by Kennan, Mailer, and the Vermont independencias. A 2008 Zogby poll likewise indicated that one in five Americans holds favorable views regarding the possibility of secession.

One thing is certain. If the Alternative Right were to embrace secession or radical decentralization of this kind, it would surely serve to separate the wheat from the chaff, i.e. those on the supposed Right who really wish to bring down the rule of the managerial-therapeutist-welfarist-multiculturalist elite as opposed to "conservative" careerists and main-chancers.