Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Long-winded Explanation Concerning Secession



The following is my attempt to continue some discussions that were begun at our boisterous family gatherings. This is not to say that I did not get at least my fair share of talking in. But when 12 people are talking very loudly all at once, one feels that her fair share is rather meager. So I am picking up my pen (figuratively, of course.)

The point on which I desire to belabor is that of the right of the people to secede from a corrupt government. I must here restate that I am in not implying that our current situation is worthy of the mess that would inevitably follow the secession of a state. But that was never my point in this argument, to debate our current situation. My only point is that when our founding father’s (FFs) wrote the Declaration of Independence (D of I), their acknowledgement of a people’s right to dissolve bonds with a distant government in favor of faithfulness to their local government was to serve as a caution to any power-hungry, usurping, centralized monster. The day that “we the people” begin to question in our hearts whether a succession is ever justified, is the same day that we write a blank check to the federal government to run rough-shod over our rights.

A now, a word from the storied document itself:

“…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness [what’s with all the caps?]. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The reason I refer back to the D of I is NOT because I believe it to be a divinely inspired document (come on guys, you know me), or even the last word on every question of politics. However, I refer back to it because it has historical roots reaching back 2,000+ years.

All y’all know that I sacrifice my free time and shopping trips in favor of providing my kids with classical education that our public schools have so methodically poo-pooed for the last 100+ years. And why do I do that? It is because classical education stands contrary to the idea that each generation can independently come up with the best ideas, and purports instead that we stand taller when we are sitting on the shoulders of the wisdom of the ages. Once again, this is not to say that the political wisdom of the ages is infallible (you know me better than that).

It is to say that if I have a choice between trusting the ideas in a document that I can trace back to 2,000+ years of political concepts that have been tested and refined, sharpened by the best political minds in history, I am going to inherently look to it over modern ideas. The ideas in the D of I are a great place to refer to in any discussion.

Add to that the huge body of evidence that testifies to the strong faith and biblical worldview that many of our founding fathers had, such as James Madison, philosophical architect of many of our founding documents (of course two exceptions are Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who did not claim to be evangelical Christians, but had a biblical worldview in many ways.) This, my friend, is why I refer to our founding documents in any political discussion. They are a great place to reference.

If you were starting a business, to whom would you refer to for advice: an 18 year old college freshman who had just passed his first business class, or a man who had successfully run a business for the last 60 years. Is the older man infallible? No, I never said that. Only scripture is infallible but it purposely does not exist to settle our political disputes. However, the older man is a more trustworthy reference than the college freshman. The college freshman doubtless has a lot of “good” ideas about how he’s going to run things when he’s in charge. The problems is, his ideas have not been tested.

Our founding documents did not come to us Isaac Newton-style. James Madison was not sitting under a tree one day when an apple hit him on the head and he suddenly said: “I know, how about we form a republic?” The ideas contained in the D of I and our Constitution have a very traceable history—so traceable that many lines are direct quotes from history. For example, John Locke penned “life, liberty, and property” which we changed to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We have no reason to believe that had our FF’s not had a rigorous classical education, that they could have given us anything near to the brilliance and foresight of our founding documents. Only through the intense study of what ideas have been successful since Plato’s Republic on, (the Magna Carta, John Locke ideas about natural law, the British parliament, etc), as well as being informed by the Bible’s clear view of the nature of man, were we handed these documents. That, my friends, is the reason I refer to them.

Next important point that I feel was highly undervalued because of the multitude of opinions making themselves heard: secession does not necessarily entail anarchy, but dissolving the bonds between that a more local government has with a more centralized government. This is certainly what our founding fathers had in mind. When we are told in scripture to obey the government God has put over us, that certainly precludes any form of anarchy or even some extreme forms of libertarianism from being biblical (Romans 13:5,6). But it does not mean that any foreign usurping power may claim rights over any local government, and that any local government must bow before the outside, centralized claims.

The Jews certainly gave testimony to this understanding in their constant prayer to throw off the yoke of the Romans in favor of an independent, local Jewish gov’t. The Jews understood the authority of the elders who stood in the city gates, and that not everyone who came along could claim rights over their instituted government. Furthermore, the northern kingdom seceded from the southern kingdom because of the overbearing, usurping, power-hungry, madness of young King Rehoboam, who refused to listen to the wisdom of the ages in favor of the “young up-starts” counsel (1 Kings 12).

If one wants to disagree with this point, please understand what you are arguing for. If you are to interpret Paul’s exhortation to obey your government to give all claims to power as absolute, you are saying that if someone were to rise to power in the U.N. and declare himself Supreme Emperor of every nation in the world, that scripture would demand that we pay him our allegiance without a fight. Whether or not a fight would be prudent can’t easily be determined in hypothetical situations, so I’m not going there. I’m only trying to establish the biblical right for a people to throw off foreign usurping powers when they deem it wise.

To disagree with this point is also to say that India was in the wrong when declaring independence from Britain, and that Imperialism must never be dissolved by the people.

I used an absurd example of the U.N. to point to exactly what our FF’s had in mind in the D of I—that anarchy does not have to be a necessary consequence of one group of people dissolving its political bonds to another. Blockheads will always rise up and insist that anarchy (or extreme libertarianism) is provided to them by our founding documents, but coming up with political philosophies that are blockhead-proof is an exercise in futility, and is not recommended for those with day jobs. I’m sticking to my principles knowing full well that abuses will come. But if the unstable can twist scripture, we surely can’t pretend to come up with a political philosophy that someone isn’t going to misconstrue.

Once again, I am not crying for secession right now (a-hem, you know who you are), only trying to reiterate the need for the people to understand their rights when faced with tyranny.

I belabor this point because of the power that a legitimate threat can hold on an overreaching government. As long as the people have a firm understanding of their God-given rights of secession, they can keep tyranny at bay for a time. I am not speaking of empty threats, here, which we all know hold no power over anyone. In order for a threat to have power, it must have legitimacy. My five year old has gone for months now without a spanking, only because after 4 years, she has finally learned that the threat is very legitimate. She now rarely needs a reminder of who’s in charge.

Likewise, a society made up of people that are firm in their resolve to secede when tyranny reaches a fever pitch, can hold such tyranny at bay for a long time. Of course they may not be able to do it forever with threats alone. But it will buy the society some time.

And now the question of confusion and schism was brought to the table. Isn’t a society that embraces the ideas put forth in the D of I opening the door to secession for any reason? Who’s to say when it is legitimate to secede? What if every individual decides to secede from every local government and become a law unto themselves?

These are legitimate concerns and they were not outside the foresight of our FF’s. James Madison, in article 10 of the Federalist Papers, writes that factions (or diverse thinking) in such areas are a necessary evil of freedom.

In other words, liberty is untidy—a messy and complicated endeavor. Totalitarianism, however, is airtight and squeaky clean. Totalitarianism requires no thought or wisdom on the peoples’ part whatsoever. They mindlessly obey whatever the government says and never have to weigh such sticky situations like when the evils of a usurping government outweigh the evils of secession.

But liberty requires much from its people—it requires a biblical worldview from us, which tells us that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It requires a robust education from us—a classical education which introduces its pupils to the best that has been thought and said throughout the ages. It requires its people to have an understanding of history. News flash: nations can avoid many pitfalls by studying the rise and fall of previous empires.

The question of “who’s to say when one should secede?” is a question that wants a tidy, succinct answer, that can be neatly plastered onto all situations. But only totalitarianism (the belief that gov’t’s power is absolute) will give you that kind of answer. All liberty can answer to your question of “who’s to say” is that a people must seek the path of wisdom through the means God has provided us: revelation through His inspired word, the abundance of counselors, the annals of history, prayer with humility, and personal life experience, to name of few.

Because liberty and the power of secession are complicated does not mean we should question their legitimacy. Because they require much wisdom and discretion from their people and are open to abuses, does not mean the alternative, totalitarianism, is better.

To those members of my family who disagree with me: I love you. You’re wrong, but I love you ;)

[Crazy lady steps down from soapbox and exits…]

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