Reimagining American Secessionism for the 21st Century
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Photo: Hawk

Reimagining American Secessionism for the 21st Century


When the word "Secession" is uttered at any gathering where modern American politics are discussed the instinctual reactions of most sane individuals within earshot is usually a reflexive roll of the eyes. This is not at all unreasonable, as the most likely thing to next proceed out of the person who first uttered the word's mouth is likely to be some semi-coherent blathering about the inherent nobility of the "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy and/or how Secession is inevitable as the American Empire is teetering near the edge of collapse (at least that's what he read at Zero Hedge and oh, by the way, you should really think about buying some gold too.)

However, in spite of this associated baggage modern day Secessionism isn't as far-fetched as one may think. In fact, given a proper sales pitch and execution, it might actually be the only genuinely workable solution to the problems of American society.

Saying Goodbye to the Dream of "Dixie"

The first issue which should be addressed out of the gate is that of the Confederate ghost which haunts every discussion of the concept of Secession. This ghost looms large in the American imagination by default as the Blue vs. Grey narrative of the American Civil War is one of the few historical events that even the most low information of American plebs is almost always at least vaguely familiar with. And, whether it is justified or not, is also inherently tied to the institution of 19th-century black chattel slavery. Thus the Confederacy, in addition to being a historical loser is also associated, in the popular American imaginations of both its elites and plebeians, as a defender of an economic system which was both exploitive and cruel. Thus any talk of "secession" or the separation of the units of the American Empire will immediately be read through a hermeneutic of suspicion which assumes that all this talk of "secession" must inevitably be the project of a group of deranged neo-confederates hell-bent on re-enslaving black America. Needless to say, such projects that allow themselves to be associated with such traumatic historical events will be quickly strangled in their cribs.

The solution to this significant problem is actually quite simple: anathemize not only any association with neo-confederate ideology, rhetoric and personages from the start but also disassociate entirely from the concept of "Southern Identity" itself. This may seem extreme and in some ways cruel but it is also eminently necessary if one wishes to be serious about the project of neo-secessionism (a term which itself would have to be ditched in favor of something more inoffensive like "exit" etc.)

The hard truth is that not only does embracing Southern identitarianism sully the cause of 21st-century Neo-Secessionism but it also adds almost no practical value to your cause i.e. unlike the 1860's there is very little legitimate Southern Culture left beyond the superficial (sweet tea, rapidly disappearing accents, saying "yes mam" etc.) or the banal (NASCAR, college football fandom.) Especially not one which can muster any kind of real support in its defense, a truth which was viscerally illustrated in last year's demolition spree of Confederate monuments across the South, events which inspired absolutely no meaningful opposition from the local residents. Not exactly the sign of a thriving culture of Southern Identitarianism whose support and energy you should be bending over backward to ally your cause with.

Closing the Door on Localism

Until recently, the only groups of literate individuals who had (semi) seriously considered secession were a part of various Localist Agrarian movements, people like Bill Kaufman, whose eccentric 2010 book entitled "Bye, Bye Miss American Empire" detailed the strange history of lesser known secession movements throughout American history such as the ill-fated "Vermont Republic" or the man who considers himself the "King of Kansas." As quaint as Kaufman's vision of a new North America that is home to 20 (at the least) different "micronations" is it also profoundly unserious and constitutes little more than the sentimental, utopian daydreams of a literary crank.

Kaufman's vision of a new American Secession movement is only significant to us because it is illustrative of a broader impulse amongst much of the Paleoconservative American Right. It is the vision of a collection of politys which are based upon regional American cultures. Such sentiments can be found in abundance in Conservative publications like "The American Conservative" and "Front Porch Republic" (both of which have been home to Kaufman and as well as other notable Localists like the Peak Oil Catastrophist James Howard Kunstler as well as the insufferable Eastern Orthodox nincompoop Rod Dreher).

The problem with the vision of Kaufman and those like him put forward is that is it based almost entirely upon cultures and people which are almost entirely the figments of these author's, admittedly, vivid imaginations. Regional American culture, as a general rule, simply no longer exists apart from certain idiosyncrasies like local food or historical landmarks which have been commodified almost entirely into tourist attractions.

The one notable exception to this general rule is the role of College and Professional sports teams in local American cultures. Unlike the close-knit, front porch communities of pre-industrialized America which exist, almost exclusively, in between the covers of Wendell Berry novels, local sports cultures actually exist in the flesh. Not only do they exist but they are genuine, living traditions all with their own, peculiar rituals, languages and high holy days. Which are literally passed down from generation to generation. Although obviously commodified, these cultures, unlike the contrived attempts at community of the Kaufmanesque Localists, are totally genuine expressions of Local American Culture in the 21st century.

The truth then is that, if one was hell-bent on founding micronations exclusively upon the genuine local identities of the populaces of particular American geographical regions, one would have far more luck if they appealed to the group solidarity and identity of the fans of the Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys or the Alabama Crimson Tide than any other kind of "traditional" regional identity. Much like the delusion of a neo-confederacy, the fantasy of self-governing regions based on distinctive local cultures must be completely set aside if one is to seriously pursue neo-secessionism as a practical political project instead of the daydream of bow-tie clad adjunct professors.

What practical neo-secessionism doesn't look like

Reimagining Secessionism

One of the wonderful things about the State governments of the United States is how they essentially function as mini-nations all unto themselves. If the federal government were suddenly to evaporate tomorrow most of America would barely notice (aside from a few significant exceptions, which we will discuss later.) They have their own political leadership, infrastructure, law enforcement, departments of taxation and licensing, courts, prisons and even issue their own identification cards. Essentially almost everything necessary for maintaining modern civilization is administered by state governments. Maintaining these institutions is thus paramount in any potential realistic secessionist scenario, as tearing something apart is much easier than building it up, and the last thing a practical secessionist wants to tear apart are functional state governments.

Trying to separate a state like, say, Ohio into two pieces (thus creating two new states) based upon "blue" and "red" cultural affinities would be beyond foolish. It would, in practice, become a total bureaucratic nightmare and also needlessly further complicate the already incredibly complicated process of secession.

The key to a workable neo-secessionism will be total and complete simplicity. Every aspect must be reduced to its simplest form. The goal should be for the entire process to be able to happen with as little disruption as possible in the lives of everyday Americans. This will make it not only easier to implement if it is ever realized but also, and more importantly it will make it much easier to sell, both to the elite and professional classes as well as to regular voters themselves.

Thus the new map of the divided states of America should be as simple as possible. This means that, although it is desirable for division to take place along general "Red" and "Blue" cultural lines, pains should be taken that no governmental units (outside of the federal) should be split or otherwise disrupted.

The New Geography of Secessionism

Traditionally secessionism in America has always been understood through the prism of the events of 1861-1865. Hence it is always assumed that a future secession would follow a similar North/South Divide but simply extend out Westward. If we are to completely jettison the considerations which traditionally accompanied Southern Identity, we instantly find ourselves freed to pursue a more pragmatic and workable approach to geography.

The general geographic vision a new secessionist movement should be the separation of the United States into two (or possibly three) separate states. A "Red" America, extending from Mississippi to Texas and up through Tennessee and then Westward through the states of the Great Plains and Mountain West. And a "Blue" America encompassing the states of the entire Eastern seaboard as well as all of the great lakes region.

The simplest and most practical division of the United States

One of the most notable aspects of the map is that the states of the Old Confederacy are divided neatly in two. A common objection to this may be that significant areas that would culturally jive much more with the values of "Red" America (The panhandle of Florida, South Carolina, Southern Ohio etc.) have been stranded within the realm of the Blue Empire. While obviously a true statement this is a feature of this particular layout rather than a bug.

Any practical division of the United States will inevitably result in blue areas (Boulder Colorado, Austin Texas etc.) stranded under the Red Empire and red areas (Upstate NY, Central PA, Southern Ohio etc.) stranded under the Blue Empire. There is, however, simply no way around this. Especially if one is to prioritize the integrity of state boundaries and the contagiousness of territorial boundaries. The advantages of which far outweigh any possible disadvantages like the aforementioned. A less obvious advantage of this arraignment also being that it's hard to accuse a proposal of being "Neo-Confederate" if the geographic logic contained therein completely negates the contours of the historical confederacy. A practical consideration which is imperative for any potential success.

As the United States continues to fracture along ideological lines, lines which have long existed but are only now being exposed due to the Presidency of Donald Trump, the window of opportunity for a new secessionist movement will only continue to grow. The common bonds that once united Americans have now been utterly fractured and there likely is no practical way to put them back together again. Thus, all things considered, a logical and clean division of the country along ideological lines is desirable, especially in comparison to a potential civil conflict.

However, any such endeavor will require hard work, effective organizing and clever rhetoric that dispenses with past tropes and attempts to appeal to the legitimate interests of both sides. It is a project which, while certainly difficult, is by no means impossible and which may ultimately present the best solution for the deep and insoluble problems currently besetting the United States.

Author: P.D. Corday