by Mary David Miller

The University of West Georgia’s political science department presented the “Breaking Up: The Ethics and Economics of Secession” lecture where Dr. Jason Sorens, lecturer of the Department of Government at Dartmouth College, spoke to students about whether economical secession is rational or not.

Dr. Jason SorensEconomical secession is known as the exchange of goods or services outside of one’s traditional economic service. It is a method of decreasing the government's control over a group's economic decisions.

“If you want political decentralization or if you want more power, then you’d be considering secessionism,” Sorens explained.

Sorens defines secessionism by taking the word secession and looking at its Latin meaning, which is ‘withdraw.’

“So what we mean by secession nowadays is political withdrawal from people and the territory they inhabit from the sovereignty of an existing state and an establishment of a new state with sovereignty over them and their territory,” he said.

There are many places around the world where there are movements for secession. Sorens mentions a few, including Scotland, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Also, in the northern half of Belgium, people who speak Dutch are called the Flemish. They are known as Flemings, and their land is called Flanders. What makes this especially interesting, explains Sorens, is that Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is located in Flanders. The Flemings seceded from the capital they are in, which is different then most places where secessionism happens.

When looking at the reasons behind where secession happens, two factors are needed. The first factor is that there are sets of necessary conditions that have to be met for secession to even be remotely plausible. The second set of conditions is things that might encourage or discourage it. So the necessary prerequisites include cultural distinctiveness.

“We almost never see a secession movement for a region that isn’t culturally distinct from the rest of the country,” Sorens said.

The next prerequisite to have a secession movement is demographic preponderance and a homeland. It has to be a territory considered their homeland where they are willing to gain independence. There has to be a territory that is inhabited where there is the majority of a group. Also, there has to be a minority with a disadvantaged status.

“If you’re the majority of the group in your country, you are not going to want independence from that country because you control it,” Sorens said. “The exception would be if you’re disadvantage despite the majority status, so if there is a minority that rules the state with an iron fist that excludes you. An example is Syria.”

So in order to start a secession movement, all of the above must be filled. Political differences, ideological differences, and fiscal disadvantages can all contribute to the decision to fight for independence.

Sorens talked about three main normative theories of secession.

“These are theories that determine when you ought to secede and when you ought be let to secede,” Sorens explained.

The first is the primary writer consent theory. This says that is does not matter what your purpose is behind secession, if a majority of your group votes to secede, then you should be let go. However, there is one exception–you cannot violate the minorities after seceding.

“The problem with this is almost no government is going to agree to this,” Sorens said. “No government is going to say, ‘If you own a trailer park in west Texas and want to secede and declare your own country, go ahead.’”

The Nationalists’ theory says that if you have a national identity then you can secede, but if you do not have a national identity than you can’t. So that takes care of the trailer park Sorens used as an example.

The last theory is just cause and remedial right theory, which says you’re not allowed to secede unless your government has brutalized you.

So knowing what secession means, what factors go into it, and what the three theories of secession are, is it rational?

Sorens argues that it should be legalized for the primary regional units within a person’s country, believing they should have some kind of legal path to independence. He defends his side by talking about how not many groups are going to secede. Banning secession creates conflict because secessionists then turn to rebellion when they can't get what they want through the political process. Even if the secessionists don't rebel, it creates a lot of uncertainty, which is bad for the economy.

“I’ve found in my studies, that countries who have legalized secession are more likely to decentralize power,” Sorens said. “Decentralization is a good thing, so secession is a good thing.”

Posted on November 21, 2016