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The Anathema of Secession

The Anathema of Secession Fractal geometry, fatal geopolitics

No. 4, Mar.-Apr. 2017 » Bridging News

Talking about secession in the house of the modern state is, depending on the tastes and the actual situation of the speaker, either something absolutely hilarious (if not even dangerous), or something absolutely legitimate (if not even necessary). It is a historical fact that the current world, in its settlement as state-centred reality, of cohabiting territorial monopolies of legitimate use of force, was built on a foundation which, in the meantime, became a geopolitical quasi-taboo: the principle of self-determination. This self-determination, in its pure form, does not involve something that should mandatorily be seen as insidious, but a natural prolongation of human liberty and personal property – two civilizational benchmarks which, we must admit, are still treated as indigest on certain lands, in certain times. And if the state is portrayed and perceived as a social contract, then it can only be accepted as valid if closed between free men, within the limits of their legitimate patrimony, including their territorial possessions, under a strictly consented jurisdictional framework. (Or not quite so?) 

Nation states, including not only those where this attribute has a limited ethnical-linguistic meaning, but also those where nations defined themselves through a non-genetic consent, are considered to be the natural outcome of self-determination. This is the mainstream rhetoric on modern statehood now striking back as a boomerang. By expressing themselves in a plebiscitary manner, people(s) rearranged themselves in the crucible of democratic states, seen more natural relative to old absolutist multinational empires, fusty “prisons of nations”. But the dysfunctions of “self-determination” movements, in terms of sense and sensibility, emerged once the term “national” slid subtly (though not fortuitously if seen from a political perspective) from a solid state of social matter to a fluid one. Modern nations demanded their “moral” right to self-determination “in corpore” and their state-articulated epicentre granted itself the privilege of separating and reuniting territories populated by the people from the same nation, but in the same time adopting “ethnic enclaves”. Post-modernity, they woke up. 

Any such state-made, en gross, consolidation project was and remained flawed by a certain type of historical servitude that became flammable in critical moments. The self-determination / secession - self-determination / unification cycle is self-flammable if the unit of measure are the “relatively homogenous” populations based on a “majority”. In the spaces where people who are seen as minorities through the lens of an existing jurisdiction, but who represent the majority in a specific sub-territory / enclave, demand their separation, there usually remain, consequently, other sub-communities that will feel discomfort. Former parts of the dominant population from the initial jurisdiction risk after a secession to become the “victim” of uneven treatments or even revanchist policies, while contaminated by what just happened to them, these sub-communities demand secession at their turn. Taken to its ultimate limits, this dynamic tends to be fractal, and any secessionist exercise that was tried at one level whilst refused at another will frustrate. See Kosovo, see Crimea, see Catalonia (!?). 

Economic science teaches us that people, depending on the purposes that motivate them and their waiting horizons, can agree to work together in a sustainable manner, in the spirit of the cohesive division of labour, or they can choose to free ride on the fruits of the former. States, as institutional mechanisms, populated by people, develop tendencies in both directions: they function both as legal cooperation infrastructures intra- and inter-jurisdictions, as well as mechanisms for the violent extraction of resources. In the logic of economics, secession, or its spectrum, would increase competition between jurisdiction in terms of good treatment: if now citizens can only “vote with their feet” against bad governance, through secession they would do the same, but this time taking also the land beneath them, and incentives created this way would lead both to making nations stronger and governments more responsible. Although, economics and political sciences seem to be at odds when speaking about the virtues and vices of the most instable stabilizer of peace and prosperity across ages: the state.

 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016