Ever since “red states” and “blue states” entered our popular lexicon in the weeks following the 2000 election, Americans have understood that our country’s citizens have taken two divergent paths at the fork in the road. Twenty years later, the possibility that those paths will converge one day seems more and more remote. That is why a word that has long been forbidden in American discourse has gained traction in recent years: secession.
In most Americans’ minds, “secession” conjures up images of the Civil War, slavery, and racism. It represents the darkest and bloodiest hour of our nation’s history, when families were divided and brother fought against brother. Because the term is linked in our minds to a long and nearly crippling war, we naturally recoil at the idea of secession. Additionally, the mythology subconsciously espoused by many Americans that our country is divinely ordained to extend freedom throughout the world makes the suggestion that America could decrease in size unfathomable to most of us.+
Yet, people are now talking seriously about the possibility of secession. The proximate cause is the shenanigans associated with the most recent presidential election. A large number of Americans believe that the candidate likely to be sworn in on January 20, 2021 was the beneficiary of fraud on a large scale. If this is the case, then the political system is fundamentally broken; an increasing number of Americans are questioning the efficacy of continuing the charade of a united country.
So, can a Catholic support the idea of secession?
Let’s take a step back first. Is secession legal? One of the greatest American Catholic legal minds, Antonin Scalia, argued that it is not. “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War,” he wrote, “it is that there is no right to secede.” With all due respect to the late Justice Scalia, and with a little trepidation about contradicting him, this makes no sense. When one political body secedes from another, the seceding body is rejecting the authority of the first. In other words, all laws in effect in the original nation are no longer applicable to the seceding nation, since it is no longer part of that original nation. Asking if secession is legal, then, is actually nonsensical, for the people seceding do not recognize the laws of the original country.
But even if it’s “legal,” is it moral? Because Americans equate secession with a bloody civil war, many argue that if you support secession, you support needless bloodshed. But bloodshed is not a foregone conclusion. In the early 1990s, fifteen Soviet republics seceded from the Soviet Union without a civil war. In 1965, Singapore separated from Malaysia without sparking a violent conflict. Other examples are littered throughout history, particularly recent history. Secession can be peaceful, and it is peaceful secession that I am considering here.
From a Catholic point of view, the benefits of secession include new opportunities for legal protection of the unborn, reduced cultural and political conflict, and more robust subsidiarity.
Secession would provide better prospects for legal protection of the unborn. Some Catholics argue that abandoning the union would be abandoning the unborn in the new leftist/socialist nation-states that would be formed. If California, for example, were to leave the union, it’s unlikely it would ever restrict abortion in any way.