by Ryan McMaken, Activist Post:
Earlier this month, West Virginia state senator Charles Trump introduced a senate resolution requesting that the citizens of Frederick County consider joining West Virginia. That is, the West Virginia Senate invited the county to secede from Virginia and join West Virginia. The Senate later adopted the resolution.
Resolutions like these don’t change any laws, but the Senate vote was in part a response to the dissatisfaction voiced by some Virginians over the legislative agenda of the new government in Richmond. As Tho Bishop noted on Monday here at Mises.org, many residents of Frederick County, like residents of other counties outside Democrat-controlled areas of the state’s east and northeast, are concerned about mounting efforts by the state government to impose new gun ownership restrictions—among other new regulations—on Virginia residents.
If opponents of the current ideological winds blowing in Virginia find themselves in a permanent minority, it may very well be that the only method of defending the minority position is by leaving the state. But “exit” can theoretically be obtained in more than one way. It can be done on an individual basis, of course, where a single person relocates. Or it can be done through jurisdictional secession.
In the case of Virginia, there would be nothing novel about some parts of the state breaking off from the Richmond-controlled government. The same thing happened during and after the American Civil War. At the time, the mountain South was less inclined to support slavery—and more inclined to be Unionist—than plantation areas. This was true for mountain areas of Virginia as well.
Northern politicians took advantage of this split and promised independence — and thus greater self determination to the western counties of Virginia—if they would break away from the Virginia government controlled by wealthy planters. Although the process by which this happened was legally sketchy, the US Supreme Court nonetheless put its stamp of approval on West Virginia’s secession in 1871.1
Some Practical Considerations
There are practical obstacles to secession, to be sure. Businesses would be subject to different regulations, and the criminal code would be slightly different for county residents as the county switched to a new state. State budgets would have to be changed to reflect the new borders.
Federal law, of course, would remain unchanged in all areas, and matters of global diplomacy would be virtually unaffected. Congress’s involvement need not extend much beyond the apportioning of members of Congress once the next decennial census comes along.
Unfortunately, status quo bias would cause many to emotionally reject any change. The way things have “always” been done will be trotted out as justification for keeping things the way they are, essentially forever.
Secession: A Moral Imperative
But is there a moral argument against secession from Virginia? Not if we take ideas of self-determination and human rights seriously.
If minority groups find themselves perennially in the minority, what recourse do they have if boundaries are also permanently fixed? Some might suggest these people can move across state lines. But since state lines could be hundreds of miles away in a large state like Virginia, a forced diaspora would likely require minority populations to disband their communities. Some suggests members of the minority ought to trust the court system to protect their rights. But American history is littered with Supreme Court decision in which the courts either refuse to take action, or explicitly side with governments against the rights of citizens.2
Even if court decisions go the minority’s way in the short term, there’s no fighting the majority in the long term. After all, judges are not immune from the currents of ideological change as imposed by majority groups — and the law schools they control. Thus, as economist and social theorist Ludwig von Mises noted in his 1927 book Liberalism: