Logo of the Abbeville Institute

Logo of the Abbeville Institute

For three days last week, on the third floor of the Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston, SC, a group of scholars have been meeting to discuss the history of nullification and secession in American law and politics, and the continued relevance of those concepts today.

I had the privilege of joining them for the weekend-long event, hosted by the Abbeville Institute, entitled Nullification, Secession, and the Human Scale of Political Order, and it has been an amazing learning experience.

Accomplished scholars such as Abbeville founder Donald Livingston, Thomas DiLorenzo, Thomas Naylor, Marshall DeRosa, Kirkpatrick Sale, Yuri Maltsev, and Kent Masterson Brown all addressed the gathering of well over 100 attendees during the course of the weekend.

We learned that, in politics at least, size does matter, and smaller is better. Fifty percent of countries have populations of less than 5.5 million people, including nine of the top ten in terms of wealth per capita, and nine of the fourteen freest states on the planet.

Which would come as no surprise to political philosophers throughout history, from Aristotle to David Hume, who have long argued that, like a metastasizing cancer cell, there is a point at which (republican pretensions notwithstanding) a centralized nation’s growth can render it dangerous and ungovernable.

The Soviet Union learned this fact in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, as Yuri Maltsev, a former adviser to Boris Yeltsin and senior scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, reminded the group. Though the Soviet leaders had no interest in republican pretensions, to stay in power, they were forced to control the lives of hundreds of millions of people spread across eleven time zones and one sixth of the Earth’s surface. Unfortunately, Yuri noted, the only way to do this was through mass murder, and even that eventually failed when the regime literally ran out of bullets.

Which is largely why those in America who understand history’s lessons, and value individual rights as they were enshrined by our Declaration of Independence, have begun to look seriously for ways to reestablish a society that values rights over might. The founder of the Second Vermont Republic, Thomas Naylor, believes his state can serve as the model for such a society one day.

First though, we have to convince fellow Americans that our nation has in fact transitioned from republic to empire, and that the only way to regain our prosperity and moral standing as a nation of free men and women is to resist the illegal and unconstitutional activities of our government.

Which is where the Tenth Amendment comes in. By pursuing a strategic decentralization of power through the vehicle of state and local nullification and interposition, we as Americans have the power to withdraw our consent peacefully and permanently from a federal government that no longer respects the rule of law.

The agents of that government may or may not then choose to recognize our right to make such a determination for ourselves. That is up to them.

But understanding that self-government is by definition the right of all free people, and then acting on that knowledge, is up to us.

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