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Sale: Answering Will Moredock

On secession, slavery, and silliness

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I must begin my response to Mr. Moredock's recent silly and ill-tempered column criticizing me by apologizing for causing his liberal knee to jerk so frequently. The spasms must be painful.

And then I must correct his impression that I was a happy liberal living in Vermont who came to Mt. Pleasant and got corrupted by the ghosts of the Confederacy that are known to haunt this place and got turned into a secessionist. I never lived in Vermont, never was a liberal, and have been a secessionist most of my life, formalizing it when I started the Middlebury Institute "for the study of separatism, secession, and self-determination" in 2004, four years before I moved to these dangerous climes.

As for the role of slavery in the War of Northern Aggression, it was to some extent the cause of secession and the South's declaration of states' rights, but it was not the cause of the war. In fact, Lincoln was emphatic that he didn't plan to "interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists." Clear enough. Two years after his inauguration, he freed the slaves in the Confederacy, though not those in the border states, "as a war measure" only, not a humanitarian gesture. He wanted to inspire a black insurrection that would destroy the South's ability to feed and resupply the Confederate army, and two, to destroy the South's economy. In the first he was unsuccessful. In the second he was triumphant beyond his dreams.

As to the federally forced Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts that Mr. Moredock holds up as "freedom," I do not dispute that they worked to make life better for most in the South, and I believe people of all stripes are glad that they have. I cannot say that they have been truly "liberating" as long as segregation remains entrenched in housing and schools and as long as more than 1 million blacks, 40 percent of the prison population, are behind bars or on parole.

I would argue that cultural and political pressure over time, accompanied by such things as grants and intelligent banking policies rather than troops and judges, would have created as much progress in interracial justice and cooperation as the federal force-feeding has done. Passing laws in Washington and forcing them on the nation uniformly has created a half-century of halting progress and, as the race industry will tell you, a still-racist nation.

Now let me address the question of whether, as Ron Paul says, secession "is one of the best ways to guarantee peace, prosperity, and liberty." Mr. Moredock disputes the idea, and indeed so did I in the op-ed he attacks, saying that "I would not go so far as saying that smaller units 'guarantee'" those benefits, only that "if you want such things as peace and liberty, you are far more likely to find them" in countries around the level of five million people than in the giant states. Secession allows states to operate at a level where more people are likelier to have a voice in political affairs and where regimes are more visible and more subject to the popular will.

Lastly, my argument in the op-ed piece, though you wouldn't know it from Moredock's column, was that as long as the federal government repeatedly shows its incompetence, intrusion, and corruption, operating at the vast and imperial level it does (he pretends to quote me on this point but only makes it up), then it only makes sense to think about ways to fix it. The fact that, as I pointed out, some 24 percent of this nation (80 million people!) persistently believes that secession is not only legal, but something they would support, means that this is one way that seems practical and popular — and worth contemplating.

Mr. Moredock may find it happier to live in Washington, D.C., where they all believe in the liberating power of government force. They might well want to secede on that platform.

Kirkpatrick Sale is the director of the Middlebury Institute, based in Mt. Pleasant, and the author of 12 books over 50 years.

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