In Secessionism, Jason Sorens provides definitions of both secession and secessionism. Secession, he says, “is the withdrawal of territory and the people living on that territory from the sovereignty of an existing state and the establishment of a newly independent state with sovereignty over that territory and its people” (Sorens 3). He defines secessionism as including “movements that aim at substantial territorial autonomy for a minority group and do not rule out independence in the future” (Sorens 5). A full definition of a secessionist movement, then, is an organization that supports at least internal sovereignty over some territory it wishes to possess and that does not oppose the eventual possibility of external sovereignty (Sorens 9). Sorens points out that while actual secession itself is rare, secessionist groups and movements are not and can have important effects on the countries in which they arise (Sorens 3). These are all important and thorough definitions that form the framework of some of Soren’s later claims, which address issues of identity, interest, and strategy in secessionist movements.
One key claim made by Sorens is that it is a combination of identity and interest that lead to a popular desire for independence among a certain group (Sorens 6). While culturally distinctive groups are a necessary element for secessionist movements, as Sorens explains in the section on identity, there must be some net benefit that makes secession a better option, in the eyes of the majority of the group, than negotiating and seeking improvement within the current system of government (Sorens 30). These benefits can include cultural, economic, and political factors (Sorens 30). So, secessionism requires cultural difference plus economic and political benefits of sovereignty in order to become a serious political option (Sorens 31). While this may seem an obvious point, it is not always specifically addressed in the field of International Relations, where differences in ethnicity itself is sometimes positioned as the impetus for conflicts with secessionist components. This formula might also explain why some ethnic conflicts involve secessionism while others do not.
Another interesting argument made by Sorens is that “a constitutional right of secession would substantially decrease ethnic violence… without significantly increasing the risks of actual state breakup” and would “result in widespread devolution of power, allowing minorities to obtain rights of self-government in the areas most important to them” (Sorens 8). He adds later that groups feel less secure about their future in countries where secession is prohibited, and where they don’t have as much influence on government policy (Sorens 42). Because of this combination (prohibition of secession with feelings of insecurity and powerlessness), there are fewer actual secessionist movements, but latent support for secession is higher, as the net benefits of independence are higher (Sorens 41-2). In this way, Sorens says, banning secession can actually promote secessionism (Sorens 46). It is for these reasons that he argues that governments should not prohibit secession, but rather protect it as a right. This argument, while complicated and seemingly counterintuitive, did make sense to me in some ways. If nothing else, minority groups in states that recognize secession as a right might be able to use secession as a kind of bargaining chip in negotiations for limited regional autonomy or to force the central government to recognize and address other specific concerns of theirs.
This piece was difficult to get through when I first sat down to read it. However, once I got into it, I found myself really enjoying it. Anderson discusses nationalism and gives a rough definition of it for his readers. He describes nationalism as being similar to religion, but without a belief system with an afterlife. Instead of focusing on a god/goddess, nationalism focuses on the state of a country. Anderson is also able to point out the martyrdom that plays a key role in both religion and nationalism. Later on, Anderson delves in a bit further and discusses the cultural uses of nationalism. By this, I mean the way nationalism is so prominent in society. It has worked itself into the differing cultures of nationalistic societies. I really enjoyed the brief background on Kublai Khan and his acceptance of differing faiths. I think this example was contrasted well with Pedro Fermín de Vargas’ ideology where the only redemption of “barbarians” is through impregnation by white men and the ownership of property. Anderson went from ‘The Religious Community’ to the ‘Dynastic Realm’ where he discusses divine right, one of the few political systems acknowledged and accepted back in the day. This chapter primarily focused on nationalism and how it came to be: from religious and dynastic realms to being culturally infused the way it is today.
Anderson offers an interesting view into the formation of communities and the role that the nature of this formation had in the development of nationalism. The foundation of his explanation is his statement that all communities are to be distinguished “by the style in which they are imagined.” He goes on to claim that throughout much of history the dominant styles of imagining have been based on the sacred languages of universal religions (Latin, Arabic, etc.) and dynastic realms, which forced one’s identity into a hierarchical structure. To an extent I agree with this assertion, but I wonder if this view of identity and community formation is too grand and limited. If we look at the Chinese pictographs, which Anderson himself groups into a sacred language, we see its use across a large swath of Eastern Asia. However, this did not bring Japanese literati, let alone Japanese peasants, to adopt a Chinese identity or culture. This idea also ignores cultures that were outside of the “traditional” civilizations, such as the Mongols or Aztecs, which certainly had a strong identity. In fact, the Mongols were largely egalitarian and had their own script before their expansion and subsequently adopted many new cultural attributes throughout their expansion without ever losing their Mongolian identity. I only mention these topics because I wonder if this view of pre-nationalist identity is too focused on the elite and if identity was something more nuanced. Why would a Bedouin identify themselves as a Muslim rather than by their kin network? Why would an Estonian peasant whose grandparents were forced into Christianity and knew no Latin identify themselves as a Christian tied to the Christian world through Latin rather than by their place of origin or their own kin network?
That being said, his argument that standardized vernacular following the printing boom of the seventeenth century was very well supported. Having a small familiarity with socio-linguistics, I wholly agree that standardized language is a powerful tool that can be used to unite a people and discriminate against outsiders. A “horizontally” unifying tool such as this can easily give rise to a common identity, one that is stronger than religion or a political system. And, if a political system can harness a standardized language and dub it the “national” language, then it is in a very powerful and stable position. One need only look at the amazing and drastic reforms to Turkish that were carried out by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. If you have any interest in seeing a region make the major change from an earlier polyglot and open imperial system to a centralized, mono-ethnic state, I highly suggest you read up on Ataturk and the formation of Turkey and the modern Turkish language.
Anyway, this reading has given me a better understanding of the discussion surrounding community identity. I’m still having a hard time identifying what topic I want to cover, but I am confident that Kodey and I can figure it out in the coming week. Hope your guys’ weekend went well and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow!
In Jason Sorens’ piece on secession, there is an important distinction between the ideas of secession and secessionism. To define these not only as separate points, but also to articulate them as within their own categories, the difference between action and theory, provides a set up for the discussion that he proceeds to give. Even before this distinction is clearly giving, we can see when Sorens addresses the rarity of successful secession movements, yet when we think of history of particularly European Empires in the 20th century, we can look at the decolonization of African and Asian states as potential secession movements, yet Sorens only lists a number of these as examples.
We can see more of a reference to the struggles with African, as well as Eastern European, states with his discussion of the power of ethnicity within the struggle for an autonomous state. On page 21 he states, “Experiments have shown that when individuals are classified into groups, even on the basis of arbitrary criteria such as tastes for abstract art, their behavior changes. They cooperate more with members of their own group, and less with members of other groups than they do when no group identities are assigned.” When we look at this kind of claim in the context of what we are normally exposed to when discussing secession and the idea of separate states, we are forced to look with new ideas at the idea of categorization of these states in the first place.
This type of idea is something that I personally find fascinating. The matter of looking at not only why groups want an autonomous power, but why they were formed into the initial group, and for what reasons and amount of times were these groupings able to take place is fascinating. The categorization of both others and ourselves is something that can be looked at critically in the context of secession; specifically what this means in terms of our modern American identity and why we always need a prefix in our self identification as Americans.
In the introduction to his book Secession, Jason Sorens argues that secession is relatively rare, and prompted mainly by a few factors. First, that the seceding party tends to be a minority, especially an ethnic minority, with little control over governmental policy. Second, they will only attempt to secede if the benefits of seceding are perceived to be higher than the costs. Finally, the likelihood of a minority attempting to secede may be decreased if their government either bans secession entirely, increasing the costs of seceding, or if the government allows the group more autonomy, decreasing the benefits.
While reading this piece, I realized that I had been thinking of secession in a very limited context. While I have been aware of the break-up of countries outside the United States, I had never heard the term applied in a context outside the Civil War. Clearly our class is focused on the United States, but I am interested to learn about conflicts leading to secessionist movements in other regions around the world.
Sorens’s work deals with broad matters of governmental policy, and it makes me wonder whether anyone in a position to change constitutions will ever read his work. Academics consider weighty problems, but the answers we come up with make no difference if the people in power neglect to examine them.
The idea of increasing the autonomy of secessionist groups is an intriguing one. What do governments fear in letting go of those unhappy with their rule? Loss of power, control, natural resources? Perhaps they fear to look weak in front of enemies, or even that the recently seceded will unite against them. In such cases, it makes sense to allow people more freedom in order to prevent a permanent division. It might lessen conflicts in the future if people paid attention to Sorens’s work.
Benedict Anderson’s analysis of nationalism takes an interesting course as he tries to justify how our society’s view of a nation is actually an anomaly. Anderson explains that his goal for his book is to explain what a nation is in modern terms. In order to satisfactorily define nation, one has to understand the context of the word, as well as how it came to be. He believes that a nation is simply a socially constructed group or an “imagined political community”.
Anderson spoke about the sense of community that nationalism brings to the table. Even if the country is geographically extensive with a widely diverse population, there is a sort of kinship that accompanies nationalism. People that have no tie, other than the land that they live on, fight against other humans from different lands, and die for people that they don’t know.
On page 12, Anderson quotes what someone might say, “Yes it is quite accidental that I was born French; but after all, France is eternal.” A nation is really an imagined community, most people in the entirety of France- or any other given country- will never meet each other face to face yet “in the minds of each lives the image of communion”.
I found this book- the short part we read at least- fascinating. It contradicts mostly everything I have ever learned about politics. Anderson gives an interesting perspective on the socially imagined community and how powerful it is. Millions of “community” members fight in wars and die in battle for their community of people that they will never entirely meet. Nations fight over land, resources, and leaders, killing thousands until one community or nations win. We create these imagined communities as a result of language, religion, and media, and if they are truly “imagined” as Anderson argues, we must have very powerful imaginations.
Jason Sorens defines secession in his book as “the withdrawal of territory and the people on that territory from the sovereignty of an existing state and the establishment of a newly independent state with sovereignty over that territory and its people.” He also makes it clear that secession is relatively rare, while secessionist political parties or groups are much more common. Secessionist movements, as defined by Sorens, are groups that: 1. “support at least internal sovereignty covering a wide range of policy areas for a territory that does not yet possess it. and 2. does not explicitly oppose the eventual attainment of external sovereignty as well.
This actually caught be by surprise, as I had always assumed that when a state or group wished to secede, that they were seeking independence from the central government. However, Sorens says that this is not the case. One can be self governing, but not independent. Sorens uses the example of the Isle of Man, which deals with its own taxes, budget, and laws, yet cannot sign treaties or declare war, as Britain is in charge of that. Similar to how the states in the USA are sovereign over their own territory but they are not independent because the central government is actually in charge of other issues.
Governments tend to have two ways of responding to secessionist movements. They either attempt peaceful resolutions through compromise as they know that using military force may stir the secessionists to be more violent; Or they end up using their military to quell the movement because they know the secessionists are in the minority and it also displays their might to foreigners.
Because violence can erupt from secessionist rebellions, Sorens advocates for a constitutional right of secession. He believes this would decrease the violence, as secession would be quasi-legal, and it wouldn’t significantly increase the risk of states breaking up. I disagree. I think that if you give them the right to secede in the constitution, people will be more likely to use it and the government would not be able to do anything to stop it. I believe the best way to avoid secession and ethnic violence would be to hear out the minority and come to a compromise. This is supported by Ted Gurr’s claim that ethnopolitical rebellion has declined since the 90s because many nations negotiated autonomy and power-sharing settlements.
Even if the government is able to negotiate peacefully with the secessionists, there is still a risk that the group will continue to fight for more independence until they are no longer a part of the state. This is a greater risk for territories with larger amounts of natural resources, a culturally similar population, sea access, as well as other geographical and political causes.
This is Nate Schnittman, a History major at University of Illinois Springfield. I was born and raised around Chicago but i spent a year abroad in Israel. My biggest interest is in early American history, and personally i find the political and historical contexts of secessionist movements extremely interesting, and I’m very much excited to take part in this program.
Anderson’s analysis was particularly interesting to me, as an International Relations major, since it seems to contradict everything I have learned in my classes. In my studies, nations are the foundations of states, and states are clearly defined. They are tangible entities, the basis of everything we study, and the key actors in the system I am trying to understand.
Anderson, however, disagrees. He believes that nations are simply defined “imagined political communities,” imagined because the identification with a particular nation is made entirely in a person’s mind. This concept is rather revolutionary in politics, since “nationalist” sentiment is political capital, used to create armies and fight wars.
However, Anderson believes that the notion of “nationhood” and community was largely perpetuated by the media, print media centers that were primarily concerned with making profits. Even religious based communities bought into the capitalist notions of selling media with Martin Luther as a prime example. Through this print capitalism, a distinct language system was developed in different European states that defines the “national” borders today. Print media, Anderson argues, driven by purely capitalistic desires, has defined what people new as their nationality and the communities they identify with.
Because of the variety of languages being printed, the stretch of the imagined communities was limited and thus, confined. While the process of national identification through print media was a feature of the 1500s, it was in 1648, with the Peace of Westphalia, that the states of Europe were truly defined. Logically from Anderson’s argument, the advent of print media’s hold on nationalism helped shape the borders of modern Europe since it lay the foundation of identity and community in enclosed spheres.
Hello! My name is Eben Lee Thomas and I’m a senior history major at Southern Utah University. My academic focus tends to be on the ancient world (particularly Egypt and Greece), so I’m excited for the opportunity to do something more modern. I really enjoy doing research and as I work in IT on campus I’m very comfortable with the technological side of things.