Reading Reflection on Jason Sorens’s Secession

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.

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