Jason Sorens explores the nature of secession and various historical secessionist movements in his piece. He pays particular attention to establishing what the contributing factors that cause a group to seek total secession – rather than improving status with the majority or higher levels of self-governing autonomy within the existing state.

There are a variety of standards which must be met by a group in order for secession to even become a possibility. The most important are a shared cultural identity and territorial proximity. Cultural identity – which can be civic, religious, ethnic, etc. – is required to actually create a group and ensure it has common interests it feels are not being met by the present political system. Territorial proximity is needed because there must be a physical space  for purposes of political and economic organization after the separation takes place. Physically disparate groups can still have a shared cultural identity, but their needs will differ as they will exist in differing political and economic situations. (Though I think it’s important to point out some of these groups may seek to leave the lands they occupy and congregate in a single territory in order to establish a single state, such as Zionists, even though their migration would be a cultural, not a secessionist, one.)

Sorens explores the economic and political factors of secessionist movements and the various strategies they use to get their needs met, but essentially it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. Sorens points out that the minority is often unable to trust the actions of the majority, and the majority is often unwilling to commit to lasting compromises. The fact that many nations do not guarantee the right to secede to the populace (or do not guarantee such attempts will be met with violence) is more likely to promote secessionist movements – minorities who cannot legally secede do not feel like they have a final option, or ultimate bargaining chip, to use with the majority (for whom it is economically beneficial for the minority to not divide the state). If greater in-state autonomy is a truly viable option, achieving that status will typically prevent the minority group from seeking further separation.

Sometimes it is economically beneficial to secede – such as in cases where the minority is paying more into the state fiscally then they are receiving in services. In other cases, detrimental economic effects are mitigated by the newly-independent’s state to maintain trade relations in an increasingly globalized world. Even in cases where there will be economic turmoil following a secession, sometimes the minority group will decide that the cultural benefits – typically expression and maintenance – are more important than economic security.

This excerpt was fascinating. Honestly, I had never given much thought to why secession happens in a more general sense before this point. I definitely believe that groups should have the right to secede from their nation, though I had never thought that such a right could actually be a preventative measure against such actions – it seemed simply part of the right to self-determination. The distinctions Sorens made between ethnic and civic common identities in nations is valuable not only in the context of secession but in understanding many political actions within different nations. It’s understandable that majority powers would be disinclined to allow for the right to secede, but I believe a better cost-benefit analysis needs to happen on the part of such decision makers – the U.S.’ attempts to prevent secession were historically disastrous, fiscally and in terms of human life.

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