Monthly Archives: July 2009

There Is No National Fix for the American Health Care System

Claims that the American health care system is broken are by no means exaggerated. We have by far the most expensive health care delivery system in the world. We spend over $2 trillion annually on health care or an average of over $6,300 per person. Spiraling increases in the cost of health insurance impose an almost unbearable burden on employers and employees alike as well as state and local governments. The possibility of our health care system bankrupting our economy cannot be ruled out.

But contrary to what we have been told by President Barack Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders, and other big-government-spending politicians, there is no national fix to America’s health care problems!

Hillary Clinton inadvertently discovered this the hard way back in 1994 with her abortive attempt to sell the Congress on a national health care system. She demonstrated conclusively that such a system was not politically feasible. Unfortunately, she did not appreciate the fact that a national health care system for 320 million people was beyond the scope of human possibility. Stated alternatively, no one knows how to design such a complex system.

The fundamental problem underlying America’s health care system is neither an economic nor a political problem but rather a philosophical problem. Our health care system rests perilously on two principles—fear of death and greed.

The demand for health care services in America is driven by our inordinate fear of death. We neither know when to die nor how to die, and few physicians are very helpful to us in dealing with either of these questions. The supply of health care services, on the other hand, is driven by the greed of providers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and health insurance companies. When human greed exploits the fear of death, there is no limit as to how high health care prices can rise. For those who are fortunate enough to have good health insurance, the message is “You deserve the best medical care money can buy, because you are entitled to live forever,” so say physicians and pharmaceutical company television advertisements.

Those with good health insurance have access to a plethora of very expensive, high-tech medical services including magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, nuclear diagnostics, complex multi-organ transplants, coronary bypass surgery, artificial kidney machines, death-defying prenatal procedures, genetic enhancements, and gene splicing. Anti-aging clinics offer everything from yoga, meditation, and mind-body medicine to growth hormones, sex hormones, melatonin, herbs, potions and elixirs to delay the aging process, but to little avail. Joel Garreau’s book Radical Evolution reports on a new breed of scientists who believe that advances in genetics, robotics, information technology, and nano technology will allow us to improve our intelligence, reinvent our bodies, and even become immortal. This new field of medicine is known as transhumanism.

There are dozens of drugs and high-tech medical devices and procedures claiming to prolong life. We have become accustomed to an endless series of announcements on the evening television news reporting major breakthroughs in the cure of this ailment or that, only to be followed by a retraction six months later warning of risky side effects or questions on the efficacy of the drug or procedure.

By widening the boundaries of illness and lowering the threshold for treatment, pharmaceutical companies have created millions of new patients and billions of dollars in profits. By exploiting our fear of disease and death, pharmaceutical companies have redefined mild problems and common complaints to serious illness and medical conditions requiring drug treatments.

So strong is the fear of death that it’s not unusual for the wealthy who are terminally ill to spend their last months either on the Internet or flying from one medical center to another in search of a physician, a medical school, an unproven drug or medical procedure, or a high-tech silver bullet which will forestall the grim reaper for a few more months. The problem is that the number of options available to the terminally ill patient is often completely overwhelming. How does one cope with so many alternatives? Is this any way to live or die? Vermont writer Garret Keizer refers to this phenomenon as “physician-assisted eternal life: the desire of the old to avoid death at any cost, especially if the cost can be passed on to another generation.” But at the lower end of the income level, it’s quite a different story.

The problem with national health insurance is what I call the “I’ve got mine, Jack” syndrome. Elderly patients who have paid their monthly premiums feel they are entitled to the best health care money can buy. They never think about the effect which a $100,000 hospital stay will have on other people’s premiums. What it’s all about is looking out for number one. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for a senior citizen to boast after receiving notice of a large hospital bill paid by Medicare, “I’m really getting my money’s worth.” No wonder Medicare is almost broke.

To promote its cause the Alzheimer’s Association recently issued a press release with the provocative headline, “10 Million U.S. Baby Boomers Will Develop Alzheimer’s Disease.” Virtually all of the attention bestowed on AD by the medical profession, academic researchers, and the National Institute of Health treats the problem as though it were purely a medical problem. All we need do to cure AD is identify the gene causing the problem and then find a chemical compound to allay the effects of the troublemaking gene. Apparently it has never occurred to anyone that AD may simply be the body’s way of protecting those whose lives have become meaningless from the despair associated with prolonged life. AD may, in fact, be a way of taking them out of their misery. Not only may there be no cure for AD, but even if there were a cure, what would be the psychological, social, and moral consequences of administering it?

Notwithstanding the predominance of Christianity in America with its adherence to the belief in life after death, our culture promotes a Darwinian, survival of the fittest attitude with regard to the extremes to which we are prepared to go to prolong our own individual lives. A kind of macho, Old West attitude seems to come over us as death approaches. It matters not how much of society’s scarce health care resources are consumed by prolonging my life for a few more months or years. I am the center of the universe. The rest of the world be damned!

Regardless of whether a national health care system is publicly financed or privately financed, if it is driven by the confluence of greed and the denial of death, it will be unstable and financially unfeasible. Any health care system which does not confront the moral, ethical, economic, and political implications of fear of death and greed represents an exercise in utter futility.

Obama’s health care reform program is already showing signs of coming unraveled at the seams. Not only is it too big, too complex, and too high-tech, but it tries to be all things to all people. My guess is that the final result will be a significantly watered down version of the original proposal, if it survives at all.

For any health care system to stand a chance of working it must be highly decentralized so that patients, physicians, clinics, hospitals, and insurance providers are in community with one another. To be quite blunt, if I decide to have a nice $100,000 open-heart surgery performed on me, I must be prepared to face the other citizens in my community, who know I have spent $100,000 of the community’s health care resources on myself. There must be a feeling of, “We are all in this together.” My life may be important to me, but I am a part of a community in which others want to share in the pool of health care resources. Resources are finite and must be rationed by the community.

The Swiss health care system, unknown to most Americans, comes very close to achieving this ideal. In the highly decentralized Swiss system, 95 percent of the population is insured against illness by one of four hundred private health insurance funds. Swiss health care is second to none.

My favorite hospital is the tiny 19-bed Grace Cottage Hospital located in Townshend, Vermont. Thanks to a very generous and supportive community, which includes devoted patients, committed volunteers, an amazingly talented, compassionate and hardworking staff, and wonderful benefactors, Vermont’s smallest hospital will soon celebrate six decades of saving lives, caring for the sick, helping those who are dying, and encouraging those who are well to stay that way.

It’s the Vermont way of living, staying well, and dying. America could learn a lot from Vermont and Switzerland.

Thomas H. Naylor
July 25, 2009

Full Spectrum Dominance

F. William Engdahl, Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. Baton Rouge, LA: Third Millennium Press, 2009, 256 pages, $24.95.

If you believe that the term “American Empire” refers only to our nation’s illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our unconditional support for Israeli terrorism against the Palestinians, then you are seriously misinformed concludes F. William Engdahl in his new book entitled Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. Engdahl convincingly argues that since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the “deliberate and unflinching policy” of the U.S. government has been and still is to “systematically and relentlessly pursue nuclear primacy (unilateral assured destruction) and the capacity for absolute, global military dominance, what the Pentagon calls Full Spectrum Dominance.”

The Pentagon has engineered and implemented an incredible plan to take control of not only the entire planet but the universe as well including land, sea, air, space, outer space and cyberspace. Not content with 1,000 military bases in 153 countries the Pentagon plan includes propaganda and media control, use of NGOs for regime change, Color Revolutions to advance NATO eastwards, and a vast array of psychological and economic warfare techniques.

Strongly influenced by Sir Halford Mackinder, the father of British geopolitics, and Polish-American Cold Warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Pentagon has pursued an obsessive compulsive policy aimed at controlling Russia and China at all cost. Wherever the Pentagon raises its ugly head oil, natural gas, and related pipelines are nearly always an issue. It’s all about the control of global supplies of hydrocarbons, minerals, and other natural resources. Anyone who does not believe in the problem of “peak oil” should examine our foreign policy.

Three nonviolent U.S. led revolutions which proved to be more successful than our ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan were Serbia’s coup, Georgia’s Rose Revolution, and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Tibet’s Crimson Revolution, Myanmar’s Saffron Revolution, and the abortive attempt to oust Hugo Chavez in Venezuela were not so successful. The U.S. government has, in effect, perfected a number of sophisticated techniques for “democratically” getting rid of any opponent, “while convincing the world that they were brought down by spontaneous outbursts of freedom.” Truly an insidious weapon.

The 2000 coup in Belgrade which brought down Slobodan Milosevic was the first to make extensive use of the Internet according to Engdahl—“particularly its chat rooms, instant messaging, and blog sites—along with cell phones and text-messaging.” Armed only with this technology, “a handful of trained leaders could rapidly steer rebellious and suggestible ‘Generation X’ youth in and out of mass demonstrations at will.”

Engdahl points out that the principal architect behind much of this madness is 87-year-old defense strategist Andrew Marshall, who sits in the Pentagon and tells others what to do, including people like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz. “As a group, Andrew Marshall’s protégés formed the most powerful military lobby in the US policy establishment in the first years of the 21st Century. They advocated radical force transformation, deployment of anti-missile defense, unilateral pre-emptive aggression, and militarization of space in order to use the US military to achieve for the United States and its closest allies, total domination of the planet as well as outer space. It was perhaps the most dangerous group of ideologues in United States history.”

“Among Marshall’s pet military projects were various precision weapons, including robotic devices, unmanned vehicles for sky, land, and undersea, as well as smaller devices that could change urban warfare by being able to crawl through buildings. Marshall was also intrigued by pharmaceutical companies that were experimenting with neurological manipulations.”

Other examples of Marshall’s so-called Revolution in Military Affairs are evinced in the unrest fomented in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, not to mention NATO’s threat to seize China’s oil fields to stop genocide in Darfur. U.S. recognition of the mafia-controlled state of Kosovo is more of the same. And then there is the U.S. Africa Command known as AFRICOM created to limit China’s influence in Africa.

Wherever the U.S. government is engaged in “spontaneous” political change (regime change), a half dozen or so government-backed NGOs are not far behind including the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, Albert Einstein Institution, Soros Open Society Foundations, the National Democratic Institute, and the National Republican Institute.

It does not take much imagination to see the heavy hand of the Revolution in Military Affairs in Honduras when the Chavez-supported President Manual Zelaya was recently overthrown by a military coup or in Tehran where protesters have been calling for the resignation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Full Spectrum Dominance is one of the scariest, most depressing, most compelling books on geopolitics I have ever read. The political philosophy which it describes was embraced by Presidents Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2. As Engdahl correctly notes, there is little evidence to suggest that President Barack Obama would change anything about this truly evil paradigm other than its manner of presentation. The only change which Obama represents is a change in style—not content.

Like my friend Gerald Celente, Bill Engdahl is one of the best geopolitical economists in the world. His grasp of the complex interdependencies linking the global economy, petroleum, the dollar, gold, and geopolitics is virtually without equal. Yet he leaves his readers suspended in mid air at the end of his book with the rather trivial conclusion that if we are to survive, full spectrum dominance must end. That’s not a terribly useful piece of information. It would have been much more useful to explore the highly probable collapse of the Empire or perhaps its peaceful dissolution.

Although Engdahl has written a brilliant book, it is one of the most poorly edited books I have ever read. One can only hope that the book enjoys sufficient success to attract a commercial publisher who will purchase the rights, edit it, and republish it for an even larger audience.

Thomas H. Naylor
August 1, 2009

Associated Press: In Vermont, Nascent Secession Movement Gains Traction

June 3, 2007

MONTPELIER, Vt. – At Riverwalk Records, the all-vinyl record store just down the street from the state Capitol, the black “US Out of Vt.!” T-Shirts are among the hottest sellers. But to some people in Vermont, the idea is bigger than a $20 novelty. They want Vermont to secede from the United States—peacefully, of course.

Disillusioned by what they call an empire about to fall, a small cadre of writers and academics is plotting political strategy and planting the seeds of separatism. They’ve published a “Green Mountain Manifesto” subtitled “Why and How Tiny Vermont Might Help Save America From Itself by Seceding from the Union.” They hope to put the question before citizens at Town Meeting Day next March, eventually persuading the state Legislature to declare independence, returning Vermont to the status it held from 1777 to 1791.

Whether it’s likely is another question.

But the idea has found plenty of sympathetic ears in Vermont, a left-leaning state that said yes to civil unions, no to slavery (before any other) and last year elected a socialist to the U.S. Senate.

About 300 people turned out for a 2005 secession convention in the Statehouse, and plans for a second one are in the works. A poll this year by the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies found that 13 percent of those surveyed support secession, up from 8 percent a year before.

“The argument for secession is that the U.S. has become an empire that is essentially ungovernable – it’s too big, it’s too corrupt and it no longer serves the needs of its citizens,” said Rob Williams, editor of Vermont Commons, a quarterly newspaper dedicated to secession.

“Congress and the executive branch are being run by the multinationals. We have electoral fraud, rampant corporate corruption, a culture of militarism and war. If you care about democracy and self-governance and any kind of representative system, the only constitutional way to preserve what’s left of the Republic is to peaceably take apart the empire.”

Such movements have a long history. Key West, Fla., staged a mock secession from America in the 1980s. The Town of Killington, Vt., tried to break away and join New Hampshire in 2004, and Hawaii, Alaska, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Texas all have some form of secession organizations today.

The Vermont movement, which is being pushed by several different groups, has been bubbling up for years but has gained new traction in the wake of disenchantment over the Iraq war, rising oil prices and the formation of the pro-secession groups. Among its architects:

–Thomas Naylor, 70, a retired Duke University economics professor and author who wrote the manifesto and founded Second Vermont Republic, a group pressing for secession, in 2003.

–Author Kirkpatrrick Sale, 69, founder of the Middlebury Institute, a Cold Spring, N.Y., think tank that hosted a North American Separatist Convention that drew representatives from 16 organizations last fall in Burlington. The group is co-sponsoring another one Oct. 3-4 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

–Author Frank Bryan, 65, a professor at the University of Vermont who has championed the cause for years.

Naylor’s 112-page manifesto contains precious little explanation of how Vermont would do without federal aid and programs when it comes to security, education and social programs. Some in the movement foresee a Vermont with its own currency and passports, for example, and some form of representative government formed once the secession has taken place.

The cachet of secession would make the new republic a magnet, Bryan said recently during a strategy session with organizers in Naylor’s home. “People would obviously relish coming to the Republic of Vermont, the Switzerland of North America.” He said. “Christ, you couldn’t keep them away.”

But there are plenty of skeptics.

“It doesn’t make economic sense, it doesn’t make political sense, it doesn’t make historical sense. Other than that, it’s a good idea,” said Paul Gillies, a lawyer and Vermont historian.

While neither the Vermont Constitution nor the U.S. Constitution forbids secession per se, few think it’s viable. “I always thought the Civil War settled that,” said Russell Wheeler, a constitutional law expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

“If Vermont had a powerful enough army and said, ‘We’re leaving the union,’ and the national government said, ‘No, you’re not,’ and they fought a war over it and Vermont won, then you could say Vermont proved the point. But that’s not going to happen,” he said.

For now, the would-be secessionists are hoping to draw enough support to get the question on Town Meeting Day agendas.

“We’re normal human beings,” said Williams, 39, a history professor at Champlain College. “But we’re serious about this. We want people in Vermont to think about the options going forward. Do you want to stay in an empire that’s in deep trouble?”

"Bye, Bye, Miss American Empire" by Bill Kaufman, appearing in Orion magazine

Bye, Bye, Miss American Empire
Or, the sweet smell of secession
by Bill Kauffman

Published in the July/August 2007 issue of Orion magazine

In the wake of George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, frustrated liberals talked secession back to within hailing distance of the margins of national debate—a place it had not occupied since 1861. With their praise of self-rule and the devolution of power, they sounded not unlike many conservatives had in the days before Bush & Cheney & Limbaugh wedded the American Right to the American Empire. While certain proponents of the renascent secessionism were motivated by spite or pixilated by whimsy or driven by the simple-minded belief that the United States can be divided into blue and red—as though our lovely land can be painted in only two hues!—others argued with cogency and passion for a disunionist position that bordered on the, well, seditious. Emphasizing both culture (“Now that slavery is taken care of, I’m for letting the South form its own nation,” said Democratic operative Bob Beckel) and economics (Democratic pundit Lawrence O’Donnell noted that “ninety percent of the red states are welfare clients of the federal government”, writing in forums of neoliberalism Slate and paleoliberalism The Nation, liberals helped to disinter a body of thought that had been buried at Appomattox. And—surprise!—three years later, the corpse has legs.

Secession is the next radical idea poised to enter mainstream discourse—or at least the realm of the conceivable. You can’t bloat a modest republic into a crapulent empire without sparking one hell of a centrifugal reaction. And the prospect of breaking away from a union once consecrated to liberty and justice but now degenerating into imperial putrefaction will only grow in appeal as we go marching with our Patriot Acts and National Security Strategies through Iraq, Iran, and all the frightful signposts on our road to nowhere.

Some of the contemporary secessionists are puckish and playful; others are dead serious. Some seek to separate from the main body of a state and add a fifty-first star to the American flag while others wish to leave the United States altogether. Some proposals are so sensible (the division of California into two or three states) that in a just world they would be inevitable; others are so radical (the independent republic of Vermont) as to seem risibly implausible—until you meet the activists and theoreticians preparing these new declarations of independence.

For these movements are, in the main, hopeful and creative (if utopian) responses to the Current Mess engulfing our land. They are the political antidote to the disease of giantism. We are a nation born in secession, after all, and of rebellion against faraway rulers. Ruptures, crackups, and the splintering of overlarge states into polities of more manageable size, closer to the human scale, are as American as runaway slaves and draft resisters.

“SECESSION,” SAYS ROB WILLIAMS—Vermont filmmaker, radio host, Champlain College professor, and singer-songwriter of the ought-to-be classic “Kill Your Television”—“is every American’s birthright.”

It’s been almost a century and a half since any significant number of Americans believed that, but last November Williams’s verdantly democratic state hosted the first-ever nationwide conference of those who wish to make the nation a little less wide.

Yeah, sure, I know: breaking away is impossible. Quixotic. Hopeless. So was dancing on the Berlin Wall.

The Vermont gathering was convened by Kirkpatrick Sale, founder of the Middlebury Institute, a secessionist clearinghouse whose “ultimate task” is “the peaceful dissolution of the American empire.” Sale is the author of the decentralist compendium Human Scale and books on the Luddites and Students for a Democratic Society. So that agents of the Department of Homeland Security won’t have to pore over his works, he offers this description of his political vision: “I am an anarchist who wants to see society organized on a small, human scale, based on self-determining communities.”

Sale scheduled the confab just three days before the 2006 election, not for any symbolic reason but because it was “the first cheap weekend after the fall foliage season.” So upon Burlington converged the divergent. Forty-three delegates from eighteen states met around a long table in the Lake Champlain Salon of the Wyndham Burlington. I saw ponytails and suits, turtlenecks and sneakers, an Alaskan gold miner and one delegate from the neo-Confederate League of the South who wore a grey greatcoat, as if sitting for a daguerreotype just before the battle.

The location might seem, at first, thuddingly inappropriate. Secession talk in New England, cradle of Unionism, bête noire of the Confederacy, source of the “Battle Hymn of the (indivisible!) Republic”? Yet no region of the country has been as fertile a ground for secessionist thought as New England.

Yankees threatened to leave the Union in 1803 when Jefferson doubled the American realm with his constitutionally dubious Louisiana Purchase, and the cries of separation once again rang through the Northeast in 1814, when New Englanders, appalled by the War of 1812, met at the Hartford Convention to discuss going their own way. The Massachusetts Federalist Timothy Pickering heard “no magic in the sound of Union. If the great objects of union are utterly abandoned . . . let the union be severed. Such a severance presents no Terrors for me.” The subject of an amicable divorce was raised in the 1840s during the debates over the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War. In each instance New England had a strong moral case for secession—and a practical one, too: the country had gotten too damn big to govern from a swamp on the Potomac. Daniel Webster, the God-like Daniel (on his good days), argued in 1846 that “there must be some limit to the extent of our territory, if we are to make our institutions permanent. The Government is very likely to be endangered . . . by a further enlargement of its already vast territorial surface.”

By the 1850s, with its courageous defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act, New England had become the epicenter of states’ rights—the logical end of which is secession—and of localist defiance of tyrannical central government. Yes, yes, a century hence racist governors would take possession of the phrase, but why should the fact that some southern politicians used “states’ rights” to justify segregation in the 1950s forever discredit the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry? I mean, look: George W. Bush uses the word “freedom” as often as a pimpled mall-rat says “fuck.” Does that mean we ought to junk “freedom”? Or should we reclaim it?

In its latest incarnation, secession has something of a greenish cast. It is reaching its fullest flower in Vermont, and if the idea of breaking away from the United States has not yet proven as exportable as, say, Vermont Teddy Bears or Cherry Garcia, give it time.

Thomas Naylor is the gentle godfather of the Vermont independence movement. Naylor taught economics at Duke for thirty years before, in best contrarian fashion, he and his wife Magdalena did a reverse snowbird and moved north in retirement to Charlotte, Vermont. In October 2003 he founded the hopefully named Second Vermont Republic (SVR). (The first one lasted from 1777-1791, before the Green Mountain Boys threw in with the United States.) Naylor proposed separating from the U.S., he says, almost as an afterthought. He was delivering an anti-war speech when he said, “If we stop this war there will only be another one. Whenever Bush or Slick Willie or Reagan need to improve their popularity they’ll bomb someone.” He came to a realization: A citizen of an independent Vermont might hope to live in a free and peaceful republic; a subject of the American Empire is doomed to watch helplessly as her taxes feed an unquenchable war machine. So why not leave the empire and pledge allegiance to Vermont? Naylor’s call struck a chord. A minor chord, perhaps, but a chord that has reverberated since 1776.

Because the Vermont secessionists were not sallow ideologues but rather men and women deeply in love with their state, they gained a foothold. The state has, perhaps, the most well-developed sense of itself of any state in the lower 48, and the SVR is awash in Vermontishness, from maple syrup to Robert Frost.

Member Jim Hogue frequently dresses as the state’s rollicking founder, Ethan Allen, and delivers hortatory speeches. Rob Williams, editor of the SVR quarterly Vermont Commons, seeks to “create a visual iconography of Vermont secession” as a means of making secession “sexy—an attractive, interesting, viable political option.”

Vermont Commons is a gem: a literate, polemical, thought-provoking, radical newspaper that has featured contributions from the likes of Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, James Howard Kunstler, Burlington mayor Peter Clavelle, and a cast of politically uncategorizable Vermonters. For the stream of secession is fed by many American springs: the participatory democracy dreams of the New Left, the small-is-beautiful ethos of the greens, the traditional conservative suspicion (fading fast under the Bush eraser) of big government and remote bureaucracy, and that old-fashioned American blend of don’t-tread-on-me libertarianism with I’ll-give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back communalism.

The Vermont Commons contributors ask and sometimes even answer the hard questions about secession: How would a local currency work? How do we revive town meeting democracy? How does Vermont achieve “a sustainable food system”? How does it encourage community supported agriculture, organic farms, co-ops, roadside markets, and backyard gardening? What would an independent Vermont energy policy look like?

In October 2005, the SVR hosted 250 Vermont secessionists at a statewide conference in the capitol building in Montpelier (rent: $35). It was richly symbolic, messily democratic, and sweetly audacious. You can do that in Vermont. (California is another story.) The group’s next goal is “200 towns by 2012”: that is, using the venerable direct-democracy institution of town meeting, the SVR hopes by 2012 to persuade 200 of Vermont’s 237 towns to call for a convention at which Vermonters can debate the merits of independence. Scoff if you will, but remember that the front-runners for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations of 2008 supported the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. In 2012, a decade into a nightmarish “war on terror” that our rulers have assured us will last our lifetimes, will Americans be content with a status quo of perpetual war and profligate empire?

MY SYMPATHY FOR THE SECESSIONISTS bleeds all over the page. I am, after all, native to and still citizen of rural western New York, which is about as close as one can find to a powerless colony.

Still, a state of West New York would be a new star on Old Glory. So would proposed fissioned states in northern California and southern Oregon (which would combine to form the felicitously named State of Jefferson) and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On the other hand, the secessionists assembled at Kirk Sale’s Burlington convention wanted, for the most part, out of the Union altogether. They wish to be lone stars. Or if that sounds too grand—for a star, up close, is burning and blinding and unfit to love—maybe we should just say that they want to be, like demoted demotic Pluto, “dwarf planets” whom the giants disdain to notice. Or attack.

“This isn’t right or left,” said one advocate of an independent New Hampshire. Peaceful hippies, good-naturedly radical Vermonters, and anticorporate leftists broke bread with southern Christians and men wearing Confederate flag lapel pins, and the skies did not darken nor the earth crack. In fact, the most striking feature of the conference was that if an auditor closed his eyes and blocked out the accents, it was hard to tell who was the leftist and who was the arch-conservative.

I heard mentioned, as heroes, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert E. Lee, community organizer Saul Alinsky, Thomas Jefferson, and the strategist of nonviolence Gene Sharp. Denunciations were made of “corporate greed,” “federal empire,” television, the Iraq war, and the Patriot Act.

Were there fruits and nuts? Sure, a few. But just as cranks keep this country turning, so too are fruits and nuts a sapid alternative to Wonder Bread. The furry, troll-like man who proclaims himself King of Kansas is imaginative and harmless; the shaven men in tailored suits who call themselves President of the United States have been, of late, unimaginative and grossly harmful. I’ll take the King of Kansas, thank you very much. If some secessionists are wool-gathering gnomes, the best of them are patriots in the truest sense: they cherish the music, literature, accents, agriculture, history, and quirks of their places.

Secessionists—most of them, anyway—are all too aware that what they seek (the dissolution of the mightiest empire on the planet Earth) borders the inconceivable. But they have made peace with its implausibility and moved on. Reform they scorn; he who works within the system is swallowed by the system. Taking up arms is madness. “Rebellion and revolution are useless,” says Sale. “You would be crushed.” If you want out of a bloated empire and dehumanizing system, secession is the path.

“The left-right thing has got to go,” declares Ian Baldwin, cofounder of Chelsea Green Publishing and publisher of Vermont Commons. “We’re decentralists and we are up against a monster.”

What might replace left and right, liberal and conservative, as useful political bipolarities? Globalist and localist, perhaps, or placeless versus placeist. Baldwin argues that “peak oil and climate change are linked and irreversible events that will within a generation change how human beings live. The world economy will relocalize.” He dismisses homeland security as “fatherland security”—for “homeland,” with its Nazi-Soviet echoes, has never been what Americans call their country. What we need, says Baldwin, is “homestead security”: sustainable agriculture, small shops, a revival of craftsmanship, local citizenship, communal spirit. The vision is one of self-government. Independence from the empire but interdependence at the grassroots. Neighborliness. The other American Dream.

Why should Vermont (or Kansas or Mississippi) be compelled by strangers in Washington to implant computer chips in its cattle and send its state militia (now known as the National Guard) to fight in overseas wars and register its firearms and subject its children to standardized tests and participate in federal farm programs that privilege corporate agribusiness? Aren’t Vermonters, guided by their intimate knowledge of local conditions, capable of fashioning their own laws (or non-laws) on such matters?

Step back and it sounds fantastical: little Vermont wanting out of the United States. But secessionists are fond of the Soviet example. If, in 1985, you had stood on a platform and predicted that within a lustrum the Soviet Union would be all but dissolved, the snickers would have filled a candy factory. Sale also likes to point out that the United Nations, founded with 51 members in 1945, now has 192. Why not 193?

Still, the S-word has, to some, a treasonous taint. It’s not that Americans see it as a black-and-white issue; no, they see it through a haze of blue and gray. “Abraham Lincoln really did a number on us,” admits Naylor. “He convinced the vast majority of Americans that secession is illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional.”

Naylor’s frustration over Lincoln’s giant shadow is shared by Donald Livingston, a philosopher at Emory University and the “guru” of the new secessionists, as Naylor calls him. “Historiography in America is based on the fundamental postulate that the Union should have been preserved at all costs,” says Livingston. He proposes to challenge that assumption, to inspire students and colleagues and those tired of the consolidationist consensus to write history from a decentralist perspective. Livingston’s educational foundation, the Abbeville Institute, takes as its motto, “Divided We Stand; United We Fall.” The U.S.A., he believes, no longer works; why not try the Disunited States of America?

Critics of secession wonder if devolving power might not empower local tyrannies. For instance, the Vermonters have taken flak for cooperating with the League of the South, which is either a southern cultural organization with an official commitment to equality before the law or an unsavory group nostalgic for the Confederacy, depending upon whom you believe. Yet the range and potential of oppressive government has natural limits in a small jurisdiction. If a town in Alabama—or an upscale precinct in Manhattan—falls under the sway of knaves or crooks, abused minorities can remonstrate, face to face, with the authorities. They can organize resistance on a human scale. Or, if all else fails, they can leave. Even at the state level, redress is not impossible. Subjects of a large empire have no such option (other than expatriating). And unlike the Alabama town or Manhattan block, the U.S. government can wage wars, fill prisons, and curtail liberties on a scale undreamt of by petty tyrants. I suppose it comes down to this: Do you trust your neighbors, or do you trust George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton?

THE CRIMES AND FOLLIES OF THE Bush-Cheney administration have boosted secessionists’ fortunes, but when Bush-Cheney, like all things, passes, the case for radical devolution loses none of its cogency. The problem with the U.S. is one of scale, and it cannot be solved by electing new or different or better people to public offices. As Donald Livingston says, “The public corporation known as the United States has simply grown too large for the purposes of self-government, in the same way that a committee of three hundred people would be too large for the purposes of a committee. There needs to be a public debate on the out-of-scale character of the regime and what can be done about it.”

The average congressional district now contains 647,000 persons. And this is the “people’s house,” thought by the Founders to be the most responsive and grassroots of federal institutions. How is anything like representative government possible on such an enormous and impersonal scale?

Decentralizing power would have the additional virtue of localizing those coalition-splitters known as “social issues.” Case in point: When one of the southern delegates at the Burlington convention calls abortion a heinous crime, I sit back to watch the fireworks. They are doused in the fresh waters of federalism. There is general agreement on a mind-your-own-damn-business principle. If Marin County wants to serve joints with school lunches and Tupelo, Mississippi, wants the Ten Commandments in the classroom, well, that’s up to the people of Marin and Tupelo. Ain’t none of my business. Yours, either.

Let Utah be Utah, and let San Francisco be San Francisco. The policy will drive busybodies mad with frustration, but for the rest of us, it just might be the beginning of tolerance.

There is no reason why this kind of hands-off mutuality requires secession—they didn’t used to call the U.S. system “federalism” for nothing—but the urge to intervene is so irresistible to Dobsonian conservatives and Clintonian liberals that states and cities and towns have been deprived of the right to make their own laws, shaped by local circumstances, on such matters as the legality of marijuana and abortion and the proper way (if any) to define marriage. Does anyone really think that the Christian Right or feminist left will ever agree to denationalize such issues and trust local people to make their own laws?

Trust local people. That, really, is the soul of the case for secession. Bringing it all back home, as a small-town Minnesota boy who took the name Bob Dylan once wrote. For home is where secession must be rooted. Ideology of any sort is not so much a dead end as it is a road without end that carries the enthusiast far from any place resembling home. It unmoors him, it leaves her without anchorage, quick to blame societal ills on outsiders, on dark alien forces. I know: we live in the seventh year of the bloody and imperial Bush Octennium. If Dick Cheney isn’t a dark alien force I don’t know what is. But a healthy secessionist movement must be founded in love: love of a particular place, its people (of all ethnicities and colors), its culture, its language and books and music and baseball teams and, yes, its beer and flowers and punk rock clubs.

Maybe the Burlington conference was a sideshow, an amusing tour of the more outré precincts of American politics. Or maybe it was a harbinger.
Think what you will. This is radicalism deep-dyed in the American grain. “The military-industrial-energy-media complex is running an empire on the ruins of the republic,” says Rob Williams, who does not think that merely putting Democratic hands on the levers of power will solve anything. It’s the levers themselves that have to be removed.

Would the union miss Vermont? Sure. But as a young John Quincy Adams said, “I love the Union as I love my wife. But if my wife should ask for and insist upon a separation, she should have it, though it broke my heart.”

Besides, Vermont’s not going anywhere. Even if she were to secede, the Green Mountains will not be moved, the sap will still flow, the novels of Howard Frank Mosher and Dorothy Canfield Fisher will remain; hell, even Ben & Jerry’s will keep dishing it out. But why shouldn’t Vermonters run Vermont? Why should, say, Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator John McCain or Speaker Nancy Pelosi or President George W. Bush have even a whisper of a say in how Vermont orders her affairs? “I want to leave my country,” says Kirk Sale, “without leaving my home.” That line packs a jolt, at least for this Little American. My home comes first. Yet I also want my country. I’m not sure what I think about leaving the U.S.A. But isn’t it time that we gave the matter some thought? Bill Kauffman’s latest book is “Look Homeward, America”. His book on American peace movements will be published next winter. He lives in Elba, New York.

Le Devoir

Author: Antoine Robitaille

Le Devoir
POLITIQUE, lundi 6 juin 2005, p. A4

Des indépendantistes vermontois dans les montagnes russes du PQ

Robitaille, Antoine

Il n’y a pas que les participants au congrès qui ont été sonnés par la démission de Bernard Landry, samedi soir. Ce fut le cas d’observateurs étrangers présents au congrès, dont deux membres d’un groupe prônant
l’indépendance du Vermont.

«Ã?a nous a ramenés sur terre», a raconté hier Thomas Naylor, fondateur de la Second Vermont Republic (SVR), avant de retourner dans l’État voisin. «Avant l’événement d’hier soir, on flottait: pour nous, c’était vraiment impressionnant et inspirant d’entendre parler ces politiciens de manière si éloquente de la création pacifique de leur pays axé sur l’inclusion, un pays
qui allait prôner une mondialisation humaine et l’énergie éolienne. Et puis, il y a eut ce vote et la démission de Landry. Quelles montagnes russes!»
Naylor, qui fait presque deux mètres et ressemble un peu à George Washington avec ses cheveux blancs, est un professeur émérite (à la retraite) de l’Université Duke.

Il dit avoir pris conscience en fin de semaine de l’énorme difficulté d’un combat pour l’indépendance: «Il y avait tant d’énergie le vendredi soir, surtout lors du discours de Gilles Duceppe. Mais pour fonder un pays, ça
prend encore plus d’énergie, semble-t-il. C’est, après tout, un acte de rébellion.»

Naylor, qui ne comprend ni parle le français, était accompagné de James Hogue, francophone et francophile, comédien spécialiste de Shakespeare qui aime bien se déguiser de temps à autre en Ethan Allen, personnage central de l’histoire de la république du Vermont, qui fut indépendante pendant 14 ans, de 1777 à 1791 (d’où le nom de Second Vermont Republic). Aux yeux de Hogue,
Bernard Landry apparaissait incarner un «mélange parfait» de pragmatisme et d’utopisme.

«Vendredi, Landry m’avait convaincu que la création d’un Québec souverain aurait un effet bénéfique sur le monde. Landry ne parlait pas de fermer les frontières, mais de les abolir comme en Europe. Il parlait de fair trade et
non seulement de free trade», dit Hogue, enthousiaste, qui a trouvé le nationalisme du PQ très ouvert – «il y avait plusieurs personnes noires qui se succédaient à la tribune» – mais trop porté sur la political correctness. «J’en avais marre d’entendre “Militant, militantes”» dit-il en éclatant de rire.


Naylor et Hogue affirment que, malgré ses difficultés, le PQ, c’est le modèle pour les indépendantistes vermontois. Ils se disent ravis d’avoir été invités à ce congrès et ont diffusé un communiqué la semaine dernière présentant ceci comme une «reconnaissance importante pour la SVR», qui en est à ses débuts, expliquent-ils. Au PQ toutefois, l’attaché de presse Joël
Simard-Ménard a précisé vendredi que «lorsque le parti invite un groupe au congrès comme observateur, cela ne signifie nullement qu’il approuve les idées de celui-ci».

La SVR compte tout au plus 200 membres actuellement. «C’est 170 de plus qu’au mois novembre», note Naylor. Il n’y a pour l’instant eu aucun sondage sur l’idée d’indépendance, si bien que Naylor et Hogue ignorent si leur option obtient un appui important dans la population. Résolument de gauche, ils estiment que l’indépendance du Vermont est une nécessité puisque
l’Amérique, «surtout celle de Bush», est devenue «trop grosse», «impériale» et non durable.

«Il faut préparer la dissolution pacifique de cet empire.» À propos de Ralph Nader, pratiquement l’unique représentant connu de la gauche américaine, Naylor dit qu’il cerne les problèmes correctement, «mais il ne voit de solutions que dans le gouvernement fédéral. Nous, on dit, small is beautiful».

Style jeffersonien

Naylor a publié un Vermont Manifesto, a rédigé une constitution du Vermont libre et a fait adopter une Déclaration de Middlebury. Il a un style jeffersonien, s’inspire notamment des positions de Jane Jacobs et connaît toute l’oeuvre de Camus. Lorsqu’on lui dit que son mouvement est très marginal, Naylor rétorque que des personnalités de taille comme George Keenan, diplomate américain très important durant la guerre froide et John
Kenneth Galbraith, se sont montrés favorables à son idée.

Il souligne aussi que la SVR a réussi à convaincre l’assemblée législative du Vermont de consacrer janvier «mois de l’indépendance», durant lequel on se rappelle de diverses façons l’époque où cet État était «libre». Long Live Secession

“Long Live Secession”
By Christopher Ketcham

Jan. 20, 2005 | The idea of an American right of secession — a state’s right to abandon the union — today invites a veritable cyclone of scorn and bafflement. Secessionism, you will be told, is immoral, treasonous, seditious, the failed machination of slave-holding Southerners whose nutty dream died in the judgment of 1865. “What insanity it is to reopen this issue,” says Pauline Maier, professor of American history at MIT.

What you will not hear is that secessionism is as old as the states themselves, that it was not always a reviled idea, that it cleaves to the heart of a celebrated but perhaps outmoded American principle — the rebellion against centralized power — and that it is a founding American act enshrined in our most revolutionary document. “[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive,” counsels the Declaration of Independence, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”

Although secessionism today is politically impossible, if tenuously legal, the secession specter has arisen again, waking to the Declaration’s call to self-governance. In 2005, it is the blue-state Northerners, bitter from the defeat of Nov. 2, who are, ironically, wearing its robes.

If their plaints have an epicenter, it is in Charlotte, Vt., in the wood-frame house of Thomas Naylor, professor emeritus, agitator, author, Rage Against the Machine fan, and founder and chair of the “Second Vermont Republic.” Naylor seeks the rebirth of Vermont as the independent nation it was between 1777 and 1791. White-haired, jowly and soft-spoken, Naylor describes his little band of “rebels” (the Second Vermont Republic boasts 125 card-carrying members) as “a peaceful, democratic, libertarian, grassroots movement opposed to the tyranny of the United States,” which has become “too big, too centralized, too intrusive, too militarized, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities.”

Like the original red-state secessionists, it is to the founding documents — the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States — that Naylor turns to buttress his belief in the morality and legality of secession. “We are enmeshed in a global system of conquest and destruction in which Corporate America and the United States government manipulate and control the lives of millions of ostensibly free individuals,” he writes in his “Vermont Manifesto,” published in 2003. “How many Americans are prepared to die to make the world safe for McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, 747s, gas-guzzling SUVs, the Internet, Bill Gates, and the rest of the Forbes 400 richest Americans?”

Naylor comes to his radicalism by a not uncommon boomerang of contrary experience. He grew up in the 1940s in Jackson, Miss., one-time hotbed secessionist slave state, but hated the states’-righters who lamented the “war of Southern independence.” Naylor kicked his way out of Jackson and went on to found a software company that sold $50,000-a-pop programs to Fortune 500 companies. After he sold the enterprise in 1980, he claims to have never again touched a computer.

For 30 years, Naylor was a professor of economics at Duke University, where he became best known as the co-creator of a freshman course on the giant topic of the “meaning of life” and as the coauthor of the subversive, anti-consumerist book “Affluenza.” He also worked as a management consultant to corporations and governments worldwide — including, fatefully, the Soviet Union, in whose peaceful collapse Naylor happens to see the future of the United States of America.

If the dark comparison holds — the United States, according to Naylor, enjoys a similar far-flung geography, a one-party political system disguised in multiparty rhetoric, a corporate socialism that defies free markets, and a congressional incumbency as stable as the Politburo — then Vermont is the antidote. By this, Naylor means the Vermont of small towns, small farms, small businesses, local governance, grassroots democracy, green activism: Vermont as the gentle Switzerland of North America (but armed to the teeth, as Vermonters enjoy hunting in the woods).

The push for the Second Vermont Republic is no anomaly. Today there are secession movements afoot in Hawaii and Alaska, both complaining, with some validity, that fraud and coercion forced their entrance into the union. In New York, activist and author Jason Flores-Williams, lately best known for his disruptions at the Republican National Convention, plans a New York City secession movement “as much Andy Warhol as it is Tom Paine,” he says, predicting his “secession parties” will become “the most happening cultural events in NYC, events that echo up and down the hierarchy.”

Flores-Williams might consider contacting the people at Republic of Atlantica, which imagines a seaboard megalopolis nation stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C. Three thousand miles to the west, the Republic of Cascadia seeks to comprise Oregon, Washington and British Columbia as the country “whose software is on 97 percent of the world’s computers.” The group’s Web site warns, “For too long have our people put up with indifference and condescendence from distant seats of power.”

Most recently, on Nov. 15, a former evangelical minister from California named Jeff Morrissette announced the founding of the Committee to Explore California Secession, or Move On California. California as a nation, Morrissette notes, would be the world’s fifth-largest economy — larger than those of China, France, Italy and Canada. Among Morrissette’s “train of abuses” is the brazen piracy of the California energy crisis in 2000 and 2001, which resulted in $9 billion in overcharges to consumers — “economic sabotage,” as Morrissette describes it, engineered by Enron and other energy traders close to the Bush administration.

“I’m not sure that secession is legal or constitutional,” Morrissette says. “But I would certainly draw an analogy to the colonists and King George. The colonists didn’t ask. They simply declared it done.” He adds: “The legality and constitutionality are really a moot point. New nations are born by a declaration of independence.”

The Constitution is silent on the matter of secession — neither denying nor authorizing — and up until the Civil War, the silence was the object of tortured interpretation. It was axiomatic among many antebellum constitutional scholars, both North and South, that if the states were once sovereign entities that had acceded to joining the union, then they implicitly retained the right to rescind the treaty and withdraw. In essence, it was argued, the Constitution’s silence implied consent to the right of secession.

The 10th Amendment appears to back this argument. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States,” the amendment reads, “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” In other words, states are delegated powers, not sovereignty. Sovereignty remained with the people of the state.

Antebellum thinking was typified by Alexis de Tocqueville’s assessment in “Democracy in America.” “In uniting together, [the states] have not forfeited their nationality; nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people,” Tocqueville observed in 1835. “If one of the states choose to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims directly by force or right.”

Secession was taught at West Point to young cadets like Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant. Petulant states in the formative years of the republic habitually threatened it, with Yankees, and abolitionists especially, showing an early fondness for cutting loose from a union that increasingly catered to Southern slaveholder interests. In 1804, lawmakers in New England and New York plotted a failed secession movement, and eight years later, during the War of 1812, the threat to New England’s trade with English Canada was enough to prompt a second and wider Northeastern cry for departure, resulting in the official complaint of the Hartford Convention of 1815.

So it was that on the eve of the Civil War, in the spring of 1861, secession as a basic American principle inspired dozens of Northern newspapers to editorialize on behalf of the Southern independence movement. New York City’s newsmen were particularly noisy in their support. “If the cotton States decide they can do better out of the Union,” said the New York Tribune, organ of abolitionist publisher Horace Greeley, “we insist on letting them go in peace. The right to secede may be a revolutionary right, but it exists nevertheless.” The New York Herald offered: “Each State is organized as a complete government, possessing the right to break the tie of the Confederation. Coercion, if it were possible, is out of the question.” The day after Jefferson Davis was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America, the Detroit Free Press warned: “An attempt to subjugate the seceded States, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil — evil unmitigated in character, and appalling in extent.”

The counterpoint — however unpopular in the press and on the street — had the benefit of being espoused rather eloquently by the newly elected president. In his 1861 inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln distilled the anti-secession argument to its essence. He claimed that no American state had the right to secede because (among other reasons) “no government proper, ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.” Somewhere out there, beyond the letter of the law, Lincoln said, the “organic law” of the government provides for the “Union” as an infinite entity, “indestructible” and “perpetual.”

In fact, a “perpetual union” established in 1781 under the Articles of Confederation, grandfather to the Constitution, was indeed rendered, in the words of the Constitution’s preamble, “more perfect” in the abiding document that was ratified by nine of the 13 states in 1791. “Perpetual union” was dropped from the Constitution’s final language because the sovereign states refused to accept the concept — in the written contract, anyway — of an indissoluble bond under the new government. But the real significance of “more perfect union” is hardly clear: What exactly did the founders mean by “perfection”?

“How do we know,” asks Columbia law professor Michael Dorf, writing in FindLaw, “that the ‘perfection’ of the Union required stronger rather than weaker bonds?” “A ‘more perfect Union’ between states presumably means they will be more perfectly joined,” says Daniel Farber, a professor of law at UC-Berkeley and the author of “Lincoln’s Constitution.” However, Farber admits that the question of the legality of secession of 1861 is likely unanswerable, again, because of the silence of the founding document. “My conclusion is that, on balance, the anti-secessionist argument is stronger,” he says. “But since the original Constitution doesn’t expressly speak to the subject, it’s impossible to prove this conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.”

If current scholarship can’t answer the question, then we might look to the telling record of the rump Congress of 1861 in its legislation following the secession fever that spring. On March 2, after seven states had already seceded, an amendment was proposed to outlaw their departure. Today, Pepperdine University law professor H. Newcomb Morse asks the obvious question: “Why would Congress have even considered [Constitutional] amendments forbidding or restricting the right to withdraw from the Union if any such right was already [prohibited] under the Constitution?”

Adding to doubts about Lincoln’s logic was his odd use of the marriage metaphor in explaining the concept of the union. He blasted the kind of marriage that the South had in mind: “The Union, as a family relation,” Lincoln averred, “would not be anything like a regular marriage at all, but only as a sort of free love arrangement — to be maintained on what that sect calls passionate attraction.”

Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law professor and constitutional scholar, takes exception to this line, for the argument can be made that free love among the states is exactly what the founders envisioned. “Lincoln’s view of secession seems clearly wrong,” Levinson wrote in a FindLaw column in 2003. “After all, few of us today support a view of marriage that demands its maintenance whatever the degree of unhappiness (or worse) it brings to one of the parties.” Levinson upends Lincoln’s metaphor, noting that “every marriage ‘constitution’ [has] a de facto secession provision. And for good reason: One suspects that many people would hesitate to get married if divorce were legally impossible.”

In the 1780s, the sovereign American states were indeed hesitant, enough so that three of them — Virginia, New York and Rhode Island — wrote escape clauses into their state ratification documents inexplicitly preserving the right to secede. North Carolina and Rhode Island at first refused to join the union, during which time the nascent nationalist government regarded them as foreign sovereigns.

As Levinson argues, the respectful treatment given North Carolina and Rhode Island “indicates that all the states were in an important sense sovereign when they entered into the Constitution.”

By dint of his iconic stature and the kindness of historians (and his assassination, which rendered Lincoln tragic), Lincoln’s claims of the illegality of Southern secession come to us pure, unalloyed and unassailable across the judgment of the ages. But Lincoln was not the moral paladin that the hagiographic textbooks portray him to be.

We might take a moment to consider the maverick history — some call it the real history, others denounce it as a blasphemic, spiteful revision — that places Lincoln as the first of the imperial presidents, an opportunist who in service of a vast expansion of federal power twisted the law in the name of what neoconservatives (who happen to be Lincoln lovers all) call moral clarity.

Loyola College professor of economics Thomas DiLorenzo, in his recent book “The Real Lincoln,” argues — and is much attacked for it — that Lincoln’s “moral clarity” was entirely fiscal. Lincoln as the inheritor of the Whig/Hamiltonian principles of centralized government, writes DiLorenzo, fought the war of 1861-65 not to abolish slavery or gestate “a new birth of freedom” but to erect high protective tariffs that would promote Northern industry (industry that bankrolled the Republican Party), while government would offer subsidies to companies building canals and railroads. Lincoln presided, says DiLorenzo, over the bloody birth of the American corporate-welfare imperium.

While DiLorenzo has his objectors, it’s clear from Lincoln’s own words that the blood of the Civil War was not shed, as popular convention would have it, in service of destroying slavery (which likely would have died a natural death from economic, technological and mass immigrant pressures). Lincoln in the summer of 1862 told Horace Greeley, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it … What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”

Notably, the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation arrived just two weeks before that year’s gubernatorial elections, which lends weight to the suggestion that freeing the slaves was a political maneuver; after all, politicians do not make earth-shattering decisions on a whim two weeks before an election. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves where they were already free, in the North, and freed them where it had no jurisdiction, in the Confederacy. It also had the effect of stirring up violent opposition to three Republican governors who were expected to challenge Lincoln in 1864. The governors were toppled from office by an electorate driven as much by racism as disgust at what appeared to be a dictatorial fiat.

And if saving the union was Lincoln’s sole purpose, then breaking the law appeared to be his method. One wonders what kind of union he hoped in the end to save. As DiLorenzo notes, Lincoln was the first and only president to suspend habeas corpus. He shut down hundreds of newspapers that preached peace or criticized his administration, arrested thousands of political dissenters en masse, censored telegraph communications, used federal troops to intervene in elections, even deported a congressional opponent. Church ministers too felt his heavy hand: They were threatened with imprisonment if they failed to include at the beginning of each service a prayer for Lincoln and the preservation of the union.

According to Edward S. Corwin, writing in 1947 in his book “Total War and the Constitution,” Lincoln probably “invented” the war-powers doctrine that has since provided such convenient legal cover for militarist ventures issuing from the White House. Oddly appropriate, then, that George W. Bush, announcing “victory” in his war, should have landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Following the attacks of Sept. 11, some news outlets, notably the New York Times, went so far, not incorrectly perhaps, as to dub Bush “Lincolnesque.”

Which brings us back to zealous Thomas Naylor and the modern-day secessionists. Unfortunately, they face a Supreme Court decision barring the path to disunion — the 1868 case of Texas vs. White, in which Lincoln’s ex-treasurer and court appointee Salmon P. Chase, who wrote the legislation that financed the Civil War, issued the judicial coup de grâce to secession. Chase’s justification in the highest court was fundamentally the same as Lincoln’s on the brink of war, and almost identical in language. Chase said that despite Texas’ having been an independent republic before joining the union in 1845, it had no right to secede. “The Constitution,” Chase wrote, “in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States.”

Some scholars question Chase’s objectivity, given that he was a war appointee and the war’s public financier. “There must have been an overwhelming fatefulness in Chase’s mind,” writes John Remington Graham, the author of “Constitutional History of Secession,” and an amicus lawyer in the failed Quebec secession movement in Canada during the 1990s. “The country [had] suffered a million casualties in combat, and had probably lost another four hundred thousand from starvation. This enormous conflict had cost something like three-fourths of the assessed value of all taxable property in the United States in 1860, and had multiplied the national debt fifty-three times in only four years.” Under the circumstances, Graham claims, “[Chase] could not write the truth, so he wrote something else.”

The secession issue, however, was collateral to the issue at law in Texas vs. White, which at bottom concerned the legitimacy of state bond sales during the secessionist period of 1861-65. The secession question would have been directly considered in providing Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, a fair and speedy trial to answer the treason charge leveled in federal court following his arrest in May 1865. (It was a treason, wrote Harper’s Weekly, “so towering, so sanguinary, so causeless” that the magazine, and many others, called for Davis’ death.)

But Davis was not tried. He was held for two years in prison and then released in 1867 on a $100,000 bond — paid for, in part, by none other than abolitionist Horace Greeley. Today, Davis apologists — he was the first “president,” they say, to appoint a Jew to his cabinet, and the only one to adopt a black child — assert that he was never tried because federal prosecutors feared losing the case.

In any case, Texas vs. White, as penned by Salmon Chase, serves as established law. However, Columbia law professor Dorf suggests that a loophole exists in the Chase decision: Texas vs. White may have made unilateral secession illegal but the door remains open to secession “through consent of the states,” as Chase wrote — what Dorf calls secession by mutual agreement.

Although the Constitution provides no method on how to effect this friendly goodbye, Dorf suggests the process of constitutional amendment, meaning a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures, which ensures that a majority of the federalized states agrees to the departure of the seceding state. Whether this is doable depends on the graces of polities and politicians who fully realize that if one state goes, all could go — and the United States would then be well on its way to collapse. And, clearly, it’s not doable.

“Secession is not possible today without violence,” exclaims MIT’s Maier, the author of the acclaimed “American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence.” “To assume something different is mad. It’s to follow the example of the Southern secessionists who thought that they could just leave the union peacefully — and, nuttier still, get a part of the unsettled territory as a parting gift. It’s almost as crazy as the idea that once you topple a dictator, democracy happens, much as weeds appear on a plowed field. Isn’t it time that Americans began learning something from history? Or must we again bleed ourselves into wisdom?”

Naylor is undeterred. He offers that no state is more historically prepared for going it alone than Vermont, which he calls “the most radical state in the Union” in terms of town meetings and direct democracy. Vermont, Naylor says, was the first state to outlaw slavery in its constitution of 1777, the first to mandate “universal manhood suffrage,” and is currently one of only two states that allows incarcerated felons to vote. It has no death penalty and virtually no gun-control laws, yet remains one of the least violent jurisdictions in America. It has no military bases, no strategic resources, few military contractors. All three members of its congressional delegation voted against the Iraq war resolution.

Vermont is rural and wild, with the highest percentage of unpaved roads in the nation, the highest percentage of residents living in the countryside; it was the first state to ban billboards alongside highways. It is rebellious: It fathered Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys and 200 years later elected Howard Dean. With its vigorous environmental-impact laws, Vermont fended off the depredations of Wal-Mart superstores longer than any other state; Montpelier is the only state capital in America without a McDonald’s restaurant. Following mock secession debates in seven Vermont towns in 1990, all seven voted for secession.

As it happens, Naylor in his fringe venture has found a rare advocate in the figure of George F. Kennan, the venerated former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and architect of Cold War containment, who envisioned in disenchanted old age just such a dismembering of the United States as Naylor espouses. Kennan as early as 1993 observed that the country might be broken into nine republics whose boundaries serendipitously align with the likes of Atlantica, Cascadia, and the free republics of Alaska and Vermont. “There is a real question,” Kennan observed, “as to whether bigness in a body politic is not an evil in itself.”

When Naylor wrote Kennan outlining a map of New England that united Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, Kennan responded with a thunderous letter dictated from his sick bed: “I write to say that in the idea of the three American states’ ultimate independence, whether separately or in union, I see nothing fanciful … I see no other means of ultimate preservation of cultural and societal values that will not only be endangered but eventually destroyed by an endlessly prolonged association [with] the remainder of what is now the U.S.A.”

And should the “remainder” refuse Vermont’s peaceable request to separate — and the nation will — what could Vermont do in answer?

Naylor is a pacifist and will not take up arms, though he admits that Vermont, with its mountains and forests, and high gun ownership among an historically contrarian people, is ideal ground for a guerrilla insurgency. “This is a call for nonviolent revolt against the world’s global superpower by 608,000 people,” he says. “What will the superpower do? Will it burn off the sugar maple trees? Will it destroy all the black-and-white Holstein cows? Just imagine trying to enslave independent-minded Vermonters.”

The American Conservative

December 19, 2005 Issue
Copyright © 2005 The American Conservative

Free Vermont
Green Mountain boys ponder secession.

By Bill Kauffman

Organizers billed the Vermont Independence Convention of Oct. 28 as “the first statewide convention on secession in the United States since North Carolina voted to secede from the Union on May 20, 1861.” North Carolina, the final state to join the Confederacy, overcame its unionist scruples with some reluctance; by contrast, the 250 or so Vermonters gathered in Montpelier, that coziest of state capitals, gloried in the prospect of disunion.

Montpelier is the only McDonald’s-less state capital in the land, and from its late October splendor issued a Jeffersonian firebell in the night, ringing a warning to the national capital: the United States deserve a break(up) today.

Only in Vermont, with its town-meeting tradition and tolerance of radical dissent, would the golden-domed State Capitol be given over to a convention exploring the whys and wherefores of splitting from the United States. And all for a rental fee of $35! (It would have been free if the disunionists had knocked off by 4 p.m.)

* * *

Thomas Naylor, a Mississippi native and longtime professor of economics at Duke, who in best contrarian fashion flew north in retirement to the Green Mountain State, is the founder, theoretician, and chief sticker-of-stamps-on-envelopes for the Second Vermont Republic (SVR), which declares itself “a peaceful, democratic, grassroots, libertarian populist movement committed to the return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic as it once was between 1777 and 1791.”

The Second Vermont Republic has a clear, if not simple, mission: “Our primary objective is to extricate Vermont peacefully from the United States as soon as possible.” The SVR people are not doing this to “make a point” or to stretch the boundaries of debate. They really want out.

Although SVR members range from hippie greens to gun owners—and among the virtues of Vermont is that the twain do sometimes meet—Naylor describes his group’s ideological coloration as “leftish libertarian with an anarchist streak.”

The SVR lauds the principles and practices of direct democracy, local control of education and health care, small-scale farming, neighborhood enterprise, and the devolution of political power. The movement is anti-globalist and sees beauty in the small. It detests Wal-Mart, the Interstate Highway System, and a foreign policy that is “immoral, illegal, and unconstitutional.” It draws inspiration from, among others, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who in bidding farewell to his neighbors in Cavendish, Vermont, where he had lived in exile for 17 years, praised “the sensible and sure process of grassroots democracy, in which the local population solves most of its problems on its own, not waiting for the decisions of higher authorities.”

Naylor likes to say that Wal-Mart, which is “too big, too powerful, too intrusive, too mean-spirited, too materialistic, too dehumanizing, too undemocratic, too environmentally insensitive, and too unresponsive to the social, cultural, and economic needs of individual citizens and small communities,” is the American metaphor in these post-republic days. Perhaps it is. So why not a new metaphor, suggests Naylor: that of Vermont, which is “smaller, more rural, more democratic, less violent, less commercial, more egalitarian, and more independent” than its sister states?

When Naylor laid out the case for independence in The Vermont Manifesto (2003), the political air was heavy, sodden, statist. “Even in the best of times secession is a very tough sell in the USA,” lamented Naylor in 2002. “Since Sept. 11, it has proven to be an impossible sell.” But George, Scooter, and Wolfie, for whom Vermont is just another inconsequential state full of potential bodybag fillers, came to the rescue, putting a rebarbative face on the Empire and opening the door to radical possibilities.

In stepped the Second Vermont Republic, with a blend of whimsicality and seriousness, and its “eye-catching street theater has proven irresistible to the media, as has its exponential growth in the aftermath of the 2004 elections,” according to Cathy Resmer of the Burlington weekly Seven Days.

With polemical wit provided by Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater, the SVR has staged mock funeral processions, parades, and Fourth of July floats in which children declared their independence from bedtime, “annoying siblings,” and “my floaties.” The SVR has even achieved a symbolic political success, persuading the legislature to declare Jan. 16 as Vermont Independence Day in commemoration of the establishment of the First Vermont Republic in 1777.

The group’s seriousness of purpose is evident in its literate monthly, Vermont Commons, which includes contributions from the likes of Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, and Kirkpatrick Sale on such topics as family and organic farming, community-supported agriculture, land trusts, and local currencies—constituting in sum, a humane and practicable alternative to the Empire of Wal-Mart and Warfare. The tincture is green, but conservative, too, and although Naylor refuses to kiss up to his state’s hack politicians—he calls Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy “a world-class prostitute”—the Republican lieutenant governor has praised the SVR for “their energy and their passion.”

Secessionist whispers have soughed through Vermont for years. In 1990, Frank Bryan, the University of Vermont political scientist and populist author of Real Democracy, the definitive work on town meeting (see “Democracy in Vermont,” TAC, Sept. 13, 2004), stumped the state debating secession, in the affirmative, with Vermont Chief Justice John Dooley. Following each of the seven debates, citizens voted to secede.

The presidency of George W. Bush has made the fanciful seem a little less fantastic. The nascent SVR-inspired Middlebury Institute, directed by Kirkpatrick Sale, author of the classic Human Scale, seeks to “put secession on the national agenda.” Audacious, perhaps, but hardly a forlorn hope, for as Naylor asks, “Do you want to go down with the Titanic? No empire has survived the test of time.”

Secession is blowing in the wind. Sale and Naylor count at least 28 U.S. secessionist movements active everywhere from those dubious Cold War states of Alaska and Hawaii to New York City—site of Norman Mailer’s prophetically pro-secession 1969 mayoralty campaign—to the states of the Confederacy, with their League of the South, and up to the felicitously named State of Jefferson in northern California and southern Oregon. America has gone fission.

The Second Vermont Republic confounds those who would analyze it using the language of practical politics. It pursues with humor and a dogged optimism a goal that seems manifestly impossible. It speaks radical notions with a conservative diction. It operates at the political fringe yet attracts such eminent establishmentarians as John Kenneth Galbraith, who communicated his “pleasure in, and approval of the Second Vermont Republic.”

Or consider the case of George Kennan, to whom The Vermont Manifesto is dedicated and whom Thomas Naylor calls, without any posthumous exaggeration, “the godfather of the movement.” Kennan—diplomat, memoirist, the only Wise Man of the 1940s worthy of the sobriquet—had speculated about devolving the U.S. into “a dozen constituent republics” in his valediction Around the Cragged Hill (1993).

Nearing his centenary—he died March 17, 2005 at the age of 101—Kennan became much taken with the idea of an independent Vermont, although he told Naylor that “we are, I fear, a lonely band; until some of the things we have written are discovered by what we may hope will be a more thoughtful and serious generation of critics and reviewers, I am afraid we will remain that way.”

Kennan’s secession letters, dictated from his sickbed, are pointed and poignant. “All power to Vermont in its effort to distinguish itself from the USA as a whole, and to pursue in its own way the cultivation of its own tradition,” he wrote in May 2002.

In his lengthiest discourse on the subject, Kennan wrote Naylor that in the matter of independence for Vermont and her neighbors, “I see nothing fanciful, and nothing towards the realization of which the efforts of enlightened people might not be usefully directed. Such are at present the dominating trends in the U.S. that I can see no other means of ultimate preservation of cultural and societal values that will not only be endangered but eventually destroyed in an endlessly prolonged association of the northern parts of New England with the remainder of what is now the U.S.A.”

Ah, but there is a complication. Kennan was attracted to the Second Vermont Republic partly because he deplored the Hispanicization of the United States. Instancing Mexican immigration, Kennan saw “unmistakable evidences of a growing differentiation between the cultures, respectively, of large southern and southwestern regions of this country, on the one hand,” and those of “some northern regions,” including Vermont. In the former, “the very culture of the bulk of the population of these regions will tend to be primarily Latin-American in nature rather than what is inherited from earlier American traditions.”

“Could it really be that there was so little of merit” in the American Republic, asked Kennan, “that it deserves to be recklessly trashed in favor of a polyglot mix-mash?”

* * *

It is no small portion of Vermont’s charm that the secessionists were given use of the state house in Montpelier, which lent a certain sobriety to what might otherwise have been a rambunctiously motley conference.

Thomas Naylor fretted the night before the convention that the crowd might overwhelm the two-man Capitol security force, but not to worry: the secessionists behaved splendidly, so that the officers had no duties more pressing than giving directions to the restrooms and transmitting the request, “Will the owner of a black Mercedes please move your vehicle?” Days of Rage these were not.

The Rev. Ben T. Matchstick, a radical puppeteer, called the assembly to irreverent order with a benediction invoking “the flounder, the sunfish, and the holy mackerel.” Men in business suits, white-maned Vermont earth mothers, and ponytailed college kids wearing winter skullcaps indoors packed Representatives Hall, sitting at the desks elsetimes occupied by state representatives and filling the room with a sweet fragrance of winsome radicalism and localist patriotism.

Under a portrait of George Washington, Naylor, the founding father of this republic in gestation, charged that the U.S. government has “no moral authority… it has no soul,” and he denied the salvific properties of the Democratic Party: “It doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice is the next president—the results will be equally grim.”

Rodomontade was kept to a minimum; the gathered had plenty of “what about?” questions. Asked what would become of abortion rights in a Second Vermont Republic, Naylor shrugged and replied, “whatever the people decide.” The SVR takes no position on abortion, gay rights, gun control, and the like; these are questions to be debated within an independent Vermont. Devolution is the great defuser of explosive issues: let Utah be Utah, let San Francisco be San Francisco, let Vermont be Vermont.

Naylor grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, but he rocked uneasily in Confederacy’s cradle. He attended football games and refused to stand for the playing of “Dixie.” He was a liberal who loved the Ole Miss Rebels but never for a second fell for the moonlight and magnolias myth.

When a delegate asked the inevitable Civil War question, I expected to see Naylor’s long frame dance around it nimbly. Instead, he met it head on. “South Carolina and the Confederate states had a perfect right to secede,” he told the assembly. He recommended Tom DiLorenzo’s debunking The Real Lincoln and said, “the bottom line of the Civil War was preserving the Empire.” I expected audible gasps and fainting Unitarians, but the unsayable, having been said, was not confuted. Would not the Empire treat a seceding Vermont with as little forbearance as Lincoln showed South Carolina in 1861? Naylor scoffed: “Would all of the black and white Holsteins be destroyed or perhaps the entire sugar maple crop be burned?”

Frank Bryan, introduced by Naylor as “hands down the most interesting person in Vermont … since Solzhenitsyn left the state,” confessed to being “sad” and “melancholy” because “my nation needs Vermont to secede.” Bryan has long been achingly ambivalent about secession. He is, like many decentralists, an American patriot who reveres the crazy old idiosyncratic America and whose heart stirs to patriotic tunes. But something has happened; the country seems to have gotten away from itself. “The reservoirs of citizenship are dried up, and that’s why we’ve got to secede,” asserted Bryan. (Lest we forget, Bryan reminded us that in many other countries of the world, “We’d be shot for doing what we’re doing here today.”)

The keynote speaker was that scourge of suburbia, James Howard Kunstler, upstate New York Democrat and slashingly witty Jeremiah, who predicted that “life and politics are going to become profoundly and intensely local” as the age of cheap oil slips away. Kunstler is a novelist and social critic, not a secessionist, though as one considers his prophecies and their implications—Wal-Mart will topple like a statue of Lenin; food will be grown for local markets; New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Upper Midwest will endure while Phoenix returns to ashes and Las Vegas loses its shirt—one might be excused for thinking him a utopian.

Kirk Sale, pointing to the state motto, “Freedom and Unity,” offered his good-natured anarchist dissent, remarking, “the more unity you have, the less freedom. It is disunity that allows freedom.” (I had driven to Montpelier that morning with my hell-raising pal Marty Stucko and Sale, a delightful dinner companion. “Park here! Park here!” Kirk said as we passed spots featuring conspicuous NO PARKING signs. “What are you?” I finally asked, “a f—–g anarchist?!”)

After eight hours of small-scale democracy in action, the assembled Vermonters voted to “peacefully and democratically free [themselves] from the United States of America.” You may call it a lark, but on this last Friday before Halloween 2005, I thought I saw it grow wings.

* * *

Vermont secession is not an “issue” like entitlement reform or prescription-drug benefits. It is an eidolon, a Vermont-specific image of the American Dream (the real dream, not the imperial nightmare) that may not concretize—what an inapt verb for green Vermont!—for many years but that has the power to fire imaginations, to inspirit those in despair, to keep flying a banner to which patriots can rally. An independent Vermont is not a joke, nor is it an ignis fatuus; it is the shape that hope takes in the darkening shadow of a crumbling Empire.

John McClaughry, the Vermonter who heads the free-market Ethan Allen Institute, detects “a virulent anti-American leftism” in the SVR, adding, “whether this goes so far as a willingness to forswear the continued receipt of Social Security checks from the despised U.S. of A. the organizers have yet to say.” Naylor responds that expatriates currently receive their Social Security checks without incident. And to the common argument that Vermont receives $1.15 for every dollar it sends to Washington and therefore would shortchange itself by separating from the Union, Frank Bryan has replied, “Would you rather have $10,000 to spend any way you want or $11,500 that you have to spend as I say?”

McClaughry is a cussed original whose work I have long admired, but unless the defining characteristics of “anti-American leftism” are a loathing of Wal-Mart, the Iraq War, and Big Government and a fondness for organic farming, town meeting, and a Vermont First ethic, the SVR seems to me a wholesomely shaggy band of ur-Americans, not anti-Americans.

Yeah, I saw a fistful of nuts at the Montpelier convention. I kept a judicious distance from the man who stood to announce that he had once “stuck a fake knife through [his] head.” There was a collegiate white Rasta or two and a Montreal pwog who informed us that “the U.S. is based on genocide,” but they were the sort of free-floating crazies who show up wherever two or more people are gathered in the name of revolution. In the main, in the heart, the Second Vermont Republic is based on love: love of a place, of a culture, of an agriculture.

I heard much talk of the need for libertarian conservatives and anti-globalist leftists to work together. There is a sense that the old categories, the old straitjackets, must be shed. When Reverend Matchstick preaches that we need decentralism because communities that ban genetically modified food must have the power to enforce those bans, he is speaking a language that pre-imperial conservatives will recognize—the language of local control. Russell Kirk would understand. When the “Vermont nationalist” CEO of a consulting firm insists that Vermont should have the right to determine where (and where not) its national guard is deployed, I hear an echo of the Old Right. Why should the Vermont National Guard be shipped overseas to fight the Empire’s wars?

“Long Live the Second Vermont Republic and God Bless the Disunited States of America,” concluded Thomas Naylor. You got a better idea?

Bill Kauffman’s most recent book is Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette (Holt/Picador). His Look Homeward, America is due in May from ISI Books.

Original article
December 19, 2005 Issue

The Washington Post – April 1, 2007 "The Once and Future Republic of Vermont"

Author: Ian Baldwin and Frank Bryan


The winds of secession are blowing in the Green Mountain State.

Vermont was once an independent republic, and it can be one again. We think the time to make that happen is now. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. government has grown too big, too corrupt and too aggressive toward the world, toward its own citizens and toward local democratic institutions. It has abandoned the democratic vision of its founders and eroded Americans’ fundamental freedoms.

Vermont did not join the Union to become part of an empire.

Some of us therefore seek permission to leave.

A decade before the War of Independence, Vermont became New England’s first frontier, settled by pioneers escaping colonial bondage who hewed settlements across a lush region whose spine is the Green Mountains. These independent folk brought with them what Henry David Thoreau called the “true American Congress” — the New England town meeting, which is still the legislature for nearly all of Vermont’s 237 towns. Here every citizen is a legislator who helps fashion the rules that govern the locality.

Today, however, Vermont no longer controls even its own National Guard, a domestic emergency force that is now employed in an imperial war 6,000 miles away. The 9/11 commission report says that “the American homeland is the planet.” To defend this “homeland,” the United States spends six times as much on its military as China, the next highest-spending nation, funding more than 730 military bases in more than 130 countries, abetted by more than 100 military space satellites and more than 100,000 seaborne battle-ready forces. This is the greatest military colossus ever forged.

Few heed George Washington’s Farewell Address, which warned against the danger of a permanent large standing army that “can be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.” Or that of a later general-become-president: “We must never let the weight of [the military-industrial complex] endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” Dwight D. Eisenhower pointedly included the word “congressional” after “military-industrial” but allowed his advisers to excise it. That word completes a true description of the hidden threat to democracy in the United States.

The two of us are typical of the diversity of Vermont’s secessionist movement: one descended from old Vermonter stock, the other a more recent arrival — a “flatlander” from down country. Our Vermont homeland remains economically conservative and socially liberal. And the love of freedom runs deep in its psyche.

Vermont seceded from the British Empire in 1777 and stood free for 14 years, until 1791. Its constitution — which preceded the U.S. Constitution by more than a decade — was the first to prohibit slavery in the New World and to guarantee universal manhood suffrage. Vermont issued its own currency, ran its own postal service, developed its own foreign relations, grew its own food, made its own roads and paid for its own militia. No other state, not even Texas, governed itself more thoroughly or longer before giving up its nationhood and joining the Union.

But the seeds of disunion have been growing since the beginning. Vermont more or less sat out the War of 1812, and its governor ordered troops fighting the British to disengage and come home. Vermont fought the Civil War primarily to end slavery; Abraham Lincoln did so primarily to save the Union. Vermont’s record on the slavery issue was so strong that Georgia’s legislature resolved that a ditch be dug around the “pestiferous” state and it be floated out to sea.

After the Great Flood of 1927, the worst natural disaster in the state’s history, President Calvin Coolidge (a Vermonter) offered help. Vermont’s governor replied, “Vermont will take care of its own.” In 1936, town meetings rejected a huge federal highway referendum that would have blacktopped the Green Mountain crest line from Massachusetts to Canada.

Nor did Vermont sign on when imperial Washington demanded that the state raise its drinking age from 18 to 21 in 1985. The federal government thereupon resorted to its favored tactic, blackmail. Raise your drinking age, said Ronald Reagan, or we’ll take away the money you need to keep the interstates paved. Vermont took its case for state control to the Supreme Court — and lost.

It’s quite simple. The United States has destroyed the 10th Amendment, which says that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The present movement for secession has been gathering steam for a decade and a half. In preparation for Vermont’s bicentennial in 1991, public debates — moderated by then-Lt. Gov. Howard Dean — were held in seven towns before crowds that averaged 230 citizens. At the end of each, Dean asked all those in favor of Vermont’s seceding from the Union to stand and be counted. In town after town, solid majorities stood. The final count: 999 (62 percent) for secession and 608 opposed.

In early 2003, transplanted Southerner and retired Duke University economics professor Thomas Naylor gave a speech at Johnson State College opposing the Iraq war. When he pitched the idea of secession to the crowd, he saw many eyes “light up,” he said. Later that year, he and several others started a loosely organized movement (now a think tank) called the Second Vermont Republic, which has an independent quarterly journal, Vermont Commons, and a Web site.

In October 2005, about 300 Vermonters attended a statewide convention on the question of secession. Six months later, the annual Vermont Poll of the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies found that about 8 percent of respondents replied “yes” to peaceful secession, arguably making Vermont foremost among the many states with secessionist movements (including Alaska, California, Hawaii, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Texas).

We secessionists believe that the 350-year swing of history’s pendulum toward large, centralized imperial states is once again reversing itself.

Why? First, the cost of oil and gas. According to urban planner James Howard Kunstler, “Anything organized on a gigantic scale . . . will probably falter in the energy-scarce future.” Second, third-wave technology is as inherently democratic and decentralist as second-wave technology was authoritarian and centralist. Gov. Jim Douglas wants Vermont to be the first “e-state,” making broadband Internet access available to every household and business in the state by 2010. Vermont will soon be fully wired into the global social commons.

Against this backdrop, secessionists from all over the state will gather in June to plan a grass-roots campaign to get at least 200 towns to vote by 2012 on independence. We believe that one outcome of this meeting will be dialogues among different communities of Vermonters committed to achieving local economic vitality, be they farmers, entrepreneurs, bankers, merchants, lawyers, independent media providers, construction workers, manufacturers, artists, entertainers or anyone else with a stake in Vermont’s future — anyone for whom freedom is not just a slogan.

If Vermonters succeed in once again inventing vibrant local economies, these in turn may reinvigorate the small-scale democratic town meeting tradition, the true American Congress, and re-create the rudiments of a republic once again able to make its own way in the world. The once and future republic of Vermont.

Ian Baldwin is publisher of Vermont Commons. Frank Bryan, a political science professor at the University of Vermont, is author of “Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works.”

Utne Magazine

Author: Jay Walljasper

How to be an Expat Without Leaving Home
An independence movement arises in Vermont

January / February 2004

By Jay Walljasper,
Utne magazine

American history, mathematically speaking, has been a story of constant addition. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, there were 13 colonies wanting to break free of British domination. They eventually teamed up, and the sum of United States kept rising at a steady clip until 1912, when Arizona entered the union as the 48th. That was the final tally until 1958, when, in the midst of the Cold War, we added Russia’s neighbor across the Bering Strait as number 49. The next year Hawaii joined to make a round 50.

Thomas H. Naylor, a retired Duke University economics professor and corporate consultant, thinks it’s time for Americans to do some subtraction. At an antiwar rally last spring, he proposed that Vermont leave the United States, and he was surprised at the enthusiastic reaction. Since then he has spoken around the state, advocating that Vermont’s citizens elect a special convention to explore the idea of establishing its own republic. “I am dead serious about this,” he says, noting that Vermont was an independent nation with its own money, stamps, and legislature from 1777 to 1791. He outlines ideas for a Second Vermont Republic in The Vermont Manifesto (Xlibris), a surprisingly compelling argument for applying the small-is-beautiful philosophy to the United States itself.

Naylor doesn’t believe he’s being unpatriotic or subversive; indeed, he sees this emerging movement as a way to honor the true spirit of America. A Vermont Declaration of Independence, issued in September, opens with nearly the exact words Thomas Jefferson penned to make the case for American independence: “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another . . .”

“America is no longer a sustainable nation-state, economically, politically, socially, militarily, or environmentally,” Naylor writes in The Vermont Manifesto. “The only way America can possibly save itself is by becoming smaller, less centralized, less powerful, less intrusive, less materialistic, less high-tech, less globalized, less militarized . . . and more responsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities.”

And what better place to show us a different kind of future than Vermont? Naylor proudly asks. It already stands out as a unique corner of America. It is famous for the direct democracy of its town meetings (indeed, according to Naylor, citizens in seven towns voted to secede from the United States as early as 1990).Two of its three seats in Congress are held by independent legislators who don’t belong to either major political party. It has no defense installations, and it was the last state to be invaded by Wal-Mart.

“If the majority of the people here had wanted to stop Wal-Mart, we couldn’t under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution,” Naylor notes. “But if we were an independent country we could.

“The benefits of independence,” he adds, “are that we have more control of our destiny. We can stop sending our tax dollars to an empire that’s corrupt. We can confront corporate America. We can be more honest and honorable.”

That might sound attractive to many of us living through an American era characterized by corporate greed, military interventions, environmental destruction, and a president who took office despite getting a half-million fewer votes than his opponent. But isn’t it impossible for Vermont to leave the union under the Constitution? Didn’t we prove that in the Civil War?

Not at all, replies Naylor, who interestingly enough grew up Mississippi but harbors no love for the Confederacy. “I refused to stand up when the band played ‘Dixie’ at Ole Miss football games,” he recalls.

While Abraham Lincoln asserted that the union must be preserved (contradicting views he expressed earlier as a congressman), there is plentiful historical evidence that it’s perfectly constitutional for a state to go its own way. New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island explicitly claimed the right in state constitutions, Naylor notes. Indeed, even after the Civil War, six Southern states were forced to adopt state constitutions that forbid them to secede from the union again, according to Pepperdine University law professor H. Newcomb Morse. So if you live anywhere but South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, Florida, and Arkansas, it appears to be perfectly legal to launch your own independence movement.

Naylor has discovered more than 40 Web sites devoted to other independence movements across America. The Alaska Independence Party has more than 18,000 members, roughly 4 percent of all eligible voters, he notes, and various Indian tribes are claiming their lands as sovereign nations.

But even if a state seeking independence is constitutional, wouldn’t it be a really stupid idea, economically, in this age of globalization? Hardly, replies Naylor, the emeritus economics professor who consulted for Fortune 500 companies and governments in more than 30 countries. He rattles off a list of the world’s 10 richest countries in per capita income, five of which have less population than Vermont: Iceland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands. He finds further inspiration in other small, prosperous nations — Denmark, Sweden, and especially Switzerland — for economic, social, or environmental policies he proposes for an independent Vermont.
“We are not talking isolation,” he emphasizes. “There are 600 firms in Vermont that engage in foreign trade. That will continue.”

Noting that studies show a “Made in Vermont” label boosts a product’s sales by 10 percent, he envisions a robust economy based on high-quality goods that appeal to discerning customers around the world. Naylor also muses about Vermont’s initiating a European Union-like trade federation with nearby Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island (especially if Quebec were to secede from Canada, cutting these provinces off geographically from the rest of the country) and perhaps an independent New Hampshire or Maine.

As radical as Naylor’s idea of a Vermont republic sounds, he’s found surprising pockets of support across the country. John Kenneth Galbraith, noted economist and former ambassador to India, has endorsed the plan, as has legendary diplomat George F. Kennan, architect of the Marshall Plan programs after World War II. More importantly, the idea has caught fire with some people in Vermont. The famous Bread and Puppet Theatre troupe is doing skits advocating independence, and alternative publications are promoting the idea.

“I have no illusion that Vermont will soon leave the union,” Naylor concedes, but adds that in the 1980s few people in Eastern Europe dreamed that the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia would soon break apart, peaceably in most cases. Naylor, who is married to a Polish woman and once did a lot of business consulting in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, sees similarities between the centralized bureaucracies and militaristic leaders of the old Soviet empire and the huge corporations and militaristic leaders that now run America.

To avoid a sudden collapse like the Soviet Union’s, he says, “it’s time for the United States to begin planning its own peaceful, orderly disunion. States should be allowed to split without hassle from Washington. . . . Shouldn’t tiny, idyllic Vermont lead the way?”

For more information, visit You can order The Vermont Manifesto from: or 888/795-4274.

Vermont and the Second Republic in Berlin paper on August 17, 2007

Author: Dr. Christoph von Marschall

Here is the link to the website:

Der Tagesspiegel:

They even put the fairy tale picture of a house in between green hills and blue sky, which was the illustration in the print version on the first page of culture and art section, on the internet. So you have an imagination, what our readers had before their eyes.

Dr. Christoph von Marschall
US-Korrespondent “Der Tagesspiegel” (Berlin)
3200 Patterson St. NW, Washington DC 20015

Tel.: 001 202 686 3947 / Fax: -3948
mobil: 001 202 531 1828