Jul 8, 2010

it's not you, it's us: constitutionalizing secession

Second in a series of previews of potential 2010-2011 LD topics.

One third of first marriages end in divorce within the first ten years, yet fewer than 10% of couples will sign a prenuptial agreement. It would seem that young couples are irrationally optimistic. Or are they smart? Perhaps the act of signing a prenup bursts the romance bubble, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy--a marriage more likely to fail. (Looked for, but couldn't find, a statistic to support or refute this.)

When it comes to another of the potential LD resolutions for the 2010-2011 season, you can see that the basic concern is quite similar.
Resolved: The constitutions of democratic governments ought to include procedures for secession.
Would a constitutional procedure for secession empower separatist groups? Would it make violent secessions or rebellions less likely?

Though it isn't often debated in this country--a bloody Civil War, for most, ended the discussion--secession, like a prenuptial agreement, is a great way to examine the nature and purpose of political marriage. It highlights a problem of particulars: certainly we can use the social contract to justify a government's legitimacy. But why this government, over these people, in this location?

A host of other questions surround this resolution, including, but not limited to...
  • What is the purpose of a constitution?
  • What makes a government legitimate?
  • What makes a nation a nation?
  • What is "self-determination?" Who gets it?
The SEP has a decent summary of debate regarding the question. Cass Sunstein is the political scientist most associated with opposition to constitutionalized secession, arguing that it undermines democracy as splinter groups use the threat of secession to increase their bargaining power.

Against Sunstein, Jason Sorens, in the introduction to Secession and Democracy, argues that
...governments that have explicitly ruled out military suppression
of democratic secession have suffered far less ethnic rebellion than governments that have declared their eternal indivisibility. On the basis of this evidence, I infer that a constitutional right of secession would substantially decrease ethnic violence around the world without significantly increasing the risks of actual state breakup in most countries. A constitutional right of secession would instead result in widespread devolution of power, allowing minorities to obtain rights of self-government in the areas most important to them.
Wikipedia's quality entry on secession is a nice starting point. Also of interest: its list of countries with limited recognition, and list of "micronations," many of which are tongue-in-cheek. The "Volokh Conspiracy" law blog had a flurry of posts on the topic a little while back; see here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

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