States Being Held in Unions Against Their Will?

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In our forums, a member asks Brion McClanahan, a faculty member at Liberty Classroom:

Watching your lectures at Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom and am seeking other examples of sovereign political bodies forced to remain in a union.  Khrushchev forced Hungary to remain in USSR in 1956 so I often ask others if he shouldn’t be heralded as a hero too, along with Lincoln, given that Lincoln’s stated purpose was to maintain the Union, not abolish slavery. A war waged by the U.N. to keep a departing member in that body is another (hypothetical) example. Are there any other examples you know of that might also help me make this point?

Here is Prof. McClanahan’s reply:

There are countless historical examples of “sovereign political bodies forced to remain in a union.”  Too often Americans think that the only instances of forced centralization are found in the nineteenth-century United States and in twentieth-century Europe, but the general trend of history has been one of centralization and tyranny under a strict definition, meaning the arrogation of power to an individual or central entity.  This could be classified as imperialism, be it economic, political, or cultural.  Individual liberty and decentralization have been fleeting concepts in human history and are typically made possible only through dedicated efforts on the part of vigilant defenders, often at great cost.  Centralization and its evil step-child nationalism tend to conserve the imperial culture at the expense of tradition.  This is why the founding generation, a group of men well versed in the classics, understood that their political experiment—a decentralized federal republic—would quickly descend into monarchy unless Americans firmly embraced both republicanism and a dedication to the preservation of life, liberty, and property, and why no American should champion imperialism at home or abroad.  Simply put, imperialism and centralization are un-American.

As for examples, in the ancient world sovereignty—legitimate political power—was found in the city-state.  As kings and warlords gained strength, they tended to force the expansion of their culture to wary neighbors.  Early examples include the unification of the Egyptian empire under the first Pharaoh, Narmar, and later the consolidation of the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great.  Persia often forced wavering Greek city-states in Ionia into submission.  On the other hand, the Greeks were no strangers to imposing their will on reluctant allies.  Athens formed the Delian League following the Persian Wars in the fifth century B.C. and required tribute.  When Thasos attempted to declare its independence, Athens burned it and slaughtered its inhabitants.  Alexander the Great marched into Thebes and crushed an independence movement in the fourth century B.C.  In each case, these sovereign Greek city-states were forced into an illegitimate “union” they did not want.

China was also forged by blood.  The Qin Dynasty (ca. 221 B.C.) required the standardization of language and currency, but was eventually wrecked by rebellion, i.e. resistance to centralization.  And the first Chinese Emperor, Chin, forced independent states to adopt “national” laws.  Individuals that resisted were beheaded.  The result was several hundred years of almost constant warfare to subdue unwilling participants to the Chinese empire.

In the Americas, both the Inca Empire and the Aztec Empire were built on conquest.  The Moche and the Nazca in Peru were forced into the Inca Empire, and when the last Incan King, Atahualpa, was captured by Francisco Pizarro, he attempted to purchase his freedom by looting all the wealth of subservient tribes, to no avail.

The Romans were masters of the world by the first century B.C. precisely because they could project power around the Mediterranean.  Some submitted due to the promise of the “Pax Romana,” the majesty of Roman peace, but not all went down quietly.  The Greeks continually rebelled against Roman power and the Punic Wars were in part a response to Roman imperialism. The Celts were forced to kiss the feat of Caesar after his successful Gallic campaign, and had the Germanic tribes not been the formidable, warlike people that they are, the Romans would have pressed farther into central Europe.

In more recent history, Scotland was forced into an alliance with England by the 18th century after several attempts at Scottish independence failed.  There were around 300 virtually autonomous German states as late as the 18th century, yet all were consolidated by Otto von Bismarck in the 19th century through “blood and iron.”  The separate states ofItaly were coerced into a centralized state by Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi in the 19th century.  Both Argentina and Brazil had wars of centralization in the 19th century against “rogue” provinces, most important the State of Buenos Aires in Argentina.  In fact, the 19th century has been called the era of nationalism precisely because consolidation was a central theme of the period.  In each instance, sovereign, legitimate governments—tribal, local, or more complex—were overwhelmed by the forces of centralization and tyranny. Understanding this trend is the key to resisting the powers of centralization in the 21st century.  Liberty and republicanism are the lasting jewels bequeathed to us by our ancestors, but they can be maintained only by an educated, moral citizenry, for as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and what never will be.”  But don’t just take my word for it.  Much of this material is discussed in Dr. Jason Jewel’s excellent Western Civilization courses at Liberty Classroom.  I trust him, too.


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