Crimea & Self-Determination: The First Principle of the Law of Nations
While living in Los Angeles in 2008, I had an epiphany. I saw a Soviet-style poster of Barack Obama’s face and wondered what red-blooded American would be attracted to such ominous imagery. The face wasn’t bad, it was the Andy-Warhol-meets-Vladimir-Lenin color-blocking that freaked me out. Around the same time, George W. Bush had signed a law that would, incrementally of course, ban the warm glow of the Edison lightbulb. For me, this convergence of events was the tipping point. I realized, the American Experiment had failed. Limited government was a utopian fantasy. No piece of paper, no matter how brilliantly conceived or masterfully written, could defend itself against a central monopoly on the use of force. No matter how limited at its inception, the power would be nurtured and abused until it converted all useful social power into state power.
Once I had this revelation, I gave up hope. I concluded that man was destined for serfdom, perhaps camouflaged as a combination of taxes and regulations, but unjust limits on personal and economic freedom and the theft of the fruits of one’s labor were inevitable in any organized society.
My hope was quickly restored, however, when, through the beauty of the Internet, I found Democracy: the God that Failed, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Through Hoppe, I discovered Murray Rothbard’s political philosophy of anarcho-capitalism, which holds that capitalist society is self-ordering. Specifically, the law is self-evident (“don’t touch me or my stuff”) and the articulation of its nuances and its enforcement would be better done through a private, competitive mechanism than through the coercive monopoly method of the modern state. The competitive nature of the apparatuses of this style of government would allow to opt out those who are paying for services, providing a natural check on abuse.
After many years and many books, I fully subscribe to this philosophy, though I believe we are as far from implementing it as Ancient Greek democracy was from the American Experiment. In the here and now, therefore, I work to get back some of the freedoms our Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee us, if only in the hopes that we in America can kick the can of social chaos and rebirth down the road until such time as my descendants would be unrecognizable to me.
Frankly, if the Constitution and Bill of Rights could be restored, I would not argue with the premise that a modern state could in fact reflect the consent of the governed. As it is, however, the United States government is operating far outside any parameters of implicit consent given by the American people who recognize our founding documents as the law of the land.
Crimea, on the other hand, has garnered nearly unanimous consent for the government it has chosen. Two weeks ago, Crimea declared its independence from Ukraine. Yesterday, 82% of Crimea’s eligible voters voted 96% to join Russia, if Russia will so allow. This is the closest thing to the consent of every sovereign citizen in that territory that I can imagine actually happening. Even in my anarcho-capitalist society, there would be decisions of government* that would reflect compromise rather than unanimity–surely that would be the norm.
Further legitimizing the Crimean decision is what lies at its heart. After Crimea declared its independence last week, why would it vote to join a huge country with pervasive corruption, federal taxes and international conflicts? Why not remain independent and save the money and the compromise? The obvious reason is to achieve what is arguably the sole legitimate purpose of national government: territorial defense.
Think of it this way, if your state could secede from the Union and simply stop forcing its citizens to pay federal taxes or obey federal laws, wouldn’t you be tempted at this sad date to vote for that? Once you declared your independence, would you want to turn around and join RUSSIA??? Maybe if you thought the US was in as bad a shape as the Ukraine is and it was threatening to invade and force your state back into its fold. Perhaps you would then find the trade-off worth it. That is the choice facing Crimea. Crimeans have voted (almost unanimously!) to ask for the protection of a national government, Russia, and its military, against an anticipated aggressor, the New Coalition in Ukraine, and they are willing to accept the high cost of this arrangement. They have that right.
President Obama’s argument that the Ukraine has a right to territorial integrity at the expense of Crimea’s sovereign citizens’ right to self-determination is a fallacy. All governmental rights derive from the sovereignty of the citizen, each of whom, in my opinion, has the right to self-determination. My view that each individual should be able to opt out of the territorial monopoly we call the modern state is the foundation of my extreme libertarianism, but anyone who acknowledges the legitimacy of the American Revolution understands the right of a people to decide their government.
As Thomas Jefferson penned on July 4, 1776:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Furthermore, Vattel’s Law of Nations, the very foundation of international law if there is such a thing, and arguably the single most influential work on the founding of the United States, lays out:
If any nation is dissatisfied with the public administration, it may apply the necessary remedies, and reform the government. But observe that I say “the nation;” for I am very far from meaning to authorize a few malcontents or incendiaries to give disturbance to their governors by exciting murmurs and seditions. None but the body of a nation have a right to check those at the helm when they abuse their power. When the nation is silent and obeys, the people are considered as approving the conduct of their superiors, or at least finding it supportable; and it is not the business of a small number of citizens to put the state in danger, under the pretense of reforming it.
This very clearly indicates that, according to well-established authority on the natural law among nations, not the self-serving constructs Obama et al are referring to, the acting government of the Ukraine at this time is illegitimate, and the results of yesterday’s referendum of Crimea to join Russia is legitimate. (If you don’t know the backstory on the recent coup in the Ukraine, please see Exposing the Shadow Government in the Ukraine (and the US?))
Vattel further asserts:
If, therefore, the state or the prince refuses or neglects to succour a body of people who are exposed to imminent danger, the latter, being thus abandoned, become perfectly free to provide for their own safety and preservation in whatever manner they find most convenient, without paying the least regard to those who, by abandoning them, have been the first to fail in their duty.
Given the instability and illegitimacy of the current government in the Ukraine, with anti-Russian fascist elements in the new coalition government of the Ukraine itself posing a threat to the citizens of Crimea (almost all of whom are ethnic Russians), the Crimeans have every right to appeal to Russia for help and protection, President Obama’s denial of this self-evident truth notwithstanding.
*For the distinction between “government” and the “state,” see Our Enemy the State, by Albert Jay Nock.