Talk of secession is in the air.  A number of internet petitions from several states, asking to be allowed to leave the Union, have garnered tens of thousands of signatures.  Unsurprisingly, Texas leads the list, and Ron Paul has endorsed the idea.  According to him, “secession is a deeply American principle.”  True enough, which is why it is a deeply impractical and even impossible goal in the present era.

“This country,” Paul continues, “was born through secession. . . . There is nothing treasonous or unpatriotic about wanting a federal government that is more responsive to the people it represents.”

Yes, this country was born through secession—but what Paul leaves out is the minor fact of the American Revolution, a bloody conflict that ended only when the British got distracted by Napoleon and wisely decided they had bigger fish to fry.  Is Paul saying we should take up arms against the federal government, as our ancestors did against the British crown?  I doubt it.

“If the possibility of secession is completely off the table,” Paul complains, “there is nothing to stop the federal government from continuing to encroach on our liberties and no recourse for those who are sick and tired of it.”

Welcome to the real world, Ron.  You’re right: There has been no recourse for those who are sick and tired of it, at least not in my lifetime or yours.  Those 115,000 signatures on the Texas petition—which, we are told by Politico, “far exceeds the 25,000 signatures needed for an official White House response”—are worse than a futile gesture: They are a public record of the sort that Homeland Security will no doubt be very interested to examine.  That’s the only sort of White House response the petitioners are likely to get, which underscores the foolhardiness of such a useless gesture.

Paul asks, “At what point should the people dissolve the political bands which have connected them with an increasingly tyrannical and oppressive federal government?”

If we translate that statement into commonsensical English, the answer ought to be clear: When the secessionist armed forces—say, the Texas Rangers—have decisively defeated the U.S. Army troops sent to corral them back into the Union.

What?  There is no such secessionist force?  Well, then, forget it, brother—and stop wasting your breath and everyone else’s time.

Back when I was a young lad, my budding libertarian activism landed me on every libertarian mailing list under the sun.  One bright day I received in the mail a batch of pamphlets from an outfit in upstate New York, not far from where I lived, advertising “A New Libertarian Country.”  The idea was to construct ocean-borne “platforms” made of concrete that would float when launched.  They assured their readers that they were in possession of a “new technology” that would enable this improbable feat to be accomplished, but this 13-year-old boy was quite skeptical of their claims—not least of all because, after years of propagandizing, they had yet to float a single “freedom barge.”  They were, instead, living in an upstate compound, energetically raising funds for their improbable project.

What struck me even then was the utter naiveté of such people.  Even if their concrete “freedom barges” didn’t sink to the bottom of the sea, what made them think the governments of the world would leave them alone?  Indeed, their entire strategy was quite obviously self-refuting, for if the U.S. government (and all governments everywhere) were as relentlessly tyrannical as they claimed, wouldn’t the first problem confronting this “New Libertarian Country” be self-defense against invaders—the very bureaucrats and busybodies from whom they sought refuge?

The same problem faces our would-be secessionists, and it underscores the same contradiction.

Utopianism has long been a major problem for libertarians, who, on the one hand, denounce the federal government as “tyrannical,” and, five seconds later, petition it for a redress of grievances.  One might as well petition Satan—or don’t libertarians take their own philosophy seriously?

Libertarianism has within it some powerful ideological weapons which could easily mobilize a mass movement in opposition to the current regime.  Ron Paul’s frequent references to the “banksters” hint at this hidden power, but unfortunately none of this came through in his recent presidential run.  Ron is too nice a guy to play the demagogue.  Instead, he was reduced to pretending to be a Republican.

The Austro-libertarian critique of the Federal Reserve is a potent weapon, one that libertarians have underutilized in this era of accelerated economic decline.  Instead, they have tried to fool voters into thinking they’re just a bunch of harmless Republicans who smoke pot.  The day they learn that politics is more than just a series of gestures is the day they will take the first steps on the road to victory.