Home Philosophy Are the Secession Petitioners Hypocrites?

Are the Secession Petitioners Hypocrites?

No matter how you feel about those signing secession petitions around the nation–and no matter the reason, either justified or unjustified, for which they might do so–I think that it’s important to keep critics honest. It’s valid, to me, to argue against secession on a natural rights basis, or against the compact theory of the constitution, or to say that the Civil War settled this issue once and for all. I don’t think that any of these arguments are definitive, obvious, and wholly correct, but they are at least defensible.

An article over at ABC, however, seems to be implying that those pushing for secession are hypocrites. The article, entitled “States with Most Signatures to Secede Took Millions in Federal Money,” suggests that there is relevance in this fact to the issue of secession itself. I’m not sure I see the link. After all, it is not–despite how people are talking–that states themselves are petitioning to secede; it’s actually citizens in those states. Given that the represents of any state in question do not literally represent the wishes of every individual, it’s entirely possible that the millions taken in federal funds are actually part of the reason for which an individual might want to secede. In other words, if I find myself represented by Candidate B–who supports sovereignty of the federal government over the state–when I voted for Candidate A–who doesn’t–then an attempt at secession at my part, advisable or not, is entirely consistent with my philosophical point of view.

On top of that, it’s important to note something else. The article claims that “seven states–Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina–took more than 23 percent of all federal revenue allotted to the states [in 2010].” This is, on its own, an entirely meaningless statistic. (There is no citation for the number, so I’m going to have to do a bit of guesswork here). What jumps out almost immediately is that all of these are southern states, which leads me to believe that a substantial portion of the excess funding they receive comes in the form of Medicaid matching from the federal government. Now, I could definitely be wrong about this, and if any of you have the numbers either way, please share them. It’s possible that other concessions absolutely dwarf what a state receives for Medicaid, but I’m going to present the following information with these caveats cited anyway.

After a little bit of searching, I found a clickable map of the U.S. on Kaiser’s health website that provides you with extensive data on Medicaid matching funds for any state you click on. (For those who don’t know, Medicaid is both state and federally funded; for every dollar that a state spends on Medicaid, the federal government matches at least one, and means-tests poorer states like those in the South in order to provide for them more). I followed the links to information for the states listed by ABC, and found that all seven of them receive more than the baseline 1:1 matches from the federal government (with one receiving as high as 1.98:1). To put it bluntly, this is a measure of poverty in a state, in a way, and it helps to reveal something else about ABC’s claim (whether or not this accounts for the excess federal funding accepted by these states). If a state is poorer than others, and thus receives more money from the federal government, it might still be the case that citizens recognize the cause of their poverty as resulting from the federal government. It might also be the case that they believe the impoverishing effect of government to be greater than the enriching effect of federal subsidies, and that they may opt toward secession for that reason instead. In both of these cases, the movement would still be entirely consistent.

Attached to the article is a video interviewing locals about the idea of secession. I don’t want to be too hard on them, since most everyday citizens do not leave the house armed to field questions about the role of secession in the history of American political philosophy, but the portion of the video that ABC is responsible for is utterly unsatisfying. It is filled mostly with unexplained claims and haphazard rationale.

There are strong arguments to be made for and against secession as an abstract right in the realm of political philosophy. Discourse like this, however, does little to advance either.