'The Right to Self-determination', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the sociological.
The Right to Self-determination
Ever thought about starting your own country? Probably not. Creating your own country in real life sounds like a massive ball-ache, and I suppose that’s why world-building simulators like Minecraft and Cities: Skylines have such massive appeal, as you can get to massage those tendencies to megalomania without any of the risk, sweat, or, indeed, bloodshed, involved in the real deal. But what if you wanted to, for real, plant your flag in the ground and declare independence from whatever country in which you reside? Could you pull it off?
Somewhere in the mountains near the French border is the tiny Italian town of Seborga. Seborga has between three hundred and four hundred residents and has inhabited the hill on which it sits since 1118. It was in 1963 that a local florist, Giorgio Carbone, uncovered a sales contract that revealed that the municipality had been sold to the island of Sardinia in 1729. The contract was never signed, however, so Carbone declared that, because of this, Seborga was exempt from the annexation of Sardinia to Italy in 1861. Carbone went rogue. With the connivance of the rest of the town, Seborga became the Principality of Seborga, and Carbone became ‘His Tremendousness Prince Giorgio I’. I say, Good man, Giorgio.
Seborgans have their own identity cards, passports, driver’s licenses and license plates. They’ve also minted their own money, the Seborgan liguino, with an exchange rate of about one liguino to six US dollars. According to their foreign minister (Prince Giorgio’s wife), they have ‘declared [their] territorial, civil, moral and religious sovereignty’ from Italy. You may notice there that it doesn’t say ‘legal’, so I have no doubt of the outcome were you to try to fly to London or Singapore with one of those renegade Seborgan passports. Who knows, maybe the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus would let you in. Nevertheless, don’t you have to admire the people, if not for their tenacity and perseverance, then at least for their brass neck?
Then there’s the small town of Loxwood on the Surrey border in the UK, who went down the same path. Following several years of the Brexit debacle, the town chose to fly solo, and the newly crowned monarch, Queen Katheryn Adalina I, declared that: ‘Due to the political turmoil that is unfolding around us we can no longer occupy the space between the past and the present. We must progress. We must move forward.’ She then announced the town’s intention to return to the laws of the 15th century and began the minting of their own currency, the Loxwood Groat.
Despite the temptation to chuckle at aspects of these attempts at self-determination, is there really any moral or ethical objection to a desire to carve one’s own path? Common sense would seem to dictate that it’s easier for a town or 300, or even 30, to enact a serious attempt at harmonious living than three million. I wrote an essay a month back about Dunbar’s number, the sociological theory on the maximum number of people that can live together in societal and psychological harmony without the need for a ‘stabilising force’. Instead, today, I want to examine the legal and moral objections to assuming what is surely an inalienable human right, that of taking self-determination into one’s own hands, be it on a parochial, regional or national level.
John Locke and Madrid
I did only a single semester of political and ethical theory at uni, and I hated every second of it. Perhaps the only thing that has stuck with from that time is John Locke’s idea of ‘tacit consent’. Locke’s argument, one that raises its head each time the discussion on self-determination comes up, is that, basically, anyone who in any way benefits from the services of the state is automatically beholden to that state’s laws and dictates. What do those services entail? Social assistance (in terms of income or housing), healthcare and education would be the three main ones, the idea being that, born into a state and having never ‘signed a contract’ to be subject to the laws of that state but nevertheless benefiting from its provisions, you are now subject to its decrees. Regardless of your stance on tacit consent (and it’s a big, brutal argument), what if you say: ‘We can provide for ourselves everything and anything we need, so therefore we are no longer a part of the state. We are independent.’ What then? Does the state have a legal right to deny self-determination?
Anyone who witnessed the brutal state crackdown after the Catalan declaration of independence in 2017 cannot fail to have been horrified. Even the BBC called it ‘the worst police violence ever seen in the EU’. The videos and photos are many and resulted in damning reports from HRW and Amnesty. Those Spaniards who were old enough to remember shuddered, seeing in the crackdown the ghost of the days of Franco. Was the response to the referendum and declaration justified? In no way. Was the referendum illegal? Yes. In 1978, the people of Catalunya voted overwhelmingly to receive greater autonomy from Madrid but agreed at the same time to maintain the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’. In other words, legally, they were fucked. But is there any ethical objection to a body of people rejecting the decisions of their forbears and deciding on a new destiny? If there is, I’m not aware of it.
A body of people should always retain the right to reject the status quo and re-mould a common and shared future. In 2011, the people of Scotland (under a brutal propaganda onslaught from London, no less) voted in a referendum to reject independence. Ten years later, the independence campaign is once again reaching a furious pitch, the people of 2021, having been awakened to the deception and responding to new political realities, are rejecting the decision of 2011, and that is perfectly moral and right. There should be no restrictions on when and how a body of people can decide to reframe their future. The body politic is in constant evolution and requires a continual re-evaluation, the Brexit mess being a major catalyst in the re-emergence of Scotland’s desire for independence.
I think the precedents set by a town like Seborga will see an increase in copycat ventures as we venture deeper into the 21st century. The bureaucratic nightmare that a body like the EU has proved to be may well pave the way for a spiralling increase in small cities, towns and hamlets who desire the means to self-determination and no longer wish a faceless body in Brussels to have the power to impose austerity, taxes, laws and decrees at will. A model for these kinds of experiments may well be something along the lines of the ‘Muslim village’, where those who wish to live under a pure Sharia type system gather, adopting gold and silver (and barter) as a means of transaction, rather than being forced to utilise the fiat currency of the state. I have a sneaking suspicion that blockchain technology could be a formidable weapon for those seeking such financial independence, crypto being used to circumvent the need to operate within the confines of the state’s economic walled garden. There are many kinks here (what happens when you announce that you will no longer contribute taxes, for example, since you are not receiving income in state currency nor are you availing of state services? Yes, many legal challenges arise) but emerging technology still has much untapped potential.
I’d give it a shot. Anyone else in? Pool our resources and buy a small island just off the coast, plant our flag in the ground and declare an independent republic? Why not. Get rid of our filthy fiat currency and start minting silver freedom dollars, and create stable industries of medical-grade marijuana and homemade ice-cream. Above our gate, the sign:
WE ACCEPT ETHEREUM.
We’ll even let the rest of you come visit. Just make sure you’re waving your white flag when you row your boat out, and keep an eye out for the maniac in the high turret with the crossbow.
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‘The Right to Self-determination’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.