The Case for Independence

On July 4th some Americans celebrate the rejection of empire. Politicians more likely see it as the US government’s birthday. Libertarians must decide which legacy the day truly commemorates, and celebrate or mourn appropriately.

If this is a day to remember liberation, disunion, the idea that a house divided might be more civil, peaceful and secure than one kept together by force—if we are to focus on the subversion of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence more than its inconsistencies—we should consider the benefits of reclaiming and radicalizing the spirit of 1776 and applying its principles to the present day. We should contemplate the possibility that what Americans and foreigners need is independence from the empire.

The American colonists had been particularly irked by the British government’s hypocrisy regarding the liberal tradition. The British prided themselves on having a liberal and enlightened political culture, complete with checks and balances, due process and the like. But they did not grant such privileges and immunities to their colonial subjects. They preached freedom and toleration but practiced international despotism. Edmund Burke, one of the most consistent proponents of liberty in Britain, decried this colonial hypocrisy as an enormous scandal.

Today, the US empire is everything the British empire was: It claims the banner of constitutional justice at home, it feigns interest in freedom abroad, it poses as the embodiment of liberty itself. But it treats those in its clutches, especially those in its remote grasp, as dispensable means to an imperial end. It slaughters civilians with no regard for the number. It enforces martial law in its exploits abroad. It is the champion and vindicator, not of foreign liberty, but of theocracies and socialist states everywhere. In the course of its reign, it has laid waste to millions of lives.

Barack Obama is a far greater tyrant than King George ever was. He claims the right to seize anyone in all the world — his designated battlefield in the war on terror — and deprive him of liberty or life without anything approaching due process. He asserts the right to kill anyone he deems a terrorist on his own discretion. Under modern presidents, the US has become just what John Quincy Adams warned it might: The Dictatress of the World.

The world’s people deserve their independence. Perhaps it would be fitting to start with the British. Liberate them from the post-9/11 foreign policy that only a minority of them approve. Wartime coalitions without representation are tyranny! They should be the first satellite freed, as a poetic gesture of honest friendship. The Brits didn’t release America without a fight, but perhaps they can be let go in peace.

Of course, Afghanistan must be freed immediately, as should all those living in regions terrorized by US intervention—Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and all the rest. Is it not an embarrassment for Americans to celebrate the day with fireworks and barbecues yet think nothing of the perversity of it all, given what is happening in the Muslim world? US interference with Middle Eastern independence has been nothing but a repudiation of July-4th principles, at least since 1953 when the CIA overthrew Iranian democracy and installed a torturing inflationist monster. The US support, betrayals and overthrows of Arab and Muslim regimes have typically been incoherent, contradictory, and nakedly unjust. Such intervention has not protected but has rather endangered American lives and freedoms. The entangling alliance between the United States and Israel, which compromises the safety of both populations, must also end.

Then there are the other imperial holdings. There’s Old Europe, which should stop being bullied every time they don’t want to go to war for America. Just because Americans were dragged into World War II doesn’t mean the French should be dragged into the next installment, with presumed allegiance to Old Glory until the end of time. Bring GI Joe home from Germany, where he has absurdly been stationed for six decades, presumably in wait for Hitler’s resurrection, or the threats presented by the Soviet Union, always an economic invalid and now nearly two-decades defunct.

Then there’s New Europe, which should be freed from undue US government influence. Stop bribing their leaders and see how loyal their people really are to the neocon-neolib enterprise. It is high time the US stop playing elections to its advantage.

In Japan and Korea, American troops have long been the cause of much agitation and no visible good. Bring them home. Mao has long been dead, so it’s time the US government stopped pretending it’s all that’s keeping imaginary dominoes from falling all over Asia. Free trade with Asians would be good as well. Much of the original US imperial interest in Asia was commercial in nature, although now America’s protectionists fear Asia becoming capitalist and rich. It’s clear, however, that trade benefits both sides to the transaction, and empire only gets in the way.

Latin Americans’ self-determination declines whenever the US reinterprets the arrogant Monroe doctrine to award itself the keys to the capital city of yet another Spanish-speaking nation. Policy in the region has been brazenly colonial at least since the US imposed the Platt Amendment on the Cubans and stole Guantanamo Bay. The US should stop pretending it has always owned the Western Hemisphere, stop poisoning crops, stop staging coups and stop strong-arming Mexico and other countries into maintaining a draconian drug war.

US meddling in Africa also tends toward disaster, as Libya, Somalia and Sudan have shown. Extend to the African peoples total free trade and friendship, which is the best America can do to help them join the developing world. We should resist the internationalist temptation to redeploy into the continent with humanitarian bombs and altruistic bellicosity, as if in anticipation of a Joseph Conrad novel with a happy ending.

Australia, Canada (and every other country) should also get their independence, at last, from the US. No more global regulatory arm-twisting, manipulative foreign aid, threats or empty promises.

As for the American people, we should consider independence, too. For starters, half our income is taxed away and we have the biggest prison population on the planet. American government is much worse for American liberty than the British empire was, to an almost obscene degree.

Open up Common Sense and notice the radical insights about being governed from afar. There is simply no sense or justice in the same central state ruling everybody from Hawaii to Virginia, from Arizona to Vermont. The American Republic was a half-decent experiment, as far as such political experiments go, but it didn’t guarantee liberty even when the American population was 2% the size it is today.

American freedom and international peace will always be a mirage so long as the beast in Washington, DC, lords it over everyone on earth. There have always been Americans who saw no limits to the US government’s power, but let us once and for all tell these Hamiltonians and Wilsonians that we are sick of their crazed expansions and invasions and want some peace and freedom for a change.

Americans make particularly terrible imperialists. We are a people who prefer privacy and liberty in our own lives. We are a people with independence and rebellion in our national heritage. Ours is thus an even more hypocritical empire than that of the British. It’s long past time Americans stopped trampling across the globe as conquerors. As long as we pursue such conquests, we ourselves will remain conquered, shackled by our own chains. Edmund Burke’s rebuke of his nation’s imperial policy and his defense of American independence apply today as never before.

Our government, the biggest in human history, is the greatest threat to our freedom, drain on our wealth, and fomenter of international conflict. We cannot keep empire if we want liberty. We cannot be free if we seek to boss all of mankind around. To have the freedom that Jefferson described, we must let go of our foreign satellites and allow our compatriots and international brothers and sisters the freedom we want for ourselves.

Is such independence possible? Absolutely. Empires crumble. In 1775, few thought the Americans would soon be their own nation. The British empire suffered from pretensions to eternal life. The US empire may in some ways be unique, but it is no more permanent than any other. In stark contrast, the principles of human nature declared to the world from a small Philadelphia gathering 237 years ago were true then, before the US empire was born, and will remain true long after the US empire collapses.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • An excellent Fourth of July essay, Anthony. You are as radical as Tom Paine.

  • Thanks, Ralph!

  • We do not need “Independence from the empire”. What we really need is a proper control over its powers as detailed for us when our “empire” was first born.

    Obama did not create the world-wide war on terror; the Bush Administration initiated that one. Obama did not even declare that the world was the designated battlefield; once again this honor goes to Bush. Granted, Obama did nothing to put an end to them—he merely expanded the unconstitutional and unethical powers that Bush started.

    Most people fail to understand that our nation’s foreign policy was written in 1776, which states—We “hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

  • I don’t think the Constitution can effectively restrain the empire. It brought the thing into existence. I know it didn’t begin with Obama, but he is the president today.

  • Anthony, excellent essay. This is exactly the kind of talk that Americans in all the sovereign states need to hear. We should all look upon the federal government as a mere agent for managing the relations between the sovereign states, nothing more. They ought not have the power to force anyone to do anything against his will.

    Since the feds do so presume upon us, we in each of the sovereign states have no choice but to nullify the illegal laws being forced upon us and peacefully secede from this destructive, tyrannical “union.” As you say, empire and liberty are completely at odds with each other. We cannot have both.

    Let us shut down the overseas military bases and bring our soldiers home. Let us give up this thirst for empire. Let us declare null and void the destructive policies which are destroying our currency, our economy, and our standard of living.

    Surely people can understand by now that our current course is unsustainable and the end game is a police state which none of us bargained for or will ever believe in. In fact, our end appears much worse than that; war as far as the eye can see until a final, reckless provocation will wipe out civilization.

    The “union” has had its chance. It has failed. As you point out, the same centralized state cannot rule over such a huge territory from sea to shining sea. It cannot control the entire economy as it assumes. The only result of this foolish attempt is increasing economic and social chaos with no end in sight. All people want is to live in peace. They will never have it until secession comes.

    Only with secession will the critically needed decentralization come which will put political power back into the hands of the individual where it belongs.