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Officials in Catalonia, Spain's richest and most highly industrialized region, whose capital is Barcelona, recently held a referendum in which there was a 92 percent vote in favor of independence from Spain. The Spanish authorities opposed the referendum and claimed that independence is illegal. Catalans are not the only Europeans seeking independence. Some Bavarian people are demanding independence from Germany, while others demand greater autonomy. Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled: "In the Federal Republic of Germany . . . states are not 'masters of the constitution.' . . . Therefore, there is no room under the constitution for individual states to attempt to secede. This violates the constitutional order."

Germany has done in Bavaria what Spain and Italy, in its Veneto region, have done; it has upheld the integrity of state borders. There is an excellent article written by Joseph E. Fallon, a research associate at the UK Defence Forum, titled "The Catalan Referendum, regional pressures, the EU, and the 'Ghosts' of Eastern Europe." Fallon writes that by doing what it's doing in Bavaria, "Berlin is violating international law on national self-determination. It denies to Bavaria what it granted to the 19 states that seceded from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. In fact, Germany rushed to be first to recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia."

The secessionist movements in Spain, Germany and Italy have encountered resistance and threats from the central governments, and in Catalonia's case, secessionist leaders have been jailed. The central governments of Spain, Germany and Italy have resisted independence despite the fact that they are signatories to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which holds that "all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

Fallon notes the hypocrisy of Spain, Germany and Italy, as well as the entire European Union. Back in 1991, the EC--the precursor to the EU--"issued its conditions for recognizing the unilateral declarations of independence by states seceding from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union." Fallon argues that these same guidelines should be applied to the states of Catalonia, Bavaria and Veneto. Isn't it double talk for members of the EU to condemn independence movements today, given that they welcomed and supported independence movements for states that were members of the communist bloc?

Catalonia, Bavaria and Veneto are relatively prosperous jurisdictions in their countries. They feel that what they get from the central governments is not worth the taxes they pay. Each wants the central government off its back. They think they could be far more prosperous on their own. That should sound familiar. Some of the motivation for secessionist movements in Europe is similar to the motivation found in the Confederacy's independence movement of the early 1860s.

Throughout most of our nation's history, the only sources of federal revenue were excise taxes and tariffs. In the 1830s, the North used its power in Congress to push through massive tariffs to fund the government. During the 1850s, tariffs amounted to 90 percent of federal revenue. The Southern states were primarily producers of agricultural products, which they exported to Europe. In return, they imported manufactured goods. These tariffs fell much harder upon the export-dependent South than they did upon the more insular North. In 1859, Southern ports paid 75 percent of federal tariff revenue. However, the majority of the tariff revenue generated was spent on projects that benefited the North.

Tariffs being a contributing cause of the Civil War is hardly ever mentioned. Using the abolition of slavery as an excuse for a war that took the lives of 620,000 Americans confers greater moral standing for the Union.


Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Editorial on 12/07/2017

Print Headline: Independence hypocrisy

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  • WhododueDiligence
    December 7, 2017 at 6:56 a.m.

    "Isn't it double talk for members of the EU to condemn independent movements today, given that they welcomed and supported independence movements for states that were members of the communist bloc?"
    No, given Europe's bloody history and the fact that Russia remains a powerful threat, that is not double talk. Breaking apart the Soviet states was good. Breaking apart European nations is not good because it leaves Europe weaker and more vulnerable to once again being divided and conquered.

  • WhododueDiligence
    December 7, 2017 at 7:56 a.m.

    The last paragraph of this column is revisionist and wrong. Tariffs are often mentioned by historians as a contributing cause of the Civil War and as the only cause of the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s. The fact that tariffs were a contributing cause doesn't change the fact that the primary cause of the Civil War was slavery. Yes, tariffs helped the manufacturing economy of the North and hurt the agrarian economy of the South, but the South's agrarian economy was heavily based on KIng Cotton which heavily relied upon slavery.
    The Compromise of 1820 was about slavery. The Compromise of 1850 was about slavery. the Kansas Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and Bleeding Kansas were about slavery. Thomas Jefferson had foreseen the coming turmoil over slavery. The secession documents from the states which seceded were about slavery. So it's clearly wrong to say that the abolition of slavery is used as an "excuse" to explain the Civil War in order to make the North look better. During the Civil War, northern attitudes toward blacks were also largely negative. Northern treatment of labor was also often abusive. And northern incidents like the New York draft riots of 1863 in which blacks were murdered was also atrocious. When history is written by actual historians rather than by revisionists with some axe to grind, neither North nor South come out looking good from the bloody Civil War.

  • WhododueDiligence
    December 7, 2017 at 8:13 a.m.

    "Using the abolition of slavery as an excuse for a war that took the lives of 620,000 ..."
    At the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln's primary goal was preserving the Union. Abolition of slavery was not the primary goal largely because the institution of slavery was protected by the Three-Fifths clause of the Constitution and by the Dred Scott decision which endorsed the spread of slavery northward and westward. So in that limited sense Williams is somewhat correct and somewhat excusable in his use of the word "excuse" but later in the war the abolition of slavery did become the goal--to abolish slavery and end the issue once and for all through the process of constitutional amendment.

  • Lifelonglearner
    December 7, 2017 at 3:59 p.m.

    It never ceases to amaze me how you can create a connection between two totally different events in order to make your point. Then again using your own examples, if Russia succeeds in its disinformation campaigns to break up the countries that oppose it, it will be a version of how the different the world would be if the USA was still divided between North and South when Germany and Japan started their military campaigns for world domination.

  • WhododueDiligence
    December 7, 2017 at 9:02 p.m.

    Yes, Lifelonglearner, that type of attempt at a historical connection (over centuries even) never ceases to amaze me, either. Following the right-to-secede argument (which is now popular on the extreme right) of this column to its logical conclusion, today's world would likely be a lot different and a lot worse than it is. If the United States had been split apart in the Civil War there would be nothing resembling today's USA. Instead there would be at least two countries and more likely three or four (or five if the lone star state of Texas would have later seceded from the Confederate States of America). And as you suggested the world would then have been more vulnerable to domination a century or less later by Germany in the western hemisphere and Japan in the eastern.

  • WhododueDiligence
    December 7, 2017 at 9:17 p.m.

    (meant to say Japan in the Far East)

  • WhododueDiligence
    December 7, 2017 at 9:22 p.m.

    Lifelonglearner's comment about Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns is also an excellent point.