The trend in Europe, and subsequently the rest of the world for a few centuries now, has been the consolidation of various distinct ethnic and cultural groups under the jurisdiction of large nation states. This centralization of power has brought with it a host of political developments that have fundamentally changed the way states are organized and operate, but not without any costs. Due to the forced amalgamation of many different peoples, accompanied by an increasingly interventionist state, the potential for violent conflict to resolve issues, and the collapse of peaceful resolutions to conflicts grows as time passes.
Let us begin by understanding why and how having different cultures and ethnic groups live in the same state can produce social tension. It is necessary to understand how the state acts (intervenes) in a society, and the effects that this action has on its members. Every state-based action is inherently a coercive one, such that the individuals affected are not given the choice to accept or deny the policy without state sanction. Therefore, by default, state action leads to winners and losers, since the state can only redistribute and reorganize what is presently available, never can it create and add value, unlike voluntary market-based actions, which lead to the mutual benefit of all parties involved.
For a homogenous society, the nature of state action is exacerbating as is when present in high enough quantities, but throw in a multicultural element into an interventionist state and the results almost never end peacefully. This is due to the fact that ethnic groups will tend towards the securement of their own group’s interests above other group’s interests. Furthermore, state intervention in the economy and society creates winners and losers. Therefore, the more the state intervenes, the higher the benefits will be for those groups in power, and the higher the losses will be for those who are not in control of the state.
Hence, large states are antithetical to a peaceful and cooperative society, and the best hope for different ethnic groups to live peacefully in close proximity is decentralization. This is precisely what economist Ludwig Von Mises advocated for after having lived through the waning years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This empire contained a very large amount of different ethnic groups living under one monarchy, and as a consequence suffered from low national stability for much of its history.
Understanding the issues that lie with one ethnic group having control over the state at the expense of all the other ethnic groups, Mises was convinced that the right of a group of individuals to secede from a larger state was inalienable. In order to mitigate the risk of having one or various different ethnic groups suffer for the benefit of the ruling group, the right of secession was necessary. With this in place, a decentralized social order would follow, where states and legal orders would arise by and serve people of similar cultural, ethnic, and/or ideological backgrounds.
The need for violence would diminish since the option to opt out of the oppression of the state means that individuals don’t have to worry about losing out due to state policy. The gains that might be lost if a group were to be in power will be more than made up for through the reestablishment of market dynamics and the mutually beneficial economic growth that would ensue. Likewise, a decentralized world allows for different ideas and social orders to be tried out amongst many different groups in real time.
Instead of diametrically opposed ideological groups fighting for control of one state, each group can implement their ideas on a willing populace, and in real time see which ideas improve the quality of life of its citizenry relative to the other. The injustices that come from the maltreatment of one group at the hands of another need no longer perpetuate themselves in this model of voluntary association and dissociation. If it’s the case that one group is systematically abused by another group, then the abused people can secede and form their own state, allowing them the freedom and potential to thrive and grow without having to worry or rely on the compliance of other, less willing, parties.
The main group that loses out in this model is the political class and those who invest in politicians for favors. These groups will have a much harder time attempting to implement their zero-sum policies since those people who are negatively affected have all the more incentive to secede from the disadvantageous social order. Independence can seem daunting for those who are about to enter such arrangements, but it is paramount that the right of secession be exercisable, for the alternative of independence is subjugation, and while there may be people who prefer subjugation to the risks of freedom, that decision must be made by the people in question themselves, and not for them.