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Saturday, 2 March 2024

Ludwig von Mises, Secession and Today’s Ukraine

Map Of Wold

Editor’s note: This article is a translation by Liberland Deputy Minister of Justice Michal Ptáčník of this outside article located at bawerk.eu.

Introduction

In this article, I will apply the ideas of Ludwig von Mises (mainly from his book Liberalism) regarding the unilateral assumption of sovereignty (secession) to the East Ukraine question.

There might have been a stopper put, if only temporarily, to “big” warfare in Eastern Ukraine, but smaller conflicts are still underway. Those conflicts bring uncertainty in possible future developments. 

It is well known that many of the residents of eastern Ukraine are Russians. Some of them have been settled there for generations. Others have come later, and some only during the Soviet industrialisation era [1]. 

Next to industrialisation, the Soviets also implemented mass russification. 

In 2001 the census showed that 8.33 ml. Russians were living in Ukraine, which was 17,3 % of the total population of Ukraine. More than that, 29.6 % of all Ukrainians have reported Russian as their mother tongue. It is also apparent that some Ukrainians (formerly called “small-Russians”) are ideological supporters of Russia and admirers of Russian culture.

Regardless, we should keep in mind that some of those Russians and their supporters, about 1 million, now live in the Russian occupied Crimea.

Secession

Ludwig von Mises was a promoter of secessions. To him, state borders weren’t sacrosanct. He writes in his book “on Liberalism”: “The right of self-determination means: Where the inhabitants of certain land, be that a village, a region or several interconnected regions, decide in a fair election clearly that they do not wish to stay within the confines of their current state, or that they want to belong to a different state. In that case, it is necessary to allow them to realise their decision. This is a crucial measure, a way to prevent civil wars, revolutions and also wars between states.” [3] Mieses stresses that this shouldn’t be a right of self-determination of nations. Hence, a right limited only to nationally homogenous units. We should instead respect the right to decide on state allegiance of any people of any region.

Mises further writes: “The right to self-determination is no right of nations, but the right of any inhabitants to determine their destiny. This is conditional on the region’s ability to constitute a self-sufficient administrative unit. Suppose a world where we could make it possible to affirm this right for each individual; then we should certainly do so. Given that the administration of a region requires cooperation and unity, an individual determination like this is impractical. Therefore, we must limit the right to self-determination by the expressed will of the majority of a region’s populace. The regions must be large enough, as larger regions can more effectively conduct political administration of their country and represent themselves politically as entities.” 

We see Mises’s minarchist stance in this point, though with almost anarchic tendencies (we must remember that by the time he wrote this book, anarcho-capitalism was virtually nonexistent except for the works of G. de Molinari). Thus Mises sets certain limitations regarding the territorial size to the right to secede. We also see similar ideas in the recent book “State in the Third Millenium” by Hans Adam II. of Lichtenstein [6].

Mises sees peace and stability as the necessary preconditions to prosperity. Going sovereign removes the motivation of the inhabitants to fight and to resist. Only where the private property of consumables and means of production is respected can one expect entrepreneurs to have the space to do their business orderly. This, in turn, is necessary for the system of prices for goods and services to form itself, reflecting the relative level of scarcity of those commodities. This is necessary for economic calculation to take place that allows the market to fulfil the wishes of the consumers as efficiently as possible.

If we hold on to the minarchist solution, we would be allowing for a “minimal administrative unit” as described by Mises (in Mises’s time, political and judicial administrative regions tended to be smaller than they are now) or of a village, a municipality. Theoretically, we could even consider a part of a certain municipality, especially where the “central municipalities” system exists, like in Austria. I would also dare to extend Mises’s reasoning to the creation of enclaves and exclaves; as I will soon show, Mises mentions those explicitly. Many such enclaves between states and also between lower administrative regions exist or have existed; see the English Wikipedia [7]. The enclaves won’t realise their defence fielding armies. Their inhabitants will have to keep this in mind; this, however, applies also to inhabitants of other remote regions within states.

Liberalism

Enclaves bring us back to another remark that Mises makes regarding a situation that no longer exists today but illustrates the actual problem. He writes in Liberalism: 

“I invite the reader to pick up the linguistic and national map of Central and Eastern Europe. Let us see how the railroads cross national borders in northern or western Bohemia. In an interventionist and etatistic state system, one cannot adapt the state border to the national borders [8]. Every few kilometres of a railroad track, different state administrations would hardly improve the situation. Where states only minimally intervene in their people’s economic and overall actions would no longer represent such a problem. Contracts, regulations and technical parameters of the railway operation would remain in the hands of the railroad company and would be set up according to the customers’ demand. Such states would be focused on making law protecting ownership and law of delicts.”

Mises further writes on enclaves brought to stagnation or economic ruin by advanced state interventionism and welfare. However: “If free trade exists and the state limits itself to being the guarantor of private property, we could easily resolve this problem. No linguistic island would let others oppress it on national grounds only because it is not the main tribe of its nation, connected by a settled corridor” [9]. 

Mises adds that to prevent partisanship and national and political conflicts, the organ administering (for example) the transport companies, mines or large estates might be given only very general – hence, vague – instructions. It is, after all, impossible to predict the conditions under which it will have to act in future. This can lead, according to Mises, too selfish and partisan behaviour and the abuse of official power. [10] The state should bind neither businesses nor administrative organs with restrictive bureaucracy, as red tape can hardly react to possible future conditions which are presently unknown. It can’t even encompass all that is known but rests in the heads of the various practically acting people. A consequent bureaucracy would therefore hamper or paralyse production. Worse still, take the state-governed school system. This system practically invites those in power and their sycophants to abuse it and indoctrinate children of “criminally thinking parents” rather than educate them. This, too, can provoke hate and stimulate the will to fight and revolt [11]. 

Mises continues: “While confined by the machinery of an anti-liberal politics, whichever expands the tasks of the state and leaves an ever-narrower space for voluntary human action, we cannot hope for even partially satisfying solutions for political problems of regions in which people of more nationalities have to live side by side. Without liberalism, there is no equality between the nations, not even barebones basic equality. [12] And we have naturally to do with much more than just national questions. There are also religious, ethnic and other factors in play.

Summary

Greater freedom and autonomy is, somewhat paradoxically, the best basis for setting up a regime of peaceful cooperation. The proposed solution for the problems of eastern Ukraine hence entails the secession from Ukraine of those regions, or municipalities, where the majority wishes for such to take place. 

We also find it provident to combine this pro-secessionist stance with a liberal economic policy. Enclaves are likely to spring up, and this system will be favourable for them. 

No barriers should be set up to the free movement of people between these regions and setting up residence in any of them. Liberal economic policy, together with low taxes, should lead at least some people to the easing of the felt danger to their lives and livelihoods caused by living in a multinational space.

We take Bavaria in the 19th century as an example. Bavarian politicians saw that the only way to coexist within one state was to accept the autonomy of their Frankish and Bavarian Suebian fellow citizens [13]. We can also look at Southern Tyrolia in Italy as an example. Enclaves can serve as a positive motivation for the rulers to enact more liberal commercial policies. I am not claiming that this would lead to total peace, but it would be a significant improvement, limiting the great powers’ space to sow unrest as a pretext for intervention. The influence of Ukrainian and Russian radicals would also decrease, as fewer people would be predisposed to listen to their arguments.

Conclusion

We shouldn’t see state borders as dogma. Most people don’t live in the past or history; they live in the present and wish to live in the future. People’s needs and opinions change with time and the need and desire to remain within a state or join a different state. If one state no longer suffices, the citizens should be given the right to join with another state freely, they and their property, including immovable property. 

The much-needed side effect would be the creation of peaceful competition between states and their rulers, and that could, in turn, limit the level of exploitation of the subjects by those rulers.

[1] Šlachta, s. 41.

[2] Ibid, s. 41 a 47.

[3] Mises, s. 91.

[4] Ibid, s. 92.

[5] Ibid, s. 92.

[6] Liechtenstein. K anarchokapitalistickému pojetí secese viz Šíma.

[7] Anglická wikipedie, heslo “List of enclaves and exclaves”.

[8] Mises, s. 94.

[9] Ibid, s. 94.

[10] Ibid, s. 97.

[11] Srovnej s Ibid, s. 95-96.

[12] Ibid, s. 101.

[13] Novotný, s. 69.

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