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Man, God and Secession at Yale

When I team taught a course on corporate strategy back in 1980 at the Yale School of Management with economist Martin Shubik and former New York Times chief financial officer Leonard Forman, I never dreamed I would be invited back to Yale thirty years later to be the keynote speaker for a debate on, of all things, secession.  Yet on the evening of November 9th, the Yale Political Union, the largest student organization on campus, held such a debate to consider the resolution, “Be it resolved that the United States of America be peacefully dissolved.”  One can’t even imagine how long it must have been since a politically correct Ivy League college organized a major debate on secession?

Founded in 1934 as a debate society, members of the Yale Political Union include Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, and others.  Each member belongs to one of seven political parties: either the Liberal Party, the Party of the Left, the Independent Party, the Federalist Party, the Conservative Party, the Tory Party, or the Party of the Right.  Past presidents have included Senator John Kerry, New York Governor George Pataki, and writers William F. Buckley and Fareed Zakaria.  The YPU’s list of past speakers reads like a veritable Who’s Who in American Politics.  Right wing writer and darling of Fox News, Ann Coulter, was there a couple of weeks earlier.

My charge that the U.S. Government is an immoral, undemocratic, over sized, materialistic, unsustainable, ungovernable, unfixable military machine run by and for the benefit of the superrich precipitated a lively and very intense response from the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Yalies.

The liberal Democrats and the neoconservatives, both apologists for big government, didn’t like what I had to say one bit.  The rebuttal speaker, a young Filipino, made the case for America’s role as the global policeman.  The fate of America’s nuclear arsenal was the primary concern of another participant.  A conservative woman worried about the possible impact on copyright protection.  My favorite response came from a student from Rochester, N.Y., who feared that dissolution of the American Empire might threaten the future of the Super Bowl, which he considered to be an integral part of American exceptionalism.

A lot more students came to my defense than I had expected.  They included several libertarians, some hard core leftists, and a Mexican socialist.  One student even claimed to be a fan of the Second Vermont Republic.

What was particularly gratifying about the debate was the extent of the engagement of these very bright, articulate Yale undergraduates in a conversation about a politically incorrect topic which had been summarily rejected by most Americans for over 150 years.  There seemed to be a willingness to think outside of the box and openly discuss heretofore unimaginable political options such as radical decentralization, Internet based direct democracy, secession, and even peaceful dissolution.

Many of the Yale debaters appeared to have been influenced by the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Although not everyone was in agreement with the goals and tactics of OWS, the movement has produced a tailwind of support for political change which was clearly evident in the debate hall.

After two hours of intense discussion, there was a motion to end debate and vote on the resolution.  Much to my surprise 45 percent of the participants voted to dissolve the United States.  Maybe there is hope after all, if that many Yalies opt for secession rather than empire.

Thomas H. Naylor is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of AffluenzaDownsizing the U.S.A., and The Search for Meaning

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