The Breaking of Nations, Part II: A Look Back at the 1990’s

Then let us look back together at the last decade of the rotten old Millennium, a thousand years of treason against human equality.  It was an age of white male villains who subjugated women, tortured the differently gendered, enslaved Africans, murdered and raped the peaceful followers of Mohammed, vilified and plundered the harmless Mongols who, in search of peace and prosperity, tried to make their way into Europe.  Such an age naturally glorified the propagandists of the killers and exploiters—Thomas Aquinas and Dante Alighieri, Shakespeare and Bach, Thomas Jefferson and Jefferson Davis—and only belatedly and grudgingly came to admire the real benefactors of mankind—  Mehmed the Conqueror, Robespierre, Abraham Lincoln, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao—and to appreciate the genius of Rousseau and Marx, Sade and Henry Miller, Berlioz and John Cage.  

The 1990’s witnessed the last gasp of the old wicked dreams of political and moral autonomy, the aspirations of decadent cultures with their stinking local currencies and statues to local heroes.  In a world hurtling toward the brighter day of global civilization, there were still retrograde degenerates longing for the bad old days when men would risk death in order to defend their families, their churches, and the petty tribes that gave them an exaggerated sense of their own worth.

The 1990’s were a “time of the breaking of nations,” as nationalist movements movements sprang up over night and thrived in the thin soil of postmodern internationalism. The “evil empire,” dissolved in the early 1990’s, continued to fission: even the city of St. Petersburg went through a period when it was demanding independence from Russia.  This same decade witnessed the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia and the de facto partitioning of Bosnia along religious lines, as well as the peaceful separation of Slovaks and Czechs who clashed over the hyphenation of Czecho-Slovakia.  

In the late 1990’s, a group of mostly non-Texans, calling themselves the Republic of Texas, proclaimed their independence from the United States, inviting a replay of the Branch Davidian conflagration.  The group, which now has its own coinage, goes merrily on with a Chestertonian indifference to the realities of power.

Also in the 1990’s in Venice, representatives of the “Serenissimo Governo” took over the campanile of San Marco.  The Italian media blamed the ‘terrorist’ stunt on Umberto Bossi, the founding leader of the Lega Nord.  Bossi responded by declaring, “We’re not terrorists, we’re revolutionaries,” and to prove the point, a group of his green-shirted followers seized the campanile, this time peacefully.

Secessionist movements have not gone away, and with 2020 hindsight it would take hundreds of pages of boring prose even to name the groups and say a few words about them.  In Australia, there are aboriginal groups demanding independence, and Western Australia, which has never been free of agitation, even had a referendum in 19938 in which a majority of West-Australians voted to secede.  The movements that gain most attention, however, have been in Europe, where Scots Nationalists, Flemings, Catalans, Bosnian Serbs, Alsatians, Bretons, Burgundians, Corsicans, Bavarians, Sardinians, Sicilians, Frisians, Silesians, and endless numbers of ethnic minorities in Russia have all expressed the aspiration to live free.  

Italians, Serbs, Ukrainians--what do they know about politics?  It can’t happen here, after all.  But it did happen here, twice: first in 1776 and then again at the end of 1860, when some Americans decided they could no longer endure the “train of abuses and usurpations” practiced by governments installed in far-off London and far-off Washington.  

Secession is as American as bootleg whiskey and draft riots, and the history of the United States is sign-posted with independence movements: the attempt to set up a state of “Westsylvania” during the Whiskey Rebellion; the Hartford Convention, which plotted the secession of New England during the War of 1812; the secessions of Texas, first from Mexico and then from the American Union.  In Texas even today, every man can be his own republic, or at least his own city: Ross Perot, Jr. got tired of waiting for the Westlake City Council to help with his development of the 2,500 acres he bought.  After the usual inducements failed, Perot decided to take his half of Westlake and run.

The fissioning of America is not confined to Texas.  Several Indian nations have declared independence, and in the late 1990’s, in an informal referendum, Hawaiian natives voted for secession.  West Kansas wants to break off from Kansas, counties are splitting, neighborhoods are demanding independence from cities.  Apart from the bloody episode of the 1860’s, American secessions have rarely been viewed with alarm.  In the 1990’s, however, with the rotting carcass of the USSR still stinking in our nostrils, we were more inclined to consider them as a serious threat to national unity, especially since that unity is being stretched to the breaking point by ethnic revanchiste movements fueled by Third World immigration.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

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