An individual can choose with whom they interact.  This freedom of association is a natural right and the essence of liberty.  Individuals exercise this right by cooperating for mutual benefit.  The resulting division of labor leads to modern societies, in which people work together and live affluently.  Societies in this sense are merely a way of describing the voluntary interactions of certain sets of individuals.  A hermit withdraws from society, not by physically removing himself from a location, but by refraining from all human interaction.

Individuals can interact, and hence form groups, however they agree to.  An individual may not be free to join a particular organization if the necessary actions would violate the rights of others.  However, an individual has the right to leave any organization, since this harms no one.  To withdraw does not require any interaction.  All that is required is to refrain from interacting.

When many individuals do this in concert with respect to a government, it is called secession. Secession is simply the act of separating from an organization.  It is not a physical change in location but merely the decision to stop participating in some group.  The United States seceded from Great Britain to become independent.  Texas seceded from Mexico and later joined the United States.  The right to join and leave a group is freedom of association.  As each individual has this right, groups of individuals may exercise it simultaneously.  A state may decide to join or secede from a federation like the United States or the European Union.  A nation may join or leave an international body like the United Nations or the World Trade Organization.

Until the American War Between the States in the 1860s, it was a commonly held belief that a state had the right to secede from the Union.  The states had joined voluntarily and could leave voluntarily.  However, after the Northern states conquered the Southern states, the Union was no longer a voluntary association.  What began as a partnership for mutual benefit became hegemony.

Secession is a peaceful act.  It harms no one to disengage from them.  The history of violence associated with secession is a consequence of groups attempting to use force to prevent secession.  When this happens secessionists must choose to either defend themselves with force or submit to the control of the aggressors.  Unlike a civil war, where many groups fight to control all others, secessionists merely want to end an unhappy relationship.  Those who use force to prevent secession are violent aggressors, the very definition of criminal.

Every association is either voluntary or involuntary.  If an individual is forced to associate with someone, by using violence or the threat of violence, then the association is involuntary.  Every involuntary association involves the coercion of some victim into an undesirable interaction.  The murderer, rapist and robber all force interactions with some unwilling individual.  Involuntary interactions violate an individual’s right to freedom of association and are always criminal.  Conversely, criminal actions always violate the victim’s freedom of association.

The situation is different for someone like a thief being escorted to jail.  He may want to end his interactions with his captors. However, he has voluntarily given up his freedom of association by infringing on the freedom of someone else.  One cannot have rights without responsibility.  Liberty, rights and property are, after all, systems of social interaction.

An individual or group of people may choose to discontinue a relationship that is not to their liking.  An individual can quit his job.  A corporation may end its membership in a distribution network.  Similarly, the individuals of any state should be free to secede from the United States.  They are prevented from doing so by the threat of violence by the federal government.  Associations are either voluntary or criminal.  The association of the states and the Federal government was once voluntary, but now is criminal compulsion.

Furthermore, individuals should be free to secede from any and all governments.  Unfortunately, an individual afflicted by government cannot simply end their participation and go peacefully about their lives.  The threat of violence looms relentlessly over each individual.  No government will allow individuals in the territory that it controls to be free.  The government prevents individuals from seceding by coercion.  As this creates an involuntary association, government necessarily victimizes individuals.

Certainly most individuals choose to be subjects of a government.  However, their choice is largely a consequence of the threat of violence.  Therefore, it cannot be described as voluntary.  They are merely being coerced.  While voluntary interaction is beneficial to all parties, involuntary association is detrimental to one or more parties, hence why it was not engaged in willingly.  Therefore involuntary association  is indefensible whether the aggressor is a private criminal or an agent of government.

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