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Volume 28 • Number 3

July 2014



Legal Regimes for Secession: Aplying Moral Theory and Empirical Findings

by Jason Sorens

Secessionist movements are here to stay. From Catalonia and Scotland to South Sudan and Kashmir, popular demands for independence are found throughout the world and in all kinds of political and economic circumstances. How should governments treat secessionists, and in particular, when should they be willing to suppress secession legally or militarily? To answer these questions, we must reflect on the normative principles governments and secessionists ought to respect, as well as on the empirical research on the consequences of particular policy choices.

     Secession is a normatively difficult issue because contemporary cases of secession always involve conflicts in which some rights-holders find their legitimate interests frustrated. No secession referendum on a scale sufficient to create an internationally recognized state has ever succeeded with fully 100 percent support. Secession always brings along non-consenters, and prohibiting secession always suppresses the desires of some citizens to govern themselves separately, desires that are not inherently wrong. Thus, if it is morally desirable at some level to refrain from governing without consent of the governed, both allowing and prohibiting secession always have some morally regrettable consequences.

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ISSN: 2152-0542