Secession Down to the Individual

“Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan,” reports BBC News, “has said the violence following his election is a ‘sad reminder’ of events that plunged Nigeria into civil war.” The latest elections are the focus of controversy in a country where ethnic and religious groups have long been estranged.

And while religious divides provide an obvious candidate for blame, religious leaders like Muhammad Ashafa are quick to note that “[r]eligion has been hijacked as just one of the major instruments used and abused by politicians” — that the conflict is fundamentally political in nature.

By definition, politics is violent; its sole object is control of the state, an institution distinguished by its preclusive monopoly on the use of force, and the economic windfalls accompany such control. Nigeria’s history, like that of all states through time, is characterized by a cycle violence in which coercion is the route to wealth.

Nearly 45 years ago, Nigeria’s coastal region of Biafra, pushing back against arbitrary, colonial borders, announced its secession as an independent nation. As a political entity manufactured by the British and superimposed on the region, Nigeria subsumed within its borders a pastiche of cultural, linguistic and religious traditions, all bound by the mere happenstance of foreign dominance.

Termed the “Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates,” Britain’s creation of Nigeria out of such a diverse territory inevitably led, in the years following Nigeria’s “independence” in 1960, to violence. Conflicts hinging on questions of political autonomy and control of natural resources pitted regional governing bodies against one another until the Biafran secession precipitated full civil war.

After years of fighting and a blockade that starved thousands of Biafrans, Nigeria’s central government, aided by the British, overpowered the southeastern region. Since then, sectarian antipathies have calmed without lying completely dormant, the political class still exploiting differences within the Nigerian population.

To speak of a society without the state is not to speak of one without law — without rules governing relations between human beings — but is instead to speak of one without enshrined predation. Although predation would doubtless continue in the absence of the state, it would be treated as such, as crime rather than some benevolent service for the common good.

For no institution but the state do we upend our instinctive misgivings about the consequences of arbitrary power. Nowhere else do we suppose that a lone, unaccountable monopolist will render to the consumer anything worth its price, that the vagaries of bare authority will decide in our favor. Instead, we rely on the structural safeguards of open competition to produce the results we desire.

Each individual possesses a fundamental, natural right to secede from the constraints of authority and hierarchy. Per the nineteenth century philosopher Herbert Spencer, “As a corollary to the proposition that all institutions must be subordinated to the law of equal freedom, we cannot choose but admit the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry.”

Market anarchism teaches that if is advantageous to justice and human freedom that we divide power between branches of government, and between national governments and subsidiary regional governments, then it is correspondingly advisable to divide power still further. Asking what could be gained from the consolidation of power at any level, market anarchism would submit even the law to the nonviolent struggles of genuine competition.

Nigeria provides a compelling illustration of the truth that our diversity as human beings is not necessarily a source of conflict, but is instead transformed into one by the state, which substitutes exploitation for cooperation and trade. Analogizing politics to war, we can see, in the words of Murray Rothbard, that “a war between rulers is converted into a war between peoples.”

Where a small group is allowed to restrain and dominate economic life through force, that group will always attempt to occlude working class solidarity with appeals to religion and ethnicity. Market anarchism treats each individual as a sovereign political unit capable of negotiating for and governing herself, and thereby destroys the role of master. And without masters, free people can get to work solving problems rather than creating them for profit.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory