I am a reverse irredentalist, although I’m not certain that’s a word. Irredentism is the idea that borders should be adjusted based on ethnic, linguistic, or religious groupings, when the borders don’t reflect natural divisions of the populace. Actually, this is generally only used to refer to the annexation of such territories, and as such has a rather bad reputation. For example, Hitler’s demands at München to annex the Sudetenland (German-speaking Bohemia, Moravia, and parts of Silesia) which had ended up in Czechoslovakia. I am opposed to grabbing territory and using such similarities as an excuse.
On the other hand, I’m definitely in favor of the reverse. My idea of government by consent of the governed means that not only should you have the right to elect your legislators, you should also have the right to choose which legislature. Specifically, I support the idea that a part of a state might decide it was better off on its own (i.e., the Confederacy, which Lincoln should have let go) or as part of another state. For example, what’s with Kashmir? It certainly doesn’t work as parts of India and Pakistan. The greatest collection of bad boundaries in history had to come at the end of the first world war, particularly when the Ottoman Empire was carved up by a committee of the winners. A case in point: Kurdistan. Looking at dumping parts of this Ottoman province into Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq leaves you shaking your head and muttering, “What great moron thought this was a good idea?”.
Another way to put that: I am convinced that there are situations in which ethnic nationalism should trump civic nationalism, even at the risk of creating enclaves and exclaves, and that the state giving up part of its previous territory and populace should be expected to make this process go smoothly.
I was moved to comment on this subject by an article in this week’s Economist, The good of small things, regarding Telangana, an area in India with some 35 million residents. India currently has 35 states, but just two of them (Maharashtra and Upper Pradesh) have almost 28% of the population, the Economist thinks India would be better off with twenty or thirty more states. Maybe Telangana gets the short end of the stick, maybe not, but as long as it feels that way to the residents, good governance and civic harmony will suffer. I’m in favor of both.
There are a number of examples of bad behavior under the flag of irredentism, my favorite being Argentina’s bogus claim to the Falkland Islands, which never were a part of Argentina (other than 75 days in 1982) although Spain had claimed that Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) gave the territory to Spain, along with most of the rest of the Americas. (Spain abandoned the islands in 1811.) Further, that claim is completely divorced from considerations of the ethnic makeup of the populace, it’s nothing other than a grab for resources. That’s no more legitimate than the US’ Articles of Confederation (Article XI) which provided for admission of Canada as a state.
But I think the reverse makes a lot of sense in some stormy places. It may make some sense in Catalonia, although exactly how it would work for part of a Euro-zone member to secede isn’t at all clear. Some breakaways would certainly lead to enclaves, all or part of one state entirely surrounded by another state, but there are hundreds of those already, mostly without problem. (There are 106 Indian exclaves inside Bangladesh, and 92 Bangladeshi exclaves inside India, for example.)
The key point is that, If I Were King, I would work to make it a great deal easier for communities to work these things out. Self determination is far more important than the permanence of borders. And yes, I was intrigued by the concept of Cascadia, I would rather be in the same republic with Victoria, British Columbia than with Tulsa, Oklahoma.