In the last decade of the 20th century, as the Soviet Empire disintegrated, so did that prison house of nations, the USSR.
Out of the decomposing carcass came Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Moldova, all in Europe; Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus; and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.
Transnistria then broke free of Moldova, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia fought free of Georgia. Yugoslavia dissolved far more violently into the nations of Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. The Slovaks seceded from Czechoslovakia.
The spirit of secession, the desire of peoples to sever ties to nations to which they have belonged for generations, sometimes for centuries, and to seek out their own kind, is a spreading phenomenon.
Scotland is moving toward a referendum on independence from England, three centuries after the Acts of Union. Catalonia pushes to be free of Madrid. Milanese and Venetians see themselves as a European people apart from Sicilians, Neapolitans and Romans.
What are the forces pulling nations apart? Ethnicity, culture, history and language — but now also economics. And separatist and secessionist movements are cropping up here in the United States. While many Red State Americans are moving away from Blue State America, seeking kindred souls among whom to live, those who love where they live but not those who rule them are seeking to secede.
The five counties of Western Maryland — Garrett, Allegheny, Washington, Frederick and Carroll, which have more in common with West Virginia and wish to be rid of Baltimore and free of Annapolis, are talking secession. The issues driving secession in Maryland are gun control, high taxes, energy policy, homosexual marriage and immigration.
And there is precedent. Four of our 50 states — Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, West Virginia — were born out of other states.
Ten northern counties of Colorado are this November holding non-binding referenda to prepare a future secession from Denver and the creation of America's 51st state.
Nine of the 10 Colorado counties talking secession and a new state, writes Reid Wilson of the Washington Post — Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, Weld and Yuma — all gave more than 62 percent of their votes to Mitt Romney. Five of these 10 counties gave Romney more than 75 percent of their vote.
Their issues with the Denver legislature: A new gun control law that triggered a voter recall of two Democratic state senators, state restrictions on oil exploration, and the Colorado legislature's party-line vote in support of gay marriage.
In California, which many have long believed should be split in two, the northern counties of Modoc and Siskyou on the Oregon border are talking succession — and then union in a new state called Jefferson.
"California is essentially ungovernable in its present size," says Mark Baird of the Jefferson Declaration Committee. Baird hopes to attract a dozen counties to join together before petitioning the state to secede.
Like the western Maryland and northern Colorado counties, the northern California counties are conservative, small town, rural, and have little in common with San Francisco or Los Angeles, or Sacramento, where Republicans hold not one statewide office and are outnumbered better than 2-1 in both houses of the state legislature.
Folks on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, bordered by Wisconsin and the Great Lakes, which is connected to lower Michigan by a bridge, have long dreamed of a separate state called Superior. The UP has little in common with Lansing and nothing with Detroit.
While the folks in western Maryland, northern Colorado, northern California and on the Upper Peninsula might be described as Red State secessionists, in Vermont the secessionists seem of the populist left. The Montpelier Manifesto of the Second Vermont Republic concludes: "Citizens, lend your names to this manifesto and join in the honorable task of rejecting the immoral, corrupt, decaying, dying, failing American Empire and seeking its rapid and peaceful dissolution before it takes us all down with it."
This sort of intemperate language may be found in Thomas Jefferson's indictment of George III. If America does not get its fiscal house in order, and another Great Recession hits or our elites dragoon us into another imperial war, we will likely hear more of such talk.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?"