One of the arguments bandied about to justify US intervention in the Crimean situation revolves around the constitutionality of the upcoming referendum.locke3

The people of Crimea will decide whether to remain part of the Ukraine, or split off and align with Russia. Most observers believe the vote will fall on the side of secession, considering the region is 60-plus percent ethnic Russian.

President Obama and other western leaders call the vote “unconstitutional.”

“In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders,” Obama said. “The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law. Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.”

I’m not familiar with the Ukrainian constitution, so I can’t tell you whether Obama’s argument rests on solid constitutional footing. But I do know that the Ukrainian government does not stand as sovereign. The Ukrainian Parliament doesn’t stand as sovereign. And some international body interpreting international law doesn’t stand as sovereign.

The people stand as sovereign.

Therefore, if the people of Crimea wish to leave the political society they currently belong to and form a new one, they have that absolute right.

Thomas Jefferson articulated this truth in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

In fact, the entire American system was built on the bedrock of this idea. The people are sovereign and formed the government. The government serves the people and remains under their control. They have the right to alter it, and ultimately, the right to abolish it and start over.  In fact, a close reading many of the state constitutional ratifying documents illustrates the founding generation’s devotion to this idea. Take the New York ratifying document for example.

That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.

To accept Obama’s premise, one must accept that the constitution and government of the Ukraine supersede the people of Crimea. If governments and documents take precedence over the will of the people, the people cannot be truly free. Philosopher John Locke laid out the argument in his Second Treatise of Civil Government.

No human being has an innate right to rule over another.

To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another: there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the Lord and Master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another and confer on him by an evident and clear appointment an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.

Or as Jefferson put it, “All men are created equal.”

That being the case, people retain the absolute right to freely come together to form political societies and ultimately to dissolve them.

Men being, as has been said, by nature all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subject to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way whereby anyone divests himself of his natural liberty and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community, for their comfortable, safe and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any that are not of it.

Political societies don’t possess power of their own. And they don’t have an eternal mandate to exist.

When we forget these basic truths, it usually leads to bloodshed – and we seem to be forgetting.