Secession is a concept that is now officially part of right-wing rhetoric, as it was in the nineties. This time around, very powerful people like governors and senators have felt it advantageous to throw out secessionist rhetoric as well as other forms of red meat to the rabid Right. Lately, now that Rand Paul is in the news, it is good to think about what happens when nativists, isolationists and libertarians get together to elect candidates. A lot of crazy shit happens, but one of the most intriguing things that happens is that people talk about secession. So let's talk about secession.
Secession, more than most ideas, illustrates the ideological confusion of the Right. First of all, the American right-wing, being racist, has claimed as its own a revolutionary act which is mostly associated with the Confederacy and slavery, but which was never and is not now conservative. Conservatism is simply the political and social philosophy that at any given moment of history, favors tradition and stability over change. Few actions are more alien to conservative governance than secession and aggressive war. The genuine conservative position leading up to the Civil War was the perpetuation of the compromise on slavery that kept the Union together since its founding. Due to circumstances outside everyone's control, that compromise was unraveling and growing more and more untenable as the U.S. expanded westward. Political forces in the North and South worked to break the compromise: In the North, abolitionists railed against slavery to no avail, and in the South, slave owners and their government backers were obsessed with the supposed power of abolitionists within the new Republican Party. The conservative position was becoming unsustainable as the Mason-Dixon line took shape. A new political order was born in the Civil War. Politics was confused before the war, and it was doubly confused after the war. Modern secessionists, however, imagine the Civil War as a failed Second American Revolution: The South tried nobly to defend the intentions of the Founders. Utter bullshit. If the intention of the Founders was to preserve the wretched institution of slavery forever, then I cede all of the intellectual property of the Founders to the secessionists.
Secession perfectly illustrates another aspect of ideological confusion on the Right: the conflict between reactionaries and conservatives. Reactionary politics differs from conservatism because it takes hypocrisy and shamelessness to dizzying heights. Reactionaries will practice revolution or oppression if they feel they are building a better society based on some idealized view of the past. The secession of the South was radical and reactionary; it was not conservative. The road to secession differed for each slave state, along with their arguments. See here and here to decide for yourself if any of these arguments are relevant outside of political/cultural history. I decided that they are not. One will not find the reason for secession contained in the public deliberations or op-eds of the period. That's because the reason was the lucre. The Southern governments were run by agricultural (read: slave) interests, and these interests were spooked by Lincoln and decided to defend their wealth with other peoples' blood. Period. After the war, Southerners would express their longing for a return to their once-proud slaveholding tradition by maintaining apartheid governments. This was also about money: namely, keeping money in white hands. Like secession, Jim Crow was a reactionary response to a new political order. Rich Southerners used the state to enforce white privilege, and ex-slaves remained poor and disenfranchised.
This leads to the final reason why supposed conservatives who invoke secession as a rallying point are tools at best and racist tools at worst: a strong, repressive state was essential in preserving the "Southern heritage" of slavery, and Southern slaveholders used state governments to start a war in order to defend their profits. Secession is a radical act of government, and conservatives should have no more reverence for it than they do of single-payer healthcare (a much less radical act of government). Needless to say, advocating secession should not only disqualify you from conservative ranks, it should also banish you from civilized society. Of course, nothing short of unambiguous racial epithets (unless they are obscure ones like "makaka") gets anyone on the Right in trouble these days.
The moral of this story is that the right-wing, including the entire Republican Party, is not conservative. They have no ideology. They just really, really hate black people.