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Secession vs. Separatism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 5, 2023
Secession is the formal withdrawal of a region or group from a larger entity, such as a country. Separatism is the advocacy or movement aimed at achieving such a separation, often for political, ethnic, or cultural reasons.

Key Differences

Secession and separatism are closely related terms but are not synonymous. Secession is the act of formally breaking away or separating from a larger political unit, usually a nation-state. It is often a legal or political process that requires official declarations, negotiations, or even a vote. Separatism, on the other hand, is a broader term that refers to the ideologies, movements, or sentiments that advocate for such a separation, often for specific reasons like cultural identity, autonomy, or political disagreements.
While secession is an action, separatism is often an ideology or a movement. Secession usually involves formal steps like a referendum or negotiations between governments. Separatism can exist as a sentiment or advocacy among people without necessarily leading to the act of secession. It might be present as a desire or campaign among a portion of the population but may never reach the formal stage of secession.
In terms of grammar, "secession" is predominantly used as a noun and can be modified by adjectives like "unilateral" or "peaceful." Separatism can also be a noun but has an adjective form, "separatist," which describes people or actions advocating for separation. "Secession" is often used in formal, legal contexts, while "separatism" might appear in both formal and informal discussions.
Ultimately, secession is a definitive, often legal, act that enacts a separation, while separatism is the range of thoughts, ideologies, and activities that may lead up to such an act. Not all separatist movements result in secession, and not all acts of secession are the result of long-standing separatist ideologies.

Comparison Chart




Formal, often legal
Can be informal


Predominantly a noun
Noun and has an adjective form ("separatist")


Usually in formal, legal contexts
Both formal and informal contexts


Definitive separation
May or may not result in separation

Secession and Separatism Definitions


Formal withdrawal from a larger political unit.
Texas considered secession from the United States in the past.


A movement for breaking away from a larger entity.
Ethnic separatism can sometimes lead to conflict.


A legal separation from a federation or union.
Scotland held a referendum on secession from the United Kingdom.


Advocacy for political or territorial separation.
Separatism is strong in certain regions of Spain.


The creation of a new sovereign state through division.
The secession of South Sudan was recognized in 2011.


Actions or beliefs aimed at achieving secession.
Some consider separatism a form of rebellion.


The act of breaking away from a nation-state.
Secession is a controversial topic in international law.


Ideology advocating for regional autonomy.
Cultural factors often fuel separatism.


The detachment of a territory from a country.
The secession of Crimea from Ukraine stirred global debate.


Sentiment in favor of division from a nation-state.
Separatism is viewed differently depending on the political context.


The act of seceding.


One who secedes or advocates separation from a group, as from a nation or an established church.


Often Secession The withdrawal of 11 Southern states from the Union in 1860-1861, precipitating the US Civil War.


One who advocates cultural, ethnic, or racial separation.


The act of seceding.
That year, secession was enacted on account of unreasonable policies.


A theory or doctrine which supports a state of separation between organizations, institutions, or other societal groups (e.g. between church and state) or between different political jurisdictions (e.g. a country and its former colony).
She wrote an essay expounding the tenets of Scottish separatism.


The act of seceding; separation from fellowship or association with others, as in a religious or political organization; withdrawal.


The practice of treating members of different societal groups in a politically, legally, or economically different manner.
Apartheid was a government-enforced form of separatism in which people received unequal social benefits based on race.


The withdrawal of a State from the national Union.


The character or act of a separatist; disposition to withdraw from a church; the practice of so withdrawing.


An Austrian school of art and architecture parallel to the French art nouveau in the 1890s


A social system that provides separate facilities for minority groups


The withdrawal of eleven Southern states from the Union in 1860 which precipitated the American Civil War


A disposition toward schism and secession from a larger group; the principles and practices of separatists;
Separatism is a serious problem in Quebec
Demands for some form of separatism on grounds of religion have been perceived as a threat to mainstream education


Formal separation from an alliance or federation


What is Secession?

Secession is the formal act of separating from a larger political entity.

Is Secession always legal?

The legality of secession varies by jurisdiction and international law.

How do Secession and Separatism differ?

Secession is an action, while separatism is an ideology or movement.

Is Separatism always a movement?

Separatism can exist as both a movement and individual ideology.

Can Secession occur without Separatism?

It's unlikely, as secession is usually the outcome of some form of separatist ideology.

What is Separatism?

Separatism is the advocacy or movement for such a separation.

What triggers Secession?

Triggers can include political, ethnic, or cultural disagreements.

Is Secession reversible?

Once enacted, secession is generally irreversible without mutual agreement.

Does Separatism always lead to Secession?

No, separatist movements don't always result in formal secession.

Are Secession and Separatism always controversial?

While not always, they often provoke strong opinions and can lead to conflict.

What fuels Separatism?

Factors like cultural identity, political disagreement, and desire for autonomy often fuel separatism.

Can Separatism exist within a community?

Yes, separatism can exist as a sentiment within a specific community or region.

What's the adjective form of Separatism?

The adjective form is "separatist."

Is Separatism a global issue?

Yes, separatism exists in various forms around the world.

Who decides on Secession?

Usually, it's determined through legal means like a referendum or negotiation.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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