Blogs > Liberty and Power > L&S: Miserable Libertarians

Jul 13, 2005 2:35 pm


L&S: Miserable Libertarians



A student just asked Steve why so many libertarians are pessimistic about the direction of the world, given that he just gave a whole lecture on how the world's getting better. His answer was that political activists tend to overestimate their ability to change the world and are thus disappointed when things don't change. Steve also asserted, and I agree, that the world is currently headed toward more liberty rather than less (even accounting for the war and Patriot Act). Over the medium run and long run, we are much better off.

My own view is that a substantial subset of libertarians are" contrarians." Whatever the"mainstream" view of a topic is, they take the opposite, somehow justifying the way in which their heterodox view of the topic is the"real" libertarian position. I will provide examples if requested. I find this"Libertarian Contrarianism" to be both trememdously annoying and horrifically bad strategy, not to mention frequently wrong about what is and is not"libertarian." I keep meaning to write a long essay on it, but just never seem to find the time.

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Maine L Libertarian - 7/25/2005

I am curious what you mean by contrarians and examples. Are you saying they are wrong?


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

Of course, it is usually the Randroids who will defend smoking to the hilt, and deny that it "causes" cancer, because it "man's holding a piece of tamed fire at the fingertips is symbolic of his mastery of nature," or other such hokum.

Palmer's libel of Lew Rockwell et al. notwithstanding, there is not "fetish" over the "Confederacy" at LewRockwell.com. Palmer insists on labeling those who oppose Lincoln's war as neo-Confederate apologists for slavery. As everyone knows, resort to such hysterical, personal attacks is a sign one is out of ammo. I, for example, have condemned this ridiculous Confederacy-worship, rebel-flag waving yahoo nonsense many times, and have never "defended" the South; it would be hard to "defend" a nation that permits slavery, conscripts and taxes, and after all is a criminal state. But one does not need to defend the South to oppose Lincoln's blatant violation of the Constitution (including outrageous violations of rights, suspension of habeus corpus, assumption of constitutional powers not granted, including denial of the right to exit, or secede), imposition of a new central government, illegal coercion of the civil war amendments, and the deaths of over 600,000 people. It's a sad day when opposition to unlawful, tyrannical executive action and mass murder is equated--by supposed libertarians, no less--with advocacy of slavery. Very sad.


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

Lew has a great column out today on a matter touching these: Regime Libertarians; I have commented on it here.


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

Charles, DiLorenzo is probably the leading expert on Lincoln and I'm glad he has not relented in his attempts to educate people about that monster's actions and true nature.

As I have almost no interest in the Confederacy issues, I have no opinion on DiLorenzo's comments on Jeff Davis etc. I don't know what it has to do with "Confederacy" worship. Do you know Tom DiLorenzo? I do. He has nothing to do w/ the bucktoothed yahoo type you must envisage. He is a cosmopolitan guy, and very intelligent and sincere, and not the type to pine for the plantation. So give it a rest. These continual character assassinations are of fellow libertarians are disgusting. Tom D. is a fine man and scholar. None of you have any reason to vilify him or to insinuate blatantly false, outrageous things about his character, or that of other fine libertarians like Hoppe and Rockwell. Enough is enough. Palmer's being an attack-dog does not justify others doing it.

And no, Tom D.'s attacks on Lincoln are not the same thing. Steve Horwitz complained about this: "The work on Lincoln certainly has significant truth to it, but I think goes way over the line in its demonization of the man. That smacks of the same sort of contrarianism."

Imagine the response if someone like me said, "The work on Hitler certainly has significant truth to it, but I think goes way over the line in its demonization of the man."

You know, some ***holes should be demonized. We have forgotten what it means to be libertarians, I think: it is about distinguishing victim from victimizer. We care about victims and their rights, not about criminals. That is why we kill and imprison them when we can.


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

P-dog-- is everyone who has a bust or print of Thomas Jefferson in his office automatically ruled out of court as being a libertarian? After all, the son of a bitch owned slaves.


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

P-dog sayeth:

When someone says that I'm a contrarian at root, I'm tempted to deny it.


Interesting. Do they say that to you often? I don't think anyone's ever told me that. But then, I mostly hang out with normal people, most of whom have never used the term "contrarian" in their life.

But in this case, it would be true. To be a "contrarian" per se is just to be contrary: against what others believe. I believe in liberty. It is a positive value. I want it and I work for it. That's the difference between libertarians and people who are merely "anti-state." The latter are merely against something, but not for a positive alternative.


And here goes the shiv. P-dog first subtly implies that we--you know, the ones he constantly libels on his smearblog--are "merely" anti-state. This is ridiculous. As Roderick Long pointed out on this thread, "Pessimism?? Is this pessimism?" Of course, P-dog does not reply to Roderick (and strangely, he will not bash his friends or others with some weird immunity, even though they share the same views he schizophrenically attacks in others associted with this bete noir, the Mises Institute--you know, the big, hairy, evil group--ghoulish, he calls them elsewhere, who have "opened the gates of hell" (his words)--who ummm, promotes free-market, Austrian economics and, er, umm, libertarianism. Yeah, they are SCARY, SCARY. .... BOO!).

We are not "merely anti-state". We are of course in favor of rights and liberty. Has Palmer ever heard of, oh, I don't know, the fricking JOURNAL OF LIBERTARIAN STUDIES? Or Reason Papers, which Mises Institute hosts? Can P-dog with a straight face deny that the Mises Institute promotes the thought of Mises and Rothbard? Would either be called "mere" anti-statist? with no positive views about liberty, or rights? This is ridiculous.

As for being "for a positive alternative," now we get to the nub of the matter. I suggest Lew Rockwell's article Regime Libertarians. Just because not all libertarians are compromising, sell-out policy wonks who want temporary, incremental increases in liberty at the cost of liberty in other areas, or don't toe the line of a given beltway thinktank, does not mean we are not also "for" a "positive alternative." The insufferable arrogance emanating from Palmer's perch is truly a sight to behold.

Lots of people are in opposition to the state: they include a great many people with whom I would not want to be categorized, such as criminals, terrorists, advocates of other forms of coercion and tyranny, such as a Caliphate or feudalism.


Yeah, deep, man, deep. Wot a great insight.

You know, lots of hippies and scumbums are also in favor of legalized drugs and prostitution too. Let me guess--you are not "merely" in favor of drug legalization. You are "more" than that, right? And you would not want to be "reduced" to a mere defender of porn or drug rights. Hey, I have an idea--why don't you realize the universalizability principle actually applies here? Hmmm?

I'm not just "against the state," because I favor liberty, which is why I favor restrictions on the state. When people enjoy more liberty, I am pleased by that, at the same time that I am mindful that injustices still exist.

Being a "contrarian" is being a second-hander, letting others dictate to you what you will stand against, rather than choosing that *for* which you will stand.


Whatever. Cue violins. When the Randroid lingo comes out, my eyes glaze over.

Of course, those fellow libertarians whom you malign and hate at the Mises Institute are in favor of liberty and individual rights.


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

P-dog writes:

A very weak retort. Thomas Jefferson did not lead a revolution for the purpose of furthering slavery. The signers of the South Carolina secession resolution did. There's a difference. Evidently you don't get it. A libertarian, on the other hand, would.


Ah. I see. Can't reply direclty to my own post--don't want to sully your hands. It's all electrons, Tom, you know. And no one cares about you finnicky rules. You insinuate here I am not a libertarian. I think you are not one. So there. Where are we now? Fisticuffs? On Segways?

Look, you obviously have a carefully-mapped out list of what is permitted, and what is not. It's okay to worship Jefferson, even though he owned slaves and raped one of them... but not to admire Jeff Davis, who freed his slaves.... because of "the" "purpose" of the "secession." Jefferson was in favor of secession... so was Jeff Davis... both secessions resulted in independent nations where slavery was legal... hmm, but "the" "purpose" --heck, I didn't konw there was "a" "the" purpose. You sure are smart, Tom.

Jusy give us the list of officially approved rules (run it by your benefactor first, would you) so we will know how to conform to the new world order.


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

Yeah! How about this document, which provides that "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."

In other words, the document recognizes slavery and that the slaves shall count as only 3/5 of a person! Anyone in favor of that document must be a racist, golly gee willickers!


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

Of course, most mainstreamers and conservatives would dismiss libertarians as being contrarians as well. Saying something is contrarian does not say whether it's correct or not. Strangely, my take on Kelo has been referred to by some (usually as a compliment) a contrarian, since it is was different than the initial knee-jerk reaction of conservatives and libertarians, but it would indeed be odd to refer to libertarian advocacy of the old principle of federalism and opposition to the New Deal inspired federal seizure of power as "contrarian." If anything, the modern young bucks with no clue about the original purpose and history of the Constitution, who go along with the current state-perpetuated myths about the legitimate hegemony of the central state, ought to be classified as "contrarian," since they have adopted modernist, mainstream positions that are very contrary to the hostility to federal power so ingrained in our movement.


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

Why libertarians would be worried about "contrarianism" I don't know. As I said, we are basically contrarians at root. But especially given the direction the world is moving, it seems to me there is a much greater danger arising from the menace of libertarian mainstreamism, the bias towards agreeing with the state. Thus we have for example libertarians now adopting the very ultra-politically correct terminology and concepts fostered by the state, for example.


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

Steve, I take your meaning on some of your points. But look--re Darwin: I have issues with the Darwin opponents, but I dont think their problem is that they're contrarians. I don't think they are, but there may be a bit of the "distrust of everything 'everyone' thinks is true" here. But why do you think this is a libertarian phenomenon? It's just religious. Many fundamentalist types have hated Darwin from the beginning. I don't see it as linked to libertarianism.

Pro-Confederacy stuff? I'm not aware of much of this. I am not pro-Confederacy at all and all these Dukes of Hazzard Rebel Flag types are definitely not my cup of tea, but that's primarily b/c I am too individualist and Randian to like the notion of all this collectivst membership crapola. (But then, many others do the same thing, with their religions and cultures; making a big deal about all this, insisting they are different and "part of" this other thing, all because of an accident of birth.)

Anti-Lincoln--yeah, you're right, there's much significant truth in it. You might call it contrarianism to try to expose Lincon's foibles but given his elevation to godhood in this country and the abysmal ignorance of what he did that was terrible, perhaps we need a teensy weensy bit of an antidote. Is it any different really than us Austrians/libertarians continuing to bitch about Bretton Woods and the Federal Reserve system, even though it appears we are stuck with the modern monetary system? Is it "contrarian" to try to fight the very idea of the modern money system, that is so accepted, ingrained, and established?

I think the Hayek dehomogenization debate and the socialist claims are separate. THe dehomogenization debate was not contrarianism at all, in my view, it was an attempt to highlight and examine crucial differences that had been sort of glossed over or not sufficienatly realized.

There may be a bit of the contrarian streak in Walter Block's fairly straightforward case that Hayek had many socialistic views, or whatever you want to call advocating government programs that most libertarians think are statist. But even if this is "contrarian," it of course does not prove the substance wrong.

Your complaint here seems to be almost bemoaning the fact that some libertarians won't just lie down and accept the "established" view, that they are continually rocking the boat.

Dunno what to say about the smoking thing, don't have much of an opinion, other than to note that I wrote an article, Let Kids Smoke, you would probalby consider contrarian. I did not downplay the dangers, so much (as far as I know, smoking does tend to cause cancer), as try to trace out the consequences of free will and individual responsibility and to argue against the common idea of addiction, as, say, Szasz has. Something like that is not so mcuh contrarian as maybe provocative. Yeah, maybe, but that's just a writing technique.

AS for the Illuminatis and conspiracy stuff, I myself have a strong aversion to all these kooky conspiracy theories. I think for example Oswald acted alone and killed Kennedy by himself. I think there is no need to look for conspiracies to explain what is wrong; in fact it diverts from the true problem by lookking for a hidden flaw that once fixed, everythying woudl be fine. YEt even here, this is not contrarian, it seems to me; conspiracy theorizing is widespread.

Steve, don't you think libertarianism is by its nature a bit contrarian? Don't you think we are viewed this way by others?

Also, as I noted on another comment, given the direction the world is moving, aren't you concerned about the menace of libertarian mainstreamism, the bias towards agreeing with the state. I don't mean to criticize successful libertairnas with mainstream careers; I am one of those. But I definitely see a great danger here, becuase there are innumerable pressures to conform, if one is cozily ensconced in mainstream jobs or positions. It is natural to want to go to cocktail parties and regular social events and be respected as a "serious" thinker, not some kook. Sure. But surely there is a gentle pressure from this to dull your sharp edges, to not mention so much all the problems that the cocktail party or watercooler-at-work set would think are nutty concerns. Surely we could use a few contrarians just to keep us on our toes. Think of Alan Greenspan. My personal view is that to the extent he was in favor of the gold standard and opposed the institution of a fed, I don't think he has really changed his mind. He just realizes it's not his job to challenge the fed's existence; that's not what he was hired to do. Nonetheless, someone as influential as he is could at least someday explain that the fed should be disbanded. But he does not and will not, b/c his wife is Andrea MItchell and he hobnobs w/ the powerbrokrs in DC and would be written off, after a while, as a kook if he did this. So he does not; and I cannot even say it is not rational of him. Hell, his own career and livelihood ougth to take an important place in his hierarchy of values. But isn't it good that there are some Austrians out there who are still unshackled and able to speak the truth about the Fed, even though this makes them contrarians?


Charles Johnson - 7/13/2005

S.K.: "Do you know Tom DiLorenzo? I do. He has nothing to do w/ the bucktoothed yahoo type you must envisage. He is a cosmopolitan guy, and very intelligent and sincere, and not the type to pine for the plantation. So give it a rest. These continual character assassinations are of fellow libertarians are disgusting."

Who's "envisaging" anything? I cited some things that DiLorenzo wrote and said (1) that they seemed like indications of "a fetish for the Confederacy and its leaders, which sometimes overrides respect for documented historical fact" and (2) that "in addition to unthinking pro-Confederate apologetics, it may also serve as a good example of unthinking contrarianism as well".

If you think that believing either (1) or (2) about someone requires you to believe that he or she is a "bucktoothed yahoo type" then you should probably think harder about it. The "Lost Cause" mythology has always been promoted primarily by well-spoken, articulate white Southerners, including politicians (among them Jeff Davis himself, in his memoirs), educators, and professional historians. Being articulate and well-spoken, however, does not have any bearing on whether what they say is true or false, nor on whether what they say indicates sincere engagement with the facts or dishonest fetishism.

So, let's move on to the actual issue, which is what DiLorenzo said, not the ad hominem context of what virtues or vices you think DiLorenzo has as a person.

S.K.: "As I have almost no interest in the Confederacy issues, I have no opinion on DiLorenzo's comments on Jeff Davis etc. I don't know what it has to do with "Confederacy" worship."

If you care so little about "Confederacy issues" that you haven't bothered to form any opinion at all about DiLorenzo's decision to single out Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee for praise then how in the world do you know that DiLorenzo (or anyone else writing for LewRockwell.com, other than yourself) is *not* engaging in dishonest fetishism for the Confederacy? You make strong claims that he isn't, but it seems to me that if you haven't bothered to look into these questions you shouldn't have any rational basis for giving an answer.

That said, the connection is simple. DiLorenzo singled out two central figures of "Lost Cause" Confederate mythology for praise, in spite of the fact that they are opposed to libertarian political principles on every important point--from slavery to conscription to secession. He did so in spite of the fact that they had no apparent qualifications for the praise other than their leading roles in the Confederate government and the Confederate war machine. And in his writings there and elsewhere, he has told flat lies (e.g. that Lee willingly freed his father-in-law's slaves when he actually kept them in slavery as long as he legally could) and omitted important truths (e.g. that Jeff Davis, not Abe Lincoln, pioneered national conscription in America) in order to make Confederate leaders look better than they actually were. Doesn't that seem like pretty clear indication of a fetish for the Confederacy to you? If not, what *would*?

Since none of my remarks had anything at all to do with Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Lew Rockwell, or DiLorenzo's criticisms of Lincoln (which I mostly consider to be just and well-founded), the rest has been snipped without reply.


John Lopez - 7/13/2005

"Do you know Tom DiLorenzo? I do. He has nothing to do w/ the bucktoothed yahoo type you must envisage."

Why would Johnson have to "envisage" any sort of caricature to make the notations that he did? Isn't he just stating what he judges to be the facts of the matter?

"Palmer's being an attack-dog does not justify others doing it."

Indeed: http://ancapistan.typepad.com/the_palmer_periscope/

"You know, some ***holes should be demonized."

No, evil men should be recognized for what they are. Demonization is worse that futile, because by doing so it undercuts your own credibility.


Tom G Palmer - 7/13/2005

A very weak retort. Thomas Jefferson did not lead a revolution for the purpose of furthering slavery. The signers of the South Carolina secession resolution did. There's a difference. Evidently you don't get it. A libertarian, on the other hand, would.


Manuel Lora - 7/13/2005

Dear Lord. I must get rid of my nickels. Only pennies from now on.


Tom G Palmer - 7/13/2005

I would not set the bar that high. Making a list of people who don't cheer the end of World War I, for example, would be an odd basis for issuing a criticism. But eagerly embracing the people who supported war would be indicative of one's attitude toward war. And the same goes for oppression of black people. Praising Jefferson Davis is indicative of one's attitudes toward the institutions that he sought to preserve. The idea that Jefferson Davis was a "great American" is revolting. How in the world could one be a "libertarian" and consider such a man a hero?


Tom G Palmer - 7/13/2005

When someone says that I'm a contrarian at root, I'm tempted to deny it. But in this case, it would be true. To be a "contrarian" per se is just to be contrary: against what others believe. I believe in liberty. It is a positive value. I want it and I work for it. That's the difference between libertarians and people who are merely "anti-state." The latter are merely against something, but not for a positive alternative. Lots of people are in opposition to the state: they include a great many people with whom I would not want to be categorized, such as criminals, terrorists, advocates of other forms of coercion and tyranny, such as a Caliphate or feudalism. I'm not just "against the state," because I favor liberty, which is why I favor restrictions on the state. When people enjoy more liberty, I am pleased by that, at the same time that I am mindful that injustices still exist.

Being a "contrarian" is being a second-hander, letting others dictate to you what you will stand against, rather than choosing that *for* which you will stand.


Anthony Gregory - 7/12/2005

Or, more specifically, who implied in any way that the end of Jim Crow was not something to cheer?


Anthony Gregory - 7/12/2005

Who defended Jim Crow?


Tom G Palmer - 7/12/2005

Oh, Mr. Raimondo. Let's agree to disagree on this for now. You have slimed, slandered, and assaulted with the most vile language imaginable every person with whom you have disagreed. Your complaint is implausible.

In any case, the question raised by the original posting remains an interesting one. Why are some people so remarkably pessimistic, and others optimistic? What should the objective evidence tell us? To a substantial degree, that will depend on what one considers the important freedoms that are realized or abrogated or imperiled. Those who care little for the freedom of black Americans would see no reason to rejoice in the victories of liberty over Jim Crow laws. They would likely be the same set of people who consider Jefferson Davis a truly great American. It's always struck me how odd it is that people who justly cry out against, say, laws against discrimination, see no advance for freedom when laws requiring discrimination were eliminated. (As was said of so many conservatives years ago, when they opposed forced busing: they didn't complain about it when children were forcibly bused to segregated schools.)


Charles Johnson - 7/12/2005

Oh, I should add that besides what clearly looks like indulging in Lost Cause fantasy, DiLorenzo's posts also clearly indicate the supposed offense that his comments are giving to "liberventionist" bogey-men as one of the chief motives for putting out the claims that he put out. ("Cackling like a flock of hens," &c.) So in addition to unthinking pro-Confederate apologetics, it may also serve as a good example of unthinking contrarianism as well.


Charles Johnson - 7/12/2005

Stephan: 'Pro-Confederacy stuff? I'm not aware of much of this [...] Palmer's libel of Lew Rockwell et al. notwithstanding, there is not "fetish" over the "Confederacy" at LewRockwell.com. Palmer insists on labeling those who oppose Lincoln's war as neo-Confederate apologists for slavery.'

Stephan, what do you think about Tom DiLorenzo's recent post on LRC blog, nominating pro-slavery, anti-secession statist warrior Robert E. Lee for the top of his list of "greatest Americans"? Or his decision to lie about Lee's role in the emancipation of his father-in-law's slaves? Or his follow-up suggestion of pro-slavery, pro-conscription, anti-secession Jeff Davis for the state of Mississippi? How about his repeated false claims that Lincoln "introduced" conscription in 1863, "for the first time ever", as an "unprecedented coercive measure", etc. without ever once mentioning that Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy implemented a national draft more than a year before the Union?

If these don't seem like indications of a fetish for the Confederacy and its leaders, which sometimes overcomes respect for documented historical fact, on the part of a prolific author at LewRockwell.com, what *do* they seem like to you?


Roderick T. Long - 7/12/2005

Pessimism?? Is this pessimism?


Stephen W Carson - 7/12/2005

"In April 1996, [Clinton] even compared Boris Yeltsin [in regards to Chechnya] to one of his famous American forebears and his attempt to keep the country together:

'I would remind you that we once had a civil war in our country ... over the proposition that Abraham Lincoln gave his life for - that no state had a right to withdrawal from our Union.' "
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/503804.stm

"If protecting innocent civilians is of paramount consideration in war, perhaps Bill Clinton should denounce Harry S. Truman for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - which were unquestionably civilian targets - and condemn his hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, for the indiscriminate bombing of Germany's cities, particularly Dresden.

Similarly, Republicans, who take pride in being members of the party of Lincoln, should remember that it was President Abraham Lincoln who unleashed Gen. William T. Sherman on Georgia in a deliberate effort to terrorize its citizens and hasten the Confederacy's surrender."
from "Russia Has a Case in Chechyna", Nixon Center
http://www.nixoncenter.org/publications/articles/12_14_99Chechnya.htm

...or search yourself for "Lincoln" and "Chechnya". I got 52,000 hits.


Justin Raimondo - 7/12/2005

Tom Palmer writes:

"Moreover, the Civil War happened well over a hundred years ago and I see little connection between that and, say, Chechnya (especially considering how eager Mr. Raimondo -- a staunch lewrockwell ally to whom Rockwell frequently links, especially in his zanier conspiracy theories about the Jews, er, Zionists -- is to support Putin's crushing of the Chechens)."

I have not written a single article about "the Jews," although I frequently criticize Israel. Israel and "the Jews" are not the same thing, in spite of neoconservative (and Israeli) efforts to conflate the two.

I do not support "Putin's crushing of the Chechens," as anyone who reads what I have to say on the subject can readily see. What I oppose is U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of the former Soviet Union, whether it be military, diplomatic, or propagandistic. It is interesting that someone who supports the U.S. military's effort to "crush" (his word) the Iraqi insurgents is lecturing the rest of us from a supposedly high moral plane.

Palmer's efforts to smear me -- and others -- in the midst of what ought to be a scholarly discussion are unconscionable, and I wonder why it is tolerated on this board. Does every discussion involving Palmer have to degenerate into a stream of invective directed at fellow libertarians?

I see from the posting times that the Cato Institute is now paying Palmer to smear people full-time. What I want to know is why "Liberty and Power" is allowing itself to become a sounding board for Palmer's personal vendettas.


Anthony Gregory - 7/12/2005

Sorry, I meant, "comparable Wilson bashing."

But seriously. I mean, personally, I think Truman might even be worse than FDR or Wilson. I think a lot of libertarians don't hate Truman the "right" amount — in Dante's Libertarian Inferno, he's often assigned too posh and comfortable an eternal fate of torture, when compared to Wilson, FDR, Lincoln, LBJ and laughable choices for worst president like Bill Clinton.

So what? If you hate Wilson or FDR or LBJ or Lincoln more than Truman I don't assume it's for some malicious reason.


Anthony Gregory - 7/12/2005

Everything I've ever seen about Wilson on LRC has been very critical. According to Google, 361 pages on LRC mention "Abraham Lincoln." Only 247 mention "Woodrow Wilson." Of course, Wilson is a less well-known figure, less often discussed, than Lincoln.

But there are fewer critiques of Wilson. Only a little more than 2/3 as many pages mention Wilson. What is the proper ratio? How much more do we have to hate Wilson than Lincoln? What would qualify as "comparable Lincoln bashing"?


Tom G Palmer - 7/12/2005

Mr. Gregory may not himself yearn for a return to the Confederacy and its peculiar labor policies, but why have there been so many connections between Lew Rockwell & Co. and those who *do* yearn for such policies, such as the League of the South and the Council of Conservative Citizens (their newsletter editor was a favorite reference)? What accounts for the astonishing whitewashing of the Confederacy, starting with the risible claim with which I have been bombarded from those quarters that the decision to secede had nothing to do with slavery, that it was *really* about tariffs and nothing more?

And for Mr. Gregory's account of the Lincoln-bashing to be plausible, we would expect that others who have built the modern state would come in for comparable bashing. Why is there so little Wilson-bashing, for example, given the ways in which he brought back conscription and set it on an essentially permanent footing, sent U.S. soldiers to Europe to engage in an utterly stupid war, and effectively nationalized much of the economy? What is it about Lincoln that so enrages Lew Rockwell & Co? Could it be that he actually defeated the side they preferred, the one that broke away (referring to the initial secession, not Virginia's) in order to preserve slavery?


Anthony Gregory - 7/12/2005

With the War Between the States came conscription. Since that war ended, somewhere around fifteen million Americans were enslaved under threat of death and sent all around the world to kill people. That's a loss of freedom. With the War Between the States came Lincoln's generals with a policy of attacking civilians and committing genocidal ethnic cleansing against the Plains Indians. Since that war ended, total war became dominant in U.S. foreign policy, especially by World War II. That's a loss of freedom, and for millions of people it was the end of their lives. With the War Between the States came the principle that the federal government can do whatever it wants, despite Constitutional barriers and the intended perpetual threat of secession and nullification, and no matter how many civil liberties or lives are destroyed in the process. That's a loss of freedom, and the U.S. government is now the largest, most interventionist and potentially most dangerous empire in the history of the world. With the war came income tax, gun control, censorship, deportaions of dissenters, national corporate statism, and many other horrible precedents for American society. Yes, in the chaos of the war, the slaves freed themselves. But, as we all know, racial equality and liberty hardly were won immediately after the war ended.

Everyone in the world knows that slavery is evil and that chattel slavery's demise was good, that in many ways liberty and effective freedom have advanced since 1789, or 1861, or 1898, or 1917 or 1933 or 1941 or 1965 or many of the other particularly horrible years for American liberty. No one who considers himself a libertarian wants slavery to return, or the Confederacy — an organization that, like Lincoln's government, sanctioned slavery, and implemented conscription and national economic policy — to come back to life. But given that most Americans know the evils of slavery but not of Lincoln and the American statism he gave birth to — given that the U.S. capital city has a disgusting monument sanctifying this lying, sociopathic Machiavellian piece of human trash, as if he were Jupiter and we were the Ancient Roman Empire — why should it be any surprise that libertarians interested in history might find time to critique Lincoln as if he still mattered? Or is there a statute of limitations for mass murder? After 140 years are we supposed to forget about one of the worst rulers in American history, the father of the consolidated U.S. nation state and accept the fact that so many Americans have an unfortunately distorted view of Father Abraham?

And I hated Lincoln long before I read LRC or knew who Rockwell or even what Austrian economics was. In 1996 Harry Browne's book Why Government Doesn't Work had a brief section on Lincoln that seemed to coincide with what one of my history teachers had said — that the Union's war against secession wasn't about slavery, nor was it necessary, yet it had plenty of ghastly long-term effects for American liberty, limited government and peace. This did not shock me too much at the time. The revisionist interpretations seemed to fall in place with the historical facts stipulated by most historians, even those who admired Lincoln. As time went on, I realized that many libertarians shared Browne's view of Lincoln. I saw that many of the libertarians in the California Bay Area, none of whom I would assume for a second had sympathies for Antebellum chattel slavery, also agreed that Lincoln was a tyrant, and that he had no right to stop Southern secession. In fact, I thought until recently that most or nearly all libertarians recognized the evils of Lincoln's regime. Everyone knows slavery is bad. It takes a libertarian methodological individualism to see how Lincoln was so bad in all the slavery he implemented. All my friends here in the supposedly liberal, PC Bay Area know I feel this way, and yet none thinks it's because I long for the oppressive race crimes of antebellum America.

Yes, to hate Lincoln is contrarian. But it is also quite libertarian, and in no way implies a defense of anything unlibertarian that Lincoln supposedly fought against.


Steven Horwitz - 7/12/2005

Why stop with South Carolina? Read three more here, all of which put slavery right up at the top:

http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/csa/csapage.htm


Tom G Palmer - 7/12/2005

Mr. Carson's response is the most reasonable to come from those quarters. One can agree that the centralized state wrought by Mr. Lincoln is hardly desirable, without valorizing the thoroughly evil decision of South Carolina to secede for the purpose of maintaining slavery (I know that the Rockwellites will swarm out to say it had "nothing to do with slavery," as they always do, without having done the most basic research; a good start is the South Carolina resolution for secession, which puts slavery at the very center of the decision to secede: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/csa/scarsec.htm ).

Moreover, the Civil War happened well over a hundred years ago and I see little connection between that and, say, Chechnya (especially considering how eager Mr. Raimondo -- a staunch lewrockwell ally to whom Rockwell frequently links, especially in his zanier conspiracy theories about the Jews, er, Zionists -- is to support Putin's crushing of the Chechens).

The embrace of the Confederacy and of such retrograde racists as the late Sam Francis (of the KKK-friendly "Council of Conservative Citizens") and much more is documented in the postings at The Fever Swamp http://www.tomgpalmer.com/archives/cat_the_fever_swamp.php , for anyone who wants to discover the depth of the yearning for the confederacy and the south's peculiar institution that Lew Rockwell has fostered.

Indeed, one reason for the general pessimism among that crowd is the lack of appreciation for the spread of freedom to previously excluded groups. Blacks don't have to get off the sidewalk in southern towns when a white man approaches. That's an advance of freedom. Gay people aren't arrested, beaten, and thrown in prison for holding hands with thier same-gender partners. That's an advance of freedom. And, of course, the economy is substantially freer overall of command-and-control regulations governing price and entry than it was in 1965 or 1975 or 1985. There has also been substantial retrograde motion in some areas (including "PC" restrictions on campus speech and the deeply threatening developments concerning civil liberties over the last three years), but in general the trend has been for more people to enjoy more freedom than ever before in human history. I find that uplifting, rather than -- as in the case of those who yearn for the Confederacy -- depressing.


Stephen W Carson - 7/12/2005

The real significance in the criticism of Lincoln, in my mind, is quite apart from either antiquarian sympathy for the Confederacy or a personal animosity to Lincoln. It is two-fold and urgently relevant to current events.

First, The Lincoln Myth is used as a precedent. Since he has become a secular saint, his actions are appealed to as precedent for actions to be taken now. Did Lincoln crush secession? Then Russia ought to crush Chechnya. Did Lincoln make war on civilians? Then the U.S. ought to flatten Fallujah. Tellingly, one rarely (never?) hears Lincoln used as a precedent for going after slavery ("We ought to invade Sudan and stop slavery there! Lincoln would have.") even though that is supposedly his primary legacy.

Secondly, and more importantly, Lincoln is the founder of the current U.S. government, (as many critics and fans of Lincoln have concluded). To recognize this is to recognize that the original federalist intent of the Constitution has been a dead letter for nearly 150 years. We now have a centralized state. To be critical of Lincoln and what he wrought, then, is to be critical of the current centralized, militaristic, mercantilistic U.S. federal government.


Tom G Palmer - 7/12/2005

I think you've identified an important issue. I recall once a presentation at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting at Cambridge University by Edith Efron, whose book debunked a lot of silly myths about cancer. Up popped a libertarian who wanted to insist that smoking, as well, had no ill health effects. Efron cut him off at the knees, citing the evidence that smoking measurably increases risks of lung cancer and other lung diseases. She had effectively shown that other claims about cancer were bunk, but that wasn't enough for the questioner: he wanted all bad news about anthropogenic illnesses to be bunk, on the grounds, not of the evidence, but because everyone else believed it. It's an odd mind set.

On the fetish over the Confederacy at lewrockwell.com, I honestly think that there's another explanation for that, and it's a much simpler one. But that's been debated extensively elsewhere.


Steven Horwitz - 7/11/2005

Well you can certainly find small numbers of libertarians who are skeptical about Darwinian evolution, for one thing. I do think that some of the pro-Confederacy stuff that has come out of LRC and the Mises Institute smacks of this sort of in-your-face contrarianism, as does the related take-downs of Lincoln. (The work on Lincoln certainly has significant truth to it, but I think goes way over the line in its demonization of the man. That smacks of the same sort of contrarianism.)

The "scholarship" that has attempted to "de-homogenize" Mises and Hayek, and more generally demonize Hayek as a socialist smacks of the same sort of contrarianism, although this is an "insider" form. Skepticism about the dangers of things like smoking (again, aside from the politics of what to do about it) can be found from time to time. And, of course, the usual array of Federal Reserve - Illuminatus type crazies.

More generally, it's a distrust of almost everything "everyone" thinks is true. It feels not just contrarian but conspriratorial in its worst manifestations. If I had more time, I'd hunt down links etc, but I just don't out here in CA.


Max Swing - 7/11/2005

This is a very diffuse statement, since you should at least back it up with one assumption. In my experience, the world is not heading towards more liberty but again back to statism, then a few years liberty and again back to stateism, but perhaps I am wrong after all - wouldn't mind to.


Bill Woolsey - 7/11/2005

It even rhymes.

Yes, Steve, examples.

Not that it doesn't sound plausible to me.

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