Mandeville, LA – Since the day the Washington Beacon published its cherry picked “expose” of Senator Rand Paul’s Social Media Director Jack Hunter, it has become fashionable to lay your soul bare as 1 in league with the abolitionists of the 1850’s. Tom Woods feted this act of self-piety recently pointing out:
It took a lot of courage to oppose slavery in, say, 1855. It takes zero courage to oppose it today. This is one reason I am convinced that those who are most ostentatious in their aversion to slavery in 2013 are the least likely to have opposed it at the time. Their excessive eagerness to disassociate themselves from perceived “extremism” would not have served them well in the 1850s, when abolitionism, which had zero electoral success, was the most notorious extremism of the day.
Who in 2013 ever found himself dismissed from his post, or held up to scorn, for opposing slavery?
The fact that the patron Saint of all this altruism is Abraham Lincoln should surprise no astute observer of elite media. I expect to see Lincoln Scapulars and miniature Lincoln Memorial casts affixed to the bottom of formerly Scared Heart rosaries any day now. Many of these same deacons of dubious high esteem moonlight as outraged defenders of the Zimmerman justice system; unable to understand why blacks will not accept the jury’s verdict and “move on.” Indeed.
Now comes Randy Barnett, competing for and taking the “Piety in the Skiety Prize for Neo-Abolitionist of the year.”
Kudos to Jacob Levy on Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and Ilya (here and here) and Jonathan (here) for their trenchant critiques of the Neo-Confederate sympathies of some who call themselves libertarians. I agree with Jacob that this is an issue more important for libertarian activists and intellectuals to forthrightly address and forcefully reject than are other pathologies (e.g. birtherism) typically arising at the fringes of ideological movements:
Confederatistas aren’t ignoring libertarian principles or classical liberal arguments altogether. They’re (IMHO, of course– sprinkle imputed “IMHOs” as liberally through this post as you like, since I’m talking about my own priorities and not about the world) misusing them, abusing them, drawing the wrong lessons from them, prioritizing them badly. And they’re doing so in a way that runs deep in American political culture and history, not in an irrelevant fringy way.
In my view the Confederatistas perpetuate the white southerners’ two-century-long scam of dressing up the cause of racial dominance in classical liberal clothes, perverting the goal of liberty into the project of slavery. This has been a defining fact of American political life; it has served to discredit some of those classical liberal values and institutions, while also perpetuating a story in which the freedom of African-Americans (postbellum as well as antebellum) lies somehow outside the calculus of American liberty.
I recommend you read the whole thing — especially if you consider yourself to be a libertarian. I know from my own history in the libertarian movement that there are pockets of libertarians who accept this type of Southern revisionism. I have myself been criticized by these folks as a “nationalist” libertarian because I accept the Fourteenth Amendment as good law that ought to be followed (far more than it is) despite it being inimical to states rights
Good Lord, and Mr. Barnett calls himself a “historian”!? Regardless of whether the issue was slavery or tariffs, as Albert Taylor Bledsoe proved, the right of secession was Constitutional. Maybe Barnett should read Bill Kaufmann’s history (Bye Bye Miss American Empire) of the 2 northern secession plots hatched by Pickering in 1803 & 1814. Perhaps Barnett & the Skiety Society could spend a few months reading the secession plans of northern members of The Anti Slavery Society.
Such was the gentle and persuasive language, and such were the loyal sentiments, of the abolitionists from 1844 to 1861. The following resolutions were passed at a meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society:
Resolved, ‘ That secession from the United States Government is ’the duty of every Abolitionist, since no one can take office or de- ’posit his vote under the Constitution without violating his anti- ’slavery principles, and rendering himself an abettor to the slave- ’holder in his sin.’
Resolved, ‘That years of warfare against the slave power has ’convinced us that every act done in support of the American Un- ’ion rivets the chain of the slave—that the only exodus of the ’slave to freedom, unless it be one of blood, must be over the re- ’mains of the present American Church and the grave of the ‘present Union.’
Resolved, ‘ That the Abolitionists of this country should make it ’one of the primary objects of this agitation to dissolve the ’American Union.’
Yet of all the war-spirits in the country, these very men were the loudest and fiercest in their cries for a war of coercion to put down secession, as rebellion and treason. In its burning hate of the Union, the Tribune had become poetical, and addressed The American Flag as follows:
Tear down that flaunting lie!
Half-mast the starry flag!
Insult no sunny sky
With hate’s polluted rag!
Long before Kenneth Stampp made similar overtures, Michael F. Holt took claims like Barnett’s head on, in “Political Crises of The 1850’s”. See my partial review of his work. Here is a snippet:
Yes, there were people who fought the War of Northern Aggression to protect slavery. That was not the principle cause. If you read Holt’s book, this is proven not only anecdotally, it is proven empirically with voting data, which is why this is important. This is the one paragraph out of this book, if you take anything away from it, that you must get.
[reading] It must be reemphasized that white Southerners had always shared the same devotion to republican values as other white Americans. Identifying an antirepublican dragon, associating it with the opposition party, and crusading to slay it, had been the basic tactic of southern politics since the 1820s. As in the north, contests between the Whigs and Democrats had been explicitly portrayed as battles to save self-government, liberty and equality from power, privilege and despotism. Southern Democratic voters, most of whom were nonslaveholders, had ardently embraced the Jacksonian fight against banks, paper money, corporations, and positive state action of any kind. Party conflicts, moreover, had often reflected regional antagonism within states between wealthy planters from the black belt and poor nonslaveholding whites from the hill country or piney woods areas. The Second Party System had provided an outlet for class and regional hostilities in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, as well as in the upper south states by identifying within those states parties, whose programs fostered some powerful or privileged menace to the freedom, equality, and interest of voters, and by allowing people to defeat those supposed antirepublican forces by voting against the opposition party in local, state, and national elections. Because parties presented alternative ways to secure republicanism and alternative vehicles through which contending groups could seek to control government, Southerners, just like other Americans, had believed that republican government could be preserved and perfected through the political process. For Southerners, like other Americans, that achievement, and not the protection or extension of black slavery, was the preeminent political goal. [end reading]
Mike: That is why the South seceded. Holt walks you through how they seceded.
But the crown jewel of all the Barnett piece mistruths is that “neo-confederates” are basically white supremacists who harbor slave owning fantasies. this is not only false (as far as I am concerned) but libelous as well (had he mentioned names).
I have interviewed Randy Barnett several times, this is really a shock.