The Lost Cause
Why do some (awkward) libertarians sympathize with the Confederacy? Asks David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy. This is probably as reasonable as mainstream libertarianism is ever going to get on the lost cause, but it still manages to muddy an intrinsically pellucid point.
Even those libertarians who do adopt a Rothbardian/Chomskyite view of foreign policy, or who for any other reason beyond racism wish the Union would have let the Confederacy secede peacefully, are making a mistake in defending the Confederacy–the enemy of one’s enemy isn’t necessarily a friend. But I just wanted to point out that I think a significant amount of libertarian sympathy for the Confederacy in the circles where it exists is really a product of intense distaste for the U.S. government and its post-Civil War record [along with, as a commenter notes, a general sympathy for the right of secession] rather than a considered view of the Confederacy’s own record.
Setting aside the Chomsky distraction, there’s an almost painful struggle to be fair going on here — but then the brackets ruin everything. Secession is the key, irrespective of the course taken by the Union, because the Union itself only exists due to a successful war of secession. If the USA was legitimately born out of war of independence, then it was illegitimately perpetuated by the suppression of the subsequent war of independence which would have divided it. Placing the onus on libertarian confederates to explain themselves — or to have an explanation advanced on their behalf — gets the order of logical obligation completely upside down.
Of course, the Articles of Confederation preceded the American Constitution. Confederation was not impudently demanded in the mid-19th century, but stripped away by an emergent central power in the late-18th century. In combination, these assaults on decentralized government have rendered American political history almost entirely opaque to itself. Confederation is the primordial expression of American independence.
Yet, from a practical point of view, none of this really matters, because America’s racial nightmare drowns everything out, binding dreams of redemption so intimately to concentrated power that freedom is reduced to ever-more-marginalized crimethink. Under these circumstances, the pretense of reason seems merely absurd.