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.

July 21, 2013admin 12 Comments »
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12 Responses to this entry

  • Discipline Says:

    I’ve no clue what ‘libertarian circles’ he walks in to think that ‘Rothbard’s influence has declined.’ In my eight years or so of being involved in libertarianism, Rothbard’s name has grown in obvious influence, many times over. And in politics as well. Ron Paul is entirely a creature of Rothbardian intellectuals. His son less so, but still much more than others.

    In Washington D.C., certainly, Rothbard’s a nonentity. Elsewhere, he’s essential reading. I guess this just goes to emphasize that the ‘libertarian’ brand means different things to different people. At UCLA Law School I’m sure that mentioning Rothbard’s name is grounds for immediate lynching. Among the youth (including, terrifyingly enough, the 15-year-old anarcho-capitalists that exist in substantial enough numbers to notice), Rothbardian libertarianism is libertarianism.

    If you ask someone in the Free State Project who Rothbard is, they’ll probably know immediately. If you ask them who their favorite scholar at the Cato Institute is, I guarantee that a bulk of them will draw a blank.


    admin Reply:

    Exactly right. ‘Orange Line’ libertarians have to try and float these narratives, though, in order to obscure the perversity of their own situation.


    Discipline Reply:

    Their situation is that of being priests with very tiny, inorganic parishes. If they’re professors or adjuncts, they have their students. Many of those students are quite fervent (particularly the GMU crowd) — **while they’re students.** They also have their ‘Orange Line’ pedestals from which to preach to a fair number of wealthy and middle class subscribers to their various newsletters and journals.

    Rothbardian professors like, say, Hoppe or Walter Block, may also have tiny groups students, and they teach at nonentity universities. But owing to the internet megaphone they have tens and tens of thousands of followers in the wilderness from all walks of life and all levels of wealth.

    Ron Paul has a horde of ragged fanatical liber-jihadis decrying the Great Satan Bernanke in comment sections all o’er the internet. Koch & Co. has all the polish and none of the old-time religion.


    Posted on July 21st, 2013 at 6:18 pm Reply | Quote
  • Mike Says:

    “a Rothbardian/Chomskyite view”

    Ahahaha. An anti-cathedralist/ultracathedralist alliance. Does anyone seriously believe that could ever happen? Or make internal sense?

    I also notice that the Rothbardians are a lot more interested in allying with the Chomskyites than vice-versa, which suggests to me that the Chomskyites are the cannier of the two.


    Posted on July 22nd, 2013 at 1:40 am Reply | Quote
  • Matt Olver Says:

    I’m a libertarian of the Rothbardian type. Most of my compatriots tend to view the Cato Institute types as snooty beltway libertarians obsessed with policy and economic think-tank outlets with little concern for the voting sphere of Congress, and usually they have good reason for that since the political game is bought and paid for; just look to the criminal organization outfit run out of Chicago called AIPAC. The Rothbardian/Ron Paul types are all indirectly associated with the Mises Institute whether those of us realize it or not and we are the libertarian philosophy in action (as in most of my kind of libertarian is an activist of some stripe). As a Wisconsinite my type of libertarianism is a bit different when it comes to the history of the Civil War compared to my Southern activist friends. Lincoln was a big part of my hometown, he stayed in the Lincoln-Tallman House where the bed and sheets from his stay are still maintained today. There is also the Milton House. Lincoln famously led annihilation campaigns against Chief Blackhawk and the Sauk Indians in and around my hometown, and the main park in Janesville is an ancient Indian burial ground with mounds. If I were alive back then I’d be considered a Copperhead or a libertarian anarchist of the Lysander Spooner No Treason type. My type of libertarian sees Chomsky as a critical but grounded court-historian who is controlled dissent from the Cathedral. Basically, he makes some nice commentary now and then, but he’s still a dirty statist.


    Posted on July 22nd, 2013 at 2:40 am Reply | Quote
  • Heath Says:

    College libertarians tend to be into Rothbard. They drop Rothbard when they decide they want to be Koch-funded professional libertarians.


    Discipline Reply:

    How many of those are there? I’ve heard of some kids making $10/hour flakking for their groups, but there isn’t exactly a vast libertarian patronage system out there. There’s a tiny, rickety one, for losers.


    Matt Olver Reply:

    “Nobody loses all the time.”
    — Warren Oates as Bennie in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

    Libertarianism is gaining traction now more than ever, and especially with young voters who know the real deal with Obama fascism. Ron Paul won a few caucus states last primary season. The problem with the GOP in America is leadership not a faction of libertarian losers. Peter Thiel has even chipped in. He’s dreaming big with his libertarian seasteading ideas.


    admin Reply:

    “The problem with the GOP in America is leadership” — I think there’s a more serious structural problem. The Right doesn’t roll-back what the Left does, except occasionally, and at the margin. That’s not a series of unfortunate glitches in the system, it is the system.

    On the other hand, the more seasteading — and in fact pretty much anything Peter Thiel is trying to do — the better.

    Posted on July 22nd, 2013 at 6:13 am Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    Your argument equating the Revolution with the Civil War partakes of an unneoreactionary abstraction and universalism.


    admin Reply:

    Isn’t that criticism rather abstract and universalist?


    Posted on July 22nd, 2013 at 6:41 pm Reply | Quote
  • Anonymous Says:

    “for any other reason beyond racism ”



    Posted on July 22nd, 2013 at 11:29 pm Reply | Quote

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