Saturday, August 27, 2011

Libertarians for slavery

At this point I should be jaded, but I still get a little chuckle when I find the gods of libertarianism devoting their efforts to defending some of the most brutal enemies of human freedom. Here we see Murray Rothbard musing over Just War theory and deciding that the only ones he approves of are Revolutionary War and "the War for Southern Independence". That is, he is happy to support the collective rights of slavers over the individual rights of slaves, who barely register in his consciousness.
In 1861, the Southern states, believing correctly that their cherished institutions were under grave threat and assault from the federal government, decided to exercise their natural, contractual, and constitutional right to withdraw, to "secede" from that Union. The separate Southern states then exercised their contractual right as sovereign republics to come together in another confederation, the Confederate States of America. If the American Revolutionary War was just, then it follows as the night the day that the Southern cause, the War for Southern Independence, was just, and for the same reason: casting off the "political bonds" that connected the two peoples. In neither case was this decision made for "light or transient causes." And in both cases, the courageous seceders pledged to each other "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor."
...
we must always remember, we must never forget, we must put in the dock and hang higher than Haman, those who, in modern times, opened the Pandora’s Box of genocide and the extermination of civilians: Sherman, Grant, and Lincoln.

Perhaps, some day, their statues, like Lenin’s in Russia, will be toppled and melted down; their insignias and battle flags will be desecrated, their war songs tossed into the fire. And then Davis and Lee and Jackson and Forrest, and all the heroes of the South, "Dixie" and the Stars and Bars, will once again be truly honored and remembered.
via. He has a grain of a point -- the rise of a strong federal government made it possible for the US to spend the next 150 years building the military empire we have today, which is also anti-freedom. But the cause of southern slavery is the worst argument possible against federalism.

Seeing libertarians like these guys and Bryan Caplan write about war is kind of painful. I presume they own a little chunk of real estate like the rest of the middle class -- are they under the impression that their title doesn't squat over an ocean of blood? That because they obtained their little territory by sitting down in a realtor's office rather than swinging a sword, it doesn't represent a conquest over other people who might have thought they had a right to live there?

20 comments:

TGGP said...

Caplan denounces the American war of independence in part because it led to more massacres of indians and prolonging slavery. Robin Hanson explicitly says he's alright with slavery, because he thinks utilitarianism should trump libertarian moral theories.

I figure everyone is living on stolen land. Even Europe used to be full of Neanderthals, and our ancestors ate them. But that all happened long before we were born, making it basically irrelevant in my view.

gcochran said...

Of course there was no extermination of civilians in the War of the Rebellion on either side, not counting Quantrill in Lawrence. Moreover, the idea that Sherman introduced a new intensity of war is just nonsense: Napoleon's armies made both sides in the US look like Boy Scouts.

I guess Sherman's dreadfulness explains why Joe Johnston served as an honorary pallbearer at his funeral. He took off his hat as a gesture of respect, in spite of the cold, rainy weather - people said he'd catch his death of cold. Which he did. Johnston said Sherman would have done the same for him.

Sometimes I think ideology is a crutch for people too lazy or dumb to learn facts.

scw said...

The claim that the Union fought the Civil War to abolish slavery is an anachronistic rationalization, akin to the widespread notion that the Allies fought World War II with some intention of saving Jews from the Holocaust. Neither had such objectives at the time of the respective hostilities. The mentioned narratives were largely devised after the fact, thus associating their protagonists retrospectively with Noble Causes that they did not in fact champion.

While there was abolitionist sentiment in the North, it was distinctly in the minority in 1861. Lincoln stated explicitly that his goal was to save the Union, whether it did not lead to the freeing of a single slave, or to the freeing of all the slaves. He did not issue the Emancipation Proclamation until after the notable Confederate defeat at Antietam, and then only to take advantage of the "psychological moment." It did not apply in jurisdictions under Union control - only in those areas "in rebellion." Lincoln hoped that it might thereby encourage slave insurrections and runaways in Confederate territories, and thus add to disorder and demoralization of the enemy (a hope that was not realized).

During all this period, slavery continued in Union states such as Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky, and in the District of Columbia. It did not end definitively until the Thirteenth Amendment was passed - by which time the war was ended, and Lincoln was dead.

If the Noble Cause is substantially an after-the-fact myth, how admirable are its purported heroes? If there was a good likelihood that slavery could eventually have ended peacefully in the U.S., as it had earlier ended in the British West Indies in the 1830s, or later ended in Brazil under Pedro II, how can it be claimed that the bloodshed of 1861-5 was necessary?

TGGP said...

Easy way to resolve arguments about the motivation behind the war. For the south, it was about slavery and they didn't trust that the north wouldn't interfere with it. For the north, it was about union. They would like to convince the south that it wasn't about slavery, but there was too much bad blood for the south to stay. After they had been killing each other for a long time there was plenty of spite, and so some northern politicians decided they didn't actually want the south to rejoin the union but should instead simply be conquered territories. This actually gave them a similar legal perspective to many ex-confederates who argued that they had been a separate country following secession, whereas the mainstream northern unionist view was that no secession from the eternal union could ever happen and so they were simply always parts of the united states that happened to be in rebellion.

mtraven said...

What tggp said. The north had a variety of motives; but the motive for the south was clearly the preservation of slavery, as is made amply clear by the explicit words of the leaders of the confederacy.

scw said...

It is correct to say that the Confederacy came into existence because slaveholders wished to preserve what they viewed as their rights in property they had lawfully acquired and owned. Secession was the brainchild of "fire-eaters" such as Rhett and Yancey, but the prominence of such men was soon eclipsed, and ultimately they were less consequential than more reluctant secessionists such as Robert E. Lee, whose attitude toward slavery was ambivalent, and who fought for the Confederacy out of loyalty to his state.

In any event, the views of these leaders, belonging as they did to the South's social and economic elite, do not explain those of the ordinary Southern white, who owned no slaves, thus had no direct stake in the preservation of slavery, and who still fought. Here, Shelby Foote's explanation is as good as any. Apart from the Confederate incursion into Pennsylvania, which led to the battle of Gettysburg, almost all the other fighting occurred either in the Confederacy, or in the border states where there was sympathy for the South even though they had not seceded. Ordinary Southerners fought because their homes were being invaded.

mtraven said...

The uncharitable explanation for why non-slaveowning Southerners would be willing to die for the interests of slaveowners is that they were fucking idiots, and continue to maintain a similar tradition of idiocy to this day.

A somewhat more nuanced theory may be found here, which traces the peculiar traits of the South back to their cultural origins in the Scottish borderlands.

scw said...

Would you not fight to defend your home if it was being invaded and its stable social order was being disrupted?

If you would not, that says more about what sort of person you are than it does about those who did, those many years ago, defend their hearth and home.

CBrinton said...

The notion of some libertarians that slavery would soon have vanished if only the CSA had been left alone is a fascinating (to me, anyway) bit of cognitive dissonance.

The special pleading is amazing:

1. Groups of self-interested individuals, given financial incentives, will solve collective action problems even without a government—but the CSA’s slaveholders, once deprived of Federal aid, would have been helpless to prevent slave escapes on a massive scale despite the huge amounts of money at stake and the proven methods available.

2. Beneficiaries of subsidies are not to be believed when they claim those subsidies are necessary and that withdrawing them would be disastrous—but the secessionists were right in saying that an end of Federal support for escapee-hunting would have put the whole institution in peril (even though the CSA government would still protect slavery).

3. Political institutions matter, and states of the USA were, as of the mid-19th century, quite different from Latin American republics, with better protections of property rights and consequently different political and economic prospects—but the slave states, even had they established independence under an explicitly pro-slavery government, were going to have slavery decay at a similar speed to its decline in Latin America.

4. Policies with huge deadweight losses can survive for centuries if they benefit enough politically influential people—but slavery’s inefficiencies mean it would have collapsed by the 1880s or 1890s even though it enriched a large, powerful slaveholding class.

5. Markets generally value assets correctly, or at least plausibly—but markets through the 1850s and into the 1860s were wildly overvaluing slaves. Prices included many years of financial rewards to slaveholders and a quick end to slavery was inevitable.

6. Libertarians should oppose the creation and spread of staunchly antilibertarian and expansionist governments—but allowing CSA independence would have been, in Jeffrey Hummel's phrasing, a “viable antislavery option” because slavery was “politically doomed.” (I have several times asked proponents of this thesis what present antilibertarian policies are “politically doomed” and therefore don’t need to be opposed. I’ve yet to hear a nominee.)

TGGP said...

I concur with scw. People defending their country when it's being invaded is the most normal thing in the world. How many examples can one give of that not happening? When there is overwhelming force on the opposite side a military may crumble, but it wasn't nearly so lopsided in the american war.

CBrinton, I'm a pluralist and am not quite so bothered by the creation of governments I disagree with, as long as there are lots of other options for people. I haven't given too much detailed thought to what would have happened in a hypothetical confederacy, but I try to take an "outside view" by considering places like Brazil which had slavery longer than the U.S and didn't fight a war. In fact, the U.S is atypical in that it did fight a war. On the other hand, it was probably atypical in the number of slaves it had, but I believe Brazil was comparable.

mtraven said...

The question is why people who do not gain from the existing order should lend their support to it, to the extent of risking their lives on the battlefield.

You wouldn't expect blacks living in the Confederacy to fight for it, would you? (There is apparently a a longstanding disinformation campaign regarding the existence of black confederate soldiers). Poor whites did, but their actual stake in the "stable order" was minimal. They are victims of what Marxists call "false consciousness". I wouldn't put it that way myself, but it is an eternal mystery as to what motivates people to identify with a nation or regime. In the case of the civil war, of course, people in the south had competing claims on loyalty so it's not immediately obvious why they would pick the secessionists. If Peter Thiel and his libertarian/singulatarian army, say, should seize control of the California statehouse and proclaim secession, would I owe loyalty to him and his government or to the greater US?

In any case I'm more the type to celebrate NOT aligning yourself with a military power.

CBrinton said...

Although not (I believe) a libertarian, TGGP perfectly illustrates my point #4:

"I try to take an "outside view" by considering places like Brazil which had slavery longer than the U.S and didn't fight a war. In fact, the U.S is atypical in that it did fight a war. On the other hand, it was probably atypical in the number of slaves it had, but I believe Brazil was comparable."

Why Brazil and not Cuba (where there was a Ten Years' War, which played an integral role in ending slavery, and which had a per-capita death rate about 50% greater than the US civil war did)?

The number of slaves in the CSA-joining slave states was, by 1860, something like 80% higher than the number of slaves in Brazil (Brazilian demographic data is spotty at best, though). In addition, Brazil's slave population was declining from its peak reached around 1850, whereas that the US slave states was not.

The argument that nonslaveowning whites in the CSA couldn't have fought to protect and expand slavery because they had no direct financial stake is also unconvincing: the same argument shows that hardly anyone in the USA would have fought for the Federal government--not a very high percentage of US citizens in the northern states earned a profit from the Feds.

So this argument proves the civil war couldn't have occurred at all. Yet it apparently did.

TGGP said...

Interesting points, CBrinton. I had never heard of the Ten Years War or the declining population in Brazil. I am not surprised that the total population was smaller in Brazil because the country had a smaller total population, but I don't know what the total population was either.

scw said...

Re - the "false consciousness" of white non-slaveholders in the South, it might be worth considering the motivation for much anti-slavery sentiment in the North It had less to do with the noble myth of abolitionism than with the white workingman's fear of competition from black labor (slave or free), which might undercut his living standard. Several northern states, in their antebellum constitutions, had provisions forbidding the settlement of free blacks within their borders. Others may not have had such provisions, but their white populations had a strong antipathy to free blacks.

The will of John Randolph of Roanoke, which provided for the emancipation of his slaves, also provided money for the purchase of land in Ohio on which they might settle. This provision was made because Virginia, where
Randolph lived, required manumitted slaves to leave the state. Randolph died in 1833, and his slaves in due course left for the lands that had been given to them.

When Randolph's slaves settled in Ohio, they were met by
armed inhabitants of that free state, who drove them from their lands and burnt down their houses. So much for the Northern regard for Negro freedom!

I suspect that non-slaveholding Southern whites may well have felt that the subordination of blacks gave them at
least an indirect economic advantage, as indeed Jim Crow laws did after the Redemption. Also, the fear of the lawless and bloodthirsty character of free blacks was encouraged by the example of the slave uprising in Haiti at the
beginning of the nineteenth century. This would have been
another reason non-slaveholders would have supported the institution, and resisted a Union invasion that freed large numbers of blacks to roam aimlessly across the country, committing depredations to support themselves. Faulkner depicts such a mob in his novel "The Unvanquished." This certainly qualifies, in my view, as a disruption of a stable social order, associated with the Union invasion of the South.

CBrinton said...

The Ten Years' War in Cuba is consistently tossed in the memory hole by those who claim that only in the USA and Haiti was emancipation brought about by large-scale violence. (This is a zombie claim that has been in circulation at least since the early 1970s, and which has been uncritically repeated by a lot of people who should know better). Quite a few try to airbrush Haiti away as well. There seems to be a powerful will to believe at work.

Oddly, I have not been able to find a scholarly source setting forth a comparative demography of the Western Hemisphere slave societies. My own research, using interpolations from published estimates, comes out as follows:

1860 Population (total/slave/%slave)
CSA states: 11.8 million / 3.5 million / 30%
Brazil : 8.1 million / 1.9 million / 24%
Cuba : 1.3 million / 370,000 / 27%
P. Rico: 580,000 / 42,000 / 7%


Free blacks (population/% of total)
CSA states: 130,000 / 1.1%
Brazil : 2.5 million / 30%
Cuba : 220,000 / 17%
P. Rico: 240,000 / 41%

It seems quite clear that the CSA-joining states were demographically quite different from the other remaining slave societies of the Western Hemisphere, particularly in having a very low percentage of free blacks. The assumption that an independent CSA would have evolved politically the same way other remaining slave societies did is therefore extremely dubious.

mtraven said...

@scw: Everyone knows that there was massive anti-black feeling in the North as well as the south.

This is off the topic and probably ahistorical, but I always feel a twinge of contempt for those slaveowners who were so generous as to free their slaves posthumously. They are, in effect, saying that they recognize that slavery is evil but will put off doing anything about their personal involvement until it can't cause them any possible inconvenience.

CBrinton said...

The Ten Years' War in Cuba is consistently tossed in the memory hole by those who claim that only in the USA and Haiti was emancipation brought about by large-scale violence. (This is a zombie claim that has been in circulation at least since the early 1970s, and which has been uncritically repeated by a lot of people who should know better). Quite a few try to airbrush Haiti away as well. There seems to be a powerful will to believe at work.

On Brazil, I apologize if I was unclear: by 1860 the country had a declining population of slaves, not an overall population decline. The maximum slave population was something like 2 to 2.5 million, reached around 1850.

Oddly, I have not been able to find a scholarly source setting forth a comparative demography of the Western Hemisphere slave societies. My own research, using interpolations from published estimates, comes out as follows:

1860 Population (total / slave / %slave)
CSA states: 11.8 million / 3.5 million / 30%
Brazil : 8.1 million / 1.9 million / 24%
Cuba : 1.3 million / 370,000 / 27%
P. Rico: 580,000 / 42,000 / 7%


Free blacks (population / % of total)
CSA states: 130,000 / 1.1%
Brazil : 2.5 million / 30%
Cuba : 220,000 / 17%
P. Rico: 240,000 / 41%

It seems quite clear that the CSA-joining states were demographically quite different from the other remaining slave societies of the Western Hemisphere, particularly in having a very low percentage of free blacks. The assumption that an independent CSA would have evolved politically the same way other remaining slave societies did is therefore extremely dubious.

scw said...

Let it be pointed out, relative to John Randolph's manumission of his slaves, that Randolph labored all his life to pay off debts with which his properties had been encumbered by his ancestors, and that he could not lawfully dispose of any of those properties - including his slaves - because to do so would have been to dispose of assets that had been pledged as collateral. He did not relieve these encumbrances until a short time before his death, and having done so enabled him to manumit his slaves. This his cousin Thomas Jefferson was able to do, since Jefferson had run up considerable debt on his own. It is an interesting contrast of persons and principles.

Randolph never bought or sold a slave. The abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier had a better opinion of him than does mtraven.

Jim Norris said...

The idea that poor Southern whites did not have any interest in the preservation of slavery merely because they did not themselves own slaves is patently ridiculous. The Confederacy saw slavery as its economic and cultural foundation, and slaves made up a huge portion, if not the majority, of the South's capital base. scw is arguing that I would have no particular opinion on, say, the Internet being shut down just because I don't own a router myself.

The Confederate government justified its insurrection as necessary to preserve slavery, which it saw as the cornerstone of its society. If this government legitimately represented the interests of its subjects, then it and its subjects were fighting primarily for the preservation of an evil institution. If the Confederate government didn't legitimately represent the interests of its subjects, it had no particular right to secede.

Robert E. Lee is often claimed to have been ambivalent about slavery, but during his invasion of the North his army captured and enslaved thousands of free blacks and escaped slaves and dragged them back to the South.

Don't forget that the war began with a Confederate attack. The fact that the Union's motives weren't totally pure does nothing to legitimatize the Confederacy's. The Union was responding to an attack from a rebellious insurgency, not attacking people's homes and families.

If you're still trying to argue for the representative legitimacy of the CSA or the Confederate state governments, note that both Mississippi and South Carolina at the time had more slaves than free people.

Jim Norris said...

The idea that poor Southern whites did not have any interest in the preservation of slavery merely because they did not themselves own slaves is patently ridiculous. The Confederacy saw slavery as its economic and cultural foundation, and slaves made up a huge portion, if not the majority, of the South's capital base. scw is arguing that I would have no particular opinion on, say, the Internet being shut down just because I don't own a router myself.

The Confederate government justified its insurrection as necessary to preserve slavery, which it saw as the cornerstone of its society. If this government legitimately represented the interests of its subjects, then it and its subjects were fighting primarily for the preservation of an evil institution. If the Confederate government didn't legitimately represent the interests of its subjects, it had no particular right to secede.

Robert E. Lee is often claimed to have been ambivalent about slavery, but during his invasion of the North his army captured and enslaved thousands of free blacks and escaped slaves and dragged them back to the South.

Don't forget that the war began with a Confederate attack. The fact that the Union's motives weren't totally pure does nothing to legitimatize the Confederacy's. The Union was responding to an attack from a rebellious insurgency, not attacking people's homes and families.

If you're still trying to argue for the representative legitimacy of the CSA or the Confederate state governments, note that both Mississippi and South Carolina at the time had more slaves than free people.