The Case Against The Confederacy
July 21, 2013 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Why “Libertarian” Defenses of the Confederacy and “States’ Rights” are Incoherent
There is a strain of libertarian contrarianism that holds that the Confederate States of America were within their “rights” to secede from the Union. Such contrarianism on this particular topic is detrimental to the larger cause of liberty because the logic of this argument relies upon relinquishing individual rights to the whim of the state. Indeed, as there is no legal or moral justification for supporting the Confederacy in the Civil War, it is impossible that there could be a libertarian one.

A Response To Commenters
I made no claims about whether a libertarian should support the Union cause, actions, or anything at all about Lincoln. The most basic formulation of my argument was this, as put forth this morning by my colleague Jason Kuznicki on Twitter, “Secession must be justified morally, not legally. If a given secession is for slavery, it’s not justified.” He added, quite astutely, that “Secession is the decision to step out of an existing political order, so it’s a category error to try to justify it legally.”
Recently, an aide to Sentor Rand Paul, Jack Hunter, was revealed by the Washington Free Beacon to have been "a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist."
The Atlantic: Rand Paul's Aide: A Dunce on the Confederacy - "The most myopic libertarians and the damage they do to the movement"
Reason: Rand Paul Co-Author Jack Hunter Used to Write Weird Crap Like 'John Wilkes Booth Was Right'
The Washington Post: The Libertarian War Over The Civil War
It’s difficult to police any political movement — but especially one that prides itself on championing freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas.
“We don’t have a pope. It’s very hard to excommunicate anyone and make it stick,” said Jason Kuznicki, a research fellow at the Cato Institute who has argued with some of the neo-Confederates online. (He calls it a “bizarre experience.”)
Bleeding-Heart Kansas
Respecting established property ownership is important. It is less important than the principle that human beings are self-owners and not owned by others– absolutely, lexically, hierarchically less important. But it’s a genuine value. The southern antebellum slaveholding class used a language of respect for property rights (among many other languages) to defend their false right to own slaves; they posed as defenders of liberty against an overreaching state that might expropriate their goods without compensation.
The Volokh Conspiracy: Libertarianism and the Civil War, Slavery and Secession – The Documentary Evidence, Libertarianism, the Confederacy, and the Civil War Revisited
Revelations that Rand Paul aide Jack Hunter has a history of racist and pro-Confederate statements during his days as a radio shock jock have rekindled the longstanding debate over libertarian attitudes towards the Civil War. Hunter has repudiated many of his former statements and attitudes. But that hasn’t stopped the controversy from continuing.

This uproar raises two important issues: First, is there any possible justification for libertarian sympathy for the Confederacy? Second, how should the libertarian movement react to people with views like Hunter’s?
Jason Kuznicki: Rand Paul, the Confederacy, and Liberty
Whatever others may say on the subject, I can’t understand how anyone might admire the Confederacy and also call themselves a libertarian. Any affinity for the Confederacy marks one very clearly as an enemy of liberty.

The Confederate Constitution says all that needs to be said on the subject, and it answers all possible arguments to the contrary
How Libertarians Ought to Think about the U.S. Civil War [PDF]
These premises, however, are wrong, as are the prevailing libertarian conclusions. In fact, states have no constitutional authority to secede unilaterally from the union. Nor were southern states engaged in a legitimate act of revolution, because they initiated force rather than act in defense of individual rights.
John Stuart Mill on Slavery, the Confederacy, and the American Civil War
More on Slavery , the Civil War, and Libertarians
For all these reasons, there is little question that the Civil War was “about slavery” and more relevantly was decidedly not about states rights. This was even more true of the South than it was of the North, which held mixed views on the slavery question. But given that the Republican party supplanted the Whigs on the slavery question, there is little doubt that with Lincoln’s electiion Northern policies were about to turn antislavery, while not directly threatening the existing slave regimes in the South. That this was not good enough for the South shows just how ambitious was their slavery agenda for the country, how rabidly pro-slavery their political establishment had been, and how little their motives stemmed from states rights.
Reason: What Should Libertarians Think About the Civil War?
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a less libertarian form of government than that of the Confederate South, which was explicitly organized around the collectivist notion that man may hold property in man, that one group of people is lawfully entitled to seize the fruits of another group’s labor.
The Confederate Leviathan
As our discussion continued, my dinner companion asked, "Did you know that the Confedaracy introduced conscription well before the Union did?" I admitted that I did not know that. We kept talking about various violations of liberty--other than the horrific atrocity of slavery-- pioneered by the Confederacy. For a quick summary, my companion directed my attention to the blog Civil War Memory run by local historian Kevin Levin.
Up from Slavery - There's no such thing as a golden age of lost liberty
The Cato Institute's boilerplate description of itself used to include the line, "Since [the American] revolution, civil and economic liberties have been eroded." Until Clarence Thomas, then chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, gave a speech at Cato and pointed out to us that it didn't seem quite that way to black people.
posted by the man of twists and turns (349 comments total) 142 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great FPP. I completely agree that justifying the Confederacy's secession on legal grounds is an incoherent argument, and that there was no morally defensible reason for seceding from the union.

That said, there is some force to the argument that the civil war (however justifiable it was on moral grounds) set a terrible legal precedent. If the Federal government is legally (and some would argue morally) obligated to use "total war" tactics against its population if they decide that the government and its interpretation of the constitution no longer legitimately represents their core values and change from within is impossible, then it seems like the ultimate check on the power of the federal government (enshrined by the constitution's oft-cited "we the people" clause) is so much surplusage, no?
posted by anewnadir at 7:56 AM on July 21, 2013


You left out Gone With the Wind. Every Confederate I ever met fantasizes that they are either Rhett or that they are Scarlet. They are too dumb to know that Rhett didn't fight in the war but made money smuggling through the Yankee blockade.
posted by bukvich at 7:57 AM on July 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Why Some Libertarians Sympathize with the Confederacy
Even those libertarians who do adopt a Rothbardian/Chomskyite view of foreign policy 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 rather than a considered view of the Confederacy’s record.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:01 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Keeping It Real on ‘neo-Confederate Libertarians’
Part of the confusion, of course, if we can call it that, is that libertarians and ‘neo-Confederates’ do meet up on opposition to certain exertions of state power. Libertarians on principle; neo-Confederates because that’s been the main vehicle for vindicating the rights of non-whites. More deeply though there’s something about how the rhetoric of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ appeals to the ‘neo-Confederate’ mindset which is paradoxical and considerably more toxic and corrosive than the ways many of us think about those terms. Freedom can also mean freedom from any check on my actions. My freedom. My group’s freedom. A warlord who totally dominates his followers has a sort of perfect liberty and freedom. Just not quite the sort we think of in a civic context. It’s the same authoritarian mindset of Stormfront and the militia crazies, just through this looking glass where it twists into ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’.

It’s not for me to referee the intramural disputes within the libertarian movement. I’m sure they have no desire for me to try. But the neo-Confederates, the Lew Rockwells and that whole crew are fundamentally about white supremacy and nativism. And the Paul clan has been thick as thieves with those folks forever.

Who knows what’s in their hearts and frankly who cares? But none of this latest stuff should surprise us. And I don’t know why real libertarians waste any time making any sort of common cause with these folks. ‘Neo-Confederacy’ isn’t some outgrowth of or logical deduction from libertarianism. You’re a neo-Confederate because you believe in white supremacy. People who just can’t figure why good upstanding libertarians keep ending up finding themselves connected up with people who really don’t seem to like black people or Hispanics and believe in weird conspiracy theories about black helicopters stealing your lawn furniture really need to reread that Onion article.
Keeping It Realer on ‘neo-Confederate Libertarians’
[A]s a matter of fact, the histories of neo-Confederate racism and this other, seemingly more “legitimate” branch of libertarianism have been deeply intertwined for more than half a century. Ron Paul was the Libertarian nominee for President in 1988, after all (and his candidacy was controversial within the party mainly for his anti-choice position on abortion, not his racist ties). You cannot simply say: the Pauls and Lew Rockwell = evil; Cato and the Libertarian Party = wrong but legitimate. There are clearly individual libertarians who deeply dislike the neo-Confederates and want nothing to do with them. But, institutionally and organizationally, there are very few clean hands here.

And the reason for the connection is not simply, as Rachel Weiner notes, that there are “some ideological similarities between the groups.” It’s that the intervention of the government, especially the federal government, has been the most effective method of protecting minority rights. As a result, racists have been among the most prominent opponents of “big government” since at least the end of the Civil War. In this way, libertarianism in this country is a bit like the rhetoric of “states’ rights.” There may be no necessary philosophical connection between states’ rights talk and white supremacy, but there happens to be, as you know, a deep historical one. The same is true of the connection between libertarianism and white supremacy. To pretend that this is about two quite separate groups of people who have somehow found themselves stuck with the same name is to ignore this history.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:02 AM on July 21, 2013 [20 favorites]


Rhett didn't fight in the war but made money smuggling through the Yankee blockade

Thus proving that he was a true Ayn Randian ubermensch.
posted by localroger at 8:03 AM on July 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


If the Federal government is legally (and some would argue morally) obligated to use "total war" tactics against its population if they decide that the government and its interpretation of the constitution no longer legitimately represents their core values and change from within is impossible, then it seems like the ultimate check on the power of the federal government (enshrined by the constitution's oft-cited "we the people" clause) is so much surplusage, no?

Yeah, if they didn't want to be slaves, all those millions of slaves would have voted against secession. Those federal tyrants!
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:05 AM on July 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Unromantic Slaughter of the Civil War (emphasis in original)
It should always be remembered that America did not "go to war" in 1860. America was attacked in 1860 by a formidable rebel faction seeking to protect the expansion of slavery. That faction did not simply want slavery to continue in America; they dreamed of a tropical empire of slavery encompassing Cuba, Nicaragua, and perhaps the whole of South America. This faction was not only explicitly pro-slavery but explicitly anti-democratic. The newly declared Confederacy attacked America not because it was being persecuted, but because it was unable to win a democratic election.

Understanding that, it is not enough to simply say the war was not "worth it" or to indict the failure of 19th-century Americans. A responsible thinker must offer a plausible alternative to the one Lincoln ultimately chose. Should Lincoln have allowed the South to depart? Should he have compromised with the South and vowed to support slavery's continuance and expansion? If the Civil War represents the failure of 19th-century Americans, what represents success? How -- specifically -- should that have been achieved?

It's very important to follow the logic of alternatives all the way through. If the Civil War was not "worth it," then the logical conclusion is that my ancestors should have remained enslaved and should have continued to be subject to having their wives, husbands, fathers, and children sold away until some undetermined point that was more convenient for white people.

The fact is that the Civil War didn't represent a failure of 19th-century Americans, but that the American slave society -- which was itself war -- represented a failure of humanity. That failure was the price America paid for its conception. The bill came due in 1860.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:08 AM on July 21, 2013 [118 favorites]


One strain of libertarianism -- the Robert Nozick strain -- does allow for one to sell oneself into slavery, because property rights are considered to trump other individual rights.
posted by goethean at 8:12 AM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


The filibuster is a long and cherished Southern tradition, it would seem.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:13 AM on July 21, 2013


There are more people in illegal modern slavery right now than in legal slavery America in 1860. Not sure if the Libertarian party has made any statement about it, would be curious to see.
posted by stbalbach at 8:18 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


There are more people in illegal modern slavery right now than in legal slavery America in 1860. Not sure if the Libertarian party has made any statement about it, would be curious to see.

Yes, slavery and human trafficking remains a monumental problem today, even in the United States. But I don't quite follow what you're implying; that the Libertarian Party needs to express its awareness of an issue with too little public attention, or that they need to explicitly denounce things like slavery, murder, and Bad Things in general?
posted by Room 101 at 8:25 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


My view: the South had the right to leave the union. The North, saying otherwise, went to war and and won. Lincoln made it clear that there the union could not and would not allow for secession.
posted by Postroad at 8:26 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spurred by this I just went and filled in a missing puzzle piece from my liberal education.

In high school we were taught the extremely simplistic "Civil War was about slavery" story. Then in college history a much richer narrative was developed that included economics and trade agreements and cultural differences, yada, yada, yada.

So I just went looking for source documents, and in fact high school had it right.

There was no equivocating or hiding of agendas. Secession was all about slavery.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:26 AM on July 21, 2013 [52 favorites]


More deeply though there’s something about how the rhetoric of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ appeals to the ‘neo-Confederate’ mindset which is paradoxical and considerably more toxic and corrosive than the ways many of us think about those terms. Freedom can also mean freedom from any check on my actions. My freedom. My group’s freedom. A warlord who totally dominates his followers has a sort of perfect liberty and freedom. Just not quite the sort we think of in a civic context. It’s the same authoritarian mindset of Stormfront and the militia crazies, just through this looking glass where it twists into ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’.

This is a fundamental problem with Libertarianism. The "hyper-individualism" mentioned in that article, whether focused on the fantasy of the "self-made man" or the pathology of "fuck you, I've got mine," is at the heart of the incoherence of a movement that constantly trumpets liberty but continually aligns itself with the capitalist forces that deny any effective liberty to a majority of people. Since they, practically, espouse a cause that can only work on a tilted and twisted playing field of true class war, it's hardly surprising that, if you scratch nearly any libertarian, you find an aspiration all slave-holder.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:28 AM on July 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


My view: the South had the right to leave the union. The North, saying otherwise, went to war and and won. Lincoln made it clear that there the union could not and would not allow for secession.

Please tell us more about your timeline. I love alternate universes.
posted by feckless at 8:30 AM on July 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


The North, saying otherwise, went to war
Please remind me who fired first.
posted by Flunkie at 8:35 AM on July 21, 2013 [19 favorites]


Between this and yesterday's Wenzhou post, I have noticed a tendency to use a fuckload of scare quotes when discussing anything related to libertarians
posted by Hoopo at 8:38 AM on July 21, 2013


[We have very recently had a series of threads debating the cause of the Civil War. Let's not rehash the very same discussion here. There are a lot of articles to read here and plenty to discuss from this actual post. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:38 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


They are too dumb to know that Rhett didn't fight in the war but made money smuggling through the Yankee blockade.

Sorry to be That Kid, but this is not strictly accurate; Rhett WAS a blockade runner but in the final days of the war, even when it became clear that the Confederacy was going to lose, he joined up, making him an even more romantic figure. Still not saying he was a great hero or anything, just saying that it might be slightly more complicated than that.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:38 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pleas remind me who fired first.

Han Solo, I believe.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:39 AM on July 21, 2013 [39 favorites]


Someone on Metafilter told me, long ago, what the constitutional basis for disallowing secession was, but I can't remember now. Anyone study that at law school?

I wonder if the leadership of the States at the Constitutional Convention thought they were entering a permanent and binding arrangement, or if they thought, well, if this doesn't work for us, we can secede? I recall that the small states were kind of suspicious of the whole thing, and forced the Bill of Rights through as a condition of ratification. They could have insisted on some kind of explicit secessionist amendment or clause, I suppose, if this had been a live issue for them.
posted by thelonius at 8:41 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the leadership of the States at the Constitutional Convention thought they were entering a permanent and binding arrangement, or if they thought, well, if this doesn't work for us, we can secede?

History's largest missed opportunity for a pre-nup.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:45 AM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I remember Gore Vidal speaking at some event and remarking that the North should have just let the South secede and embargo the crap out of them since all they had was cotton.

And as Captain Yossarian observed, you can't eat cotton.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:50 AM on July 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


One strain of libertarianism -- the Robert Nozick strain -- does allow for one to sell oneself into slavery, because property rights are considered to trump other individual rights.

He might disagree these days. Either way, libertarianism has very little to do with liberty and everything to do with limiting collective decisions. It is, in other words, an anti-democracy, often confusing it with communism and showing its foreign origins there. Nozick later in his career realized the special pleading among the terms and abandoned libertarianism. I always wonder if such people have a lot more to say in reversal of themselves, but don't have the stomach for it, because it's fairly obvious in our recent history that individual freedom originates in collective decisions, and quickly disappears when it is delineated as a personal right and responsibility, and not a public one.
posted by Brian B. at 8:50 AM on July 21, 2013 [33 favorites]


Making Rand Paul safe for suburbia... Chapter 1. Y'all are figuring out the magic words he can say on TV, when he runs for prez, to avoid being defined as the racist nutjob he is.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:51 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think that it's very revealing that neo-Confederates orient towards libertarianism, and far from coincidental. The type of freedom that libertarians advocate - and this came across very clearly when Ron Paul said he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - in the United States given the current power relationships would actually mean the freedom to discriminate against and oppress non-white people.

It's very clear when you see "State's Rights" being brought up in a climate where the country is getting less and less white, that the kind of freedom libertarians want is the kind that winds up preserving white power, both economically and in handing control from the federal government to state governments.

Libertarian freedom means the freedom of Woolworth's to segregate its lunch counters.
posted by graymouser at 8:53 AM on July 21, 2013 [28 favorites]


Someone on Metafilter told me, long ago, what the constitutional basis for disallowing secession was, but I can't remember now. Anyone study that at law school?

Yes, and you can too. Short version: The founding documents declaring the union to be "perpetual" are a pretty clear statement that the union was created to be indissoluble.

I wonder if the leadership of the States at the Constitutional Convention thought they were entering a permanent and binding arrangement, or if they thought, well, if this doesn't work for us, we can secede?

Given that they wrote up and signed a document called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, if they thought they reserved a secession claim, they weren't paying attention.
posted by kafziel at 8:55 AM on July 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


I wonder if the leadership of the States at the Constitutional Convention thought they were entering a permanent and binding arrangement
They were already in a permanent and binding arrangement, and were (or at least should have been) well aware of this. The Articles of Confederation explicitly declared the Union to be perpetual.

Some then reply, well, the Articles of Confederation were then replaced by the Constitution, which does not say anything about perpetuity. However, the counterresponse is twofold:

(1) The Articles of Confederation were replaced, yes, but they themselves made a distinction between themselves and the Union. In fact they said that they themselves could be replaced, but that the Union is perpetual.

(2) The Constitution explicitly said that its purpose was to make the Union more perfect. If that extra perfection included removing the Union's perpetuity, that should have (would have) been made explicit - but it was not.
posted by Flunkie at 8:57 AM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Even if we concede that the South had the right to secede from the North, we can't forget that the South committed an act of war against the North by firing on Fort Sumter. The South could have decided to secede peacefully without provoking a war against the North, but they deliberately chose not to do so.
posted by jonp72 at 9:11 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Again, the thread is not about the causes or timeline of the war.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:16 AM on July 21, 2013


Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a less libertarian form of government than that of the Confederate South, which was explicitly organized around the collectivist notion that man may hold property in man, that one group of people is lawfully entitled to seize the fruits of another group’s labor.

This comment presupposes that African slaves in the South were part of the collective "man", which they were not. Often in a legally spelled out sense.

It is only looking backward through a lens in which all humans have been definitively declared to be equal partners in mankind that the statement makes sense.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:19 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


This comment presupposes that African slaves in the South were part of the collective "man", which they were not. Often in a legally spelled out sense.

We're talking about modern sympathizers and apologists for the Confederacy here - self-proclaimed Libertarians who express admiration for a government that, in depriving people we now recognize as fully human of liberty via abduction, torture and the threat of death, was diametrically opposed to the commonly-espoused values of these same Libertarians.

Cultural relativism about the past has no place in this discussion.
posted by murphy slaw at 9:27 AM on July 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


To me, it's very telling that these same "libertarians", such as father and son Paul, oppose abortion rights as well. They seem to have a very narrow definition of whose bodily liberty is paramount and it seems to mostly be wealthy white men like themselves.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:33 AM on July 21, 2013 [28 favorites]


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 rather than a considered view of the Confederacy’s record.

A simpler and probably more correct idea is that an even more significant amount of notionally-libertarian sympathy for the Confederacy is because many white racists adopted the mantle of "libertarianism" after Goldwater's 1964 run gave them the fig leaf, and that the integration of white racists into broader libertarian communities has changed them for the worse.

Or, if you want: the linked article that's a quote from wants to say that libertarian sympathy for the Confederacy is because of distaste for the US government and its imperialist record. But that downplays the number of libertarians whose sympathy for the Confederacy is because of distaste for the US government and its enactment of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act and other effective steps against Jim Crow.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:35 AM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


It counts as a mistake to conflate support of the right of secession with support of the Confederacy itself, much less supporting the institution of slavery.

TFA makes the only point you need to know right at the beginning: "But to support the Declaration of Independence is to support secession. Thus, from the outset, it is nearly impossible to defend the American idea—that the people may separate themselves from an oppressive government in order to govern themselves—without accepting secession as a legitimate political action under certain circumstances, at least. This, however, does not necessarily mean that all secession is justified.". The rest amounts to neatly lining up and then viciously attacking an assortment of straw-men.

Having something of a Libertarian leaning, I firmly believe that everyone, everywhere, has an inherent right not only to freely associate, but to dissociate as well. I say that while fully condemning the institution of slavery.

Now, as for the states' rights argument - Again, you'll find that a person can believe in many of the superficial arguments made by the Confederacy for taking their ball and going home, entirely without buying in to their "real" reason for wanting to part ways. Some of us just have a problem with the use of (for just one egregious example) the commerce clause against someone making a product for personal use that never crosses state lines or gets sold to anyone.
posted by pla at 9:51 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


That said, there is some force to the argument that the civil war (however justifiable it was on moral grounds) set a terrible legal precedent. If the Federal government is legally (and some would argue morally) obligated to use "total war" tactics against its population if they decide that the government and its interpretation of the constitution no longer legitimately represents their core values and change from within is impossible, then it seems like the ultimate check on the power of the federal government (enshrined by the constitution's oft-cited "we the people" clause) is so much surplusage, no?

There is no "We the People" clause.

The Preamble has long been held (see Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905) to contain no actual findings of government powers. In fact, if it were enforceable, it would be a giant grant of power to the government, not a source of any rights whatsoever.
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
In the end. Lincoln had it right--you cannot create a political community where persons have the right to just up and quit when they don't like the rules under which they are being ruled.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:52 AM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Any person, then or now, who could argue that owning another human was acceptable under any understanding of the American Experiment is certifiably crazy. Plenty of people knew it was wrong.

Any other explanation is revisionist.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:53 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Having something of a Libertarian leaning, I firmly believe that everyone, everywhere, has an inherent right not only to freely associate, but to dissociate as well. I say that while fully condemning the institution of slavery.

Ok, I'm Ted Bundy and I'd like to dissassociate from the US, man. Those repressors aren't letting me murder as much as I'd like and are threatening me with jail, just for kidnapping and killing people! So I'm dissassociating right now and this court trying me for murder has no jurisdiction over me!
posted by Ironmouth at 9:55 AM on July 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


It should always be remembered that America did not "go to war" in 1860. America was attacked in 1860 by a formidable rebel faction seeking to protect the expansion of slavery. That faction did not simply want slavery to continue in America; they dreamed of a tropical empire of slavery encompassing Cuba, Nicaragua, and perhaps the whole of South America. This faction was not only explicitly pro-slavery but explicitly anti-democratic. The newly declared Confederacy attacked America not because it was being persecuted, but because it was unable to win a democratic election.


First I'd heard that anyone was actively trying to expand slavery from the US southwards, though I shouldn't be the least bit surprised.

Anyone got a source? I'd like to learn more.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:56 AM on July 21, 2013


> There are more people in illegal modern slavery right now than in legal slavery America in 1860. Not sure if the Libertarian party has made any statement about it, would be curious to see.

Yes, slavery and human trafficking remains a monumental problem today, even in the United States. But I don't quite follow what you're implying; that the Libertarian Party needs to express its awareness of an issue with too little public attention, or that they need to explicitly denounce things like slavery, murder, and Bad Things in general?

Slavery is quite possibly the biggest human rights issue there is, abolitionism is often considered the birth of the modern humans right movement. Every political party addresses it (or not) in their own way which says something about that parties position on human rights. Since this thread is about Libertarians and slavery, it seems relevant to look at it. I asked the question in good faith, not to imply something. Were you implying something?
posted by stbalbach at 9:58 AM on July 21, 2013


First I'd heard that anyone was actively trying to expand slavery from the US southwards, though I shouldn't be the least bit surprised.

Anyone got a source? I'd like to learn more.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filibuster_(military)

Almost any history book regarding that era will contain pages on this phenomenon. They tried to take over Cuba, Northern Mexico and Nicaragua.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:59 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the end. Lincoln had it right--you cannot create a political community where persons have the right to just up and quit when they don't like the rules under which they are being ruled.


People do have the right to vote with their feet, though. That is an actual human right.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:00 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It counts as a mistake to conflate support of the right of secession with support of the Confederacy itself, much less supporting the institution of slavery.

However, it counts as a truth to conflate support for the secession of the CSA with support of the Confederacy itself. The only proper response to the secession of the CSA is that while secession or revolution in reaction to actual oppression or a long train of abuses can be legitimate, the secession of the CSA spectacularly fails to meet those criteria.

Some of us just have a problem with the use of (for just one egregious example) the commerce clause against someone making a product for personal use that never crosses state lines or gets sold to anyone.

I'll cheerfully admit that the number of such people is greater than zero. But the number of people who just have a problem with the federal government interfering with the oppression of black people is also greater than zero. And I expect there are rather more of the second claiming to be part of modern libertarianism in the US than there are the first.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 AM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


In the end. Lincoln had it right--you cannot create a political community where persons have the right to just up and quit when they don't like the rules under which they are being ruled.


People do have the right to vote with their feet, though. That is an actual human right.


Not if you are committing a crime. You of course may emigrate if you are not wanted for crime. Leaving a country is one thing. Trying to set one up in the territory of another simply because you lost a democratic election is another.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:03 AM on July 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


Agreed.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:05 AM on July 21, 2013


Ironmouth : Ok, I'm Ted Bundy and I'd like to dissassociate from the US, man.

Spare me the bathetic counterexamples. When visiting another country, the laws of that country still apply to you.


ROU_Xenophobe : And I expect there are rather more of the second claiming to be part of modern libertarianism in the US than there are the first.

It rarely does much good to start a discussion by writing off the majority of those who disagree with you racists.
posted by pla at 10:08 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now, as for the states' rights argument - Again, you'll find that a person can believe in many of the superficial arguments made by the Confederacy for taking their ball and going home, entirely without buying in to their "real" reason for wanting to part ways. Some of us just have a problem with the use of (for just one egregious example) the commerce clause against someone making a product for personal use that never crosses state lines or gets sold to anyone.

Is this an argument in favor of allowing discrimination against customers on the basis of race? Because if you don't mean it as one, then you seriously need to clarify what you do mean here.
posted by graymouser at 10:09 AM on July 21, 2013


We did win, you know!

/Mr. Grainger voice
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:10 AM on July 21, 2013


It rarely does much good to start a discussion by writing off the majority of those who disagree with you racists.

Maybe I've been looking in the wrong places all these years. Perhaps you can point me to all the libertarian literature that says something other than individuals should be free to be as racist as they'd like.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:16 AM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Slavery is quite possibly the biggest human rights issue there is

Word. Just think about the very idea that you can OWN someone. It's like science fiction. But it was central to the Classical civilizations. For example, in Roman law, the testimony of a slave was only admitted if it was secured by torture. I read someone saying that not one single Roman moralist or philosopher ever questioned this, or even discussed and rejected the idea that it was problematic.
posted by thelonius at 10:19 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


(not one out of what texts survived, of course)
posted by thelonius at 10:20 AM on July 21, 2013


For example, in Roman law, the testimony of a slave was only admitted if it was secured by torture.

That's a damn sight better than the US, where slaves could not testify.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:21 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is this an argument in favor of allowing discrimination against customers on the basis of race? Because if you don't mean it as one, then you seriously need to clarify what you do mean here.

I believe the good poster is discussing something more verdant, hence the focus on "product."
posted by Ironmouth at 10:23 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


graymouser : Is this an argument in favor of allowing discrimination against customers on the basis of race?

Umm... What?

Unless you take "polydactyl cats" as some sort of racial slur, I haven't the least clue about what you meant.


Ironmouth : I believe the good poster is discussing something more verdant, hence the focus on "product."

Heh, yeah, that too - But I figured I'd give a somewhat less morally-charged example. :)


Benny Andajetz : Maybe I've been looking in the wrong places all these years. Perhaps you can point me to all the libertarian literature that says something other than individuals should be free to be as racist as they'd like.

So - You want me to show you where Libertarians denounce the 1st amendment to the US constitution? Tall order, there. But pointless anyway - The burden of proof here rests on those making the accusation. You point out to me where the official Libertarian stance holds black people as inherently inferior to whites.


And we wonder why other countries laugh at the US for our freakish obsession with race? Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, rather than a symbol of the racial oppression of Cuban hispanics.
posted by pla at 10:27 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ironmouth : Ok, I'm Ted Bundy and I'd like to dissassociate from the US, man.

Spare me the bathetic counterexamples. When visiting another country, the laws of that country still apply to you.


My Bundy example isn't leaving the country. He's staying here but he has a right to dissociate from the US where he stands. This is the right claimed by the Confederates--merely because they lost a democratic election. Those are the facts here.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:31 AM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Umm... What?

Unless you take "polydactyl cats" as some sort of racial slur, I haven't the least clue about what you meant.


The commerce clause was extensively used in justifying the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I appreciate that your link (which is borked atm) doesn't seem to be making that argument, but given that libertarians seem to have a lot of neo-Confederates in the closet, I would not take it for granted that libertarian arguments against extension of the commerce clause aren't aimed at rolling back the rulings referenced in Civil Rights cases.
posted by graymouser at 10:32 AM on July 21, 2013


It rarely does much good to start a discussion by writing off the majority of those who disagree with you racists.

Not a majority of people who disagree with me. Just a majority of American right-libertarians. And not because even right-libertarianism is intrinsically racist, but just because white racists adopted that ideology as cover.

Unless you take "polydactyl cats" as some sort of racial slur, I haven't the least clue about what you meant.

If you are honest in this, and you are sincerely so amazingly ignorant that you were unaware that there was real and serious opposition to the use of the federal commerce clause to interfere with private racist action, then you are simply too ignorant about these subjects to have any reasonable discussion with; you do not have the necessary factual knowledge to have the reasonable discussion you claim to desire.

If you are dishonest about this, and are feigning ignorance for some misguided rhetorical point, well, then you're dishonest.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:36 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


You want me to show you where Libertarians denounce the 1st amendment to the US constitution?

We're specifically discussing refusing to serve black people in public government transport, or imposing disadvantageous conditions on their use of that transport, or restricting their use of public houses along the roadway.

Please address that. For many libretarians such as Ron and Rand Paul have espoused the view that that should be legal.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:36 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's a damn sight better than the US, where slaves could not testify.

I'll have the I-can't-testify-but-don't-get-tortured, I think.
posted by thelonius at 10:37 AM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


You point out to me where the official Libertarian stance

First you gotta show us that one official Libertarian stance exists, I think. Every time Libertarianism comes up here (and anywhere else I encounter it on the internet), there are uncountable numbers of self-identified Libertarians who make No True Libertarian arguments.
posted by rtha at 10:38 AM on July 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


You point out to me where the official Libertarian stance holds black people as inherently inferior to whites.

Sorry, but that's a dodge. There are countless examples of libertarianism being OK with treating blacks as inferior to whites. Rand Paul's recent explanation of his "intellectual" opposition of the Civil Rights Act speaks volumes, for example.

If it walks like a duck...
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:38 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


That's a lot of good articles saying libertarians have no good reason to be sympathetic to the Confederacy!

I'm sure that now, large numbers of libertarians will all stop being sympathetic to the confederacy, and neo-Confederates will renounce libertarianism because it is hostile to them.

That is totally going to happen.
posted by edheil at 10:41 AM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


TOO SOON
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:42 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank God we got that war crap out of the way and now use goodwill & diplomacy.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:44 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


One strain of libertarianism -- the Robert Nozick strain -- does allow for one to sell oneself into slavery, because property rights are considered to trump other individual rights.

Didn't the anarchocapitalist David Friedman (son of Milton) also talk up slavery, I mean “thraldom” (with precedent in Viking-era Icelandic law), as an alternative to bankruptcy and the cancellation of debts?
posted by acb at 10:46 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


First you gotta show us that one official Libertarian stance exists, I think. Every time Libertarianism comes up here (and anywhere else I encounter it on the internet), there are uncountable numbers of self-identified Libertarians who make No True Libertarian arguments.

The closest you may get is the Libertarian Party's platform. And yeah, the language doesn't specifically say that blacks are inferior to whites in the eyes of the party, and in fact makes many points about the equality of all people and sure, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they mean what they say and intend for the best.

But.

Point after point on that platform is super convenient to achieving the ends of white supremacists. Like, these are extensions of tools that have been used in the real world to suppress other races in the US. With nothing other than "the free market" to control those abuses. Even if it's not the intent to empower white supremacy, that's what it would do. It's like putting a gun in the hands of a murderer and walking away feeling your hands are clean.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:47 AM on July 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


some of my best friends are Libertarians...I like them. they are cranky and seldom smile but wear bow ties, which anarchists do not do.
posted by Postroad at 10:50 AM on July 21, 2013


You point out to me where the official Libertarian stance holds black people as inherently inferior to whites.

That's easy: the nomination of Ron Paul.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:51 AM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Fixed cat link.

Weird, I tested it before posting, not sure what happened.


The commerce clause was extensively used in justifying the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I didn't say the commerce clause lacks any valid uses - Just that we hear about far, far too many applications of it that have absolutely nothing to do with interstate commerce except through such a tortured path-of-logic as to make it applicable to literally everything. I mentioned it as just one example of the Federal government abusing its own powers to effectively obliterate any semblance of a state's right to decide its own laws. And yes, as Ironmouth pointed out, I do consider medical marijuana a good example of that.


rtha : First you gotta show us that one official Libertarian stance exists, I think.

You all realize that the Libertarian party formally exists as a registered national political party, complete with a published platform, right?


Every time Libertarianism comes up here (and anywhere else I encounter it on the internet), there are uncountable numbers of self-identified Libertarians who make No True Libertarian arguments.

We have these discussions because certain types of people would like to eagerly dismiss all Libertarians as nothing more than racists in disguise. Do racist Libertarians exist? Absolutely! I can also find you racist Democrats, racist Greens, racist Socialists...

So yes, some of us bother trying to defend against attempts to paint all Libertarians with the same damned-ugly brush. Unfortunately, this entire FP thread amounts to just that - "Let's all point at those crazy Libertarians and laugh because we don't understand how anyone can separate the abstract concept of self determination from the economic reality of antebellum slavery".


ROU_Xenophobe : That's easy: the nomination of Ron Paul.

No doubt you can unambiguously support that libelous implication?


(On preview, I see that jason_steakums beat me to the LP platform link - Thanks! Good to see someone else acknowledge that we talk about a concrete entity here rather than a hydra-shaped boogeyman!)
posted by pla at 10:59 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mentioned it as just one example of the Federal government abusing its own powers to effectively obliterate any semblance of a state's right to decide its own laws.

See, this is the problem: libertarian arguments are indistinguishable from neo-Confederate arguments except that libertarians insist that they aren't racist. To unreconstructed segregationists in 1969, the Civil Rights Act decisions were also examples of exactly what you are arguing here - the Federal government obliterating a state's rights.

It's synonymous to the point where I'd say that libertarians who aren't racists or neo-Confederates are either naïvely or knowingly following the same basic logic, and the end results would be basically the same.
posted by graymouser at 11:12 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


There was a quote by "streetlawyer" at kuro5hin way back in the day that always stuck with me, paraphrased, that libertarianism is a worldview in which a black man sitting down at a lunch counter is an initiation of force, and the white owner hitting him with a baseball bat is self-defense.
posted by crayz at 11:12 AM on July 21, 2013 [37 favorites]


My view: the South had the right to leave the union. The North, saying otherwise, went to war and and won. Lincoln made it clear that there the union could not and would not allow for secession.

So Postroad, those slaves decided to go to war to remain slaves?
posted by nickggully at 11:13 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


People do have the right to vote with their feet, though. That is an actual human right.

Not for slaves, of course, especially after 1850.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:14 AM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Of course the central theory of the Declaration of Independence is that the rights of representation and legal protection under English Common Law belong to the people, not the parliament or Crown so any analysis of whether the Confederacy were doing the right thing in succeeding over the right of slave owners to buy, sell, and transport other persons as property needs to account for the rights of the slaves.

I think the states' rights arguments fails on another level of discussion, which is looking at what the Fire-Breathers actually wanted from government. They threatened to walk out of the Democratic Convention in 1850 over the issue of popular sovereignty, and made their case at the Nashville Convention. They clearly stated they wanted the right to buy, sell, and transport slaves in any U.S. Territory. In 1860, they walked out over the issue of popular sovereignty again, splitting their coalition and resulting in the election of Lincoln, who probably would have been politically powerless to do anything about slavery in the South otherwise.

The Fire-Breathers were only interested in arguing for the rights of states when it came to the rights of slave owners. When democratic conventions in those states resulted in regulation of slavery, they considered that also an infringement on their rights.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:17 AM on July 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


In any argument, the institution of slavery in the United States was an evil thing.

The confederation in the South had as much right to try to break away from the Union as the colonies did to break away from Great Britain: exactly none. The notion that the North held any legal or moral high ground can't be supported, except by the most myopic argument. The main reason the North had for resisting secession was to preserve the Union. We needed the resources to be found there, and were willing to kill their soldiers and burn a few of their towns to retain them. Slavery, though central, was an economic factor, not an important moral one--except to those individuals who were in bondage. (Abolitionists are separate argument. I don't believe they were the prime movers of the day.) The arguments involving states' rights wasn't trivial, but it wasn't central either, and it's still an issue. I believe the central issue was unstated by either side in any formal terms, and involved our general economic contours.

I remain unconvinced that, except as a signal issue, the rights of slaves were the prime considerations in trying to preserve the Union. Slavery was on its way out: many nations had already abolished it. Technology was making the institution obsolete. Other modes of exploitation were emerging. The flower of colonialism had reached its maximum bloom, and had started to wither about its fringes. Labor, as capital, was showing up in urban settings. Upper level expressions of capitalism required economic inequity, where labor is the cheapest expression of the overhead expense--capitalism still isn't much changed in that respect.

One of the places where labor requirements hadn't felt the push of modernization was in certain of the plantation crops; cotton being only one example of labor intensive crops that wouldn't feel the machine's benefits for a few more dozens of years. Whitney's machine already had made the cleaning and processing of cotton a wondrous process, but nobody had as yet figured out how to get a machine to tend the fields and get the cotton to the mills. With respect to the profit margin, slavery still was the most economic way to do this, so it wasn't unreasonable for the landed gentry in the south to resist the abolitionists' moral arguments in favor of his own hubris-laced imagery of the good life, as expressed by the bottom line. The rosy glow of white domination was a sort of aphrodisiac, I suppose. By the 1800's a sub-culture of white trash whip wielders were in place, and they acted as a sort of fly-wheel, helping to preserve the momentum of the culture, even if any given plantation was not successful. Intellectuals were free to suppose rationale that glorified the noble white man and the faithful darkeys in his charge. Life was good, even for the old folks at home.

In other areas of the country, factories used other methods to guide the miserable unwashed masses into a sort of servitude. The predations of robber barons (and others of our American capitalists) nationwide, are numerous, varied, and heinous. Their tactics included legal shenanigans as well as outright murder and theft. For example, company store mentality different only slightly from the more forthright version of slavery enjoyed in the South. Checkerboarding by railroads claimed large tracts of land, and disregarded local settlers, who, themselves, represented a version of myopic displacement.

In fact, the entire country was founded on murder, theft, and self-righteous rationalization. Libertarians, flawed, may have lofty ideals of individual worth, but they are still required to edit their missives so that the skeletons don't go rattling around in the closet. That's to say that a general statement including northerners and southerners is more appropriate than arguments trying to distinguish one moral (or legal) stance from another.
posted by mule98J at 11:18 AM on July 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


I suppose it's good that the intellectual libertarian-types at Volokh and Reason are spelling out why libertarianism as an abstract ideology is incompatible with support for the Confederacy. But in practice that's never going to change the political group with which they associate themselves:

... right-wing populism in America has always amounted to white identity politics, which is why the only notable libertarian-leaning politicians to generate real excitement among conservative voters have risen to prominence through alliances with racist and nativist movements. Ron Paul's racist newsletters were not incidental to his later success, and it comes as little surprise that a man styling himself a "Southern Avenger" numbers among Rand Paul's top aides. This is what actually-existing right-wing libertarian populism looks like, and that's what it needs to look like if it is to remain popular, or right-wing.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 11:18 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


And yeah, the language doesn't specifically say that blacks are inferior to whites in the eyes of the party, and in fact makes many points about the equality of all people and sure, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they mean what they say and intend for the best.

So it says the exact opposite of your assertion, so it probably means your assertion is true? Fantastic.

Look, I'm the last one to defend stuff like being against health insurance or against regulating Wall Street. But I'm pretty sure the Democratic and Republican platforms are both in favor of the "War on Drugs" and the "War on Terror," two of the most massively racist endeavors in human history.

Yeah, Rand Paul is imperfect and unappealing in many ways. But you can't just throw a blanket of "RACIST!" over him and make the fact he is absolutely correct on civil liberties go away.

Racism is an awful thing, in this country and in the world. But I don't think the real fight against real racism is helped by using "RACIST!" the same way the Right uses "UNPATRIOTIC!" - as a rhetorical nuclear bomb to effectively end any discussion of the fact that their President and his policies might be less than perfect.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:20 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


It does not help that American conservatives, of all factions, have been steeping in racism since at least the late 60s. They cannot get away from it. Even the ones who are all "Oh, but I am a fiscal conservative" are in favor of policies that (you may pick whether you believe by design or as a side-effect) undermine any attempt to level the economic playing field. And, of course, without a level economic playing field, the principles of Libertarianism are just a smokescreen for the basest forms of Capitalism. Which has been all about the racism since it was first articulated.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:21 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ok, I'm Ted Bundy and I'd like to dissassociate from the US, man. Those repressors aren't letting me murder as much as I'd like and are threatening me with jail, just for kidnapping and killing people! So I'm dissassociating right now and this court trying me for murder has no jurisdiction over me!

Actually, this is very similar to the arguments that members of the so-called sovereign citizen movement really do make.

What's remarkable about all this, if you ask me, is that the question of whether one should or should not rally behind a 150 year old failed rebellion devoted to protecting the practice of human slavery is apparently still very much an important issue in libertarian circles.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:26 AM on July 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yeah, Rand Paul is imperfect and unappealing in many ways. But you can't just throw a blanket of "RACIST!" over him

You lie down with dogs, you get fleas heavy-metal poisoning (likely NSFW).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:30 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


No doubt you can unambiguously support that libelous implication?

Sure. In 1992, Paul wrote in his newsletter that “we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in [Washington, DC] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal” and in 1996 Paul specifically defended this statement as correct, and as his writing, in an interview with the Dallas Morning News.

In the same newsletter, under the heading "Terrorist Update," he remarked on how "fleet of foot" young black men are, and again specifically defended that statement in the same 1996 interview.

More broadly, in the same interview, Paul noted that he produced the newsletter in question, widely acknowledged as wildly racist, and a phone call to the newsletter's toll-free number was answered by his campaign staff.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:32 AM on July 21, 2013 [31 favorites]


drjimmy11 - So it says the exact opposite of your assertion, so it probably means your assertion is true? Fantastic.

Reading what I said would actually really help in arguing with it, you know. My assertion was that the Libertarian party's platform says that all people are equal but what it does is create an environment in which white supremacists can thrive. That doesn't require the Libertarian party or any single Libertarian to be racist, it doesn't mean the intentions aren't good, and by taking the platform's wording at face value, giving them the benefit of the doubt, I was specifically not calling the party racist. But the platform makes the party very attractive to white supremacists because it gives them many tools that have been historically used to oppress other races and gives no workable safeguards other than "the free market" against those tools being used to that end. In the end, it doesn't matter whether or not racism is the motivating factor for the party. The end result of enacting their policies would be a massive boon to white supremacists.

Not entirely sure why I'm restating the same point when you didn't bother to read it the first time, but there you go.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:43 AM on July 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


The confederation in the South had as much right to try to break away from the Union as the colonies did to break away from Great Britain: exactly none.
Eh, the colonists gave a detailed list of reasons why they seceded, most of which involved the fact that they had no say in government. The South, meanwhile, did have a say in government, and seceded because they were scared that their "right" to own humans would be taken away from them at some indeterminate point in the future.
I remain unconvinced that, except as a signal issue, the rights of slaves were the prime considerations in trying to preserve the Union.
I'm not sure who you're arguing against here; I don't think you'll find many people claiming that slavery was the principal issue for the North. That does not change the fact that it absolutely was the principal issue -- more or less the only issue -- for the South.
posted by Flunkie at 11:47 AM on July 21, 2013


[Again, thread is not about the historical causes of the Civil War; that specific debate is one we've kind of done to death recently. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:48 AM on July 21, 2013


Ron Paul Was Implicated In Failed White Supremacist Island Invasion

Ron Paul celebrates KKK "grand wizard" David Duke's victory

Top 10 Racist Ron Paul Friends, Supporters

This is interesting, from neo-nazi Bill White:
I have kept quiet about the Ron Paul campaign for a while, because I didn’t see any need to say anything that would cause any trouble. However, reading the latest release from his campaign spokesman, I am compelled to tell the truth about Ron Paul’s extensive involvement in white nationalism.

Both Congressman Paul and his aides regularly meet with members of the Stormfront set, American Renaissance, the Institute for Historic Review, and others at the Tara Thai restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, usually on Wednesdays. This is part of a dinner that was originally organized by Pat Buchanan, Sam Francis and Joe Sobran, and has since been mostly taken over by the Council of Conservative Citizens.

I have attended these dinners, seen Paul and his aides there, and been invited to his offices in Washington to discuss policy.

For his spokesman to call white racialism a “small ideology” and claim white activists are “wasting their money” trying to influence Paul is ridiculous. Paul is a white nationalist of the Stormfront type who has always kept his racial views and his views about world Judaism quiet because of his political position.

I don’t know that it is necessarily good for Paul to “expose” this. However, he really is someone with extensive ties to white nationalism and for him to deny that in the belief he will be more respectable by denying it is outrageous – and I hate seeing people in the press who denounce racialism merely because they think it is not fashionable

Bill White, Commander
American National Socialist Workers Party
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:52 AM on July 21, 2013 [16 favorites]



So Postroad, those slaves decided to go to war to remain slaves?
posted by nickggully

Slaves did not vote, did not do anything but work for those in power in the South who went to war.
Thee was only one known black who was with the confederate army.

In fact, if you owned some ten or more slaves you could get exempt from the war so that you could "take care of" your slaves...thus, those without slaves fought to protect slave owners, though there were many slave owners who felt duty bound to serve.
posted by Postroad at 11:57 AM on July 21, 2013


Almost any history book regarding that era will contain pages on this phenomenon. They tried to take over Cuba, Northern Mexico and Nicaragua.

oh hey - that's fascinating! thanks for the link, Ironmouth.

it's so weird about the assumptions of education, though. i grew up stone throwing distances from a few civil war battlefields. my history schooling was pretty steeped in it because it was a convenient field trip tie in. then, starting in 7th grade, i was in AP classes for (among others) history and english (with those courses being linked at times for a greater understanding of the times being studied), again with a focused eye towards our local history. and yet, this is the first time i've ever heard about the tried expansions of the south. it makes perfect sense and i'm not even a little surprised to hear it - but it was never mentioned in our texts.
posted by nadawi at 11:58 AM on July 21, 2013


[Again, thread is not about the historical causes of the Civil War; that specific debate is one we've kind of done to death recently. Thanks.]

This is kind of a weird proposition when most of the originally linked articles include, as central to their arguments, discussions of the causes of the Civil War.
posted by feckless at 12:07 PM on July 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe : Sure. In 1992, Paul wrote[...]
Golden Eternity : This is interesting, from neo-nazi Bill White

Well done! I honestly do find that somewhat disturbing. I suppose that makes it a hell of a lot easier for me to decide between (hypothetically) Paul and Stein in 2016, then!

Of course, at the risk of watering down my concession of that point, I do need to point out that Paul ran as a Republican in the 2008 and 2012 primaries, and the Libertarians chose Bob Barr and Gary Johnson, respectively, as their candidate for those years.

Though in fairness, Paul did run as a Libertarian in 1988 - Four years before he produced (interesting choice of words, eh?) those newsletters.
posted by pla at 12:14 PM on July 21, 2013


[Believe LM just meant to head off the slavery-or-not debate that we have had, in detail, very recently. Otherwise, carry on. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 12:17 PM on July 21, 2013


I remember Gore Vidal speaking at some event and remarking that the North should have just let the South secede and embargo the crap out of them since all they had was cotton.

Bad idea, strategically speaking. England and maybe France would have recognized the CSA and probably went to war for it.
posted by michaelh at 12:33 PM on July 21, 2013


England and maybe France would have recognized the CSA and probably went to war for it.

Yep. CSA may have "only had cotton" (and sugar, and rum, and other export crops) but those were big and useful things in Europe, which had plenty to offer in trade. And while Britain outlawed slavery in 1835 they made out like bandits in the Triangular Trade, the slavery route of which conveniently failed to touch on British territory at either end.

I suspect that if the CSA's cause hadn't looked *quite* so hopeless -- nobody realized how badly the Union would botch the first couple of years of the war -- the Europeans would have stepped in on CSA's behalf somewhat more enthusiastically.

Something like that is, incidentally, one of the elements of the alternative history of William Gibson's novel The Difference Engine.
posted by localroger at 1:06 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I suspect that if the CSA's cause hadn't looked *quite* so hopeless -- nobody realized how badly the Union would botch the first couple of years of the war -- the Europeans would have stepped in on CSA's behalf somewhat more enthusiastically.

I have my doubts about this. Everything the Confederacy offered could be obtained more cheaply--in bodies and political capital, if not in actual pounds--from the Empire and less distasteful allies. In contrast, England's population had boomed to the point where it needed wheat and corn by the thousand-ton, from the Union and Canada.

Popular support in England leaned strongly toward abolition, and the well-publicized and well-photographed disasters of the Crimean war probably tainted any attempt to become involved in a conflict that was claiming more casualties in a single bad day than the entire Crimean War.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:34 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good post. Thanks, the man of twists and turns.
posted by homunculus at 1:35 PM on July 21, 2013


The only proper response to the secession of the CSA is that while secession or revolution in reaction to actual oppression or a long train of abuses can be legitimate, the secession of the CSA spectacularly fails to meet those criteria

To attempt to argue that secession in reaction to oppression or abuses can be legitimate, but only if it is legitimate by the view of the majority, is to argue against secession completely. The majority never needs to secede from the minority.
posted by corb at 1:40 PM on July 21, 2013


Popular support in England leaned strongly toward abolition

This did not stop them from being a major angle in the Triangular Trade, though. Neither the British nor the French had at that time historically seemed to care much about the distastefulness of their allies or of how their colonies were run if the end result happened to be profitable.

Also separating CSA from the Union would be in character with a long chain of similar decisions such as their much later separation of Pakistan from India.
posted by localroger at 1:41 PM on July 21, 2013


To attempt to argue that secession in reaction to oppression or abuses can be legitimate, but only if it is legitimate by the view of the majority

Good thing that attempt exists only in your imagination, then.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Postroad -- Even assuming the south had the right to secede, did they have the right to take their slaves with them? If so, you have a very strange idea about "rights" or perhaps a pretty old fashioned view of who is fully human (just like many in the anti-bellum south).
posted by jclarkin at 1:48 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have my doubts about this. Everything the Confederacy offered could be obtained more cheaply--in bodies and political capital, if not in actual pounds--from the Empire and less distasteful allies. In contrast, England's population had boomed to the point where it needed wheat and corn by the thousand-ton, from the Union and Canada.

Popular support in England leaned strongly toward abolition, and the well-publicized and well-photographed disasters of the Crimean war probably tainted any attempt to become involved in a conflict that was claiming more casualties in a single bad day than the entire Crimean War.


I question how morally attached England was to the northern cause, but regardless, England correctly judged a united USA to stand in the way of empire. Remember that the Monroe doctrine was only 40 years old at the time.
posted by michaelh at 1:53 PM on July 21, 2013


To attempt to argue that secession in reaction to oppression or abuses can be legitimate, but only if it is legitimate by the view of the majority, is to argue against secession completely

I don't know what this means. Are you asserting that the right of any group, however small and for whatever reason, to declare themselves "in seccession" from a larger polity must be respected absolutely?
posted by octobersurprise at 2:15 PM on July 21, 2013


To attempt to argue that secession in reaction to oppression or abuses can be legitimate, but only if it is legitimate by the view of the majority, is to argue against secession completely. The majority never needs to secede from the minority.

Of course they don't. I mean there were only two states in the confederacy in which the majority of the population were slaves. And the Helots wouldn't have seceded from the Spartans if they could. Or secession by black South Africa in the Apartheid era wouldn't have been a vast improvement.

The English situation was ... interesting. You had a very strong class-based split, with the upper classes wanting to side with the Southern Gentlemen (as much from realpolitik as anything else - keeping rivals divided) but Confederate cotton was getting dumped on the Lancashire docks because the workers were abolitionist enough to refuse to touch it.

As for the brief Ron Paul tangent, reading him in his own words is ... instructive. And damning.
posted by Francis at 2:23 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see Libertarianism as a tidy, yet flawed ideological framework that relies on people buying into too few core ideas while simultaneously ignoring whole swaths of cultural experience that inform and influence actions. This limitation is what makes the whole ideological framework ridicule worthy in my mind.

It's too reductive, hell, seductive to actually be useful. The thought that is missing from a libertarian's thought process is that "all these laws and ways of doing exist for a reason, and I should probably assume those reasons are ultimately just"

The libertarian belief system is pinned to this arc of US history: that starting with the formation of the first federal bank just after the revolutionary war, then really getting going with the civil war, ultimately reaching a fever pitch with the formation of the federal reserve and institution of the UCC, and finally with the passing of the civil rights act, that we slowly eroded freedom and individual liberty and paved the way for a global dictatorship to emerge. The core belief is that all those historical actions were inherently wrong and unjust, that they went against what the founding fathers wanted for this nation.

The problem is that the libertarian ideology only reads one side of the arguments presented in the federalist papers, then acts like those pesky opposing viewpoints either don't matter or don't exist. When both sides of the federalist papers are accurately represented in a framework, libertarianism as a philosophy cannot rationally exist.

The founding of this nation and it's formation over time is an astoundingly complex system of conflicting beliefs coming together in a glorious mess, you can't just pick out a handful of historical actions then try to warp them into your viewpoint, instead your viewpoint needs to be informed by the context under which those decisions were made at the time, and any counter factual claims to the contrary are just inherently wrong to make.

When a libertarian talks about the civil war or the civil rights act, they are being at best an overprivileged accidental racist. It's inherent in the belief system, you can't pull it out and pretend it isn't there, because without that it's no longer libertarianism.

I have concluded that libertarianism is an arbitrarily right, knee jerk reactively hostile, overly reductive framework that cannot be rationally discussed because in order to believe in it one has to ignore the actual historical record in favor of dismissive hand waving when something doesn't line up. It's a tidy viewpoint that simply does not, and will not, ever work.

I was a texas libertarian for ten years, I believe I know what I'm talking about. I voted for Andre Marrou in 1992, if you need to test my cred.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:24 PM on July 21, 2013 [29 favorites]


Metafilter: knee jerk reactively hostile, overly reductive framework that cannot be rationally discussed because in order to believe in it one has to ignore the actual historical record in favor of dismissive hand waving when something doesn't line up.
posted by michaelh at 2:39 PM on July 21, 2013


The Fire-Breathers were only interested in arguing for the rights of states when it came to the rights of slave owners. When democratic conventions in those states resulted in regulation of slavery, they considered that also an infringement on their rights.

This is exactly why I think the Confederacy just does not mesh with libertarianism. The structure of the Confederacy's economy rested squarely on the ultimate denial of individual liberty; individual liberty being sort of a big deal to libertarianism of any stripe.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:59 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


They're big on liberty, but they're shit on rights.
posted by bleep-blop at 3:19 PM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I question how morally attached England was to the northern cause, but regardless, England correctly judged a united USA to stand in the way of empire. Remember that the Monroe doctrine was only 40 years old at the time.

It depends on who you're talking about. The Prime Minister mildly approved of the Union exercise of drafting Irish immigrants for their blood bath. Meanwhile, factory towns were raising statues to Lincoln. No country is a monolith when it comes to public opinion. But strong domestic opposition to slavery is just one of the multiple factors why I think England didn't want to get involved, including:

* dependence on Union and Canadian grain

* the long-term threat of an arms race in the Great Lakes and on the Canadian border

* military reorganization after Crimea

* the absence of a interventionist strategy that wouldn't be bloodier and more expensive than Crimea

* the general failure of Anaconda to blockade the CSA.

* the potential threat an expensive and bloody war might have to England's place in the European balance of power.

If the CSA had stood on its two feet, I think they might have earned some diplomatic recognition. But considering how badly they were losing the West, I don't think that was ever a possibility.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:21 PM on July 21, 2013


But back on the issue of legal rights, it's just astonishing to me how apologists for CSA States' Rights will try to talk abstractly about state governments as the will of people exercising their rights, while handwaving away the rights of slaves as an overly emotional argument.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:24 PM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Like the article says - states don't have rights, they have powers.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:31 PM on July 21, 2013


They're big on liberty, but they're shit on rights.

The mental gymnastics CBrachyrhynchos points out is in ignoring that individual liberty is itself a right, and that's something that arises a lot with CSA apologists. It astonishes me when self-identifying libertarians engage in this anthropomorphism of states. I mean it justifies the ownership of people, enshrined in state law. That seems like a glaring contradiction of their supposed raison d'etre, and is most of all, barbaric.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:41 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can't say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
--Lee Atwater, on the Southern Strategy
posted by zombieflanders at 3:51 PM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


zombieflanders : Lee Atwater, on the Southern Strategy

I really, truly love seeing people quote that. Because y'know? He fought for our side. He very much meant that to say that even if we can't completely eradicate racism from the world, we can water it down to nothing more than token gestures, to a functionally useless form of personal damage.

And even if you take that in the most vile way possible - In that (1981) interview, he describes the Republican strategy in the deep South of the 1970s. Forty+ years ago.


/ The More You Know(tm): Lee Atwater recorded a session with the very very non-white B.B. King.
posted by pla at 4:06 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


/ The More You Know(tm): Lee Atwater recorded a session with the very very non-white B.B. King.

And some of his very best friends were Jewish!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:10 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


He very much meant that to say that even if we can't completely eradicate racism from the world, we can water it down to nothing more than token gestures, to a functionally useless form of personal damage.

I'm not seeing how he's saying that at all. To me, he's describing solely a shift in language - not policy - with regards to dealing with "the racial problem". To "get abstract"; to obfuscate the policy of marginalizing African-Americans.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:18 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really, truly love seeing people quote that. Because y'know? He fought for our side. He very much meant that to say that even if we can't completely eradicate racism from the world, we can water it down to nothing more than token gestures, to a functionally useless form of personal damage.

And even if you take that in the most vile way possible - In that (1981) interview, he describes the Republican strategy in the deep South of the 1970s. Forty+ years ago.


Uh...what? Using the government to enact policies that have drastically worse effects on minority populations than they do on the majority is not, at all, a token gesture or a functionally useless form of personal damage. And asserting that it doesn't matter because what he was specifically talking about happened 40+ years ago is mind-boggling. 40 years ago is not a geologic age. It's not an insane amount of time. Things that happened 40 years ago have had and continue to have monumentally detrimental effects on our society. You are misreading that quote to a ludicrous degree.
posted by protocoach at 4:18 PM on July 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think it's a bit much to say that Lee Atwater was "on our side". It is true that he was trying to describe the Southern strategy as something in the past, that he and his fellow 80s strategists were in the process of moving beyond. The problem is that they didn't. And he didn't.

I think he underestimated the degree to which those abstractions, which he hoped were attenuated enough to separate from their racist origins, instead reinforced and fed that racist undercurrent. And since he was happy to take advantage of the Willie Horton ads in the 1988 election (he was not their originator), we can see that he should bear some responsibility for that.
posted by feckless at 4:30 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Purposeful Grimace : And some of his very best friends were Jewish!

Hmm, Google doesn't really say much about that. Do you have a cite? Given his generation, I would honestly suspect him of having less tolerance for religious differences than race.


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing : I'm not seeing how he's saying that at all.
protocoach : You are misreading that quote to a ludicrous degree.

Seriously, you both might want to actually listen to the original interview (40 or so minutes, you can find it on YouTube) before you continue bashing a guy on your (on OUR) own side.

Yes, he says things that sound vaguely racist. He uses the word "nigger" repeatedly (hey, guess what? People back then - Even non-racists - did that!). He describes policies we consider reprehensible today. But he describes a gradual improvement over time.


If you want to complain about "not fast enough", hey, we agree. But while I may argue vehemently against the CIA torturing people, I'll take waterboarding over a Pear-of-Anguish shoved up my arse any day.
posted by pla at 4:31 PM on July 21, 2013


I really, truly love seeing people quote that. Because y'know? He fought for our side. He very much meant that to say that even if we can't completely eradicate racism from the world, we can water it down to nothing more than token gestures, to a functionally useless form of personal damage.

No, he's saying you just institutionalize racism in into major world economies and government and it will eventually become acceptable. I have no idea where you get your interpretation from.

And even if you take that in the most vile way possible - In that (1981) interview, he describes the Republican strategy in the deep South of the 1970s. Forty+ years ago.

Several GOP candidates and/or their advisors in 2012, including those for President, referred to Obama using epithets like "food stamp" or "welfare" president and talking about "Anglo-Saxon" heritage. And that doesn't even get into the racism inherent in new voting laws (which are concentrated in the former Confederacy), for instance.

The Southern Strategy is very much alive and well.

/ The More You Know(tm): Lee Atwater recorded a session with the very very non-white B.B. King.

Wow. So, uh, some of his best friends, right?
posted by zombieflanders at 4:33 PM on July 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Seriously, you both might want to actually listen to the original interview (40 or so minutes, you can find it on YouTube) before you continue bashing a guy on your (on OUR) own side.

Yes, he says things that sound vaguely racist. He uses the word "nigger" repeatedly (hey, guess what? People back then - Even non-racists - did that!). He describes policies we consider reprehensible today. But he describes a gradual improvement over time.


Would that I could believe that. From July 10, 1988:
George Bush's campaign manager, Lee Atwater, yesterday spelled out a ''Southern strategy" that he said would guarantee a Republican victory over Michael S. Dukakis in November.

Atwater told a conference of Southern Republicans that they should use every weapon at their disposal to paint the expected Democratic nominee as a ''wild-eyed" Northern liberal whose policies and values are alien to the South.

Almost chortling with glee, Atwater said it was "folly" for the Democrats to hold their nominating convention in Atlanta next week because it will dramatize the incompatibility between the Massachusetts governor and Southern voters.
[...]
"The Dukakis record is something to hide from the American people," the forward to a pamphlet said. "It is soft on crime, weak on defense, naive on foreign policy, permissive toward drugs, strong on taxes, and it rejects traditional family values."

Atwater, normally a soft-spoken, behind-the-curtain political operator, used unusually harsh language to characterize the Democrats.

He dismissed Dukakis' objection to the death penalty for drug dealers, for example, saying, "You've got to burn some of them; Dukakis doesn't understand that."

Referring to the governor's struggle to balance the Massachusetts budget, Atwater scoffed: "If this guy is dumb enough to raise taxes in the middle of a campaign, what do you think he's going to do if he is president?"
posted by zombieflanders at 4:41 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, he says things that sound vaguely racist. He uses the word "nigger" repeatedly (hey, guess what? People back then - Even non-racists - did that!). He describes policies we consider reprehensible today. But he describes a gradual improvement over time.

You know, I didn't even mention his use of a racial epithet. What I'm talking about is what he's describing, which is solely a pretty-ification/obfuscation of the language used to describe policies that displace minorities. He's describing moving away from straight-up admitting you're targeting minorities, to using more "abstract" language about taxes and economics.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:48 PM on July 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


The Southern Strategy basically involved opening the Republican Party up to the racists as long as the segregationist rhetoric was taken out. Modern fiscal conservatism, as a result, basically demonizes taxes because Republicans successfully created the impression that Great Society and other liberal programs basically were transferring wealth from white people to black people.

But movement conservatism can't touch the real hardcore racists, so they tend to gravitate towards libertarianism as a substitute. It helps them to have a movement where the aims are fundamentally similar to those of segregationists, although reached by different means.
posted by graymouser at 5:06 PM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


graymouser : But movement conservatism can't touch the real hardcore racists, so they tend to gravitate towards libertarianism as a substitute.

Wow. Consider me done here, I've said all I can.

/ Don't forget to check under the bed.
posted by pla at 5:15 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't forget to check under the bed.

It's not like there's a current news story about hardcore racists in the libertarian movement or anything. Or a problem where libertarians keep talking up the Confederacy and have to be called out for it (see links in FPP).

Oh wait. There is.
posted by graymouser at 5:30 PM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


more Volokh: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: A Simple Misunderstanding is back and forth with Corey Robin at Crooked Timber: Libertarianism, the Confederacy, and Historical Memory (Updated Again)
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:12 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thinking about political legitimacy in the context of the American Civil War gives me a headache.

For starters, none of the various governments involved were morally legitimate. The Southern states held slaves, the Northern states recognized the Southern states as legitimate political entities up until secession, the federal government required the Northern states to help the Southern states keep their slaves by returning runaways, and neither the states nor the federal government enfranchised women. Gross.

So, you have a bunch of illegitimate governments and some of the Southern states say they're leaving because those mean Northern states won't let slavery expand into any new territories and aren't nearly happy enough about enforcing the fugitive slave laws that the Supreme Court says they absolutely have to enforce. But rather than recognizing the seceding states as a new, legitimate nation and then declaring war on them in order to end the immoral practice of slavery, the Northern states decide to put down the rebellion for the dubious reason of forcing the slave-holding Southern states to stay in the perpetual Union. Does this really make moral sense to anyone?

The Southern states had illegitimate governments, and their reasons for secession were crap. But the Northern states were happy to recognize the legitimacy of the Southern states prior to their decision to secede. So, what the Northern states were effectively saying is that legitimate state governments cannot decide to leave the Union. In evaluating the actions of the Northern states, then, we need to set aside the fact that slavery is deeply immoral: The North (nominally, at least) wasn't fighting for the righteous cause of ending slavery but for the stupid cause of preserving the Union.

In other words, the Northern states had a perfectly good justification for fighting. But that is not the justification they gave for fighting. And the justification the North gave for fighting is morally repugnant. Not nearly as repugnant as slavery. Not even as bad as the "justification" for secession offered by the Southern states. But still, not morally defensible on its own terms. Frustrating.

Emancipation -- the first good idea in the whole mess -- wasn't proclaimed until nearly two years into the war, and even then it was pre-announced (in September of 1862) in order to push the Southern states into coming back quietly. If the CSA had surrendered before January 1, 1863, they could have kept their slaves, at least for a little while longer. Bizarrely gross.

It doesn't seem like a game of "who was right" to me, it seems like a game of "who was marginally less awful."
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:26 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


the Northern states decide to put down the rebellion for the dubious reason of forcing the slave-holding Southern states to stay in the perpetual Union. Does this really make moral sense to anyone?.

I don't think that's a stupid cause. For starters, the federal government is tasked with upholding the constitution, which - as has been noted - does not provide for secession and in any event supercedes anything the states might come with that contradicts it.

The federal government had a vested - and moral - interest in preserving the union. The constitution could be amended at any time to allow for the secession of states, and it has not been.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:49 PM on July 21, 2013


For starters, the federal government is tasked with upholding the constitution, which - as has been noted - does not provide for secession and in any event supercedes anything the states might come with that contradicts it.

Sure. But the fact that the Constitution doesn't have a provision for leaving the Union is stupid. And morally problematic.

The federal government had a vested - and moral - interest in preserving the union.

Vested, yes. Moral? I strongly disagree.

The constitution could be amended at any time to allow for the secession of states, and it has not been.

Yes. And? We still have the Electoral College, too. If we were having this conversation before the Civil War, the same remarks would apply to slavery. If we were having this conversation before 1920, the same remarks would apply to women's suffrage. The fact that we haven't amended our Constitution so that it provides a pathway for leaving the Union doesn't make it less stupid that the Constitution does not provide a pathway for leaving the Union.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 10:06 PM on July 21, 2013


I can't even conceive of a process for leaving the Union that's both difficult enough to prevent abuses and easier to accomplish than a new Constitutional Amendment okaying that particular state's secession. Not to mention the massive headaches involving all the Federal assets that would still be in that state and all the interstate infrastructure (utilities and such). Everything is so intertwined that a seceding state would do real economic and humanitarian damage to all the states around it. Who foots the bill for redoing the power and telecommunications routing? And the seceding state will either provide water to or receive water from its neighbors in many areas, so what then? What about resources of strategic national importance? And on a more basic level, that state Didn't Build That. No state got to where they are today without help from all the others. The rail and highway transportation of goods alone is HUGE and not theirs, and they're going to punch a huge hole in the system. That's pulling the ladder up behind you on a massive scale. Even if the seceding state were able to magically avoid all those problems, what of the residents of that state who voted against secession? You can either pay for their relocation to the United States (destroying a lot of the lives they've built up in the process) or you've got a bunch of US citizens held against their will on foreign soil all of a sudden.

I just don't see how it's morally right to do that
posted by jason_steakums at 10:59 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Those are all really good reasons to have specific rules for peaceful secession. They are not good reasons to prohibit secession.

A map for peaceful secession today might include a timed phase-out of tax burdens on citizens, a time-limited sharing of infrastructure costs or rather a gradual shifting of the burdens for infrastructure costs, treaties that guarantee access to things like water and power, etc., etc.

Citizens can move if it matters that much to them. Or they can become ex-patriots living abroad in the new independent nation-state. In what sense are they held against their will in that case? No more so, I think, than U.S. citizens who take jobs in Germany, Japan, the UK, etc., etc.

It's true that many states have their infrastructure in virtue of federal taxes paid by citizens of other states. But what does that have to do with the right to secede? I have supported my wife monetarily for several years. That doesn't diminish her right to leave me if she wants to. Nor does it give me the right to prevent her from leaving me by force. The close financial and emotional ties that I have with my wife are good reasons for having specific divorce laws. They are not good reasons to prohibit divorce.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:24 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow. Consider me done here, I've said all I can.

/ Don't forget to check under the bed.

pla

You haven't even tried, at all, to actually engage the subject of this post. You've argued in bad faith from the beginning.

You try to spin this as people unfairly smearing the philosophical stances of libertarians as racist when literally every one of the numerous articles linked to here is rife with examples showing the libertarianism has deep, peculiar ties to racism and white supremacy. This isn't some people being mean to libertarians, this is a well-documented phenomenon. You don't have to like it, and it seems to bother you that you call yourself libertarian while the libertarian movement has these problems, but the movement does.

You are being dishonest when you smugly claim that one can support, say, secession without supporting white supremacy. Yes, but that's not what's happening, as the articles demonstrate, in the libertarian movement. There is a deep, ugly, long-standing racist influence there. You can't hand-wave that away. Try reading any of the linked articles if you want evidence of what we're talking about.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:06 AM on July 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


Secession is a hard problem. A lot of the arguments against a libertarian justification for secessation is that in this particular instance the seceding states wanted to continue a deeply immoral practice. I'm not sure I buy Jonathon Livengood's argument, because didn't the seceding give a good excuse for abolitionists to act which they might not have had against an independent nation. That said, the statement "yes you can be independent if you promise to end the practice of slavery" could potentially achieve the same aims.

When does a minority become entitled to self governance? Government is a blunt tool. We use it to accomplish aims that we could not accomplish as individuals. It helps enforce co-operation in the massive prisoners dillemmas we all engage in. Yet as a nation becomes large a connection between the individual and government becomes weaker, so governmental tryanny becomes more likely.

To look at a (somewhat) less emotive example, we can look at Scotland as part of the UK. Scotland, being a much less populous part of the UK, has less representation in parliament. Many of the policies enacted and focused on by parliament are designed to encourage the economy of primarily the south, and particularly London. The most egregious example would be the imposition of the poll tax on Scotland by Thatcher. Scotland's experience during the 80s probably led to the devolution we see now.

I don't think this is an easily solvable problem. I have conflicting ideas on this. Personally I'm not a fan of nations in general, because by splitting the world into individual nations we enforce aritficial divides and conflicts. America must spy on Germany because they are competitors. But America and Germany aren't people, and government should ideally serve all people. But government can't serve all people because one policy will usually disadvantage one person while it advantages the other. These are hard problems we do not have the answer to.

When I look at the civil war, I am glad that slavery does not exist anymore (in its historial form, at least), but I do wonder about an alternate history where the confederacy was recognised as legitimate and, perhaps a few decades later, did denounce slavery. If a practice is immoral, which slavery clearly is and was, then it should exist for as little time as possible, although we might wonder how many lives we should pay to abolish it immediately. Right now there are nations in the middle east which enact disgustingly oppressive policies towards women. The current lifestyle that women are forced into in many countries is absolutely horrifying, frankly. Yet we make no move to millitarily enforce more enlightened policies on these nations (and those millitary movements we have made have failed to enforce those on the nations we occupied). Should we? Do we trust to history and let these nations become more progressive on their own terms?

I don't think I agree with libertarians on secessation of the South being fine, but I don't agree with libertarians on lots of things. I'm just not sure that its easy enough to say that slavery was wrong, therefore secessation was wrong.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:20 AM on July 22, 2013


I'm just not sure that its easy enough to say that slavery was wrong, therefore secessation was wrong.

I'm pretty fucking sure it's easy to say that slavery is wrong and if the reason you're wanting to form a new country is so that you can do as much slavery as you want, whenever, then hell fucking yeah, we're going to stop you and drag your barbaric, uncivilized ass back to the goddamn table and teach you some manners. Especially is your ass trying to take half the country with you.

Honestly, The South, just admit the slavery shit was wrong, jim crow was wrong and work to defeat any instance of peculiarly nasty institution from reappearing and we'll be cool.

Libertarians? You may fuck off straight to hell.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:38 AM on July 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty fucking sure it's easy to say that slavery is wrong and if the reason you're wanting to form a new country is so that you can do as much slavery as you want, whenever, then hell fucking yeah, we're going to stop you and drag your barbaric, uncivilized ass back to the goddamn table and teach you some manners.

Mmm, to clarify my ending statement, I think its pretty clear that if you want to form a new country so you can be a slaver then thats clearly bad. But does it follow that I have to stop you via violent force? Probably I do, if I have no other option (I'm pretty ignorant of the exact history so I'm not going to try and talk specifics here), I guess I worry about the use of millitary force to impose moralistic aims. There are clear points where it is a good idea, but the moral calculus of the thing gets a little confused (I'll sacrifice x lives to save y?). It probably does make a difference whether said people are part of your country already or not.

I guess I'm interested in how much one should defend the integrity of one's country. If one allows secession for one reason, does that open the flood gates for lots of different secessions? We know governments are important, but how vital are they? Perhaps the argument here is that the presence of slavery makes this unambigous, but I think there's still a cost involved. Eh, maybe I'm just trapping myself in an intellectual cage of my own devising here...
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:28 AM on July 22, 2013


Libertarians? You may fuck off straight to hell.

All of them? Or just CSA apologist sorts? I mean, "libertarianism", at least as a concept outside re-enactor circles, spans the spectrum from right to left. We see in these links libertarian arguments against supporting the Confederacy even. I agree though that "libertarians" who make an exception in putting the state over the individual, as those who defend the CSA do, should be scorned and ridiculed.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:57 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But does it follow that I have to stop you via violent force?

Here's the thing - if there are United States citizens being kept in slavery, it is up to the federal government to do everything in its power to free them at the soonest. There is a lot of lawyerese on the various justifications for the North to be involved, but it is no mistake that the volunteer regiments were all singing abolitionist rally songs as they marched to war. (John Brown's Body, Battle Hymn of the Republic.)

The politicians were fighting to "preserve the union." The soldiers were fighting to free slaves from bondage. It's reasonable to assume the motivation for the politicians was the same - but they had to play the game to keep the copperheads and the like mollified.

Seen in that light, yeah - why should your countrymen have to wait decades in barbaric slavery while you gently negotiate their human rights from their captors, to spare them any trouble?

(Well, the soldiers who weren't conscripts were fighting for abolition... but that's an irony for another thread.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:12 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's the thing - if there are United States citizens being kept in slavery, it is up to the federal government to do everything in its power to free them at the soonest.

That is a fine sentiment which would have a lot more to do with how things went down if the North hadn't waited until 1863 to declare that slavery might have something to do with the ongoing slaughter and you CSA guys need to stop doing that RIGHT NOW.
posted by localroger at 5:47 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do wonder about an alternate history where the confederacy was recognised as legitimate and, perhaps a few decades later, did denounce slavery

That's not a very realistic alternate history given how difficult the CSA's constitution made it to abolish slavery.

A more likely timeline is one where the CSA first expands into the Caribbean, and then just festers as it becomes poorer and poorer, more and more backwards, because of its rigid insistence on a slave agricultural economy and the impossibility of making internal improvements under its constitution. Doubling down on slavery several times, it will probably become militarily weak enough (as it cannot afford a modern full-mobilization army or a battleship-based navy) and such an obvious obscenity (but with rich natural resources) that it's conquered and colonized by whichever side wins the Great War. Alternately, it realizes that its rigid insistence on slavery is keeping even the planter class in relative poverty, but rather than freeing their slaves as they shift towards an industrial-agricultural economy, they find a more... final... solution sometime in the early 20th.

But does it follow that I have to stop you via violent force?

Have to? Meh. Can? Yes, unless you think being libertarian means that you are forbidden to defend other people against the illegitimate force of yet others. Unless you think that libertarianism says that if you come across a rape in progress you are forbidden from interfering until the rapist directs force at you, invading the CSA to stop slavery would be hunky-dory.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:17 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Have to? Meh. Can? Yes, unless you think being libertarian means that you are forbidden to defend other people against the illegitimate force of yet others. Unless you think that libertarianism says that if you come across a rape in progress you are forbidden from interfering until the rapist directs force at you, invading the CSA to stop slavery would be hunky-dory.


I'm absolutely not a libertarian. But I do think that moral imperatives for violent intervention are dangerous if unexamined. There is a cost involved in a millitary intervention, for both sides involved. As I say, I'm pretty ignorant of the history of that time beyond details so I'm not going to go claiming that there were better solutions available to people at the time. I'm just saying that to uncritically accept that "people in group A are doing bad thing B so we must go and shoot them until they stop doing bad thing B" as fine which I sort of feel like the first link at least is making as argument doesn't quite work, because it leads us to be compelled to intervene in basically every nation on the planet.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:28 AM on July 22, 2013


upthread, someone called the idea that there are libertarians who supported the CSA's secession and instigation of war a "strawman."

From the Ludwig Von Mises Institute: The Journal of Libertarian Studies: The War for Southern Independence: A Radical Libertarian Perspective, by Joseph R. Stromberg
Consistent application of self-rule to the Confederate case demands recognizing that it would have been more correct morally and practically to let the South go. Southerners possessed sufficient differences of interest and culture from the rest of the Union to will their independence. To accept this is not at all to disparage the equal right of Black Americans to use any means necessary to establish their freedom from the slaveholders (and from political oppression South and North). The issues, however, are separable, and Southern independence was the issue in 1860-61; the internal institutions of the CSA did not justify a war of conquest any more thanthe issue of feudalism, free markets or socialism in Vietnam, while important to the people there, justified forceful US intervention behind transparent "free-enterprise" (liberal-capitalist) slogans.
We're The Sweetie-Pie Libertarians, by Tom Woods, "A senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute"

The New American: N.Y. Times: Libertarians Soft on Slavery, Confused About Civil War
Overall, Weiner and the libertarians she shields from her racist smear believe that the United States is a consolidated nation and that the states are obstructionist at best.

The right to secede, according to this set, does not exist, and the Civil War settled that question once and for all.

The Civil War made one thing clear: The federal government believes (and the Confederacy was forced to concede) that might makes right. The Union army defeated the army of the Confederacy; therefore, so the thinking goes, secession is no longer a constitutional remedy available to states. Might makes right.
I have run out of sarcasm. If someone wants to care to explain how these people are not really libertarians, or not really supporting the CSA, they can take a crack at it. It is obvious that there are prominent libertarians who whole-heartedly support the CSA's right to secede, and either seek to explain away to primary motivation of that secession, or disregard it it entirely (or other, stupider things).


more from Bleeding Heart Libertarians:
Libertarian Wars
Libertarianism And The Civil War
The second criticism, that the North unjustly prevented the South from seceding, is misguided under a libertarian view. It seems to me that a libertarian theory of secession must be individualistic. If the domination exercised by the federal government over Southern citizens circa 1860 was illegitimate, so would have been the domination exercised by the new Confederate authorities over any person that did not expressly consent to their rule. The assertion “The North didn’t have a right to keep the South in the Union” incurs in group-thinking. For libertarians there is no such thing as “a group” having the right to exercise authority over another “group.” The “South” doesn’t have a right to anything; only individuals have rights, and of course they may exercise those rights in groups (with the consent of each and every one of those persons). But collective entities do not have a “right” to wield political power vis-avis those who do not consent .
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:39 AM on July 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


@Brian B.

A lot of the people who have problems with collective decisions are people who stand to suffer from collective decisions.

Faced with the reality of those who stand to suffer from the decisions of the collective, you have a number of choices. You can have faith in a March of Progress that will guide the collective to make humane decisions (which kind of brushes aside the pre-
libertarian nature of a lot of Enlightenment thought: the ideals of individual rights, even later stuff like feminism and the right to disregard society and its collective opinion on your duties versus gender, etc.), you can trust in people to be empathetic and not hurt others with their decisions (which seems incredibly naive), or you can just not, which I see in current internet discourse, with young people embracing "NatSoc" or Stalinist communism

The main gripe I see against "libertarianism" is that it apparently allows people to accrue insane amounts of power and wealth and mistreat other people unchecked. The thing is, I kind of remember the state doing that shit too. Of course, you can't vote a CEO out, but with e.g. the FBI, the NSA, the TIA, you can't really do that either, least of all when the majority thinks they're necessary.

Really, though, on a personal level, the bottom line is this. I'm a homosexual, we are like %2 of the population, and the values that protect me from interference- the idea of my personal rights outside of the judgment of the community- seem to me to be very individualistic, to in fact explicitly defy the collective and the majority.

When people start talking about "collective" decisions (especially during an economic crisis), I start getting antsy, and when I mention how nervous this stuff is making me, I tend to get snarled at by some man with his eyes flashing wildly behind his spectacles.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:40 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


which I see in current internet discourse, with young people embracing "NatSoc" or Stalinist communism

This is not a thing, unless you're referring to people joining actual Nazi movements, which as far as I know is not a fast-growing trend, and is certainly not popular among young people. I daresay a lot of "NatSoc" folks espouse a lot of views concurrent with the strains of libertarianism we're discussing here.

The main gripe I see against "libertarianism" is that it apparently allows people to accrue insane amounts of power and wealth and mistreat other people unchecked. The thing is, I kind of remember the state doing that shit too. Of course, you can't vote a CEO out, but with e.g. the FBI, the NSA, the TIA, you can't really do that either, least of all when the majority thinks they're necessary.

Well, no, that's gripes against market libertarianism, not social libertarianism.

Really, though, on a personal level, the bottom line is this. I'm a homosexual, we are like %2 of the population, and the values that protect me from interference- the idea of my personal rights outside of the judgment of the community- seem to me to be very individualistic, to in fact explicitly defy the collective and the majority.

You do know that there are a lot of libertarians who view your individual rights as something that can be subsumed to say, the market or religion or any state that is not federal, right? They dress it up as "economic freedom," or "religious freedom" or "state's rights," but in the end it's a betrayal of individual freedom as bad or even worse than those being imposed by any top-level state. That's what we're talking about here.

When people start talking about "collective" decisions (especially during an economic crisis), I start getting antsy, and when I mention how nervous this stuff is making me, I tend to get snarled at by some man with his eyes flashing wildly behind his spectacles.

This isn't really germane to the topic at hand, to be honest.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:02 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


/ The More You Know(tm): Lee Atwater recorded a session with the very very non-white B.B. King.

Oh, ffs. It's hard to believe someone would actually write idiocy like this.
posted by aught at 7:04 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are you asserting that the right of any group, however small and for whatever reason, to declare themselves "in seccession" from a larger polity must be respected absolutely?

One of the biggest problems I think many people have with some libertarians is that they are abstractly ideological consistent, even when it means something that is upsetting. But I think another problem is that people often see libertarians as staunch contrarians who would prefer to all live on their own hills away from everyone.

In any system of government, one of the problems that you must decide is how to deal with those people who do not wish to participate in said government, and people who have other systems. This is a really hard problem, for everyone. Democracies say that the majority gets to decide what happens to these people. Communist and fascist states tend to jail these people - one as counter-revolutionary, the other as an enemy of the state. Anarchists, of course, split a variety of ways on this - though they tend to argue that it would depend on each situation and each individual's desire.

And libertarianism is - or can be - a system of government in its own right, just one that derives its power from the consent of the governed a little more seriously than some other governments. And so it too needs to solve that problem. What does a libertarian do about states or people that want to be communist, or fascist, or democratic? The answer, as thought out by many, is you leave them alone. Because to do otherwise means you will be at constant war, which violates some very strongly held principles. If you are going to fight every single state or group of people that has different ideas than you, you will be fighting a lot, because libertarianism is popular with only a minority of the population.

So yes, under this ideology, the right of any group, however small and for whatever reason, to declare themselves in secession from a larger polity must be respected absolutely. Can pressure be brought to bear? Yes, likely in the form of an embargo or shunning or refusing to deal diplomatically and push others to do so - but never in the way of military force.

And this is why people are confused about why some libertarians support the right of the CSA to secede. They (rightly) point out that the CSA violated libertarian values - and it did. But to be logically and morally consistent, you need to give the same rights to those you find morally repugnant as those you find morally laudable.
posted by corb at 7:18 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Communist and fascist states tend to jail these people - one as counter-revolutionary, the other as an enemy of the state.

Please stop conflating communism (or socialism) with fascism. Communism does not require counter-revolutionaries to be detained, and indeed most of the counter-revolutionaries in places like Russia and several former SSRs and China rose up through the ranks under the guise of being good Communists while introducing the hyper-capitalist oligarchies that those states run under despite what they call their government.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:30 AM on July 22, 2013


So yes, under this ideology, the right of any group, however small and for whatever reason, to declare themselves in secession from a larger polity must be respected absolutely.

This is baloney, as it ignores the rights of people not to be slaves. It completely ignores black people - as if they're not part of the conversation because they're sub-human. They're not really people like the white land-owning southerner, so we can ignore them, right? They're not really Americans - just agricultural equipment.

This is why Libertarian justification of the CSA is racist to the bone - all of the arguments for allowing secession treat slaves as things and not people, and brush aside whatever desires they might have had as an irrelevancy. It would seem to me the one use of government seen as necessary by Libertarians, - to ensure liberty and to enforce the rights of individuals - would make this open and shut for Libertarianism... the south may not secede with Americans in bondage... and if Libertarianism weren't swarming with racists, it would.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:33 AM on July 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


A lot of the people who have problems with collective decisions are people who stand to suffer from collective decisions....

There is no vacuum for libertarianism to exist in. If laws aren't there, religion fills the gap, or the local warlord rules by divine right in cultural matters. We're still struggling to overcome all of these feudal traditions. And laws aren't about privilege or special personal rights. They apply to everyone or they aren't justice. That said, there still needs to be a list of rights in constitutions in order to define freedom and this is where I think abortion rights, for example, both wins and loses, because it was common when it was written, but it wasn't delineated as a public right, merely assumed as a cultural or private one. Neither was nudity in art, and people were being jailed in the 1960's after importing ancient explicit art, and they were targeted by the public post office itself. The list goes on.

Where libertarians are off the mark is assuming that an immature anti-collective sentiment is going to protect us from the private government types, aka fans of feudalism, because the base secretly know that money is what makes privilege, so if we work for a living, libertarianism is our enslavement. Since you brought it up, I do think libertarianism attracts some drug users and some gays, but only because it holds out a false hope for them, as if by removing most laws they will be more free than by making new ones that address their concerns. Finally, libertarianism functions like a self-help or sports psychology, narcissism and all, but spreads along the lines of "freeing" anyone who feels underestimated and repressed, when they don't understand who or what is repressing them. On top of that, the fallacy that democracy doesn't free itself from tyranny is a really dumb take on things, a lie that only an anti-communist Russian immigrant would tell with a straight face, like Rand herself.
posted by Brian B. at 7:34 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Vested, yes. Moral? I strongly disagree.

Right. You keep saying that, but you haven't demonstrated the immorality inherent in requiring the south to live up their end of bargain they joined.

The states formed a union and signed a contract that laid out the terms.

The south acted immorally and dishonorably in trying to leave the union. I just don't see how you could construe forcing an entity to live up to it's contractual obligations as immoral. But I guess we're just going to have to agree to disagree on this point.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:36 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The south acted immorally and dishonorably in trying to leave the union. I just don't see how you could construe forcing an entity to live up to it's contractual obligations as immoral.

Do you believe in divorce?

Because essentially, that's what this is, writ on a larger scale. A polygamous marriage.

When people get married, they swear "as long as we both shall live" or some such variant. But we allow divorce - we allow for that "contract" to be broken, because we recognize it is in the best interests of individuals not to be forced to live unhappily together. These days, it is mostly only social conservatives who dispute that - no-fault divorce is still pretty broadly popular.
posted by corb at 7:44 AM on July 22, 2013


we allow for that "contract" to be broken, because we recognize it is in the best interests of individuals not to be forced to live unhappily together

I wonder what other relationships in antebellum USA forced people to live unhappily together?

Again, the rights of black citizens don't matter, I see.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:47 AM on July 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


When people get married, they swear "as long as we both shall live" or some such variant. But we allow divorce - we allow for that "contract" to be broken, because we recognize it is in the best interests of individuals not to be forced to live unhappily together.

I can't believe I have to point this out, but... being married does not mean people have to live together.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:56 AM on July 22, 2013


One of the biggest problems I think many people have with some libertarians is that they are abstractly ideological consistent, even when it means something that is upsetting.

No, the problem is that libertarians tend to insist on the consistency of their abstract ideological commitments, which upon practical examination prove unsustainable and inconsistent. The libertarian definition of "initiation of force," for example, quickly becomes riddled with special pleading and even contradictory definitions when brought into contact with simple thought experiments, let alone actual praxis. The libertarian definition of coercion is similarly incoherent, focusing almost entirely on the labeling of the actor.

Worse, libertarianism prefers to think about history and economics in profoundly ahistorical ways, meaning that it usually amounts to abstract ideological claims about a world that has never existed, a situation that no one has ever originated from. It cannot conceive of or account for such cultural and historical features as racial, class, or gender privilege, let alone remedy them or their ongoing impacts on actual human beings living in a historical situation. Instead, libertarianism prefers to imagine human interaction as a series of voluntary choices made in a cultural historical vacuum by sovereign individuals, not one of whom began life as or spent their childhood as a sovereign individual.

You do not enter the world alone, and you would be dead or poor or illiterate if not for the interdependence of infants and toddlers on their parents, of students on teachers, of the small, naive, and weak on those who are kind among the older, wiser, and stronger; it's not just that You Didn't Build That, it's that You Didn't Even Build You. You are the product of the labor of many others, as were your parents, as were their parents, and that labor is definitionally and demonstrably collective.

Libertarians must evacuate history of content because it shows them just how much they owe to something their fantasies cannot allow them to acknowledge. You protest that you didn't ask to be born into that world or that you didn't volunteer to exist amid these obligations and interdependencies? You are the inexperienced, angry teenager who shouts "I didn't ask to be born!" and slams the door to the bedroom, the one with the petulant "Do Not Enter" sign posted on it.
posted by kewb at 7:56 AM on July 22, 2013 [29 favorites]


And lemme guess, in this family analogy, with the nascent CSA and the North as parents, the black slaves are the children?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:57 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That divorce parallel is excellent, corb, thank you for making it. I'll link The Cato Instutute: Lincoln, Secession, And Slavery
Still, when it comes to endorsing southern secession it is not enough to point out Lincoln’s failures in his position on slavery. More important is whether one group may leave a larger group that it had been part of — and in the process take along unwilling third parties. The seceding group definitely does not have that right. Putting it in straightforward terms, yes, a divorce (or, more broadly, the right of peaceful exit from a partnership) may not be denied to anyone unless — and this is a very big “unless” — those wanting to leave intend to take along hostages.
Emphasis mine.

Clearly, those folks at Cato are not really libertarians. Will you let them know, or should I?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:02 AM on July 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


kewb:

You absolutely nailed it, IMO.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:14 AM on July 22, 2013


Because essentially, that's what this is, writ on a larger scale. A polygamous marriage.

This is still placing the primacy of the state over that of the individual, in that states had the right to secede from the Union, but slaves could not "secede" from slavers. It's an inconsistency that even some other libertarians rightly criticize as illogical and vile.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:55 AM on July 22, 2013


Those are all really good reasons to have specific rules for peaceful secession. They are not good reasons to prohibit secession.

A map for peaceful secession today might include a timed phase-out of tax burdens on citizens, a time-limited sharing of infrastructure costs or rather a gradual shifting of the burdens for infrastructure costs, treaties that guarantee access to things like water and power, etc., etc.
Why should those costs be shared? If a state can pursue its own secession unilaterally, why should any of the cost of returning federal/interstate resources to the United States fall to anyone other than the seceding state? And very, very few - if any - states could actually afford to give a fair payment for what they were given by the rest. Meanwhile your businesses are leaving to bet on the incredibly rich country next door, citizens with means to go will follow the jobs or their principles if the seceded state isn't what they want. While you're paying for the handover, somehow you need to build up an emergency fund without a FEMA. You need to build infrastructure from the ground up to replace what's leaving - not just utilities and transportation but education, healthcare, resource management, defense, and so on and so on. The CSA was a huge part of the country, and even keeping all of that infrastructure for themselves and slave labor to build with they were in the hole from the start.

And when it comes to phasing out tax burdens, sure, the United States could stop collecting taxes from individual citizens in the seceded state, but in order to foot the bill for the logistics of this peaceful secession they're just going to have to put that burden right back on their own citizens. And if it's a state that received more in federal taxes than they paid in? Those taxes are going through the roof to keep the state afloat while also fulfilling the financial commitments of the peaceful handover of US assets, because clearly that state could not keep itself afloat without federal tax income.

And why should the United States enter into a treaty to guarantee water and power rights to another nation, or agree to let this new nation walk off with the sources of water and power that are in their state but shared across state lines, when the initial sharing of those resources was hammered out with the implicit understanding that no parties can just up and walk away? If the seceded state is using critical resources from across state lines, they can look forward to being last in line when those resources run low. If the seceded state is providing critical resources to the US, they can look forward to feeling what a Walmart supplier feels. The US is going to get a price that benefits them more than the seceded state because they've got more leverage and the seceded state forfeited the benefits of being part of the Union that would give them a fairer deal. And that state is already in the hole financing the secession.
Citizens can move if it matters that much to them. Or they can become ex-patriots living abroad in the new independent nation-state. In what sense are they held against their will in that case? No more so, I think, than U.S. citizens who take jobs in Germany, Japan, the UK, etc., etc.
Citizens with the means to move can move if it matters that much to them. This is an issue right now, this is why people live in crime-ridden hellholes. But fuck the poor, right? And citizens living abroad in other countries make that choice and physically go there, rather than having it appear under their feet.
It's true that many states have their infrastructure in virtue of federal taxes paid by citizens of other states. But what does that have to do with the right to secede? I have supported my wife monetarily for several years. That doesn't diminish her right to leave me if she wants to. Nor does it give me the right to prevent her from leaving me by force. The close financial and emotional ties that I have with my wife are good reasons for having specific divorce laws. They are not good reasons to prohibit divorce.
kewb already addressed this better, but your wife didn't create the entire context in which you were born, raised and lived. Everyone else did. Everyone paying taxes and participating in the system right now, and everyone who has going back to the founding of the country, has created a system in which you didn't die of cholera at age 2 or get raided by the local warlord in the middle of the night or get taken over by another nation. A system in which you didn't have to live off the land and as such were free to pursue whatever you pursued in life. A system in which a seceding state isn't still under colonial rule with no representation, a system in which the seceding state could not only support itself up until secession but have a high standard of living. The fact that you can read this and write a response and post it for everyone to see is down to everyone else. The fact that you had food on your table this morning is down to everyone else. That's not even remotely comparable to a marriage.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:01 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Rand Paul is imperfect and unappealing in many ways. But you can't just throw a blanket of "RACIST!" over him and make the fact he is absolutely correct on civil liberties go away.

Anyone who thinks the Civil Rights Acts are unconstitutional is not "correct" on civil liberties. A fucking ophthalmologist knows more than the Supreme Court?

Right
posted by Ironmouth at 9:05 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Clearly, those folks at Cato are not really libertarians. Will you let them know, or should I?

Well, the Cato Institute claims that each of its scholars are individuals and speak for themselves, not the institute as a whole. But even so, people are already on it. There's actually a lot of controversy in the libertarian world right now around the Cato Institute, primarily around their support of the NSA's surveillance program.

Which is just to circle back to the idea that libertarians aren't monolithic - it's why I've at least tried to use "some libertarians" and "many libertarians."

This is still placing the primacy of the state over that of the individual, in that states had the right to secede from the Union, but slaves could not "secede" from slavers.

Do you mean the right or the practical ability? I would think that most libertarians would vociferously agree that slaves did have the right to withdraw consent from and leave a slave society - I'm not familiar with any libertarian that supports chattel slavery, though please do correct me if I'm wrong. Under that, each individual would have the most freedom - the right to secede from the most things. It is practically that the difficulties arise - how is this to be accomplished?

Anyone who thinks the Civil Rights Acts are unconstitutional is not "correct" on civil liberties.

I think there are actually a lot of laws on the books which, strictly speaking, are neither constitutionally sound nor are derived from sound constitutional principles. The Civil Rights Act may in fact be one of them - because it bases its constitutionality on the "interstate commerce" idea, when in point of fact, interstate commerce does not really apply for the majority of what would be viewed as violations.

But I think we as a democratic society go along with that currently - the social fiction of contitutionality if you will - and the Supreme Court is no exception - often based on our interpretation as to what the moral or necessary good is. And our collective understanding of the importance of these laws is based on that latter, not on strictly neutral Constitutional scholarship.

Would you say the Civil Rights Act is important to you because the Constitution makes it valid, or because you think its provisions are just? I think most people would say the latter - but a truly abstract Constitutional scholar might not be wrong in suggesting it was an example of legal overreach.
posted by corb at 9:13 AM on July 22, 2013


The south acted immorally and dishonorably in trying to leave the union. I just don't see how you could construe forcing an entity to live up to it's contractual obligations as immoral.

I agree that the South acted immorally and dishonorably. But the immorality attaches to the reasons that they had for seceding, not to the act of secession itself. They were immoral in that they were seceding for the purpose of preserving slavery.

In its full generality, answering your challenge is pretty easy. Think of an utterly immoral contract. Since we're already thinking about slavery, this is easy. Imagine that I sign a contract whereby I and my progeny become slaves to you and yours. The contract is immoral and so is attempting to enforce it.

Addressing the specific problem of the secession of a smaller state from a larger one is more difficult. (And much, much more difficult in the historical case of the secession of the South, for the reasons already raised.) My problem with the idea of perpetual Union is that there is intentionally, by design, no way out. The problem for me, again, is that the Constitution does not provide a procedure for exiting the Union. And that looks wrong to me. There should be a mechanism whereby smaller geo-political entities may peacefully cut ties with larger ones. I'll try to think of an argument or two for my view, though up front, I see this more as a datum to be accommodated than a conjecture to be argued for.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:15 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do you mean the right or the practical ability? I would think that most libertarians would vociferously agree that slaves did have the right to withdraw consent from and leave a slave society - I'm not familiar with any libertarian that supports chattel slavery, though please do correct me if I'm wrong. Under that, each individual would have the most freedom - the right to secede from the most things. It is practically that the difficulties arise - how is this to be accomplished?

Yes, I agree that libertarians will say that slaves in the South had the ride to withdraw consent from and.....*****RECORD SCRATCH*****

'consent'? Slaves 'consented' to being slaves? In all seriousness, this is why no one takes you and your ilk seriously. Because for the sake of ideological consistency, and your fetishization of logically consistent and parsimonious theories, you torture the historical record and reality to fit what you love.

Talking about consent and slavery betrays your complete and utter ignorance of the actually existing institution of slavery worked, and indicts you morally.

Fuck that noise.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:22 AM on July 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


The Civil Rights Act may in fact be one of them - because it bases its constitutionality on the "interstate commerce" idea, when in point of fact, interstate commerce does not really apply for the majority of what would be viewed as violations.

Um. Equal Protection clause? Or does that not count as a thing the government should be interested in maintaining and enforcing?
posted by rtha at 9:34 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


So yes, under this ideology, the right of any group, however small and for whatever reason, to declare themselves in secession from a larger polity must be respected absolutely. Can pressure be brought to bear? Yes, likely in the form of an embargo or shunning or refusing to deal diplomatically and push others to do so - but never in the way of military force.

This is precisely why libertarians aren't taken seriously. Yes, you say, everyone has the right to secede from anyone else. States can secede from the Union, counties can secede from States, cities can secede from counties, neighborhoods can secede from cities, individuals can secede from neighborhoods. For any reason! At all! And it goes without saying that everyone's armed.

But, you say, pressure can be exerted. What kind of pressure? Well, that it isn't clear, but, you know, pressure.

The reason libertarians aren't taken seriously is because none of this has a damn thing to do real life and real politics. It's LARP-ing. It's the world seen through the eyes of a rules lawyer at the D&D table or the eyes of a child pestering a sibling while chanting "I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!"
posted by octobersurprise at 9:39 AM on July 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


The Civil Rights Act may in fact be one of them - because it bases its constitutionality on the "interstate commerce" idea, when in point of fact, interstate commerce does not really apply for the majority of what would be viewed as violations.

There are 11 parts to the Civil Rights Act. Only one of them, Title II, refers to interstate commerce, and the Supreme Court found (twice!) that, unless every business in every sector only engaged in intrastate commerce, that it stands as an enforceable law. The rest of the constitutionality is based on the 14th and 15th Amendments. Which, I should point out, stands in stark contrast to Shelby County v. Holder, which did not base the decision on any discernible constitutionality, and should technically have fallen under the 15th Amendment.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:48 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because essentially, that's what this is, writ on a larger scale. A polygamous marriage.

Well, no. It isn't. It isn't and it wasn't. The Union of the United States is no more a polygamous marriage than a family is a Fortune 500 company. (Or, for that matter, anymore than the Union is a Fortune 500 company.)

An organization at a larger scale isn't identical to an organization at a smaller scale just because both of them can be described as "organizations."
posted by octobersurprise at 9:50 AM on July 22, 2013


Personally, I'm friendly toward the admittedly afro-centric interpretation that the moral rights of slaves to liberty and participation in government existed prior the the American Civil War, and regardless of motivation, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th clarified but did not create those rights.

Now, the political motivation of the Union was probably wrong. The Civil War was also the period of some of the worst atrocities against the Dine by the Union army. But the CSA was clearly in the wrong when it created a state founded on the principle of deprivation of those rights. The resulting amendments of the Civil War were amendments that clarified that equal protection was an individual not a collective right that cannot be legally infringed. And that is a moral good.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:55 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


jason_steakums,

There is a lot in your last comment. I'll probably miss something in here ...

I want to separate the general problem of secession from the specific case of Southern secession in defense of slavery. The latter is unjustified, as I've already said several times. But that does not mean that perpetual Union is justified or that using force to preserve the Union is justified. Fighting to end slavery is justified. Fighting to make your neighbor state stay in a political alliance with you is not.

If a state can pursue its own secession unilaterally, why should any of the cost of returning federal/interstate resources to the United States fall to anyone other than the seceding state? And very, very few - if any - states could actually afford to give a fair payment for what they were given by the rest.

On my view, a seceding state would not be responsible to return any physical infrastructure to the federal government. It need not pay for roads that the federal government built or for bridges or whatever. But if you see a problem here, then that should be hashed out in writing up a detailed mechanism for secession.

And when it comes to phasing out tax burdens, sure, the United States could stop collecting taxes from individual citizens in the seceded state, but in order to foot the bill for the logistics of this peaceful secession they're just going to have to put that burden right back on their own citizens. And if it's a state that received more in federal taxes than they paid in? Those taxes are going through the roof to keep the state afloat while also fulfilling the financial commitments of the peaceful handover of US assets, because clearly that state could not keep itself afloat without federal tax income.

Sure. If a state secedes, then it will have to think about how it wants to provide for lost services from the federal government. And if it wants to provide those services, then it will have to tax its citizens to pay for them. And yes, if we're talking about a modern red state seceding (unless it's Texas), they're going to be losing a lot of services that they can't afford to pay for at the same level of total taxes. Big incentive not to secede if the state is being rational. But if the state decides to secede under those circumstances anyway, why does the federal government have authority to tell them that they cannot? Worse if, like me, you live in a happy blue state that only gets about 70 cents on the dollar for federal taxes paid. The budget crisis in my home state (Illinois) would be gone overnight if the state seceded and simply asked its citizens to pay exactly the same total tax they pay now.

And why should the United States enter into a treaty to guarantee water and power rights to another nation, or agree to let this new nation walk off with the sources of water and power that are in their state but shared across state lines, when the initial sharing of those resources was hammered out with the implicit understanding that no parties can just up and walk away? If the seceded state is using critical resources from across state lines, they can look forward to being last in line when those resources run low. If the seceded state is providing critical resources to the US, they can look forward to feeling what a Walmart supplier feels. The US is going to get a price that benefits them more than the seceded state because they've got more leverage and the seceded state forfeited the benefits of being part of the Union that would give them a fairer deal.

Again, I don't really see the problem here. Nations trade resources with each other. And they often feel pressures from their trading partners. So what? Again, it might not be rationally in a state's interest to leave the Union, but how does that give the federal government the right to use force to prevent them from leaving?

Citizens with the means to move can move if it matters that much to them. This is an issue right now, this is why people live in crime-ridden hellholes. But fuck the poor, right? And citizens living abroad in other countries make that choice and physically go there, rather than having it appear under their feet.

Yes, mobility is unfairly distributed. But as you say, this is a fact on the ground right now. Why think that a mechanism for secession has to fix existing problems like this in order to be acceptable? Governments change. Sometimes they are more and sometimes less friendly to the poor. But we don't expect newly elected representatives to facilitate the emigration of the poor in the event that they want to cut funds supporting the poor. Detestable though they are, I don't think Republicans in Congress attacking food stamps have any moral obligation to facilitate poor people moving to Canada or Europe.

... your wife didn't create the entire context in which you were born, raised and lived.

True. But neither did the Union create the entire context in which individuals or states exist.

Everyone paying taxes and participating in the system right now, and everyone who has going back to the founding of the country, has created a system in which you didn't die of cholera at age 2 or get raided by the local warlord in the middle of the night or get taken over by another nation. A system in which you didn't have to live off the land and as such were free to pursue whatever you pursued in life. A system in which a seceding state isn't still under colonial rule with no representation, a system in which the seceding state could not only support itself up until secession but have a high standard of living. The fact that you can read this and write a response and post it for everyone to see is down to everyone else. The fact that you had food on your table this morning is down to everyone else. That's not even remotely comparable to a marriage.

I'll have to disagree about comparability. They are clearly not the same, but that doesn't mean they are incomparable. I agree that I owe enormous debts to society. And I agree that my wife's debt to me is much smaller than the debts we owe to society. But my point remains. The fact that my wife owes me a debt would not in any way make it immoral for her to leave me, nor would it give me license to use force to keep her from leaving me. The fact that a state owes a debt to the rest of the states and/or to the federal government does not in any way make it immoral for the state to leave the rest, nor does it give license to the other states to use force to keep the seceding state from leaving.

In any event, you are confusing individual interests here with state interests. States are not susceptible to cholera. I, as an individual, already have a right to secede. I could renounce my citizenship and leave the country. Despite all of the historic debts that I owe, the government has no right to force me to stay. Of course, if I've committed a crime, I may be imprisoned, but my act of private secession is not itself a crime. And if we don't want to beg the question, we cannot assume at the outset that the act of secession in itself is grounds to use force to prevent secession.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:58 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem for me, again, is that the Constitution does not provide a procedure for exiting the Union. And that looks wrong to me.

It's nice and all that it looks nice to you, but it's a contract drawn up and agreed to by every signatory of it. If any of them wanted an escape clause, they could have included it - and maybe it was an oversight, but, the contract is what the contract is; the constitution allows for amendments.

Sovereign entities have the right to freely enter into contracts of their choosing - even bad ones. The North was morally correct to hold the south to the agreements they had - to assert otherwise is to assert that all contracts are meaningless and unenforceable.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:08 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think there is an escape clause, the Constitutional Convention.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:10 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But that does not mean ... that using force to preserve the Union is justified.

Never ever? Why not? Furthermore, if using force to preserve the Union is never justified, then using force to leave it isn't justified, either, presumably. Right? At which point we've left history and entered Thought Experiment-land. Which is fine if we're bullshitting about building our ideal polities, but it doesn't have a lot to do with anything else.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:11 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's nice and all that it looks nice to you, but it's a contract drawn up and agreed to by every signatory of it. If any of them wanted an escape clause, they could have included it - and maybe it was an oversight, but, the contract is what the contract is; the constitution allows for amendments.

Except that the signatories of the time are no longer the signatories of today. Demographic makeup has changed, situations have changed, methods of vote apportionment have changed.

Do you believe in the right of individuals to sell themselves and their children into slavery? (I am aware that this is not how slavery happened, but it's a question that speaks to the heart of things.) Do you believe it is morally sound to create a contract that will affect your children and which cannot be repealed through their agency? (Yes, there are means to amend the constitution, but not on the agency of a single state alone.)

Why not? Furthermore, if using force to preserve the Union is never justified, then using force to leave it isn't justified, either, presumably. Right? At which point we've left history and entered Thought Experiment-land.

You are correct - the initiation of force is not justified to leave either, only the use of defensive force. But I think the thing you are forgetting is: libertarianism is, to a large extent, Thought Experiment-land - and I say this as a libertarian. If you believe in something largely unpopular in an existing democracy, and do not believe in the initiation of force to achieve political goals, you are looking at never having the governance you want in your lifetime. So you may attempt to change things bit by bit towards the ideal, but you are generally well aware it's a crapshoot as to whether even your children's children will see fruit from that. Libertarianism becomes your thoughts on the ideal form of government, which is another reason why it's so weird they face so much vitriol - they generally want to be left alone and to leave everyone else alone too.
posted by corb at 10:18 AM on July 22, 2013


The Civil Rights Act may in fact be one of them - because it bases its constitutionality on the "interstate commerce" idea, when in point of fact, interstate commerce does not really apply for the majority of what would be viewed as violations.

If a hotel that sits near two major interstate highways and serves a client base that is 75% out-of-state is not engaging in interstate commerce, then there is no such thing as interstate commerce (and I suspect that the libertarian argument is that no, there is no such thing as interstate commerce).
posted by dirigibleman at 10:21 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I think the thing you are forgetting is: libertarianism is, to a large extent, Thought Experiment-land - and I say this as a libertarian. If you believe in something largely unpopular in an existing democracy, and do not believe in the initiation of force to achieve political goals, you are looking at never having the governance you want in your lifetime. So you may attempt to change things bit by bit towards the ideal, but you are generally well aware it's a crapshoot as to whether even your children's children will see fruit from that. Libertarianism becomes your thoughts on the ideal form of government, which is another reason why it's so weird they face so much vitriol - they generally want to be left alone and to leave everyone else alone too.

If only this were true. Sadly, libertarians have been very very loud for the last several decades and their ideas have gained a lot of traction, almost entirely among conservatives, and pretty much every time they get put in action (especially when it comes to economics) something horrible happens.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:26 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I think we as a democratic society go along with that currently - the social fiction of contitutionality if you will - and the Supreme Court is no exception - often based on our interpretation as to what the moral or necessary good is. And our collective understanding of the importance of these laws is based on that latter, not on strictly neutral Constitutional scholarship.

Would you say the Civil Rights Act is important to you because the Constitution makes it valid, or because you think its provisions are just? I think most people would say the latter - but a truly abstract Constitutional scholar might not be wrong in suggesting it was an example of legal overreach.

corb,

Oh, for fuck's sake. There are legal scholars who have written reams regarding the Constitutional basis of things like the CRA. There are other scholars who already do argue that it was overreach. I doubt you've read a single scholarly article on the subject, or actually read the holding of cases like Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States that you just know were not decided on "pure" Constitutional principles. You're arguing that the only "truly abstract Constitutional scholar" is one who would come to a conclusion you agree with. What bullshit.

Or rather, the only Constitutional scholar who is truly abstract is not to be found among the Supreme Court Justices or academics who offered numerous, detailed arguments for the application of the Interstate Commerce Clause in such cases, but you. You alone are learned enough to see through their chicanery.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:26 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think there is an escape clause, the Constitutional Convention.

I would think you could just have something like the opposite of a Hawaii Admission Act. However, I think Jonathan is saying that a State should have a mechanism to secede on its own without a need for permission from the other states or the federal government.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:29 AM on July 22, 2013



I would think you could just have something like the opposite of a Hawaii Admission Act. However, I think Jonathan is saying that a State should have a mechanism to secede on its own without a need for permission from the other states or the federal government
.

Is there is a greater moral obligation to the contract you would rather have signed than to the one you actually did actually sign ?

Except that the signatories of the time are no longer the signatories of today.

The constitution is a contract between states, all of which continue to exist to day.

Not that it matters. If any contract is vacatable by any party at any time for any reason whatsoever - then no contract is worth anything at all.

That's not libertarian, that's lack-of-accountability-arian.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:39 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except that the signatories of the time are no longer the signatories of today. Demographic makeup has changed, situations have changed, methods of vote apportionment have changed.

Do you believe in the right of individuals to sell themselves and their children into slavery? (I am aware that this is not how slavery happened, but it's a question that speaks to the heart of things.) Do you believe it is morally sound to create a contract that will affect your children and which cannot be repealed through their agency? (Yes, there are means to amend the constitution, but not on the agency of a single state alone.)


States are not people.
posted by kafziel at 10:52 AM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


On my view, a seceding state would not be responsible to return any physical infrastructure to the federal government. It need not pay for roads that the federal government built or for bridges or whatever. But if you see a problem here, then that should be hashed out in writing up a detailed mechanism for secession.

I see a very big problem there, because that infrastructure is not just for the benefit of that state and was not solely paid for by that state.

The budget crisis in my home state (Illinois) would be gone overnight if the state seceded and simply asked its citizens to pay exactly the same total tax they pay now.

That budget crisis would be replaced by a new and bigger budget crisis.

States are not susceptible to cholera.

States are highly susceptible to disease outbreaks that have been prevented by federally-funded healthcare initiatives.

But honestly, the United States would get by. I only bring that stuff up to illustrate the logistical nightmare of even beginning to negotiate an equitable parting. My biggest problem by far is what happens to the people in a seceding state who want no part in the secession, and the people who didn't think through what they're buying into and end up casualties of a failed state brought about to make a point.

If your moral scale holds that it's okay for the disenfranchised to be hurt and disregarded in service of a morally absolutist political ideal from the realm of thought exercises because "Governments change. Sometimes they are more and sometimes less friendly to the poor.", you are the problem with Libertarianism.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:16 AM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Not that it matters. If any contract is vacatable by any party at any time for any reason whatsoever - then no contract is worth anything at all.

Not any contract. The idea might be to rewrite the current contract (okay, the constitution I guess) to allow states to leave the union at their own choosing, possibly only if they meet certain criteria. Similar to an "at-will" employment contract perhaps. I don't think this is very practical.

One of the big motivations for Lincoln to go to war was to prove that democracy could actually work as a form of government for a modern state. He feared that if the South seceded, the North could eventually break up as well, and he may have been right. At the time, Lincoln didn't know how bad the civil war would become, and it is a little hypocritical to accuse Lincoln both of engaging in an unjustifiable war, and attempting to avoid war with negotiations that would allow the continuation of slavery for the time being. It seems to me it is very likely the U.S. and probably the world, though I'm sure many would disagree, is far better off than it would have been had the South been allowed to secede.

Another thing to consider is that the majority of the population of the South was likely not in support of the confederacy. This was certainly the case in Virginia, which did not really sign on to the CSA until Lincoln actually ordered Virginian troops down to South Carolina to quell the "rebellion." I think the CSA is an example of a government being taken over by highly motivated extremists - as if the NRA or the most right wing libertarians took over our government today. So the civil war should be a big warning to us not to allow extremists to take power over the country and cause catastrophe.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:20 AM on July 22, 2013


However, I think Jonathan is saying that a State should have a mechanism to secede on its own without a need for permission from the other states or the federal government.

Because states, just like people, are simply islands?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:37 AM on July 22, 2013


If your moral scale holds that it's okay for the disenfranchised to be hurt and disregarded in service of a morally absolutist political ideal from the realm of thought exercises

...you spent your formative years reading way too much Heinlein and Rand?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:40 AM on July 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


At the time, Lincoln didn't know how bad the civil war would become, and it is a little hypocritical to accuse Lincoln both of engaging in an unjustifiable war, and attempting to avoid war with negotiations that would allow the continuation of slavery for the time being.

I'd say that if the secessions had been willing to compromise, they would have stayed within their majority coalition and used Dred Scott to sink legislation about slavery. Instead, the election of Lincoln was a self-fulfilling prophesy due to the walkout of Southern Democrats.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:10 PM on July 22, 2013


Instead, the election of Lincoln was a self-fulfilling prophesy due to the walkout of Southern Democrats.

Yeah, there could have been no quicker way to abolition than for the South to lose a civil war.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:52 PM on July 22, 2013


Fighting to make your neighbor state stay in a political alliance with you is not.

The phrase "political alliance" here suggests that the states possessed a sovereignty and autonomy that they did not, in fact, have. For the same reason that the states never left the Union, they were never simply in a "political alliance."

The fact that a state owes a debt to the rest of the states and/or to the federal government does not in any way make it immoral for the state to leave the rest, nor does it give license to the other states to use force to keep the seceding state from leaving.

Are you actually trying to argue that a lawfully constituted government lacks the power to collect on a debt owed to it, even by the use of force, if necessary? On what grounds is that either immoral or illegal, the grounds of Hey-Man-I-don't-feel-like-it?

Libertarianism becomes your thoughts on the ideal form of government, which is another reason why it's so weird they face so much vitriol - they generally want to be left alone and to leave everyone else alone too.

Let's not have any of this. Individually, any libertarian-identified person who just wants, like Garbo, to be alone, is free to move to one of the world's remaining wild places and try to be alone. Collectively, as a political movement—unless you're prepared to deny that there is a libertarian political movement—libertarians want to interfere in people's lives as much or more so as any other organization with political goals. Libertarians want to change the world. Many of them want to radically change the world. It's dishonest to suggest that this isn't so and the habitualness with which libertarians like to suggest that it isn't so may explain some of the vitriol they receive. No one likes bad liars.

(Another reason might be their interminable quarrels over secession—Secession: Good or Very Good?—and their total obliviousness to all of the baggage that question still carries in the United States.)

Do you believe it is morally sound to create a contract that will affect your children and which cannot be repealed through their agency?

People have kids all the time, don't they? What are our lives but a contract our parents made without us. More to the point, laws and governments are the contracts generations make with the future in an effort to preserve a stable society. Most people consider that stability a feature not a bug. Do you think such contracts are immoral?
posted by octobersurprise at 12:54 PM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


It has long confused me that pretty much every libertarian I've read managed to contort individual rights into a defense of the Confederacy, in seeming defiance of basic principles of autonomy. I'm glad to see some people applying some fairly rudimentary ethical philosophy to the case, because I don't like the idea that libertarians are uniformly unengaged by critical thinking. I will hope that this represents the major libertarian position, though I suspect it does not.

Property rights are entitled to the same protection as all other human rights. The owners of property have the full right to control, use, dispose of, or in any manner enjoy, their property without interference, until and unless the exercise of their control infringes the valid rights of others.

This essential notion is at the heart of everything inhumane and unjust in libertarian philosophy. It sounds pretty good in theory, and then in practice it is used nearly exclusively to disenfranchise individuals and consolidate power among the elite. Slavery is, admittedly, an infringement of this declaration -- unless the slave has not "withdrawn consent" to be a slave, as suggested above. Then the slave can "secede" from this otherwise voluntary contract. And, then,

The only legitimate use of force is in defense of individual rights — life, liberty, and justly acquired property — against aggression.

the slaveholder can forcibly retrieve and contain them, because of their right to "justly acquired property", which, in a slave society, the law says the slave is. Manumission is, therefore, a violation of the slaveholder's property rights.

The right to trade includes the right not to trade — for any reasons whatsoever.

This instantiates a de facto marginalizing society, by virtue of the fact that basically everything is property. So a doctor can refuse treatment to a person based on the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or because he's bored and wants to play golf. Don't like it? Become a doctor then. Oh, wait, the educational institution to train you and the board which certifies you can refuse you access, because they don't wanna. No one has any duty to you, such that anything you receive from anyone else can only be defined as charity, and charity is not a moral duty or primary virtue, speaketh Ayn Rand.

Well, ok, so obviously government can and should establish anti-discrimination laws, to protect the rights of the minority, who still have individual autonomy. It even says so here:

Government should neither deny nor abridge any individual's human right based upon sex, wealth, ethnicity, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference or sexual orientation.

Fair enough, libertarians, I--wait. "Any individual's human right...personal habits". What's a human right?

Property rights are entitled to the same protection as all other human rights.

The right to trade includes the right not to trade


That's right, the government cannot legislate against discrimination in the transfer of goods or services. What's a personal habit? Well, if you have the "peculiar" quirk of owning people, or if it's a stated "cornerstone" of your political preference, the government can't tell you not to, and no one else should.

The essential mode of capitalism, which is right there in the name, is that capital begets capital, and the more you have, the more you gain. Therefore, the less you have, through such immoral actions as giving away wealth or freeing slaves, the less power you exert under property law. The free market is never free of human irrationality, and so a philosophy which prizes wealth and property above all else creates a society designed to humor the every whim, every "personal habit", of the increasingly entitled.

So while I'd like to believe that libertarian philosophy evacuates their major concern for property rights in favor of their universal concern for the autonomy of the individual, libertarian politics and practice serve to create a culture where the disenfranchisement of the polity is regrettable but held to be morally acceptable. It is a slave society's perfect working model, and in fact any society that doesn't progress towards some version of the slave state is very likely in violation of one or more libertarian principle.
posted by Errant at 1:45 PM on July 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


That's right, the government cannot legislate against discrimination in the transfer of goods or services.

It sure as hell can. You cannot discriminate against a black person at a lunch counter or in a hotel or a Staples. These cases have long been decided by the Supreme Court.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:06 PM on July 22, 2013


That's not what Errant was saying. Read his whole comment.
posted by rtha at 4:08 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you believe in the right of individuals to sell themselves and their children into slavery? (I am aware that this is not how slavery happened, but it's a question that speaks to the heart of things.) Do you believe it is morally sound to create a contract that will affect your children and which cannot be repealed through their agency? (Yes, there are means to amend the constitution, but not on the agency of a single state alone.)

The Constitution is not a contract. There are no parties, no offer and acceptance, no consideration, none of that. To use contract law to analyze an organizing document for a country is just plain wrong and illogical. There is no force majure or any other doctrine that will allow for non-performance, either.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:11 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the final word on Secession and its legality:
The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to 'be perpetual.' And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained 'to form a more perfect Union.' It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?
posted by Ironmouth at 4:18 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


How any person devoted to human rights can have any respect for slaveholders is pure cognitive dissonance, and it's weird to see so many apparently smart (although probably too privileged to understand their level of privilege) argue for the idea.

I realize that there are branches of Libertarianism that allow the idea of selling yourself into slavery, but this is not remotely the situation for slaves in America, so it's a disingenuous dodge. If Africans could become slaves, losing their personal rights and becoming property by by being physically overcome by a better armed enemy, doesn't that suggest that the citizens of the CSA could also have been enslaved? If so, then Libertarians should be praising the relative wealth and liberty generously allowed the defeated by their opponents, not arguing that it should have never happened.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:20 PM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I see that I forgot to attribute my source; all lines in italics in my comment above are taken from the Libertarian Party platform.
posted by Errant at 4:21 PM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Libertarians For Secession - "I know absolutely zero libertarians that side with the Confederacy because of its tariff policies."

so here's two reviews of Charles Adams book "When In The Course Of Human Events" : Secession Vindicated! Or, Taxes, Death, and the Civil War and Recipes for Anarchy in which Libertarians and Slaveholders Find Common Cause
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:40 AM on July 23, 2013


Libertarians For Secession - "I know absolutely zero libertarians that side with the Confederacy because of its tariff policies."

There's some serious subtext going on there. The author of that piece is a 21st century Irishman who brags about being a "Neo-Confederate." I might as well be a Young Irelander because I've been to an Irish pub.

But what jumps out of that piece—besides the usual tropes, the tyrant Lincoln, the genocidal Sherman, the insistence on the locution "The War Between the States"—is this paragraph:
Libertarians always prefer peaceful alternatives to war, even when it comes to ending the evil of slavery. Why not peaceful Emancipation, as occurred in every country except Haiti, over a war where more Americans would fall during one battle at Gettysburg than in all previous American wars combined? Buying the freedom of every slave, along with forty acres and a mule for each freed man would have cost a fraction of what the brutality of 1861-65 did. Libertarian critics of Lincoln simply argue non-violent options and less bellicose forms of persuasion should have been tried.
If this is true, if libertarians always prefer peace over war, even when it comes to ending the evil of slavery, then it was incumbent on southern slave-owers to emancipate their own slaves in order to avoid war. There should have been no question about "buying the freedom" of anyone held in slavery, because the so-called owners held nothing they could expect to be compensated for. From a libertarian point of view then, Antebellum Southerners were failures twice over: they failed to free the people they had no right to "own" and they failed to take the peaceful alternative to war by freeing those people.

In light of those failures, there must be some other reason why any so-called libertarian would continue to defend the rebellious southerners.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:04 AM on July 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Another problem with this is that it is entirely unhistorical as the confederates had absolutely no desire to be bought out of slavery or to end slavery in any fashion. They believed African Americans were inferior and would not have accepted equal rights at all, I don't think.

Those ideas (that African slavery was in violation of the laws of nature), however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.
- Alexander Stephens

Actually, slavery probably provides a good libertarian argument against the American Revolution. Had the colonies remained British, slavery would probably have ended much sooner and more peacefully.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:18 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


then it was incumbent on southern slave-owers to emancipate their own slaves in order to avoid war.

We can see that the States that formed the Confederacy were actually complicit in the further restriction of slaveowner's "property rights" in the history of manumission laws in the South.

Arkansas, Alabama, Maryland, Mississippi and Lousisiana all had "blanket bans" on manumission. In South Carolina, by 1820, manumission was only allowed by special act of the legislature.

Worst of all, in Arkansas, a law was passed in 1859 making illegal to be free and black. Offenders were to be sold into slavery.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:27 AM on July 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Another problem with this is that it is entirely unhistorical

Well, yes, it's all outrageously unhistorical. But even looking at it as a libertarian might, purely theoretically, the Rebellion is a libertarian failure.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:32 AM on July 23, 2013


They believed African Americans were inferior and would not have accepted equal rights at all, I don't think.

Try "believe" and "still will not".
posted by kafziel at 9:32 AM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Worst of all, in Arkansas, a law was passed in 1859 making illegal to be free and black. Offenders were to be sold into slavery.

Oh, my goodness, a law for which the punishment meted out to violators is obeying it. Nothing else sings so eloquently of the madness of slavery.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:39 AM on July 23, 2013


Southern Avenger no more: Rand Paul aide Jack Hunter leaves staff, returns to punditry

Former editor of Rand Paul’s Neo-Confederate staffer talks about the Southern Avenger
While I told him that I would have removed one or two posts — it’s not uncommon for writers to hastily pen a column they later regret — I found the breadth of the request to be excessive, and to be honest, quite cowardly. Doing so, I told Jack, was a repudiation of the very persona he had created as a writer and radio personality. It was a denial of the very views that had made him a local media celebrity and a rising star in the so-called liberty movement, and as such, a slap in the face to all those who had ever supported him. It was best, I said, that if those points of views no longer applied to him, Jack should pen a column detailing how he had changed his mind, but he declined. And frankly, that told me all I needed to know about Jack’s conversion. It was solely for appearances only.
via Volokh: Former “Southern Avenger” Jack Hunter Resigns from Rand Paul’s Staff
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:15 PM on July 23, 2013


There's some weird cross talk here. Defending secessation on the grounds of slavery is essentially impossible, and not many in this thread are attempting to do so. But defending secessation as an abstract concept.. surely that's fine? The notion that some guys wrote a document a few centuries ago means that the nation of the US must exist in its current form forever seems a little... odd to me. If Scotland wants to be indpendent, can it be independent? Can Taiwan? Tibet? Palestine? Countries are magical notions that we all decided to agree existed, but if we all woke up tomorrow with no memory its highly unlikely they'd reform in the exact layout they do currently. Secessecion is a hard problem because a country which allows it willy nilly cannot be stable, but denying it absolutely seems far too authoritarian to me. Should the USSR have existed in perpetuity?
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:56 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pla: Having something of a Libertarian leaning, I firmly believe that everyone, everywhere, has an inherent right not only to freely associate, but to dissociate as well. I say that while fully condemning the institution of slavery.

So ... you're either a libertarian who doesn't believe in binding agreements, which is utterly fascinating to me, or you're a libertarian who doesn't believe that the Constitution is a binding agreement to which the states are subject, which is equally strange.
posted by gauche at 4:33 AM on July 24, 2013


But defending secessation as an abstract concept.. surely that's fine?

The word is secession. Sure, you can try to defend secession "as an abstract concept" but first, the topic of discussion here isn't the defense of secession in the abstract, it's the defense of a specific, historical, secessionist movement. Secondly, "defending secession as an abstract concept" is like defending "freedom" or "liberty" (or "union," for that matter) in the abstract. In the abstract, these pieties sound lovely, but the abstract doesn't tell us what they refer to in specific circumstances. What is the point in defending secession in the abstract?

Lastly, if there is a point to defending secession "in the abstract," then do it. So far, no one here has made the case that secession, as a political strategy, is so much more moral or so much more likely to produce a good political life that it always—or even usually—should be chosen over a course of political union or integration. That's what a defense of secession "in the abstract" would look like.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:15 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


So far, no one here has made the case that secession, as a political strategy, is so much more moral or so much more likely to produce a good political life that it always—or even usually—should be chosen over a course of political union or integration. That's what a defense of secession "in the abstract" would look like.

But the idea of whether or not secession is a good idea is very different than whether it should be a right. Essentially, it seems like you want people to argue that secession is the former, whereas people are more concerned about the latter.

Some people (including myself and many libertarians) believe that people should have the right to choose disadvantageous courses of action if that is what they wish - essentially, that the state should not attempt to prevent others from choosing badly. So, for example - I think secession is generally a bad practical idea for most, but I think that it should be a moral right of anyone who wishes to engage in it.

And that's about where it falls, at least for me. Sure, I can get involved in nitpicking the specifics like anyone else, but that's where it boils down to. Other people have the right to do stupid stuff, just as much as they have the right to do smart stuff.
posted by corb at 7:25 AM on July 24, 2013


But the idea of whether or not secession is a good idea is very different than whether it should be a right. Essentially, it seems like you want people to argue that secession is the former, whereas people are more concerned about the latter.

Actually, neither of those are the discussions at hand, and look like attempts at distracting from engaging in them. The vast majority of commenters in this thread are discussing this real-world instance. If you're interested in hypotheticals and rehashing your worldview for hojillionth time, this isn't the place to do it.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:41 AM on July 24, 2013


But the idea of whether or not secession is a good idea is very different than whether it should be a right.

See, explain to me what a "right" to secession even means. Polities don't have rights, as such, and certainly no US state has ever had a right to secede. Individuals have rights, but the right of an individual to "secede" is ludicrous. No individual can realistically exercise a "right" to secede and if the exercise of a right is functionally meaningless, then it isn't really a right. Furthermore, why does Tom's right to secede in the name of, say, guns and porn (and constitute himself as a sovereign state, presumably) take precedence over his next door neighbor Sally's wish not secede and to be secure from an aggressive state on her backyard border? The whole idea is incoherent, mostly because you've raised a means, a political strategy, something employed collectively to achieve an end, to the level of an individual political end. The fact that you regard engaging in secession as something like a dubious romance "I think secession is generally a bad practical idea for most, but I think that it should be a moral right of anyone who wishes to engage in it" suggests how thoroughly confused you are about ends and means, polities and individuals.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:30 AM on July 24, 2013


The word is secession. Sure, you can try to defend secession "as an abstract concept" but first, the topic of discussion here isn't the defense of secession in the abstract, it's the defense of a specific, historical, secessionist movement.

Otherwise, these articles would spend equal time talking about, say, Scotland or maybe the division of the former Yugoslavia and/or Soviet Union or separatist movements in the modern day, but, for some reason, the articles are always focused on 19th C American slave-owners and how lousy they got treated. Something, as they say, smells.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:03 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think a right to secession or independence exists independently from an analysis of the individual rights in question. I'll say, sure, if you can show that your new government will give its new citizens all the rights they had and more, then I think you might have a good case. The Declaration may have made that case. The CSA didn't.

But it's mostly a theoretical point in American politics because after a century of labor mobility and economic interdependence, I don't see secession as in anyone's best interests. I suspect this discussion really isn't about secession, but about local nullification of federal case law and policies in the interest of the bill of rights and 14th amendment.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:29 AM on July 24, 2013


The vast majority of commenters in this thread are discussing this real-world instance.

The discussion is, or seems to be: 'what libertarians think of the Confederacy', and I am telling you that for many people, the specific is the general. Many libertarians do not defend the Confederacy because they think that the CSA was a good and functional government that should have endured a thousand years, they defend the Confederacy in theoretical and legal argument, in pursuit of abstract political goals - such as the one that entities should have the right to secede if they choose, or against the idea that states have a right to initiate force against their departing member-states. Many also mourn the Civil War on the grounds that it lost us our liberties, at the same time as it granted others theirs:
The Civil War caused and allowed a tremendous expansion of the size and power of the federal government. It gave us our first federal conscription law, our first progressive income tax, and our first enormous standing army; it gave us a higher tariff, and it gave us greenbacks.
Others view something larger in the question of secession:
The very fact that a portion of the nation wants to secede, by the law of demonstrated preference, proves that those citizens believe they are being harmed by being subjects of that nation. Similarly, the rarity of historical expulsions proves that governments benefit from ruling over and exploiting the various regions that are within their control. This fact is consistent with the view of the nation-state — developed by Oppenheimer, Nock, and Rothbard — as the organization of the political (coercive) means of acquiring wealth:
posted by corb at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2013


Many also mourn the Civil War on the grounds that it lost us our liberties, at the same time as it granted others theirs.

It's really interesting how you differentiate between "us" and "others."
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


us being "all Americans", as I believe all Americans are currently subject to conscription, income tax, standing army, and the financial system. (With the exception of women, which is also discriminatory, but their sons and husbands still are subject, so they still suffer. Others being "those people who were in slavery at the time", meaning, "no one currently living."
posted by corb at 10:46 AM on July 24, 2013


So you believe the slaves should not have been considered as Americans?
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:58 AM on July 24, 2013


they defend the Confederacy in theoretical and legal argument, in pursuit of abstract political goals

Perhaps quoting from a website run by the guy even other libertarians hold responsible for being behind the Ron Paul newsletters that "reveal decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays" is not a good source. Especially when he's engaging in particularly nasty historical revisionism.

or against the idea that states have a right to initiate force against their departing member-states

Look, if you can't even tell the truth about who initiated force, there is something seriously fucked up going on.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:59 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am telling you that for many people, the specific is the general. Many libertarians do not defend the Confederacy because they think that the CSA was a good and functional government that should have endured a thousand years, they defend the Confederacy in theoretical and legal argument, in pursuit of abstract political goals - such as the one that entities should have the right to secede if they choose, or against the idea that states have a right to initiate force against their departing member-states

And others are telling you that many people who defend the CSA because they dislike black people end up affiliated with the libertarian movement because it provides a facially non-racist cover for racist outcomes.

Frankly, there are not very many people in the US who are committed ideological libertarians, and not all of them would defend the CSA or its secession. On the other hand, there are a whole damn lot of white people who harbor substantial racial resentment against blacks, and a few end up being or at least claiming to be libertarian. And it's very likely that a small fraction of whites-with-racial-resentment is larger than most-committed-ideological-libertarians.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Frankly, there are not very many people in the US who are committed ideological libertarians, and not all of them would defend the CSA or its secession. On the other hand, there are a whole damn lot of white people who harbor substantial racial resentment against blacks, and a few end up being or at least claiming to be libertarian. And it's very likely that a small fraction of whites-with-racial-resentment is larger than most-committed-ideological-libertarians.

Honestly, you're probably right about this - but I think going from that understanding to "Well, we're not going to bother sorting out who's an actual racist and who has theoretical ideological convictions around this, we're just going to tar them all with the same brush" really sucks. So yes - it's totally possible that some libertarians are also racists, but going from that to "all libertarians who defend the secession are racists" seems like both oversimplified thinking and also very unfair thinking.
posted by corb at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2013


Many also mourn the Civil War on the grounds that it lost us our liberties,

Wait, what? Your liberties to...what, exactly? Own people? Yeah, got that no more. Leave? You can still go. Anyone can still go. You just can't take all the stuff that other people helped you build without asking them or paying them.
posted by rtha at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


going from that to "all libertarians who defend the secession are racists" seems like both oversimplified thinking and also very unfair thinking

Find five posters in this thread who unambiguously did that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm just laughing at the idea of someone who looks at Civil War era America, then at modern America, and thinks, "Oh noes the progressive income tax is destroying freedom and liberty!"
posted by bleep-blop at 11:19 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Many also mourn the Civil War on the grounds that it lost us our liberties, at the same time as it granted others theirs

I believe all Americans are currently subject to conscription, income tax, standing army, and the financial system.


If you'd bothered to read the linked articles in the OP, especially this one, you'd have realized that you were arguing against the Confederacy as much if not moreso than the US.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:19 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Many also mourn the Civil War on the grounds that it lost us our liberties

I mourn the loss of life caused by a group of people willing to kill to preserve the "liberty" to own human beings as property.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:19 AM on July 24, 2013


So yes - it's totally possible that some libertarians are also racists, but going from that to "all libertarians who defend the secession are racists" seems like both oversimplified thinking and also very unfair thinking.

But we have yet to see a defense of the secession that isn't either racist and evil or bullshit.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:26 AM on July 24, 2013


I was curious so I pulled the 2010 CCES, which doesn't have the full battery of racial resentment questions but has the very large sample you need to pull out libertarians. There are only 230 people identifying as libertarian in the sample of ~50,000, but white libertarians do indeed hold higher levels of racial resentment than the white population at large... but the white population at large holds a crapton of resentment; 31% of whites are at the max (44% of libertarians).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:33 AM on July 24, 2013


>going from that to "all libertarians who defend the secession are racists" seems like both oversimplified thinking and also very unfair thinking

Find five posters in this thread who unambiguously did that.


Well, I will own up to the belief that, if there is money on the line, I'll always put my bet on the "this libertarian who is defending the Confederacy is racist" box, because, I mean, really.

Something I have noticed about libertarians (leaving out the bald-faced shills for the oligarchs), is that a lot of them have that sort of privileged geeky love for divorcing theory from reality. Which, you know, is OK when you are talking about staffing the Death Star, but not so great when you are idly speculating about one of the most horrible chapters in American History, one that is still actively hurting all Americans at this very minute.

So libertarians think they are defending a finely-nuanced what-if discussion of constitutional issues, when everyone else hears them apologizing for slavery. And they find this very unfair, even when people point out that doing this while hanging around with a bunch of obvious and well-documented racists makes them seem, well, really racist. And, instead of going "holy crap! these people around me are racist; I'd best step away from them and examine my own motives," they just argue harder that that doesn't matter, because it's about the theory.

Really, it is not about the theory; it's about the actual slaves and the effects of slavery that we still feel daily.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


The word is secession. Sure, you can try to defend secession "as an abstract concept" but first, the topic of discussion here isn't the defense of secession in the abstract, it's the defense of a specific, historical, secessionist movement. Secondly, "defending secession as an abstract concept" is like defending "freedom" or "liberty" (or "union," for that matter) in the abstract. In the abstract, these pieties sound lovely, but the abstract doesn't tell us what they refer to in specific circumstances. What is the point in defending secession in the abstract?


I apologise for the misspelling.

I responded to the particular argument that secession is always wrong because there were actually arguments to that effect up thread. Several people saying that breaching contract is wrong enough that one should never do it. This doesn't seem to me to be a defensible argument.

I'm not particularly sold on defending the South's secession for slavery. I mean, thats a hard one to defend, certainly, and I would not want to do so. What I tried to argue up thread is that there might have been solutions to a portion of the nation wanting to secede other than armed conflict. I worry about armed conflict to impose moral action because we live in a world where many nations have deeply immoral policies, and we don't currently attempt to use force to enforce these policies. Perhaps we should.

Honestly I'm not going to argue hard that the North were the bad guys, I just thought this discussion raised up some interesting issues. I do think there is a difference between having a discussion on metafilter and making statements as a politician, because, talking as a politician your statements are, well, political. People are going to take you to not be talking abstractly, and they probably should.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:37 AM on July 24, 2013


I do think there is a difference between having a discussion on metafilter and making statements as a politician, because, talking as a politician your statements are, well, political. People are going to take you to not be talking abstractly, and they probably should.

Wait, are you saying that we should assume that politicians are talking abstractly? Because, if the 20th C taught us anything, it's that, when people say that they hate you and they want you to die, you should take them at their word.... Also, that when a politician sounds "kind of racist," it's because they are really racist.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:43 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I tried to argue up thread is that there might have been solutions to a portion of the nation wanting to secede other than armed conflict. I worry about armed conflict to impose moral action because we live in a world where many nations have deeply immoral policies, and we don't currently attempt to use force to enforce these policies.

If you're worried about who was justifying imposing their moral actions through violence, you have to at least recognize it was incumbent upon the seceding states to not engage in armed conflict, and yet they chose to do so. It's also worth recognizing that some of the supposedly "moral" alternatives (the USA paying the CSA for slaves, in particular) would in all likelihood have had much worse repercussions for the concepts of liberty and morality as we know it.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:48 AM on July 24, 2013


Wait, are you saying that we should assume that politicians are talking abstractly? Because, if the 20th C taught us anything, it's that, when people say that they hate you and they want you to die, you should take them at their word.... Also, that when a politician sounds "kind of racist," it's because they are really racist.

No I'm saying the opposite. If I write a post in a discussion doing a thought experiment on the civil war, its profoundly different from a politician doing a similar thing in the public sphere.

If you're worried about who was justifying imposing their moral actions through violence, you have to at least recognize it was incumbent upon the seceding states to not engage in armed conflict, and yet they chose to do so. It's also worth recognizing that some of the supposedly "moral" alternatives (the USA paying the CSA for slaves, in particular) would in all likelihood have had much worse repercussions for the concepts of liberty and morality as we know it.

You are no doubt correct. I honestly just thought the concept of secession was interestingly ambiguous enough to talk about. I think it becomes much less ambiguous when the civil war in particular is considered. I am, as mentioned earlier on, fairly ignorant of the history of that time.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2013


No I'm saying the opposite.

OK. Sorry for misunderstanding.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:15 PM on July 24, 2013


"The very fact that a portion of the nation wants to secede, by the law of demonstrated preference, proves that those citizens believe they are being harmed by being subjects of that nation.
This is nonsense. By itself, the fact that a portion of a nation wants to secede says nothing more than a portion of that nation wants to secede. Prior to the Anschluss, plenty of Austrians wanted to join Germany but that certainly didn't prove that that they were being harmed by Austria, or even that they believed that they were being harmed by Austria.

Corb, I appreciate that you may not want to be put into the position of defending the Confederates, but I think I've raised enough theoretical questions for you to engage with if you wish. You keep asserting that "entities should have the right to secede if they choose" but you haven't explained what it means to "have the right to secede" or how that could be a functional right to be exercised. It's as if I kept asserting that everyone has the right to be rich but refused to explain what it could mean to exercise that right.

Additionally, given that the Antebellum south wasn't remotely libertarian, nor was the attack on Federal property in accordance with the libertarian principle of non-violence, how is the "correct" libertarian view not harsh criticism of the rebellious states instead of a defense of their actions?
posted by octobersurprise at 12:20 PM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


You keep asserting that "entities should have the right to secede if they choose" but you haven't explained what it means to "have the right to secede" or how that could be a functional right to be exercised...Additionally, given that the Antebellum south wasn't remotely libertarian, nor was the attack on Federal property in accordance with the libertarian principle of non-violence, how is the "correct" libertarian view not harsh criticism of the rebellious states instead of a defense of their actions?

When I say people should have the right to secede, I mean that from my point of view, it is not morally just to keep people in bondage, so if people want to leave, it is morally right not to impede them. As to how it could be a functional right, essentially if a city or state wanted to leave the polity, I would think it was moral to allow them to do so, not to enforce overarching laws or collect taxes there. The state would also be under no obligation to help those people in any way.

The thing about the antebellum South not being remotely libertarian - you are absolutely correct in a lot of ways. I would never have wanted to live in the antebellum South - I think overall it was a fundamentally sick system. But in my view, if you want to apply consistent moral principles, you have to apply them even to people who are not you or who you do not agree with. This is essentially the "Skokie test".
Those who assert that civil rights and constitutional safeguards (to free speech) are inalienable quite properly note that it is easy to defend protest movements that have a broad constituency and popular support. It is another matter to defend the civil rights of a miniscule group of fascists lacking both a noble cause and popular support. Hence, it may be Skokie, not Selma, which turns out to be the touchstone of our faith in constitutional government...
Thus, while I may (and do) have many critiques of that government, the critiques of the government don't mean that I think it didn't have the right to leave the Union, nor do they mean that I think the Union should have fought a bloody war to get it back.
posted by corb at 9:10 AM on July 25, 2013


To paraphrase Dennis from the Holy Grail: "Now we see the incoherence inherent in the system."
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:55 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I say people should have the right to secede, I mean that from my point of view, it is not morally just to keep people in bondage, so if people want to leave, it is morally right not to impede them. As to how it could be a functional right, essentially if a city or state wanted to leave the polity, I would think it was moral to allow them to do so, not to enforce overarching laws or collect taxes there. The state would also be under no obligation to help those people in any way.

Here's where it all falls apart, though - individuals may or may not have this right to exercise, but how can polities - cities, states, governmental entities - be said to have it? This isn't about individuals voting with their feet, this is about the collective infrastructure and societal support system that exists as a part of the larger government.

Further, all that's presuming unanimity. If 90% of the population of a state votes to secede, what about the remaining 10%? Does the majority have the right to dictate their citizenship? Does the majority have the right to convert their real property from American soil to Confederate soil? How is this not an infringement of the property rights of everybody around you?

Thus, while I may (and do) have many critiques of that government, the critiques of the government don't mean that I think it didn't have the right to leave the Union, nor do they mean that I think the Union should have fought a bloody war to get it back.

Protip: if you want to avoid the well-founded "secessionist libertarian = closeted racist" argument, consider getting the historical facts right - the Confederate States factually did not have the right to leave the union, however much you think they should have, and the Confederacy started the war by attacking an American military base.
posted by kafziel at 9:56 AM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


But in my view, if you want to apply consistent moral principles, you have to apply them even to people who are not you or who you do not agree with. This is essentially the "Skokie test"

FFS, the Skokie issue was over free speech, this is over people being enslaved. Your constant moving of the goalposts and historical revisionism of the timeline of the war (over several threads, no less) is doing nothing to help convince people this is a libertarian thing and not a racist thing.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:18 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


kafziel: " Here's where it all falls apart, though - individuals may or may not have this right to exercise, but how can polities - cities, states, governmental entities - be said to have it? This isn't about individuals voting with their feet, this is about the collective infrastructure and societal support system that exists as a part of the larger government."

That would be the same collective infrastructure and societal support system that a vast majority of libertarians don't approve of collecting taxes to pay for.

Funny, that.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:45 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I say people should have the right to secede, I mean that from my point of view, it is not morally just to keep people in bondage, so if people want to leave, it is morally right not to impede them. As to how it could be a functional right, essentially if a city or state wanted to leave the polity,

You keep using "people" and "city or state" interchangeably, as if they are the same thing. They are not.

According to my morals, there is no inconsistency in saying that neo-Nazis have a First Amendment right to march in Skokie or anywhere else while also saying that the Confederacy had no constitutional right to secede.

You have said elsewhere on mefi that you do not believe that it's okay for even a few individuals to be hurt (financially, liberties restrained, etc.) even in the service of the greater good. The Confederacy is indefensible on these grounds alone.
posted by rtha at 11:04 AM on July 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


it is not morally just to keep people in bondage

Irony.

nor do they mean that I think the Union should have fought a bloody war to get it back.

The slaveholders started the war.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:30 PM on July 25, 2013


from my point of view, it is not morally just to keep people in bondage, so if people want to leave it is morally right not to impede them.

Bondage. How apropos, speaking of the Confederacy. Now of course it isn't right to keep people from moving freely, but you do see the distinction between people, who can move, and polities, which can't move, right? Bondage isn't the issue here, the issue is sovereignty.

As to how it could be a functional right, essentially if a city or state wanted to leave the polity, I would think it was moral to allow them to do so, not to enforce overarching laws or collect taxes there.

And earlier you stated "the right of any group, however small and for whatever reason, to declare themselves in secession from a larger polity must be respected absolutely."

Do you see that this goes beyond libertarianism, which envisions a minimal state, at least, to a kind of atomistic anarchism where there can be no exercise of sovereignty above the individual level? Because no state or even the smallest polity can exercise sovereignty if its authority and even its contiguous area and boundaries can be nullified by the wish of any of its constituent members. Combine this with your novel interpretation of "the Skokie test," and you have an ethos permitting—nay, encouraging!—any individual or any groups of individuals (as long as they maintain some degree of of unanimity) to do whatever they can get away with. You have gangsterism. You have law-of-the-jungle-ism, basically.

What I don't know is if you realize that this is where your theorizing takes you or if you do realize it and just don't want to admit it.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:00 PM on July 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


octobersurprise: "You have gangsterism. You have law-of-the-jungle-ism, basically."

But the gangsters will be wearing corporate insignia instead of federal uniforms, so it's all good.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2013


You mightn't even have corporations in corb's world. Lawlessness doesn't really favor business.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:13 PM on July 25, 2013


a kind of atomistic anarchism where there can be no exercise of sovereignty above the individual level

...usually called the state of war of each against all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:28 PM on July 25, 2013


And such a world would be lawless because law, as such, can't exist without the sovereignty to guarantee it. Custom or fear would regulate behavior, or at best, pleas or bribes. Even owning or holding property would be difficult except by threat of force because contracts and titles could be abrogated simply by a declaration of sovereign indifference.

So, help me out here, where's the superior morality in all this supposed to be?
posted by octobersurprise at 2:47 PM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


You mightn't even have corporations in corb's world. Lawlessness doesn't really favor business.

It leads to feudalism. Wash, rinse, repeat.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:35 PM on July 25, 2013


It leads to feudalism. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Or, in other words, the Libertarian end point. If it were ever taken seriously, the libertarian ideal would basically lead to successive state collapse until someone with an army put a stop to it. In some ways, the regular historical inability of China to retain political cohesion owes a great deal to the Han decision to basically never engage in economic regulation, which empowered successive waves of large landowners to accumulate land, resist taxation, and eventually starve the government into complete inability to act to protect itself against whatever crisis came first.

Of, if you don't like that example, try Settlement-Era Iceland, where the lack of a central government able to enforce court ruling lead to escalating series of feuds that finally came to an end when the Norwegian Crown annexed the island by force and instituted a monarchy.

Libertarian approaches have been tried, always to the populace's sorrow.

Oh, and, just to keep this on topic, the Confederacy was, at it's heart, an insanely racist state, and defending it requires absolutely ironclad knowledge of history and the understanding that you are still defending a racist state. With this in place, calling on a bunch of Nazis in your defense is, maybe, not the best way to be seen as not abetting racism.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ugh. "at its heart." Attempts to address racism do not excuse sloppy apostrophe use.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:33 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


bukvich: You left out Gone With the Wind. Every Confederate I ever met fantasizes that they are either Rhett or that they are Scarlet. They are too dumb to know that Rhett didn't fight in the war but made money smuggling through the Yankee blockade.
And that Scarlet slept her way out of debt. Not condemning sex work; it's a job like any other. But idolizing Scarlet as a "Southern lady" means looking up to a woman who essentially sold herself to a man she disliked simply to maintain the standard of living to which she'd been accustomed.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:23 AM on July 26, 2013


And that Scarlet slept her way out of debt.

Thus proving that she was Ayn Rand's fantasy alter ego.
posted by localroger at 5:41 AM on July 26, 2013


corb: To attempt to argue that secession in reaction to oppression or abuses can be legitimate, but only if it is legitimate by the view of the majority, is to argue against secession completely. The majority never needs to secede from the minority.
That's not true if one speaks of the local majority - as when the majority of American British subjects supported secession from the British Empire.

They were certainly a minority of the Empire, but a majority of Americans (in the 13 Colonies).
posted by IAmBroom at 4:52 PM on July 26, 2013


pla: I'll take waterboarding over a Pear-of-Anguish shoved up my arse any day.
FWIW, there is a quote from the 15th-century of a woman who was tortured in various gruesome ways, and stated that of all of the things she endured, waterboarding (she described the process; she did not use the term) was by far the worst, and she would rather die than undergo it again.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:55 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's not true if one speaks of the local majority - as when the majority of American British subjects supported secession from the British Empire.

True, but you can always divide small enough to find a majority if you choose to do so - even if you have to divide down to "this block" or "this house".

Do you see that this goes beyond libertarianism, which envisions a minimal state, at least, to a kind of atomistic anarchism where there can be no exercise of sovereignty above the individual level?

It's called anarcho-capitalism, or market anarchism, and it is indeed a political philosophy that exists under the set of libertarians, whether or not you particularly believe it feasible.
posted by corb at 2:22 PM on July 28, 2013


As an anarchist, I am for one baffled by anarcho-capitalism. The entire point of anarchism is a flat society; direct, transparent, consensus-based democracy. Capitalism is in its natural form a hierarchy, a pyramid. It is utterly incompatible with an anarchist society. But yeah, there is an actual group that subscribes to this.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:56 PM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


They're like Jews For Jesus, but for socioeconomics.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:42 PM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


as when the majority of American British subjects supported secession from the British Empire.

Did they?
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:27 AM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians

Table 3 shows that libertarians score the lowest of any group on empathizing, and the highest on systemizing (also see Figures 3 and 4). In fact, libertarians are the only group that scored higher on systemizing than on empathizing
posted by straight at 10:20 AM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's actually a really fascinating article, but I think that quote does it a disservice, particularly in relating libertarianism to the whole issue of secession in particular.
Contemporary moral psychology has paid little attention to the valuation of negative liberty as a specifically moral concern. Independence may be seen as a pragmatic value [47]. Respecting the autonomy of others may be seen as a way to promote the welfare of individuals [43], consistent with liberal ideas about positive liberty, rather than as an independent moral construct. It is predictable, then, that on such measures libertarians appear amoral (i.e. lacking in the activation of common moral systems). However, our results show that libertarians score substantially higher than liberals and conservatives on measures of both economic and lifestyle liberty, the Schwartz value of Self-Direction, and the centrality of independence to one's core self (measured using the Modified Good Self scale). Libertarians may fear that the moral concerns typically endorsed by liberals or conservatives (as measured by the MFQ) are claims that can be used to trample upon individual rights — libertarians' sacred value (e.g. [48]). If liberty is included as a moral value, libertarians are not amoral. Rather, standard morality scales, including the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, do a poor job of measuring libertarian values.
posted by corb at 12:20 PM on July 29, 2013


However, on followup, I think for some of what they intended to be their more startling conclusions, in Section 3, they seem to be getting sloppier in the rigor. The Different Types of Love Scale, for example, that they base the "loving feelings" item on, seems to be, per their reference 77, based on a poster.
posted by corb at 12:31 PM on July 29, 2013


They were certainly a minority of the Empire, but a majority of Americans (in the 13 Colonies).

I think, as Mental Wimp's Wikipedia link suggests, the historical consensus is plurality at best, given the three rough options of "actively support", "actively oppose" and "keep quiet and wait to see who wins".
posted by holgate at 12:31 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rand Paul Laughs at You Smug Yankees Wanting to Rebuild Your Storm-Wrecked Houses
posted by homunculus at 1:53 PM on July 29, 2013


It's called anarcho-capitalism, or market anarchism, and it is indeed a political philosophy that exists under the set of libertarians, whether or not you particularly believe it feasible.

I'm disappointed that your only response to my objections is to point me to a wikipedia entry and a couple of blogs. I mean, I can point to Astrology which is indeed a philosophy but that doesn't make it convincing. Given that you chose to engage on this topic, I thought you'd be more interested in actually answering objections.

I'm guessing though (because you won't say), that this fellow Kinsella's response is similar to yours and Kinsella's answer to all the sticky questions seems to be to shout "Non-Agression! Non-Agression!" repeatedly while covering his ears.

Kinsella writes:
"Conservative and minarchist-libertarian criticism of anarchy on the grounds that it won’t "work" or is not "practical" is just confused. Anarchists don’t (necessarily) predict anarchy will be achieved — I for one don’t think it will. But that does not mean states are justified.
What does it mean to say that states aren't justified, but yet concede that they cannot be done without? I don't know. Kinsella even calls similar thoughts on the same topic "The Irrelevance of the Impossibility of Anarcho-Libertarianism" In fact, lots of things seem pretty irrelevant to Mr. Kinsella. He writes,
"The anarchist is not someone who has a belief about 'what will work.' Rather, he is someone who opposes aggression in all its forms."
Despite that, I can't tell just by looking at his blog where he sat on the Iraq War. That, too, seems to have been irrelevant.

So what's the point in all this? Well, something else that Kinsella writes further down this page offers at least some explanation for what it means for someone who has no beliefs about "what will work" to advocate for a politics that will not happen. He writes:
" ... I like the ruthless logic of libertarianism and its unflinching honesty: how we are unafraid to say that people have a right to be greedy, or selfish, or rich, or not to hire people because of their race–because it is their property. I like the in-your-faceness of it … when it is simply a matter of venting or justice to hurl in the face of a soma-ridden mainstreamer the solid, bracing truth about things, even if it will do no good ... "
But if you ask me, that isn't politics, it's mysticism.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:55 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


But if you ask me, that isn't politics, it's mysticism.

Worse. It's teenagerism.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:08 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Given that you chose to engage on this topic, I thought you'd be more interested in actually answering objections.

I'm sorry, if it wasn't clear, I identify as an anarcho-capitalist - so my answer to you is that I agree that that sort of world brings about anarchism and I think that anarchism in most of its varieties is one of the only morally good systems out there. I didn't go into depth about it, because to get into the nitty-gritty first requires the acceptance that the state is an oppressive entity which in an ideal society would not exist. Otherwise, everyone's just shouting at each other. "Don't you see there would be no state?" "Yeah, that's kind of the point."

Even though that paper linked above goes well off the rails by the third section - where they're having to stretch the data hardest - it does explain why someone would believe that it was a good system - because individual liberty is the highest moral good. In that sense, it doesn't matter if the highest moral good is something that can be perverted - everything can be perverted - but when someone asks "What are you?" you identify as what your ideals are, not a convoluted explanation of what laws you currently support. I am a libertarian, but I might vote Republican or Democrat in the next election in the practical matters of what's going to happen in the next four years. Does that mean I'm a Republican or Democrat? No, it means I'm a libertarian who's making a pragmatic decision for the world I live in.
posted by corb at 3:19 PM on July 29, 2013


"The Irrelevance of the Impossibility of Anarcho-Libertarianism"

I love that. It's irrelevant that these ideas are impossible to put into practice!

"The anarchist is not someone who has a belief about 'what will work.' Rather, he is someone who opposes aggression in all its forms."

This is what I dislike about the attempt to shoehorn capitalism into anarchy. We can dismiss the glaring infeasibility of a top-down, unbalanced economic structure within a flat democracy because, hey, it's not like any anarchists, at all, actually know what they want, so they don't want to really achieve something, right? So we can puzzle together all kinds of hypotheticals, keep the whole thing cerebral. Ignore history, in terms of what tools within anarchism have worked, and why, and where they failed and why. And least of all don't look at what anarchist movements are up to lately. From now on, politics is conjecture time, all the time.

It is unsurprising to me that pundits with an almost religious admiration for capitalism, and who may as well just call themselves capitalists, because capitalism is the socio-economic structure they propose, would defend the Confederacy. The total infusion of capitalism into the literal flesh-and-blood lives of human beings is this "anarcho-capitalist" dream come to life.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:49 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Marisa: I think your first paragraph applies to a lot of different flavours of anarchism, not just ancaps - unless you think the majority of the primmies or insurrectionalists make their decisions based on thorough consideration of past tools and how they have worked and why.
posted by corb at 4:09 PM on July 29, 2013


I'm not saying it doesn't apply to some of them. There are anarchists who don't have any goal in mind but fighting the state. I'm saying that this is narrowly selective. Further, pointing to this this set of behaviors is a really, really weird way to come to the conclusion, "therefore, it doesn't matter if none of these anarcho-capitalist ideas of ours will work". Ignoring the past and the present when it comes to why people shape the ideas about anarchism they did - because they wanted and want it to work - removes any sort of intellectual rigor in actually trying to formulate a feasible society, and is just simple contrarianism.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:40 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I say that I don't think we will see anarcho-capitalism in my lifetime, it's not because I don't think we can get to a workable society using those principles, it's more because I refuse to condone the initiation of force in the pursuit of those goals, and don't think a country as large as the one I live in will ever be able to come to a consensus on how to handle those ideas even if they did want to and were willing to engage in a consensus process. I refuse to impose even the society that fits my own highest ideals on those unwilling to live under them. That's what I mean when I say that it's not practical or that I don't think it will work out.

But the honest truth about political systems of all stripes is that no one has worked out all the kinks. Not a single person the world over has come up with a system that works perfectly. We're all figuring things out as we go - learning from history, sure, but also learning that even the best laid plans 'gang aft agley".

One of the big questions of anarchism is how you deal with goods and markets? Do you think they're inevitable or not? Can they be forestalled or should they be embraced, but only without coercive conditions? Even the syndicalists will need to find a way to trade goods with other syndics. What happens when one syndic is more powerful than another? Have you done away with power structures or simply transformed them into entities made up of multiple organisms? And how do you deal with other groups who want different things? The worst part is a lot of these are questions that by the nature of anarchism can't be answered in advance.

I think it's feasible to say that the person who has first blended their labor with the land or any tangible item - in whatever way - has a claim on it, and thus anyone wanting to further interact with it will need to come to an equitable agreement with that first laborer. At the same time, without a hard line, that can lead to bad systems. But is it important to say that because bad systems can result, it's important to do away with everything? Is it really important to say that I'm not able to trade, say, vegetables from my garden, for an hour of babysitting - without giving up my stake in either the garden or the child?
posted by corb at 5:10 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


But the honest truth about political systems of all stripes is that no one has worked out all the kinks. Not a single person the world over has come up with a system that works perfectly. We're all figuring things out as we go - learning from history, sure, but also learning that even the best laid plans 'gang aft agley".

Nor do I think any activist be required to have a ready blueprint for Day Zero. I was referring to the attitude that it is irrelevant that certain sociopolitical models are impossible. There's an ahistorical approach in the sentiment that a lack of feasibility doesn't matter. I disagree, I think it matters a lot. The process of exploration is a given, but it takes - among many other things - deciding that infeasible models are left out of the equation. It's imperative to look at history, as well as existing models, to help us in that exploration.

You bring up anarcho-syndicalism are one model, and that's one we can learn from in the very recent past, looking at models that had varying levels of success and failure, for different periods of time. Why did and didn't different models work? We can see that. Anarcho-capitalism perhaps has to be ahistorical, because when an unfettered capitalist market becomes the social model, the result has been inequity, exploitation, and human slavery.

Ultimately, no, revolutionaries do not and cannot reasonably be expected to have all the answers. This doesn't absolve us from being honest with ourselves and taking a very good look around us about what has and can work.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:43 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Worse. It's teenagerism.
I believe I have the right to steal the shit out of this and pass it off as my own.
posted by fullerine at 8:27 PM on July 29, 2013


I believe I have the right to steal the shit out of this and pass it off as my own.

Please do.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:44 PM on July 29, 2013


"The anarchist is not someone who has a belief about 'what will work.' Rather, he is someone who opposes aggression in all its forms."

Yet the opposite is more true, so it looks like cognitive dissonance where people go door to door as apologists after a failed prophecy or cult social experiment. There is a common footnote in failed deregulation reports and testimony, in hindsight, that they never saw the pirates coming. This was said after the savings and loan debacle in the US, where the government lost 250+ billion shoring up junk bonds in Texas. Libertarians at best are just a bunch of idealists who want to make the world impossibly simpler, a failure in waiting. At worst, they are the pirates, and the violence and corruption that waits a lawless society governed by wealth is well documented, including child marriage and abandonment, one of the first things outlawed in the woman's' suffrage reform movement in the US.
posted by Brian B. at 10:29 AM on August 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


On the Meaning of Oaths
See, I really do think Robert E. Lee was a traitor who should have been executed. Polite people, nice folks in Fredericksburg and other southern places where I have been on a rip, are not used to hearing such a virulent assault upon "Marse Robert." But when I feel like being left alone I am neither polite, nor Southern, and so when I am annoyed, I have in the past let loose upon the traitor. And he was that.

He had a choice. Lee chose to betray the United States. Some of his peers, Virginians through-and-through, with more reason than him to want to keep "slaves in their place," decided not to betray our nation. These were men who decided to keep true to their oaths. These were men who believed in the nation. One, in particular, matters to this campaign we are talking about in Tennessee. His name was George Thomas.
[...]
I acknowledge that the whole idea of an "oath" actually meaning something in the "modern" age may not resonate with everyone. I do not really know how to bring this into the present for most of you. The social/intellectual/emotional concept of individual honor has sort of changed a lot in the past 150 years. Unfortunately sometimes I really do not understand those of you who do not feel deeply about honor.

This is not because I am a historian. It is because I swore essentially that same oath that George Thomas and Robert Lee swore, and I was taught to mean it when I swore an oath or make a pledge. But even so, even I do not think that my own emotional and psychological commitment to my oath is as deep as these things were in the early-mid 19th Century. So Lee's treason, his betrayal of his oath as an officer of the United States Army, is sort of personal to me, and I am offended by his lying (if he never meant it when he swore the oath) or his two-faced nature, if he did. Snowden? Manning? Pshaw. They are nothing compared to a man who actually commanded forces that killed tens of thousands of American soldiers. I resent Lee's subsequent fame which stemmed solely from his ability to kill American soldiers. As an American soldier, that strikes me as wrong.

What strikes me as even more unfair is that at the same time, George Thomas rejected the course of political and familial opportunism and stayed true to his oath. He won on the battlefield, over and over again, and defended the United States with his every action, and now he is largely forgotten.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:30 AM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


On the Meaning of Oaths

Well the little self-righteous ignorant fuck who wrote this really needs his head slammed hard into his history textbook but it's kind of hard to do that when his link is dead.

Lee had an oath to the United States but he also had an oath to Virginia. It is well recorded that it is the hardest decision he ever had to make, what to us today with 20/20 hindsight, was the wrong decision. At the time Virginia was the longer standing entity and his home.

And when the war was lost and the country humiliated him by making his ancestral home the national cemetary, Lee still toured the south imploring his countrymen to accept the new peace and not take up guerrilla warfare against the Union. He was gracious in defeat and did what was necessary to create a new and lasting peace. Without his effort we might still be having actual violent skirmishes as in modern Palestine. Lee devoted his life to making sure that would not happen. And it's well documented.

This is why Lee is remembered. Slaughter is an easy thing. Grace in defeat is not.
posted by localroger at 5:43 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


he also had an oath to Virginia

I rather doubt this.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:10 PM on August 14, 2013


Great etymologically relevant use of "unreconstructed" graymouser:
spec. (orig. U.S.) Not reconciled to the outcome of the American Civil War; hence gen. not reconciled or converted to the current political orthodoxy; unreformed; die-hard
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 6:50 PM on August 14, 2013


As a Southern Black US citizen, I usually cringe when I hear/read usually white folks who choose this political stance try to explain the benefits of the Civil War or their ideas for the future of our country. This thread has been interesting. I think many people have contrasted woods versus deeds pretty well.

What is at stake is the future of our union, though, because how people frame the past links to how they intend to shape the future. The economic forces at work in the Northern, Southern, and European decisions around the time of the Civil War are different today. I think that in many ways, since the Civil War, we in the USA have outsourced some of the de facto harms of that era's form of slavery (notice, I did not write de jure). In cahoots with capitalism, imperialism, then neocolonialism, we have spread a net to capture inhumane labor and raw materials to justify our way of life.

The way history is taught in K-12 education in the US, a war seems like a big wake-up call, but the deeds of policymakers, businesspeople, and politicians accrete to change everyday life as well.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 7:19 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lee had an oath to the United States but he also had an oath to Virginia. It is well recorded that it is the hardest decision he ever had to make, what to us today with 20/20 hindsight, was the wrong decision. At the time Virginia was the longer standing entity and his home.
Question: The question I am about to put to you, you may answer or not as you choose: Did you take an oath of fidelity or allegiance to the Confederate government?

Answer: I do not recollect having done so but it is possible that when I was commissioned. I did I do not recollect whether it was required. If it was required I took it or it had been required would have taken it but I do not recollect whether it was or not.
--Testimony of Robert E. Lee before the Joint Committee on Reconstruction in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 1866
posted by zombieflanders at 7:23 AM on August 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Quote taken from Life and campaigns of General Robert E. Lee.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:32 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


If a man takes up deadly arms against his government, loses, and is given kind treatment and no punishment whatsoever, showing grace about it seems like the very least he can do if he intends to go on living in safety in the nation against which he rebelled.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:05 AM on August 15, 2013


The article I posted above apparently had the URL changed, here's the new one.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:34 AM on August 15, 2013


no punishment whatsoever

So they didn't confiscate Arlington and turn it into the national cemetery?

I suspect a quite rational, and with the benefit of hindsight correct, decision was made that Lee was more valuable for his bully pulpit discouraging further rebellion than he would have been as a martyr.
posted by localroger at 1:01 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Confiscating property seems more of a fine or a forfeit than a punishment to me, but chacun à son goût.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:08 PM on August 15, 2013


The fiction that having your possessions stolen by the state is not a punishment is the source of one of the most pernicious evils of our own time, the civil forfeiture apparattus by which people are regularly relieved of homes, cars, boats, and such on incredibly flimsy pretext without due process because "property doesn't have rights and it's the property being charged." I do not consider calling out this obscenity a "taste."

In Lee's case they didn't just take Arlington from him and his family, they filled its grounds with the bodies of the dead so that nobody would ever live in it as a home again. It's probably about the worst thing they could have done to him short of an actual lengthy prison sentence.

Anyway Lee was included in Johnson's second amnesty, and in 1975 his citizenship was posthumously restored, so the wind of history definitely does not favor the small minded jerk who wrote the Esquire article.
posted by localroger at 4:19 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and on a bit more research: While Robert E. Lee did not live to see Arlington returned to his family, his wife and children pressed the claim and in 1882 the Supreme Court ruled in Lee's heirs favor that the estate had been seized illegally without due process. Given the practical difficulties of removing an active fort and disinterring 20,000 corpses the family settled for $150,000 in compensation which was considered fair market value for the property. Which I guess goes to show that the Union in 1882 was considerably more civilized than the one we live under now, which just keeps what it steals and gives it to the cops who stole it from you to play with.
posted by localroger at 6:13 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lee had an oath to the United States but he also had an oath to Virginia. It is well recorded that it is the hardest decision he ever had to make, what to us today with 20/20 hindsight, was the wrong decision. At the time Virginia was the longer standing entity and his home.

On April 4th, 1861, the Virginia convention voted a second ordinance of secession down by a two-thirds majority. It was only after Lincoln, perhaps making a mistake, ordered Virginian troops to South Carolina that the vote turned in favor of secession. In my opinion, if we are to consider Lee a great man, it is not asking too much to expect him to have decided with the 40% who remained opposed to a secession for slavery. I don't think hindsight is necessary to see that slavery is evil, and fighting a secession for slavery is evil. John Stewart Mill apparently did not need the benefit of hindsight to figure this out, "if there ever was an object which, by its bare announcement, stamped rebels against a particular community as enemies of mankind, it is the one professed by the South."
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:49 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


One can support a home or family because they are home and family even when one thinks they are wrong. Many people are doing that today with regard to America's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the continued existence of Gitmo. The southern politicians driving secession may have been mainly motivated by slavery but the same is not true of most of the people who fought for them. It is easy with the hindsight of more than a century to say someone should have chosen some greater good over their home, family, and friends, but it is much harder to tell someone when armies are massing and sides are being chosen that they must choose an abstract good over those local and immediate obligations.
posted by localroger at 5:27 AM on August 16, 2013


You apparently haven't read the article, or indeed even a good part of the excerpt I quoted above, which provides a perfect example of someone who did exactly that: General George Henry Thomas. And yet he is all but forgotten.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:35 AM on August 16, 2013


Lee was a brilliant general who was using his abilities, with full knowledge and consent, to enslave his fellow Virginians.

Lee's role in the Civil War cannot be revised into some sort of reluctant participant. He was too good a general, and too smart a politician, to be blind to the objectives of the Confederacy, or even opposed to them. He was a rich slaveholder who killed his countrymen by the hundreds of thousands to keep the right to be a master of slaves.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:41 AM on August 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well everyone has an opinion. Mine happens to be in agreement with Presidents Johnson and Ford and the 94th Congress, where the measure to restore Lee's status as a US citizen passed the House 470 to 10.
posted by localroger at 10:00 AM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


You mean Johnson, the Texan who was trying to keep Southern Democrats from defecting en masse over civil rights by tossing them a symbolic bone, and Ford, the Nixonite who was trying to get Southern Democrats to defect en masse over civil rights?
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:09 AM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sure you can find some equally sinister ulterior motive for all 470 of the House members and the majority of Senators who also voted for it.
posted by localroger at 11:26 AM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well the little self-righteous ignorant fuck who wrote this really needs his head slammed hard into his history textbook

Wow. I mean, I'm happy to agree with you that Lee served the Union better as a living defeat than as a dead martyr and I don't care, really, that a Congress symbolically returned a meaningless citizenship to him a century after his death. None of that changes the fact that he did, in fact, violate his oath, that he did take up arms against his own countrymen, and lastly, that he did so in support of a rebellion the purpose of which was to preserve the right to own people. Lee may have been a charismatic man who lived a dramatic life, but he was no hero. And if he had been half the honorable stoic southerners have liked to make him out to be, he'd have fallen on his own sword out of shame.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:40 PM on August 16, 2013


None of that changes the fact that he did, in fact, violate his oath,

If one can't officially resign from an oath after changing their mind, then one has entered into a devil's bargain and wagered their freedom, and all such oaths are dishonorable to begin with.
posted by Brian B. at 5:50 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh god, are we really having the whole "Were Confederate Generals Traitors" conversation again? Didn't it go badly enough in the last thread?

I will never understand the desire of some people to continue tarring and feathering Confederate generals a hundred years later.
posted by corb at 11:10 PM on August 16, 2013


The lives they lived and decisions they made are still felt in the bones of the country daily, and not exactly in a positive way. Of course people are going to have strong opinions about about them. And it's not as if the "tarring and feathering" isn't a legitimate part of the discussion in a country where people still lionize them a hundred years later.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:20 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, shorter: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."
posted by jason_steakums at 11:24 PM on August 16, 2013


Tarring and feathering is never a legitimate part of any conversation.

The thing is, people want to make these things a standin for other things. The Confederacy as a standin for slavery, for example - even though some Union states still kept slaves. It's possible to have a nuanced view of historical figures, but there's no reason to viscerally hate people just because they happened to fight against you in a war. Especially when we ourselves were founded in a Revolution, but I don't see anyone having "Was Washington A Traitor" conversations.
posted by corb at 11:24 PM on August 16, 2013


I think you're ascribing a motive there that you can't know, and I put "tarring and feathering" in quotes because that's a pretty subjective way of describing the conversation.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:28 PM on August 16, 2013


I think as long as black men and women are actually lynched in this country, by vigilante and state apparatus alike, and as long as their murders are excused by people like you as a regrettable necessity of property law, I'm not going to concern myself overly with whether Confederate generals who fought to keep them in genocidal bondage are metaphorically tarred and feathered. I, for my part, will never understand why the reputations of long-dead men are more precious to you than the gross human suffering perpetrated during those men's lives, but I guess that gives us both something to scratch our heads over.
posted by Errant at 1:49 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


If one can't officially resign from an oath after changing their mind, then one has entered into a devil's bargain and wagered their freedom, and all such oaths are dishonorable to begin with.

No one said that they can't resign from their oath. Also, remember that just because one resigns from that oath to fight for a horrible cause, they should not be expected to be free from harsh criticism. Especially, as in this case, when others in their exact same situation chose not to do so.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:31 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obviously some people feel the need to grind this axe. Haters gonna hate, and all that. I tend to suspect most of those 470 House members who voted to restore Lee's honorary postmortem membership in our tribe were not cravenly pandering to redneck voters as Slap*Happy so easily accused two elected Presidents of doing. History has, in fact, spoken on this matter. It is the ten, not the 470, who like the Esquire writer did not get the memo.

As for why Lee is remembered while a more "worthy" contemporary is not, interesting stories have a narrative arc. Making all the correct choices and performing admirably with minimal mistakes might make for a life well lived but it is not an engaging story. Making the wrong choice, performing brilliantly even in the face of likely doom, then expressing humility and finding redemption is a much better story. And people love good stories more than mere accomplishment in all spheres.
posted by localroger at 6:17 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If one can't officially resign from an oath after changing their mind, then one has entered into a devil's bargain and wagered their freedom, and all such oaths are dishonorable to begin with.

This is a very modern view. Certainly, before the last few centuries in the West, the point of an oath is that it was forever and breaking it was the worst sort of act, inviting almost any repercussion. The 100 Years War was fought at least partly on the pretext of who owed fealty to whom and if that fealty could be discharged. I don't know enough about 19th C American attitudes on oaths, but I would be surprised if "resigning" an oath could be done as casually as you seem to assume. The American revolutionaries a century earlier were very careful to frame the conversation so that the Crown had failed its responsibilities first, freeing the colonists to act as aggrieved parties.

All of which is a little beside the point, of course. I suspect that Lee was pardoned mostly because some people (including Congressmen) really wanted it to happen, and no one (or hardly anyone) felt strongly enough to oppose it. Also, nearly a century of "Noble Commanders in an Ignoble War" rhetoric had done their job. The Confederate Generals, after all, on their surface, are nicer to look at than their Union contemporaries, the same way that a slave plantation is prettier from a distance than a factory.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:36 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


A better story and the legality of humans as property. Brilliant defense you guys are coming up with here.

BTW, the 2001 AUMF had 420 votes. I wonder how, exactly, history will have spoken on that matter, and who didn't get the memo there. I'd say the writer of the Esquire piece--a military historian and teacher at West Point who also happens to be a veteran of the Iraq War--knows this better than most.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:41 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will never understand the desire of some people to continue tarring and feathering Confederate generals a hundred years later.

corb, have you read this thread and thought about what people are saying? The answer is Racism and Slavery. The Confederate generals are not being "tarred and feathered," they inexorably stained themselves by acting in defense of Evil. And it's not even a past evil, like, say, the persecution of the Huguenots; it is an evil that is still echoing today for millions of people. It's one of the central defining issues of the United States, and all the efforts to handwave it away just make the people doing it look, well, racist.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:47 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


BTW, the 2001 AUMF had 420 votes.

Gosh darnit, you're right. I forgot about how Colin Powell was there in 1975 telling the world that McClellan's weather balloon launcher was actually a nerve gas factory. Obviously Lee wouldn't have gotten 470 votes if the truth had been known for, say, 110 years.
posted by localroger at 7:06 AM on August 17, 2013


This is a very modern view. Certainly, before the last few centuries in the West, the point of an oath is that it was forever

This is true. However, it is also a very modern view that one should place one's loyalty to an abstract entity like a nation-state over one's loyalty to friends, family, and home.

Lee was basically screwed as of the moment the Virginia politicos, who were beyond his control and operating for reasons Lee didn't much care about, chose secession. He was going to have to betray someone, and it was going to be dramatic because Lee himself was a military genius deeply valuable to both emerging sides. Late in life, when asked what his greatest mistake was, he didn't say it was siding with his home instead of his country; he said it was taking a military education. If he hadn't been so valuable to whichever side he chose his choice would not be remembered.

As for racism and slavery, Wikipedia quotes an interesting paragraph that actually expresses the nuance so lacking here:
This [letter to his wife] was the prevailing view among most religious people of Lee's class in the border states. They believed that slavery existed because God willed it and they thought it would end when God so ruled. The time and the means were not theirs to decide, conscious though they were of the ill-effects of Negro slavery on both races. Lee shared these convictions of his neighbors without having come in contact with the worst evils of African bondage. He spent no considerable time in any state south of Virginia from the day he left Fort Pulaski in 1831 until he went to Texas in 1856. All his reflective years had been passed in the North or in the border states. He had never been among the blacks on a cotton or rice plantation. At Arlington, the servants had been notoriously indolent, their master's master. Lee, in short, was only acquainted with slavery at its best, and he judged it accordingly. At the same time, he was under no illusion regarding the aims of the Abolitionists or the effect of their agitation.

--Douglas Freeman / R. E. Lee, A Biography
So Lee's efforts may have been directed toward preserving slavery, but that was not his personal motivation; he was faced with a choice between taking up arms against his own family and home, or with them. Anyone who is certain they would choose correctly in a similar situation is a fool. Indeed, one could draw a strong case that Lee did choose correctly, for betraying one's family and home might suggest a much deeper lack of fealty than betraying an oath one has taken in a professional capacity to an abstract and relatively distant entity.

As for what one's family and home are up to, the idea that we should take that into consideration is also a very modern view. Michael Corleone didn't much like the family business either, but it was a story worth telling because when duty called he took it up anyway.
posted by localroger at 7:35 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


You are aware that Michael Corleone is supposed to be a villain, right?
posted by zombieflanders at 7:43 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I will never understand the desire of some people to continue tarring and feathering Confederate generals a hundred years later.

And I'll never understand the desire some people have to defend said generals all these years later, and their utter inability to acknowledge that the "property" rights the generals were defending were and are indefensible, given that that "property" was human beings.

And yet here we are.
posted by rtha at 7:52 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is true. However, it is also a very modern view that one should place one's loyalty to an abstract entity like a nation-state over one's loyalty to friends, family, and home.

Limiting myself to the West, the story of Abraham and Isaac pretty much proves this false. Before the more abstract nation-state existed, it was a question of loyalty to god or the king rather than one's immediate family, but it is largely the same choice. If you want something more like loyalty to a nation-state, Roman history, much admired in 18th and 19th C America, has quite a few stories of people who sacrificed their children and families for the good of the state.

This [letter to his wife] was the prevailing view among most religious people of Lee's class in the border states. They believed that slavery existed because God willed it and they thought it would end when God so ruled.

How much more of a Sign from God did he need that the sharp change in fortunes from a rosy beginning to the war to abject defeat?

I don't know that much about Lee's life beyond it's very broad outlines, so I am not really in a position to judge him with great certainty or detail, but the "he was a product of his time" is not a great argument; there was already more than a century's worth of Abolitionist writing by that time, and it was one of the foremost debates of his age; it's not like he could have been completely ignorant of the arguments.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:26 AM on August 17, 2013


Oh god, are we really having the whole "Were Confederate Generals Traitors" conversation again?

Oh, God, are we having the "Why is everyone being mean to the Confederate Generals" conversation again?

There's an entire region of this country that is filled with people who still hate Lincoln and what they call "the Yankee agressors." And per the actual topic of this discussion, there's a significant number of people who want to be taken seriously as political thinkers in 2013 who still hate Lincoln and Sherman and the Grand Army of the Republic. Why don't you go scold them for digging up the past?

As for why Lee is remembered while a more "worthy" contemporary is not, interesting stories have a narrative arc.

Is "Cool story, bro" an adequate defense of Lee?

Roge, I don't think anyone would deny that REL makes a charismatic and dramatically compelling figure, but it isn't clear to me what your point is beyond that. Is it that his choices are understandable in the context of his time? Of course they are understandable. Is your point that some of Lee's motives for making those choices even look admirable in retrospect? Yes, some of them do. None of that keeps him (and every other rebel) from being on the wrong side of history and ultimately unless you're prepared to defend the intent of the rebellion—namely, to preserve the right to own slaves—any defense of Lee and his confederates has to stop at the point where they took up arms against the legitimate government and joined that rebellion.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:29 AM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


You are aware that Michael Corleone is supposed to be a villain, right?

Wow. You have just summarized why we are having this argument better than I ever could have.

Of course, if it was really that simple the Godfather trilogy would have been a 5,000 word short story and the movie adaptation would have been the length of a commercial break.
posted by localroger at 11:15 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


None of that keeps him (and every other rebel) from being on the wrong side of history

I'm not sure what your point is. You've just admitted, as some of the 10 vs. 470 here can't seem to, that Lee is a complex person who made good choices along with the very bad one to weigh in with the Confederacy. The first person who would agree with you as to the wrong side of history thing is Robert E. Lee himself.

To reduce the motives of every single person in the Confederacy to slavery/evil is as simplistic and stupid as the idiots who still fly Confederate flags above their South will Rise Again bumper stickers.

The sad thing is that I bet many of the 10 vs. 470 people harping here would willingly admit that there were German soldiers in WW2 who fought honorably as anyone would have for their own people, who had no share in the atrocities committed by their leaders, and who deserved and ultimately merited the second chance most of them were given after the war was concluded. But of the CSA all they can see is EEEEVILLLLL.
posted by localroger at 11:26 AM on August 17, 2013


If by "second chance" you mean "allowed to live out their lives in peace," sure. If you mean "forgiven" or "condoned," well, you'll get a lot more disagreement there. I don't quite understand what you're expecting here - that people will shrug and say "sure, he made reasonable choices, we shouldn't criticize"? Because "understandable" isn't "reasonable," and you're not going to convince much of Metafilter that they shouldn't criticize anything.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:51 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


You've just admitted, as some of the 10 vs. 470 here can't seem to, that Lee is a complex person who made good choices

Read my words more closely. I didn't write that Lee "made good choices," I wrote that some of his motives behind his choices might seem admirable—loyalty to region, for example. But the choices he made to join the rebellion were uniformly bad, and not just bad in a practical sense, but morally bad as well, even in the context of his own time. Betweeen 1860-65, whatever your motives, aiding and abetting the Confederate rebellion was aiding and abetting a fight to preserve the right to own slaves. Period. Any refusal to concede that is a refusal to learn from history and is, at least implicitly, a support for that rebellion.

To reduce the motives of every single person in the Confederacy to slavery/evil is as simplistic and stupid

Intent follows the bullet. It isn't necessary to judge the motives of every single person who took up arms for the Confederate rebellion—and no one here is doing that anyway—to judge the actions of the people who took up those arms. They perpetrated a war whose ultimate goal was to preserve the right to own slaves. Collectively, their actions must be judged in that light.

many of the 10 vs. 470 people harping here would willingly admit that there were German soldiers in WW2 who fought honorably as anyone would have for their own people, who had no share in the atrocities committed by their leaders, and who deserved and ultimately merited the second chance most of them were given after the war

You do realize that there is a difference between "fighting honorably" and "fighting for a honorable cause," right? And of course the German people "had a share in the atrocities committed by their leaders," that complicity was recognized by both the Allied victors who instituted the de-Nazification processes that followed the surrender and by the German people themselves. Post-war German culure is characterized by such a recognition. Had the descendents of the southern rebels recognized their own complicity to the degree the Germans did we probably wouldn't be having his debate now.

As far as "second chances," the south in the aftermath of the Civil War received nothing but second chances, so I don't even know what you're talking about there.

But of the CSA all they can see is EEEEVILLLLL.

"The CSA" can be judged without judging the hearts and motives of everyone who fought in it's name. But as an idea and an institution, the declared purpose of "the CSA" was to preserve the right to own slaves. I guess it's up to you to decide if you think that's "evil" or not.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:17 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The CSA" can be judged without judging the hearts and motives of everyone who fought in it's name.

Actually the problem we have here is the exact opposite. It should be possible to judge the hearts and motives of the individuals who fought for the CSA without judging the CSA itself in the same breath. And this some people don't seem to be able to do.
posted by localroger at 12:26 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The CSA was made up of the people who made it. It was not some separate entity. It was created by people who made choices and statements about their motives, and who acted on them.
posted by rtha at 12:29 PM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think one of the really important things of human reasoning is the ability to take a nuanced view, rather than seizing on one aspect of a person's life and making it the defining characteristic by which it will be judged.

Some of the greatest thinkers of human history - Plato, Aristotle, St Augstine, Thomas Aquinas, to name only a few - argued for the justice of keeping slaves, but we do not define them by that fact alone, even though they said some things we would justly consider vile if they said them today.

And even some of those generals "bravely fighting to free the slaves" had no such compunctions about mistreating women OR slaves - see General Butler's notorious General Order 28, detailing that any woman who failed to respect Union troops could be treated like whores. General Butler, of course, is the one who chose to declare slaves coming to him for justice were contraband and could be pressed into labor.
I understand that the General has decided to retain all the negroes who have come. An officer has been appointed to take a general charge of them, taking receipts from all parties who select servants from his gang, and opening an account with the reputed owner of each negro, charging the expense of caring for and supporting the non-laborers, and crediting the services of the men and women employed. So much for the negro question in its present aspect.
Then of course there was General Sherman, who allowed his men to rape women without retribution, so long as they were black. (trigger warning)
Simms explained that most of the “horrors” against women had taken place away from Columbia. He wrote that Union soldiers and Sherman’s hangers-on might have threatened white women, but they actually targeted black women in rural areas. In the city, Simms’ on-the-ground reporting, however, revealed what we can only call a gang rape:

The poor negroes were terribly victimized by their brutal assailants, many of them . . . being left in a condition little short of death. Regiments, successive relays (emphasis by Simms), subjected scores of these poor women to the torture of their embraces, and – but we dare not farther pursue the subject – it is one of such loathing and horror.

…Two cases are described where young negresses were brutally forced by the wretches and afterwards murdered – one of them being thrust, when half dead, head down, into a mud puddle, and there held until she was suffocated.
There is no special nobility that accrued to those fighting for the North, and I'd even wager a majority of them were not fighting for the cause of freeing black people from bondage. Just so, there is no special evil that accrues to those fighting for the South, a majority of whom I would argue were not fighting to keep black people enslaved, but for the protection of their homeland and for sovereignty.
posted by corb at 12:37 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just so, there is no special evil that accrues to those fighting for the South

Except, you know, THE DECLARED PURPOSE OF THE CONFEDERATION IN WHOSE NAME THEY WERE FIGHTING. I mean, corb, maybe you don't think that fighting—however well-intentionedly or ignorantly—in the name of a confederation determined to preserve the right to own slaves is "a special evil" but you might be surprised to learn that many people do, especially people who happen to be descended from the enslaved.

However impure the motives of the US government may have been in prosecuting the war, they didn't start a war to preserve the right to own slaves. And all your apologies for the rebellion are never going to change that.

It should be possible to judge the hearts and motives of the individuals who fought for the CSA without judging the CSA itself in the same breath.

To the extent that we are talking about services rendered to the latter by the former, then the judgement of one is necessarily the judgement of the other.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:03 PM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


To the extent that we are talking about services rendered to the latter by the former, then the judgement of one is necessarily the judgement of the other.

Reductive and stupid.

I assume you're an American. (If not your nation probably has similar atrocities you can substitute, most of them do.) Someone already pulled the AUMF card on me because the tide of history has weighed so heavily on Lee's side, 470-10 in the House of Representatives. Are you prepared to accept your culpability for the rape of Iraq? Do you accept personal responsibility for the atrocities of Abu Ghraib? Are you ready to serve time and give up your franchise for your role in the ongoing obscenity of Gitmo?

Are the marvels of Apollo, Voyager, Magellan, Cassini, numerous Mars landers and the Hubble Space Telescope irredeemably tainted with the stink of Hiroshima and (especially difficult to forgive) Nagasaki, the H-bomb and ICBM programs, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Iraq? Are the engineers who worked on these projects, like those who attempted to build submarines and ironclads for the Confederacy, nothing but war criminals because the capability they worked to create also drops bombs on wedding parties in Afghanistan and leaves land mines to blow up kids all over the world?

You are asking exactly that sort of thing of people who lived and died before you were even born in a world whose expectations you barely understand. As the North so often asks of Southerners who fly the old flag a bit too proudly, maybe you should get over it. Most of our ancestors were not monsters and were only doing what people have done for all of human history, following their leaders and joining their neighbors to defend their home. That some leaders are monsters is nothing special to the Confederacy; it's true of all large or enduring states, including the current USA. Just because you joined the army for naive patriotism and the GI bill does not make you one of the shooters at My Lai. That is true whether the uniform you wear is blue, gray, or khaki.
posted by localroger at 1:21 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know you're saying, "Oh, so nuanced, the Confederacy is EEEEVILL, how simplisitic". But I will tell you that it isn't nuanced, the Confederacy was and is evil, and there doesn't always have to be a much more complicated locus for action than the prevalence of human sadism. All of this bending over backwards, again, is people like yourselves trying to understand why someone you perceive as being a good man fought for something wretched, and contorting yourselves into knots to make him and others like him come out of this woeful piece of history untarnished. Sorry, that isn't going to happen. But if you believe in a nuanced view of history, then you should surely be capable of grasping the idea that good people do bad things, and that those bad things are not incidental or always made less bad because of the perceived nobility of the characters involved.

At best, you are arguing that Lee fought in defense of a genocidal institution, on behalf of a nation-state devised precisely to preserve that peculiar institution and having forsworn an oath to defend and protect the people he was shooting at in order to do so, because he felt a primitive responsibility to the place of his birth and the people around him. This argument makes him look like an incredibly stupid and simple man, as though his every action were predetermined by uncontrolled circumstance. It is not, as you would like to believe, a terribly flattering portrayal, the idea that he killed in the name of slavery only incidentally and unthinkingly.

Most of our ancestors were not monsters and were only doing what people have done for all of human history, following their leaders and joining their neighbors to defend their home.

This is what I mean. You believe we are staining your family name, and you simply will not have it. I think that if you're taking this discussion personally, it is highly likely that your family fought to preserve the right to commit genocide, and I am not going to have a problem calling that poor behavior. The massacre at My Lai and the bombing of Hiroshima are not enshrined and immutable conditions of the United States Constitution. The same cannot be said of the Confederate institution. You are the one calling your ancestors illiterate, naive, and primitive. Everyone else is arguing that they made intelligent, aware, and incorrect choices. I do not think you are doing your ancestors the justice you believe.

The rest of it, this "you can't judge you can't judge" thing, is mere historical relativism. You certainly have had no difficulty judging people and quoted authors in this thread, and they have left far less documentation on their motives and beliefs than those Confederate generals whose moral reputations you prize more highly than the blood of a nation.
posted by Errant at 1:36 PM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


The massacre at My Lai and the bombing of Hiroshima are not enshrined and immutable conditions of the United States Constitution. The same cannot be said of the Confederate institution.

To be fair, slavery was in fact enshrined in the US Constitution for over a hundred years. The confederacy had less than four. It's entirely possible they, too, would have changed their minds when it became less fiscally convenient, just like the North did.

But either way - would you argue that everyone who fought to preserve the US after 1787 and before the end of the Civil War was a racist dying in a genocidal cause?
posted by corb at 1:44 PM on August 17, 2013


Are you prepared to accept your culpability for the rape of Iraq? Do you accept personal responsibility for the atrocities of Abu Ghraib? Are you ready to serve time and give up your franchise for your role in the ongoing obscenity of Gitmo?

As an American I have to accept some degree of culpability for the Iraq clusterfuck, yes. And if I had participated directly in the Abu Gharaib atrocities, then I would be responsible, yes. As an aside, it's remarkable that you can describe Gitmo as an "ongoing obscenity" at the same time you are defending a rebellion that was determined to preserve a society-wide "Gitmo."

Reductive and stupid.

No it isn't. But since you have trouble actually reading the words I write, maybe what I wrote is unclear to you. To the extent that southerners of the period 1860-65 directly participated in the Confederate rebellion, then we are entitled to judge them on their service to that cause. How could it be otherwise? Why do they get a pass? None of us are gods, of course; none of us can damn them to hell for all eternity, even if we would, but we can say of a participant that they were wrong to participate; we can condemn their actions—even when we may understand their motives—and we can refuse to honor their memory. The future will do the same to us.

It's entirely possible they, too, would have changed their minds when it became less fiscally convenient, just like the North did.

Talk about grasping at straws. You're so enthralled by the Confederate rebellion that you demand that it be judged on what it might have done.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:53 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


On re-reading the post REL section of this thread it impresses me that there is an exactness to my comparison of Lee with Michael Corleone.

It is, of course, reductive and stupid to say of Mike's character "he's a villain." He is a tragic character precisely because he wants so very much and tries so very hard not to be a villain, but ends up one anyway. One of the very first lines we hear from him is "that's my family, it's not me," and over and over we see him try to make the transition to a clean business model only to be forced back by circumstances beyond his control.

If Corleone were simply a monster who cared for nothing but enabling a network of Sicilian criminals and murderers his story would not be worth telling. He is an engaging character because he is born into a situation where his loyalty is split. He can't be a good citizen and a good son at the same time, so he makes a choice. And if it had been a good choice as I said upthread his story would have been short and uninteresting.

The difference between Corleone and Lee is that Corleone disappeared entirely into the whirlwind of his family obligation, while Lee came back and redeemed himself.

There is no need at this point to redeem Lee because that has been done. All we are doing here is going over the fact that, whether you like it or not, it's been done and you should get over it, because in 1975 the US government decided by an overwhelming majority that Lee was just as worthy a citizen (if a bit late for him to enjoy it personally) as you and I are. It's done. He redeemed himself with his postwar activities, which many people credit for the fact that today's would-be Confederates aren't throwing actual bombs as their analogues are in so many other parts of the world.

This argument regained steam after I called out the ignorant Esquire writer who didn't get the memo and decided 150 years of shitstain just wasn't enough for his delicate sensibilities. It appears that's also true for a few 10 vs 470 folks who are still hanging around. Well guess what, you're 10 and we're 470. You cannot convince anyone that that majority is up to pandering to redneck voters.

As you like to tell the folks in my neighborhood who are a bit too fond of yellow pickup trucks and Confederate flags, get over it.
posted by localroger at 1:56 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


But since you have trouble actually reading the words I write

OK...

It's entirely possible they, too, would have changed their minds

I didn't write those words.
posted by localroger at 1:57 PM on August 17, 2013


I didn't write those words.

I didn't ascribe them to you.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:59 PM on August 17, 2013


And even some of those generals "bravely fighting to free the slaves" had no such compunctions about mistreating women OR slaves - see General Butler's notorious General Order 28, detailing that any woman who failed to respect Union troops could be treated like whores.

Which, in reality, didn't mean that they were forced into prostitution, but that soldiers were not required to treat them as high-born ladies:
Better known as the “Woman’s Order,” the proclamation did not have any sexual implications, even though it permitted Butler’s men to treat an offending woman as a prostitute. The order simply meant that a soldier was not obligated to treat the woman as a lady. If the woman cursed him, he could curse her back; if she spat at him, he could spit back.
General Butler, of course, is the one who chose to declare slaves coming to him for justice were contraband and could be pressed into labor.

Labor that included food, shelter, and pay; was so popular amongst blacks in the South that tens of thousands of them fled to Fort Monroe; and eventually became part of the basis of the Emancipation Proclamation:
When he arrived on May 22, 1861, Virginians—that is, those white men who qualified—were voting to secede from the Union. That night, three slaves slipped away from the nearby town of Hampton and sought asylum at the immense granite fort on the Chesapeake Bay. They told Butler that they were being sent to build Confederate defenses and did not want to be parted from their families. He allowed them to stay.

Two days later, their owner, a Virginia colonel, demanded their return. Butler’s answer changed American history: the self-taught Massachusetts lawyer said that since Virginia had voted to secede, the Fugitive Slave Act no longer applied, and the slaves were contraband of war. Once word of Fort Monroe’s willingness to harbor escaped slaves spread, thousands flocked to the safety of its guns.

“It has been so overlooked, but this was the first step toward making the Civil War a conflict about freedom,” says John Quarstein, Hampton’s historian. Soon, the escaped slaves were calling the forbidding stone structure “Freedom’s Fortress.” Butler found them work, established camps and provided food, clothing and wages. Some former slaves were taught to read and some joined the U.S. Navy.
Of course, unlike Lee, Butler wasn't the commander of the entire Army, and in fact was dismissed from his command less than a year after the war started.

There is no special nobility that accrued to those fighting for the North, and I'd even wager a majority of them were not fighting for the cause of freeing black people from bondage. Just so, there is no special evil that accrues to those fighting for the South, a majority of whom I would argue were not fighting to keep black people enslaved, but for the protection of their homeland and for sovereignty.

So nice of you to always assume the worst of the Northerners but never fail to see the good in Southerner's hearts, regardless of the multiple times slavery was stated. Oh, and that little technicality of starting the war. In any event, we know that Marse Robert probably wasn't one of these hypothetical good guys:
Lee had issued orders that the property of white citizens was to be respected during the invasion. But loosely defined, the directive enabled soldiers to capture people of color and send them to Virginia as if they were fugitive slaves. As a result men, women and children, both escaped slaves and blacks who had been born free, were grabbed by Lee’s men wherever they went.

Fear spread rapidly through the African-American community in Pennsylvania when the mighty Confederate army approached. Some black residents were able to hide and avoid capture by the rebels. Most, however, fled to Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and many never to return to their homes.

Nearly all of Chambersburg’s pre-war black population of 1,800 fled or were captured by Lee’s troops. The town of Gettysburg listed 186 African-American residents in 1860, a number that was reduced by two-thirds after the Confederate army left the area in retreat. Professor Smith estimates as many as 1,000 unlucky captives were taken to Virginia, where they were claimed by their former owners, sold at auction or imprisoned.

Did Lee know about these large-scale abductions? The Confederate general’s highest ranking corps commander, James Longstreet, issued orders that authorized the action. Although that does not prove Lee sanctioned the practice, it seems unlikely he was unaware of it or that he tried to stop it.
BTW, take a second to notice that this evidence is provided by historical documents and not by people with axes to grind, unlike that regarding Sherman.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:59 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't write those words.

I didn't ascribe them to you.


You quoted me, made a response, then quoted this and made another response without indicating that it was from a different source. At best very sloppy for someone complaining that we aren't reading your posts closely enough.
posted by localroger at 2:01 PM on August 17, 2013


You quoted me, made a response, then quoted this and made another response without indicating that it was from a different source.

Which is SOP around here. Keep up.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:04 PM on August 17, 2013


Which is SOP around here

Not for me. Improve.
posted by localroger at 2:05 PM on August 17, 2013


Labor that included food, shelter, and pay; was so popular amongst blacks in the South that tens of thousands of them fled to Fort Monroe; and eventually became part of the basis of the Emancipation Proclamation:

When he arrived on May 22, 1861, Virginians—that is, those white men who qualified—were voting to secede from the Union. That night, three slaves slipped away from the nearby town of Hampton and sought asylum at the immense granite fort on the Chesapeake Bay. They told Butler that they were being sent to build Confederate defenses and did not want to be parted from their families. He allowed them to stay.

You may not have read the entirety of the New York Times article I posted, which makes it clear that this was not for any reasons of kindness. (apologies for the language in the original)
The Major then wanted to know what the General proposed to do about his friend MALLORY's "niggers" and in reply Gen. BUTLER stated the circumstances and his reasons for detaining them, as above recited. Maj. CARY asked if the General wasn't mindful of his constitutional obligations to return fugitives, in accordance with the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act? To this query, answer was made that the slave act was not of force, as to a foreign country, which Virginia claimed to be, and she must count it among the infelicities of her position, that so far, at least, she was taken at her word. But that notwithstanding his great need of just such labor as had thus providentially fallen into his hands, if Col. MALLORY would come into the fortress and take the oath of allegiance to the Government, his negroes should be returned, or hired of him, as he chose. The General further suggested, that in Maryland, a loyal State, fugitives from service had been returned. To all this Maj. CARY had no reply to make, other than that Col. MALLORY was absent. So closed the first meeting for the discussion of the Slavery question in this camp.
posted by corb at 2:09 PM on August 17, 2013


Just so, there is no special evil that accrues to those fighting for the South, a majority of whom I would argue were not fighting to keep black people enslaved, but for the protection of their homeland and for sovereignty.

Their homeland was the US and they were fighting its legitimate forces. It astounds me that at this time in history, with all the documentation about the reasons and motivations for the Civil War, intelligent, articulate, well read people will expend so much energy attempting to defend and ennoble the noxious enterprise that the CSA and its supporters comprised.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:16 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


He redeemed himself with his postwar activities, which many people credit for the fact that today's would-be Confederates aren't throwing actual bombs as their analogues are in so many other parts of the world.

First of all, I question how much, exactly he redeemed himself. He testified many times that Southern whites thought well of freed slaves and other black people, even though this was blatantly not the case, and arguably still isn't. And second, who said would-be Confederates ever stopped throwing actual bombs (and firing actual guns)? Here's a short and woefully incomplete list of people that would disagree with that assertion:

James Byrd, Jr.
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner
Medgar Evars
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Emmitt Till
Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair
Cesar Cauce, Bill Sampson, Michael Nathan, Sandi Smith, James Waller
posted by zombieflanders at 2:22 PM on August 17, 2013


ZF you seem to have forgotten the Kennedys.

While all of the killings you list are deplorable none of them amount to more than a few days' activity for our own militias in the runup to the Revolutionary War, which regularly involved destroying infrastructure and large-scale ambushes of men and seizure of materiel. We are the country that invented that kind of asymmetrical warfare and the claim is that we mostly have Lee to thank for a lack of large-scale application of the same tactics by the ex-CSA against the Union.
posted by localroger at 2:29 PM on August 17, 2013


You may not have read the entirety of the New York Times article I posted, which makes it clear that this was not for any reasons of kindness.

That still makes him light years better than, y'know, actual slavers like Lee, whose army actively kidnapped Northern and Southern black families to be enslaved back home. It's also worth noting that Butler supported universal suffrage including that of women, putting him decades ahead of almost everybody else, unlike Lee, who stated that blacks "cannot vote intelligently" and therefore should not be allowed to vote.

ZF you seem to have forgotten the Kennedys.

I doubt that a communist (or for the tinfoil hat brigade, the Mafia and/or the Pentagon) and a Muslim killed in the name of the Confederacy.

We are the country that invented that kind of asymmetrical warfare and the claim is that we mostly have Lee to thank for a lack of large-scale application of the same tactics by the ex-CSA against the Union.

You're so totally right! Instead, they just swept the murders and terrorism under the rug, created and fostered the Klu Klux Klan, instituted Jim Crow, and fought tooth and nail to prevent any additional rights be provided to minorities. But hey, at least it wasn't official Confederates.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:36 PM on August 17, 2013


But hey, at least it wasn't official Confederates.

If you would prefer a world where the banned but active CSA Party are planting car bombs and hijacking airplanes, then continue by all means to piss on the legacy of Robert E. Lee who devoted the rest of his life beyond the war to dissuading people from doing stuff like that.
posted by localroger at 2:50 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you would prefer a world where the banned but active CSA Party are planting car bombs and hijacking airplanes, then continue by all means to piss on the legacy of Robert E. Lee who devoted the rest of his life beyond the war to dissuading people from doing stuff like that.

Have you ever considered the possibility that the terrorism that occurred after the war--and to a certain extent still occurs--would have happened whether or not Lee went around trying to dissuade them? After all, the same political parties existed (albeit switching about a century later) and won the same elections, the same war criminals like Forrest ended up starting the KKK (while still being praised by Lee for his wartime actions), and many of his views of blacks were (and still are) shared by former Confederates.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:05 PM on August 17, 2013


I mean, this is a man who went before Congress and told them that secessionists were totes cool with Reconstruction, but that it would be better if they just kicked all the black people out because feelings were too raw and besides, they're lazy, unintelligent brutes who don't deserve the same rights as white folk.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:12 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


ZF, go back to 1975 and tell it to the US Congress, Senate, and President Ford. I'm tired of dry humping this corpse.
posted by localroger at 3:17 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be fair, slavery was in fact enshrined in the US Constitution for over a hundred years.

Well, no, that's not fair so much as absurdly incorrect and a gross misreading of the Constitution. Let's refresh your suspiciously poor memory. Prior to the 13th Amendment, the idea of slavery is mentioned exactly once, in Article I Section 2 Clause 3; this is the 3/5ths Compromise. The Article does not mention slavery by name, at all; it instead mentions "free persons", which includes "those bound to service for a term of years" (indentured servants), untaxed "Indians", and "everyone else". Obviously, by "not-free persons", so to speak, they mean slaves. But there is no requirement for the presence of slaves at all; if a person is a free person, they count as a free person, and if there are no "not-free persons", the clause is interpretable without amendment. Admittedly, that the Constitution doesn't address slavery at all leaves the door wide open for slavery to exist, which is why the 13th Amendment was required to close that door. But there is a pretty significant difference between failing to legislate one way or the other on the issue in the US Constitution, and making slavery a permanent, explicit, and indelible part of Confederate society, as the CSA Constitution does:
No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed. - CSA Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 4

The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired. - CSA Constitution, Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1

The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several states; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form states to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory, the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress, and by the territorial government: and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories, shall have the right to take to such territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the states or territories of the Confederate states. - CS Constitution, Article IV, Section 3, Clause 3
Funny aside: when Lee and other ex-Union soldiers resigned their commissions to join the Confederate Army, they may have sworn some undocumented oath to their home states, but the soldier's oath was to protect and defend this Constitution, which is largely pretty similar to the US Constitution, except for a weakened central authority and slavery everywhere. So did every enlisted man in the Rebel army. So, at best, they are guilty of swearing an oath they did not understand to a document designed to hold a people in bondage in perpetuity. Or, we can assume that all those ancestors weren't complete idiots, and they knew what they were saying when they said it.

Funny aside #2: the Confederate Constitution is the only major document of North American policy to equate property rights with human rights, those property rights being explicitly the right to deny other people human rights. No wonder libertarians love those guys; they almost got away with it.
posted by Errant at 6:08 PM on August 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is a very modern view. Certainly, before the last few centuries in the West, the point of an oath is that it was forever and breaking it was the worst sort of act, inviting almost any repercussion. The 100 Years War was fought at least partly on the pretext of who owed fealty to whom and if that fealty could be discharged. I don't know enough about 19th C American attitudes on oaths, but I would be surprised if "resigning" an oath could be done as casually as you seem to assume.

The ancient practice of oath taking was rooted in swearing to deities, perhaps based on a related fear of angering the gods and inviting supernatural enforcement. A modern oath is a vow of loyalty to the principles and terms of office or membership. One should be expected to honorably resign from this position if the trust is no longer mutual. In the case of switching sides and betraying secrets, such betrayal is beside the point of any oath of goodwill and should be dealt with as a legal matter for each specific count of betrayal. All of these concepts would be very modern in terms of the history of oath taking, because ancient blood oaths are more than likely illegal in most states, though are still practiced by secret societies and cults.
posted by Brian B. at 9:56 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's not much point in continuing this since localroger has stomped off, but I want to address the following because it's at the heart of what makes these debates so annoying:

To be fair, slavery was in fact enshrined in the US Constitution for over a hundred years.

Given that the authors of the US Constitution (mostly) viewed slavery as a necessary evil to be accomodated while the Confederate Constitution viewed slavery as a positive good to be protected, if the former is deserving of outrage, then the latter is deserving of much more. If the Confederate Constitution can be apologized for or dismissed as something to be "gotten over," then the US Constitution shouldn't trouble us at all.

So what's your take on this, corb? Are you outraged by the US Constitution's failure to take a strong anti-slavery position and if so, why aren't you more outraged by the Confederates; or are you unmoved by the Confederate Constitution's pro-slavery position, in which case why are you troubled by the US Constitution at all? Or is it that you think the US Constitution wasn't pro-slavery enough and are willing to make any argument that seems to diminish it?
posted by octobersurprise at 1:09 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


So what's your take on this, corb? Are you outraged by the US Constitution's failure to take a strong anti-slavery position and if so, why aren't you more outraged by the Confederates; or are you unmoved by the Confederate Constitution's pro-slavery position, in which case why are you troubled by the US Constitution at all? Or is it that you think the US Constitution wasn't pro-slavery enough and are willing to make any argument that seems to diminish it?

My take is relatively neutral - I argue for parity in all things. I don't think soldiers irrevocably damned themselves by swearing to either the US or the Confederate Constitution. Soldiers join up and swear their oaths for a multiplicity of reasons - simplification is rarely helpful. I think both documents codified the practice of slavery, and I don't think quibbling over what degree or how enthusiastically the people put blood on their hands is useful. Because the framers of the US Constitution pulled a Pontius Pilate does not make them more worthy in my eyes.

I simply point out that if you're going to be outraged by people swearing to a document that contains injustice, you should be equally outraged by all people swearing to documents that contain injustice, not just those of the hobbyhorse you happen to be riding today.
posted by corb at 1:28 PM on August 18, 2013


I don't think quibbling over what degree or how enthusiastically the people put blood on their hands is useful.

Yes you do. You engage in similar quibbles all the time. Everyone does. You just don't think these quibbles are useful. These question is why.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:12 PM on August 18, 2013


corb: "I think both documents codified the practice of slavery"

You're of course entitled to think whatever you want, but this is about arriving at the truth on matters of fact. It's really not cool to do the "I think X" thing when someone just debunked X a couple of posts earlier without explaining the factual basis for your disagreement.

As Errant pointed out above, the U.S. Constitution allowed for the existence of slavery through a sin of omission, while the CSA Constitution ensured the continuation of slavery through a sin of commission. If you have some evidence to support your assertion that the U.S. Constituion enshrined slavery (rather than allowed for it), then please bring it to the table. Otherwise, you're clearly just invoking the broad sympathy toward some and broad skepticism toward others that severely undermines your rosy "I argue for party in all things" self-assessment.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:38 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, on the road back from movie day with Dad today, I did have another relevant thought. GenjiandProust decided to go rooting around in the Bible. If we're going to do that, the story we should probably be thinking of is the parable of the prodigal son.

I will go back to stomping off, ta-ta.
posted by localroger at 4:52 PM on August 18, 2013


I don't know, I think Exodus might have some more immediate bearing on the matter.
posted by Errant at 10:17 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


When we learn the Constitution, we often learn the Constitution in its present form. We rarely learn it complete, as it was before amendments modified it. But here, from an impartial source.
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.
First, by mentioning "free Persons", it is explicitly allowing for persons who are not free - even if it did not then go on to mention "those bound to Service."
The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
Though the word slavery is, indeed, not explicitly stated in this paragraph, it is about nothing else. Free people migrate under their own volition. Only goods can be imported and taxed. By this, it not only admits that people are being imported as property, it gives a date by which it may not even possibly be prohibited until. It accepts, embraces, and agrees to fund itself by the violent kidnapping, transportation, and forced labor of other people.
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
We have already established that "Persons held to Service" is a nice way of saying "Slaves." This means that the Constitution enshrined slaveowner's right to their slaves, even when slaves reached free states or areas.

But don't just take my interpretation. A more eloquent explanation of the racism and support of slavery inherent in the Constitution is here:
Many Americans are uncomfortable with the connection between slavery and the founding of the nation. Over the years politicians, judges, lawyers, teachers, and even professional historians offered us a comfortable myth. The myth asserts that after the Revolution slavery was dying and that, had it not been for the cotton gin, slavery would have died out easily and simply. If the Founders truly believed this, then they were correct in doing nothing about slavery at the Constitutional Convention...

Under this analysis, the Founders did not betray America by failing to face up to America's greatest problem; instead, history betrayed the Founders, by allowing the cotton gin to save slavery from economic collapse. It is not the failure of the framers, or the unwillingness of all Americans to face the enormity of the problem, that set the stage for secession and civil war. Rather, in an ironic twist for a society that has always been driven by invention and "progress," it is technology that doomed the United States to civil war.

Serious historical scholarship demonstrates that slavery was profitable throughout the colonial period and that slavery remained profitable in the wake of the Revolution. Robert McColley, for example, found that in the 1780s and 1790s, before the invention of the cotton gin, slave prices in Virginia were high. Similarly, in Maryland, where cotton could not be grown, the trade in slaves was brisk both before and after the invention of the gin. In Baltimore, throughout the early national period, slaves were in high demand as servants, skilled laborers, and for various jobs in the maritime industry...

In the end we cannot ignore the fact that the Framers in 1787 built a government that protected slavery at every turn. They left their children and grandchildren with a proslavery legacy that was not easily eradicated. During the ratification struggle a number of Antifederalists complained about the Constitution's concessions to slavery. A New Yorker complained that the Constitution condoned "drenching the bowels of Africa in gore, for the sake of enslaving its free-born innocent inhabitants."
posted by corb at 5:06 AM on August 19, 2013


corb, you are ignoring the origin of all the stuff you are pointing out about the Constitution -- the Southern states insisted on it, mostly over the objections of the Northern states. It's to our nation's shame that the Founders went along with it, but trying to get the CSA off the hook by pointing out that they were more successful at pushing their political agenda a century earlier (after all, why start a war if you are getting what you want) is... disingenuous.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:30 AM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


"In the end we cannot ignore the fact that the Framers in 1787 built a government that protected slavery at every turn."
This statement isn't controversial. I don't disagree with it. So what's your point? Is your point that colonial America was so racist and infected by slavery that the southern rebels should have been permitted to establish a confederation to protect such racism in perpetuity? Because you sound like you're arguing that America was so racist the racist south needed to take up arms in order to protect racism and slavery. And that now, 150 years later, it's unacceptable, or unnecessary, or possibly racist, to condemn the rebels for trying to do so.

If we're going to do that, the story we should probably be thinking of is the parable of the prodigal son.

You're going to kill the fatted calf for Robert E. Lee? This may come as a shock, Roge, but he's been dead for a long time. He can't come to dinner.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:04 AM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


corb: "By this, it not only admits that people are being imported as property, it gives a date by which it may not even possibly be prohibited until"

One the one hand, a founding document written in the 1780s that explicitly allowed for the passage of laws restricting slavery.

On the other hand, a founding document that mandated the continued existence of slavery in perpetuity.

Is this blatant example of false equivalence the kind of thing you're referring to when you say you argue for parity in all things?
posted by tonycpsu at 8:34 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This statement isn't controversial. I don't disagree with it. So what's your point?

My point is that if you are going to hold soldiers of one state accountable for the evils written into their oath-documents, it is important to also hold soldiers of the next state equally accountable for the evils written into their oath-documents - or none of them.

If one person punches someone else in the face, and the other person knifes them, no one would argue that the assaults were anything like the same degree - but I think it would be uncontroversial to argue that both attacks were, in fact, assault.

I also, think, I suppose, that it is morally unjust to hold soldiers accountable for the failures of the framers of the documents they oath to, simply because they oathed on it. By the same standard, I'd be morally culpable for anything my husband does or has done in his life, because I also swore an oath to protect and defend him...
posted by corb at 8:49 AM on August 19, 2013


What, pray tell, was the Union punch that predated the Southern knife attack at Fort Sumter?
posted by tonycpsu at 10:23 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb, no one, I mean no one, has argued that the US Constitution didn't provide cover for slavery; it's a toss-up whether the genocide of Native Americans or the genocide of Africans counts as the USA's biggest "original sin", but no one disagrees that there were numerous moral failures involved in the founding compromise. But "enshrined" is far too strong a word for a document that basically goes out of its way to speak about the issue as little as possible. There's a reason we have to perform a (trivial, admittedly) interpretation of the clauses to understand that they're about slavery; that hardly counts as "enshrining".

My point is that if you are going to hold soldiers of one state accountable for the evils written into their oath-documents, it is important to also hold soldiers of the next state equally accountable for the evils written into their oath-documents - or none of them.

There is not a single soldier of the Confederacy that was born into citizenship within that flawed state or that had a moral duty to evacuate their previous citizenship in order to commit to the new state. It isn't incongruous to hold the soldiers of a state responsible for protecting a constitution that they had to choose to serve, because there was very clearly a choice available to them.

By the same standard, I'd be morally culpable for anything my husband does or has done in his life, because I also swore an oath to protect and defend him...

If your husband holds a person in involuntary bondage and murders another person, and you take up arms to prevent any interference in those dealings because of your marriage vows, you are certainly, absolutely morally culpable for that action. What makes you think you wouldn't be? And the fact of your moral failure wouldn't therefore tarnish the entire notion of marriage vows, even though all marriage vows are also to flawed people and so, in your estimation, if we're not judging them the same way we judge you, we shouldn't judge anyone. I think swearing an oath to that particular document kind of sucks, sure, but someone who did so and then spent the rest of their life knitting accrues no significant approbation from me. Someone who swears to defend the right to own and kill people and then actually defends that right by killing people accrues much more.

The mere fact of swearing an oath to that Constitution isn't the salient point. It's the fact that those who swore said oath abdicated a pre-existing office in order to commit to one that was very similar except explicitly in defense of slavery, and then they went out and shot people over it.
posted by Errant at 11:24 AM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the "storm came and the wind blew, it fell."

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.
--Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the CSA, March 1861
posted by zombieflanders at 1:02 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


My point is that if you are going to hold soldiers of one state accountable for the evils written into their oath-documents, it is important to also hold soldiers of the next state equally accountable for the evils written into their oath-documents - or none of them.

Why is it important? There's no principle that demands that accountability be divided equally between parties in conflict, always. In fact, it's commonly accepted in law and ethics that one party may be held more accountable than another. Further, in this particular case, hostilities were initiated by the southern rebels. There are no grounds here to insist that each party is equally accountable and it's nothing but Neo-Confederate revanchism to insist there is. (Lastly, of course, the Confederate rebels were never a state.)

I also, think, I suppose, that it is morally unjust to hold soldiers accountable for the failures of the framers of the documents they oath to, simply because they oathed on it.

Which is not a surprising statement coming from someone who thinks they can become their own sovereign polity at a finger-snap, I guess. However, the rest of the world has usually held people, and especially soldiers, accountable—for some value of "accountable" and let's be clear, we're simply talking about historic accountability here—for actions committed in the name of or in the service of some oath or pledge. That accountability is the difference between a soldier and a cut-throat pirate.

(Oh, I forgot. You want to be a pirate.)
posted by octobersurprise at 1:52 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


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