Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is the New York Times bestselling author of 11 books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Meltdown (on the financial crisis.) A senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Woods has appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, FOX News, FOX Business, C-SPAN, Bloomberg Television, and hundreds of radio programs... (Read More)
I don’t want to mention names here. This transcends names. This is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed many times over the years. It’s the sweetie-pie libertarian syndrome.
The other day, an aide to a prominent American politician was the subject of an attack in the major media. Why, this person has said some things that all right-thinking people oppose! When he was a radio host, he was provocative! We’ve never observed this phenomenon before! And he thinks there might be some kind of objection to the Lincoln regime! Why, he must support slavery!
(Cue my interview with a zombie.)
Now there are perfectly good reasons one might have to oppose the Lincoln regime. Lysander Spooner opposed it, and Spooner supported John Brown. (I suppose Spooner supported slavery?)
A few thoughts off the top of my head:
(1) Lincoln was a man of his time, which means he viewed large, centralized states as self-justifying goals. This was the age of centralization in Italy, Germany, and Japan, after all. Yes, large, centralized states can abolish slavery. They can also wage horrifying wars, carry out genocides, and erect massive police states. As many people were killed in World War I, the first great war of the world’s centralized states, as there had been slaves in the South.
(2) The precedents set by Lincoln during the war have been exploited ever since by left-liberals and neoconservatives, who are all too glad to respond, when you object to some enormity of the War on Terror, “Why, even Lincoln did these things!”
(3) In every other country in our hemisphere in which slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century it was done peacefully, without 1.5 million people dead, wounded, or missing.
(4) The Lincoln legacy involves glorifying wars of nationalism and demonizing efforts at secession, wherever they may be and whatever the circumstances. To this day, Americans are taught to sympathize with central governments trying to keep territories from breaking away, and to look with disgust at smaller units seeking self-government.
(5) Lincoln is the creator of the centralized, imperial regime under which we live today, which is the real reason left-liberals and their neoconservative cousins will brook no criticism of the sixteenth president.
Now I am about to quote one of those Wicked Southerners, which will of course make me suspect of longing for slavery, but Robert E. Lee told the great libertarian Lord Acton in 1866 that “the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”
If you are wondering how we got to our present condition, ponder that statement. Then consider the possibility that the great fratricidal war of American history might in its ultimate significance have amounted to something other than the cartoonish struggle of saints and sinners we encounter in the New York Times, or from so-called libertarian institutes.
There is much, much more that can be said about all this, but I’ve now reached my destination: what I find so interesting is the reaction by what we might call “official libertarians,” or what Lew Rockwell calls “regime libertarians,” to the attacks on this person. Now this person has said nothing that Walter Williams, whom these very libertarians fawn over, hasn’t said at one time or another. This person is consistently antiwar, which is more than we can say for many of the people with whom official libertarians consort.
But with attacks like this flying around, official libertarians do not miss the opportunity to inform the world — a world awaiting their announcements with bated breath, of course — that they themselves hold all the approved opinions about events in American history. Moreover, the opinions they hold today, while different in many ways from those of the New York Times, are still within the range of allowable opinion. So please, please do not include me in your condemnations, oh Mr. Nice Media Person, sir.
These are the libertarians who portray themselves as the abolitionists of today — an age when everyone in the world is an abolitionist. The real test is this: would you have been an abolitionist in the nineteenth century, when abolition parties received two percent of the vote, and lynchings of abolitionists were not unknown? What is the likelihood that someone so desperate to inform everyone that his views fall within the spectrum of allowable positions laid out by establishment opinion would have been — of all things! — an abolitionist, when it really counted?
These are what I am now calling the sweetie-pie libertarians. Why, Mr. Media Person, sir, I am just an innocent bystander in this whole mess! I favor liberty, but would I question the judgments of our esteemed historians (on a matter that might make me unpopular)? Never! I can overlook the pro-war positions of people I work with and praise, but someone who used insensitive language a few times ten years ago? Why, that’s the greatest offense in the history of the world, Mr. Media Person, sir!
Then these libertarians pat themselves on the back for protecting libertarianism against the wacko extremists who question their eighth-grade textbooks. The sweetie pies assure us that by policing the thoughts of libertarians, they will make our philosophy more attractive to other Americans. Wherever would we be without their wise custodianship of our brains?
It’s a good thing the sweetie pies have no sense of irony. No one has ever heard of any of them, and not one of them has a following worth speaking of. It was Ron Paul — who just spoke his mind regardless of focus groups, and who told Meet the Press that (for example) no, he doesn’t believe the fourth-grade Civil War narrative — who set the world ablaze with interest in libertarianism. No sweetie pie has had a billionth of the impact the rule-breaker Ron Paul has had.
Meanwhile, the sweetie pies, who are so anxious to protect libertarianism from people whose thoughts might soil it, utter not so much as a peep when their fellow sweetie pies ridicule the religious beliefs of a huge chunk of Americans, thereby alienating those people from libertarianism. This double standard is pretty much all you need to know about their solemn assurances that they’re just trying to make libertarianism palatable to the public. Sure they are.
On the one hand, therefore, we have Ron Paul and his circle, which have converted more people (by orders of magnitude) to libertarianism than all the DC think-tanks put together. On the other, we have a handful of policy wonks protesting that they themselves are much better representatives of the cause. But no one can hear them over the cheers and huzzahs for Ron and his followers.
It’s like Homer Simpson trying to tell Moe the bartender that he’s just lost himself a customer, but Moe can’t hear him over all the new customers he does have:
I’ll end with this. One sweetie-pie organization thought it would dance all over what it assumed would be Ron Paul’s grave several years ago when the media attacks on him had grown severe and relentless. We told you so, they said. This is why we stayed aloof from him. Got to keep the cause pure, you know!
But then, when they noted that the young people did not give a hoot what the media said about Ron, and that they themselves were like Homer in the bar, this organization sheepishly invited Ron to speak at a special event.
As Johnny Most used to say: justice prevails.