On Radicalism and Gradualism

Email Print

Anthony, your post brings to mind years’ worth of arguments, among libertarians, about “radical” versus “gradualist” approaches to reform. I suspect that many of today’s gradualists — who emphasize “working within the system,” reaching out to those in power, trying to nudge influential politicians, journalists, and academics ever-so-slightly in a libertarian direction — would have been gradualists in 1850. Mises and Rothbard, like Hornberger, would have been radical abolitionists, for sure. Today’s think-tankers? Oh, they’d produce wonkish policy reports on the details of the Fugitive Slave Act and how it could be more efficient. They’d invite prominent slaveholders and slave-state politicians to speak at their conferences, “engaging” them in serious dialogue about realistic, incremental reforms. They’d ridicule the radical abolitionists as cranks and boobs who aren’t “serious,” who don’t care about having an impact in the real world, who dream of “pushing a button” and ending slavery once and for all.

3:50 pm on April 8, 2010