Libertarian Scalawags Crave Establishment Respect

The recent anti-South writings of Virginia Postrel, former editor of Reason magazine, and David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, point to a larger problem within the fractious “libertarian movement,” if such a deceptively cohesive term is still appropriate.

It was once a given among libertarians that the South was in the right during the so-called American Civil War. The evil of slavery isn't arguable, but that issue has nothing to do with whether or not the Confederacy had a right to exist as a nation apart from the United States. It has nothing to do with the fact that the South, in many ways, is occupied territory even today.

Abolitionist libertarian Lysander Spooner agreed that the South had a right to go its own way, as did libertarian journalist H.L. Mencken, who, in other instances was no friend of the South.

Only recently have some libertarians abandoned the South and its symbols, the Confederate Battle Flag in particular, and embraced the centralized state of Abraham Lincoln.

(I wince when recalling a Reason cover story of some years back that praised our most bloodthirsty chief executive.)

On her Web site,, Postrel alludes to the anti-freedom policies of the Old South. She writes, “Rockwell et al. are just against the government that ended state-supported slavery and Jim Crow,” and thus, implicitly, not against statism in general.

It is an absurd assertion, but that is beside the point.

What about the anti-freedom policies of the government Postrel so loves – policies born directly of the Civil War? If not for the sainted Lincoln's military buildup, there would have been no U.S. Army capable of conducting a genocidal campaign against the American Indians.

The facts have not changed, only the attitudes of Beltway libertarians like Boaz and Postrel.

Yes, I know Postrel doesn't live or work in Washington, D.C., but she is there in spirit, which is exactly my point.

“Establishment” libertarians like Postrel and Boaz, working in well-funded think tanks, seem to care more about “respectability” than principle.

Unfortunately, such respectability means being the token opposition, the darlings of the neoconservative statists and Left-leaning media types infesting the Washington-New York axis. It is the kind of respectability that gets you column inches in the New York Times, invitations to cocktail parties and guest spots on “Crossfire,” but that is about all it does.

Both Postrel and Boaz, in fact, are Southerners. Postrel hails from South Carolina, the birthplace of secession, while Boaz is originally from Kentucky and went to school at Vanderbilt University. I am inclined to think that both know their Southern history better than one would suspect just from reading their attacks on the South and its symbols.

So, I can only come to one conclusion: They are selling out.

Like the scalawags of Reconstruction, Postrel and Boaz are betraying their birthplaces in order to gain the favor of the Powers That Be. That way they can “prove” that libertarians are “enlightened.”

The object of the game is to make libertarianism seem respectable to people who will never respect it, no matter what. Obviously, it is a game destined to fail. No matter how “socially tolerant” Boaz and Postrel may seem, they will never get the Establishment to go for any shrink-the-government policies they may propose.

(And, come to think of it, they are proposing fewer and fewer. So, all this cozying up to the Beltway elites seems to have resulted in osmosis in the wrong direction.)

Do all libertarians have to love the South? Of course not. This is not about loving or hating the South or the Confederacy. It is simply about not denigrating people for loving the land of their birth.

May 7, 2001