How Do You Distort Us? Let Me Count the Ways: An Open Letter to Virginia Postrel

Dear Ms. Postrel,

In the space of a couple paragraphs on your website you have managed to malign LewRockwell.com's editor-in-chief, its columnists, Murray Rothbard, and the State of Mississippi. As a contributing editor at LewRockwell.com, I would like to address your calumny.

You describe LewRockwell.com (hereafter LRC) as "a site pretty much dedicated to equating u2018libertarianism' with the decidedly anti-freedom policies of the Old South (along with extreme foreign policy isolationism and a misanthropic strand of anarchism inspired by Murray Rothbard)." You continue, "Rockwell et al. are just against the government that ended state-supported slavery and Jim Crow."

As LRC underscores on its homepage, it is "the anti-state, anti-war, pro-market news site." Its main intellectual source is indeed Murray Rothbard: author of treatises ranging from economics (e.g., An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought and Man, Economy, and State) and history (e.g., Conceived in Liberty) to works of political theory (e.g., For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty) and commentary (Making Economic Sense and The Irrepressible Rothbard). (This is but a smidgen of Rothbard's bibliography, which may be read here.) I, for one, unabashedly admit that Rothbard's passionate profligacy on behalf of liberty has been an inspiration.

You have conflated LRC's opposition to the Confederacy's conquest with endorsement of slavery and segregation. The conflation is hardly atypical, but it is nonetheless erroneous (and, I would add, peculiar coming from a professed classical liberal).

While LRC lacks a compulsory view of the Union-Confederacy War (we are LRC, not the CPUSA), I venture to say its writers and readers have a Rothbardian view of that watershed conflict, i.e., they oppose slavery and Abraham Lincoln's unitary jihad alike. Rothbard condemned Lincoln's anti-constitutional invasion of the South, his tyrannical political philosophy, and the egregious expropriation part and parcel of slavery, writing in Volume I of Conceived in Liberty:

"…[T]he essence of slavery is that human beings, with their inherent freedom of will, with individual desires and convictions and purposes, are used as capital, as tools for the benefit of their master. The slave is therefore habitually forced into types and degrees of work that he would not have freely undertaken; by necessity, therefore, the bit and the lash become the motor of the slave system. The myth of the kindly master camouflages the inherent brutality and savagery of the slave system."

(For further discussion, see "A Copperhead Abolitionist."

As I have discussed elsewhere, Lincoln's notion of union would have entailed conquering Massachusetts had it seceded to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law and its basis in the Constitution – provisions that had long incensed decidedly anti-slavery individuals such as William Lloyd Garrison and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Consider that: an army deployed to suppress a state for abolitionist withdrawal. Accordingly, perhaps secession was not and is not an intrinsic abomination; and perhaps, as M.E. Bradford observed, "It is at our peril that we continue to reverence his [Lincoln's] name."

A contemporaneous precursor of Rothbard and LRC's writers was Lysander Spooner, who observed in No Treason (1867):

"Still another of the frauds of these [Republican] men is, that they are now establishing, and that the war was destined to establish, u2018a government of consent.' The only idea they have ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this — that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot. This idea was the dominant one on which the war was carried on; and it is the dominant one, now that we have got what is called u2018peace.'"

These words were written not by a bitter member of the planter elite but by a Massachusetts abolitionist sympathetic to John Brown. (Spooner had even planned a kidnapping of Virginia Governor Henry Wise to achieve Brown's release after Harper's Ferry.) Spooner was an ardent libertarian, and he recognized the evisceration of consensual government concomitant with the Confederacy's annihilation.

Full disclosure: Yes, Ms. Postrel, many at LRC further consider many of the Confederacy's principles meritorious. Anti-protectionism, executive confinement, devolutionary governance – these are values all libertarians should share. (And no, that does not mean we endorse the white supremacist, pro-slavery provisions of the Confederate Constitution.)

And let me add that as the founder and editor of an anti-slavery website who has written about today's epidemic bondage, I take umbrage at having my objections to Lincoln's sanguinary dogma equated with pro-slavery rhetoric. I am unsure whether this misrepresentation is more risible or repugnant.

Just a few words on Jim Crow: Since this system, inter alia, perpetrated coercive disassociation and violated freedom of contract, and since Rothbardians cherish the property rights on which Jim Crow trampled, your insinuation that we lament the dissolution of Jim Crow is problematic, to say the least.

Shifting gears to the "extreme foreign policy isolationism and…misanthropic strand of anarchism" you attribute to Rothbard, what exactly is "extreme foreign policy isolationism?" Is it opposition to the chronic, unconstitutional deployment of troops to partake in dubious battle, attended by draconian domestic policies? (For just two studies of the latter malady, see Michael Linfield's Freedom under Fire: U.S. Civil Liberties in Times of War and Bruce D. Porter's War and the Rise of the State: The Military Foundations of Modern Politics.) Is it opposition to supra-national entities such as NATO that undermine American sovereignty and impose commitments that would have been anathema to the founders?

As for Rothbard's "misanthropic strand of anarchism," his rich affection for family and friends refutes your bizarre assertion. (See Justin Raimondo's An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.) Misanthropic individuals don't tend to be gregarious husbands, Ms. Postrel.

Among your aspersions, though, the disdainful asininity of "Mississippi is a backward place" takes the cake. Indeed, Mississippi is so troglodytic that it has been home to William Faulkner, Shelby Foote, Richard Ford, Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, and other illiterates. (Your biography at Reason's website indicates you majored in English at Princeton. Did As I Lay Dying, The Last Gentleman, or Losing Battles not make the cut?)

LRC has been bashed by big dogs such as the Wall Street Journal and National Review Online, and we're still here. Your contribution to the mud parade won't change that, but it's a shame to see a professed classical liberal partake in such tripe.

May 3, 2001

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