Hey, Everyone, Look at Me: I’m Against Slavery!

In light of recent libertarian showboating I have composed this couplet:

Hey, reporter, look at me

I’m against slavery!

It took a lot of courage to oppose slavery in, say, 1855. It takes zero courage to oppose it today. This is one reason I am convinced that those who are most ostentatious in their aversion to slavery in 2013 are the least likely to have opposed it at the time. Their excessive eagerness to disassociate themselves from perceived “extremism” would not have served them well in the 1850s, when abolitionism, which had zero electoral success, was the most notorious extremism of the day.

Who in 2013 ever found himself dismissed from his post, or held up to scorn, for opposing slavery?

The most recent case is Jason Kuznicki, who unbosoms to the world his views on the War Between the States in a recent column. Among other things, Kuznicki writes: “Anyone who cares about human liberty — to whatever degree — ought to despise the Confederacy, ought to mock and desecrate its symbols….”

Here, it seems to me, Kuznicki falls into the trap most left-liberals and neoconservatives fall into: he conflates government and society. Here’s what I mean.

The grotesque atrocities carried out during the war against a defenseless civilian population are too well known to need repeating. And unless we are going to fall for the crazy collectivism of the Randians, who claim to be individualists while speaking of “terrorist countries,” there were indeed innocent people in the South. If we look the other way at the butcheries to which they were subjected, we are no better than Donald Rumsfeld and his fake concern for collateral damage in Iraq.

If a man gave his life defending his home against invaders, who should care about the intentions of his government — of all things? He protected his family, and there is, therefore, nothing wrong with his descendants honoring his memory. It would be strange if they didn’t.

Did the southern secession have something to do with slavery? Obviously. I see no reason not to take the secessionists at their word, and we are being dishonest if we do not acknowledge the references to slavery in the secession documents. But the war? The war was fought to prevent the secession, not to free the slaves. People who took up arms in the South did so because they were being invaded.

What exactly was a man supposed to do when Union armies went about setting fire to his town? “Mr. Union soldier sir, I realize that I fall under your righteous wrath because of the geographical region in which I happen to reside, and because the rulers who — through no influence of mine — have come to rule this place have been said to have disreputable goals. Please do kill me on the spot, and burn all the buildings, and leave the children to scavenge for food — even cats, dogs, and rats. I deserve this because of what my government has done.”

Leave aside all the insufferable 21st-century respectable libertarian speechifying. It is not libertarian to expect someone to have said something as preposterous as this. People fighting to repel invaders are not automatons of the regime under whose banner they fight. They have their own reasons for doing what they do — not seeing their families tortured or starved to death being one of them.

It is also interesting to consider, as Clyde Wilson observes, the southerners who returned to the South from the North and West, so that they might share the southern people’s fate during the war. Kentucky’s Simon B. Buckner gave up a fortune in Chicago real estate; George W. Rains of North Carolina left a prosperous iron foundry he had established in Newburgh, New York; Alexander C. Jones of Virginia resigned a judgeship in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he had lived twenty years; Joseph L. Brent of Louisiana gave up a lucrative law practice and leadership of the Democratic Party in Los Angeles. We are to believe that these people, and countless others besides, dropped everything and put their prosperous lives on indefinite hold in order to go fight for slavery? Who could be so blinded by prejudice as to persuade himself of such a ridiculous proposition?

Readers at Rachel Maddow’s level will take what I am saying as a defense of the Confederacy. I don’t defend any government, as anyone who glances at my work for five minutes can see, so it would be rather odd for the Confederacy to be the one government in human history for which I make an exception. My political philosophy is available for anyone to examine.

What I am saying is that life is nearly always more interesting than a Washington policy wonk thinks — and thank goodness for that! It is not right, and ludicrously at odds with the libertarian spirit, to conflate government with the individuals who must live under it.

Do I stand to gain anything by writing this? Unlike Kuznicki, I say things that go against the grain even though I know they will yield me nothing but grief. I hope this means I would have opposed injustice when it counted and when it might have done some good, and not just 150 years later, when I safely say what everyone thinks, to the applause of the world.

Reprinted with permission from