Why Libertarians Should Distance Themselves from Confederacy [PODCAST]

June 22, 2015

Defending Confederacy Opposite Interests and Ideology of Liberty

by Josh Guckert

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 10.59.57 AMEvery political movement must overcome obstacles in its infancy. As libertarian philosophy begins to take over significant portions of both the general public and Republican Party electorates, we must diligently ponder what messages we are sending. The way which we are interpreted, fairly or not, can be critical in determining just how successful our mission will be. For that reason, we must always be attentive in what we use and how we decide to exemplify libertarianism.

This examination is pressed into the forefront of our movement against the backdrop of the tragedy in Charleston. One evil man killed nine innocents. Meanwhile, on the grounds of the state's capitol building, the same Confederate battle-flag that he had featured on his license plate continues to fly.

While most Americans view this flag as a symbol of slavery and racism, some in the South believe it to be a marker of their "heritage," thus indicating the rebellious streak which the Confederacy had enlisted against the Union—supposedly in a similar fashion to the revolution which the American colonists had raised against the British Empire.

Though in the mainstream, the debate usually boils down to a matter of North against South, there has long been the same debate in libertarian circles. While there is a much higher degree of skepticism of President Lincoln and the Union's actions during the war within our movement as a whole, some go as far as to side with the Confederacy, thereby praising it as the "right side" of the war effort. These libertarians claim that the Southern states were only exercising their Constitutional rights to secede and that Lincoln was not concerned with the moral dilemma of slavery, only preserving the Union.

This seemingly odd pairing appears to stem out of the natural contrarian streak within the liberty movement. However, we should do our best to dissociate libertarians from anything relating to the Confederacy. In short, not only is the Confederacy an example of a country founded upon the most un-libertarian of institutions (slavery), its meaning and symbols do nothing to advance our causes and principles, and make our foreign and novel ideas seem all the more outlandish to ordinary men and women who we need to recruit to become a major political force.

Perhaps because it is the cause of the Civil War which is predominantly taught in schools, some libertarians refuse to acknowledge that slavery was the main reason behind the South's secession. If there were any doubt, as Cato Institute Fellow Jason Kuznicki points out, those Southern states who actually gave their reasons for secession (GeorgiaMississippiSouth Carolina and Texas) explicitly referenced the purpose of preserving slavery. Furthermore, any attempt to latch onto "states' rights" fails in that the South had historically used federal power to preserve and expand the wicked institution of involuntary servitude.

Most interesting of all is that the Civil War seemed to be fought by the Confederacy in the same manner which many libertarians (appropriately) critique modern American foreign policy: the wealthy and well-connected chose to fight a war to preserve their economic interests, enlisting the poor and middle-class, all the while telling them that a false narrative of "patriotism" or "defense of freedom" was the reason for the war.

It is worth noting that the North was in fact guilty of anti-liberty transgressions before, during and after the war. However, this fact should not lead us to sympathize with the Southern cause. Simply because there are two sides in a conflict does not mean that we must choose to favor one; in fact, this choosing of the "lesser of two evils" is a narrative which many libertarians often warn against.

In conclusion, the Confederacy and its symbols belong in the past. Attempting to "re-educate" the public about a matter which was decided 150 years ago does our movement no good, and seeks only to minimize the efforts we are making to move our pro-liberty message forward. We should never honor a country which epitomizes coercion and bigotry, let alone within a political ideology which is based upon the principles of freedom and individuality.

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