25 February 2012

An Irrelevant Argument


Those who defend the Confederacy in the name of liberty today must assume, against all historical evidence, that rationality and economic benefit would have otherwise trumped the exploitation and irrational hate that drove the institution of slavery, the rebellion to defend slavery, and the Jim Crow South to avenge slavery’s defeat. That the Southern states used the power restored to them after Reconstruction to keep their citizens in poverty and deny them their rights as American citizens is the best argument for the federal government in living memory. That this is often used by the Left and others to presume benevolence in directives from Washington is unfortunate to libertarians who believe in a bounded federalism that protects the rights of the individual while providing states the power to be the laboratories of democracy that they were intended to be. Libertarians would better serve the cause of liberty and decentralization by recognizing that absolutes—such as granting the state absolute authority to do as its elites wish—are as sure a road to tyranny as amassing uncheckable power in a chief executive. There is nothing libertarian about granting any government so broad authority in order to quash the fundamental rights of the individual, a power inherent to an unbounded state “right” to secession.

While I cannot speak for all libertarians, what with each of them being precious snowflakes with highly nuanced views of liberty, I can say that Blanks argument is mostly irrelevant to mine.  In an absolute sense, the confederacy was terrible.  In a relative sense, not so much.

The difference is that the increased centralization undertaken by the federal government since their victory in the “civil” war has been radically anti-rights.  Worse yet, since this undertaking is so centralized, the trampling of individual rights has affected everyone uniformly.  While a “states’ rights” approach would have undoubtedly trampled individual rights (I point I willingly concede), I doubt very much that said trampling would have occurred uniformly.  As such, individual states would have an incentive to not go overboard in enacting draconian measures against its people, else their people would leave for another, freer state.

Also, the ex post extrapolations of southern states’ behavior after reconstruction is a non-starter.  There is simply no way to be sure that they would have behaved the same way or even worse had the confederacy won.  The incentive structure for such behavior would have been quite different.

Additionally, this argument begs the question:  if the federal government’s intervention in the war was sufficient to stop the racist institution of slavery, why did the federal government not step in after reconstruction?  Perhaps the answer is that those who were concerned with centralizing power were as racist and anti-rights as those who opposed centralization.

Incidentally, this brings us back to the main thrust of the post:  if there is going to be a regime of anti-rights statism, it’s best that it is decentralized, so as to ensure the best prospects for liberty.  In this event, it can be said that the confederacy is the lesser of two evils, and therefore worthy of support, in a relative sense.  Basically, if the two choices are suboptimal, it is best to pick the more optimal choice.

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