Posts tagged Civil War

Re: Worth reading

You write:

The Constitution gives the federal government ultimate authority over immigration, for good reason, in my view.

Well, but this just relocates the question. If the Constitution delegates authority in such-and-such a way, what gives authority to the United States Constitution to decide the question? (I can write “Open borders and amnesty for all” on a napkin, and then write “THIS IS A CONSTITUTION FOR THE UNITED STATES” on the top of it; but obviously just writing it down isn’t sufficient to actually delegate the authority.)

If the answer is the authorization of a handful of long-dead men, who were a tiny minority of the population even at the time, then I certainly don’t see where they get the right to impose positive obligations on hundreds of millions of people today as to who should properly make decisions about whether or not to forcibly exclude immigrants from homes or workplaces.

If the answer is unanimous consent by the people currently held subject to the Constitution’s provisions, well, clearly, it doesn’t have that, any more than the particular immigration policies have unanimous consent.

If the answer is the authorization of some subset of the people currently held subject to the Constitution’s provisions (say, the majority of eligible voters or somesuch), then, again, the question is what right one group has to dictate terms to the other group, who does not authorize or consent to the terms.

Both here and in my next point, a question for you is whether a federal compact like the Constitution represents a contract, obligation, and statement of purpose that carries significant weight for you, and if so (as I provisionally assume it does), how much.

A contract between whom? If it’s a contract among individual citizens of the United States, or between each individual citizen and the government, then it is certainly nothing of the sort: I never signed it, was never asked to sign it, and have never been expected to sign it before its terms would be inflicted upon me. I expect the same is true for you. Personally, if I had been asked to sign it, I certainly would have refused, if that meant I would not be held to its terms.

If the compact is understood as a contract among something other than individual citizens — say, among the governments of the several states — then it might very well count as a contract, but then it’s entirely unclear how it gains any authority to settle political questions for either individual citizen, or would-be immigrants, unless some other compact, contract, or other relationship independently establishes an obligation by those individual people to the governments of the several states. I for one never authorized any of the several states to act as my agent, or to contract obligations on my behalf, so if they have a binding contract amongst themselves or with the federal government, then I still don’t see, as yet, how that has anything to say about who I may or may not welcome onto my own property.

Taking care not to imply that immigrants are a “bad”, there’s still the possibility that one locality’s decision will affect its neighbors willy-nilly in ways they perhaps should not have to accept.

I’m not clear on what you have in mind here. Could you be more specific what kind of effects you have in mind that people should not have to accept?

I mean, after all, suppose that all the people in my neighborhood (E. Rochelle Ave.) want to have a very welcoming policy towards would-be immigrants, while all the people the next neighborhood over (University Ave.) wants to keep them all out. If we voluntarily choose to invite immigrant guests into our homes and apartments, to rent or sell land to them, to invite them to work in our shops, etc., while the people on University choose to turn them away, refuse to rent or sell to them, refuse them employent, etc., and if the different policies in each neighborhood are consistently respected, then how exactly does our welcoming policy on Rochelle “affect … willy-nilly” the exclusionists over on University? The immigrants won’t be in their homes or workplaces or renting neighboring property. The only effect is that if people from University want to come over to Rochelle, then they will encounter the immigrants that we have invited to live and work with us. But while I sympathize a great deal with people having to deal with unwanted effects on their own property or in their own communities, I have very little idea why I should care about whether or not people in one neighborhood get their way about how other people should use their own property or what communities other than their own community ought to look like. If the question is properly devolved, then I can’t imagine how it is any of a University resident’s business how we live over here on Rochelle; let alone any business of somebody in New York or Washington, D.C. who I choose to live or work with here in Las Vegas.

Call me crazy, but “states rights” and “local polity trumps all” seem to me to often be a smokescreen for “let us mistreat people the way we want to, come hell or high water.”

I’m not defending a “states’ rights” position.

While I think that, when there are disagreements between states over immigration policy, different states should be able to enact different policies, I also think that, when there are disagreements within a state over immigration policy, different communities should be able to enact different policies, and different neighborhoods within a community should be able to enact different policies, and, ultimately, different individual people should each be able to enact different policies about the use of their own homes and workplaces. I agree that many people who have defended “states’ rights” position use it as a smokescreen for shitty treatment of other, less powerful people within their state. But that’s precisely because they stop devolving the question once they get to the level of the state. Thus, for example, defending the right of states to peacefully secede from the jurisdiction of the federal government, but then turning around and insisting on the supposed right of state governments to brutally crush any efforts by enslaved Southern blacks to peacefully secede from the jurisdiction of state governments or their local taskmasters. The problem there was too little devolution and secession, not too much.

My whole point, on the other hand, is not to fetishize the claims of any particular level of centralized political authority (such as state or even municipal governments), but rather that the question should be devolved downward until you reach genuine consensus on the localized question — if necessary down to the neighborhood; if necessary down to the individual property-owner.

Thus, on the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, I think that the right approach for Northern whites to take would have been, first, the Garrisonian strategy of cutting all political ties with the slaveholding states — thus allowing for the repeal of all Fugitive Slave Laws in the North, removing Northern bayonets from the Southern slavers’ arsenal, and moving the line of freedom from Canada south to Ohio. And then, second, the Harriet Tubman and John Brown strategies of aiding slaves in their efforts to escape slavery, instigating and providing aid to slave uprisings, and aiding efforts to create autonomous Maroon communities within the South. That is to say, strategies that focused on solidarity with black people struggling for their own freedom, rather than strategies which focused on white political prerogatives, or on “saving” black people from slavery through the outside intervention of a white-led, white-manned, white-controlled military engaged in a conventional war of invasion and conquest. Solidarity-based strategies like those proposed by the radical abolitionists could, I think, have ended slavery with substantially less bloodshed (and especially less collateral damage against non-slaveholding Southern whites), and with substantially more empowering results for Southern blacks who had been empowered to fight for and win their own freedom, rather than having to depend on the goodwill, ongoing concern, and military campaigns of Northern whites for it. Indeed, I think that those strategies probably could have averted the dreadful century of immiseration, dispossession, lynch law, and American apartheid that ended up following the formal emancipation, precisely because the Northern white political and military apparatus ended up dropping that goodwill and that concern, and selling out Southern blacks, in the name of “reconciliation” with Southern whites.

To return to open immigration and “undercutting legal labor markets,” I think there’s a basic problem in the way you’re framing the issue. It’s true that, under certain circumstances, when large numbers of poor immigrants move to a particular community, the average wage for existing native-born workers will tend to go down as a result of competition. But the average wage for the immigrant workers goes up from what they could have expected had they not moved; after all, that’s generally why poor immigrants move long distances to begin with. But the status of the native-born workers as “legal” residents can’t be used as part of the justification for making a legal distinction between native-born and immigrant workers, without simply making the argument circular and thus begging the question. And if we are discussing some other difference between the two — like a difference in nationality, or language, or ethnicity, I don’t see how any of those could make the standard of living among the relatively more privileged native-born workers somehow more important than the standard of living among the relatively less privileged immigrant workers. Certainly U.S. workers deserve a decent standard of living, but so do Mexican workers, and it’s not at all clear to me why the former should be able to force the latter out of the country in order to support their own standards of living at the expense of Mexican workers’ standards of living. I think there is no way to treat this sort of market dynamic as a reason for excluding Mexican workers (say) except by tacitly or explicitly accepting the nativist premise that the lives an livelihoods of U.S. workers somehow matter more than the lives and livelihoods of Mexican workers, just because the one group are from the U.S. and the other group are from Mexico. Which claim I find morally and politically indefensible.

(For myself, I’d say that the best solution is to empower all workers, regardless of race, nationality, language, ethnicity, or any of the other lines which are used to divide us. But that’s best accomplished by means of fighting unions that organize the entire working class, and by transnational labor solidarity, not by means of political gamesmanship and immigration policies which protect the wages of one group of workers only by means of screwing other, even more vulnerable and exploited groups of workers out of homes and jobs that they’d otherwise be able to get.)

Does that help clarify?

Re: Smearbund Funnies

Have I been inducted into the Beltwaytarian Illuminati without having heard about it? If so, I eagerly await my imminent influx of cocktail party invites and Kochtopus cash.


The declarations of states are not reflective of their citizens …

No, but they are reflective of the opinions of the state governments at the time that those state governments determined to secede.

Of course, many if not most people in many southern states at the time felt differently. For starters, many if not most people in many southern states at the time were black slaves.

The white southerners who fought as common soldiers often had very different views of the import and justification for the war than those held by their governments. But of course it was their governments, and not they, who made the political and military decisions that we’re discussing here.

Charles H.,

I agree with you that any honest review of what the secessionists said (especially what they said at the time of the secession debate, rather than when they wrote their memoirs in the 1870s) would very quickly reveal that the perpetuation and expansion of race slavery was absolutely central to the Confederate cause. However, it would be an ignoratio elenchi to follow that evidence with the conclusion that ending or limiting race slavery must have been absolutely essential to the Union cause.

When people claim that the Southern states had the “right” to secede, what they mean is that a minority– adult white male landowners– had the right to decide for everyone else what form of government they would live under, and whether their basic human rights would be recognized.

I’m sure that when many people claim that, that is indeed what they mean, but I don’t think it’s at all fair to impute that meaning to most of the writers at or the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Whatever faults they may have (and some of them have a lot), most of the people in question are anarchists, who believe that no government whatever, state, federal, or other, has any legitimate right to compel anyone’s allegiance. Their point about the right of secession is that adult white male Southern landowners had a right to determine for themselves (and themselves alone) what form of government, if any, they should live under, a right which any principled and honest believer in the principle of government by consent would have to concede they do have. The obvious and hideous atrocity of southern race slavery hardly justifies military invasion and bayonet-point Unionism; what it justifies is the (Garrisonian) strategy of embracing peaceful disunion, and then supporting southern slaves in their efforts to secede from the from the illegitimate government created by their quasi-secessionist slave-drivers.

If you’re not already familiar with it, I’d like to recommend J.R. Hummel’s excellent book, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, which ably defends the Garrisonian-disunionist position and presents a much more accurate and sophisticated libertarian analysis of the war than the stuff churned out by, for example, Tom DiLorenzo or Tom Woods.


I think the issues at hand are a bit more complex than cultural affinities. When I see Yankees like Tom DiLorenzo running around affecting a fondness for the ol’ Moonlight-and-Magnolias, I just find it ridiculous. But when I see them actively distorting history for polemical purposes, in order to whitewash rabid slave-driving statists like John C. Calhoun, Robert E. Lee, or Jefferson Davis (cf. for example 1, 2, 2, 3, etc., not to mention DiLorenzo’s periodic attempts to portray Lysander Spooner, the author of the Plan for the Abolition of Slavery and a conspirator in an abortive attempt to rescue John Brown from the gallows, as an advocate for “peaceful” gradualist emancipation, I think there is something deeper and nastier at work that needs to be exposed and confronted.

Of course, those people who, in the name of “moderation” or “compromise” or politesse, attempt to water down or dissemble about libertarian principles on hard cases, or who try to marginalize radical libertarians for simply for making uncomfortably libertarian points — a group that intersects with, but certainly does not exhaust and certainly is not limited to — the staff at Cato and Reason deserves nothing but contempt for that kind of hand-wringing opportunism. But I don’t think it’s true that that’s the only reason that the Paulitarians and the VMI/LRC crew draw the kind of flak that they draw from within libertarian circles, or even from the Cato and Reason crowds specifically.

Re: Vigil Injustus Non Est Vigil


I am skeptical of professionalized policing and uniformed “security” forces, even in the context of competitive free market agencies under anarchy. I think that while they may offer useful services to some private property owners, they also pose substantial dangers, which, even if the benefits outweigh the dangers in a given case, need to be countered, and probably not only by competing but basically similar firms, but also by assertive individual actors and by countervailing grassroots groups (on the model of CopWatch, but without laboring under the heavy burdens that State privilege for police currently forces them to labor under). I also think that in most cases the benefits are probably not worth the accompanying costs, and informal and decentralized solutions to security problems are usually going to be better than formal professional goon squads.

However, you asked a comparative question about competing private defense associations as vs. the current situation, so my answer mainly focused on comparing the two. I do think the former would be substantially better than the latter, for the reasons I explain, although I also think that a third solution will often be better than either.

As for your two objections, (1) it may very well be the case that individual people will prefer to back down when confronted by roving marauder gangs, and will ransom their safety rather than paying in the money and personal risk that it would take to defend themselves. It’s an interesting question why, historically, the technology and tactics of extortion and repression have tended to outrun the technology and tactics of evasion and resistance, and whether this would still be true under anarchy in a modern industrialized society (I’m not convinced that it would), and if it would be, whether anything can be done to reverse that trend (I suspect that it can).

I’m not especially convinced by your appeal to popular reluctance to use violence in self-defense or lack of training in it, because (1) presumably in anarchy, if people rely on themselves and their neighbors rather than professionalized security forces for their self-defense, more people will see it as in their interest to acquire some minimal training; (2) it doesn’t need everyone or even most people being willing to forcibly defend themselves, but rather just enough that it’s no longer profitable for the marauders to write off marauding in that neighborhood as too risky to be profitable; and (3) perhaps most importantly, there are lots of ways for people. individually or cooperatively, to effectively respond to violence other than by meeting it with defensive violence. There’s obstruction and fortification, stealth, evasion, and a whole host of tactics for passive resistance. All of which are increasingly accessible to the knowledge and resources of educated people in modern industrial societies.

But whatever the case may be, if anarchy does mean that many people will have to ransom their safety from marauder gangs every so often, which take the money and then leave, it’s hard to see how that’s worse than the present situation, in which a permanent marauder gang occupies their territory and micromanages the most intimate aspects of their everyday lives.

As for (2), I don’t really think it’s the case that feuds and civil wars between competing armed factions, such as those now common in central Africa or those that were common a few decades ago in southern Africa, are really a basic part of how trained fighters will always behave. Surely in those specific cases it has much more to do with the ideological and material allure of a particular prize (state power, or, failing that, local warlordism, with heavy, pervasive, and constant intervention by neighboring states, former colonial powers, world superpowers, and the bureaucratic “foreign aid” kleptocracy) which the victor in the civil war will ultimately be able to claim. But if it’s the prize that’s driving the fighting, then a political condition of anarchy, and a widespread cultural and institutional shift towards anarchistic principles and the industrial mode, which would tend to undermine or eradicate completely, makes it correspondingly less of a worry.

Re: Notes on Secession

VRB: Why is Lincoln singled out when millions of lives had been ruined under all the presidents until then, even the ones that libertarians honor …

I can’t speak for libertarians as a group, but I am a libertarian and I can’t think of a single President of the United States that I “honor.” I happen to think that all of them were perfectly repulsive, and those who preceded Lincoln deserve special contempt, both for their ongoing use of Federal bayonets to enforce fugitive slave laws and protect Southern slavers from uprisings, and also for their repeated forays into ethnic cleansing and genocide against American Indians. Other libertarians, especially those who are minarchists rather than (like me) anarchists, might be somewhat less sweepingly harsh. On the other hand, they’re also likely to be somewhat less harsh towards Lincoln in particular.

However, the reason that Lincoln’s under discussion at the moment, rather than every other President in U.S. history, is that the post is about secession and the U.S. Civil War. Since Lincoln was President during the U.S.’s largest-scale secession crisis and during the U.S. Civil War, it makes sense to discuss Lincoln, but going on about how I loathe and despise most or all of the other Presidents in U.S. history would have been somewhat off the topic.

Re: Notes on Secession


Just so we’re clear, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest, in setting up my hypothetical, that I was under any delusions as to the motives of Lincoln or the other Federalis in the U.S. Civil War. I’m well aware that the liberation of the slaves was not in the least a war aim, at least at the beginning of the war. Part of the point of the abstractified hypothetical was to make an a fortiori argument: if anything could justify the reconquest and occupation of the South on libertarian grounds, it would be the liberation of Southern slaves. But the liberation of Southern slaves would not in fact justify the reconquest and occupation of the South, even if (contrary to fact) that had been the cause that the Feds went to war for. Thus nothing could justify the reconquest and occupation of the South on libertarian grounds. (There might be a legitimate case for something different — such as the use of armed raids to liberate slaves, when not followed by conquest and occupation — but what it might justify is different from what actually happened in the U.S. Civil War precisely to the extent that it doesn’t involve any attempt to forcibly override white Southerners’ decisions to secede.)

To the extent that the Feds engaged in a brutal war and occupation, killing, maiming, and ruining millions of people in the process, for reasons that had nothing to do with the liberation of Southern slaves, I think that that makes the Feds’ position that much more repulsive, and obviously indefensible.

As for the rest of your discussion, it’s interesting, and deserves a careful reply, but the reply will probably take more space than I have here. Perhaps soon, on my blog.