July 9, 2013 columns

Rand Paul, the Confederacy, and Liberty

Jason Kuznicki argues that “anyone who cares about human liberty—to whatever degree—ought to despise the Confederacy.”

Revelations about the pro-Confederacy views of one of Rand Paul’s inner circle have libertarians once again discussing what exactly we should think about the Confederacy, the Civil War, and its place in American political life today.

Whatever others may say on the subject, I can’t understand how anyone might admire the Confederacy and also call themselves a libertarian. Any affinity for the Confederacy marks one very clearly as an enemy of liberty.

The Confederate Constitution says all that needs to be said on the subject, and it answers all possible arguments to the contrary. Yes, the antebellum U.S. Constitution was clearly quite soft on slavery, and this is not at all to its credit. The best that can be said for it was that it was embarrassed about being quite soft on slavery—amid all the other liberties it granted and all the other progress it made. Products of committees, do note, can be as schizophrenic as the committees that draft them. Our first attempt at a constitutional order was one such schizophrenic product, and in this respect, the antebellum U.S. Constitution was terrible.

But the Confederate Constitution was vastly worse. What it lacked in schizophrenia, it more than made up for in pure, unadulterated, wholly consistent evil. Consider the following passages:

No law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.

No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs, or to whom such service or labor may be due.

The Confederate States may acquire new territory… In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

A few years ago libertarian lawyer and Cato adjunct Timothy Sandefur wrote an excellent article on secessionism, slavery, and the U.S. Civil War that I would urge you all to read. He covers the legal points far better than I ever could. But it would be a sick joke to stop merely at calling these provisions unlibertarian—as if all but the exceptionally punctilious members of our little tribe might maybe tolerate them after all.

These provisions are unlibertarian, but they are far worse than that. There is only one legal term that seems quite to do them justice. That term is hostis humani generis: The founders of Confederacy were the enemies of all mankind, as admiralty law holds slave-takers to be. War against slave-takers is always permitted, by anyone, without pretext or need for justification. The practice of slavery is to be crushed, so that mere humanity might live.

Anyone who cares about human liberty—to whatever degree—ought to despise the Confederacy, ought to mock and desecrate its symbols, and ought never to let Confederate apologists pass unchallenged.

Those who make excuses for the Confederacy are at best ignorant, and even that ignorance is hard to fathom. Those who wave the Confederate flag just to make other people angry? Well, I get angry at them. It works every time, and I’m not even a little ashamed of it.

All friends of the Confederacy are my enemies. Wherever they appear. They’re your enemies too—they are the enemies of the entire human race—and the only remaining question is whether you face up to your responsibility as a human being and disown them.

My views here won’t pass without controversy, I know. I would implore all of you on the other side to consider that your sympathies have been badly misspent on the Confederacy. No, you don’t have to start loving everything Lincoln ever did, including all of his civil liberties violations, and you don’t have to ignore the growth of federal power following the Civil War. You should do no such thing. But it’s not as if, when faced with a choice of two wrongs, you would do better to pick the greater one.

Note: An earlier version of this piece was originally published at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.