Thursday, July 25, 2013

Slavery as Proto-Corporatism

The issue of slavery has reared its ugly, long-dead mug recently, especially as it relates to those in modern times who are skeptical of government. But was it government itself that fostered this peculiar institution?

In the discussion following the resignation of Jack Hunter from Rand Paul's staff, the point was raised that neo-confederates share the anti-government sentiment that drives libertarian political thought. But I contend the resemblance is merely superficial.

In all actuality, the institution of slavery, which is nondetachable from any form of confederate sympathy, is just as dependent on government as are the current corporatism defenders. And here's why:

But first, let me step back for a moment.

A core belief in libertarian circles is that the government is not needed to police businesses because inefficient, unethical, or otherwise bad practices will be exposed by the mechanisms of the Free Market, and if the Free Market were allowed to weed out these undesirable elements we'd all be better off as a result.

So the argument is: if slavery was profitable enough to have a whole mass of people fight to preserve it, then it must be an example of the free market's self-policing ability failing. Or in other words, if left to the free market and not the North's intervention, slavery might persist to this day.

This, unfortunately, fails to include the U.S. government's role in supporting bondage, without which, I believe, this bondage would have died a natural death long before the 1860's.

Now let's jump back to the more recent past for a second.

Libertarians have argued against the bank and auto industry bailouts of 2008 because they insulated these industries from the corrective effects of a truly unhindered marketplace. Had they let "too big to fail" actually fail, the argument goes, the market would have fixed the problem on its own (albeit causing rather rough but short-term economic conditions).

Slavery persisted far beyond any capitalistic gain in much the same way, through the system we now call corporatism. I explained corporatism's incompatibility with libertarianism previously, so I won't go into it now.

The government bore the costs of slave retention by various means, including the Fugitive Slave Act. (which, as I mentioned before, actually imposed the unwanted arrest and return of slaves in the North. State's rights indeed!)

This amounts to a government subsidy, since these are costs the slaveholder did not have to pay.

Without this, perhaps slavery might have persisted by other means. We have no way of knowing that for sure.

But what we do know is that the point made above shows, once again, how neo-confederates, although a vocal and easily-spotted bunch, have no relation to libertarian ideology or the movement for individual liberty.

For what is more opposite to individual liberty than the government subsidized and systematic stripping of a person's individual liberty through slavery?

1 comment:

  1. It's probably worth pointing out that slavery is antilibertarian on grounds far beyond those of opposition to subsidy or faith in free markets.

    Slavery represented a failure of government in what is generally seen as a legitimate realm for state power, specifically the prevention of aggression*. Slavery cannot be enforced without initiation of aggression by slaveholders. Thus state-supported slavery was both a failure of protection and a genuine imposition of market-distorting regulation imposing the costs of slave-holders on entire populace. It's bad all the way around.

    It may be valid to point out the ulterior motives of the Union, and the misdeeds of Lincoln and the Union government prior to, during, and after the war, but all those misdeeds and ulterior motives do not erase the absolutely tyrannical nature of the CSA and of slaveholders.

    So there's basically no basis in libertarianism for Confederate apology except the very barest freedom-of-association and self-determination arguments that it is not within the rights of the state to go to war to prevent separation. And the case of the CSA is so tainted with awfulness that it makes just about the worst poster child ever for voluntary secession.

    *Not to include anarchocapitalists, who envision private police forces.