Espousing Individual Liberty Using Quotes From Slavemasters?

I recently poked a stick at a hornet’s nest of self-proclaimed Southern Nationalists on Twitter who truly believed they were celebrating individual liberty by quoting Jefferson Davis. The meme that was posted featured a stately profile picture of Davis accompanied by a quote from a famous Davis speech which said, “All we ask is to be let alone.” My response was, “Isn’t this quote a little watered down coming from him?”

You’d think the Southern Nationalists who went on the attack had no idea who Jefferson Davis was. Regardless of whatever else Jefferson Davis may have said or done throughout the years, he was both a racist and a slave-owner by all accounts. Whether or not he favored gradual emancipation, didn’t think slavery was ultimately sustainable, or advocated a decentralized form of government, he was first and foremost an owner of human beings who believed that blacks were an inferior class. He loudly and repeatedly proclaimed this view throughout the years.

Of course though, I was eventually accused of being ignorant of the South’s history and of Jefferson-Davis-The-Man, and of being a statist, Lincoln-worshipper (even though I despise Abraham Lincoln). To a Southern Nationalist, anyone who deigns to criticize the South during the Civil War period must be a big-government, politically correct, Yankee-liberal. Furthermore, the Southern Nationalists expressed outrage that the Civil War South continues to receive blanket condemnation for an institution that only a “small fraction” of Southerners participated in. I was also accused of ignoring the subjugation of women in Muslim countries and of ignoring human rights abuses in China. Where these accusations came from, I have no idea. To me, they appeared to be nothing more than a predictable diversion by Confederate Flag-toters from the horrid stain that is the slave-owning South. I was offending their ancestors, many of whom had fought in the Civil War, they said.

The exchange highlighted a larger problem within the libertarian movement that’s been written about many times before but bears repeating since it refuses to die — that of so-called libertarians whose utopia died with the Civil War. With so many other historical proponents of freedom and liberty to quote, you have to wonder the motives of someone who uses a slavemaster to espouse individual liberty. The only interesting retort came when I was asked whether I thought we should totally reject studying figures like Jefferson Davis, or Washington or Jefferson or many of the other slave-owning Founding Fathers. Quite the contrary, I think they should be studied in depth and their words and deeds absorbed where appropriate, while at the same time realizing their hypocrisy. Besides, the libertarian movement needs less idols. Too often, libertarians hang their hat on one or another figure, only to have that figure publicly exposed for the skeletons in his closet. In the age of sound bite media, incidents like that are the quickest way for libertarian views to be flushed down the toilet en masse.

Far be it from me to define libertarianism, but I have no desire to ally myself with people who prefer to whitewash the deeds of slaveowners, simply because we both share a hatred of the federal government. Motives matter, and if the libertarian’s long-term goal is to create something approaching a freer world, I don’t believe it’s a positive step in that direction if that new world is inhabited by people who can so easily look past the lowest form of human degradation — slavery. I’ll take a welfare-loving Democrat as my next-door neighbor any day of the week.

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