Libertarians, Slavery, and the Defense of Lincoln

Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind and blogger extraordinaire, has a short post on “comparisons between libertarianism and slaveholders.” I always learn something from Corey’s work (I highly recommend his book), and it has prompted me to share here the names of two libertarians (both of whom I know personally) who have been vociferously pro-Lincoln in their writings.

Timothy Sandefur, of the Pacific Legal Foundation and an adjunct scholar of the CATO Institute, has been publishing for years vigorous defenses of Abraham Lincoln. I recommend that you go to his website and search “Abraham Lincoln” to get a sampling of Sandefur’s work. Or, read his “How Libertarians Should Think About the Civil War” here.

More recently, Alexander Marriott of Wiley College has published a piece in The Objective Standard defending Lincoln. Dr. Marriott came down to our campus at Lone Star College – Kingwood recently and spoke about his essay. He talked for about 45 minutes, then answered questions from students and faculty for another 45.

Now, part of what interests me here is that both Sandefur and Marriott are Objectivists, or followers of Ayn Rand. Rand has come in for a good deal of abuse lately, but on the subject of Abraham Lincoln, Sandefur and Marriott have been excellent. Not only that, they have been willing to challenge others within their own camp to reconsider their views toward Lincoln. I asked Sandefur through Twitter if there was some connection between his Objectivism and his defense of Lincoln, and he said it was because “we think in principles.” I asked Marriott the same thing when he was at Lone Star – Kingwood, and his response was that he had to think about it.

I don’t have a good answer for this question yet myself, but it is one worth pondering, and one about which I’d be anxious to hear responses from readers. At the very least, it seems to me that Lincoln’s libertarian critics have a very different conception of “freedom” than the sixteenth president (I think they would totally agree with my assessment). Lincoln himself pointed this out in 1864, when he said the following:

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names—liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated.

I guess the question is – and Corey and Timothy (and more recently Alexander) have continually brought this to people’s attention – whether libertarians are on the side of the sheep or the wolf.

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