The gift of David Boaz's recent PC-tarian fiasco continues to produce, including a thoughtful rejoinder from Jacob Hornberger himself. Not content to let the matter drop though, Boaz along with Cato's in-house pretend philosopher have issued their own answers. One could easily pick apart their particulars, and I will momentarily, but a general point needs to be made from the outset. The relationship between the individual and the state is the heart of the libertarian political philosophy, and it is both the history and nature of the state to intrude upon the individual's liberty. Even when exerted against a group or class of people, the state's actual intrusion occurs on the individual level against his individual rights, that individual simply happening to belong to a group. A discriminatory law is therefore not wrong because it offends a broad, abstract, and often vaguely defined collective attribute of many individual persons such as race, class, religion, skin color, or sexual preference. It is wrong because of what it inflicts upon the individual liberty of that person, the attribute of his race, class, etc. being only the occasion of its infliction.
Boaz and Wilkinson fundamentally mistake the nature of "racism," "sexism," and all the other negative isms that are commonly use to collectively define a category of infringements upon the rights of the individual, and do so by confusing the targeted characteristic for the individual himself, against whom the actual physical wrong is committed. Such mistaken orderings amount to little more than crudely formulated displays of identity collectivism, and as the simple substitution of "class" for "race" et al illustrates, they are fraught with with fundamentally Marxian premises.
It should also be duly noted that Boaz et al completely neglect another important dimension from their crude historical analyses, to wit: the embrace of classical liberalism as an intellectual movement. Even as the 19th century in practice fell far short of its libertarian ideals, those same ideals flourished in its intellectual culture. Is it simple coincidence that the century to which Hornberger refers produced such luminaries as Frederic Bastiat, Richard Cobden, Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, David Ricardo, Carl Menger, Lysander Spooner, Alexis de Tocqueville, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry George, William Graham Sumner, and dozens of other like-minded thinkers on whose work much of the modern libertarian movement of today rests? Is it also of little significance that many of these same thinkers were roundly embraced and celebrated as the leading minds of their day? Given what bilgewater passes for "intellectual thought" in the present day, perhaps the 19th century was a "golden age" of sorts after all.
On to the particulars though...
After acknowledging that Hornberger made absolutely no specific longing to pre-1865 America but rather the 19th century in general, Boaz, with Wilkinson's assistance, attempts to modify and extend his argument from blacks to women (and gays and every other Politically Correct category of shared human attributes). Thus they rant about Hornberger's supposed neglect for those who lacked "meaningful rights to political participation" and so forth. Hornberger makes no such neglect save for benign omission of a point so self-evident that it need not be harped upon, though harpies his interlocutors happen to be. It causes wonder, however, to witness the likes of Boaz and Wilkinson in their apparent reduction of the measure of a free society into something so ultimately meaningless and so notoriously fraught with statist manipulation and irrational displays of misplaced exuberance as the elective franchise. The people may elect an Obama and they may vote themselves a welfare state, but by golly they exercised a "meaningful right to political participation" and therefore must be freer than the past when such franchise was not universal! Briefly setting aside overwhelming evidence that the expansion of mass democracy in the United States only gave rise to bigoted populist windbags with a propensity for statist intrusions upon liberty, both economic and personal, there is a delicious irony to be found in its use as a measure of a free society by two individuals who frequently announce their own disgust with the ballot box, or sing praises of others who abstain from this largely frivolous act.*
*This writer has long tended to concur with Spooner's observation that "man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist" and therefore only exercises the franchise to obtain "some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own." But such thoughts may be beyond the comprehension of persons who fundamentally conflate collective identity politics with the inherent antagonism of an individual's relationship with the state, and what the latter says of his own free exercise of rights.
That much duly noted, it is similarly mistaken to respond, as Wilkinson does, that in 1880's America "well more than half the population was systematically and often brutally denied basic liberty rights" on account of the state's own discriminatory policies against persons of targeted racial, class, and gender attributes. One may duly denounce the feudal era English common law concept of coverture impeding female property rights, yet also recognize what Wilkinson does not, namely that (1) such laws were drastically diminished through the enactment of Married Women's Property Acts and Privy Examination statutes in the majority of states between 1809 and the early 1850's, (2) the 19th century in general saw a marked liberalization of laws regarding women's rights in general including the elective franchise, which preceded the federal 19th amendment on the state level by upwards of 5 decades in some cases, and (3) no necessity exists to assert that all 19th century females would find themselves little more than the status of slaves because their husbands, to whom it may be fairly assumed a large number were happily married, retained a stronger legal standing to contract in a court of law.
Jim Crow, which was again a sin of government against the individual at the most fundamental level, serves to fully illustrate the fault of government even when it is comparatively smaller than today, though again its wrong is so self-evident to the libertarian that harping upon it serves little legitimate purpose beyond an artificial attempt to quash an argument that one also happens to be losing. Of course even the most horrendous acts of overt state segregation against blacks (which actually reached their peak amidst the inflamed populism of the early 20th century's "Progressive Era," not the comparatively benign, even if far from perfect, political era that preceded it) did not completely deprive them of economic freedom. Indeed, this was the central point of Booker T. Washington's autobiography, "Up From Slavery," and the defining message of his thoroughly libertarian career as an educator and thinker: Permit us, as individuals, to better ourselves through the exercise of economic freedom...which brings us to a second bit of irony, wherein Boaz apparently missed the entire message of the same work whose title he appropriated to make his original dig at Hornberger.
Brickbat: Tough Crowd
3 hours ago