Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rothbard and the American Civil War

Wenzel tries to bury an unjust accusation against Murray N. Rothbard and Ron Paul:
There have been two broad sweeps against Rothbard and those influenced by him. One being, Rothbard considered the South's attempt to secede from the Union legitimate, and two, writings in the Ron Paul letter were racist.

To the first point, more than once, it has been explained that Rothbard and company were not supporting the South because of the South's policies on slavery, but merely the South's desire to secede from the Union.
The unjust argument against Rothbard is that he was somehow a racist for believing that the Civil War was unjust (or as he sometimes put it that the South's War for Independence was a just war). Apart from being perhaps the greatest American economist of all time, and certainly one of the best philosophers of the 20th Century, Rothbard was a an excellent logician and a legal scholar par excellence. His argument for a free society in Power and Market is unrivaled.

In his support for Rothbard, Wenzel quotes a passage from Slavery and War  where Rothbard, being the legal genius that he was states that rather than lumping and blurring everything, we "must split our analysis of the 'causes of the Civil War'." It is unfortunate that we have come to view this war as a war for the freeing of the slaves, because it wasn't. While it is regrettable that the Southern states had not advanced enough to realize that slave labor was actually working to their detriment, we must not forget that the Union of the American States was formed on a voluntary basis by its constituent parts. From the South's point of view, their entry into the Union was a function of their voluntary choice, and if their benefits were no longer served by participating in that union, then they had the right to secede.

Throughout the 1990s the world was witness to the wars among the former constituents of the Yugoslav federation. While what has come to be remembered about those wars were the instances of ethnic cleansing, the cause of those wars has been obscured. Those wars were struggles for independence. The Yugoslav federation was formed on a similar basis to the American Union: by a voluntary contract among several sovereign states which joined together for mutual benefit. The former Yugoslav republics declared independence in accordance with their constitutions and popular referendums. Yet, the precedent set by the American Civil War provided an excuse for the hegemonic powers of the Capitol to wage murderous campaigns that lasted the better part of a decade.

As I see it, Rothbard was making an argument on contractual obligations.

Rothbard furthered his argument by pointing out that the North wasn't genuinely interested in the welfare of the southern Blacks. To demonstrate this Wenzel quotes from Ethics in Liberty where Rothbard, in a check-mate move argues the slaves "were freed" without being granting their justly earned compensation. For, while the slaves were slaves, their owners had some obligations toward them (to provide food and shelter); but once the slaves were freed, the former owners were left with dirt cheap labor--desperate to make a living--that they did not have to provide with any services in return.

To be sure, the Emancipation Proclamation was a mere propaganda ploy, since it did not outlaw slavery, and did not make the ex-slaves citizens. Nor did it make life for Southern Blacks any easier for the next century. As I mentioned before, Southern entrepreneurs would have eventually (surely before the end of the 19th Century) made the realization that slave labor is far less effective than paid labor. The full swing of the Industrial Revolution would have driven the South toward an abandonment of slavery as an unfeasible practice. I believe that this is what Rothbard was trying to impart when he argued that it was not necessary to embark on a bloody war to achieve this end. While the peaceful abandonment of the practice of slavery would surely have led to a more acceptable of the Southern Blacks into free society.

The point often missed is that there are countless points view any issue. Therefore, the sweeping approach of violently imposing one opinion over all others should not be acceptable. In short, to insinuate that Rothbard was a racist is in mind one of the most unjust, evil spirited statements a person can make.

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