Father Abraham, Progenitor of the Modern Fascist State -- a fact attested by the Roman-style fasces displayed in this familiar monument in the Lincoln Memorial.
(Thanks to Lew Rockwell for pointing out this significant artistic detail.)
When it comes to the matter of individual liberty, there is no fact too conspicuous, or principle of logic too obvious, to escape James Taranto's understanding.
Responding with canine servility to the command that he attack Ron Paul (Taranto didn't need a memo, a dog whistle was sufficient), the Wall Street Journal columnist dutifully produced a brief broadside accusing the Congressman of being a bogus libertarian because Dr. Paul doesn't burn incense at the shrine of Abraham Lincoln, or support the proto-totalitarian 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Taranto offered a poorly performed grace note to his essay in the form of an insipid gibe:
“As the old joke goes, if you want to find out if someone's really a libertarian, ask him: Do you think children should be allowed to buy heroin from vending machines? A real libertarian will answer: Only if the vending machines are privately owned.”
The urbane James Taranto, our infallible tutor in the ways of "true" libertarianism.
An honest formulation of that question would destroy the punchline, such as it is, because a genuine libertarian would respond by asking, “By what authority does the government forbid the consumption of heroin?”
A libertarian of a federalist bent – and Dr. Paul is the most consistent exemplar of that tendency – would point out that, while the powers reserved by the Constitution to states and communities would include the power to regulate or forbid drug consumption (whatever one thinks of the wisdom of such a policy), the federal government has no proper role here. A libertarian of minarchist or anarchist persuasion would insist that no government of any kind has a proper role in regulating drug consumption.
Those views all take into consideration the fundamental insight of libertarianism: Government is, at all times and in all circumstances, the single greatest threat to freedom, property (beginning with one's person), and social harmony.
Taranto, however, insists that the federal government, through the so-called Civil Rights* Act, was “siding with liberty against government-enforced oppression” in the Jim Crow South.
That system of petty apartheid was fraught with pointless cruelties and pointed indignities. But given the economic and social costs of maintaining Jim Crow, it's perfectly reasonable to believe that it was susceptible to reform and abolition through means other than federal intervention (as Martin Luther King, Jr. may have understood before he became the figurehead of a movement devoted to abolishing federalism). When the "civil rights" movement decided to enlist the power of Beelzebub to cast out a smaller devil, did it really expect that Beelzebub would still be enthroned decades after Jim Crow perished?
It's worth reflecting on a largely ignored point raised by Dr. Paul in his Meet the Press interview: Like the Black Codes that preceded it, the Jim Crow system in the southern states was inspired and fortified by the predictable generational hatred growing out of a war that killed 600,000 Americans, and the vicious occupation that followed in the name of "Reconstruction."
And the war itself was not begun as a campaign of liberation, but one of conquest and consolidation: Lincoln's view -- contradicted by the best scholarship of the pre-war period, and by explicit provisions in some state constitutions (Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island) -- was that the states, as fully digested components of a unitary government, had no right to secede.
Once the campaign to “restore the Union” (actually, to transmute it into a centrally ruled monolith) was underway, it was cynically re-defined as a campaign to end chattel slavery, an objective Lincoln resisted as long as it was politically feasible to do so. (It's worth pointing out that by introducing the military draft and the first income tax, the Civil War created precedents for institutionalizing slavery, rather than abolishing it.)
The re-definition of the Union's war aims actually undermined the cause of individual liberty by claiming on behalf of the central government the power -- both in war and during Reconstruction -- to reconfigure social customs within the states that created it, and to police private relationships apart from the odious and unlamented custom of chattel slavery.
There is a large and growing corpus of revisionist works on Lincon's war, not all of which have been produced by libertarian or paleo-conservative authors. One of the most provocative of those books is Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy, by George P. Fletcher, a Marxist Columbia University School of Law professor.
Fletcher sounds very much like a libertarian or paleo-con critic of Lincoln, in that he insists that Father Abraham's true purpose was not to restore the constitutional union, but to create a new order – one born from successful and continuing aggression by the central government against the states of the union and the people of the country.
“The new order inherits an operating Congress, Executive, and Judiciary,” writes Fletcher, and although federal institutions have been “recast in new functions, the forms remained the same.” Behind a change in federal functions is a new ruling ideology, in which the central government elite now acts on “the consciousness of setting forth a new framework of government, a structure based on values fundamentally different from those that went before.”
“The heart of the new consensus is that the federal government, victorious in warfare, must continue its aggressive intervention in the lives of its citizens,” writes Fletcher approvingly. As written in 1787, ratified by the states, and generally understood today, the Founders' Constitution was proscriptive, defining the few and specific things the people would permit government to do, and forbidding government action beyond such license. This was changed by Lincoln's war, according to Fletcher, since “the liberty that comes to the fore in the intended postbellum constitutional order and under the Secret Constitution requires the intervention of government. Liberty is born in the state's assertion of responsibility to oversee and prevent relationships of oppression.” (Emphasis added.)
“Liberty,” on this construction, is the gift of the state, requires the state's constant supervision, and is provided through state coercion. This view could be digested into a doxology: Wherever the spirit of state coercion can be found, there is liberty. Then again, Mussolini's famous dictum captures the essence of Fletcher's views quite tidily: Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.
I grant that Fletcher is not the official spokesman for the Cult of Lincoln (he is infinitely more readable than the demented Harry Jaffa, who presently occupies that post) – but he expounds the central tenet of that cult with commendable candor: One is “free” only to the extent he supports, and is subject to, unlimited aggression by the infinitely wise and and peerlessly noble people who preside over the central government in the name of freedom.
Of course this means allowing the central government to dictate the limits of one's property rights, associations, public speech, and even private opinions in the name of combating “discrimination.” But it also means being willing to consecrate all with which the state has blessed him – including his wealthy, property, and even his own life or the lives of his children, if necessary – to the prosecution of wars of “liberation” abroad.
This gospel of “liberation” was first preached by the rulers of revolutionary France, as David Bell points out in his valuable book The First Total War (about which I'll have more to say on a future occasion). But because of Lincoln's war, the government ruling the United States of America would eventually become the most powerful and aggressive promoter of that doctrine (once other contenders, such as the Soviet Union, dropped out of competition).
(Continues after break)
"I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo," wrote English historian John Dalberg Acton in a November 1866 letter to Robert E. Lee. Lord Acton recognized that the triumphant Union embodied the same revolutionary doctrine of "liberation" through aggression that had propelled Bonaparte's campaigns.
In a December 1866 letter to the English historian Lord Acton, Robert E. Lee presciently lamented “the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”
Once a government gets in the business of “liberating” people through aggression, it will only get out of that business if forced to through external conquest or national bankruptcy. The latter is nigh on arrival, making the former -- which, as Lincoln himself observed, was once all but unthinkable -- a dim but valid possibility, albeit in the form of re-possession by foreign creditors.
Such as the consequences of Establishment-approved "libertarianism," as preached by seers and savants such as James Taranto.
Dum spiro, pugno!