Smearbund Funnies

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Smearbund Funnies

Case in point: critics of the Mises Institute often imply that it, or various people associated with it, are “pro-Confederate” in the sense of regarding the Confederacy as a legitimate government or regarding slavery as a defensible institution. As Tom DiLorenzo and Tom Woods point out on LRC today, this charge is completely false, and the critics should stop insinuating otherwise.

On the other hand, though, it’s a bit silly to act as though that’s all the “pro-Confederate” charge comes to. Surely it’s true that the overall tone of much that has come out of the Mises Institute on the Civil War has been not just critical of Lincoln and the Union (both well-deserving of criticism) but sympathetic toward and soft-pedaling of the Confederacy. This seems, well, blindingly obvious. To exaggerate this tendency into unproblematic “support” for the Confederacy, as the critics tend to do, is unfair. To downplay it into nothing at all also seems unfair. (And so on, mutatis mutandis, for most of the other issues dividing the “Beltway libertarians” and the “fever swamp.”)


22 Responses to Smearbund Funnies

  1. Allen Dalton February 5, 2008 at 7:12 pm #

    Amen, Roderick. Amen.

  2. Niccolo Adami February 5, 2008 at 8:57 pm #

    You seem like you would be a fan of Wondermark comics by David Malki, Roderick.

  3. Laura B. February 6, 2008 at 12:41 am #

    That comic is the funniest thing I have seen all week.

  4. Administrator February 6, 2008 at 5:12 pm #

    See my exchange with Anthony Gregory about this here.

  5. Black Bloke February 6, 2008 at 7:02 pm #

    My gift to Dr. Long. Something to give those of the Ron Paul (or any political candidate’s) camp who will be coming to your side in the coming months.

    I left out the URL, just in case.

  6. Black Bloke February 6, 2008 at 7:15 pm #

    Dr. Block goes further than others do by referring to it as, “The First War for Southern Independence.” Some call it, “The War to Prevent Southern Independence,” and in so doing place all of the stress on the agitation for independence qua independence, rather than independence for the purposes of having the unimpeded ability to enslave human beings.

    From Wendy McElroy’s earlier link:

    A short collection. I’m sure with the search function over at the blog its size could be multiplied easily.

  7. Anna Morgenstern February 7, 2008 at 12:26 pm #

    Certainly, Lincoln was one of the most evil of the US Presidents, and pointing that out is not untoward. Even anarchists believe that some presidents can be “worse” than others.
    The “Civil War” was indeed a war for Southern Independence, though the South did indeed (for the most part) wish to use that independence to continue slavery.
    I think the proper attitude to have is that the bloodshed, political centralization and authoritarianism was too high a price to pay for freeing the slaves of the southern states. You can see it as an analogous to a foreign war. In a sense, the Union invaded a neighbor in order to change their political policies and absorb them.
    If Mexico legalized Aztec Human Sacrifice, would the US Govt be justified in invading them and absorbing them into the USA?
    Many would unhesitatingly say yes, but I’d say that it would depend on what that entailed for the common people of both nations.

  8. William H. Stoddard February 7, 2008 at 5:41 pm #

    Very simply put, there is nothing, at all, ever, that can justify the shedding of the blood of one million and twenty thousand men on the field of battle.

    That seems hard to justify as a libertarian principle. Why are libertarians so insistent on preserving the right of the people to own firearms, if not, ultimately, to enable them to rise up against oppressive government? Such an uprising is hardly likely to take place without bloodshed, including the blood of many of the rebels. But do you really want libertarians to avoid passively submitting to totalitarianism?

    The libertarians I knew when I first got involved with the ideology and the movement tended to admire Thomas Jefferson (“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots”) and Barry Goldwater (“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. . . . Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”) But perhaps Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King are more in favor now.

  9. Niccolo Adami February 7, 2008 at 11:01 pm #

    “That seems hard to justify as a libertarian principle. Why are libertarians so insistent on preserving the right of the people to own firearms, if not, ultimately, to enable them to rise up against oppressive government? Such an uprising is hardly likely to take place without bloodshed, including the blood of many of the rebels. But do you really want libertarians to avoid passively submitting to totalitarianism?”

    I think what he means is the loss of “innocent” lives or states sending men to die.

    Perhaps he would think differently in terms of a revolution, but wars between states are largely the same. Those that die are not the men starting the war.

  10. Bob Kaercher February 8, 2008 at 10:31 am #

    “Perhaps he would think differently in terms of a revolution, but wars between states are largely the same. Those that die are not the men starting the war.”

    But you could reasonably argue that the southern war for secession was in fact a revolution, couldn’t you? In much the same way that the American colonies’ war for independence was also a war for secession, and is often referred to as the “American Revolution” (or “Revolutionary War”)?

    In both cases, a confederation of states (or colonies) revolted against what they perceived to be unjust coercion by the central government, and thus aimed at secession.

    I’m not sure what to make of this “neo-confederate” business. Of course, I’m no Mises Institute insider, obviously. My sole contact with the Institute is through its web site and various publications. But I don’t think I’ve ever detected any kind of “sympathy” for the Confederacy.

  11. Bob Kaercher February 8, 2008 at 1:29 pm #

    As for the “Bonnie Blue Flag” being played at Mises events, this is from the Wikipedia entry for the Bonnie Blue Flag: (

    “The Bonnie Blue Flag, a single white star on a blue field, was the flag of the short-lived Republic of West Florida. [1] In September 1810, settlers in the Spanish territory of West Florida revolted against the Spanish government and proclaimed an independent republic. The Bonnie Blue Flag was raised at the Spanish fort in Baton Rouge on September 23, 1810. In December, West Florida was annexed by the United States and the republic ceased to exist, after a life of 74 days.”

    Seeing as how that flag originated as a symbol of a republic that formed as a reaction against one form of imperialism, and was eventually absorbed by another imperialism, perhaps it’s not so surprising that a libertarian institution—particularly one that is predominantly constitutionalist republican—would play the song.

    The entry goes on to note:

    “The flag is still used to represent the South, and for some is a way of representing favor for the doctrine of states’ rights. Since the flag pre-dates the Civil War and is not associated with slavery, it is considered to be a less-offensive alternative to the Confederate Battle Flag.[2]

    “Today, the flag flies in most of the Florida Parishes of Louisiana, and is used on road signs along Interstate 12, which has been designated the ‘Republic of West Florida Parkway’.”

    The entry also quotes the lyrics of the “Bonnie Blue Flag” marching song that was so popular among the Confederates during the Civil War:

    “Hurrah! Hurrah!
    For Southern Rights, Hurrah!
    Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag
    That bears a Single Star!”

    Now, perhaps one could infer, considering the context of the Civil War-era south, that the song’s mention of “Southern Rights” implies southern elites’ illegitimate assertion of “rights” to “own” slaves (among other rights that were legitimate, such as the right to trade freely with whomever was willing to trade with them; the right not to be crippled by the central government’s oppressive economic policies).

    In the context of the Mises Institute, however, considering the vast swath of literature they have put out opposing any so-called “right” to enslave others, it would seem to me that their identification is with those legitimate rights of southerners who were once under economic, and subsequently military attack by the central gov’t—not with any of the southern elites’ asserted dubious “rights” to commit slavery, or conscription, or fiat currency, or any of the other things upheld by Confederate statism. (I think we’re at least fairly certain that the Institute doesn’t condone the draft or fiat money.)

    I’ve found myself in disagreement with many positions taken by many people of the Mises Institute, particularly on the depth of their analysis of state-capitalism (it often seems to go only so deep), and their position on immigration, though it should be noted that even among themselves they have plenty of disagreement over that issue. But I’ve come to the realization that my disagreements stem mainly from the fact that the Misesians predominantly favor constitutionalism as a strategy for liberty, whereas as an anarchist I see such a strategy of soft statism as sterile and useless.

    I would be delighted to see the Molinari Institute built up as a consistently anarchist libertarian institute coming from a “Left” perspective as a response to positions the Mises Institute (and the Cato Institute, for that matter) takes with which many left libertarians disagree. But I just don’t see the value of this sort of intra-movement culture war that seems to be developing, with different factions casting aspersions on other factions’ supposedly deep, dark motives allegedly being shielded from plain sunlight.

  12. John Sullivan February 8, 2008 at 3:16 pm #

    In theory, libertarianism should always begin with the individual. The individual’s liberty should never be sacrificed in order to secure liberty for a sub group dominated by a larger group. As such, people shouldn’t be forced to battle for their group’s liberty. And because they are, liberty is never the true goal of any movement or uprising. Calhoun was no libertarian.

    In history, however, it is always groups that battle each other for either dominion or liberty. Liberty is the goal of the enslaved and dominance the goal of the free–the only difference being their starting points. The civil war was fought mainly over the North’s tariffs on imported goods that the slave states were subject to. Essentially, the south were the north’s customers. If new states came in that were opposed to the tariff legislation, the manufacturing interests in the North would suffer from foreign competition. Increasingly, the south was losing ground in recruiting new states so they developed the libertarian strategy of declaring their right to withdraw from the Union. Likewise, the concept of libertarian freedom for slaves had evolved to the degree that it became useful as cover and sophistry for the totalitarian purposes of the north.

    Liberty is ideologically popular for those who lack the power to dominate others and/or don’t need to because under conditions of liberty they will comparatively prosper. They are smarter and, as such, always a minority. Those who would fail or fall behind generally aren’t libertarians.

  13. ThorsMitersaw February 11, 2008 at 11:42 am #

    Anyone who has done some serious reading into the civil war ought to know that the general reasons for independence were not stemming from slavery, that the result of separation would have seen slavery ended peacefully through economic means, that growing tendencies and legislative action to free slaves in the south was cut and damaged by the war, and that the the results were horrible for the whole of the United States population.

    I do not apologize for saying that the south, the north, blacks, whites, and the whole damn world would be better off had the south been able to go in peace. However I will concede that support of secession and defense of the south CAN lead to a defense of its government, and no government is defensible in the end.

  14. Charles H. February 12, 2008 at 10:07 am #

    Anyone who has done some serious reading of the official Declarations of Causes of Secession for the Southern states can see that slavery was, indeed, the primary reason for secession.

    Georgia states that “the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all,” and goes on to criticize the Federal government for outlawing “$3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union”. This “property” was, of course, human beings.

    Mississippi makes it even more blatant: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

    Texas declares: “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”

    The South’s support for so-called “states’ rights” amounted to a position which no libertarian can support: the right of states to take away all the most basic rights of the individual, and give dominion over those individuals to feudal landlords. When people claim that the Southern states had the “right” to secede, what they mean is that a minority– adult white male landowners– had the right to decide for everyone else what form of government they would live under, and whether their basic human rights would be recognized. How any self-proclaimed libertarian can declare the Confederate system in any way superior to Federalism is a mystery to me.

  15. Dennis February 12, 2008 at 4:10 pm #

    Charles H., you would indeed be right if the North had any intention of outlawing slavery, a position held by a minority (abolitionists.) While a historian should usually give the benefit of the doubt to the stated intentions of historical actors, this guideline is not set in concrete. By this logic we should all just agree that the reason the President ordered the United States military into Iraq was to “fight terrorism” or to destroy “weapons of mass destruction.” The reasons given for a war are very often different from the reasons for which it is actually fought. The issue of slavery was indeed quite divisive, but in general this had more to do with the spread of the institution into the territories. Free soilers like Lincoln opposed the spread of slavery because they did not want any African Americans (slave or free) in the new territories to drive down wages for white labor and for the even more appalling reason of simply keeping the areas white. The 13th amendment had more to do with post war punishment of the South than it did moral outrage at slavery (which is fine, whatever the reason, it was the right thing to do.)

    Essentially, there was never a real threat to slavery from the government as instituted. If Southern leaders were able to marshal a propaganda campaign to the contrary, knowing that a typical non-slave owning southerner would more likely support secession for the reason of supporting a race-based order from which he benefited than for economic reasons he might not understand, that is understandable if detestable. Such disconnects between the leaders of movements and the “muscle” is certainly not unique, one need only to look at the French Revolution, where even the most radical Jacobins were careful in their dealings with the sans cullotes.

    As to the South’s right to secede not being valid on the basis of slavery, in some sense you are right. It is certainly true that to break off from one government to start another is no more than exchanging one group of criminals for a different one. But, by the same token the American Revolution was led by a group of men which largely included slave holders. From the outset of that war there was a greater chance that the British would free the slaves of the colonists if victorious than that the North would do so to the South in the Civil War. A better way to look at this has less to do with the South’s right to secede than it does the North’s right to stop them. Had a sincere abolitionist like William Lloyd Garrison been President, and had he made the case that the North wished to prevent Southern secession for the purpose of ending slavery, had he been able to raise an all volunteer army without enslaving (conscripting) men to fight for this cause and ideally had he collected the money through voluntary contributions (impossible I know), and had said army not engaged in the destruction of Southern civilians and their property, one could make a very strong argument that this would constitute a good war. As it was it was an absolutely horrible event. Certain technological advances that benefit all of us have grown from research into weapons design. These same technologies could have been developed some other way. The mere fact of their existence does not justify the military-industrial complex, it is still just as horrible, but everyone can admit that however they came about they are good things. There is nothing pro-slavery or even pro-Confederate about being anti-Union. One can easily say “a pox on both their houses” while admitting that on the simple matter of the South’s secession and the North’s method of responding to it, the Union was more in the wrong.

  16. ThorsMitersaw February 12, 2008 at 5:42 pm #

    The declarations of states are not reflective of their citizens and the sentiments amongst the average ‘Johnny Reb’ (through collections of hundreds of letters and diaries) reflects a defense of notions of classical liberalism and opposition to the tyrannical behavior of King Lincoln and his initiation of violence.

    Nor does the general tendency of states lend itself to reflecting debate within the halls of the seceding government in their declarations of secession (some of the SAME issues were present during the time of the revolutionary war). Such opposition was growing and challenged in the halls of southern governments throughout the south as with all of the western world (Virginia and North Carolina being the ones that jump into my mind immediately). To ignore the variety of other reasons, which by far were the focus of the north, and the souths people, is just plain dishonest. Not the least of which is a obvious gun in the room.

    I fail to see how anyone who has read the Confederate Constitution could say without a doubt that the ridiculously meaningless restrictions of their particular constitutional fantasy land were superior to those of the Unions parchment fantasies. I fail to see how any libertarian can be opposed to the idea of secession and self determination. (Indeed what irks me the most about the Confederate government was its suppression of secession within its own borders). The most important result of that war worth considering in the end in my opinion, was the conversion of the ENTIRE population of the south into slaves. For what else are they if that form of self determination (self government) is stolen from them by the point of a bayonet? Free? HA! The existing private slaves held in he south were merely added with the southern population to the list of slaves of the north.

    The end result of violent intervention is ALWAYS the same: death, enslavement, corruption, expansion of power, cultural perversion against the claimed goal (which in this case just like the Iraq war did not take the spot light till after the bodies lay still and the guns silent…), lasting misery, and economic chaos.

    And behold what they reaped, a massive quantity of all of the above.

  17. Bob Kaercher February 13, 2008 at 11:28 am #

    “Anyone who has done some serious reading of the official Declarations of Causes of Secession for the Southern states can see that slavery was, indeed, the primary reason for secession.”

    The irony of that truth is that had the southern states simply been allowed to secede, slavery would most likely have collapsed soon after.

  18. PhysicistDave February 15, 2008 at 3:07 am #

    May I pretend to be a philosopher and draw some distinctions that are too rarely drawn in this debate?

    There is a difference between stylistic and cultural sympathies and moral and political sympathies. Some of the Mises Institute/ folks may indeed have more sympathy for traditional Southern culture than for traditional Northern culture: Southern “graciousness,” etc.

    Personally, I do not share such sympathies: both my own personal predilections and my own family background are more “Roundhead” than “Cavalier.” E.g., while I admire both Sam Adams and Patrick Henry, I am pretty sure I would have hit it off better with the Bostonian than with the Virginian (or to take a later era, I expect I would have interacted more comfortably with Old Kinderhook than with Calhoun). The phrase “southern julep” does not induce a sense of nostalgia in me.

    However, it does seem to be the case that quite a few of the “Beltway libertarians,” not the Mises folks, are attempting to use such cultural sympathies as shibboleths. It is the Beltwaytarians, not the Mises folks, who have gone on and on for years about the need for libertarians to be “cosmopolitan,” “dynamist,” “progressive,” etc.

    As I have written elsewhere in this debate, I myself should count as the very model of a modern, cosmopolitan, dynamist libertarian. I am staying home with the kids so that my wife has all the fun of going out into the workaday world. I married into a family of immigrants, and I’m such a cosmopolitan dude that my kids and I are learning the in-laws’ language (Chinese). And I hold several patents on computer and communications technology and a Ph.D. from Stanford – I’m as dynamist as they come. Oh, and I am not a religious believer of any sort – depending on your definition, I have been agnostic or atheist since high school.

    However, while I differ from Ron Paul, and, perhaps, some of the Misesians/Rockwellians on all of those cultural points, I do not find that fact significant – nor do the Paulistas/Rockwellians seem to find my cosmopolitan inclinations a problem. It only takes one side to start a fight, and it seems to be pretty clearly the Beltwaytarians who are determined to condemn people like Ron Paul: the great “newsletter” issue exhibited this fact very nicely. Very little of the criticism of the newsletter focused on actual factual or moral debate over the content of the newsletters: almost all of the criticisms (with a very few exceptions, e.g., David Freidman’s) simply took it as a given that such talk as the newsletters exhibited was inappropriate, whether or not it was factually correct or morally justified.

    The Beltwaytarians, for a very long time, long before the current Paul campaign, have pursued such an approach. I was a doctoral student at Stanford in the late ‘70s, when Cato, IHS, etc. were all based in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I knew Ed Crane and others way back when and saw this from early on.

    The Mises vs. Cato/Reason split is not simply two groups both making invidious distinctions and both going at the fight with equal ferocity. There is one group – the Beltwaytarians – who have, for decades, exhibited a desire to exclude libertarians who do not share their cultural views. There is another group, the Rothbardians, whose primary focus is on the need to oppose the state.

    Although my cultural sympathies are in some ways more with the cosmo-libertarians, I think this is a pretty simple choice for any committed libertarian to make.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  19. JOR February 15, 2008 at 4:53 am #

    “The Beltwaytarians…”

    This term, along with ‘modal libertarians’ doesn’t refer to anything really meaningful. In fact all it really means is ‘libertarian that (speaking Misoid) strongly dislikes/disagrees with’. That’s how it covers everyone from Ed Crane to LP functionaries to “Lincoln Cultist” JTK to Wendy McElroy to Charles Johnson.

  20. PhysicistDave February 15, 2008 at 5:36 am #

    Well, JOR — if the word connoted nothing at all, it probably would not have annoyed you, now would it? For example, if I’d just called them the “xcvbnmoius” and not elaborated at all, I doubt you would have complained!

    I laid out in some detail how I was using the term. If your claim is simply that there are no human beings who actually fit the descriptions I laid out, I suppose we could have a meaningful discussion – although I would be inclined to just point people to Google: these folks have written a lot about their views.

    Incidentally, I am a bit skeptical that either Charles or Wendy is contained in the group of people I described as “Belwaytarians.” There can, after all, be more than two groups of libertarians! And there can also be people in a “gray area” that partially fit my description but not completely.

    However, if you have followed the debates among libertarians for thirty-five years as I have, I really don’t think there is any serious doubt that some libertarians, and most of the vocal ones in the Cato-reason camp, do fit my description.

    If you simply don’t like the word “Beltwaytarian,” well, I was just alluding to Rod’s reference to the phrase “Beltway libertarians.”

    “A rose by any other name…”

    Incidentally, I think the split in the libertarian movement is a very good thing – let a hundred flowers bloom! I was not condemning the split but merely pointing out what I saw as the source of the split.


    P.S. I of course meant to type “mint julep” not “Southern julep.”

  21. Rad Geek February 18, 2008 at 5:32 am #

    Have I been inducted into the Beltwaytarian Illuminati without having heard about it? If so, I eagerly await my imminent influx of cocktail party invites and Kochtopus cash.


    The declarations of states are not reflective of their citizens …

    No, but they are reflective of the opinions of the state governments at the time that those state governments determined to secede.

    Of course, many if not most people in many southern states at the time felt differently. For starters, many if not most people in many southern states at the time were black slaves.

    The white southerners who fought as common soldiers often had very different views of the import and justification for the war than those held by their governments. But of course it was their governments, and not they, who made the political and military decisions that we’re discussing here.

    Charles H.,

    I agree with you that any honest review of what the secessionists said (especially what they said at the time of the secession debate, rather than when they wrote their memoirs in the 1870s) would very quickly reveal that the perpetuation and expansion of race slavery was absolutely central to the Confederate cause. However, it would be an ignoratio elenchi to follow that evidence with the conclusion that ending or limiting race slavery must have been absolutely essential to the Union cause.

    When people claim that the Southern states had the “right” to secede, what they mean is that a minority– adult white male landowners– had the right to decide for everyone else what form of government they would live under, and whether their basic human rights would be recognized.

    I’m sure that when many people claim that, that is indeed what they mean, but I don’t think it’s at all fair to impute that meaning to most of the writers at or the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

    Whatever faults they may have (and some of them have a lot), most of the people in question are anarchists, who believe that no government whatever, state, federal, or other, has any legitimate right to compel anyone’s allegiance. Their point about the right of secession is that adult white male Southern landowners had a right to determine for themselves (and themselves alone) what form of government, if any, they should live under, a right which any principled and honest believer in the principle of government by consent would have to concede they do have. The obvious and hideous atrocity of southern race slavery hardly justifies military invasion and bayonet-point Unionism; what it justifies is the (Garrisonian) strategy of embracing peaceful disunion, and then supporting southern slaves in their efforts to secede from the from the illegitimate government created by their quasi-secessionist slave-drivers.

    If you’re not already familiar with it, I’d like to recommend J.R. Hummel’s excellent book, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, which ably defends the Garrisonian-disunionist position and presents a much more accurate and sophisticated libertarian analysis of the war than the stuff churned out by, for example, Tom DiLorenzo or Tom Woods.


    I think the issues at hand are a bit more complex than cultural affinities. When I see Yankees like Tom DiLorenzo running around affecting a fondness for the ol’ Moonlight-and-Magnolias, I just find it ridiculous. But when I see them actively distorting history for polemical purposes, in order to whitewash rabid slave-driving statists like John C. Calhoun, Robert E. Lee, or Jefferson Davis (cf. for example 1, 2, 2, 3, etc., not to mention DiLorenzo’s periodic attempts to portray Lysander Spooner, the author of the Plan for the Abolition of Slavery and a conspirator in an abortive attempt to rescue John Brown from the gallows, as an advocate for “peaceful” gradualist emancipation, I think there is something deeper and nastier at work that needs to be exposed and confronted.

    Of course, those people who, in the name of “moderation” or “compromise” or politesse, attempt to water down or dissemble about libertarian principles on hard cases, or who try to marginalize radical libertarians for simply for making uncomfortably libertarian points — a group that intersects with, but certainly does not exhaust and certainly is not limited to — the staff at Cato and Reason deserves nothing but contempt for that kind of hand-wringing opportunism. But I don’t think it’s true that that’s the only reason that the Paulitarians and the VMI/LRC crew draw the kind of flak that they draw from within libertarian circles, or even from the Cato and Reason crowds specifically.

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