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Revising the American Revolution

An interesting, fiery comment by Bob Kaercher to my post Happy We-Should-Restore-The-Monarchy-And-Rejoin-Britain Day!:

Bob Kaercher

I would never propose rejoining the Brits nor would I ever favor a monarchy, but I think I can appreciate what’s illustrated by the comparison being made here, which is that the vote-for-your-favorite-dictator democracy celebrated every 4th of July was hardly an improvement. As much as that may rankle the feathers of some American libertarians who have still not quite totally detoxed from the years of brainwashing by the media, popular culture, hearing family and neighbors spouting widely held assumptions with no or little basis in fact, and/or government schooling, the founding of the United States is hardly an historical event to be cheered by libertarians. Something good may be said for the secession from the British Empire, sure, but we should ask ourselves: To what did we secede?

“The revolution was betrayed!” This seems to be the view of the American War for Independence held by a lot of American libertarians. But on closer examination I think it’s more accurate to conclude that the rotten fruits we’re choking on today—endless war on bureaucratically defined vices at home and whatever country Uncle Sam feels like targeting abroad, increasing debt and taxation, the trampling of individual freedom, etc., etc., etc.—are what any libertarian should fully expect to have evolved out of the political arrangement established by the sacrosanct and hallowed founders.

The whole thing was corrupt from the get-go. As Stephan mentioned, really think about what’s written in the Declaration of Independence. Okay, there’s some great language about equality, which I take to mean equality of individual rights, not material or physical “equality,” i.e., no person may treat any other as their own personal property. Ah, but this did not apply to the slaves–no, no, no, no! A horrible compromise was made with southern slaveholding interests to strike Jefferson’s original language that was critical of slavery for the sake of unity. Remember, these new States with a capital S must be United with a capital U. Unity trumps principle! And we know what happened to a lot of Indians who weren’t exactly thrilled with going along with Uncle Sam’s Program.

So, okay, then as you proceed through the document there’s some great stuff about King George’s abuses of power. But then you get to the founders’ answer to this tyranny: A different brand of tyranny, one that’s homegrown! Those passages smack of collectivism through and through! There’s all this “We” being the “Representatives” of “the People” of the Colonies, and acting on the “Authority” of “the People” these purported “Representatives” declare that these Colonies are now independent of the King, sure, but as STATES that are UNITED. Lysander Spooner was right about the BS of such language. It’s the language of power.

Why not declare secession from the King as free and sovereign individuals with each person being free to secede (or maybe even not to secede for those colonists who didn’t mind staying under the King’s rule) by their own lights, entering into various associations by purely voluntary choice? Why did they have to secede as “United States”? Because that was the only way that the political elites who spearheaded that “American Revolution” could maintain any power.

So considering that this political unit called the “United States of America” was founded on the ideas of unity trumping principle and freedom, on the ideas of collectivism, we probably should conclude that it wasn’t that the founders’ principles were admirable but imperfectly implemented, or just a little flawed here and there, or were simply misinterpreted or misunderstood by succeeding generations, but that their principles were far less than libertarian to begin with and we are now tragically stuck with the bitter consequences of such principles.

Update: Hurrah for King George!, by John Attarian.

[LRC crosspost]

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Brad Sandelin July 6, 2009, 7:37 pm

    I enjoyed the article, but would I be off to suggest that perhaps it is a mistake to conflate the July 4th, 1776 Declaration of Independence which we just celebrated with the Constitution of 1787 and everything else that has followed to the present day? Under the Articles of Confederation, there was at least some decentralization. Isn’t that a good thing?

    If, in the years following 1776, momentum in the direction of individual liberty had increased instead of dissipated and a society of individualist anarchy had ultimately resulted, wouldn’t we be justified in celebrating the Declaration of Independence as a step in the right direction? Jefferson’s declaration actually contains many sentiments I find admirable, such as the idea that governments derive just powers only from consent, and that it is the right of the people to abolish it. I notice this while agreeing that it is nevertheless an imperfect document.

    Is it unacceptable to gradually move in the direction of freedom? Is anything less than pure and immediate individualist anarchy completely unacceptable? I find it contemptible that the people of this continent lost sight of the principle of freedom and reversed direction to end up with a state worse than the one they started with, not that they at one point chose to throw off the shackles of a foreign king.

    I find that this point of view allows me to celebrate the good that did take place in the latter part of the 18th century in America without turning a blind eye to the seeds of statism that were nevertheless present from inception.

  • Stephan Kinsella July 6, 2009, 8:21 pm

    Brad:

    “I enjoyed the article, but would I be off to suggest that perhaps it is a mistake to conflate the July 4th, 1776 Declaration of Independence which we just celebrated with the Constitution of 1787 and everything else that has followed to the present day?”

    I am not conflating them.

    “Under the Articles of Confederation, there was at least some decentralization. Isn’t that a good thing?”

    Sure, ceteris paribus.

    “Is it unacceptable to gradually move in the direction of freedom?”

    No. A 50% tax is better than a 60% one. Reducing taxes is not as good as eliminating them but is moving in the right direction. But it is not clear that moving from monarchy to democracy, and starting a war that conscripts, enslaves, murders, and steals is a move in the right direction.

  • Brad Sandelin July 6, 2009, 10:17 pm

    The idea that democracy is actually further from freedom than monarchy is a new idea to me. I first thought about it just last week after listening to Hoppe’s “What Must Be Done” lecture. I have to admit, it makes a lot of sense.

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