Against Libertarian Nostalgia
By Bryan Caplan
David Boaz has a very nice attack on libertarian nostalgia in Reason:
The Cato Institute’s boilerplate description of itself used to
include the line, “Since [the American] revolution, civil and
economic liberties have been eroded.” Until Clarence Thomas, then
chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, gave a
speech at Cato and pointed out to us that it didn’t seem quite that
way to black people.
He goes on:
I’ve probably been guilty of similar thoughtless and ahistorical
exhortations of our glorious libertarian past… But I think this historical perspective is wrong. No
doubt one of the reasons that libertarians haven’t persuaded as
many people as we’d like is that a lot of Americans don’t think
we’re on the road to serfdom, don’t feel that we’ve lost all our
freedoms… For the past 70 years or so
conservatives have opposed the demands for equal respect
and equal rights by Jews, blacks, women, and gay people.
Libertarians have not opposed those appeals for freedom,
but too often we (or our forebears) paid too little attention
to them. And one of the ways we do that is by saying “Americans
used to be free, but now we’re not”–which is a historical argument
that doesn’t ring true to an awful lot of Jewish, black, female,
and gay Americans.
I’m sure that David would be happy to add genocide against American Indians to the list of historical crimes that libertarians ought never forget. But I wonder whether he’d join me in condemning the American Revolution itself as yet another unjust war that yielded nationalist – not libertarian – fruit.