Michael Lind: Libertarians "Apologize for Autocracy" and "Side with the Confederacy"


Writing at Salon, Michael Lind of the liberal New America Foundation attacks libertarians as crypto-fascists who "apologize for autocracy." It's a long screed riddled with errors and misleading statements, so in the interest of space I'll focus on the overall theme, which is that libertarians have been on the wrong side of American history since at least the Civil War. Here's one way Lind makes this bogus claim:

[W]here was the libertarian right during the great struggles for individual liberty in America in the last half-century?… [C]ivil libertarian activists are found overwhelmingly on the left. Their right-wing brethren have been concerned with issues more important than civil rights, voting rights, abuses by police and the military, and the subordination of politics to religion—issues like the campaign to expand human freedom by turning highways over to toll-extracting private corporations and the crusade to funnel money from Social Security to Wall Street brokerage firms.

I challenge Lind to name, if he can, a liberal or progressive who's done as much good work on behalf of the cause of "abuses by police" than the libertarian journalist Radley Balko, whose investigative reporting has exposed police and prosecutorial misconduct and also helped get a man off of death row and out of prison, among other things. As for abuses by the military, the libertarian economist Milton Friedman played a key role in ending the draft, which ought to count for something.

But what about state-sanctioned racism and civil rights? Have libertarians been absent from that fight?


The NAACP's first president (and one of its founders) was a libertarian lawyer named Moorfield Storey who argued and won that organization's first victory before the Supreme Court, the 1917 case of Buchanan v. Warley. Storey's libertarian constitutional defense of property rights convinced the Supreme Court to strike down a Jim Crow residential segregation law. Lind may not have heard of this case, but his ignorance doesn't make Buchanan any less important as a component of American's long march towards racial equality. (Storey was also a founder and president of the Anti-Imperialist League, which opposed U.S. annexation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War—but then again, Lind didn't include either the anti-imperialist or anti-war movements in his definition of "the great struggles" for liberty. Maybe that's because he thinks Vietnam was "the necessary war.")

Lind should also consider the extraordinary civil rights contributions made by libertarian hero T.R.M. Howard. A wealthy surgeon, entrepreneur, and mutual aid leader in Jim Crow Mississippi, Howard "consistently pushed an agenda of self-help, black business, and political equality whenever opportunities arose," observe his biographers David and Linda Beito. Among other accomplishments, Howard founded and led the pioneering Regional Council of Negro Leadership, which organized early economic boycotts ("Don't Buy Gas Where You Can't Shop") and hounded racist state officials to follow the letter of the law. He also persuaded the NAACP to deposit its money in the black-owned Tri-State Bank of Memphis, where he was a board member. This allowed the civil rights group to flex its economic muscles without having its credit frozen by racist white bankers and their government allies. As for his politics, Howard once said that he wished "one bomb could be fashioned that would blow every Communist in America right back to Russia where they belong." He also once said, "There is not a thing wrong with Mississippi today that real Jeffersonian democracy and the religion of Jesus Christ cannot solve."

Finally, Lind gives us this charming smear:

When it comes to American history, libertarians tend retrospectively to side with the Confederacy against the Union.

Below are a few of the things published by Reason—a libertarian publication, or so I've heard—which most certainly do not side with the Confederacy. Once again, Lind should have done more research before running off at the mouth.

Southern Nationalism: Exploring the roots of the Civil War. By Charles Oliver.

The Confederate Leviathan. By Ronald Bailey.

Wrong Song of the South: The dangerous fallacies of Confederate multiculturalism. By David Beito and Charles Nuckolls.

'A Glorious Liberty Document': Frederick Douglass' case for an anti-slavery Constitution. By Damon Root.

The Trouble with Thomas Jefferson: The eloquent Founder's original sin. By Damon Root.

Up from Slavery: There's no such thing as a golden age of lost liberty. By David Boaz.

To put all of that another way, despite what Lind's sloppy and uninformed article would have you believe, libertarians have played a key role in "the great struggles for individual liberty in America." Nothing he writes will change that fact.