Sunday, October 02, 2011

Most founders were libertarians

Most founders were libertarians
(At least, the fairly decent ones.)

(My Clovis News Journal column for September, 2, 2011. As written, not as published.)

Some of America's founders were scientists- and were very good ones to the best of their ability, considering the prevailing culture they lived in, and to the extent their understanding, available resources, and equipment would allow. They had some ideas that are very quaint, and wrong, as we can now see clearly because of advances made since then, looking back as we do from the early 21st century. Electromagnetism, DNA, and quantum physics were beyond them. However, no one could reasonably claim they didn't try.

Most of the founders of America were also libertarians, although the term hadn't yet been coined. They were libertarians to the best of their ability and to the extent that the world they were immersed in allowed them to understand liberty. Sure, they had some inconsistencies that are pretty obvious to us now. No one is immune to the culture they find themselves a part of. That doesn't mean we discount the huge philosophical leap they undertook, over and beyond their contemporaries, but it also doesn't mean we should be content to remain where they were and not put our better understanding into practice.

For the time in which they lived, those who founded America were probably even more radical about liberty, compared to their neighbors, than I am compared to the average person today. That is pretty incredible.

What bothers me is that too many people today claim to value liberty, but can't seem to move beyond a late-18th century conception of its principles. They still believe some people are exempt, or unqualified for self-ownership. "Liberty is OK for me, but I'm not so sure you can handle it" seems to be a prevailing notion. That may have been fine for most people back when America was founded, but it is antiquated today, plus it invariably leads to egregious violations of basic human rights.

The founders even understood that rights did not depend on where you lived. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights will you see any claim that the listed rights- actually "non-negotiable prohibitions on government actions" would be a more accurate description- depended upon the citizenship of the person. Rights were rights, and things that were prohibited to government were always prohibited no matter who the government might have been targeting.

That is one thing the founders got dead-on right. Even if those who have governed since then have managed to obscure the truth.



  1. Kent, I think I disagree. The rhetoric might have been acceptable, but then so was the tory rhetoric.

    Specifically, on the notion that "Rights were rights, and things that were prohibited to government were always prohibited no matter who the government might have been targeting."

    Why then did, overwhelmingly, Indian nations ally with the British in both the revolution and the War of 1812?

    Because endemic to the revolutionaries philosophy, and their justification for treason(as outlined in the Declaration-directly in the third complaint)was the belief that the Crown was un-fairly restraining them from settling lands otherwise occupied by Indian nations. The Crown, whatever else its ills, forbade treaty violations and wholesale confiscation of land.

    The revolutionaries certainly were not planning on occupying that land in free trade-nor did they ultimately.

    Of course, and I believe I sent you a link to this from the Great Lady's own orifice, such an event might be totally justified to a Randian. Since, after all, the Indians, just like the modern Arabs whose oppression, murder, and loss of territory she cheerfully justified, where not using the land to its full potential(an odd subjective qualifier for someone claiming to be a Goddess of objectivity.)

    Of course Ayn Rand personally despised libertarianism...

    Do keep in mind that the first three complaints in the Declaration of Independence are whines that "He" did not enact, or allow to be enacted, new laws. What kind of group of proto-libertarians even remotely deserving of the title threatens, no promises, violence because laws were NOT enacted?

    Who is it that you think, of the founders of what has become a global empire capable of the most callous brutality, is such a libertarian? Because as much as I'd like to, I don't see any.
    In fact, I can say that were I alive at the time, I'd have fought them.

  2. You are probably right.

    I think it is more a matter of the baggage they had due to the culture they lived in. Yes, I agree they did a lot of things wrong. There was a LOT of baggage.

    Had I lived at the time I would probably not have fought them; I'd have been way over the western horizon.

  3. I guess I was thinking more of what they wrote, rather than what they actually did.