Monday, July 13, 2015

Throwing Sticks at Aunt Sally

Aunt Sally is a traditional English throwing game in which players throw sticks or battens at a model of an old woman's head.

Sounds fun.

A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument which was not advanced by that opponent.

Useful when critical thinking is in short supply.

In the United Kingdom the [straw man] argument is also known as an Aunt Sally, after the pub game of the same name where patrons throw sticks or battens at a model of an old woman's head.

Jason Kuznicki, editor of Cato Unbound, has taken aim at Aunt Sally.  He has thoroughly destroyed her:

Jason Kuznicki argues that “anyone who cares about human liberty—to whatever degree—ought to despise the Confederacy.”

Jason can’t understand why any libertarian would admire the Confederacy:

Whatever others may say on the subject, I can’t understand how anyone might admire the Confederacy and also call themselves a libertarian. Any affinity for the Confederacy marks one very clearly as an enemy of liberty.

Nowhere in this essay does Jason identify a single libertarian – of prominence or otherwise – that holds this view; nowhere does he offer a quote.  Instead, he abuses Aunt Sally.  As he doesn’t bother to name names and identify quotes, it seems inappropriate to defend these non-existent libertarians, so I won’t.

Let’s just say I have yet to read any prominent libertarian who “admires” the Confederacy – I can’t think of any libertarian who admires any state; at most, comparisons of relative aggression are made.  The most one can say regarding the example of the Confederacy is that there are libertarians who support the right of secession…as one must if one adheres to the non-aggression principle.

But, if Jason – or anyone else – can point to such statements from libertarians, please do so.  Aunt Sally can’t long take such a beating.

What does Jason have against the Confederacy?

The Confederate Constitution says all that needs to be said on the subject, and it answers all possible arguments to the contrary.

Suffice it to say, the Confederate Constitution had many passages in defense of the institution of slavery – worse than anything in the US Constitution, according to Jason.  I am guessing that most libertarians understand that the Confederate government supported slavery, but it is important to prop up the old woman’s head before throwing the sticks.

These provisions are unlibertarian, but they are far worse than that. There is only one legal term that seems quite to do them justice. That term is hostis humani generis: The founders of Confederacy were the enemies of all mankind….

Jason thereafter goes apoplectic.  Aunt Sally never took such a thorough beating.  University courses on logical fallacies can be structured around the next several paragraphs of his post.

He closes with an admonition: when faced with a choice between two wrongs (as he doesn’t apologize for Lincoln), better to choose the lesser one – suggesting libertarians choose the Union and condemn the Confederacy.  Of course, adherents to the non-aggression principle condemn both.

But it is worth asking: is the Confederacy automatically the greater evil?  I have no idea how to build a balance sheet on this one; after all and among other aggressions, Lincoln started a war that killed more than 700,000 Americans. 

Comparing evils: Hitler v. Stalin, Yankees v. Red Sox, Barcelona v. Real Madrid, Jason Voorhees v. Freddie Krueger.  How does one decide? 

I will suggest that the Confederacy did nothing more than attempt to perpetuate an already existing evil; slavery existed in the South both before and after Jason’s dreaded Confederate Constitution.  no new evil was introduced.

Lincoln introduced many new evils, not the least of which was the war that killed more than 700,000 and wounded perhaps a like amount.

The status quo of slavery (which would have died of natural, economic causes in short order anyway) or the new evils of war?  I won’t decide.

Libertarians will support secession; where else does the non-aggression principle lead?  Libertarians condemn all initiations of aggression – slavery and war being two of the more egregious violation. 

When it comes to libertarians and the Confederacy, a critic can only attack Aunt Sally on this subject. 

Jason does so admirably.


  1. First, the principle was state sovereignty. The issue was slavery. As originally constituted, the confederacy had the better of the former and progress was rapidly being overtaking it on the latter by western world-wide technical progress during the nineteenth century. If England more or less outlawed slavery, the handwriting was surely on the wall.

    That said, the confederacy (I assume they would have preferred the lower case) fired the first shot. That should weigh heavily in the NAP.


    1. Well, at the risk of being branded a "Neo - Confederate", I remind you that **that** shot was fired in defense of South Carolina's sovereign territory IN South Carolina.

    2. TomO, I don't know about "weigh heavily." One or two shots resulting in 700,000 dead? I understand that determining proper punishment is problematic using only libertarian theory, but I suspect in nothing resembling a libertarian world would this reaction by Lincoln be deemed reasonable.

    3. The issue was not slavery. Many states of the south mentioned slavery amongst their reasons for seceding, but the north was more than happy to oblige them on those points provided the south stayed in the union and kept paying the tariffs. Lincoln, particularly, was both very vocal and very clear that he had no interest in banning slavery, nor the power to do so. He also advocated the Corwin amendment as a means of appeasing the south by making it explicit in the constitution that the federal government had no such power. So not a single shot fired by the north in this way was in defense of the idea banning slavery. The north was perfectly ok with slavery (and continued to practice it throughout the war) and *also* was against the right of secession. So this is not a game of whether chattel servitude or federal political servitude is the greater evil. One side (the north) practiced both and the the other side only one.

    4. You offer a nice reminder of Lincoln's view toward slavery, and in hindsight I wish I had mentioned this in the post.

    5. My sense is that slavery was the issue though with regard to the status of new states, i.e. free or slave. The South perceived –probably accurately- that such policy would load the deck against them.

      Lincoln toyed with the idea of a buyout of the South’s chattel interest in its “property”. But the South, again accurately- perceived the real and general movement against slavery and saw Lincoln as a threat despite Lincoln’s olive branch.

      America was founded upon the right to life, liberty and property –Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” was an unfortunate attempt to appear less derivative. When the definition of property is amended, times will be stressful except, apparently, in recent times.

  2. Lincoln deliberately provoked the South to fire the first shot at Ft. Sumner. And also keep in mind that no one was killed during the actual defense of Ft. Sumner.

    Add in the North's scorched earth total war policy during the war and it seems clear to me that Lincoln was certainly the greater of the two evils.

  3. I would note a few things: First, Lincoln (and his northern backers) was not interested in the abolition of slavery until the war stalled for the Union in 1863. In fact, Lincoln supported the original Corwin Amendment that would have done exactly what the Confederate constitution did--enshrine chattel slavery.
    Second, the Lincoln administration did not free any slaves in the north until after the war was over. Even the Emancipation Proclamation didn't effect slaves in the North. (And Union general US Grant continued to personally own slaves right up until he was forced to free them because "it's hard to get good help these days.")
    Third, the Union actively enslaved people that had been free prior to this. They called it "conscription", and it was worse than chattel slavery in that conscripts were forced to kill and were often killed themselves, while agricultural slaves were merely forced to work in fields.
    Fourth, the Confederate Constitution banned federal giveaways to major corporations. It also banned "cost over runs" in contracts with the government, and mandated that all tariffs be used only for the general use of the government and the common defense; not for building "internal improvements" and the like. Corporate crony capitalism was outlawed in the Confederacy.
    Fifth, the Confederate Constitution eliminated the general welfare clause, which was, and is, a huge loop hole allowing the federal government to do whatever it wanted. It also put severe restrictions on the interstate commerce clause, another huge loop hole.
    Sixth, while the Confederates did fire the first shots at Fort Sumter, they had been goaded into it for several weeks by an aggressive Yankee government. Lincoln even refused to meet with a southern peace delegation.
    So, in my view, the Confederates were clearly the lesser of the two evils. And the Yankees the clear aggressors.
    That said, no true libertarian could support the Confederate government, or their constitution for the exact reasons that Lysander Spooner so eloquently outlined in his essay, "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority".
    Furthermore, in the push to abolish the evil that is central government, libertarians should be keenly aware that smaller is better. A win by the Confederacy would have resulted in two much smaller central governments. Instead, the loss led to a greater, more aggressive single government.
    No, libertarians do not support slavery. Nor do we admire governments that legalize it. But we also don't support slavery imposed by central governments either.

    1. Actually if you read libertarian Jeffrey Hummel's book, you will find the Confederacy was worse than the North. They implement a Soviet Style internal passport system in major cities like Richmond and they practiced war socialism. While the North left the munitions industry to the private sector, the Confederacy centralized their war effort and by the end of the war, nearly 13,000 bureaucrats were running their war economy

    2. I think what you're saying is that the North got to the military industrial complex, which isn't at all out of line with the mercantilist/crony capitalist model Lincoln was aiming for anyway. The South tried the socialist/command model. I don't think there is any doubt about which is more effective.

  4. Nothing is to be settled at this website on the several issues about that conflict.
    But therr are a couple of points
    Thomas Dilorenzos Lincoln Unmasked is a work attacking unamed pro Lincoln writers, and this is noted in several reviews
    The idea that attacking unamed writers is somehow a straw man tactic has some merit, and yet, there probably are libertarian defenders of the Confederacy
    I suggest that you access the Independent Institute, the 2002 Jaffa Dilorenzo debate, anf then tell me thst there are no libertarian defenders of the Confederacy, not to mention Dr Clyde Wilsons works or the Kennedys The South was Right
    The rest of your post; well I have problems with quotation out of contexr, as I do with sloppy writing something that Dilorenzo and several Lincoln cult members do, and with akternative history, such as the assertions that slavery would have died out givrn time. Alternative history suffers from human actions, unforeseen changes and chance. History is filled with such. It has been noted that slavery was going to die out, except for the invention of the cotton gin.
    Who knows what other invention, in that century of inventions, could have ended slavery or made it more profitable. Indeed, it is argued that hsd the war started 10 years earlier, it would have been a Southern victory the Norths population not as many, the technologies not predent or 10 yrars later, a Southrrn victory but after a WW I, bloodbsth and stalemate.

  5. In fact, the South was against States Rights, not for it
    1) The primary public policy issue of the Southern States in the 1850s was the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. When the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1854 essentially used states rights and nullification to say they would not enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, it caused the Southern States to go into defense mood. Especially when other Northern States followed suit. In fact, when South Carolina wrote their 'Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union', they listed the Northern States refusal to enforce the Act as one of their primary reasons for secession.
    2) The primary reason the Democrat Party split in 1860 was because of the Fugitive Slave Act, The Southern Democrats wanted to extent the Act to the free territories which the pro-slavery Northern Democrats were against
    3) Slavery was the primary motivator for leaving the Union. The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States by the original seceding states makes that very clear.
    Mississippi; '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.'
    Georgia "The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization. '
    Also, the Confederacy did not speak for a great deal of Southern people.Historian David Williams in his book, The South's Inner Civil War points out many things 1) Many of the seceding states, secede against the will of the popular vote, including Georgia, Texas and North Carolina. For example, the majority of eligible voters in Georgia voted against leaving the Union. The powerful slaveholders in the state meet at the state convention to stack the deck, so to speak to overturn the popular will of the voters. They made sure over 87% of those represented at the state convention were slaveholders even though slave holders only made up 1/3 of the voting population. In Texas, a coup d'etat was staged and Governor Sam Houston was put under house arrest to prevent this por-slavery Unionist from using his bully pulpit to prevent secession.

    In states like Alabama and Louisiana, the officials waited for three months before releasing the questionable results, and even than, the popular vote was almost 50-50. During the war, nearly a quarter of all Union armed forces, nearly one half million, actually came from the South. Peace societies popped up all over the South even as the war started. In Arkansas, one Confederate general even gave orders to his troops to shoot on site any peace activist. The counties of Floyd and Montgomery even formed the State of Southwest Virginia and elected their own governor and was pro-Unionist. Whole sections of the Confederacy were controlled as the war went on with deserters and anti-Confederate activists, so much so, many Confederate authorities gave up trying to collect taxes or enforce laws

    1. Andrew, thank you for the thoughtful and thorough comments.

      None of these, of course, are supportive of the idea that some libertarians admired the Confederacy. Your comments do support the view of many libertarians, that the Confederacy was not to be admired.

    2. What is frustrating though is many libertarians simply want to focus on what happened north of the Mason-Dixon Line rather than treated it equally. That both sides were bad.

      DiLorenzo does a great job in his books of pointing out Lincoln's less than stellar libertarian credentials but you are hard pressed to find a DiLorenzo critique of the South such as what Jeffrey Hummel did in his book, "Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War"

      Now I know DiLorenzo would probably say, he focuses on Lincoln to counter the so called Lincoln Cult but the reality is most of what Dilorenzo writes in his book is common knowledge. Almost every school boy knows Lincoln was a protectionist, did not go into the war to free slaves and was not a great civil libertarian. In fact, I doubt you could find any reputable Lincoln scholar that would dispute this.

      However, what is rarely given much play by libertarians except for a few is a free market/libertarian critique of the Old South and the Confederacy.

      In fact I would say one of the primary reasons some libertarians are unjustly accused of being 'Neo-Confederates' is the perception, rightly or wrongly, that between 1861-1865, they seem to gloss over or ignore the South's short comings while focusing on Lincoln exclusively.

    3. “Now I know DiLorenzo would probably say, he focuses on Lincoln to counter the so called Lincoln Cult but the reality is most of what Dilorenzo writes in his book is common knowledge. Almost every school boy knows Lincoln was a protectionist, did not go into the war to free slaves and was not a great civil libertarian. In fact, I doubt you could find any reputable Lincoln scholar that would dispute this.”

      Andrew, do you realize you contradict yourself even in this paragraph?

      I agree that DiLorenzo focusses primarily on Lincoln and not on the issues of the Confederacy. It is the same criticism of LRC and various authors there, when it is suggested (for example) that by criticizing the US they are supporting Putin.

      I am often also guilty – I write about FDR’s crimes, for example, when of course Stalin was much worse.

      Your contradiction? Scholars, as you suggest, are aware of much of this – even if they don’t agree, they understand the arguments. But schoolboys are not – my blog is evidence of my learnings. The fallacies I believed, it is embarrassing to admit.

      Schoolboys make up 98% of the population. How do you suggest waking them? Almost everything they read is Lincoln was a hero – he is enshrined in the gaudiest temple in Washington, for goodness sakes. The mainstream spends countless billions peddling the myths – for some reason, writers like DiLorenzo (who spend pennies) are to be criticized for not being balanced?

      The criticism of DiLorenzo is as you describe – he primarily only writes one side of the story. The reasons why he does are perfectly understandable and appropriate, in my view.

    4. Seriously BM? Libertarians with the help DiLorenzo keep holding up the
      'war for southern independence" as one of the few "good" wars of America's history. Apparently such people ignore nothing of any good would have come from the C.S.A. had it won. Heck, many Libertarians, such as Gary North, already noted the War of Independence achieved little to nothing in terms of greater freedom for people. If secession does not lead to a freer society then it ought not happen at al. Had the southern soldiers had have looked at the what the C.S.A. founders wanted to achieve instead of falling the "tyranny of the north" then they probably wouldn't have signed up at all.

  6. "Nowhere in this essay does Jason identify a single libertarian – of prominence or otherwise – that holds this view; nowhere does he offer a quote. Instead, he abuses Aunt Sally. As he doesn’t bother to name names and identify quotes, it seems inappropriate to defend these non-existent libertarians, so I won’t."

    -While Kuznicki does not name anyone in the article, he does provide a link to the article which does provide a name and quotations. Although indirectly, a name is named.

    "The status quo of slavery (which would have died of natural, economic causes in short order anyway)..." - Prove it. This is akin to claiming that a few thousand more Jews being gassed was not a problem since Germany was going to lose in short order.

    For anyone who was enslaved, being emancipated meant something regardless of Lincoln's motives prior to the war. Freedom from the legal status of property, freedom from being whipped, raped, murdered and otherwise brutalized meant something - even if 700,000 people perished in the process.

    Such a long way to go, but if you were a person of color then it mattered then as it matters today.

    1. I wasted my time reading the 23 pages of the linked article. One name is named, and 2-3 others that tangentially might be distant cousins of libertarian thought.

      That you describe the reference as "indirectly" is an understatement: there is not a word of admiration toward the Confederacy in any of the "suspect" cites.

      "Prove it." Ha, very funny. You must know this is impossible. Of course, as slavery was ended elsewhere throughout the western world in short order, and as automation made slavery expensive, it seems quite likely. I will tell you what: you prove that there would be slaves in the United States today absent this war.

      While you so lightly dismiss 700,000 dead (and a like number wounded), it is quite correct that the one good that came from the war was the elimination of slavery. Have you read a libertarian that bemoans this?

      A person of color? I guess you never read Lerone Bennett, Jr.

    2. De jure slavery was abolished. But the brutalized, impoverished and defeated confederacy instituted a de facto system of black oppression that, absent the property motivation, was even harsher than slavery. The oppression lasted another hundred years and then the situation is only being addressed, not remedied. There are more effective ways of transition from slavery; but I can’t think of a less effective means than war.


    3. ah but that is a different thing altogether, thats Reconstruction which ended up making things worse.

  7. One of the major problems many libertarians have with Lincoln and his war is how Father Abraham's glorious actions are trotted out, with pomp and reverence, to justify other wars and interventions. He's the unassailable martyr, the denigration of whom is an invitation to ad hominems galore.

  8. Well, this was a waste of time and by this I mean reading this stupid piece by Jason Kuznicki. I see he has a link to the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. That's awfully good of him to include it while at the same time knowing that the majority of people won't take the time to read it. I have in the past and know that this constitution is almost an exact copy of the US Constitution. I recall that there are three big differences. One he brought up about slavery. Yawn, I agree with the bionic mosquito and so did Jefferson Davis who said slavery was on the way out. While looking at this document again I found this section that Kuznicki didn't see fit to mention with good reason:

    "Sec. 9. (I) The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.

    (2) Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy"

    This tend to mitigate his chief complain in my opinion, but anyway, he misses the main point for the war from the North's perspective. It and Lincoln couldn't have cared less about slavery but the Morrill tariff was a different matter. The North wanted the money generated by the tariff for use up North for various infrastructure projects with the South paying for it. In the various ordinances of secession this is listed as one of the complaints.

    My compliments to you for a nice piece of writing and rebuttal. BM.

    1. Ryan, you're just a hateful, awful person. (I feel so righteous!) But seriously...

      Personally, I can never decide which was the worst tariff ever passed: the Morrill or the Smoot-Hawley. As for the War Between the States, the editor of 'All the Year Round' - a British periodical in 1862 - wrote, "So the case stands, and under all the passion of the parties and the cries of battle lie the two chief moving causes of the struggle. Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this as of many many other evils … the quarrel between North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel." That editor was Charles Dickens.

      One could write more freely in Europe at that time. In the states... not so much. For instance, Frank Key Howard was arrested on September 13, 1861 for his pro-Southern viewpoints as editor of the 'Baltimore Exchange'. His paper had been critical of Lincoln’s policies, namely the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the declaration of martial law. Mr. Howard was the grandson of Francis Scott Key, author of the Star-Spangled Banner, and was imprisoned in the same Fort McHenry which was made famous by his grandfather's pen. Howard would eventually write a book about it entitled 'Fourteen Months in the American Bastilles'. Here's an excerpt:

      {When I looked out in the morning, I could not help being struck by the odd, and not so pleasant a coincidence. On that day, forty-seven years before . . . my grandfather had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry. . . . As I stood upon the very scene of that conflict, could not but contrast my position with his . . . . The flag which he so proudly hailed, I saw waving, at the same place, over the victims of as vulgar and brutal a despotism as modern times have witnessed.}