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Walter Block, Rand Paul, And The Lost American Principle Of Freedom Of Association
Does Kentucky Senator Rand Paul think slavery was “not so bad,” and that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made partial slaves of us all? The New York Times wants you to think so. It recently resorted to the oldest trick of slanted reporting to make a political enemy out to be something he is not—something Leftists do instinctively when they are alarmed about someone. If the Senator is not a certified enemy of the Republic, at least he is good pals with people who are. [Rand Paul’s Mixed Inheritance, By Sam Tanenhaus And Jim Rutenberg January 25, 2014]
Part of that “mixed inheritance” is, of course, libertarianism, which Leftists have never liked anyway. The NYT’s Tanenhaus and Rutenberg say Paul was “steeped in a narrow, rightward strain of the ideology.”
But the other part of the mix is even worse!— “Provocative theories on race, class and American history”!!!
These “provocative theories” allegedly come from a libertarian organization called the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. Some scholars affiliated with it have said naughty things.
Tanenhaus and Rutenberg write:
Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who described slavery as “not so bad,” is also highly critical of the Civil Rights Act [of 1964]. “Woolworth’s had lunchroom counters, and no blacks were allowed,” he said in a telephone interview. “Did they have a right to do that? Yes, they did. No one is compelled to associate with people against their will.”
Just to make sure you are sufficiently shocked, Tanenhaus and Rutenberg explain that views like this “champion the Confederacy.”
Of course, Professor Block speaks for himself, not for Rand Paul. But there is nothing Leftists like better than sniffing out the fact that someone they don’t like actually had lunch with a former neighbor of the girlfriend of a man whose father once voted for George Wallace.
Rand Paul is a libertarian and Walter Block is a libertarian, so if Walter Block says something the NYT doesn’t like, then Rand Paul might as well have said it, too.
But this is what Prof. Block actually wrote about slavery:
Free association is a very important aspect of liberty. It is crucial. Indeed, its lack was the major problem with slavery. The slaves could not quit. They were forced to "associate" with their masters when they would have vastly preferred not to do so. Otherwise, slavery wasn’t so bad. You could pick cotton, sing songs, be fed nice gruel, etc. The only real problem was that this relationship was compulsory. It violated the law of free association, and that of the slaves’ private property rights in their own persons. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, then, to a much smaller degree of course, made partial slaves of the owners of establishments like Woolworths.[Chris Selley Is a Pussy Libertarian; I’m Not, February 25, 2013 ]
Dr. Block has commented that he can’t decide whether it was “stupidity or maliciousness” that explains the NYT’s claim that he thinks slavery was “not so bad” and that he “champions the Confederacy.”
He now also says he thinks slavery was “one of the worst things that man has ever perpetuated against man.”
Nevertheless, entirely aside from the NYT’s using Prof. Block to discredit Rand Paul, it is refreshing to see anyone writing about slavery or the 1964 Civil Rights Act from something other than the now-obligatory Cultural Marxist perspective.
Slavery, of course, is thrown in our faces as America’s “original sin”—as if we invented it or were the only people in history to practice it. It is now the sin than which none is blacker, and anyone who, like Prof. Block, looks at it objectively is a loathsome opponent of human decency.
(When the NYT article appeared, 18 of Dr. Block’s fellow teachers at Loyola wrote a letter to the campus paper to say they were “outraged,” and to urge the university to “to condemn and censure Professor Block.” Apparently they didn’t know he has been writing on these subjects for years. Subsequently, he has been denounced in the paper by Loyola’s President, Kevin William Wildes S.J. [email him] See also The Walter Block Scandal, by Tom Woods, LewRockwell.com, February 13, 2014).
But the plain fact is that, depending on the locale, the time period, and the owner, slavery might actually have been “not so bad.” There were certainly slaves who lived a lot better than many free whites.
Shortly before the Civil War, the designer of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead, made an extended trip through the South. He was surprised to find that it was inevitably whites—Irish navvies—who were hired to drain swamps and dig irrigation ditches. Many died of malaria and intestinal disease. When Olmstead asked why slaves weren’t used, he was told, “It’s dangerous work and a negro’s life is too valuable to be risked at it. If a negro dies it is a considerable loss you know.”
Other than in the cotton fields, there is some doubt as to whether slavery was even profitable. Olmstead was convinced free blacks could be hired for considerably less than the cost of keeping slaves. (Quoted in Ann Norton, Alternative Americas, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p. 193.) Some northern anti-slavery tracts argued that the excessive leisure of slavery would be ended under strict, Northern labor practices, and predicted that abolition would lead to a sharp rise in productivity.
Slaves were provided for as children and maintained in sickness and in old age. Northern wage earners, who had no sick leave, job security, or retirement benefits, often wondered if they were not worse off. An antebellum workingman’s newspaper, The Fall River Mechanic, raged about “men who stand and dole out pity for the southern slave but would crush with an iron hand the white laborer of the north.” [The ‘Reparations’ Hoax, Part II, by William Robertson Boggs, American Renaissance, July 1993]
Another Northern paper, The Man, mocked upper-class women who supported abolition:
Their tender hearts were sighing
As the negro’s wrongs were told
While the white slave was dying
Who gained their father’s gold.
(Quoted in Ann Norton, Alternative Americas, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p. 238.)
Many Southerners sincerely believed they treated slaves better than Yankee capitalists treated hired workers. As James Hammond, a Southern senator, explained to a colleague from New York: “Our slaves are hired for life and well compensated . . . . Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated.”
In The Mind of the South, W.J. Cash wrote of the standard that “no one but a cur beat, starved, or overdrove his slaves became a living rule of daily conduct; a standard so binding as to generate contempt for whoever violated it.”
Many owners took pride in the kindness they showed “their people.” Even among Northern abolitionists, there was grudging acknowledgement of a certain noblesse oblige among the better element in the South. It is worth noting that even in that great abolitionist tract, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the sadistic villain Simon Legree was not a Southern slave owner—but a Yankee overseer.
When Frederick Douglass visited Ireland in the 1840s he was appalled at how the Irish lived. He wrote to William Lloyd Garrison that he was almost “ashamed to lift my voice against American slavery.” [The Liberator, 27 March 1846]
It is deeply unfashionable to acknowledge it today, but the bonds of master and slave were often affectionate. A ditty from the Southern Literary Messenger of August 1834 illustrates why some slaveholders were repelled by the idea of “colonizing” blacks, or sending them back to Africa:
What! Colonize old coachman Dick!
My foster brother Nat!
My more than mother when I’m sick,
Come, Hal, no more of that!
There certainly were acts of cruelty against slaves. But to dwell on them exclusively is to paint a false picture.
What did slaves themselves say about slavery? During the Depression, someone had the idea of sending people to the South to interview former slaves who were still alive. One reviewer reports that a collection called Before Freedom: 48 Oral Histories of Former North and South Carolina Slaves (Penguin, 1990) contains many positive accounts of slavery.
Patsy Mitchner, age 84:
Before two years had passed after the surrender, there was two out of every three slaves who wished they was back with their marsters. The marsters’ kindness to the nigger after the war is the cause of the nigger having things today. There was a lot of love between marster and slave, and there is few of us that don’t love the white folks today…
Adeline Johnson, age 93:
That was a happy time, with happy days…I’ll be satisfied to see my Savior that my old marster worshiped and my husband preach about. I wants to be in heaven with all my white folks, just to wait on them and love them, and serve them, sorta like I did in slavery time. That will be enough heaven for Adeline.
Simuel Riddick, age 95:
My white folks were fine people…I haven’t anything to say against slavery. My old folks put my clothes on me when I was a boy. They gave me shoes and stockings and put them on me when I was a little boy. I loved them, and I can’t go against them in anything.
Leftists are so crazed that they think anyone who is curious about what slavery was actually like wants to reinstate it. That view is so profoundly stupid it doesn’t bear refuting.
Private citizens should have the right to discriminate—“for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all”—to quote the classic bases for free association. (I do think, however, that the government, and monopolies such as public utilities, must serve all members of the public.)
Scarlett Johansson need give no reason for not wanting to spend the evening with me. Likewise, no business owner should have to explain why he doesn’t want to hire, accommodate, or serve someone.
This is all so obvious, and was for so long universally understood in America, that it’s astonishing how few people now understand it.
Discrimination by an employer or vender is called “refusal to deal.” The basic principle of “refusal to deal” is that no harm is done. If Joe’s Bar and Grill refuses to serve me I’m no worse off than I was before. Maybe my feelings are hurt, but I have not been harmed. The government has no right to put my hurt feelings over Joe’s preferences, as a private citizen, about who he chooses to serve. If Joe won’t serve me, someone else will.
Everyone understands that if it would be involuntary servitude to force Scarlett Johansson to spend an evening with me. (The silly girl doesn’t know what she would be missing). It was likewise involuntary servitude to force Woolworths to wait on customers it didn’t want.
The government has no more right to say Woolworths was wrong to refuse to serve blacks than it would be to say that Miss Johansson is wrong to decline my society. In both cases, the reason for the refusal to deal is a strictly private matter. It is a clear violation of the right of free association for the government to make a crime out of Woolworth’s refusal to deal.
Freedom of association is a basic human freedom. And it was a sad day, in 1964, when we lost it.
Prof. Block is right: Slavery was a violation of freedom of association, but so is forcing Joe’s Bar and Grill to serve someone Joe doesn’t like.
Rand Paul, of course, has wobbled on this principle, and now says, “I’ve never wavered in my support for civil rights or the Civil Rights Act.” But this is not the first time a politician has sacrificed principle for respectability.
Professor Block, on the other hand, is not backing down on what he thinks of slavery or the Civil Rights Act or anything.
We would be living in a very different country if there were more men who, like him, say:
My motto is, Full steam ahead, go right at ’em, and the devil take the hindmost.
Jared Taylor [Email him] is editor of American Renaissance and the author of Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America. (For Peter Brimelow’s review, click here.) His most recent book is White Identity.