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“Renegade History” Against the “Respectable” Bosses

Article by David D’Amato.
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In his A Renegade History of the United States, variously described as “ultrarevisionist” and “contrarian,” “trouble-maker” Thaddeus Russell explodes the myth that America’s Founding Fathers were libertarian defenders of the “personal freedom” of the individual. His is an American narrative that amends previous attempts at “bottom up” history that, by either marginalizing or patronizing the “lower class,” neglected to see how it “shaped our world” and “expanded our freedoms.”

Russell therefore celebrates, without overly romanticizing, those working men (and “working girls”) who the Founding Fathers would have regarded as “wicked and vile,” the great unwashed who pioneered an understanding of freedom that the contemporary reader can identify with. The buttoned-up elites who populate American schoolbooks, rather than conceiving “the land of the free,” saw the uninhibited lifestyles of “tavern culture” as dangerous and “beneath them,” preferring instead the ideologies of “social management.”

And from the Revolution through to the present day, Russell paints an America where the kind of freedom valued by the free market left was and is a “gift of renegades,” of the supposedly disreputable, and decidedly not of leaders and politicians. For a free market anarchist, then, Renegade History and its vivid vignettes of disobedience and radical independence are full of important insights.

The stories in the book demonstrate that it was the “renegade behaviors” of ordinary people that spearheaded — through nothing more socially aware than their day-to-day activities — the best features of American society. Where orthodox histories eulogize those members of minority groups who adopted the cultural values and strategies of the ruling class, Russell showcases the people we’re not supposed to pay any mind. In doing so, he presents us with a new history, and accordingly new ammunition against the state and its coercive systems of hierarchy.

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