What Libertarians Get Wrong About American History

By Sheldon Richman


Understanding history as best we can is important for obvious reasons. It’s particularly important for libertarians who want to persuade people to the freedom philosophy. In making their case for individual freedom, mutual aid, social cooperation, foreign nonintervention, and peace, libertarians commonly place great weight on historical examples most often drawn from the early United States. So if they misstate history or draw obviously wrong conclusions, they will discredit their case. Much depends therefore on getting history right.

Libertarians naturally sense that their philosophy will be easier to sell to the public if they can root it in America’s heritage. This is understandable. Finding common ground with someone you’re trying to persuade is a good way to win a fair hearing for your case. Well-known aspects of early American history, at least as it is usually taught, fit nicely with the libertarian outlook; these include Thomas Paine’s pamphlets, the opening passages of the Declaration of Independence, and popular animosity toward arbitrary British rule.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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