Skip to comments.Bounty of Freedom [Puritans, Yankees, the Constitution, and Libertarianism]
Posted on 12/04/2008 8:05:40 AM PST by Alex Murphy
Imagine the frustration of the first Yankees, struggling mightily to convince their Puritanical brethren that private property not communal wealth-sharing brings prosperity, freedom and enlightenment. Were they mocked, burned as witches or simply ignored?
How did they eventually sway the masses to their view? Not just temporarily, in a fine-whatever kind of agreement, but as the kind of deep change that, within just a handful of generations, saw the Puritans evolve into the rugged Yankees that would pen the world's first written constitution, establish individual freedoms, protect private property and free speech and eventually revolt against the British?
Without those first Yankees, likely our ancestral forefathers would have been wiped out, much like the French Calvinists who had landed in Florida half a century earlier (about whom we never hear) were wiped out by a Spanish slaughter.
Last week, we celebrated Thanksgiving, and though Connecticut was one of the first places to have an annual day of thanks, the very first thanksgiving was of course in Massachusetts. There, after several years of disappointing harvests under a communal, share-the-wealth regime, the desperate settlers tried liberty as a last resort. Each family was allowed to keep the crops they grew on their own plots of land. Suddenly, those who had been deemed too weak or ill or elderly to work the communal fields were out at dawn. The resulting abundance of food the next harvest, a surprise to them and socialists everywhere, caused a celebratory feast. Similar stories took place in other parts of the new world.
We are living in a similar world today. We spend trillions bailing out wealthy institutions out of a sense of "systemic" or "communal" risk. We spend trillions on maintaining a global empire because it is supposedly every American's duty to ensure democracy exists in any and every place on Earth. We redistribute trillions more from productive workers to the weak or ill or elderly rather than simply lifting restrictions that prevent them from working or being cared for by loved ones.
How did those early libertarians change the minds of the most stringent communalists ever to be found? How can we change the minds of the modern ones today?
Morality also seems to be self-serving in other words, what we believe tends to be what helps us get what we want. If we want minimum wage laws, unemployment insurance, state-sponsored health care and retirement benefits, then we will tend to believe that government ought to provide those things. We will use terms like "safety net" or "share the wealth."
We are now seeing the cost of such beliefs: unlimited government. If your beliefs allow the government to do whatever the government claims is in the public interest, then you have provided a moral justification for the invasion of Iraq, the infringement of our civil liberties, the inflation of the dollar and the bailout of industry.
Fortunately in Massachusetts, the crumpling of communalism did not mean deterioration into anarchy which is not libertarianism; it's a total lack of government and law. Libertarianism, the Yankee belief in private ownership of property, requires a government to protect that property. That is the proper role of government, nothing more and nothing less.
In colonial Massachusetts, the government simply collapsed to the essentials. It would be as if the federal government today simply abolished the departments of energy, labor, education, transportation, and homeland security, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission and a bevy of other unnecessary bureaucracy, withdrew all troops from foreign lands, repealed the Patriot Act and similar legislation if it basically came back to its constitutional limits.
In that situation, we could again experience a Thanksgiving miracle by next year's harvest as investment and credit boomed, innovation exploded and profits were kept by those who earned them.
With the recent ratcheting up of federal debt and government spending, a collapse is inevitable, and in a collapse, chaos is likely. If we are as lucky as the pilgrims, we may yet find freedom again.
I believe the underlying “libertarian” spirit, at least as far as private property is concerned, was always a core Puritan belief. Rather, the extremely dire situation they faced when they first put down in Plymouth forced them to give collectivism a try at first. In other words, I don’t think it was such a great leap for them to end up at the private property model.
Kind of got the sequence out of order there.
Let's not forget that private property was already garnering evolved philosophical recognition in England before the Puritans. Even back into the 16th century, there was the move toward "enclosure", i.e. common lands being fenced and turned into private property, as part of the transition from a medieval agrarian economy and to a more modern capitalistic system. The Puritans, John Locke (who's parents were Puritans, btw), Adam Smith, and the Founders were recipients of and expanding upon the innate republicanism already incipient in England's political and social system.
The problem is that most of the time when someone mentions the word “Libertarian” on FR the nuts go crazy over it, calling the posters all sorts of names, like dope user, libertine, etc.
The extreme Libertarians have some off the wall views but it’s a cinch that the only way to save this country is to inject a healthy dose of Libertarian thinking back into politics.
Smaller gov’t and less intrusion into people’s lives is the only sound idea for the future. That’s the real change we need.
What are you, some kind of dope-smoking tax protestor?
However, I really do wonder sometimes whether or not our society is ready for that libertarianism -- to work things out between themselves civilly without being continually told what to do by government. We have raised several generations now without even the semblance of manners, with a real "I matter, you don't" chip on their shoulder. They aren't exactly "thinkers". They are to a large degree, spoiled children. The "growing up process" would not likely be pretty, however necessary it is.
I think that some of the reaction you cite is brought on by attitude of libertarians somewhat portrayed by the author of this piece. Libertarian thought and conservative thought SHARE the principles of centrality of private property and small, and localized, government as the underpinning of Liberty. In that area the differences are about how to keep or regain such attributes.
Often times we see these some-times allies claiming that one side or the other is the ONLY source of reverence for the two issues mentioned and that produces needless conflict.
A selection of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings for searching and browsing. Self- Reliance. from Essays: First Series (1841). Ralph Waldo Emerson ...
Yup, you've got that right about FR so-cons. On the other hand there's lots of other people who like to call themselves libertarian using the "socially liberal and fiscally conservative" line to rationalize support for judicially-decided social policy, Gov safety nets as well as Green delusions of Gov-mandated "alternative energy" solutions. My point is the libertarian label is used by many who may or may not adhere to many of its basic principles. I suppose this is an indication that although people may not fully understand the implications of the libertarian label, it is not as universally hated as some other labels out there today.
Yes the perpetual adolescents from the 60's and their followers are in control for the moment. We are more collectivist, anti-success, and secular than ever before. Our children aren't taught what the Mayflower Compact was all about and the lessons learned from it's failure.
It will change. Just as the Mayflower Compact failed in the micro application the new collectivism will fail when done on the macro level.
We can conclude two things from this historical example:
1. Private property and market mechanisms can maximize prosperity within a given single civilization.
2. Minimal, chiefly local, government is sufficient in the presence of organized religion instilling virtue.
We cannot conclude the usual modern libertarian extrapolations, that global market operating across civilizations maximizes prosperity, or that minimal or nonexistent government is sufficient in the absence of religious institutions.
“We cannot conclude the usual modern libertarian extrapolations, that global market operating across civilizations maximizes prosperity, or that minimal or nonexistent government is sufficient in the absence of religious institutions.”
I agree, neither of the extrapolations you cite are valid points regarding libertarianism.
And much of that can also be applied to the term "Conservative".
"Conservative" used to apply to those who had an attachment to the Constitution and small government, but we have moved so far away from that model in our current government that it no longer means the same thing.
Instead, "conservative" more describes the attachment to a temporal social model rather than political model, an attachment to "time in the past" rather than a political ideology --hence we have to add on the terms, "neo", "paleo", "fiscal" or "social" to the term "conservative" and it has watered down the basic principle of the word "conservative".
In fact, in order to achieve the original concept of "Conservative", we are looking at a nearly radical departure from the status quo rather than a gradual (conservative) one. And the direction to reestablishing that original concept of conservatism is a bold stride toward a more libertarian model.
Yes or no vis-a-vis "organized religion instilling virtue," depending on how far you buy into the myth that Plymouth approached a utopian society, at least from a religious perspective. Let's not forget that Plymouth still found use for stockades and other forms of punishment, and it enforced religious orthodoxy with an iron fist. I'm not sure if virtue remains "virtue" in the true sense of the word if it comes only via the barrel of a gun.
It certainly wasn't a kum-ba-ya, everyone gets along because we're all on God's side community. Religious and civil government went hand-in-hand.
And let's also not forget the Puritans in America were a homogeneous society who did not play well with their Native American hosts, quite unlike the Acadians and the Mi'kmaqs in l'Acadie.
How exactly religion instills virtue is a huge topic onto itself. Being Catholic, I have serious theological reservations regarding puritanism. However, I simply wished to point out, here, that when a few thousand puritans enjoy the fruits of liberty and property, that in no way scales to 200 million social libertines raised by the Disney Channel trying to do the same.
Great observation. I have a self-described liberal pen pal who I've swapped emails with since 2000. Earlier this summer he declared himself to be a conservative. When I pressed him on how he reconciled his belief in a big regulating Government, a "living and breathing" Constitution and judicial activism, he grew annoyed with me and ran away from the discussion. The guy maintains that because he personally doesn't believe in abortion, pre-marital sex, drug use, etc that he's a conservative.
Well, as you're talking about libertines, not libertarians, perhaps such a point, whatever its merits on its own, really isn't germane to the thread . . .
It is germane if, as we look at how the puritans prospered, we are to draw conclusions about modern (Rand and the Vienna) libertarianism which tends to ignore cultural values.
What works in a society of strong social and cultural taboos and highly cohesive culture is nearly guaranteed not to work in our neo-pagan society.
We get it: the Catholic monarchist doesn’t exactly embrace libertarianism. Shocker.
Monarchy is, ironically enough, a form of libertarianism: the king owns the Commons, just like the subject owns his private property. Splendid idea. I was a libertarian before I became a monarchist.
Pilgrims were not Puritans and Wollaston is pronounced Walliston, for you foreigners.
Hardly, and whatever you say.