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Libertarians Need Not Support the Confederacy

July 22, 2015 in Economics

By Randal John Meyer

Randal John Meyer

Philip Magness authored an article in Newsweek entitled, “What Should Libertarians Think About the Civil War?” He claims the two “common interpretations” of the Civil War—libertarian support for the North or for the South—“stand out as particularly problematic.” He suggests that libertarians adopt two propositions, instead: “One needn’t be for the Union to be against slavery,” and “One needn’t be for the Confederacy to object to the North’s prosecution of the war.”

It is true that one need not support the Union to be against slavery and that one need not support Confederate states to object to war crimes—ask any non-American. Magness generalizes the moral considerations—slavery, war crimes, etc.—out from their historic context to avoid any “problematic” interpretation of who was right. In effect, his argument leaves the reader thinking nothing about the Civil War.

To accomplish this generalization, Magness completely conflates two ancient doctrines of warfare: jus ad bellum (justice in going to war), and jus in bello (justice in the conduct of warfare). However, the justification for war is distinct from the justifications for various acts of war. Some argue, for example, that “World War II was just, but Truman unjustly dropped the bomb.”

Both the Union and Confederacy committed war crimes and abused civil liberties during the Civil War. But from a libertarian perspective, the Confederacy had a worse case for its cause.”

Neither Case Against the North Is Strong

When broken down, the jus ad bellum case against the North is objectively weak, and the jus in bello case against the North is not nearly as strong as Magness makes it out to be. To briefly address the jus ad bellum question, the case for the North is within libertarian philosophy. Southerners attacked a northern fort, and several million people lived in bondage in the Southern states in violation of the few universal laws of nature.

Regarding jus in bello, Magness considers the issues with libertarian moral philosophy in terms of supporting the North: “its indulgences in unrestricted warfare, suspension of civil liberties, centralization of power, or any of the other charges often made against the Union’s wartime cause or its outcome.” To be sure, the North let its generals perform what would today be called war crimes, and that is morally repugnant.

Yet, the South’s actions were hardly better—Camp Sumter, the Fort Pillow massacre, the Shelton Laurel massacre, and the Centralia massacre are just a few examples of the South’s violations of the customary laws of war. Reprisals …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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