So Much For Honest Debate
A while back on this site I penned an article entitled "Lincoln the 'Tyrant'. The Libertarians' Favorite Bogeyman." Without revisiting it, I offered that the present demonization of our 16th President by some on the far edges of the so-called libertarian movement, is misplaced.
Much of the fuel for this fire is supplied by author and economics professor Thomas DiLorenzo whose book “The Real Lincoln” casts old Abe as seated at the left hand of Lucifer himself. His views can often be found populating the web pages of LewRockwell.com.
On a whim, I sent Mr. DiLorenzo a link to my article (in which I mention Lew Rockwell by name) and asked for comments. It was sent in a spirit of friendly, healthy debate where I’d hoped to engage the obvioulsy well-researched author in a more intimate one-on-one about Lincoln...and I could learn a few things in the process. Maybe he could have even convinced me I was wrong. It’s been known to happen.
But instead, this rogue historian, fired back this curt and heatedly defensive reply:
"There's no apostrophe in 'Lew Rocwells [sic] of the world,' and you lie about what is said on the site. No one has ever written there that slavery would have just eventually withered away. Since you can [sic] spell, and you lie about our writings, enough said."
Well, not really enough said. I will by-pass the first half of his criticism that I indeed let a grammatical error slide in my editorial review. Still, this does tell you about the pettiness and hyper-sensitivity of the alleged scholar to whom I’d reached out in a spirit of learning. Oh, and to Mr. DiLorenzo, it’s spelled ROCKwell with a k, not Rocwell. So I guess if grammar and spelling are enough to disqualify an argument, then we’re both toast. Anyhoo...
The more serious remark though, and one I feel compelled to defend, was his claim that I lied. Where I come from in Illinois being called a liar actually means something. (Although my anger subsided after perusing some of his diatribes against other criticisms by writers much more established than I. It becomes readily apparent that hurling the “L” word with the precision of a blast of shrapnel is his standard operating procedure).
Mr. DiLorenzo admonishes me: “You lie about what is said on the site. No one has ever written there that slavery would have just eventually withered away.”
Really? If I may quote the author in LewRockwell.com: “I basically concur with Jeffrey Hummel's analysis in his book, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, that antebellum slavery was propped up by such laws as the federal government's Fugitive Slave Act (which Abraham Lincoln strongly supported) and that the abolition of that law would have greatly reduced the profitability of slavery and quickened its demise.”
The implication here is that, but for the Fugitive Slave Act, slavery would have had a quick demise. This takes an entirely economic stance on what was as much a social, cultural and political institution as purely a matter of economics. This is an entire discussion in itself, but it is clear here that DiLorenzo in his own words sees slavery as an institution that would have died of its own inadequacies and that the repeal of a few 1850 laws would have sufficed to get the process moving. To call me a liar for reflecting upon his own words in my article seems rather disingenuous in its own right does it not?
(Aside: That de facto Black servitude in the form of Jim Crow lasted in the South for entire century after Appomattox and that Apartheid was alive and well in South Africa until the 1980s—both ended more by external pressures than any internal catharsis on the part of the enforcers—seems irrelevant to him.)
So here we see the level of argument from the chief proponent of the anti-Lincoln camp stripped bare of scholarly pretense. Mind you, there are many who have come to the same conclusions as DiLorenzo and I sincerely respect their opinions. The fact that I reached out to him shows that I am willing to entertain alternative viewpoints. As Dennis Miller would always say: “Of course that’s just my opinion...I could be wrong.”
But with some people I think the motivation lies not in the pursuit of history but rather something more internal and psychological. I've met many activists cut from the same cloth: people who crave to be contrarians for contrarian sake, regardless of the inferiority of their positions vis-a-vis historical context. So much more fun and transparently "hip" (thus a desperate tactic to get themselves noticed in the crowded field of Civil War historians) than going along with the vast majority who understand the historical record and realize that by siding with the South you are siding with the perpetuation of human bondage...the root word of libertarians is LIBERTY is it not? How does that jibe with real hard-core whip and chain slavery again? Some of the arguments on Rockwell’s website grossly side-step the abomination that was slavery with shameless abandon, as if it is a mere inconvenience that matters little to the discussion rather than the core issue of the war. The selective historical memory of a few hard-core libertarians (who nonetheless travel on government interstates, rail against government on the government project that was the internet, while they race to cash their Medicare and Social Security checks) never ceases to astound me.
As for Mr. DiLorenzo, his contratian views are certainly getting him noticed. And that's really what it's all about isn't it? The reputation of a great (if admittedly flawed) man matters little in one’s quest for relevance.
Anyway, you can have a sincere difference of viewpoints without calling a man a liar. Especially when he's not.