As a “conservative” — and, moreover, one who leans toward the libertarian version of “conservatism” — I sometimes find myself in conversation with other libertarian-minded people who identify the Civil War as the point in American history at which the original Federalism began to jump the rails, at which the Federal government first began its evisceration of the notion that a limited Federal government had, and should have, no jurisdiction over certain activities that were and are the purview and prerogative of the individual States. In their telling of the history of that war, it was less about slavery than about the southern States’ assertion of their rights to be free of Federal restraint. And, as a result, although they genuinely celebrate the immediate outcome of that conflict — the abolition of slavery — they also lament the resulting victory of Federal authority over “states’ rights.”
Despite the belief of a great many people that such notions must grow from an underlying base of belief in white supremacy and white nationalism — and despite the fact that there are, in fact, white supremacists and white nationalists who subscribe to and promote that narrative — I generally ascribe it, among the libertarian idealists, more to an honest, if misguided, lack of historical perspective coupled to a contemporary and compelling anxiety. Chattel slavery was, after all, abolished in the United States more than 150 years ago, in law by the Emancipation Proclamation and then in practice by the surrender of the Confederacy. Jim Crow laws were abolished by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, more than 50 years ago, and well over 2/3 of Americans now alive were not yet born when those laws fell. To a great many people — admittedly, people fortunate enough to be free of the ongoing yoke of discrimination in culture rather than in law — both slavery and Jim Crow feel like relics from a long-ago past, a problem already solved and well behind us. Whereas, the constraining yoke of an increasingly overweening and intrusive Federal government feels like a problem both modern and growing, a problem for today with direct and observable effects on their lives and on their futures.
Nonetheless, their sincerity does not make them right. This, then is directed to their attention and for their benefit, from one libertarian-minded conservative to another: