Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Libertarians argue for a society in which people solve their problems by making whatever commercial bargains they can, and the government takes an enforcement role, if that. The more radical among them suggest that society would be best off without any government at all, with nothing but private trade to regulate their interactions.

As it happens, there are large sections of the globe where there isn't any government, including the "tribal areas" of Pakistan, where the Pakistani government itself is happy to tell you its laws do not extend. And sure enough, we find forms of commerce that most governments in the decadent West would, in their brute, statist way, interfere with:

Mr. Arbab fingers his prayer beads as he gives a short history of the girl. Not only is she a virgin, he notes, but she is "untouched," meaning that she has not had anal sex with her previous master --- a common practice. The fact that the girl is "untouched," combined with her lighter skin and blue-green eyes, makes her particularly prized.

The bidding starts quickly. About 15 minutes into the bidding, one of the buyers asks for an inspection. The elderly woman removes the girls tunic, fingers the childs breasts, and then shines a flashlight into her open mouth to show that she has a good set of teeth. Bidding resumes with a certain intensity; some of the men can be seen rubbing themselves.

Of the 15 or so girls sold that evening, only four were "untouched." All were virgins, because, as Arbab said, "I only buy the best." And he makes piles of money doing it. Though his agents will buy the girls for between $80 to $100 at the borders, the price at the auction was considerably higher. The 14-year-old was sold for 165,000 Pakistani rupees, or about $2750. I heard it whispered that the girl was going to Dubai (presumably to become a member of a harem). Others were not so lucky. Another girl, a tall 18-year-old virgin with long black hair and light eyes, was sold to a prostitution ring in Lahore. Though a virgin, she had been "touched," and so sold for $2450. Although men at the auction ostensibly are paying for the right to marry the girls, few if any do. Most of the girls become prostitutes; the lucky become domestic help.

These arrangements are so much more convenient than state-granted marriage licenses in a variety of ways:

According to dozens of buyers interviewed, the girls are disposable --- and most don't live to the age of 30. When asked in what way the girls are disposable, the men shrug and smile.

The place conforms to the anarcho-libertarian ideal in other ways as well:

After walking down the steps into the main hall, buyers are guided to spots on a floor covered with dark-red geometrically patterned Afghan carpets. There is a foot-high dais in the middle of the room and a side door at the far end. Pillows serve as seats at low-slung tables dominated by hookahs ..., pots of green tea, and plates of dates and pistachios.

The guests --- everyone is a buyer --- gradually fill the room. ... Everyone is asked to leave weapons in the anteroom on the way into the hall, but from the way some sit, it's clear that there are still plenty of weapons in the room by the time the auction begins.

How genteel. An armed society is a polite society.

Not to put too fine a touch on it, these are slave markets (which also, by the way, buy and sell young buys for use as camel drivers).

You'd think this would be one case where even hard-core libertarians would respect the right of the government to stick its nose in, if libertarianism has anything to do with liberty. The liberty of the slaves is clearly at risk here. But the "Johnny Student" collective on Libertarian Samizdata seems to have, how shall I say, a more nuanced position concerning the most famous case of that sort of intervention. They recently described their experiences in attempting to convince college history classes that, in their own words:

1. Confederacy is a system of government that gives more power to the states or local government and less power to the federal or higher levels of government. America is a federalist society, whereas, Switzerland is an example of a confederacy.


5. After Lincoln's nearly 50/50 election there was a great tension between the North and the South about the role of the federal government (Lincoln wanted more federal government, which the Southerners opposed).

6. The US Civil War started over the role of the state versus the role of the federal government - not slavery.

And so, in effect, the South were the minarchist good guys. Perhaps they think Confederate political speeches sounded something like this ...

Now, this heah conflict isn't really about slavery puh se. Why, I own three hundred slaves mahself, and I'd free 'em all tomorrow, 'ceptin' they all like things exactly how they are. I know because that's what they tell me.

The problem heah is that the govuhnment in Washington City is claiming the right to regulate slavery. If that can be allowed, wheah will it stop? What would be next? Federal standards fo' the purity of drinking water? Oppressive gangs of regulatuhs swarming over slaughterhouses tryin' to prevent the sale of rotten meat? A federal agency spending immense amounts of money on some bizarre scheme fo' "electrical power" in the Tennessee Valley?

Ah know this seems like a vision from a nightmare, but that is where Federal regulation of slavery might lead. They might even try to give women the vote. I know it sounds insane, but if the gummint can regulate slavery, then nothing, nothing else is beyond the realm of possibility.

...instead of this, from a speech delivered by future C.S.A. Secretary of State Robert Toombs to the Georgia legislature:

In 1790 we had less than eight hundred thousand slaves. Under our mild and humane administration of the system they have increased above four millions. The country has expanded to meet this growing want, and Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, have received this increasing tide of African labor; before the end of this century, at precisely the same rate of increase, the Africans among us in a subordinate condition will amount to eleven millions of persons. What shall be done with them? We must expand or perish. We are constrained by an inexorable necessity to accept expansion or extermination. Those who tell you that the territorial question is an abstraction, that you can never colonize another territory without the African slavetrade, are both deaf and blind to the history of the last sixty years. All just reasoning, all past history, condemn the fallacy. The North understand it better - they have told us for twenty years that their object was to pen up slavery within its present limits - surround it with a border of free States, and like the scorpion surrounded with fire, they will make it sting itself to death.

But does Toombs discuss the primacy of State law vis-a-vis laws passed by the Federal government? Why, indeed he does, in the very next paragraph:

All the courts of the United States, Federal and State, from the Supreme Court of the United States to the Justice Courts of all the States whose actions have ever come under my notice, construed this Constitution to mean and intend the rendition of fugitive slaves by law of Congress, which might be aided, not thwarted, by State legislation, until the decision of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin held otherwise, and that decision was unanimously overruled by Northern and Southern judges in the Supreme Court, and which Court, in the same case, unanimously affirmed the constitutionality of the [Fugitive Slave] act of 1850. But these acts were not only annulled by the abolition Legislatures, but annulled under circumstances of atrocity and aggravation unknown to the legislation of any civilized people in the world. Some of them punish us with penitentiary punishment as felons for even claiming our own slaves within their limits, even by his own consent; others by ingenious contrivances prevent the possibility of your sustaining your rights in their limits, where they seek to compel you to go, and then punish you by fine and infamous punishments for asserting your rights and failing to get them. This is the fidelity of our brethren (!) to their plighted faith their oft-repeated oaths!

So, there you have it, from the (well, a) horse's mouth: a proximate cause of the Civil War was that the South insisted on the Federal government's right to preempt State law in the North.

It's true that after the Civil War, many Southerners justified their actions in terms of States' rights --- because arguments in favor of slavery as a moral institution had lost their currency. But the Southron side came to that conviction late. C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis and vice-president Alexander Stephens pushed the "States' Rights" line after the war. But before the war, Stephens famously declared that Jefferson's vision of slavery as "the rock on which the old Union would split" was now "realized fact", adding

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [to the equality of races]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Stephens' speech also enumerated a number of advantages of the Confederate Constitution over that of the United States. A different construction of "states' rights" is not among them; the closest he gets is to point out the weaker power of the Confederate government to regulate interstate commerce. And as for Davis, when he was leaving the U.S. Senate, after Mississippi seceded, he paused in his farewell address, to recount and repeat his advice to aggrieved parties in Massachusetts when the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed: that the Constitution gave that kind of power to the federal government, that as long as they stayed in the Union they'd just have to lump it, and if they didn't like it, they ought to leave it.

When a couple of pomo scholars wrote an article last fall which implicitly equated the "oppressiveness" of the Western bikini with the Taliban burqa, they were roundly derided. And they deserved to be. If they were trying to raise awareness of the way unhealthy ideals pushed through the media do in fact drive some vulnerable girls to do stupid, self-destructive things to their bodies, then they failed; they only succeeded in making themselves and their cause look ridiculous. "Johnny Student"'s view of the causes of the Civil war --- that it was not so much slavery per se, as the power of the federal government to get rid of it --- is just as warped.

It would be nice to think that libertarianism had something to do with liberty. But if it does, then "Johnny Student" is awfully confused...


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