MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Can “One of the Most Brilliant Essays on Political Philosophy Ever Written” Save America?

Posted by M. C. on October 14, 2022

By Thomas DiLorenzo

To Calhoun, as Wilson explains, nullification was an alternative to secession.  Once again Calhoun’s motivation was to preserve the union, not destroy it as Lincoln did.  The uneducated Lincoln cultists who revel in libeling Calhoun have their American history completely backwards.

In an essay entitled “A Strategy of the Right” Murray Rothbard called John C. Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government “one of the most brilliant essays on political philosophy ever written.”  Rothbard considered Calhoun’s Disquisition to be a brilliant analysis of how the American political system could evolve into tyranny and how to stop that from happening –essential knowledge for today’s Americans who want to stop their country’s plunge into “woke” totalitarianism.Just in time, Clyde Wilson has published a new book on Calhoun, his life, and his ideas:  Calhoun:  A Statesman for the 21st Century.

A case can be made that the Disquisition is superior to anything the founding fathers wrote since Calhoun was deeply educated in those ideas with the advantage of living another quarter to a half century longer than the founders and observed how their ideas played out in reality.  Wilson calls the book Calhoun’s “bequest to posterity” that predicted the “tendency of the United States toward a regime of bankers and imperial overreach.”  Has there ever been a more accurate political prediction?

When I wrote on this Web site some years ago that “the purpose of government is for those who run it to plunder those who do not,” I was probably inspired to do so, without realizing it at the time, by reading at some point of my career such passages from Calhoun’s  as this one, quoted by Wilson:  “[T]he powers vested in [government agents] to prevent injustice and oppression on the part of others, will, if left unguarded, be by them converted into instruments to oppress the rest of the community.”  This type of oppression came to a head during Donald Trump’s inaugural address where he said, surrounded by the entire Washington establishment, that they had done very, very well for themselves through government, but at the expense of the people – especially the tens of millions who had voted for him.  That was the spark that ignited the never-ending orgy of hatred, conspiracy, defamation, and government thuggery aimed at Trump, his family, and his advisors and supporters.  Such talk is never supposed to take place, especially during an inauguration ceremony.

Calhoun came from a family of what libertarians would call homesteaders.  They settled in the South Carolina upcountry before the Revolution and, like the residents of all the other colonies, considered their state to be sovereign and independent, every bit as sovereign and independent as Spain, France, or England.  The American Revolution, writes Wilson, was not a revolution against society but “the action of the existing societies of the 13 colonies to preserve themselves against the interference of a distant government.”  He quotes Madison as pointing out that the Constitution drew its authority “only” from the ratification by the states, which were sovereign, and that ratification “could be revoked [by any state] when its purpose was perverted.”  Unless of course you buy into Lincoln’s historically false theory that “the consent of the governed is something that can only be used once, like a bus ticket.”  This was the position of Lincoln, says Wilson, and of “all who have followed after him.”  Murray Rothbard once mocked this theory of the founding as the creation of a “one-way venus flytrap” from which there could never be any escape.  The founders would hardly have fought a bloody revolution against such a system and then turned around and created the exact same thing, but that was Lincoln’s theory that he used to “justifiy” waging total war for four years on his own country.

The result of Lincoln’s nationalist revolution is that “today the United States is a “regime of Bankers, Bombers, and Busybodies.  All three are deadly enemies to the preservation of building of any civilized community . . .”, writes Wilson.  Millions of Americans “assume it is their right to force other people to obey their notions of doing good” – or else.  Elsewhere Wilson has referred to this phenomenon as “the Yankee problem in America” and points to Hillary Clinton as a “museum-quality specimen of a Yankee.”  Calhoun warned against such folly by reminding his readers that the government is NOT “us,” the opposite of what American school children have been taught in the government-run schools for generations.

To Calhoun, almost all political and policy issues referred back to the divide between Hamilton, the advocate of centralization, empire, government patronage, protectionism, tax-funded corporate welfare, and a government-run banking monopoly, and Jefferson’s “empire of liberty” that rejected all of that.

The uneducated have smeared Calhoun for supporting a tariff increase early in his career and then opposing the hated Tariff of Abominations of 1828.  Wilson—the editor of The Collected Works of John C. Calhoun —  explains that what motivated Calhoun to support the earlier tariff increase was his desire to hold the union together.  New England was disproportionately harmed economically by the trade embargo enforced by Jefferson and Madison (as an alternative to another war with England), and threatened secession over it.  Calhoun’s support of the tariff was aimed at quelling such sentiments for the sake of keeping the union together.

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