Libertarian Revisionist History

Part of the "Critiques of Libertarianism" site.

Last updated 02/18/11.

Ideologies generally require a reinterpretation of history in light of their novel explanations. There is a sizable libertarian revisionist literature that is substantially at odds with history.

Even more annoying are the incessant claims that various historical figures and classical liberals were libertarians or that the early US government was libertarian. These are flat out wrong.


L. Neil Smith's Ahistorical Comparison Of Lincoln To Lenin
Brian Tubbs rebuts absurd libertarian assertions about the founders, constitutionality, and Lincoln's prosecution of the Civil War.
Self-Evident Truths
Chapter 6 of "Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shape Democracy" by Bruce E. Johansen. Extensive discussion of the origin of Franklin and Jefferson's non-libertarian ideas about property, and their reflection in the Declaration Of Independence.
Objectivism and Thomas Jefferson
by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. Objectivists are taken to task for selective quoting from Jefferson, whose writings give many sound reasons to reject Objectivism.
The "Sovereignty" Of The Individual
Was Jefferson A Libertarian?
Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. tersely describes some important differences between Jefferson's views and those of libertarians.
Hayek's Road To Serfdom (a criticism by Walter Block)
Hayek On The Role Of The State: A Radical Libertarian Critique (Radnitzky)
F. A. Hayek On Government And Social Evolution: A Critique (Hoppe)
Socialism: A Property Or Knowledge Problem? (Hoppe)
Hayek: Some Missing Pieces (de Jasay)
While Hayek is widely claimed as a libertarian and an Austrian economist, he's not pure enough for these libertarians (who find him a coercive socialist.) Oh, and of course von Mises is the one, true, infallible Austrian economist too.
An Austrian (Mis)Reads Adam Smith: A Critique of Rothbard as Intellectual Historian
Peter Hans Matthews and Andreas Ortmann say "Rothbard's book [Economic Thought Before Adam Smith] suffers from logical flaws, selective and incomplete textual evidence, a misunderstanding of Das Adam Smith Problem and the relevant literature..." etc.
Bookmarks for Common Libertarian Arguments
An excellent collection of links to resources that can help you compose your own rebuttals to topical libertarian arguments against the FDA, revisionist history, etc.
Militia - History And Law Faq
An excellent and comprehensive FAQ rebutting much of the misinformation about militias and the 2nd Amendment spread by the modern militia movement, libertarians, the NRA, and others. Part of the Militia Watchdog site.
Economics In One Lesson
Brad DeLong's review of Henry Hazlitt's Economics In One Lesson. Brad explains at length why this brilliant libertarian classic is damaging to young brains. Simply put, it ignores the premises and history of economics; and the ideological blinders are so strong that Hazlitt's quotes and summaries are sometimes dishonest.
Adam Smith's Soft Side
US Congressman Sherrod Brown points out that Adam Smith was not the one-dimensional "classical liberal" portrayed by libertarian historical revisionists.
NEW 3/07: Ask a Libertarian, Part II: The Constitution as Libertarian Myth
Logan Ferree does a good job of dispelling libertarian myths about being like classical liberalism and the early USA. He also tries to distinguish between libertarians and objectivists.
NEW 3/07: Review of "The Militia And The Right To Bear Arms"
Daniel Smith lauds Uviller and Merkel's historical legal analysis of the 2nd Amendment, which thoroughly refutes Sanford Levinson and other individual rights claimants.
NEW 3/07: A New Paradigm for the Second Amendment
Saul Cornell criticizes much recent scholarship: "Second Amendment originalists have created something akin to an alternate history science-fiction fantasy[...]"
NEW 6/07: The Liberal Idea
Stephen Holmes explains how modern liberals follow the traditions of the "classical" liberals, contrary to libertarian revisionist propaganda.
NEW 11/08: Lessons from the Great Depression Blogging
The rightwing/libertarian revisionist idea that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression is debunked, with reference to Krugman's schooling of George Will.
NEW 3/09: The Libertarian From Nazareth?
Jesus was a libertarian? This guy is serious! What did JC say about freeing slaves then?
NEW 9/10: Evolution Is Far Freer Than Classical Liberalism
P. Z. Meyers (of Paryngula fame) savages Larry Arnhart's ahistorical claims in CATO Unbound that evolution supports classical liberalism. Further followup here.
NEW 9/10: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought
Tony Endres' scathing review of Rothbard's magnum opus. "Rothbard has produced two volumes which are highly jaundiced and purblind." From History of Economics Review.

Print References

The links here are to, through their associates program, primarily because of the review information. Books without links are generally out of print, and can often be easily found at AddAll Used and Out Of Print Search. Good sites for bargain shopping for sometimes expensive new books are Online Bookstore Price Comparison and AddAll Book Search and Price Comparison. Both of those list applicable coupons. Another is

Frank Bourgin "The Great Challenge: The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic"
Stephanie Coontz "The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap"
Basic Books, 2000. How many modern claims of family "institutions" are historically incorrect.
Barbara H. Fried "The Progressive Assault On Laissez Faire: Robert Hale And The First Law And Economics Movement"
Harvard University Press 1998. The first, full-length study of Hale's work, which showed that "private", unregulated economic relations were in fact determined by a state imposed regime of property and contract rights which were hard to square with common-sense notions of social justice.
Dennis Henigan, Bruce Nicholson, David Hemenway "Guns and the Constitution"
Aletheia Press 1995. A book-length FAQ of refutations of the gun-ownership propaganda and mythology promulgated by the NRA and gleefully parroted by libertarians. Essential reading. The "Guns And The Judiciary" section is now available online.
William Leach "Land of Desire"
Vintage Books, 1993. Discusses the rise of America's consumerist culture and shows how our capitalist system has depended on government support at every stage of its development.
William J. Novak "The People's Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America"
Univ. of North Carolina Pr., 1996. "Blasts to pieces... the libertarian fantasy that until the twentieth century the American state left private property owners and economic entrepreneurs alone." --Robert W. Gordon, Yale Law School.
Michael Perelman "The Invention of Capitalism : Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation"
An academic examination of how governments created the preconditions for capitalism by separating peasants from their land, following the advice of classical economists such as Adam Smith.
Jack N. Rakove "Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution"
Pullitzer Prize winning background that helps to understand the fallacies in simplistic libertarian constitutional interpretations.
Gary Wills "A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government"
(Simon & Schuster 1999) A strong refutation of historical revisionist interpretations of the Founders and Constitution as supporting antigovernment positions.

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Copyright 2007 by Mike Huben ( ).
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