Historical Revisionism

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The facts of history do not support libertarianism. This spawns an industry supplying libertarians with false history that supports their beliefs.


History of Libertarianism (18 links)
Libertarianism, especially the economic aspects, has always been a front for monied interests.
United States (7 links)
Libertarians frequently claim the United States was libertarian or laissez-faire between Reconstruction and the New Deal. Alternatively, they claim it is the closest state now. Both claims are ahistorical and ridiculous.
Non-Libertarians Supposedly Supporting Libertarian Viewpoints (13 links)
Many economists and historical figures are claimed to be supportive of libertarianism or "protolibertarians". US founding fathers, various economists, J. S. Mill, etc. Often they are mischaracterized as "Classical Liberals" to confuse the issue. Many were just early liberals or feminists.
Confederacy (9 links)
Many libertarians buy into the old Confederacy, States' Rights, "slavery was beneficial" and other "lost cause" mythology. There is a substantial cockeyed revisionist literature on this subject, making Abraham Lincoln an enemy of freedom, claiming slavery was a beneficial institution and arguing for State's Rights.
Democide (9 links)
R. J. Rummel's term for "killing of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder". It conveniently excludes much larger private and commercial killing such as drug deaths, especially by slow causes such as tobacco and pollution. It also conveniently overlooks lives saved by the efforts of the same governments. Democide numbers are much smaller than the numbers of lives saved by government eradication of smallpox (which killed an estimated 500 million in its last century of existence), let alone other vaccination, potable water, sewerage projects and other Public Health measures.
Guns (14 links)
Libertarians generally endorse unregulated private ownership of guns and other armaments, no matter how absurd.
A Brief Anti-Economist History [More...]
"The conclusion is clear, and something I have said before: western capitalism is neither harmonious nor natural. It is a product of specific historical circumstances, some of which were incredibly brutal. "
A Process of Denial: Bork and Post-Modern Conservatism [More...]
James Boyle performs a thorough demolition of Robert Bork and his preferred "original intent" method of interpretation of the US Constitution.
A Revisionist History of Regulatory Capture [More...]
Chapter 1 of Preventing Regulatory Capture. Conservative pessimism about regulatory capture is fostered by a myopic focus on economics. Regulation's focus is often on political, not economic, issues such as "the unprecedented influence of large corporations on politics". An excellent read.
Alcohol Prohibition (1 link)
Libertarians generally cite this as a failure, because it was repealed. Yet the actual history shows that prohibition achieved many of its goals, and was repealed because voter priorities changed in the Great Depression.
America’s Taxation Tradition [More...]
Taxation to prevent an undemocratic distribution of wealth is an American, progressive-era invention which had enormous support.
Anarchism (5 links)
The original political meaning of the word libertarianism. Not my cup of tea, but they oppose much in right-libertarianism.
Answering the Twittertarians [More...]
"[L]ibertarians claim to be freedom’s ultimate defenders but their actions during the great freedom struggle for Civil Rights show them to be indifferent or perhaps hostile to racial justice as a component of freedom. This is a particular problem for them because they claim to be concerned with freedom."
Antimonopoly Is as Old as the Republic [More...]
Should the U.S. enforce more explicit restrictions on monopolies, or can innovation and democracy alone mitigate the pervasive effects of monopoly power? A panel of historians and economists at the recent Stigler Center conference on concentration in America discussed the historical evolution of this debate.
As outrage grows, Reason editor rejects proof, denies that magazine denied the holocaust [More...]
Reason Magazine's leadership denies its own plain, printed evidence. Propaganda means never having to admit your were wrong.
As Reason’s editor defends its racist history, here’s a copy of its holocaust denial “special issue” [More...]
The January and February 1976 issues featured a who's who of American holocaust deniers and "revisionist history" by a mix of conspiracy theorists. A number of them are still on the Kochtopus payroll.
Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (book, online)
Exposes revisionist myths of free trade and development of nations. Free trade tends to harm developing nations, and is generally not adopted unless it is forcefully imposed by other nations or a dominant position in markets is established.
BadHistory, search for libertarian [More...]
The BadHistory reddit routinely scoffs at libertarian historical revisionism.
Black History Is American History [More...]
David Boaz writes: 'But I was asked not long ago, what’s the most important libertarian accomplishment in history? I said, “the abolition of slavery.”' This barefaced, jaw-dropping revisionism ignores the fact that all slavery was ended by government fiat, in this case during an enormous war.
Capitalism And Freedom (Robert Nielsen review) [More...]
"Before I read the book, I knew I would not agree with it. Even still, I was shocked at how poor an argument Friedman makes and his complete aversion to using evidence to support his claims. His defence of discrimination is disgraceful and unbelievable."
Capitalism defeats racism. Government maintains it. [More...]
An amazing (yet common) example of libertarian revisionist history, in this case about how government (not white racists) wanted Jim Crow laws. Some good refutations in the comments.
Capitalist Nursery Fables: The Tragedy of Private Property, and the Farce of Its Defense [More...]
"Since the beginning of class society, every ruling class has required a legitimizing ideology to justify inequality and to frame its own privileges as deserved... But it has nowhere been more true than under modern capitalism."
Charles Koch's Brain Shuts Down The Holocaust [More...]
"Under Koch’s watch, LeFevre hired one of the most notorious Holocaust deniers to head up the new Rampart College history department: James J. Martin, who later served as an editorial director at neo-Nazi leader Willis Carto’s “Institute for Historical Review,” the largest and the worst of all America’s Holocaust denial outfits."
Claimed Examples Of Libertarianism (32 links)
There has never been a libertarian nation or society anywhere, despite numerous attempts to found them as micro-nations, oceanic platforms, etc. But libertarians are armed with many "examples" to show that it could work. Examples such as the USA, Hong Kong, Chile and Singapore are uniformly misleading or false.
County Supremacy Movement (1 link)
A crank idea that the only legitimate policing power belongs to the county sheriff. All higher government activity is a conspiracy to rob the people of their rights.
DDT (6 links)
The pesticide industry is attempting to blame Rachel Carson and her green followers for millions of malarial deaths because of "DDT bans". But in reality, that industry is responsible for the deaths because they have fostered pesticide resistance in mosquitos through indiscriminant sales of their pesticides. DDT has NOT been banned for public health use, only agricultural use. In addition, DDT is the cause of one of the largest SuperFund sites.
Denunciation Proclamation [More...]
Andrew Napolitano's historical revisionism on slavery, the Civil War and Lincoln is brilliantly ridiculed and debunked by John Stewart and Larry Wilmore.
Did Austrians Never Predict Hyperinflation?
Mark Faber, Peter Schiff, Doug French and Gary North have all predicted hyperinflation since the Great Recession. "The idea that Austrians never predicted hyperinflation in any sense is outrageous, mendacious and contemptible rewriting of history."
Herbert Hoover Myths [More...]
Steven Horwitz and other Austrians have been claiming Herbert Hoover was a Keynesian interventionist. Lord Keynes (pseudonym) sorts out this revisionist nonsense.
Homesteading (6 links)
Libertarians frequently claim homesteading as a peaceful origin of property, but that is ignorant historical revisionism. There is no land in the world that can show a convincing chain of ownership through original homesteading (before other owners.) Existing claims of homesteading generally ignore pre-existing peoples who were swept aside. Homesteading for spontaneous establishment of ownership is ahistorical.
How Corporate America Invented Christian America [More...]
The origin of Christian libertarianism as a National Association of Manufacturers public relations campaign to oppose The New Deal and its programs.
How Natural is Capitalism, Exactly? [More...]
"The fact is that capitalism is a highly planned system with a questionable history -- there is nothing ‘natural’ about it."
Innovation (12 links)
Libertarians ignore the enormous history and pervasiveness of government innovation to claim that innovation is primarily from the private sector. Both sectors are very important. Nor is innovation always beneficial, as we've seen from private financial innovation, which caused the great recession.
John Locke Against Freedom [More...]
John Locke’s classical liberalism isn’t a doctrine of freedom. It’s a defense of expropriation and enslavement.
Keynes on Laissez-Faire [More...]
Gavin Kennedy writes: "‘Laissez-nous faire’ is not advocated as a universal principle for merchants and their customers; it was a very partial principle for merchants only... [Mill and mine owners] wrapped themselves in laissez-faire flags to wipe up the blood of their employees when they demanded their own freedoms and not those of their labourers or their customers."
Leave John Locke in the Dustbin of History [More...]
Some scholars and writers are trying to rehabilitate John Locke. They shouldn't — he was an apologist for slavery, not a champion of freedom.
Libertarian Fairy Tales: The Bundy Militia’s Revisionist History in Oregon [More...]
"Western militia-types like to fantasize that they are oppressed by a “foreign” government. They like to play dress-up, to pretend that they are entrepreneurial family farmers who built it all themselves. But you can tell the story of Harney County as a morality tale about the evils of big government only if you leave most of it out. And so they do."
Libertarianism Is Very Strange [More...]
"If libertarians would move real-world policy in their direction, then their premises about humans and human society should be at least remotely plausible; we are not playing SimCity here. Instead, libertarian premises arise from a worldview that was strange at its origin and is strange now, after the global triumph of liberalism."
Libertarianism’s Apocryphal Past [More...]
"Protectionist, nativist paleoconservatives of the Patrick Buchanan school might have reason to idealize the United States as it existed between 1865 and 1932. But libertarians who want to prove that a country based on libertarian ideology can exist in the real world cannot point to the United States at any period in its history from the Founding to the present."
Libertarians' reality problem: How an estrangement from history yields abject failure [More...]
"[L]ibertarianism cannot provide a coherent account of our capacity for choice. It presents freedom as its central concern, conceptually and normatively, but is indifferent to the conditions that nurture and sustain it. Actually, this is too weak. It is not just indifferent to these conditions: It is actively hostile to them. It cannot accept a constructive role for the social and the public; it conceives of them only as obstructions."
Little House On The Prairie (1 link)
Proto-libertarian author Rose Wilder Lane commits one of the basic hypocrisies of libertarianism. She declares "we never took anything from government" while conveniently forgetting the free land obtained from government dispossession of native Americans.
Mechanism, Not Policy: Creation Of The Second Invisible Hand
Libertarians and their right wing ilk read far too much into the Constitution. It was not meant to spell out many specifics: but rather to provide a mechanism for reigning in law.
Not an argument: The free market would have ended slavery [More...]
Stefan Molyneux's "The Truth About Slavery" is dismembered and ridiculed. "Even if you’re the Second Coming of Ayn Rand, you can’t deny that the profit motive was core to the entire enterprise of slavery."
Of Means and Ends: Liberals and Libertarians [More...]
Libertarians such as David Boaz claim that they are the true descendants of classical liberals. There have been many attempts to steal the word liberalism: libertarians are simply making another.
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (book) (1 link)
"We're often told that the United States is, was, and always has been a Christian nation. But in One Nation Under God, historian Kevin M. Kruse reveals that the belief that America is fundamentally and formally Christian originated in the 1930s." Spread by businessmen as corporate propaganda opposing The New Deal.
Paleolibertarianism (13 links)
A strategy of old-time racist conservatism combined with libertarian mummery and Historical Revisionism. Adherents include(d) Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, Charles Murray, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and now perhaps Donald Trump.
Predictions That Never Come True (9 links)
Medicare will cause the end of freedom! We're on the road to serfdom! The market will end discrimination! Regulation will bankrupt business! Libertarians are loaded with predictions and promises that will never come true, and ignore all the historical evidence they won't come true.
Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (book) (1 link)
From a review: "The myth that life outside the state is unbearable and that life under the state is better remains the essential premise of two of the most influential Western political philosophies in the modern world … [Widerquist and McCall] systematically debunk this founding myth on the basis of empirical evidence. The results are fascinating and, I will argue, should prompt a methodological crisis for some schools of political philosophy."

-Maeve McKeown, University of Oxford

Reassessing the Presidency : The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom (book, online) (1 link)
A revisionist look through the lense of extreme libertarian ideology.
Robber Barons (3 links)
Libertarians, largely in service of deranged billionaires whether they know it or not, have attempted to revise the dismal history of the robber barons as a glorious history of entrepreneurship.
Standard Oil, Monopoly and Predatory Pricing (3 links)
For decades libertarians have relied on the egregious revisionist history of Standard Oil by John McGee of the Chicago School to declare predatory pricing and monopoly rare and impractical. This claim has been thoroughly refuted by legal and economic research, both empirical and theoretical. Now it is up to the courts to catch up with academia.
Tax Aversion and the Legacy of Slavery [More...]
"Instead of reflecting a heritage that valued liberty over all other concerns, they [antitax and antigovernment attitudes] are part of the poisonous legacy we have inherited from the slaveholders who forged much of our political tradition." A precis of Robin Einhorn's American Taxation, American Slavery.
The "Depression" of 1920–1921: The Libertarian Myth that Won’t Die [More...]
"Yes, there was a recession from 1920–1921, but its history and significance are badly misrepresented by libertarians and Austrian economists"
The "No True Libertarianism" fallacy [More...] (1 link)
This is a variation of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, used to dismiss inconvenient examples. Libertarians cannot explain why there has never been a libertarian society, and find excuses to explain that existing small governments are not "true libertarianism". The real reason is that libertarianism, like communism, is contrary to human nature.
The 1% solution [More...]
Matt Steinglass chastizes Will Wilkinson: "[...] trying to describe the history of the past 30 years, with its great growth in inequality and increasing influence of money on politics, as one of increasingly progressive ideology leading to growing government intervention in the economy seems to me impossibly far-fetched."
The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (book, online) (1 link)
Explains the socially constructed nature of "free markets", as opposed to "spontaneous order". A major work of economic history.
The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation (book)
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.
The Iron Fist Behind The Invisible Hand [More...]
Corporate Capitalism As a State-Guaranteed System of Privilege. An excellent history of the government and capitalist driven appropriation which resulted in capitalism. Makes the point that capitalism is theft, if not slavery. Libertarians ignore this history.
The legend of the free labour market [More...]
"The myth that there was a time before The Fall, when the state didn’t meddle in the affairs of free men, is persistent, especially on the libertarian right. When it comes to labour law, though, it is just that, a myth... The pre-20th century labour market was not without its red tape, it’s just that the red tape was used to bind the servants, not the masters."
The Liberal Idea [More...]
Stephen Holmes sketches out a set of claims that are broadly characteristic of liberal political thought since the time of the classical liberals until now.
The Myth of the Barter Economy [More...]
"Adam Smith said that quid-pro-quo exchange systems preceded economies based on currency, but there’s no evidence that he was right."
The New Deal (24 links)
Libertarians cannot explain the successes of FDR's New Deal. Hence, they engage in ridiculous denialism about how effective it was and attempt to undo New Deal progress. They greatly fear revisiting and extending the New Deal as FDR envisioned.
The Noble Task of Revisionism [More...]
Murray Rothbard proclaims the necessity of libertarian revisionist history, because all other history is the "lies and deception of the State and its Court Intellectuals". He wants us to switch to HIS propaganda.
The Prehistory of Private Property (book project, near completion) [More...]
"The normative principles of appropriation and transfer much more easily support common or collective claims to property... The hunter-gatherer band economy is more consistent with negative freedom than any other form of socio-political organization known to anthropology... Inequality is not natural nor inevitable nor in conflict with freedom. Contemporary egalitarian theory can benefit from the experience of small-scale societies that successfully maintain very high levels of political, social, and economic equality." Links to the written chapters are available.
The US is a republic, not a democracy. (2 links)
This libertarian/conservative meme is an equivocation fallacy, intended to disrupt statements by their opposition. It is indisputable that the US is a republic. It is also indisputable that the US is a nation with democratic elections, making it a type of democracy.
The Voluntarism Fantasy [More...]
Libertarian stories of 19th century voluntary charity ignore the historical facts of how horribly insufficient that system was and how much it was supplemented by state and federal aid. The Great Depression destroyed most voluntary charity, and brought about progressive social insurance programs.
The White Ignorance of Milton Friedman [More...]
Milton Friedman's flawed, ahistorical excuses for libertarian revisionist history about slavery, discrimination, racism and other sins of capitalism. Still repeated endlessly by libertarians today.
The “Common Law Property” Myth in the Libertarian Critique of IP Rights (Part 1) [More...]
"It’s a complete myth for libertarians to argue that IP rights are “different” from property rights in land because property rights in land developed in “common law” as opposed to “statutory” IP rights."
The “Common Law Property” Myth in the Libertarian Critique of IP Rights (Part 2) [More...]
"[T]his is not just a historical myth about the source of property rights in land, which were created by both statutes and court decisions, but it’s also an historical myth about IP rights, which are also created by both statutes and court decisions."
Tom the Dancing Bug: They were... Socialist Invaders from the Future! [More...]
The mainstream socialist plans of 2019 look weak compared to the reality of the 1950s.
What Libertarians Get Wrong About American History [More...]
Libertarian Sheldon Richman bemoans mischaracterization of American history as libertarian. "American history is not an essentially libertarian story."
When Firefighters Were Actually Violent Gang Members [More...]
"From the mid-18th to the mid-19th century, American cities tended to rely on volunteer groups or groups hired by insurance companies. Both methods turned out to provide exactly the wrong sort of motivation for serious firefighting."
Who /Really/ Invented the Internet? [More...]
David Warsh smacks down libertarian denial that government launched the Internet.
Why Do Libertarians Believe In the Conquering State? [More...]
"[Franz] Oppenheimer, still accepted as gospel by many twentieth and twenty-first century libertarians for his supposed grounding of libertarian conceptions of the State in the historical record, instead gave us a limited and incomplete account of the origins of caste rather than of the State."
Why Do Philosophers Talk so Much and Read so Little About the Stone Age? False factual claims in appropriation-based property theory [More...]
The libertarian argument for private property relies on dubious factual claims about how property develops, how well off people are in pre-property-rights societies, and how much freer people are under capitalism than in pre-property-rights societies.


Those who forget history are doomed to become anarcho-capitalists.
Lurgi (pseudonym), "Anything private enterprise can do, government should be able to do too."
It's interesting how libertarians believe that racism can get enough public support to win a local election, but somehow not enough to maintain a local restaurant.
LRonPaul2012 (pseudonym), in comments of "Capitalism defeats racism. Government maintains it."
Right. If your slave gets sick, then it's in your financial self-interest to hire a doctor to protect your investment. But if your wage employee gets sick, you can leave him to die and hire someone else. Apparently libertarians oppose slavery because it was too humane.
LRonPaul2012 (pseudonym), in comments of "Capitalism defeats racism. Government maintains it."
Walter Block once called Ostrom’s Governing the Commons “an evil book,” because it undermined belief in private property rights — “the last, best hope for humanity.”
Kevin Carson, "Capitalist Nursery Fables: The Tragedy of Private Property, and the Farce of Its Defense"
Now, there’s a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse. So it’s important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts.
Paul Krugman, "Franklin Delano Obama?"
Jim Crow laws were not the primary cause of segregation in the South. In many places few laws, if any, explicitly restricted blacks from entry into desirable social positions, from purchasing property in white neighborhoods, from entering private schools and colleges, or from using hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and other private businesses frequented by whites. Still, these events rarely occurred due to tacit (often explicit) agreement among whites. Because of privately imposed restrictive covenants, discriminatory business practices, and blacks' abject economic status, there was little need for laws imposing segregation and discrimination. It could be left up to the invisible hand.
Samuel Freeman, "Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View" pg. 135
The true liberal tradition is represented not by Locke, but by John Stuart Mill, whose wholehearted commitment to political freedom was consistent with his eventual adoption of socialism (admittedly in a rather refined and abstract form). Mill wasn’t perfect, as is evidenced by his support of British imperialism, for which he worked as an official of the East India Company, and more generally by his support for limitations on democratic majorities. But Mill’s version of liberalism became more democratic as experience showed that fears about dictatorial majorities were unfounded.
John Quiggin, "John Locke Against Freedom"
Both historical and contemporary research suggests that Thoreau was wrong; the government that governs least does not govern best, whether the criterion is promoting the general welfare or promoting individual liberty.
Claude Fischer, "Libertarianism Is Very Strange"
[W]e might describe a liberal as a libertarian who has been mugged by history. Libertarians, on this view, are liberals who cannot, or will not, accept the changes in American life that have occurred since the Civil War. In the face of all available evidence to the contrary, they continue to insist that an 18th century state is the only proper response to our 21st century economy and society.
Kim Messick, "Libertarians' reality problem: How an estrangement from history yields abject failure"
[...] why holding up the Gilded Age as a libertarian utopia is wrong-headed. It’s not because the liberty was inequitably distributed. As roger was saying in the previous thread, it’s because America in the 1880s was not characterised by liberty, it was characterised by state capture. Having the government in their pockets gave the robber barons the “freedom” to adulterate meat and pollute rivers, but just as much the “freedom” to send Pinkerton thugs – or Federal troops – to break heads when they didn’t get what they wanted. The heads, presumably, of people who had the freedom to get their heads broken. As always, what minarchists imagine is a system lacking state intervention is rather a system of state intervention on behalf of a privileged class. Or perhaps minarchists realise that but have no problem with it, as they only tend to object when the state intervenes to protect the other fellow.
Weaver (pseudonym), "More Libertarianism Thread (Crooked Timber) comment 23."
[The Native Americans] didn't have any rights to the land and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using.... What was it they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their "right" to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves above it. Any white person who brought the element of civilization had the right to take over this continent.
Ayn Rand, "Q and A session following her Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, March 6, 1974"
[W]e have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
George Orwell, "Review of Power: A New Social Analysis by Bertrand Russell"
No one ever considers the Carnegie libraries steeped in the blood of the Homestead Steel workers, but they are. We do not remember that the Rockefeller Foundation is founded on the dead miners of the Colorado Fuel Company and a dozen other performances. We worship Mammon....
Senator Harry Truman, speech to senate, December 20, 1937.