Rand Paul's Aide: A Dunce on the Confederacy

The most myopic libertarians and the damage they do to the movement

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This week, Alana Goodman, a reporter at the Washington Free Beacon, broke a story about Senator Rand Paul's 39-year-old social-media director, Jack Hunter, who "spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist" under the name "Southern Avenger." "He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln," Goodman reported. "During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag."

In a follow-up article, Goodman reported that "controversial radio-pundit-turned-Senate-aide Jack Hunter's work caught the eye of the Paul family years before he was hired as Sen. Rand Paul's (R., Ky.) social media director," and that "it remains unclear whether Rand Paul was familiar with Hunter's inflammatory radio punditry when he hired him." Interviewed by the Free Beacon, "Hunter renounced most of his comments," and his article archive at The American Conservative, which dates back to July 2008, suggests that his thinking changed prior to this controversy. I wish every neo-Confederate would read these lines in his April 1, 2013 column:

The 20-something me would consider the 30-something me a bleeding-heart liberal. Though I still hate political correctness, I no longer find it valuable to attack PC by charging off in the opposite direction, making insensitive remarks that even if right in fact were so wrong in form. I'm not the first political pundit to use excessive hyperbole. I might be one of the few to admit being embarrassed about it. This embarrassment is particularly true concerning my own region, the South, where slavery, segregation, and institutional racism left a heavy mark.

I still detest those on the left and right who exploit racial tension for their own purposes. But I detest even more the inhumanity suffered by African-Americans in our early and later history. T.S. Eliot said, "humankind cannot bear too much reality," and it is impossible for those of us living in the new millennium to comprehend that absolute horror of being treated like chattel by your fellow man, or being terrorized by your neighbors, because of the color of your skin. Books, memorials, and museums will never be able to adequately convey such tragedy, at least not in any manner remotely comparable to the pain of those who lived it.

A bit farther back in his archive at The American Conservative, however, he displays all the cluelessness of nostalgists for the Confederacy, writing, "My entire adult life I have defended the Old South and the Southern cause in America's bloodiest war. Not because I support slavery or racism, but despite it. The positive parallels between what the Confederacy was fighting for in 1861 and what the American colonists fought for in 1776 are many and obvious -- republican democracy, political and economic freedom, national independence, defense of one's homeland."

He has yet to renounce his secessionism.

In an effort to understand his views as fully as possible, I read all his columns from The American Conservative, bearing in mind Daniel McCarthy's claim that "anyone who reads them, while finding plenty to disagree with -- he's an independent thinker -- will not find hate. Naïveté, yes, and a certain obtuseness about minorities that's long been characteristic of the right."

That characterization is accurate. An April 14, 2011, column best captures the maddening way he thinks about secession:

If a liberal like Maddow's primary reason for denouncing nullification or secession is these concepts' popular association with the Old South and slavery, would Maddow have respected the Fugitive Slave Act -- or nullified it? Would the liberal host have agreed with Lincoln that runaway slaves should be returned to their masters? Would Maddow have opposed abolitionists' Northern secession? If she is opposed to nullification and secession in each and every instance -- as her rhetoric heavily implies -- would liberals like Maddow have occasionally found themselves in the strange position of supporting slavery?

What about today, where a de facto nullification remains in effect in California which continues to openly flout federal drug laws? Does Maddow believe residents in that state who are stricken with cancer or glaucoma deserve to be arrested for alleviating their pain with medicinal marijuana? Or does Maddow support nullification? Liberals do not want to be confronted with these uncomfortable philosophical contradictions concerning centralization vs. decentralization -- the debate that raged in 1776, 1861 and still rages today -- because any such intellectual exploration toward this end threatens the very heart of the Left's collectivist historical narrative. For progressives, the ever-increasing power of the federal government represents human liberation and political liberalization--period.

This has been the Left's clarion call from FDR to Barack Obama, and any talk of devolving centralized power -- even in the name of what would typically be considered liberal causes -- is heresy.

Hunter gets one thing right: Secession and nullification aren't inherently wrong. The judges who tried to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act were doing God's work. If the federal government started rounding up all Muslim Americans, and liberal California tried to secede and offer them safe harbor, I'd proudly fly the banner of the Bear Flag Republic. And I believe that state governments are the rightful deciders when it comes to issues like gay marriage, marijuana legalization, and assisted suicide. Want to nullify the War on Drugs by refusing to cooperate with federal efforts to prosecute marijuana? Go for it, Colorado! Cite the Tenth Amendment. I'll back you.

What the author fails to realize is that secession and nullification have bad names because, historically, in practice rather than theory, their use has overwhelmingly led to the subjugation of minorities and diminished liberty; and because, a few Vermonters aside, the maneuvers are almost always paired -- as Hunter pairs them! -- with a myopic Confederate nostalgia that poisons intellectual consideration of the concepts more than any central government-loving liberal. 

Centralization is often bad for liberty. Prohibition and the federal government's War on Drugs are examples. But the Union's victory in the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 14th Amendment, and the incorporation doctrine were huge advances for liberty that every American ought to celebrate. 

And the form of government favored by Jefferson Davis' Confederacy? I'd like to associate myself with almost every characterization of it made by the Cato Institute's Jason Kuznicki:

Whatever others may say on the subject, I can't understand how anyone might admire the Confederacy and also call themselves a libertarian. Any affinity for the Confederacy marks one very clearly as an enemy of liberty.*

The Confederate Constitution says all that needs to be said on the subject, and it answers all possible arguments to the contrary. Yes, the antebellum U.S. Constitution was clearly quite soft on slavery, and this is not at all to its credit. The best that can be said for it was that it was embarrassed about being quite soft on slavery -- amid all the other liberties it granted and all the other progress it made. Products of committees, do note, can be as schizophrenic as the committees that draft them. Our first attempt at a constitutional order was one such schizophrenic product, and in this respect, the antebellum U.S. Constitution was terrible.

But the Confederate Constitution was vastly worse. What it lacked in schizophrenia, it more than made up for in pure, unadulterated, wholly consistent evil. Consider the following passages:

No law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.

No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs, or to whom such service or labor may be due.

The Confederate States may acquire new territory... In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

It would be a sick joke to stop merely at calling these provisions unlibertarian -- as if all but the exceptionally punctilious members of my little tribe might maybe tolerate them after all.

These provisions are unlibertarian, but they are far worse than that. There is only one legal term that seems quite to do them justice. That term is hostis humani generis: The founders of Confederacy were the enemies of all mankind, as admiralty law holds slave-takers to be. War against slave-takers is always permitted, by anyone, without pretext or need for justification. The practice of slavery is to be crushed, so that mere humanity might live. Anyone who cares about human liberty -- to whatever degree -- ought to despise the Confederacy, ought to mock and desecrate its symbols, and ought never to let Confederate apologists pass unchallenged.

Want to go even deeper in the weeds? See Jonathan Blanks. "Because Confederate-secession defenders will not typically make arguments in favor of chattel slavery, they rely instead on the assumption that secession is an unbounded right and thus a state may leave a country for whatever reason it chooses," he writes. "To accept this premise, one has to bypass moral judgment on the cause of secession, yet affirmatively assign a morality to secession as a matter of preferred political procedure -- in common parlance as 'states' rights.' This turns the assumption of individual rights on its head, if the federalist procedure is to supersede the right of exit of any group or individual within that state, as the Confederacy's slave economy unquestionably did."

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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