Libertas: Identitarian Liberty

This is why I love doing historical research:

“But the vast majority in this slave society seems to have been compulsively unyielding only in regard to the exertion and maintenance of that love of liberty and personal independence and autonomy that were thought by contemporaries all over the British-American world to be the defining characteristics of free British men and therefore absolutely essential to the credibility of all claims to a British identity …”

Specifically, I want to probe how this love of “liberty,” which had previously been an ethnic marker associated with British identity came to be, you know, perverted into this abstract universal ideal that Thomas Jefferson associated with the 18th century Enlightenment.

There was an older tradition of “liberty” in the Virginia Tidewater which wasn’t universal. Certainly, the African slaves who were being imported to work on the plantations weren’t thought to be entitled to “liberty” in the sense we understand it today. It only makes sense when you realize the lack of liberty of the slaves made the “liberty” of the master caste more meaningful.

As we saw in 2011, Virginia’s aristocracy had a different conception of “liberty”:

“Power in Tidewater had become hereditary. The leading families intermarried in both America and England, creating a close-linked cousinage that dominated Tidewater generally and Virginia in particular. The Virginia Royal Council served as that colony’s senate, supreme court, and executive cabinet, and it controlled the distribution of land. By 1724 every single council member was related by blood or marriage. Two generations later, on the eve of the American Revolution, every member was descended from a councilor who had served in 1660 …

One might ask how such a tyrannical society could have produced some of the greatest champions of republicanism, such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison. The answer is that Tidewater’s gentry embraced classical republicanism, meaning a republic modeled after those of ancient Greece and Rome. They emulated the learned, slaveholding elite of ancient Athens, basing their enlightened political philosophies around the ancient Latin concept of libertas, or liberty. This was a fundamentally different notion from the Germanic concept of Freiheit, or freedom, which informed the political thought of Yankeedom and the Midlands. Understanding the distinction is essential to comprehending the fundamental disagreements that still plague relations between Tidewater, the Deep South, and New Spain on one hand and Yankeedom and the Midlands on the other.

For the Norse, Anglo-Saxons, Dutch, and other Germanic tribes of Northern Europe, “freedom” was a birthright of free peoples, which they considered themselves to be. Individuals might have differences in status and wealth, but all were literally “born free.” All were equal before the law and had come into the world possessing “rights” that had to be mutually respected on threat of banishment. Tribes had the right to rule themselves through assemblies like Iceland’s Althingi, recognized as the world’s oldest parliament. Until the Norman invasion of 1066, the Anglo-Saxon tribes of England had ruled themselves in this manner. After the invasion, the lords of Normandy imposed manorial feudalism on England, but they never fully  did away with the “free” institutions of the Anglo-Saxons and (Gaelo-Norse) Scots, which survived in village councils, English common law, and the House of Commons. It was this tradition that the Puritans carried to Yankeedom.

The Greek and Roman political philosophy embraced by Tidewater gentry assumed the opposite: most humans were born into bondage. Liberty was something that was granted and was thus a privilege, not a right. Some people were permitted many liberties, others had very few, and many had none at all. The Roman Republic was one in which only a handful of people had the full privileges of speech (senators, magistrates), a minority had the right to vote on what their superiors had decided (citizens), and most people had no say at all (slaves). Liberties were valuable because most people did not have them and were thought meaningless without the presence of a hierarchy. For the Greeks and Romans there was no contradiction between republicanism and slavery, liberty and bondage. This was the political philosophy embraced and jealously guarded by Tidewater’s leaders, whose highborn families saw themselves as descendants not of the “common” Anglo-Saxons, but rather of their aristocratic Norman conquerers. It was a philosophical divide with racial overtones and one that would later drive America’s nations into all-out war with one another.

Tidewater’s leaders imposed libertas on their society in countless ways. They refereed to themselves as “heads” of their respective manors, dictating duties to their “hands” and other subservient appendages. Finding Jamestown and St. Mary’s City too crude, they built new government campuses in Williamburg and Annapolis from central plans inspired by Rome; Williamsburg featured a sumptuous formal “palace” for the governor (surrounded by Versailles-like formal gardens) and the elegant Capitol (not “state house”) decorated with a relief of Jupiter, the god whose temple stood at the center of Roman civic life. They named counties, cities, and colonies after their superiors: English royals (Prince George, Prince William, Princess Anne, Jamestown, Williamsburg, Annapolis, Georgetown, Virginia, Maryland) or high nobles (Albemarle, Baltimore, Beaufort, Calvert, Cecil, Cumberland, Caroline, Anne Arundel, Delaware). While they were passionate in defending their liberties, it would never have occurred to them that those liberties might be shared with their subjects. “I am an aristocrat,” Virginian John Randolph would explain decades after the American Revolution. “I love liberty; I hate equality.”

Jeffrey Tucker said the other day that the Alt-Right doesn’t believe in universals.

While it is true that our ancestors believed in “liberty,” they didn’t attach the same meaning to the term. Liberty was an ethnic marker, not an abstraction. It was thought to be something that made English Protestants different from, say, the Spanish Catholics whose Spanish Armada had been defeated. In Tidewater Virginia, “liberty” had come to mean something even more different than it meant in Britain or to the Scots-Irish. It meant “libertas” in the Greco-Roman sense.

I’m also reminded here of what David Brooks said about our Telos Crisis. Everything I have written over the past weekend has shown the absurdity of an “Exodus narrative” that could unite Americans. The Virginians that I have described today weren’t engaged in any “exodus.” They moved to the colonies to better their lives as Englishmen. Just look at all the places named after English royals including “Virginia” itself which was named in honor of Queen Elizabeth I. These were people who were self consciously trying to become more English and who admired and emulated the English country gentry.

13 Comments

  1. They called it Rights of Englishmen and English Liberties.

    Very un-universal.

      • For Northern partisans it means simply the right to own slaves. However, as we both know, it means a whole lot more than that. But then, those people can’t understand the Southern language and it’s many subtleties, or the real differences from their own.

    • Thomas Jefferson and James Madison did more to give the North the bullets to use later on Jefferson and Madison’s strange idea that Slaves could somehow be simultaneously people and property. You can be one or the other not both. In 1784 when Virginia ceded the Northwest Territory, New England was still basically Conservative. As Virginia led the Articles Congress, Jefferson steps forward with two ideas. One is to outlaw slavery in all the territory west of the Appalachians, which would have been problematic as Kentucky and Tennessee had already been organized with slavery and Mississippi and Alabama were de facto a part of Georgia. Okay that doesn’t work so Jefferson and his ilk decide to limit the antislavery provision solely to the Northwest Territory, even though about four and half million acres of what is now Ohio’s 28 million acres still belonged to Virginia, lands set aside for Virginia Military Veterans.

      The Northwest Ordinance forbids slavery above the Ohio. Now understand this, how can you take land which is still technically part of the Commonwealth of Virginia (Virginia didn’t cede her remaining Ohio land until 1852) and just circumvent the Commonwealth’s laws? Well the Jeffersonian’s did with the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787. To muddy the waters further, the 1787 Constitution refers to Africans as PERSONS.

      Fast forward to 1820. The idea that Slaves were PERSONS OF A SORT but Property too was carried forward. The admission of Missouri in the Louisiana Purchase lands comes up. Well Congress comes up with a genius idea, that slavery will be outlawed in all land above Missouri’s southern border, but allowed in Missouri, the famed Missouri Compromise and to make everyone happy, a Southern states admission will be balanced by a Northern one. Now in 1820 of the eventual 13 Confederate States only, Arkansas and Florida hadn’t been admitted yet. Texas would be annexed in 1845. Out of the entire Louisiana Purchase, the South gets 3 states.

      The legal confusion put forward first with the Declaration of Independence then repeated in the Constitution causes immense amounts of trouble, Then in 1850 another compromise is hammered out. California is admitted as free, but the worthless lands of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada Utah and part of Colorado are open for business. In later years these lands became something but in 1850 the internal combustion engine and large scale irrigation hadn’t been invented. So the South gets hosed again.

      A corrupt deal for the Chicago railroad begins the Civil War in 1854 in Kansas, which is also worthless land, because in 1854, the Russian Mennonites hadn’t come to the USA yet with their turkey red wheat and without irrigation, farming in Kansas was a good way to starve the further west one went. Finally in 1857 Judge Roger Taney decides Dred Scott that SLAVES were PROPERTY all along no different than a Horse, a Cow or a Wagon and that to deny someone their right to property is against the Common Law. This ruling is revolutionary as for the first time both Jefferson and Madison, brilliant legal minds that they had are reproved by Taney. Property cannot ever be a person. The problem Taney has is that is ruling cant be enforced PRE 14th Amendment the US Supreme Court had no legislative or enforcement power over the states, just over territories.

      The Lincoln-Douglas Debates over Dred Scott the next year actually show LINCOLN and DOUGLAS are BOTH WRONG. Lincoln holds to the original view of Thomas Jefferson in 1785 that the Federal Government could outlaw slavery in Federal Territory. Douglas holds that slavery can be decided by the will of the people. The correct answer is that you cannot under the Common Law deny any man his right to property, unless that man has been convicted of a crime or the property is seized to pay a debt. As slaves were finally designated property then to say one could Vote on whether someone is allowed to keep their property is foolishness, just as it is foolish to say Congress could go over everyones head and legislate it from on high.

      Thank you Thomas Jefferson and James Madison for almost getting us destroyed by the British Empire, siding with the Atheistic French, and screwing the South. Your open borders plan worked out Great Tommy. #epicfail

  2. Alexander Hamilton was a self-made man, and I’m not sure he noticed his acestry. But it is interesting Libertarians love Jefferson (who wanted repatriation – rejected coexistence), but hate Hamilton (who was one of the original Abolitionists, and I don’t know what he planned to do after emancipation).

    • Oh I don’t know about that. The most popular musical on Broadway is a story about Alexander Hamilton… Sung by a bunch of niggers. O Tempora, o Mores!

  3. Ha, good luck with these notions taking root with the present large population of pure proles. Most of our fellows view themselves as downtrodden under the heels of “The Rich” and are in fact pure Marxists. Which is why this Zeitgeist and all these Jewish ism movements have taken such root all over the land.

  4. Hunter I haven’t seen you report on the nationalist and alt-right elements clashing with the antifa yesterday at a Trump rally in California.

  5. dictating duties to their “hands”

    That’s why we say; “He’ll make a hand” or “He’s a good hand” at work. Or say mill hand.

  6. The Bottom Line is that concepts such as freedom and liberty (which are rather nebulous) can only apply to White male citizens. The ancient Athenians understood this, as did our own Founding Fathers.

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