I have recently had the pleasure of reading Thomas DiLorenzo's Lincoln Unmasked, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the time period. Prior to reading the book I had never really questioned my knowledge or understanding of the "Civil War" as it was pretty boring and clear-cut. Whether it is a product of our educational system or my own proclivity towards math and science I feel there are a great many events of historical significance which I do not quite understand. The civil war is no exception. As a child growing up in a northern state, the message I got was that the southern states seceded from the union because they wanted to keep their slaves (occasionally the phrase "state's rights" was thrown in without explanation). Finally the good guys prevailed and Lincoln freed the slaves. Throw in some carpet baggers, reconstruction (which I never followed too closely) and the dastardly assassination of the noble Lincoln, and that pretty much wraps things up. Sympathy with the confederate cause was never something I considered.
Now, I want to state right of front that slavery is unequivocally the most reprehensible institution ever to exist within our shores. The fact that it was inflicted with such prejudice upon a particular people makes it so much worse. However, to focus an inordinate attention to this singular issue while ignoring the political and economic forces driving the southern states to secede from the union is to do ourselves a great disservice. More importantly I think we must pause to question why Lincoln would react to these actions with military invasion.
I am not an expert on the history of the war between the states, so I am not going to open a debate here on the causes of that war or the character of the men who started it. I am simply going to tip my hat to the author for opening my eyes to a series of questions I had never considered. I will close by imploring the reader to recognize the anti-southern bigotry that surrounds us on a regular basis. Challenge your preconceptions and you can't help but make the world a better place.
The Protester: Capitalism is subjugation of those who have nothing to those who have everything. It is a never ending war between the workers and the bosses.
Capitalism is the consistent application of peace to every aspect of life. The result of this ideology is the material success that we see around us - the extended order that arises spontaneously when people are free to own property. This "economy" is the emergent property of the action of free people.
The Protester: But in free markets, the capitalists will rule the working class!
In a purely free society, a man's wealth is the product of helping his fellows by providing them with goods and services that they accept without coercion. His wealth is his power, and it is the product of his sweat, his genius and his benevolence to his fellows. He cannot conquer without convincing, and he cannot enslave without mutually agreed remuneration.
The Protester: But markets fail! We cannot allow the animal spirits to rule mankind.
Capitalism is not utopianism, and its consistent application will not provide everyone with increasing prosperity in perpetuity. Some will thrive while others fail, and prosperity will be guaranteed to noone in spite of good, honest, hard work. The economy is the emergent property of free people acting peacefully, and it is beyond foolish to try to steer it, stimulate it, regulate it or prop it up. It is simply wrong - intellectually and morally.
The Moderate: It's "crony-capitalism" that we are against!
Fair-enough, but what you are referring to is not capitalism. It is the power of the politician to regulate, to give and to take away that perverts the relationships of honest men. It is to the Senator's power that he owe's his flock of cronies. If you are against a social system in which government officials curry favor by dolling out "public" funds and "public" property, call it by its name - socialism. If you rail against politicians who support nationalistic economic policies by forcefully imposing their will, foreign and domestic, call them by their name - fascists. If you appose protectionist tariffs and quotas imparted upon us by the planners to prop up their pet industries, then stand against mercantilism. The only way to stop these evils is to cut off the power that feeds them.
Now, perhaps more than ever, capitalism is in need of a defense. As the 21st century beatniks "occupy" Wall Street, it is clear that the most active among us are not necessarily the most well informed. More disturbingly however, most Americans do not have a firm grasp of the position that they think they are supposed to hold - namely, that free markets function better and are more humane than the statist regimes of communism, socialism and fascism. It is the recognition of this fact, tempered by the moral sentiments of altruism, that drives the common American to hold in the highest regard our so-called mixed economy. This unseemly gargoyle, which we call the American system, is the bastard child of freedom and control - of enlightenment and despotism.
I am neither an economist nor a historian, nor am I running for public office. I am an engineer, living in a union of states who have lost their engine. You may be wondering what that engine is and why I have taken such a common title and turned it slightly on its edge. Perhaps it is a stretched metaphor and ill positioned poetic license by someone who knows no better. These are the things I wish to explain to you in our brief time together. The actions and policies of our governments are not strictly the purview of the formally trained, and with a little effort, every man, woman and child in every nook and cranny of the globe can learn to spot the foibles and fallacies those with the will to power inflict upon our world.