AHC: Create the most libertarian current America possible with an initial PoD between 1858 and 1899

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by KaiserWilhelm, Aug 19, 2019.

  1. KaiserWilhelm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2015
    I hope this doesn’t get considered politics, since what I’m asking for is that you create the most libertarian USA possible, not a commentary on the validity of libertarianism.

    The challenge is to create the most libertarian possible modern USA with the first PoD between 1858 and 1899 (thus putting this thread firmly in pre-1900 forum) and any number of fairly reasonable PoD’s from then on. By reasonable, I mean don’t make a PoD be some extreme libertarian presidential candidate win an election that he stood no chance of winning OTL unless the timeline has diverged to the point that the candidate is mainstream enough to win.

    I’ll do an abbreviated example: Salmon Chase, who was not a tariff man, wins the GOP nomination in 1860, and thus ensures that the GOP wouldn’t unify behind tariffs as per OTL. He wins the Civil War in a somewhat longer war, lasting into 1867, since he is not as good an administrator as Lincoln was. However, in this alt-Civil War, the losses in terms of human cost radicalize the North to be firmly in favor of an extreme Reconstruction that lasts nearly 30 years, ensuring black civil rights would be generally protected. However, the big divide in the party is over the issue of tariffs, and after the Democrats are discredited in the late 1860s, the party splits in two—the Liberal Republicans (who oppose tariffs) and the National Republicans (who favor tariffs). After a few election cycles of control of government switching back and forth, finally there is a major recession in 1889 brought on by the tariff policies of the National Republicans. The Liberal Republicans win the 1890 midterms in a landslide and win the election of 1892, after the discreditation of tariffs. The Liberal Republicans hold unmitigated power for 40 years, especially after they expanded the right to vote to women in 1907 until the election of 1932 when they were defeated by the extreme hawkish/imperialist New Democratic Party, which favored entry into the First Great War on the side of the Russo-Italian-German Alliance. Other than war and military spending, there was little variation in the policies of the LibReps and the NDP, whose victory in the First World War (1931-1936) kept them in power until 1948 when the LibReps won due to the fall of Japan to communism. The parties up to today have minor political differences, basically differing on the role of federalism vs nationalism in government. There
  2. M79 Well-Known Member

    Jan 8, 2007
    By 1880 the recovery of the South was somewhat underway when firearm ownership became a concern among southern Whites. Former slaves and poor whites alike intensified their desire to own guns, making Sam Colt's quote about equality only too real. What begins as a self-protection movement evolves into bands of thieves and robbers ranging across much of the rural US as the Army is out West fighting Native Americans. Throughout the country a very keep-it-local mentality evolves with often very well-armed citizens doing everyday business amongst other very well-armed citizens. Décor becomes paramount and communities begin relying on each other so much that racism begins to falter (but doesn't go away) in favor of regional biases. By 1923, there is still a central government, but states and local municipalities are where day-to-day power really lives. Europe learns a harsh lesson in 1948 with the rise of the Third French Empire as their navy assaults Miami and Jacksonville, thinking the failures of the US in the Spanish-American War (of 1912) ending in the humiliating occupation of Tampa, New Orleans, and Mobile would be repeated. Instead it brings the country together as never before, leaving bands of well-armed Americans encamped in different areas of the world for varying periods of time. By 2000 almost every child older than 6 can handle some sort of firearm and community loyalty is as strong as that of national loyalty, the government slowly edging off even the centralizations needed to function as a wartime power for a generation after the World War was over.
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  3. herkles Well-Known Member

    May 8, 2017
    I assume by libertarian you are not referring to libertarian socialism right?
  4. M79 Well-Known Member

    Jan 8, 2007
    Sounds like a paradigm shift without a clutch...
  5. KaiserWilhelm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2015
    Correct, libertarianism as espoused by the likes of Hayek and Friedman
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  6. Marc reformed polymath... Donor

    Sep 19, 2012
    The left coast...
    Shame, left-libertarianism is seriously under explored as an historical alternate. Hillel Steiner and Noam Chomsky are arguably heads and shoulders superior thinkers over Hayek and Friedman.
    Not to mention Proudhon in the historical time-frame you are suggesting.
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  7. KaiserWilhelm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2015
    This veers dangerously close to chat, but I personally don’t mind.
  8. Jackson Lennock Well-Known Member

    Dec 18, 2017
    What were the biggest not-libertarian things of the era?
    1. Tariffs
    2. Chinese Immigration Restriction
    3. Suppression of blacks

    If blacks don't have their political rights deprived from them, don't have their wealth destroyed routinely (Black Wall Street, etc), are able to be better educated (more access to public schooling), and maintain their second amendment rights, you change a lot of how 20th Century Politics goes. For 1/10th of the population, the Federal Government won't be the primary guarantor of rights and (FDR onwards) economic assistance. A lot of the country's notions of Federalism in the late 20th Century come from fights over civil rights, and that's dealt with 50-100 years sooner here.

    Pre-1900, fill the courts with more Lochner-ish Theorists who emphasize freedom of contract. Also couple that with notions of social progressivism. A bunch of cases involving freedom of contract were about minorities trying to resist policies that while de jure weren't targeted at them but de facto were. Or were about stuff like language banning schools that taught in languages other than english.

    Chinese Immigration Restrictions are pretty easily resolved by a stronger GOP, which could be a knock-on from Blacks retaining their political rights.
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  9. KaiserWilhelm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2015
    Okay, but how could tariffs be lowered significantly? That’s difficult
  10. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

    Feb 5, 2014
    The USA is, as always, fucked by the same thing that it always is: slavery. @Jackson Lennock points to some very clear not-libertarian factors, but the biggest not-libertarian trend was increasing government power-- and specifically ever-increasing federal (over)reach. That ball really got rolling with the Civil War, which was rooted in the premise that the union wasn't voluntary, i.e. that you couldn't exit it of your own accord and could be kept in against your choice. That's 100% unlibertarian. But if you avoid that, by arranging for a negotiated end to the secession crisis (one that results in a series amendements severely limiting federal power over the internal affairs of the states in order to appease the South), then you get stuck with slavery for many years to come-- which is also 100% unlibertarian.

    Personally, I think that it's almost impossible to create a really libertarian USA in the long term unless you go further back and nerf the federal government before it can grow beyond its initial confines. That is, you'd need to:

    -- get rid of the necessary and proper clause;
    -- change the interstate commerce clause to have it say "such commerce shall not be regulated by either Congress or the states";
    -- ensure the concept of 'eminent domain' is explicitly rejected;
    -- Constitutionally limit the height of the tarrif and make the introduction of any other Federal duties/levies/taxes outright impossible;
    -- also make various other economically protectionist measures (such as federal subsidies of any kind) completely impossible;
    -- enshrine freedom of contract to such an extent that the government can't ever do anything to regulate contractual terms (e.g. make labour laws of any kind);
    -- enshrine the state nullification doctrine;
    -- explicitly put the right to secede in the Constitution;
    -- put the doctrine of 'no foreign entanglements' in the Constitution, making the USA explicitly neutral in all wars unless attacked;
    -- formally ban any standing army, and reduce the navy to a souped-up coast guard;
    -- put the requirement to always have a full gold standard in the Constitution, and;
    -- include Jefferson's proposed articles forbidding both government deficits and public debt.

    That's all stuff that needs to happen during the founding-and-draming period. 1858 is much too late for most that. Yet those are the kind of changes you fundamentally need, because stuff like that makes it near-impossible for government to grow beyond its confines. Both because its means to do so are restricted and because even if it tries to get more powerful, states can just threaten to secede and thereby force the federals to desist. ...And even then, you still get stuck with slavery, and just have to hope that eventually it dies out like it did in the rest of the world. But if it does, the result is a USA where the government is constitutionally limited to a tiny size.

    Post-1858, most of the above is basically off the table. I think that if there's major backlash against government corruption at some point, you can get the amendments through to force a balanced budget and to at least severely limit the public debt. I think you could also get a gold standard amendment passed. And you can a political climate and have a judicial culture that causes a structurally lower tarrif, blocks anti-immigrant measures and emphasises freedom of contract. You could also get anti-imperialist measures passed, thus preventing US involvement in Cuba, the Philippines etc. ...But that's about it. And I suspect that this would only delay, and to some extent limit, the OTL development of exponential government growth. It won't prevent that development. To make that happen, you'd need to go further back.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2019
  11. Jackson Lennock Well-Known Member

    Dec 18, 2017

    The question is how much you emphasize rule of law and equity under the law with libertarianism.
    If a government is too small to protect your rights and is too small for people to have sufficient checks and balances to ensure dignity, there's a strong argument that a polity isn't libertarian. Without that kind of logic, you end up with the cooks who ended up supporting authoritarians and racists because "muh property rights". What many people call freedom or liberty is in effect just license.
    On the issue of the Civil War/Secession, libertarianism is supposed to be about individuals having freedom. If a polity, and one run by an unrepresentative and aristocratic minority at that, is seceding because it wants to continue to hold back and oppress large numbers of people, that's not really libertarian.
    The US today is in many ways more libertarian than it was in 1850. Blacks, Minorities in general (racial, religious, political, sexual, etc) and women either have more rights or have rights that are more strongly protected. Culture is less stifling/inhibiting. We have stronger free speech and due process protections. The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments made the US more libertarian by creating a check on state governments' and local/municipal governments' ability to assert authority over individuals. International trade is generally freer.

    Also, OP was asking about a Milton Friedman - Friedrich Hayek kind of Libertarianism, whereas (I think) you're conflating it with Paleolibertarianism. Friedman and Hayek were in favor of welfare provisions, environmental controls, liberal government, etc. Friedman was a monetarist rather than a gold standard backer and Hayek supported a broader basket of commodities rather than a gold standard.
  12. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

    Feb 5, 2014
    In the context of the era, I do think we're mostly looking at the people who oppose the growth of government. And considering the fact that governments (in a sense because, as you say, governments were less bound to protect rights) were often the biggest violator of liberties, this makes sense in a libertarian context. Ask libertarians (at least right-libertarians) about politics in the latter 19th century, and you'll most often find that, say, Grover Cleveland is their kind of guy. So small government, vetos everything he can, and sticks to the gold standard like his life depends on it.

    I know, and I recognise this. The issue is that the Civil War wasn't fought to free the slaves, but to prevent secession. And regardless of it boiling down to the individual in the final instance, most every libertarian I've ever heard of supports secession. (If only for the same reason that I do: namely that more states = more healthy competition and more diversity of systems = better for the individual.)

    In addition, again, the (right-)libertarian position is classically aligned with the Jeffersonian doctrine of limited government, and embraces nullification and secession as moral rights. So the reasoning (which I find convincing, incidentally) is: slavery is wrong, but preventing secession is also wrong-- and fighting evil with evil doesn't make you good. (My addendum to that is that a war to free the slaves while letting the secession go uncontested would be justified; not all libertarians agree with me on that one.)

    I think things are more libertarian on personal liberties, and have become more universal in how rights are conceived (e.g. not just for white men). When you look at how much is regulated, prohibited, collectivised and taxed... I don't think your position really holds up. Considering that slavery is a vast blemish on liberty, I think we can rule out the antebellum USA, so I'd say that the libertarians have a fairly decent argument when they say that the USA was at its most libertarian in Cleveland's first term. After that, we see a pretty steady line of government growing ever more vast. (As for personal liberties: consider the wholly unlibertarian war on drugs of today, compared to the utter legality of virtually all drugs back in the day. Are we really more "free" now? I have sincere doubts. I think we're more cared for, but in much the same way that a bird in a gilded cage is cared for. I suspect libertarians of all stripes would generally agree, although perhaps for different reasons.)

    Of course, when they said "liberal government", they meant classical liberalism-- meaning small government dedicated to free trade. The fact that Hayek and Friedman weren't gold standard men (although I note that both came around to it in their old age) means relatively little: the people ideologically close to their position in the relevant period were gold standard men. That goes back all the way to Jefferson ("Gold is money, paper is poverty-- it is only the ghost of money"). No matter what, the libertarian position is to prevent rampant inflationary measures, and the only easy way to do that (also the plausible way to do it in the period) it to just make the gold standard entirely unassailable.
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  13. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

    Dec 30, 2014
    How are we defining Libertarian? The most liberal societies in a sense, in terms of state power, were entities such as migratory tribes such as the varied Scythian warbands, who identified liberty as only that which one may protect himself, without state intrusions if you will. The US generally does not reach this level of conception of the state and of personal liberty. This would be the extreme if you will; that we know of historically in regards to liberty of defense and removal of the state in even the aspect of conflict resolution. Nullifying the state to only simply an organ of tribute collection, as it was in the steppe nomadic lands of Eurasia.

    In terms of equality/meritocracy, it would depend on what you mean. As I understand US law, it was not permitted for one to be reduced to literal chattel slavery on account of debts or other means such as being captured in some squabble or reduced to slavery after a failed oath/bet. There were many societies in the past that permitted this concept and protected strongly this happening. In Mesopotamia, it was established practice that even rich merchants could be made slaves if they lost their money in foolish endeavors. Further, even kings could be made into slaves or queens turned into prostitutes; it was a meritocracy that did not respect nobility in the same sense or even one's prior actions. We know of examples wherein king's taking new lands would reduce the former king and his family into slaves and sell them off as if they were cattle. This would be unthinkable to societies with a caste system and a system of nobility. Thus, a meritocracy or equality of status comes from more radical standpoints, wherein the state permits rapid descents and ascents in hierarchy, this is unlikely to develop in the US, which made white male property owners a class of nobility of sorts from its beginning.

    The above also notes that if one is to remove the state from property definition, at least generally, we have the effect that the state cannot define an illegality of slavery and in fact would guarantee it. In the Abbasid period and generally in Islamic law, the right of slavery is/was codified and legal from time immemorial. The scholars of the past described it as, slavery is wrong in the sense that the person is owned by man and is deprived of some things, however they recognized that to breach slavery is breaking the sacrosanct property rights of the owner, who took the person at a cost to himself. Thus, the only way to give manumission was compensation and even this was resented by the slave owners and merchants which made clear, that they outside of the state, have made costs and endeavors to their business and that it cannot simply nullify this, even with compensation.

    There too, was/is societies that personal taxes would have been unthinkable. In most of the medieval Islamic world, the idea of any sort of personal tax, was taboo and banned. Sales taxes and income taxes were completely forbidden and other sorts of taxes were levied only with regulation. The consensus was obvious, the means by which a good Muslim ruler acquires his wealth, is through loot and tribute, not through taxes. The US is unlikely to conceive of itself as this.

    So, in essence, the question would be, where do you wish to place the levels of liberty and weakness of the state? Or do you refer only to the modernized view of liberty as only pertaining to that freedom as derived from the state, which to more ancient people, would be seen as madness.
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  14. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

    Dec 30, 2014

    A query, why would the assertions of Thomas Jefferson nullify slavery as a political and moral evil? As I mentioned, there were some societies that defined liberty as the power one possesses within their hands, that being to take at their own costs and so forth. Is not nullifying this supposed liberty of the 'grasp' not an invasion of their liberty to a degree? Further, as described, many peoples saw property as only what one may defend themselves and collected themselves, if one lacks the defense, then it is not theirs if someone takes it. If the state takes the action of protector of property, is this not in a sense chartering out one's own liberties to outside influences and thus a loss of liberty? This is not a point of absurdity, many societies conceived of issues in this way and many still do in rural lands away from the large cities that characterize the US and Europe. Is Thomas Jefferson thus, not doing quite a double action? Mind you, one can find communal aid fro their squabble and protection through means outside of the state, as practiced by many societies... Communal militia, local councils, racket collecting organizations (who peddle in vendetta and other items) or simply the family as related to large communal households (not nuclear families, which atomizes the family into more controllable units).
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  15. Samm Well-Known Member

    Dec 5, 2010
    American Libertarians tend to favor what they call the watchman state. The idea is that the only function of the state is to protect life and property from hostile attack and enforce contracts. Libertarians tend to reject taxes regarding them as theft (as with Islamic societies). But they have no Dhimmi and would not support raiding so there is controversy over just how the state should raise money for its watchman function. Some argue that certain minimum taxes might be permitted. Others argue that the state would be funded entirely from the voluntary contributions of the wealthy who would do in order to provide a society suitable for their prosperity or that it might charge the wealthy for certain legal services.

    There are more extreme examples who restrict the state even from this role and believe individuals would be able to protect their own property and life (or purchase the services of those that can) thus supporting a system more like the Scythian one. David Friedman a prominent anti-state Libertarian of this kind argues that in a stateless society common people would purchase insurance like protection from companies. Contracts would be enforced by the damage to personal reputation and honour if one violated them (and in such a society, it is argued, personal reputation and honor would be completely necessary for anyone to make any form of significant contract with you and thus be absolutely essential to gain any sort of wealth or influence). He wrote a book on the idea called The Machinery of Freedom. I find it very unlikely that America could go this far. The idea of the state as upholding "the King's peace" has a very old tradition in English common law and similar ideas are common all throughout western Europe. As far as I can see only Iceland in western history has ever had a similar system. Friedman extensively discusses the Icelandic system as a model.

    Slavery is more complicated. Modern Libertarians tend to reject it although quite on what grounds differs. Obviously they reject the idea that one could be born into slavery but the idea that one could sell oneself into slavery or offer yourself as collateral for a loan is also generally rejected. A few would disagree with this. They would argue that all contracts are valid if voluntary and if someone makes a contract that enslaves him then that is his business and the state should not shield him from the consequences of his stupidity. But this is pretty rare. Advocating for any sort of slavery is rather unpopular in the modern west and most argue that ones ownership of oneself is fundamentally different from other forms of property and thus cannot be, even voluntarily, voided.

    Obviously, if there is no state then there is nothing to prevent an individual from forcing another into slavery if he is strong enough and others do not prevent him but anti-state Libertarians ten to argue that this would not happen since a state is necessary to enforce the obedience of slaves to Masters. At the very least they tend to argue that in a stateless society it would be fairly trivial for a slave to escape if he was unhappy with his position and that people who attempted to enslave others in such a society would quickly become isolated and maybe even attacked by a larger society that would view the idea with distaste or fear becoming the next victim. I tend to view this with skepticism as many societies with no state have managed to have at least some form of slavery. But I suspect they are correct that something like a slave plantation system such as of Southern Blacks or the Zanj in the middle east would probably need a larger state on hand to crush revolts.
  16. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

    Dec 30, 2014

    Scythians and other steppe nomads took large amounts of slaves as booty, but less so to then use as sources of labor, but as trophies of sorts. This standard was also common in Mesopotamia, where the capture of slaves is seen not necessarily in the vein of mass profit, but in terms of glorification of victorious armies and men who straddle the world as gods. For the Scythians and others, the slave was likened to gold and silver, notoriously beloved by the steppe peoples prior to the Turks, not as currency, but as symbols of power and victory. In a society without a state like Scythia, it made sense to reason one's worth in regards to the amount of loot one took and the extent to which one may protect this loot. Hence, at death, as shown in Scythian burial mounds, the loot would be buried with him, including slaves... Regardless, the slave rebellions were usually disrupted by local forces in the Islamic era and elsewhere.

    The slave revolt of the Zanj was precipitated not by mass slave communal action, but by the schemes of a small cadre/vanguard of Shi'a-Kharijite radicals who utilized the slaves as a means to an end. In other words, they lacked an army, but by selectively inspiring revolt and slaying masters themselves, they gained an army of large quantity of men and a civilian populace of women and children. Further, they received help from the varied Arab tribes who resented the Abbasid political situation. For the case of Spartacus, his revolt was succeeded partly due to his incredible skill as a man and the fact that Rome's acquisition of dangerous military men, led to many owners having slaves with whom they could not manage effectively. It should be mentioned mind you, that in the case of the Zanj revolt, the slave owners who rallied an army to put down the revolt, were defeated due to the peerless tactical genius of Ali ibn Muhammad al-Dibaj (Sahib al-Zanj, the Zanj rebellion leader), he was no ordinary man, clearly. If say the Scythians so chose to place their slaves in Ukraine to farm for them crops to then sell, most surely, if a slave rebellion was to erupt, the Scythians on their horses and with initiative, would be able to rout the slaves most surely. In most cases in the US south, it would be the same, as the state of Louisiana displayed, with even general disenfranchised white-slave revolts being decimated without large central reactions. Partly because they took into account the possibility of rebellion and prepared for this.

    With that said, you are correct, the level of liberty that I described in some areas, are unlikely to occur in a stable US.
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  17. KaiserWilhelm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2015
    The libertarianism I’m referring to is of the liberal variety, in which a few regulations are okay as long as the end is protection of liberty/basic human decency. Thus, a state seceding from the Union to own slaves is unlibertarian. Even if that definition of libertarianism is unclear, keep in mind especially @Skallagrim that I’m asking for the most libertarian society possible with those PoD, and forcing a state to stay in to prevent the spread of slavery is more libertarian than allowing slavery.
  18. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

    Dec 30, 2014
    So liberal, only in the most recent (the Western 'Enlightenment') for that time period, but not liberal in the broader sense of history. Got it. I am not particularly well versed in the topic; however, would you say that the weakness in determining liberty of using the state as a means to ensure certain liberties is somewhat detrimental to our challenge? You somewhat hamstring us, when you stipulate a very liberal state with little government power and then dictate that we must use said state to end slavery. The expansion of the state in any direction, creates avenues for its expansion elsewhere, as seen the abolition of slavery, amoral issue found its realization and fruition in the prohibition of alcohol, prostitution, drugs, etc... Further, some thinkers will argue, that in order for the state to safeguard liberty, there must be universal healthcare, universal basic income, redistribution of wealth through state mechanisms, ala Huey Longism of the 1920s and 1930s. In order to keep the state small and as liberal as possible without one that is ultimately not unlike the modern US, is to limit the ability of the state to act on important issues due to some sort of law or taboo against it.

    Anyway, I am not sure which place would be best to time this change in US custom and taboo, if not prior to the US Civil War. Perhaps avoiding the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, would be good points?
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  19. KaiserWilhelm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2015
    Can you explain the difference here? It seems that “liberal” is intrinsically an Enlightment concept
  20. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

    Dec 30, 2014
    No, it was used in many cultures prior. The first term that approximates to such, is during the times preceding the Akkadian empire in the region of Sumer. The Urukagina reforms, make mention of a phrase that is translated into English and Latin as Liberty/Libertas and referred to 'to return to mother (as in Ninhursang, the goddess). These reforms reasserted certain rights of the people against what was a state bureaucracy at the time that was seen as unduly oppressing the peoples. It also is the case that the notion of liberty in the sense of freedom from certain unjust laws and freedoms of property and so forth are truly ancient customs. Herodotus for instance, makes mention of the freedom/liberty of the Scythians in the face of the notion of a king or a government in their insults levied upon the Achaemenid empire and their general non-conformist mentality.
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