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Historians, the State and Liberty

  • History of Liberty Seminar 2001

Etiquetas Historial MundialTeoría Política

03/01/2004Robert Higgs

The opinion that is dished out in textbooks every year by academic historians is ideologically mostly left-liberalism or left-radicalism. The effect of this is to bias what is written, especially with recent events. The historians see class conflicts as driving forces.

They also see anything that is pro labor or against business as reform. Capitalism itself is seen as an unmitigated evil and all free markets are bad. Individualism is a code word for primitive people.  

A few progressive episodes from our history included the fact that Colonists were not permitted to manufacture hats or iron products under the British mercantile system. Navigation Acts restricted commerce when they could be enforced.

Historians have looked at these activities with a cost-benefit view. They usually find neither great benefit nor great cost from colonies remaining part of the British system. Liberty was not considered. Desiring self-government didn’t enter their minds.

Historian Charles Beard’s 1913 interpretation of the making of the Constitution was not challenged until the 50’s and 60’s. Anti-Federalists were overlooked. Their fear of political centralization was not noted.

Hamilton got an excise tax passed on whiskey. Whiskey was a medium of exchange and a major source of calories. The Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania was to show that the government was serious about collecting taxes. Washington was seen as a military nincompoop. He was also a notorious land grabber, almost single-handedly starting the French and Indian War. He betrayed private trust for his private gain.

Land policy became the central government action in US History. It was land policy that led to the War of Secession. It was not a moral question over slavery. Lincoln intended to guarantee slavery. Historians do not recognize the Constitutional shift that took place because of that war. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments put an end to thoughts of secession.

Progressivism is the most important event other than the Civil War in our history. It was a bridge to modern times. They intended to make government more active and powerful. They opposed classical liberals. They were going to set people free --- by force.

From the 2001 History of Liberty seminar.


Robert Higgs

Dr. Robert Higgs is retired and lives in Mexico. He was a senior fellow in political economy for the Independent Institute and longtime editor of The Independent Review; he was also a senior fellow of the Mises Institute. He is the 2007 recipient of the Gary G. Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Cause of Liberty, and the 2015 Murray N. Rothbard Medal of Freedom.

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