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Biddle on the Land of Liberty


In a somewhat typical discussion, Craig Biddle of The Objectivist Standard tells us what to celebrate on the Fourth of July. He begins with the usual invocation of the Introduction and Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, praises it, and then writes:

Although slavery persisted for several decades after the founding, this aberration was ultimately recognized as incompatible with the basic principle of America and thus eradicated. Between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century, America came close to being a fully rights-respecting society. Men were essentially free to live their own lives, by their own judgment, for their own sake. This was the Land of Liberty. And this is what we should work to achieve again.

Biddle is describing a historical period that includes the military occupation of the South by Union forces (as well as its collapse), the rise of Jim Crow as well as the founding of the Ku Klux Klan (along with the rise of lynching as a practice), the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, the Indian Wars (the subjugation of the Ute, the Sioux, the Nez Perce and others), and the Chinese Exclusion Acts. Between 1865 and 1900, women were “essentially” the wards of the men to whom they belonged, and the Spanish-American War turned the US, officially, into an imperialist nation. The same historical period also gave us the slow death of the decent version of the Republican Party, the rise of a hyper-statist version of the Democratic Party, the appropriation by the federal government of huge tracts of land in the West (e.g., Yosemite) under the influence of environmentalist ideology, the rise of monopolistic crony capitalism (and widespread labor unrest), and all of the statist expedients for dealing with crony capitalism and labor unrest, e.g., the Sherman Antitrust Act (to name just one). To describe this time as “what we should work to achieve again,” we have to abstract from all of this, focusing (I suppose) on those parts of the population left untouched by it.


And some parts undoubtedly were. Great things did happen in the U.S. between 1865 and 1900; I’m not denying that.  We are all, today, beneficiaries of Edison, Westinghouse, Ford, Hill, Carnegie, et. al., and owe them more in gratitude than we can repay. But Objectivists need a historiography that takes seriously the metaphysical-epistemological insight that “human” is an open-ended concept that subsumes all of its referents, not just the white male industrialists or inventors among them. Until we do, we’ll be content to traffic in hagiography and mythology rather than reality, romanticizing our past by ignoring what doesn’t fit the picture, and using the word “essentially” as a dodge for the fact that the picture is fundamentally (and perpetually) out of focus. One wonders how long the necessary change in attitude will take. In any case,  Biddle’s post is the symptom of a problem that needs solution. We need a Declaration of Independence from the attitudes it expresses, and its replacement by something better. I don’t mind pledging my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor to that. I don’t think Carrie-Ann minds our pledging the IOS blog to it, either.




  1. The sign about the “Chinese question” is too subtle for me. What opinion are they hoping to hear expressed?

  2. “Shall we have Chinese?” sounds a bit like a culinary inquiry.

  3. irfankhawaja says:

    Glad you found the sign over-subtle. My other choice for an image was going to be a photo of a lynching, but I decided against it because the photo was dated after 1900.


  4. irfankhawaja says:

    Right. But with this crowd, I wouldn’t be assuaged by their saying “No Chinese tonight–let us have Thai instead!” Sounds like a culinary inquiry all right, but then, cannibalism is a form of cuisine, too.


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