Some years ago , I read a book written by a libertarian which promoted itself, falsely, as being a book about the “real” Abraham Lincoln when it was nothing of the kind. At the time, I was content to give the book a well-earned thrashing and not consider it worth much more of my time and attention. Indeed, the attention I had given by reading and reviewing the book had been more than the book deserved on its own nonexistent merits. It was therefore somewhat to my surprise that I saw the author cited as a great historian in another book I recently read , and where the author spent a lot of time whining about how he was not accepted in a supposed ‘cult of Lincoln’ because of his supposed heresy in having written what amounted to a libelous hack job on him. If Lincoln had been alive and we were in a nation with libel laws like the United Kingdom, it is almost certain that DiLorenzo would have been taken to the cleaners for libel, which is a great deal more serious in the here and now to any heresy to a civil religion.
Nevertheless, the thought did come to my mind as I was irritated at the writer that perhaps there were some people who did not realize the opportunity costs of rhetorical strategies. DiLorenzo chose as his strategy an intellectual dishonest and extremely forceful condemnation of a man nearly universally thought of as a great president, if not a perfect man by any means. He thought, perhaps correctly, that by positioning himself in opposition to Lincoln’s record as a strong nationalist that he could gain some support from fellow libertarians who dislike the way that Lincoln’s presidency made America a far stronger nation than it had been originally. A great deal of my own dislike of the book was not so much in the author’s libertarian position itself but rather the way that he hypocritically condemned Lincoln for actions taken against civil liberties while not criticizing the Confederates for the same actions. It was the double standard taken, not the author’s misguided perspective, that was of most offense.
I have noticed this particular double standard to be a common one among those taken by those in sympathy with Von Mises . There is, in general, a combination of neo-Confederate perspectives of the Civil War that whitewash the South of having taken socialist positions like the income tax or draft in the Civil War, deny the cause of the Civil War was slavery, attack the Sabbath law and the biblical focus on freedom from debt and slavery. One wonders if it was not simply that Lincoln was a strong president that crushed rebellion that offends DiLorenzo so much. Rather, it was the fact that Lincoln served as a shepherd of a sort, seeking to use government power to deal with those who were rebellious above and tyrannical below. One sees, in other words, in DiLorenzo’s desire for libertarianism a covert desire to oppress others and support the oppression of others without a third party interfering with it. In that sense, liberty is not desired so much to be free of oppression, but rather to be free to oppress, and that is where contemporary libertarianism draws so much opposition from others. It is not that people desire to be slaves but that they trust some authorities more or less than others, and do not trust their own strength to remain free without help from another place.
Yet, be that as it may, the choice made by DiLorenzo to attack Lincoln so harshly cut off other options, namely among those who respect Lincoln. There are some whose support of Lincoln is based on their opposition to rebellion and the threat of anarchy, others whose support is based on a belief in his stand as being a principled one, and others who want to exercise the power of government themselves. Of course, DiLorenzo does not want to hold that kind of power nor does he want anyone else to. He simply wants to be free to do what he wants to do without interference, and such a thing is not going to be found in any country that can do something about it. Perhaps he could find a libertarian paradise in Somalia or Sicily or some other area like that, but it is likely he would find it too violent, likely because he does not seem fond of others possessing the strength to resist, which is why he defends the slave society of the South, where a libertarian paradise was blended with a totalitarian state as far as the slaves were concerned.
What is it that makes DiLorenzo’s thoughts heretical? Well, if there is a cult when it comes to America’s civil religion, the neo-Confederate views he holds would be those who lost a ferocious civil religion, and he would be said to be someone who would want to go back to a particular time and place where his views were considered legitimate, before those holding such views had overplayed their hand. In many ways, the course of civic religion can be compared to ordinary religious beliefs which have quarrels over power as well as over what beliefs can be considered legitimate. If you want to get support for being different than anyone else, you have to accept that there will be others who may consider you outside the pale. Every attempt to mark oneself off as different from the crowd for the sake of being different means that one may step over lines and agreed upon boundaries to being considered as legitimate. If DiLorenzo is unhappy about that fate in his own academic career, he only has himself to blame for wanting to be different and accepted by everyone else at the same time. Sometimes we have to choose.
 Review forthcoming:
 See, for example: