Carl Watner on Libertarianism and Slavery (1979): Remember When Libertarians Argued for Reparations?

In 1979, Carl Watner, one of the founders of The Voluntaryist, wrote an excellent article entitled The Radical Libertarian Tradition in Antislavery Thought for the Journal of Libertarian Studies. Watner surveys individualist-anarchists, from which modern american libertarianism is partially descended from, such as Lysander Spooner to make a case that the libertarian anti-slavery tradition included the following: (1) immediate abolition of the institution of slavery, (2) support for armed insurrection by slaves, more specifically those modeled after John Brown’s 1859 uprising, and (3) the immediate transfer of plantation property to slaves based on the homesteading principles, also known as reparations. Below are some excerpts from the article:

absol 1

absol 2

Watner ends the article by claiming the all true libertarians should follow these examples and always support abolition.absol 3

Take note that the definition of libertarian has changed radically over time within the American context. It is only until very recently that it became synonymous with Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Luwig Von Mises. Watner’s influence on the modern Libertarian Party was minimal due to Rothbard’s policy of isolating voluntarists from the larger libertarian community. Their call for non-violent revolution clashed with the official strategy of the LP, which favored electoral politics.

Even if Watner is completely wrong about the relationship between modern right-libertarianism and mid-1800s individualist anarchism, the fact remains that Watner was supportive of radical abolitionism, including reparations, at that moment in 1979 and that opinion was published in the premier right-libertarian periodical of it’s day. This alone demonstrates how the term “libertarian” is in fact very fluid.

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