Reactions to “Politically Incorrect History”: ethnic commonalities and differences among the early colonists

Tom Woods un-PC history of America is very light reading and not a serious work of scholarship at all, but I think it provides a useful summary of paleoconservative and paleolibertarian viewpoints concerning our past. I think it’s interesting that it was so heavily promoted by mainstream conservative outlets when it came out a decade ago, since many of his claims contradict much of current conventional wisdom even on the Right, e.g. his sympathy for the Confederacy and antipathy toward FDR and our involvement in World War II.

Here is one initial reaction I had:

Woods makes the very interesting observation that mutual suspicion among the colonists, owing to sectarian divisions mainly, may have laid the groundwork for the Founders’ caution towards central government. However, he also alludes to the common WASP background of the colonists, without really explaining how that related to their differences or how much of the founders’ legal wisdom owes itself to this common cultural inheritance.

In a seeming dig at the progressive reading of the Founders, which holds that they abjured mixing religion and government and that the intention of the First Amendment was a complete separation of church and state at all levels of government, he notes that the Founders did not wish to interfere in the states’ established churches, wherever they still existed, and that they also took note of their common Christianity as an important cultural foundation. But did their Christianity inform their legal reasoning, in particular their design of the Constitution? And did it influence their thoughts on what kind of people could qualify for citizenship?

This is an important question because of the debate over immigration and naturalization: did the Founders see the federal government as having power over immigration, or was that power reserved to the states? What of naturalization? My own research informs me that the early naturalization acts limited citizenship to white men of good moral character. So, in order to maintain the cultural preconditions for a free society, do we need to severely limit who can enter our country, or do we need to give powers to the states to do so? Do we need to restrict the franchise? These are serious questions among paleoconservatives, though libertarians tend to eschew discussion of immigration restriction and so far in the book Woods has not touched the topic at all.

Of course, it’s very hard to bring up the subject outside of “alternative right” circles because of the severe stigma against racism and anything that smacks of it, a stigma that I myself share to an extent. But I think it should be possible to talk about, say, the cultural impact of immigration. If a free society requires a WASP majority, for example, then we might want to make sure that only or mostly WASPs immigrate or get the vote.

I don’t have a principled disagreement with the idea that political systems depend on cultural foundations. However, there’s always the question of who controls the development of the culture? Is that a power government should have? I would say from Woods’ reading of history, that was at least a power that the Founders allowed to the states, if not to the federal government.

As a libertarian, I generally abhor the idea of giving government the power to direct culture and demographics even in that way. Why can’t private citizens hire foreigners, say, or sell or rent them property or provide them with services by voluntary exchange? It seems that, if the people are not ready to welcome foreigners, there are plenty of ways that they can resist them and exclude them through the natural rights of freedom of association, without the need for state interference.

The demand for government to step in to “save the nation” from foreigners seems peculiar to a situation where ordinary people have been rendered powerless to exercise their freedom of association, including their right to discriminate without restriction in the provision of goods and services. It is also the product of a welfare state, whereby resources are forcibly taken from citizens to be redistributed to other citizens, but in practice are also given to non-citizens, even those who are not in the country legally.

Freedom of association, and restoration of powers to states and local communities to restrict immigration, should be enough to solve the economic and cultural problems of immigration. The issues concerning naturalization are another thing. If, say, you live in a society that is both libertarian and democratic, you ideally only want to give the franchise to libertarian-minded people in order to preserve limited government. But again, what is the proper way to control who gets the franchise? Democracy is inherently risky, since people may change their minds. You can guess what kind of people on average will vote for limited government, which is the basis for restricting immigration to WASPs or white people, but that is a crude measure, excluding many people who might be ideologically sympathetic and including many who might not be. Some of the most welfare-dependent parts of the country are majority WASP, such as in Appalachia.

It’s getting late and I’m too tired to continue the discussion, but if you’re reading this, thanks for bearing with me. I’ll try to return later with clearer and conciser thoughts on the topic.

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