This entire piece by Tom Woods is well worth reading, but I want to concentrate on the excellent point he makes in the first couple paragraphs. Tom writes:
“It took a lot of courage to oppose slavery in, say, 1855. It takes zero courage to oppose it today. This is one reason I am convinced that those who are most ostentatious in their aversion to slavery in 2013 are the least likely to have opposed it at the time. Their excessive eagerness to disassociate themselves from perceived “extremism” would not have served them well in the 1850s, when abolitionism, which had zero electoral success, was the most notorious extremism of the day.
Who in 2013 ever found himself dismissed from his post, or held up to scorn, for opposing slavery?”
This really cannot be stressed enough, but I’d like to extend it to issues far beyond the most commonly cited examples, such as opposing slavery, or being against Hitler.
Today, it seems as if the vast majority of wannabe political activists desire to have it both ways. On the one hand, they want to portray themselves as the heroic reincarnation of abolitionists and civil rights demonstrators, working tirelessly at great personal risk in order to advance an unpopular, but morally correct agenda. On the other hand, they want to convince you that their views are perfectly mainstream, and only opposed by crazy and/or dangerous “extremists.”
As Woods correctly points out, by any reasonable definition, the abolitionists were extremists. Civil rights demonstrators in the south in the 1950s were extremists. Their views were very unpopular and they were regularly met with violence, both from private citizens, and from government agents. In the 1830s, many southern states passed laws making it illegal to even discuss emancipation, under the premise that doing so might incite slave rebellions. Presumably, any publicly known abolitionist in the south was in direct violation and contempt of state law.
Let’s talk for a moment about one of the most famous early American abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison. Arguably the most famous abolitionist of his day, Garrison founded an anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, in the 1830s. He argued for the immediate and unconditional emancipation of all slaves, a wildly “radical” and extremely unpopular position at the time. He also favored granting blacks enjoy full societal equality (including the legalization of interracial marriage), a position that wouldn’t become “mainstream” until well after his death.
The “mainstream” of American society wasn’t just opposed to Garrison’s point of view; they were violently opposed to it. On one occasion, he was tied up and dragged through the public streets by a mob fully intent on killing him, eventually being rescued by the police and lodged in jail overnight (because that was the only place where his safety could be guaranteed). Where did this astounding and embarrassing event take place? Not Alabama, not Georgia, not South Carolina. It happened in Boston. Wikipedia provides more information:
Garrison’s outspoken anti-slavery views repeatedly put him in danger. Besides his imprisonment in Baltimore, the government of the State of Georgia offered a reward of $5,000 for his arrest, and he was the object of vituperation and frequent death threats. On the eve of the Civil War, a sermon preached in a Universalist chapel in Brooklyn, New York, denounced “the blood thirsty sentiments of Garrison and his school; and did not wonder that the feeling of the South was exasperated, taking as they did, the insane and bloody ravings of the Garrisonian traitors for the fairly expressed opinions of the North.”
Garrison knew his views were unpopular, and that expressing them put him at great personal risk. He intentionally embraced the mantle of “extremist” in an attempt to wake the American public up to exactly what their society supported. He countered arguments that slavery was protected by the constitution by burning a copy of the constitution in public. He even went as far as to advocate secession… of New England, under the premise that it was morally unjust to be in a political union with slaveowners. Think that’s extreme? Oh, he was just getting started. Perhaps you’ve heard that many southerners defended slavery on religious grounds, stating that it was provided for in the Bible? Guess how Garrison reacted to that. He proclaimed that if the Bible was pro-slavery, then it was to be rejected entirely, that it had no moral authority and should therefore be ignored.
Enough of the history lesson, let’s come back to today. Given what we just discussed about Garrison, my question is: Who do you think are the “extremists” of today? Who, in our current day, might possibly be compared to a man with such radical and unpopular positions? Those who support gay marriage (now favored by 50% of the country, and overwhelmingly favored in certain areas)? Those who support abortion on demand (44% oppose a ban on abortion after 20 weeks)? Please. These very same people, who attempt to draw parallels between themselves and the civil rights advocates of the past, also insist that opponents of gay marriage and abortion are dangerous extremists. But, at the risk of repeating myself, let me say it again: the civil rights advocates of the past were “dangerous extremists.” I must have missed the time in San Francisco when the gay pride parade was interrupted by attack dogs and fire hoses, and all of the organizers were rounded up and thrown into prison.
So, who are today’s “extremists?” What sort of positions do you have to hold today in order to be socially castigated, targeted by the government, and regularly exposed to threats of physical violence?
How about Adam Kokesh? Police SWAT teams broke down Adam’s door, threw a flash-bang grenade in the house, and entered with automatic weapons drawn and pointed at everyone present. Why? Because he posted a video of himself loading a shotgun in the nation’s capital. He did not assault anybody, threaten any individual, or cause any conceivable harm to any person whatsoever. Instead, he knowingly, publicly, violated a law he perceived to be unjust. And now he is in jail. Does that sound familiar to anyone?
Sorry, but if you hold political positions that are supported by more than 10% of the American population, you have absolutely no business comparing yourself to abolitionists, or civil rights leaders. You are not some crusader for justice, bravely and selflessly raging against the political machine. You are a part of the political machine. It is those individuals whose opinions are dismissed entirely, those whose views are not permitted on Fox News or MSNBC, those who regularly stand up and argue for individual freedom in all cases, those who reject the authority of government entirely, who are the real crusaders. They put themselves at great personal risk to advocate something they truly believe in, with little hope of any measurable success occurring in their lifetime. The very least we could do is recognize it, and give them a little “street cred” in exchange for the assaults, arrests, and constant attacks in the media they receive, while fighting for the right of every individual to be free.
(Note: If you went to public school, this information about abolitionism and Garrison may surprise you, as you’ve likely never heard it before. Although I cite Wikipedia, I first heard of this man and his story at Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom, of which I am a member, and which I highly recommend to anybody searching for the untold stories of American history.)