What Memorial Day Should be for Libertarians
Ask any “regular” joe United-Statesian and he’ll tell you that Memorial Day (Monday, May 28, 2012) is a holiday. He likes to relax, have a barbeque and perhaps spend time with family. Once in awhile, one will remember that, according to Wikipedia, it is “a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.”
In our current role of dissidents, we libertarians are usually stuck in the criticism rut. The pro-slavery forces are so strong that we have to focus on the anti- position instead of putting forth a pro-. So our most common reaction to Memorial Day is to criticize war. We rip the phenomenon to shreds logically, point by point. We offer up military dissidents for admiration instead of military loyalists. Bradley Manning, Adam Kokesh and Matthis Chiroux come to mind. This is smart and admirable but I propose going a step beyond our usual anti- antics and into the pro- category.
But, first, let’s take a quick look at the history behind Memorial Day.
The modern Memorial Day got its start after the Civil War, according to historian David W. Blight, who writes:
This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the War had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.
And according to the Memorial Day Origin website,
Memorial days did not start in Petersburg, Virginia; Waterloo, New York; or any other city in the United States. Memorial days upon which the graves of the communities’ heroes were decorated with flowers and garlands are ancient customs originating in Greece 2,500 years ago.
I propose that on Memorial Day we libertarians remember our fallen libertarian heroes. Let’s proclaim to the world that we are free and safe and we don’t need wars to keep us that way. But let us not fall into the Great Man Trap. That is, let us not think that our fallen heroes are infallible prophets of the universe who pass the liberty gospel down from on high. Let’s remember that we all have a piece of the truth in us. We all have the spark of greatness. We each have something to add. So let’s also honor the greatness and heroism within ourselves that can only fully come out when liberty and peace reign.
Who are your fallen libertarian heroes? Which one makes you feel freest? These ones come to mind for me. What about you?
- Mohandas Gandhi: He freed hundreds of millions from a foreign empire without taking political office or using violence.
- Karl Hess: He gave up a highbrow life in DC to actually live a kind of local, green libertarianism. He was a conscientious objector to taxation and, for a time, lived a life of great poverty as a result.
- Henry David Thoreau: The original civil disobedient, Thoreau inspires not only with his words but also with his actions.
- Lysander Spooner: Spooner was a leading voice in the movement to abolish slavery in the United States. He also wrote a conclusive refutation of the idea that the US constitution is binding on anyone alive today. And he challenged the US Post Office’s monopoly by starting a mail delivery business!
- William Lloyd Garrison: Garrison was a leading abolitionist (of slavery). He was noted for his oratory. What I most like is that he didn’t stop with just the nominal freedom of the slaves but set as his goal the emancipation of all human beings.
- Étienne de La Boétie: In his book “The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude” [PDF], he asks why people are so obedient to the tyrant. This is must-read for anyone interested in liberty.
- Ayn Rand: The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged grabbed my attention when I was in college. Her philosophical works served as my introduction to libertarianism. I owe her a great debt, even if I no longer consider myself an objectivist.
Please share your fallen libertarian heroes, why you memorialize them and any ideas you have on how we can expand our Memorial Day celebration.