I’ve spent significant time criticizing Thomas E. Woods (here and here), a conservative-libertarian author of several books and a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Woods will speak this evening at the University of Colorado and tomorrow in Colorado Springs. In response to several anonymous postings, I’ll extend my comments here.
Woods’s older articles — published by the racist and theocratic League of the South — condemned the abolitionists and the Declaration of Independence while praising the “social harmony and adherence to tradition that characterized the South.” These older writings are repugnant and wrong.
I hasten to point out that some that Woods’s newer ideas — the ones he still promotes — are also disturbing and wrong, though not grotesque as were his older writings.
As I pointed out, even Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, a libertarian favorite, writes for the Ludwig von Mises Institute in a review of Woods’s Politically Incorrect Guide to American History — a book published in 2004 that Woods actively promotes on his web page as of this morning– “Woods clearly wants to tender a neo-Confederate interpretation, in which slavery is shunted into the background as a motive for southern secession.”
As I reviewed yesterday, Woods’s essay on 9/11 puts him squarely in the “blame America first” camp (along with Ron Paul and many other libertarians) and further reveals his view that American policy should be rooted in theology. So, even discounting Woods’s writings for the League of the South, Woods clearly advocates states’ rights even when individual rights take a back seat, criticizes American support of legitimate allies such as Israel, and endorses faith-based politics over the separation of church and state. (To take another example of this last point, Woods calls abortion “intrinsically immoral” based on Catholic doctrine.) So even discounting all of Woods’s older writings, he has provided plenty of reasons to distrust his agenda.
I granted that Woods may have changed his mind about his older writings. I’ve also written some things in my younger days that I would not today endorse (though nothing so nasty as what Woods wrote.) The onus is on Woods to demonstrate that that he has repudiated his older writings. Yet, in a 2005 essay, Woods writes that, though he “had an intermittent membership in the League [of the South] over the years,” “I have nothing to apologize for.”
Really? Woods is not going to apologize for calling the Declaration of Independence a “polluted source,” for condemning its statement “that all men are created equal,” or for calling the abolitionists “reprehensible agitators?” Readers may peruse Woods’s 2005 essay and evaluate for themselves the extent that Woods’s views have changed.
I am not alone in questioning Woods’s commitment to liberty. In a review of Woods’s Politically Incorrect Guide, Cathy Young writes for Reason:
Much of the book’s first half is an apologia for the antebellum South and its cause in the War Between the States (Woods’ preferred term). …
[R]eaders will search The Politically Incorrect Guide in vain for any moral outrage at a brutal system that allowed some human beings to own others. The best Woods can do is suggest that without the war, slavery could have been phased out peacefully, a stance that is speculative at best. …
In a 1997 article titled “Christendom’s Last Stand,” [“Removed by request of the author” but available on archive] Woods proclaims the Confederacy’s defeat “the real watershed from which we can trace many of the destructive trends that continue to ravage our civilization today.” …
Woods complains when critics quote his older essays. But when I contacted him to ask if he now rejected any part of those writings, he replied, “I don’t so much object to their use of old quotations, much of which I’m sure I still stand by; I was simply taken aback at the lengths to which some have gone to avoid discussing my book.” Woods claimed his views had evolved in a more libertarian direction. But he still spoke sympathetically of the defenders of the Southern order, telling me that “certain strains of abolitionist argument, Southerners feared, could corrode all kinds of human relations” since they challenged the principles of authority and subordination. …
This book provides quick ammunition to those for whom “the abolitionists were the bad guys” and “FDR didn’t save the country from the Great Depression” are equally outlandish ideas.
In that last cited paragraph, Young gets to the heart of what’s wrong with Woods. By packaging free-market economics with theology-based neo-Confederatism, Woods discredits the free market. Thus, I must correct my previous statement that Woods “is as dangerous an enemy of liberty as any leftist.” Woods is the far more dangerous enemy.
This morning an anonymous poster (I assume it’s the same person, though I wonder why that person didn’t state his or her name), send in three comments within a two-minute span. I am happy to respond to those comments:
Here’s a thought: given that Woods’ article on abolitionism is no longer available online, such that you have to use a gimmick to find it, is it possible that he changed his mind over the past 15 years? Especially since he’s on record as saying that the slaves had the right to kill their masters and take their property? Why, apart from your hatred of reason, would you focus only on an article Woods obviously wanted taken down, rather than his easily available archive of articles that makes your interpretation of his work look ridiculous?
Reisman, Richman, and Schiff are all supporters of Woods.
Is it possible that Woods has changed his mind over the years? Why don’t you dig up his old articles praising the Persian Gulf War, too?
I’ve dealt adequately with the “change” in Woods’s views. It is hardly a “gimmick” to see what Woods actually wrote. I will ignore Anonymous’s ad hominem attacks. If Anonymous wishes to cite particular articles of Woods that make my “interpretation of his work look ridiculous,” Anonymous is free to do so. Otherwise I will treat Anonymous’s claim as just another ad hominem and baseless attack. Woods’s old articles “praising the Persian Gulf War” are not relevant to my criticisms of Woods. (If Anonymous thinks they are, Anonymous is free to cite some particular article and explain its relevance.)
The reference to Reisman, Richman, and Schiff pertains to this exchange (which I assume is with the same anonymous poster):
“There are plenty of other credible people explaining the economic crisis.”
Really… Name three…
John Allison, Yaron Brook, Richard Salsman, Peter Schiff, George Reisman, Sheldon Richman…
It occurred to me at the time that I was opening myself up for this criticism, but it’s not much of a criticism. Absent any citation from Anonymous, I don’t have much else to say about the matter. Do they endorse (or even know about) the views of Woods that I have criticized? Woods does not gain credibility by a favorable mention by somebody else; the person making the favorable mention loses credibility.
I have saved the important issue for last. Woods has written “that the slaves had the natural right to rise up and kill their masters and confiscate their property.” Does this excuse his defense of the pro-slavery South or his condemnation of the abolitionists? Hardly.
Woods claim is that slaves, who were horribly oppressed, physically beaten and restrained, and often forcibly prevented from gaining an education, had the “natural right to rise up.” No doubt. But all this position allows Woods to do is abstain from committing himself to governmental action to abolish slavery. How magnanimous of Woods, to grant slaves the “right” to “rise up” and be slaughtered! What is relevant in this discussion is not the rights of slaves to rise up, but the rights of slaves to enjoy protection by the government from the slave-holders. But those are precisely the rights that Woods with his neo-Confederate views fails to uphold.
One thought on “Woods ’05: ‘Nothing to Apologize For’”
Very interesting. I read Meltdown at the request of a friend, but I was unaware of Wood’s previous life. I found that Woods was very good at explaining certain economic ideas in ways that were both understandable and memorable.
People’s ideas often change as they grow older and experience reality unshielded by their parents. However, I think a man has a duty to publically repudiate that which he previously publically endorsed, but that he has determined was wrong.
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