Blogs > Liberty and Power > Historians Against the War (For Progressives Only, Libertarians Not Welcome)

Jan 5, 2010 11:42 pm

Historians Against the War (For Progressives Only, Libertarians Not Welcome)


In 2003, Historians Against the War (HAW) seemed a promising opportunity to bring together antiwar historians of all political persuasions. And, in fact, many libertarian historians joined with liberals, socialists and others on the left to oppose the war. Such an ecumenical political organization had rarely appeared in American history since the demise of the American Anti-Imperialist League in the early twentieth century. Because of its openness, HAW received praise from such free market blogs as the Beacon of the Independent Institute,, Scott Horton's The Stress Blog, Blog, and Liberty and Power at the History News Network.

Seven years later, however, HAW has become essentially a left-wing social club with virtually no political effectiveness. The shift to the new HAW began in March when the leadership purged from the Hawblog yours truly and Thaddeus Russell, a historian of the left who has libertarian sympathies and is critical of the moral universalism and imperialism of the progressive tradition. The major complaints against us were that we were devoting too much space to pushing a"libertarian agenda" (others did not hesitate to blog on progressive proposals that had nothing to do with foreign policy),"bashing Obama" and his foreign policy, and criticizing the HAW leadership for its silence on the new administration.

The blog purge was only a prelude. Soon after it took place, HAW scuttled its generally welcoming and ecumenical original statement of purpose in favor of a leftist critique of"global capitalism" that seemed almost calculated to spurn potential libertarian or conservative recruits.

The latest example is this advertisement for an upcoming HAW panel. It takes for granted that HAW members and"progressive historians" are one and the same. It shows no effort to include libertarian and conservative anti-war historians, left historians critical of"progressivism," or even to acknowledge the existence of non-progressives.

Worse yet, as Thad Russell pointed out, HAW's use of this label in this way also identifies the organization with the most aggressive imperialists in American history including the two main founders of American progressivism, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The advertisement asks "what can progressive historians & historically minded activists do to positively influence political events?" The implication, of course, is that libertarian and conservative anti-war historians are not qualified to"do” anything about Obama’s Wars. They are to be ignored.

Thad Russell comments:

As a member since the earliest days of the organization (I signed on shortly after the Iraq invasion), I ask -- and am on the verge of very publicly demanding -- that the HAW steering committee clarify whether the organization is limited to"progressive" historians (as the AHA flyer as well as many other statements made by the steering committee strongly suggest) or just historians who are AGAINST THE WARS. If the former, I will resign immediately since I refuse to identify myself with Wilson, the Roosevelts, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and the"progressive" tradition that is responsible for the largest imperialist wars in U.S. history.

How about a panel discussion on that?

I would also like to note that, via the HAW blog, David Beito and I raised the issue of Obama's warmaking and the HAW's silence on it from the first days of the administration but were banned from the blog for doing so. Please see our posts on the blog archive, beginning here.

And do let us know whether you agree with the steering committee's decision to ban us from the blog.

In solidarity against the wars, Thad Russell

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

David K. Meller - 1/9/2010

In earlier periods, when there simply was too small a libertarian,or even a libertarian/paleoconservative cadre to support and grow a peace movement, an argument for working more closely with avowed leftists, even during a time when the government was dominated by their own--e.g. LBJ and the Vietnam war--may have had good reason. This is no longer the case!

I think that now, leftists are trying to tell us something.

They are merely interested in using popular opposition to a flawed foreign and defence policy to advance a badly defective, even tyrannical agenda of their own. Their main disagreement with overseas meddling was (and is) that it was being done by the wrong party, and benefiting the wrong lobbies and constituencies. A viciously inperialistic foreign policy and a blatantly corrupt "military-industrial" complex is something that progressives can easily live with, if they control most of the booty!

Libertarians, on the other hand, are interested in fundamental reform. To the extent that we support a government foreign policy at all, we believe in "America first". We support policies which lead to, in the words of our Founders, "peace and friendly commerce with all nations of the world, entangling alliances with none". Far too many progressives, especially under a Democrat Presidency (and Congress), join enthusiastically with neocons in pursuing the exact opposite!

Collaboration with such people must lead to unsatisfactory results whether we support free market capitalism or not.

Libertarians do support free-market capitalism, NOT the neomercantalism, crony capitalism, and kleptocracy which the progressives so assiduously attack (when they are not dominating it), and this is what provides the root of most of our most rigorous critique of government, especially foreign and 'defence' policy. This offers a far better alternative to American taxpayers, but to leftist academicians and media folk, on the other hand, it leaves them with empty pockets!

Let us ask a final question. What reforms have the liberals given Americans in the past half century or longer? Has the Federal police state been contained in ways that would be acceptable to the ACLU? Have USA, and United Nations, efforts at so-called "nation building" been outstandingly successful. Let's look at large parts of Africa, the Middle East, or Latin America, and you find that to ask the question is to answer it. Has American military spending been contained, even under Democrat Presidencies, or do we still have by far the highest rate of "defence" spending on Earth? If the left has been so unsuccessful, even when it had the means to implement helpful change, what good would we do them, or they us?

We have a great opportunity to reach out to people who see the defects of both the "progressive" left, and the neocon right. As demonstrated by the superb performance of Ron Paul's Campaign4Liberty, the spectacular internet success of such URLs as,, and and bestsellers like End the Fed by Ron Paul and Meltdown by Tom Woods, we are the future! they, their self-satisfied "progressive" label notwithstanding, are the past.

David K. Meller

David T. Beito - 1/8/2010

Though the emails were widely distributed within HAW, you had a good point and I deleted the last post. Your other points were not convincing, however. The March emails pratically shouted from the rooftops, ideological discrimination and double standard.

As you yourself point out, we were banned from posting new threads because of the content of our posts. That ban, despite our offers of compromise, since March has continued No matter how anyone spins it, there is no escaping those facts.

Please also note that Thad was ALSO banned. Why? Ironically, though we are banned, the Hawblog continues to asks for volunteers to join as members of a blog (we are the two exceptions). Moreover, with a few exceptions (such as your posts) the blog has degenerated into a litany of often poorly formatted annoucements with not even a hint of debate and dialogue between the members. As you indicate, if our critics had treated the blog as a place for dialogue, debate, and learning it could have been a great experience for everyone involved, including the readers.

Maarja Krusten - 1/8/2010

I agree that publishing emails exchanged privately without obtaining permission from those involved is a breach of Netiquette. When I worked for the U.S. National Archives, it was our job to screen carefully non-public correspondence received and sent in the White House to see what was statutorily releasable and what was not. Since it was my job to work with President Nixon's tapes and written files, I was accustomed to the idea that he or his representatives could look at what we federal employees proposed to open and to claim privilege, if they so wished. Coming from such an environment, I'm always surprised when people post the content of email at will, although I recognize that there, unlike in our governmental duties, it is just a matter of Netiquette.

Keeping this brief as I'm using my Smartphone -- good luck to you all in trying to resolve the various disputes. Sounds as if it will be tough to do.

Mark Hatlie - 1/8/2010

- We wanted to keep the story about the statement at the top of the blog's front page where people would see it and let people comment in the discussion. We did not want the blog's main page dominated by a series of attacks on the statement. We made that clear and were ignored.

- We allowed criticism and allowed anyone who wanted to comment for or against the statement various channels through which to do so. People could comment directly. Also, we published on the blog EVERYTHING we were sent about the statement unless the author requested us not to. Your accusations in the e-mail above that we were trying to suppress discussion and not have all voices heard are false. We wanted to control the format so as to make the statement itself accessable and visible. Anyone could debate the statement and many people did. We even bowed to your demands to give your particular, personal criticism pride of place. Remember? I highlighted it in red ( We've been over this before.

- Indeed, looking back on what happened, I am surprised to be reminded that you had several chances. You were apparently not immediately banned, but only after repeated non-cooperation.

- I disagree with Marc Becker's label of "hijacking" the blog if it applies to the months-long series of posts by you and Thad. We could have been posting other stuff as well and the resulting balance would have been great. Our bad. We had other priorities and let you do the blogging. But: I don't think that is what Marc means. The term "hijacking" is in the context of, and refers directly to, your interference with our efforts to have a fair discussion of the April statement. It remains unexplained why you were only prevented from further posting at that point, and not earlier, if ideology was the issue.

- Indeed, if the banning were about your blogs like the Paul Harvey story, you would have been "banned" weeks, perhaps months earlier. Marc Becker may not have liked them, but he did not delete them or interfere with them.

- Publishing someone else's e-mails is ethically questionable.

Maarja Krusten - 1/8/2010

Thanks for the response. I had read all the comments, including yours, and most of the links, before I posted. I used the term ban loosely as my focus was on the book about building high-trust organizations and reducing fear. I should have taken the time to state that in my posting, as it may not have been clear. My recommendation of Driving Fear Out of the Workplace applies whether an electronic community is struggling with outright bans, with how to handle posting privileges, with how to maintain balance when there are dominant voices, and in how to keep the trust of a loosely organized community when people have somewhat differing goals and objectives.

As most people have, I’ve participated and continue to participate in various electronic communities with web 1.0 and web 2.0 structures. I’ve been part of the dominant group which is surprised and blindsided when others gripe that they are being shut out when it felt to us as if we were being very inclusive. I’ve also been on the other side, one of the people who shares off-line messages with other participants who grumble about how they are being shut out and discouraged from posting because of the behavior of the dominant group. Having been on both sides -- part of the perceived problem and part of the group wishing for better skillsets among those who were hindering free flowing debate – I’ve found books such as the one by Ryan and Oestreich very useful. It discusses conditions that many of us in the managerial class have on our radar screens.

That is not to say all issues surrounding miscommunication and fear can be resolved. Sometimes people deliberately build airtight bubbles around others in an effort to seize control of a situation and to ensure outcomes to their liking. Or discourage input while saying they want to hear all options. You certainly see that in studying Presidents. And we’ve all worked with people who proclaim that their doors “always are open” but who by their behavior effectively shut those doors in the faces of those from whom they most need to hear. Ryan and Oestreich do a good job in explaining how negative assumptions, observed aggressive behavior and self-protective behavior create cycles of mistrust. They offer good counsel on how to break such cycles. One good way to gauge whether an organization is engaging in high-trust or high-fear behavior is to suss out how many people are shaking their heads over problems quietly in the hallway rather than speaking up in the meeting room at the table. Ryan and Oestreich refer to the things that “everybody knows” but no one addresses out in the open as “undiscussables.” Self-aware managers become aware of their role in this; those who aren't often remain clueless. The challenge is to bring them out into the open so they can be discussed at the table.

Mark Hatlie - 1/8/2010

Please read my post above "It isn't that simple" before you assume that this inaccurate (by omission and misrepresentation) blog entry reflects "tired ideological prejudices."

I am dismayed by the willingness of people to form strong opinions on this matter without further research or reflection.

Mark Hatlie - 1/8/2010

Please read other accounts of what happened before you assume anyone was banned from the blog because of his ideology. My post above "It isn't that simple" will provide some insight and links.

John Davenport - 1/7/2010

HAW should retire the tired ideological prejudices of yesteryear. Libertarian, conservative, socialist, vegetarian, whatever, anyone who is against the ill-fated wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan is okay in my book. Let all voices be heard; and Lord hope they be the voices of reason.

Maarja Krusten - 1/7/2010

I take no position on the goals of the organization but the question of including or banning people from a blog interests me in an age of electronic collaboration (wikis, crowd sourcing, etc.) This is something that needs to be considered very carefully before establishing a site where people can congregate and post. There are ways to avoid some of the problems. Many chief executives (including Presidens) struggle with the question of how to limit or expand the advice they receive. Management experts such as Kathleen D. Ryan and Daniel K. Oestreich describe in books such as Driving Fear Out of the Workplace what they call High Trust and High Fear workplaces. It’s very difficult in the latter to bring to the table what Ryan and Oestreich call “undiscussables.” In order to have open discussion, they recommend that those in charge create a “reward the messenger” rather than a “shoot the messenger” environment. It also helps to have honest brokers, which is why the chief of staff position in a White House is so important.

If you read Barton Gellman’s book about Dick Cheney (Angler), you see vivid descriptions of what happens when information flow and communications are hampered. Gellman describes the famous hospital room confrontation between Attorney General Ashcroft and then White House officials Alberto Gonzalez and Andrew Card: “Ashcroft told the president's men he never should have certified the program in the first place.
‘You drew the circle so tight I couldn't get the advice that I needed,’ Ashcroft said, according to Comey. He knew things now, the attorney general said, that he should have been told before.”

The consequences of banning people from a blog for historians or other professionals are not nearly as consequential as tightening information flow around a President and his top advisors. As Gellman wrote of Bush, “At the White House on Thursday morning, the president moved in a bubble so tight that hardly any air was getting in.” That’s not unusual. My experiences in listening to Richard Nixon’s tapes certainly included some instances where the President grumbled about people who offered advice he did not want to hear. Tthe Presidents we study and critique are just as human as we are.

Ryan and Oestreich believe that high trust organizations are characterized by people “serving as a reality check on each other” and “providing feedback for one another, on strengths as well as areas that need improvement.” They believe that you find in high trust organizational cultures a “willingness and ability to work through conflicts and disagreements” and “straightforward communication.” Just as in the White House, it’s up to each organization to establish its own culture. How it resolves conflicts can make the difference between ending up with a “high trust” or “high fear” environment. This need not be a hit or miss situation, to be resolved intuitively or on the fly as problems occur, there is plenty of good advice from communications and management experts which can help, if people are willing to consider what they say.

David T. Beito - 1/6/2010

that's "stated reasons did not include."

David T. Beito - 1/6/2010

"This entry reached me via the HAW Facebook group. There was (and is) no censorship or exclusion."

Are you claiming that we were not banned as members of the blog in March and that the stated reasons for the ban included our criticism of the SC and "rants" against Obama? If not, what are you saying?

David R Applebaum - 1/6/2010

This entry reached me via the HAW Facebook group. There was (and is) no censorship or exclusion.

Perhaps the "provocation" will generate increased activity on our facebook page.

Decisions regarding the blog - in general and in terms of those "aggrieved" were not "reactive" or targeted.

Similarly, changes in the HAW mission and vision had nothing whatsoever to do with the views expressed or embraced by Beito or Russell.

Mark Hatlie - 1/5/2010

I posted this response over at the HAWblog as well in case anyone is inclined to comment where more HAW members are likely to see it:

Mark Hatlie - 1/5/2010

Some points:

- I am a member of the HAW steering committee and yet somehow I am not opposed to libertarians.

- The "many" libertarians who joined HAW are apparently not numerous enough to vote anyone onto the SC. I would encourage libertarians to run for leadership positions and steer the organization in a direction they want. Elections are this month. There are twenty leadership seats to be had. If anyone thinks we're a "left-wing social club," then mobilize! That would be more effective than un-libertarian portrayals of discrimination and one's own victimhood.

- There are numerous "libertarian" posts on the blog. They went on for months and outnumber anything "progressive" on the blog. If ideology were the reason for stopping the two libertarians from posting, then that is indeed a mysterious anomaly. It is interesting that David's article here does not include our main complaint against him in his list of "main complaints against us." It goes unmentioned - not even to deny it or refute it. Read versions of what happened from both sides in the comments to posts at the HAWblog made in March of 2009, especially at The whole blog issue was very unfortunate and I don't think either side played its cards right in the dispute that flared up last spring. The HAWblog is now admittedly rather stagnant. But it simply isn't the case that the HAW leadership suddenly moved to banish libertarianism and conduct a purge.

- The "blogroll" at the HAWblog has links to several libertarian or libertarian-friendly sources. They were put there on the initiative of David Beito. That is all the more evidence that participation is possible. If someone like David Beito were on the steering committee, even more would happen.

- The word "progressive" in the subtitle on a poster announcing a panel is not a core statement of ideology. Furthermore, the word progressive is followed by the phrase "and historically minded activists." Pouncing on this one word - an ambiguous word - and on a particular blog post is rather odd. It gives the impression that some people need HAW to be a left-wing whipping boy.

- A close reading of the new statement (and as historians, that is how we read documents) shows that it is not a "leftist critique of global capitalism." It expresses hope that the "crisis of global capitalism" - an undeniable fact in the spring of 2008 - not lead to more war and be paid for by the little guy. It does not advocate statist solutions (nor market solutions for that matter). Indeed, the call to not solve the crisis on the backs of the little guy seems very compatible with libertarianism to me. Ron Paul would not favor bailing out the fat cats or seizing resources abroad or some form of Keynesian military spending.

- Membership in HAW does not require signing on to a neo-Marxist agenda. It does not even require total agreement with the new statement - only "substantial agreement." During steering committee votes on the statement, I abstained because of the ambiguous "capitalism" clause. Nonetheless, I can get on board with the general theme. I know of at least one other HAW member who had strong objections to a particular clause (a different one) and yet signed anyway.

If people want to break with HAW because they do not feel it represents them, that is okay. We can go after militarism from different angles. The black-square bishop and the white-square bishop never meet, but can cooperate in checkmate. I think a case can be made that HAW is more "ecumenical" than portrayed in this article, however.

David T. Beito - 1/5/2010

You have me cold on that one.

Jeff Riggenbach - 1/5/2010

"One in the same"?


Aeon J. Skoble - 1/5/2010

But I did in fact predict this. One more time: the left, the so-called "progressives" do not like libertarian/classical-liberal types, including (or maybe especially) market-anarchists. They were happy to have your support during a Republican administration, but now they want you to DIAF. No surprise at all.