David Blight writes:
“In “Self-Made Man,” a new book published by the Cato Institute, the lawyer Timothy Sandefur argues that Douglass’s essential legacy lies in his advocacy of liberty, individualism and private property and free enterprise. The radical abolitionist who risked all to use words and politics to free an entire people from slavery was, to Mr. Sandefur, only “a radical for individualism” and never concerned with “the interests of the collective.”
“To believe that, one has to ignore most of Douglass’s career, especially his life as an abolitionist, his ferocious attacks on the poison of racism and his brilliant analysis of how lynching emerged from the evils of white supremacy. Douglass believed that freedom was safe only within the state and under law.
“Douglass did preach self-reliance for his fellow blacks: He argued that the freed slaves should be given their rights, protected and then “let alone.” But he never employed that “let alone” dictum without also demanding “fair play,” and security against terror and discrimination. Conservatives have cherry-picked his words to advance their narrow visions of libertarianism.”