Ironies Never Cease: Great Moments In Libertarian History

Why have I never posted about Yasha Levine over at The Exiled? They’re the ones that first broke this story about Koch luring Hayek to America with Social Security, and I make a point to put down my coffee when reading Yasha, to avoid expensive and embarrassing spit-takes.

Just a week ago he gave us this:

More Great Moments In Libertarian History: Ancient Sumerian Word For “Libertarian” Was “Deadbeat”, “Freeloader”

… If you go onto one of the Liberty Fund’s project websites, the Library for Economics & Liberty, you’ll find this ancient cuneiform symbol at the footer of the home page:

The Liberty Fund-backed website goes on to explain that the significance of the amagi symbol goes deeper than just the word “liberty.” It represents the first popular struggle against big government tyranny

Except it doesn’t (emphasis mine):

What the history-failures at Liberty Fund hilariously mistranslated was that the term “return to mother” is Sumerian-speak for “jubilee”–as in “debt forgiveness” or “freedom from debt.

Here’s how David Graeber explains it in his brilliant book Debt: The First 5,000 Years:

Sumerian word amargi, the first recorded word for “freedom” in any known human language, literally means “return to mother”—since this is what freed debt-peons were finally allowed to do.

If you haven’t read Graeber, run don’t walk. In the meantime, read Yasha (too much good copy to highlight; read it all):

So in other words, amagi’s not about “freedom” from government interference at all–it’s about welching on your debts and sending Sumerian deadbeats back home to mooch off mommy. “Moochers,” “deadbeats,” “debt welchers”–Now that sounds more like the true face of libertarianism!

Despite the misunderstanding—or maybe because of it—the amagi symbol has become all the rage with baggertarian youngins’ all across the USA, many of whom have been known to get their pasty white hides branded with “deadbeat 4-ever” tats en masse at Koch-sponsored Free State campouts.

So does this make them moocher-bashing moochers? Or maybe closet-freeloader freeloaderphobes?

We’d like to thank Koch operative Peter Eyre for taking the time to maintain an up-to-date bagtard tat page, which includes a big collection of Sumerian deadbeat tats, as well as a nice range of other freemarket groupie ink. Eyre’s got himself branded a “deadbeat” in 2007, back before it was considered cool:

Cross-posted at Asymptosis.

  1. Nathan
    February 14th, 2012 at 07:15 | #1

    As I understand the “social contract,” it is essentially a debt to society. I’m not sure how freedom from often illegitimate debts that were used to justify the enslavement of people is the opposite of modern libertarian principles. But obviously the author has tried really hard, and I don’t want to detract from their peer signaling exercise.

  2. February 14th, 2012 at 07:40 | #2

    @Nathan

    Modern libertarians would certainly agree with you: much of today’s debt it illegitimate enslavement, and the government should dictate a jubilee, canceling millions of private contracts.

  1. February 1st, 2012 at 04:11 | #1