Happy Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving, which is soon to be known as Black Friday Eve. But as long as we still have Thanksgiving some people are probably interested in the holiday’s history. A couple of years ago I wrote a post detailing that Thanksgiving was really brought on by a failure of socialism. This year I’m going to present an alternative viewpoint courtesy of Kevin Carson, a mutualist whom I greatly respect. According to Mr. Carson there is one key element many libertarians have ignored when using Thanksgiving to rail against socialism. Namely, the Pilgrims were victims of statism and its beloved tool incorporation:

The Plymouth story is sometimes compared to that of agriculture in the last days of the Soviet Union, where most of the food consumed came from private family plots — essentially kitchen gardens with some small livestock thrown in. Had the entire Soviet population been forced to subsist on the output of State and collective farms alone, the result would have been mass starvation — exactly like in Plymouth. This parallel is entirely accurate. What the received version of the Plymouth story leaves out, however, is that the role of the “collective farm” in the little drama is played not by the naive Puritan zealots seeking to “hold all things in common” but by a private corporation chartered by the English crown.

And as Curl describes it, the system of private plots adopted after the rebellion against the Merchant Adventurers wasn’t much like modern fee simple ideas of “private property,” either. It sounds more like the open-field system the settlers had experienced in Nottinghamshire: The family plots were ad hoc, to be periodically redivided, and not subject to inheritance.

So the proper analog to what almost killed off the Pilgrims is not, as Stossel says, “Karl Marx” or “today’s [presumably left-wing] politicians and opinion-makers.” It’s the lord of an English manor — or a Fortune 500 corporation. But the story as it actually happened is still a testament to the evils of statism and the benefits of voluntary cooperation. The Merchant Adventurers, like the Fortune 500 companies of today, was a chartered corporation that depended entirely on benefits and legal privileges conferred by the state. The living arrangements it attempted to impose on the Plymouth settlers were the same as the extractive arrangements that prevailed on an English manor, enforced by the legal privileges the state conferred on the landed nobility. And the new system the Pilgrims replaced them with were the age-old open field system that peasant villages had spontaneously created for themselves, in the absence of coercive interference, since neolithic times.

Anyways it’s something to think about while you’re scarfing down Turkey. Now you’ll have to excuse me. I plan on gorging myself and doing nothing productive for the remainder of the day.