A few years back Cato ran an article titled “Is Libertarianism a Sign of Mental Illness?” In it they poke fun at Harvard Law School for having a symposium questioning the “free market mindset.”  The premise of the conference was that people who believe in limited governments were psychologically troubled. Some people think that if society has to much freedom bad things will happen thus the need for the State.

When we look back at our history and recall the slave period, we find that a lot of people believed that the blacks were less then human and books were written to justify their ‘humane” treatment in ways today we would see as obviously barbarous. People didn’t like being slaves and took great risks to escape and capturing and returning escaped slaves was part of the function of the State. Dr. Samuel Cartwright was physician who practiced in the South during the antebellum period. He was puzzled that these slaves would want to escape after all the good things America had to offer them so he decided that wanting to be free must be some kind of mental disorder.  

Dr. Cartwright  was thought to be an expert on the “negro race” and wrote a book called “drapetomania or the disease causing Negroes to flee”  which theorized that if a slave tried to flee his master then that slave must be afflicted with a disease that he identified as Drapetomania. He described the disorder as  “unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers”. Dr. Cartwright observed, “The cause in most cases, that induces the Negro to run away from service, is such a disease of the mind as in any other species of alienation, and much more curable, as a general rule. ”  Dr. Cartwright felt that what brought this diseases to fruition were those who “made themselves too familiar with them, treating them as equals, and making little or no distinction in regard to color” and it was this human treatment that went against the natural order of things that caused the disease to manifest itself.  The Doctor believed it was against Gods will  “by trying to make the negro anything else than “the submissive knee-bender,” (which the Almighty declared he should be,) by trying to raise him to a level with himself, or by putting himself on an equality with the negro.” Slaves who suffered from this disease could be cured:

The best means to stimulate the skin is, first, to have the patient well washed with warm water and soap; then, to anoint it all over in oil, and to slap the oil in with a broad leather strap; then to put the patient to some hard kind of work in the sunshine.

The Good doctor recommended washing the slave before whipping to insure that the wounds wouldn’t get infected. You wanted to drive the disease out but not destroy your livestock. Dr. Cartwright also described another disorder, Dysaesthesia aethiopica, which was his way of saying free blacks were dumb and lazy.

Today we find it hard to believe that many educated and supposedly moral people could have believed those things. And yet the same kind of elites run the State today. They know what’s best for us and for anyone to suggest that maybe civilization will be a better place without the State, will get statists to question your sanity.

The State, in its mission to make a free and just society, only destroys freedom through force. People living in statist, repressive environments will want to escape, just like the slaves did back in the antebellum days. True freedom is healthy, repression is not.