Same Event Inspires Across the Political Spectrum

The other night our local libertarian discussion group had a presentation by Larry Reed of the Mackinac Institute.  Mr. Reed discussed why he thought that individuals who are lone voices in the wilderness should not give up hope (a topic particularly relevant to us libertarians) and he used the William Wilberforce story as one example.  Wilberforce, who is profiled in the movie Amazing Grace, fought a nearly fifty year battle in the British Parliament first against slave trading, and then against slavery itself.   (Mr. Reed, who has written and spoken about the Wilberforce story for years, said he had seen the movie three times and highly recommended it).

Not surprisingly, the libertarians in the room found the story inspiring -- here was a man who successfully fought for protection of individual rights against great odds.  The Wilberforce story is part of the great 19th century liberal tradition that is bedrock for libertarians today.

However, what is interesting to me is how other parts of the political spectrum also look to the Wilberforce story as an essential part of their own history.  Conservatives see the Wilberforce story as an example of the beneficial effects of an activist religious fundamentalist (which Wilberforce was) bending law to fit his religious beliefs.  At the same time, progressives on the left can look to the story as an early example of the central government looking out for a downtrodden group, a precursor to modern "social justice" legislation.

In other words, libertarians see a direct line from Wilberforce to, say, fighting Kelo-type government takings or indefinite detainments at Gitmo.  Religious conservatives see a direct line from Wilberforce to reducing violence on TV and preventing gay marriage.  Progressive see a direct line from Wilberforce to universal health care and affirmative action. 

I'm not really sure I have a point here, except that Amazing Grace may find a pretty good audience if everyone thinks it is "their" movie.  The only other thing I would observe is that it is nice to know that for all our differences today, there are some things we can agree on.  Which causes me to wonder why modern slavery, which is still all-too-prevalent, does not get more attention (except perhaps because certain folks are so invested in the Westerners-as-bad-guys view of history that they are blind to exploitation from other directions).