The fact that slavery was all-but universal until a couple of hundred years ago is used as the standard, off-the-peg, number one knock-down argument to justify that because our ancestors were wrong about slavery, they are probably wrong about everything else; and therefore (so the argument goes) every specific aspect of traditional culture should be challenged, subverted then inverted.
This argument - used many thousands of times per hour in the West - assumes that modern, decent Liberals and Leftists are truly anti-slavery; which of course they are not.
Liberals and leftists always do say they are anti-slavery, just as they might assert that the moon is made of green cheese (people can say anything they like, cost free - so long as it is socially sanctioned, which naturally this is).
But if we assume that the people who actually abolished slavery - the abolitionist movement - are those who were really and truly anti-slavery, then it is clear that there are almost no such people in the world today; at least none with significant power.
To be an abolitionist in the old sense is to be anti-slavery full stop.
To be an abolitionist was not to be prudential about slavery, not to regard slavery as bad because it led to greater suffering, but to regard slavery as an intrinsic evil.
An abolitionist might admit that to be a slave with a good and kind master is a happier state than many others regimes under which humans live - but still insist on the abolition of slavery.
The abolitionists took no account of the cost in lives and treasure (including the lives of slaves) of abolishing slavery.
Even when the abolition of slavery left ex-slaves starving, diseased, degraded, and extremely violent (as in Haiti) this made no difference at all to the imperative that slavery be abolished.
Even though slavery was in fact abolished in many parts of the world only at gunpoint: this was a secondary consideration - for abolitionists slavery must be abolished: end of story.
In sum - an abolitionist would seek-out and and extirpate slavery by whatever means were effective.
This is how slavery actually was abolished. It did not matter where the slavery was - even in deepest Africa, or in the parched deserts of Arabia - slavery was never left alone, slave states were never allowed to opt-out.
For decade after decade, the full force of the British Empire was brought to bear against slavers and they were forced to yield until slavery was abolished everywhere except in some very poor places in the middle of Africa - which held-out through the war torn 20th century until the British Empire collapsed.
But slavery came back. Of course. Because slavery is a spontaneous occurrence in all sedentary societies, and if it is not being continually sought-out and extirpated it will be there.
Ignorant folks were surprised to 'discover' long term slavery in the UK in a recent news story - fools! There are at least many hundreds of slaves in the UK- maybe many thousands depending on how slavery is defined, where you draw the line. There must be - what is stopping it?
And if nothing effective is stopping slavery, there will be slavery.
Slavery was brought back into into England by multiculturalism, and is protected from awareness by multiculturalism. Indeed multiculturalism has created an environment in which all the enlightenment horrors have returned, have been sealed-off from inspection and made immune to effective action. Multiculturalism created a situation in which it is not merely pointless to detect and discuss such matters - but counter-productive, since the attempt to expose and eliminate slavery creates further legalistic evasions and protections for slavery within the system.
Full-blooded abolitionism was in fact an evil, which is why it was universally abandoned. It was an evil because it was single issue politics, fanatical and without prudence.
Abolitionism naturally led to massive suffering, since it was so devoted to its primary imperative that all other problems were accepted and excused.
This was a particular problem since, as we now see, abolition of slavery was unstable - it was not a matter of getting rid of slavery once for all. Slavery keeps coming back, and keeps needing to be suppressed all the time.
Therefore any society - any culture - which is not subject to this suppression will tend to reintroduce de facto slavery (although it may be disguised legalistically).
The proper attitude to slavery is prudential, not fanatical - slavery is an undesirable state, and slavery should be suppressed unless to do so makes matters worse, when it should be regulated (i.e. slaves must be treated well, or at least not cruelly and arbitrarily) - but prudence is not what we have now.
The attitude towards slavery we have under triumphant modern Leftism is mere expediency. If Leftist opposition to slavery were prudential then they would argue, explicitly, that slavery was permissible under certain conditions. For example, they would need to argue explicitly that slavery was permissible under multiculturalism, since Leftists are clearly prepared to tolerate slavery in non-Western cultures.
However, the Left do not so argue; instead they pretend to abolitionism: pretend to be always, absolutely and implacably opposed to slavery under all possible circumstances.
So, the Left spout pure abolitionist rhetoric 24/7 but (implicitly and dishonestly) recognize that actually to act to detect and extirpate slavery would be to weaken their own legitimacy as based in multiculturalism - so they make sure they do not detect it, if detected do not use coercion, do not publicize examples of slavery, and when there are examples the media very quickly forget it. Down the memory hole with it!
Yet, very obviously, in the modern surveillance society that is the UK, if the authorities wanted to detect and extirpate slavery then the task would be facile - it would take a few weeks merely. That this does not happen shows that the authorities place the abolition of slavery as a low priority, a much lower priority than - for instance - advocating, imposing and sustaining multiculturalism.
Think about it: by revealed preferences the Left - while pretending to absolute abolitionism - wants multiculturalism even at the cost of reintroducing slavery to the West.
That is what we are up against.
So the triumph of the Left is a peculiar thing indeed.
Abolitionism was the beginning of the modern Left (around the late 18th century), yet it has been tacitly dumped even while the rhetoric around slavery, its usage as a rationalization for subversion of tradition, is more heated than ever.
And nobody notices!
This is because our reality is now the mass media. Never mind what is happening in real life, never mind that (sex) slaves were discovered a few streets away from where I live. So long as slavery has been abolished from the mass media, that is enough, that is the really important thing for Leftism. That way the Left has all the rhetorical benefits of fanatical abolitionism, but none of the destructive implications that effective anti-slavery action would have on the truly sacred imperative of multiculturalism.
I've had great fun pointing out to Americans that John Brown was a terrorist. Only unusually reflective ones can bring themselves to agree.
Still, it seems to me that the problem with American abolitionism wasn't the desire to abolish slavery in the USA, with which I am entirely sympathetic, but the failure to work out a way of doing it without killing huge numbers of people, and without devising a sensible system of coping with the freed slaves. It was an enormous failure of politics - and therefore a failure of the Constitution, one might say.
As for Britain imposing abolition on half the world: I suppose it's grasping at straws to suggest that Imperial Might might otherwise have been deployed in worse causes?
@dearieme - "As for Britain imposing abolition on half the world: I suppose it's grasping at straws to suggest that Imperial Might might otherwise have been deployed in worse causes?"
It would be a conversation well worth having.
At present, under the PC propagandists - the British Empire gets *zero* credit for being the only reason why slavery was abolished, without which it would be all over the place and unremarkable - as throughout the whole of the world and history until the late 1700s.
Furthermore, PC thinks that slavery was abolished by mere act of parliament, rather than by the decades long activities of the British Navy - funded, manned and impelled by mass democratic support from the Brits.
One thing for sure - the slaves themselves had nothing to do with the abolition of slavery - for the obvious reason that they were slaves. It was all at the level of Big Power Politics.
So if abolition was a good thing (as Leftists apparently believe) then the British Empire and its far reaching and ruthless Navy was a good thing; and if the British Empire/ Navy were a bad thing (as Leftist apparently believe) then slavery is a tolerable institution. You cannot have it both ways.
As for the US - 'in a perfect world' you would be right; in practice, if there had not been a civil war, the South would (I expect) have seceded and North American slavery sustained - for at least several decades, maybe permanently...
Without the fanatics/ terrorists such as John Brown (a darling of the New England intellectual elite) then I expect slavery would have survived.
But if the US civil war does not count as 'too high a cost' to abolish slavery, I wonder what would count as too high a cost? It is only because few people realize the cost of that war that they are comfortable with it.
What specifically do you have in mind when you talk about slavery in the modern UK? I tend to agree with the assessment that de facto slavery is the relationship between those unable to independantly support themselves and their patrons. Can you elaborate on the relationship between slavery and multi-culturalism? I want to better understand where you are coming from.
I mean slaves by the usual definitions. There was coverage of an example in the British press a couple of weeks ago - these were men. Then there are the examples of trafficking, sex slaves, non-English speaking house slaves imported - sometimes illegally - maybe passed off as family members; women held captive by families/ communities - sometimes kidnapped and sent abroad, coerced into marriage etc... Plenty of examples if you look out for them - and these are necessarily the tip of an iceberg. There are numerous countries with persisting and re-emergent slavery, especially in Africa (both Northern and Southern) and the Middle East (where slavery was only suppressed by external force, never acknowledged as wrong). These nations are never mentioned in the mass media, nor do they become a focus for mass action from the West - and when people move to the UK from such places, naturally they bring their slaves along, or import slaves later - since there is nothing to stop them doing so.
Sometimes I think your loathing of leftists gets the better of you on this specific subject. Of course abolitionists were zealots. What else would it take to end an institution with that kind of history? We can look back at them and see they were naive, used as pawns and fig leaves by the power hungry, and the ancestors of some mighty demented individuals. But I have great difficulty seeing how the status quo of slavery, transported to the present, would be ceterus paribus an improvement in any sense. This does not vindicate the mendacity of moderns. It shows there degeneracy.
Funny thing: there's a smokehouse some of my coworkers frequent (Queens, NY) named after Mr. Brown.
Also, independently support themselves? Not too many in the developed world that can claim to be able to do so. Which expands the term beyond usefulness.
I've had great fun pointing out to Americans that John Brown was a terrorist.
Not merely a terrorist, but a terrorist in the grip of implacable religious fanaticism. Precisely that fanaticism is the reason slavery could not be abolished without a giant, nation-consuming bloodbath. By 1860, America was past reason or debate, and both sides were more or less in chimp rage mode.
In a perfect world the US would have remained part of the British Empire, and thus slavery would have been abolished without a civil war as was the case in the rest of the British Empire.
Incidentally I am an American. =)
Of course, the modern left -- being utilitarians -- would almost certainly not support a concerted movement toward abolition. They can't very well admit that they're liars, though.
"thus slavery would have been abolished without a civil war as was the case in the rest of the British Empire": ah but in the Empire slave-owners were paid compensation for the breach of their property rights. In the North American colonies that would have meant raising a tax and therefore .....
Has anyone read Nirad Chaudhuri (Autobiography of an Uknown Indian etc.) on what India owes to the British Empire in terms of preservation of its cultural patrimony?
ah but in the Empire slave-owners were paid compensation for the breach of their property rights. In the North American colonies that would have meant raising a tax and therefore .....
And therefore, what? The very first income tax in the United States resulted from the Revenue Act of 1862. If it was possible to raise a tax to pay for an absurd fratricidal war, it was possible to pass a tax to pay for abolition.
@JP - you must be careful not to respond to dearieme's provocations for unwary Americans. The problem is that he is Scottish. What more needs to be said? We Northumbrians have had to cope with them for centuries...
@JP - I suppose I should add ;=), for any bystanders unaccustomed to heavy irony...
The "American Civil War" (really a war of secession just like the American Revolution) was not begun by the Union with the intent to end chattel slavery of blacks. That the slaves were freed was an afterthought at best, a logical result of the outcome of the war, a punishment imposed on the losers (and the slaves themselves, ironically). Admitting that the war was fought for various reasons and that some soldiers may (big if) have fought for the ideal of ending slavery, the main reason was that white Southerners did not want to be slaves of white Northerners via tariffs and Northerners wanted to preserve hegemony over the entire continent.
Most ironic, slavery, far from disappearing in the US, was nationalized after the war via the 13th Amendment.
I agree with the host that slavery is a natural condition of humanity. You can see it everywhere -- taxes, malum prohibitum laws, conscription, truancy, civil forfeiture, and on and on.
It's interesting how public opinion has moved on the Brown issue. My parents (born in 1914 and 1921, both Northerners, and the descendents of men who fought for the Union in the Civil War) had no problem with the idea that John Brown was a terrorist nutcase, and both regarded the Civil War as a tragic (if possibly inevitable) event in America history. It was only during the 1960's - 1970's that Brown became an unalloyed hero, the the Civil War America's only "Good War"...
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