In Defense of Slavery, Cont.

The really disturbing thing about George Fitzhugh, the antebellum's South cantankerous defender of slavery, is that his manifesto is genuinely provocative. This is not the fake counter-intuitive weak-sauce we see masquerading under the mask of political incorrectness. This is the profound site of a man who sincerely believes in a system, a system the present reader knows to be discredited, ardently and honestly stating his case,


And because of that ardent honesty, there are these dangerous moments where you find that this dude is actually dropping gems.

The reader will excuse us for so often introducing the thoughts and words of others. We do so not only for the sake of their authority, but because they express our own thoughts better than we can express them ourselves. In truth, we deal out our thoughts, facts and arguments in that irregular and desultory way in which we acquired them. We are no regular built scholar--have pursued no "royal road to mathematics," nor to anything else.

We have, by observation and desultory reading, picked up our information by the wayside, and endeavored to arrange, generalize and digest it for ourselves. To learn "to forget," is almost the only thing we have labored to learn. We have been so bored through life by friends with dyspeptic memories, who never digest what they read, because they never forget it, who retain on their intellectual stomachs in gross, crude, undigested, and unassimilated form, every thing that they read, and retail and repeat it in that undigested form to every good-natured listener: we repeat, that we have been so bored by friends with good memories, that we have resolved to endeavor to express what was useful out of facts, and then to throw the facts away. 

A great memory is a disease of the mind, which we are surprised no medical writer has noticed. The lunatic asylum should make provision for those affected with this disease; for, though less dangerous, they are far more troublesome and annoying than any other class of lunatics. Learning, observation, reading, are only useful in the general, as they add to the growth of the mind. Undigested and unforgotten, they can no more have this effect, than undigested food on the stomach of a dyspeptic can add to his physical stature. We thought once this thing was original with us, but find that Say pursued this plan in writing his Political Economy. He first read all the books he could get hold of on this subject, and then took time to forget them, before he began to write.


I read that, and had to stop for a second. It was that beautiful moment when you see something about yourself, or some value you hold, displayed in a way that you find familiar, and yet know that you could not have conceived.

In truth, we deal out our thoughts, facts and arguments in that irregular and desultory way in which we acquired them. We are no regular built scholar--have pursued no "royal road to mathematics," nor to anything else.

There is my mantra, the mantra for this blog. There are moments in this book, so beautiful, and so lucid that you almost forget that the guy is actually arguing that people should have the right to sell both their own children, and other people's children.

Fitzhugh should be read in American lit classes in college. I'd love to teach a "Literature Of The Civil War" class.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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