In Defense of Slavery

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Furthering my exploration into the bound society, I'm reading George Fitzhugh's Cannibal's All! The book was published in 1857, and can best be described as one of the most eloquent apologias for the Southern slave society ever written.


From the preface:

I am sure it will be easier to convince the world that the customary theories of our Modern Ethical Philosophy, whether utilitarian or sentimental, are so fallacious or so false in their premises and their deductions as to deserve rejection, than to persuade it that the social forms under which it lives, and attempts to justify and approve, are equally erroneous, and should be re-placed by others founded on a broader philosophical system and more Christian principles. 

Yet, I believe that, under the banners of Socialism and more dangerous, because more delusive, Semi-Socialism, society is insensibly, and often unconsciously, marching to the utter abandonment of the most essential institutions--religion, family ties, property, and the restraints of justice. The present profession is, indeed, to stop at the half-way house of No-Government and Free Love; but we are sure that it cannot halt and encamp in such quarters. Society will work out erroneous doctrines to their logical consequences, and detect error only by the experience of mischief. The world will only fall back on domestic slavery when all other social forms have failed and been exhausted. 

That hour may not be far off.

First, I love this dude's writing. Second, it's funny, if coincidental, to see that slur of socialism connected, in the 19th century, to racism:

A bit more:

All men begin very clearly to perceive, that the state of revolution is politically and socially abnormal and exceptional, and that the principles that would justify it are true in the particular, false in the general. "A recurrence to fundamental principles," by an oppressed people, is treason if it fails; the noblest of heroism if it eventuates in successful revolution. But a "frequent recurrence to fundamental principles" is at war with the continued existence of all government, and is a doctrine fit to be sported only by the Isms of the North and the Red Republicans of Europe...

The silence of the North is far more encouraging, however, than the approbation of the South. Piqued and taunted for two years, by many Southern Presses of high standing, to deny the proposition that Free Society in Western Europe is a failure, and that it betrays premonitory symptoms of failure, even in America, the North is silent, and thus tacitly admits the charge. Challenged to compare and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of our domestic slavery with their slavery of the masses to capital and skill, it is mute, and neither accepts nor declines our challenge.

The comparative evils of Slave Society and of Free Society, of slavery to human Masters and of slavery to Capital, are the issues which the South now presents, and which the North avoids. And she avoids them, because the Abolitionists, the only assailants of Southern Slavery, have, we believe, to a man, asserted the entire failure of their own social system, proposed its subversion, and suggested an approximating millenium, or some system of Free Love, Communism, or Socialism, as a substitute.

Despite being opposed to Communism, there is something quasi-Marxist about this tract. Fitzhugh essentially argues all workers are slaves subject to a master class. (Hence the title.) But whereas a true Marxist (I'm guessing) would believe in the overthrow of the master class, Fitzhugh argues that slavery is right and good. From his perspective, it's just a matter of choosing the right species of slavery--African slavery or white (wage) slavery.

The book is heavy on class analysis, and short on any real sense of free will. Michigan_Reader picked out a quote from our current readings in the book club-- "We prefer a disturbed liberty to a quiet slavery." Fitzhugh has no sense of "disturbed liberty" as a value. Later he derides Northerners for constructing a society where people must work for food and shelter. He almost has no regard of labor as an individual value, all to itself. He's weirdly Utopian.

More later as I read.
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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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