I am bursting with things to tell you guys--things I've seen in the last week. I started out in at the Ideas Festival and then found myself in Chicago (in Bricktown today) rolling with an eviction team. In between this I'm reading Rousseau for the first time and having my mind blown.
Like dig this:
The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.
How real is that? It's not just enough for me to subdue you, I must make your subjugation into something more than "I've got more glocks and Tecs than you." Power has to be sanctified. Charlemagne must have the Pope. Subjugation must be official. Must be biblical. Must be scientific.
Here's something else:
Even if we assume this terrible right to kill everybody, I maintain that a slave made in war, or a conquered people, is under no obligation to a master, except to obey him as far as he is compelled to do so. By taking an equivalent for his life, the victor has not done him a favour; instead of killing him without profit, he has killed him usefully. So far then is he from acquiring over him any authority in addition to that of force, that the state of war continues to subsist between them: their mutual relation is the effect of it, and the usage of the right of war does not imply a treaty of peace. A convention has indeed been made; but this convention, so far from destroying the state of war, presupposes its continuance.
So, from whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate, but also because it is absurd and meaningless. The words slave and right contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive. It will always be equally foolish for a man to say to a man or to a people: "I make with you a convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I shall keep it as long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like."
This is exactly what I was trying to get at in my Civil War piece from a few years back. America's slave society was a kind of of "useful killing." To strip a child from their mother in 1845 and sell the child to Mississippi is not literal death. But that child is no longer in the mother's world, and will never be again. To the mother, imagining the child in Mississippi is as "real" as imagining the child in Limbo.