Wednesday, February 9, 2005

How Western Civilization ended slavery

Thomas Sowell has a great review of a book by Adam Hochschild called Bury the Chains.

Sowell says:

The anti-slavery movement was spearheaded by people who would today be called "the religious right" and its organization was created by conservative businessmen. Moreover, what destroyed slavery in the non-Western world was Western imperialism.

Nothing could be more jolting and discordant with the vision of today's intellectuals than the fact that it was businessmen, devout religious leaders and Western imperialists who together destroyed slavery around the world. And if it doesn't fit their vision, it is the same to them as if it never happened.

As anti-slavery ideas eventually spread throughout Western civilization, a worldwide struggle pitted the West against Africans, Arabs, Asians and virtually the entire non-Western world, which still saw nothing wrong with slavery. But Western imperialists had gunpowder weapons first and that enabled the West to stamp out slavery in other societies as well as in its own.

Adam Hochschild is no conservative - in this interview with Mother Jones, he seems to be out there on the left with the "social justice", "fair trade" crowd. Mother Jones makes no mention of the political / religious beliefs of the leaders of the movement, and focuses much more on how it provided a "template" for grassroots movements of today.

There is one difference, however, between many of these grassroots movements of today and the anti-slavery britons - our leftist grassroots movements goals are for the restriction of individuals rights (environmentalism, "fair" trade, unions) , while the anti-slavery britons made the audacious claim that everyone should be treated equally. Note that they wanted everyone treated equally - not that everyone be equal.

This is an issue that the left is very good at disguising - they want people to be "equal." Since their goal is an equal outcome, and because people are different, one must treat people unequally to gain the equal outcome. More on this later, but I recommend Sowell's article.


There is a review of this in the Sunday Times (the British one):

At the same time, it is worth remembering that whereas slavery is not a western invention, abolitionism and the notion of humanitarian intervention are. Nor can the emancipatory impulse so easily be separated from the fiscal-military and hegemonic tradition that has made possible the rise of the great democracies. It was the Royal Navy that more or less destroyed the international slave trade in the early 19th century, and it was not particular about maritime rights in the process. It required the whole might of the Union Army, and 600,000 deaths, for the American abolitionists to end slavery in the South; their mandate would not have survived scrutiny by the international lawyers of the UN.'

They also claim, however, that

The trade in Africans and the sugar they produced is testimony to the threat unrestrained capitalism poses to basic human rights.

I disagree. Any form of slave trade or slavery is not capitalism, because capitalism by its defintion is a social system based on the principle of individual rights. (this is the philosophical definition, but the economic one is derived from this). Maybe if the Times had used the proper economic system at the time: "mercantilism" (which is not a free market).

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