From this week on I will start a new series of articles called “Disgusting Thinkers”. It will focus on intellectuals who have defended seriously and passionately untenable, anti-social or plainly anti-human ideas. Those thinkers have extolled what is the lowest in man. To them, crime was a virtue and virtue – a crime. The series will delve deeply into the intellectual vindication of hatred, abuse, mental sickness and libertarianism. Up first is slavery.
In the first series we will meet George Fitzhugh. Mr. Fitzhugh was a nineteenth century American social thinker who defended the practice of slavery. We often associate slavery with ancient times, where it was widely practiced throughout the Greco-Roman world. We choose to conveniently forget that human beings were bought and sold as cattle in the USA only 150 years ago. Serfdom (which differed little from slavery) in Europe lingered in some areas, such as Russia up till the second half of the nineteenth century.
George Fitzhugh believed that most people are born natural slaves. Only a few were dominant and deserved to rule others as they saw fit without any restrictions coming from an external force. People had a natural right to be slaves. In this way they received the protection, shelter and sustenance which, according to Fitzhugh they would hardly earn back due to their lack of skills and general inability to survive while free. He considered African-Americans to be little more than grown–up children. They, in his opinion, lacked so much intellectual capacity that they had to be constantly under the protection and control of another man for their own good. The emancipation of the slaves in the North, according to old George, lead only to them turning into wage slaves. They again toiled as hard as before, but now stripped of the privileges of full slavery – i.e. guaranteed sustenance, shelter and protection.
Fitzhugh however cannot be accused of racism. He believed that slavery was a universal right and that the weak in body or mind must be slaves to the stronger, regardless of their race. He advocated that poor white people should also be enslaved. Fitzhugh considered the Declaration of the Rights of Man an abhorrent document, full of lies. One of his saner ideas was that free markets and free labor enrich the strong and crush the weak.
The idea of subjecting those free market forces to state control or implementing inheritance taxation to guarantee genuinely free competition, seems never to have occurred to him. Instead, as an antidote he proposed the abolishing of capitalistic society and its replacement by a universal bondage system, modeled on the American South from the nineteenth century. He viewed masters as universally benevolent and didn’t discuss widespread abuse of slaves in the South.
Fitzhugh believed that slavery compared to socialism, since it offered the care and the security for the labor class that socialism promised. He called socialism slavery without the master. Maybe on that point we can agree with him by remembering the communist dictatorships of the last century. Nobody, however wants that kind of slavery again.
As all other conservative right-wing intellectuals, Fitzhugh makes the mistake of relating the social status of a person only to the mental and physical abilities of that person, without viewing him in the larger context of society.
People were often born in slavery. Their very skin color decided whether they will be slaves or freemen.
Slaves were actually physically much stronger than their masters and the scientific studies didn’t show IQ to be related to wealth or social status. The circumstances such as unfortunate birth, war or debt often determined one’s fate as a slave.
No genuinely free man ever choose to be a slave. If slavery is a natural right, this is the most unpopular of the rights of man. Of course, people sometimes voluntarily sold themselves into slavery, but always when pressed by social circumstances or simple survival issues, which their particular society did not meet – deliberately or not.
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People indeed struggle to earn their living in capitalism, but that is not because free society automatically generates this outcome, but simply because capitalism isn’t a free social system. It provides the means for a few people to have unlimited freedom, while all the others have almost none. It is a negative liberty system. The rich are free to do whatever they want, including enslaving the poor. It is a freedom from obstruction, not a freedom to do noble and admirable acts. Free market capitalism is close to anarchy (total negative liberty). And every anarchy ends up as a dictatorship, where those with luck enslave those without. To cure the ills of capitalism, one must build a society where freedom will be optimized for all, not abolishing freedom itself. Slavery, of course, is unthinkable without the masters maintaining the constant presence of a large and expensive military force to keep them from the wrath of their thankful slaves.
And yet some slaves did revolt. The great hero Spartacus proved to be more resourceful and capable than many Roman generals. He certainly wasn’t a grown-up child, but a strong-willed human being, unwilling to accept the destiny that society appointed to him. Yes, he was born a freeman and enslaved during a war, however, he managed to inspire many who were born as slaves and to organize them into a formidable force that threatened the safety and integrity of the greatest contemporary earthly empire.
A.I.R considers the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen one of the most important documents ever written. Its first article states that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good”. Selling and buying human beings as property is a disgusting practice. Free market capitalism is indeed a form of wage slavery, which must be abolished through state control, inheritance taxation, through the introduction of worker-owner collectives and Universal Basic Income. Not through falling back to a society where many have no power for the benefit of the few with immense power, such as feudalism and slave-loving American South.
It is interesting that people like Fitzhugh never consider selling themselves as slaves.
Simon Vlahov writing for the Apollo Institute of Reson AIR Review©