Monday, January 14, 2008

Now, Celebrate Abolition

“[A]bolition constitutes one of the greatest moral achievements of Western Civilization.”- Dinesh D’Souza, (As quoted in The Capitalist Manifesto by Andrew Bernstein, p. 274)

Rather than having apologized for slavery, we should instead be celebrating America’s role in slavery’s abolition.

To understand this point, it is crucial to understand the institution of slavery in its entire historical context. Slavery is the product of the principles of collectivism and statism. The first holds that the individual is the property of the group or tribe. The second holds that the individual is the property of the state (or the monarch, feudal lord, military dictator, etc.) Both deny the value of man the individual. For thousands of years, based on these two ideas, slavery was practiced by all peoples, against all peoples.

A full-blown opposition to slavery didn’t surface until the 18th century Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, it is absolutely imperative to understand, represented the birth of the exact antithesis of slavery’s philosophical foundation of the twin evils of collectivism and statism. These antithetical Enlightenment principles were individualism, limited representative government, and capitalism (the economic system based on voluntary trade rather than statism’s rule by brute force).

Now, it is important to understand that such a widely practiced institution as slavery, practiced for thousands of years, doesn’t disappear easily. It took a long and bloody struggle to eliminate slavery in Western Civilization, and the struggle to eradicate it from the entire world is far from over. Today, slavery continues in parts of Africa, the Islamic world, and under various dictatorships such as Cuba and North Korea.

America, the first country founded on Enlightenment principles, played a central role in the Abolitionist movement which was born in Europe, where England and later France led the anti-slavery movement there.

To fully appreciate its historic, and heroic, role, one must never forget the contextual fact that America inherited slavery from the world's pre-Enlightenment past, and that the battle against it neither began nor ended in 1776. It was an on-going struggle that transcended the birth of America.

There were many heroes in this extraordinary and bloody struggle. There was John Locke, the intellectual father of the American Revolution whose radical 17th century writings included an explicit attack on slavery and earned him a death threat from the English government, prompting him to publish his treatises anonymously (He announced his authorship of his writings through his will). There were America's Founding Fathers who, despite the fact that some were slaveowners themselves and amid vehement opposition from pro-slavery forces in America, never-the-less laid out the fundamental principle of man's inalienable individual rights in the Declaration of Independence that ultimately sealed the fate of slavery. There were the unsung heroes of the American Abolitionist Movement and of the Underground Railroad; and President Abe Lincoln and the tens of thousands of Union soldiers who died in a civil war fought primarily because of and to end slavery.

My point here is certainly not to diminish the dark part of our history represented by slavery, nor of its historical significance, nor of the untold suffering of so many human beings under this evil practice. But we must never let the fact of American slavery obscure the incalculable magnificence of the achievement of the Enlightenment and of the Enlightenment’s child, the United States of America…the abolition of slavery.

The New Jersey Legislature has chosen to officially apologize for our state’s role in slavery. As I have written in my previous post on this subject, I profoundly disagree with this resolution because its logic rests on the same philosophical principle as slavery itself, collectivism. And, since ideas are the driving force of human affairs, this resolution represents a defacto endorsement of that hidious institution.

So be it. Perhaps now the legislature can find the time to issue a resolution acknowledging New Jersey’s, and America’s, role in the great historic fight, and ultimate victory (at least in Western Civilization) over the primordial, monstrous evil of slavery.

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