Yes, And? So what? Who didn’t?

Welcome, Instapundit readers and other visitors! Thank you for dropping by.

So, this year marks 400 years since enslaved Africans were brought to eastern North America. That the Spanish and Prortugese had already been bringing African slaves over, and that almost every other people on the American continents practiced slavery, and that the rest of the planet practiced slavery, doesn’t seem to matter. That slavery is still practiced today, in part because some religious texts positively command it, doesn’t matter to those who are concerned with chattel slavery of Africans as practiced in the British colonies.

Yes, slavery has been around as long as humans have been around in sufficient numbers to get into disputes. And it continues, either openly as slavery, or as debt-peonage, or concubinage, or debt-slavery, or “life servants,” or “gift servants.” Only Europeans tried to end the practice, because they believed that all men were created equal, and that enslaving people was no longer a right and moral practice. But that doesn’t count, or so the New York Times and other sources suggest.

Me being me, I have to wave my penalty flag. First off, slavery is not unique to the Americas, Europeans, or Africans. Everyone enslaved everyone else, ever since waaaay back when. Second, there were as many flavors of slavery as there were reasons for it, ranging from working people to death (the mines of Athens and Persia, sugar-cane plantations in Iraq,) to having more women and children to boost the population after eliminating the enemy’s men (all over the world), to domestic service (almost all over the world), to having soldiers (Russians, Ottomans), to agricultural workers (all over the world), to skilled workers (Rome, Western Europe between AD 450-950 CE). Even in the US, some slaves were skilled craftsmen, some worked on the task system and had free time as soon as the job was finished, and some where the cotton plantation slaves that everyone thinks of.

Africans enslaved other Africans, and sold them to everyone else. Until almost 1800, it was native Africans who controlled the sale of slaves to Europeans in west Africa. To this day, if people find out you are descended from a slave, you may be treated as a second-class citizen and lose job and marriage prospects. After all, if your ancestors were weak or dumb enough to be enslaved, then you’re probably not much better.

The Mongols, and later Tatars captured millions of Europeans and sold them into slavery over the course of time from around 1000 until the 1700s. The last slave raids against England and Iceland were in the late 1600s! Part of the job of the Royal Navy was to keep Barbary Pirates from landing and kidnapping English men and women to sell in North Africa.

A few European individuals thought slavery lacked moral foundations, most notably Emperor Charles V, and some later thinkers, but no one really tried to stop it until the mid 1700s, when some crazy folks began to argue that just because people had always done it didn’t mean that buying and selling other people was still right. Eventually France and England banned slavery at home, and then started stopping the trade on the sea.

In the US, one found the only growing population of enslaved people. That means that conditions in the rest of the Americas were so bad that the only way to keep the slave numbers the same was to import more. In the US, it was not true. Slaves had protection under the law, even if that might be ignored, or minimized. Some free blacks owned black slaves, and not just family members they purchased. Indian groups owned slaves just like Euro-Americans did. Slavery of Indians were supposed to have been outlawed after the Civil War. It continued, with captive Indians becoming life-time servants to families. To my knowledge, the last acknowledge slave died in the late 1930s in New Mexico. She had resisted manumission.

So yes, the Dutch brought enslaved Africans to the Carolinas in 1619. And Africans gradually replaced indentured British and Irish men and women, in part because it was harder for them to blend into the population and disappear. And the US fought a bloody, terrible war against itself in 1861-65 in order to end the practice (among other things). But we  need the rest of the story. Having practiced chattel slavery makes the US neither unique nor especially evil. It means we were like other humans since the eighth day of creation. And we don’t do it any more. Unlike certain other places and people today.

Edited to add: I have no problem with arguments in the comment section, but I’d like to avoid getting too far into questions about Nazi Germany. The focus is slavery in the global past and present. Thanks.


40 thoughts on “Yes, And? So what? Who didn’t?

  1. Spot on. I’ve walked through slave markets in at least three African countries, and one in the Arabian peninsula. It’s an eerie, unsettling experience for any Westerner accustomed to thinking of all individuals as equal, free persons. Even more astonishing is to meet slaves who are accustomed to that way of life, and reject any possibility of freedom. They’d rather remain in the “comfort zone” to which they’re accustomed. That truly boggled my mind.

    • The Hebrews clamored to Moses to let them return to the melons and onions of Egypt. A slave mentality is hard to lose.

    • I guess you could include female sex workers “indentured” to brothels to pay for families debts as slaves. They do to them what the coal companies did to miners. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 16 Tons is a good description of economic enslavement.

  2. It would be impossible for them not to know this.
    But they do not care.
    It is important to mock them. Their narrative must not be allowed to override reality.

    • I’ve found the level of historical ignorance I meet quite extraordinary. Even in the UK – where it doesn’t have the same historical relationship to current society as it does in the US – few seem to have heard of anything bar African chattel slavery in the West Indies and the USA (plus Spartacus of course). Even the idea that Africans were enslaved by other Africans who treated the slaves as a valuable export commodity is rarely understood. The fact that millions of slaves went to Cuba and Brazil and that slavery there continued well after the ACW always elicits surprise.

      When I’ve asked someone where the slaves came from a typical answer suggests that they were all captured by white slave raiders, though they’ve not normally ever heard of the Barbary pirates depredations (who did make this approach work profitably, though not as far as I know for sub Saharan Africans) or of the activity of Arab raiders in Africa. As regards Arabs the exception is among military history buffs who have heard of things like the British coercion of Zanzibar to stop the slave trade.

      Knowledge of the rest of history and of the world is normally missing, save for the basic idea that the Romans and Greeks held slaves. When I say that conditions in the American South were comparatively benign compared with those on a Sicilian plantation in 135 BC it is treated pretty much as a thought crime, though the critic has never heard of the Servile Wars or considered the impact of a plentiful supply of very cheap new slaves on the economy of the Roman Republic. (It appears to have been cheaper to work your slaves to death and buy replacements rather than feed and clothe them.) Of course, this does not in any way change the fact that slavery in the USA was a barbaric system.

      What I do find a bit hard to forgive in our forbears is the way in which otherwise good men were able to rationalise the continuance of slavery. I don’t hold the acceptance of slavery against say, a Stoic philosopher like Seneca, as this would be too much of a case of presentism. However, I do believe in the possibility of moral growth in the West – and reject moral relativism – so I find it hard to totally forgive apologist for slavery from the time of Dr. Samuel Johnson onward – they should have known better!

      • Slavery in history is one of those topics that no one outside of historical specialists wants to touch. Part of it is having to know a lot of different languages in order to read the sources. Another is that if you are an honest researcher, you have to point out that the currently trendy cultures (Hindu, Islamic, Chinese, various tribal peoples) saw nothing wrong in a behavior that has been officially declared abhorrent.

        I wonder sometimes how much of the English (and other European for that matter) reluctance to declare slavery to be a positive evil stemmed from the Bible, where it was mentioned as a fact of existence, and how much from the idea that some cultures were inferior, were always inferior, and that the people who followed those cultures were thus not quite up to being treated as fully people. After all, that’s how some sub-groups of Irish had been thought of, and even peasants and other “servile” peoples within European cultures.

        I’ve not done enough research to be able to say anything with confidence, but I do wonder.

        • The Bible presented slavery as a fact of life, but it also presented it as something that was not supposed to be permanent. One of the jobs of your close male relative, the go’el (“avenger of blood” or “redeemer”), was to buy back family land that had been sold, or kindred who had sold themselves into slavery, as well as killing anybody who murdered a family member (unless they got to a sanctuary city and followed the rules there). Even without kin, a slave was supposed to be set free during the jubilee year unless they insisted on staying. If they did stay, they were to be treated as valuable members of the household.

          God going and getting the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, or Jesus dying and rising to get humans out of slavery to sin and death, are the ultimate examples of the go’el doing his thing. (Which is why it is important that a covenant creates family, not just a contractual arrangement. Extraneous unrelated stranger can’t be a go’el to you, but God as your adoptive relative can.)

          • Yes. The difficulty—at least when you take the looooong historical view—is… how did people interpret and use those same texts 150, 200 years ago? Some did it exactly as you outline, to make your argument. Others didn’t. I had quite an interesting discussion with students in religion class talking about the people who uses the same scriptures in the 1830s-50s to both defend and condemn chattel slavery. They got really heated, then really thoughtful.

  3. Peter is correct, and I’ve seen a couple of them too, in Africa and the Middle East. Arabs STILL buy/sell slaves, most from ‘infidel’ cultures. Thanks for laying out the TRUTH!

  4. In a nation where a leading political figure can argue “truth over facts” without much push back, is it any wonder that facts which dispute the narrative are ignored?

    • Not really, but the NYT series is so bloomin’ obvious, and they’ve worked so hard in the past to ignore modern-day slavery… Plus someone at my place of worship was intoning platitudes about “We must do something to make up for the country’s sin of slavery” and I almost launched off topic and laid out the facts. Which would have had nothing to do with what I was supposed to be teaching.

      • Hmm, somewhere between corporal punishment and a corporal act of mercy, that person might have learned something.

        A Jubilee Year, with forgiveness of debts, to cancel debt slavery?

        Moslem slavers raiding the Atlantic coasts of Spain, Portugal, and Ireland until the Barbary States were suppressed?

        The origin of the fair-skinned people with blue and green eyes in Morocco (see above)?

      • I’m not exactly au fait with Catholic theology but I thought that sin was something personal. The idea of a country’s collective sin that citizens have to do something about sounds vaguely heretical to me, at least when the sin took place well before anyone alive today was born. An American citizen may be guilty of many grievous sins but slavery will not normally be one of them and I don’t see why they must accept responsibility the the sins of some of their many forefathers (especially when others of their forefathers may have been victims of the sinful actions).

        • The idea of collective guilt can be taken from a mis-interpretation of the scape goat and group sin offering referred to in Exodus and Leviticus. And from the Gospel of Matthew 27: 25 (Authorized Version). Which then got twisted all sorts of ways, and one of them was the idea that a people can be guilty as a group. Marx then turned this into class guilt and the results have been ugly.

          I agree that an individual is responsible only for their own actions, and for those they compel someone else to do, if that person has no choice in the matter (a child, someone without reason). Neither the US nor Britain should be held guilty for something done—or not done—over a century and more ago. (I had relatives on three sides of the Civil War: Union, Confederate, and leave-me-out-of-it.)

          • Any German over the age of 16 in 1939 who did not oppose the NAZI regime is guilty and should bear the guilt that Adolph Hitler earned as he murdered his way through Germany and then Europe. When the Germans were winning, Germans were very happy to applaud the NAZI successes. After the Allied bombers started delivering the whirlwind, and after cousin Karl was killed in the Russian steppes, maybe not so much.
            So yes. An entire population can acquire the guilt that its national government organs earn on its behalf.

            • Nope. I don’t buy it. Germans only had 2 viable choices: either support the Nazi regime, or shut up about it. Opposing it was a one way ticket to being turned into a victim by it. And that’s from a couple of relatives who were actually IN Germany during the war (they’re both deceased now, unfortunately.)

          • Neither the US nor Britain should be held guilty for something done—or not done—over a century and more ago.
            Heck, not even for something done a couple of generations ago – like Germany and Poland.
            But nursing grievances is something we humans do very, very well. It pretty much takes divine intervention to interrupt it.

        • Plus there are some interpretations of Original Sin that hold that since Adam chose to disobey, sin became “genetic” and is passed to all of his offspring, forever. But that’s getting into some theological depths I’m not really in the mood to plumb right now.

        • Totally in line with Catholic teachings on sin. That is why Pope Fallacious the Bogus issued the Bull Voco Feces… establishing that enslavement was the proper was of handling ancestral crimes, and denouncing the abolitionist movement as heretical. Yup, The Church was totally in favor of Jim Crow, and did not oppose it in any way shape or form.

          Seriously, the theological underpinnings are probably elsewhere. Marx divided humanity into victims and oppressors. Oppressors are collectively guilty of crimes against collective victims, without the challenge of establishing a specific crime by a specific oppressor against a specific victims. There are folks who syncratize Christianity with the socialist and communist heresies. In fact, that may be the dominant religious practice in America.

  5. Frankly, I’m glad that the NYT has decided to step out, loud and proud, and declare themselves to be proggie-symp propagandists.

    “… all must be reframed and ret-conned; the concept of the United States is fatally stained with the new version of original sin; slavery and racism. There must be nothing left of our traditions and culture in which we can take honest and openly expressed pride. Not throwing off the last ragged remnants of feudal rule, and establishing a democratic republic, wherein the common, ordinary citizen could, by voting, exercise political control of his or her own life. Industrial innovation and creativity in everything from weaving cloth to taming the wild atom, setting up trade networks, exploring and settling a continent, reaching out into space, encouraging social mobility in a manner practically unknown to any other nation … no, all of that and more. Everything about America – that part of it occupied by the United States of – is now marred by the stain of slavery, in the eyes of the NY Times. All because better than half of us who live in it and honor those traditions had the temerity to vote for the ‘bête orange’.”

  6. Collective Responsibility…there was something called the National Repentance Movement in Britain in the late 1930s and even into 1940. C S Lewis explains:

    “Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England”

    …and then proceeds to very elegantly skewer the movement. I excerpted his essay here:

    Highly relevant to 2019 America, I think.

  7. As a Dutch person I can confirm that the Dutch were deeply traumatized by the Viking raids and the later oppression by the Spanish empire. This naturally means that Denmark and Spain are to blame for any historical mishaps by the Dutch, and this will remain the case until the Dutch have received sufficient reparations.

  8. Something to note — the importation of labor and the death of that labor continued in the Caribbean after slavery was nominally abolished. The British imported people from India as “indentured” laborers, not mentioning to them that they were more likely than not to die before their five-year term was up. The mortality rate was 17% on the voyage over (1856-57 number), and 12% a year during the term of labor (1870 number in Jamaica). The British may have abolished formal slavery in 1833, but the shipping of bonded labor to die working sugar plantations didn’t end until 1917.

  9. “We don’t do it any more” isn’t quite accurate. Jeffrey Epstein and his ilk in the international, socialist, globalist, elitist cadre do it. They enslave (maybe with drugs and/or money, but still enslave) women and boys. They get away with it because they are the current ruling class. They project their evil onto those they wish to silence. They use their paid propaganda organs to do this.

    • Point. Perhaps the proper wording would be, “National governments in the West, and the dominant Christian denominations and branches of Judaism in the west, now forbid slavery as a positive evil. However, this has not stopped forms of the practice, but has greatly reduced it.”

  10. One minor point: “Eventually France and England banned slavery at home, and then started stopping the trade on the sea” is highly questionable – the ‘Somersett Case’ of 1772 simply *reaffirmed* that slavery had no lawful basis in England; it created no new law but merely restated the existing law. As to the French stopping the trade at sea, it’s hard to see how they had the naval power to do much more of significance, but I’d be very happy to learn otherwise.

    • I’ll have to do some digging to find the source of that reference, Nemo. I’ll try to get back to it, but it might be a while.

      • I seem to remember that the UK didn’t formally end the *ownership* of slaves in England itself until 1998, everywhere else it was abolished. It was one of those weird things where it was declared that slavery wasn’t recognized by English law and thus all slaves manumitted in England and Wales, but the practice wasn’t actually prohibited until as before mentioned 1998.
        I admit I first heard about it in an episode of QI.

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  13. I often hear people say that nobody did anything about slavery until Europeans did so in the nineteenth century. But that was the second time that Europeans had done so. That all men are in the image and likeness of God, and therefore ought not to be enslaved, was argued from the fourth century (Gregory of Nyssa). The argument grew and took hold, and by the seventh century slavery had been pretty much eliminated in Christian lands. In general this was done by custom rather than by law, and therefore slowly. Later nations converting to Christianity tended to pass laws against slavery within a generation or so, but in the earlies they didnn’t bother with changing the law. It persisted around the edges, in neighouring pagan and Isamic lands, and Christians in those borderlands often participated as merchants, but as an institution in Christendom it was dead.

    That all changed at the end of the fifteenth century, as part of the new enthusiasm for classical (pagan) models of society as opposed to the existing Christian model. Slavery was re-introduced, along with subjection of women and normalisation of war as an instrument of policy. The slavery thing then had to be done all over again three centuries later, this time at gunpoint. The women thing has been largely restored since then (not sure we have it quite right yet), and the war thing… well, that needs some work still.

  14. Seneca on slavery:

    Please remember that the person you call your slave rose from the same seeds, enjoys the same sky and equally breathes, lives and dies! You could see him just as much as a free man as a slave. Because of the slaughter in the time of Marius, fortune struck down many born to high station, taking the trail to the senate through the army—one of these it made a shepherd, another an overseer of a cottage. Despise now the fortune of a person whose place you may take even as you look down on them!

    I don’t want to get involved in a big controversy and argue about the treatment of slaves toward whom we are most arrogant, cruel, and offensive. But this is the sum of my guidance: deal with your inferior the way you wish your superior would deal with you. However many times it pops in your mind to consider how much is right for you regarding your slave, let it also occur that this is permitted to your master regarding you. “But I have no master” you say. You are still young; perhaps you will have one. Don’t you know how old Hecuba was when she began to serve, or Croeseus, or Darius’ mother, or Plato and Diogenes?

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