Thursday, March 29, 2007

The End of The Slave Trade

The problem with listening to podcasts and network statistics for one's primary news source is that I end up missing out on the events themselves.

March 25, 2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was not that long ago that Britain and America held large number of people in chains. It took another half century and a brutal civil war to end the practice of slavery in the United States and another century for the government to really start protecting the civil rights of the descendants of the slaves.

The slave trade was one of the most disgusting businesses in human history.

Commemorating events like this is important because it helps us remember that we humans are capable of doing wicked and horrible things to each-other. While it all but impossible for people to detach themselves from the wicked and cruel things that we are doing today, I think there is some hope that seeing events of the past might help people she what is right and wrong in our society.

The fact that so many businesses were eager to engage in slave trade emphasizes that business is not the natural ally of freedom. Businesses are more than willing to enslave people, pay bribes, form monopolies and undermine markets in the grub for profit and power. In the regulated economy, one finds that businesses support or oppose particular regulations simply on the effect that the regulations have on their business.

It is people, not businesses that benefit from freedom. I think too many Libertarians get got up in the idea that businesses are somehow the central point of freedom, when the ideal is about the individual and not the corporation.

Apparently, the British Slave Trade really got going in 1672 when the British Crown granted a monopoly on slave trade to The Royal Africa Company. The slave trade was not simply business run amok. It involved government approval (with governments deciding who could and who could not be a slave). The trade even involved government incentives in the form of a chartered monopoly.

The slave traders were among the most villainous people in history. It is very easy to discount them. The very fact that we recognize slave traders as villains makes it possible to discuss how the interplay of political ideas lead to bad conclusions.

I suspect that the first slave traders saw themselves as progressive. Ancient Greece and Rome both condoned slavery. Re-instituting slavery would allow the west to relive the glories of ancient Rome. Having a large dedicated slave work force would allow the development of a highly educated intellectual elite who would wow the world with their wonderfulness. People were willing to engage in slave trade because they saw it as the path to progress.

As slavery became institutionalized and people started seeing the horrible results of their short cut to progress, ideas began to shift. So, toward the end of the slavery debacle, Conservatives wanting to preserve social order argued for slavery. Eventually we arrived at the point where forcing the end of slavery became a progressive cause.

People wonder why "progressive ideology" drives me up the wall. It does so because it has no meaning. Progressives want to force social change on us without a real notion of where that social change will lead. Stuck in the mud Conservatives are also a challenge. They want to preserve social order at all cost. Using these definitions we see:

Conservatives opposed the start of slavery (although not loudly enough). They opposed the end of slavery.

Progressive supported the start of slavery, the supported the end of slavery.

Progressives lead us into traps and Conservatives get us stuck there.

The great shrill "progressive/conservative" dichotomy that dominates politics simply moves us from trap to trap.

After the emancipation of slavery, the establishment of Jim Crow laws was seen as a new path that would allow blacks to progress on a separate but equal path in the South. The idiotic Jim Crow laws were finally recognized as an evil, and truly progressive civil rights movement emerged to get us out of that trap.

The civil rights movement shows that there are cases of real progress.

I applaud true progress.

The interesting thing about true progress is that after society makes true progress, people need to change from a progressive mode to a conservative mode to preserve that progress.

In the cases of slavery and racial prejudice, we see that the evils we need to fight are slavery and racial prejudice. The enemy is not the progressives or the conservatives, the enemy was slavery. "Progressive" and "conservative" are these fluffy terms that get redefined with each mix of issues on the table.

In the 1980s, Conservatism in America was a strange mix of people who wanted to preserve the social order, and those who are trying to preserve the classical liberal progress at the foundation of the American system. In the Bush era, the classical liberals have pretty much been driven from the Republican Party. The definitions of the terms change.

David Horowitz's experience with the Black Panthers is quite interesting. Horowitz was an avowed Communist working for social progress in Berkeley. His group wanted to develop the Black Panthers into a band of brown shirts for the next stage of the people's revolution. Horowitz seems to have realized that the supposedly progressive step to socialism was actually regressive.

Real progressives should listen to Horowitz. The far left wants to take the progressive movement into some deep dark places.

Real progress occurs when a society makes an advance then preserves that advance. It is a combination of forward movements and stabilization. It is not a process of continual revolution (as Marxists would assume) nor is it the establishment of a perfect social order.

The fact that there is a good idea that was progressive when it was stated doesn't necessarily mean that you should declare yourself a progressive. What you want to do is preserve the good idea, which kind of makes you conservative. The words "progressive" and "conservative" only have meaning in relation to the time in which an idea was spoken.

Speaking of ideas changing. Religious Tolerance has an interesting time line on religious views about slavery. Of course it is extremely difficult to say which ideas are progressive or conservative. Often what you do in the world of politics is make a statement that nudges the world in a direction that you would like to see it go.

1 comment:

Tyler Farrer said...

"The great shrill "progressive/conservative" dichotomy that dominates politics simply moves us from trap to trap."

That's profound.

I think it's a healthy activity to read history, and ask, "what would I do in this situation?" I'm often surprised at the answer to that question.