Principles Opposed to Slavery and Statism

Once again, I find I must recommend an inaccessible article in National Review, this one by Gettysburg College history professor Allen Guelzo:

The antidote to slavery, Lincoln insisted, was also economic free labor. In the 19th century, free labor was the shorthand term for a particular way of viewing capitalism: as a labor system, in which employers and employees struck bargains for production and wages without restriction and where the boundaries between these two roles were fluid enough that today’s employee could, by dint of energy, talent, and foresight, become the employer of tomorrow.
Slavery was the polar opposite fo free labor. With very rare exceptions, it denied the slave any future but that of being a slave, and it replaced the open-ended arrangements of employees and employers with a rigidly dictatorial system. The harmful effects extended beyond the slaves themselves, Lincoln wrote, because in the process, all labor became stigmatized as “slave work”; the social ideal became “the gentleman of leisure who was above and scorned work,” rather than “men who are industrious, and sober, and honest in the pursuit of their own interests.” Men who are industrious — that, of course, described Lincoln. Slavery, then, was not merely an abstraction; it was the enemy of every ambition Lincoln had ever felt.

Especially interesting are the links that Guelzo implicitly draws between the social system built on American slavery and a social system built on statism. For one thing, both characterize a relationship of freely exchanged employment as its opposite:

Lincoln was aware that pro-slavery propagandists had begun claiming in the 1850s that laborers in northern factories were, in reality, no more free to make wage bargains than slaves on southern plantations. In fact, they claimed, “free labor” was worse off, because employers had no obligation to provide health care for mere wage-earners or to support them in childhood and old age, the way slaveowners did for their slaves.

Not for no reason, then, did the Confederate government organize itself in line with the principles of its guiding institution:

… while the Union government contracted out its wartime needs to the private sector, the Confederate government set up government-owned supply facilities…

Historian Raimondo Luraghi called it “quasi-socialist management.”
Despite the links between slavery and statism, two considerations have to taken into the balance, one qualifying the case of the former, the other the case of the latter. First, the slave-based system, here, is specifically that of the mid-to-late 1800s — the last guard, as it were, striving to maintain the system. In prior eras, slavery was simply a fact of life coexisting, however discordantly, with evolving notions of liberty.
Second, statists often begin with the well-being of the lower classes primary in their minds. In that respect, their views are opposite those of slaveholders. What unites them is the notion that the great majority of human beings are better off letting experts with centralized authority govern their lives. No matter the impetus, that sounds like slavery to me, no matter how beneficent.

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michael
michael
10 years ago

Without good government, chaos would rule. An every man for himself mindset will quickly develop and anarchy take over. Like it or not, the majority of us are slaves, not to those in power, rather to those who are not. We would sink under the weight of a populace that has no idea how to provide for themselves, and would resort to looting and murder to get what they need to survive.
I’ll “never forget” the days post 9-11, when most people I knew sat glued to their televisions, or were busy being patriotic, and I was in Providence, and responding to peoples homes where The Jerry Springer Show was the only important thing in their lives, and they insisted to be taken to the hospital for free health care for their minor ailments, and one guy actually pulled a gun on me when I told him to quit being a pussy, there’s more pressing matters, and he actually said, “America is on it’s knees, finally.”
Without their crumbs, which in this day and age of bounty made possible by a government that provides boundaries,and rules of law, equates to cell phones and TV’s these people will think themselves cheated, and resort to whatever means available to get what they feel is theirs.
And there a lot more of them than us.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Justin writes:
“an inaccessible article in National Review”
Justin,
If you go to the Drudge Report and click on Jonah Goldberg, it will take you to a page on the web version of NR that provides clickable links to most of the articles in NR.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

I don’t agree with the premise, but thought I’d ignore that and comment on this one… Second, statists often begin with the well-being of the lower classes primary in their minds. In that respect, their views are opposite those of slaveholders. That’s not accurate. Slave owners in fact argued that it was in the best interest of the slaves to be maintained as property, since owners took better care of the their property than many employers at the time who viewed workers as largely disposable. The Yes Men had a hilarious piece on this concept awhile back… theyesmen.org/hijinks/wharton The initiative will require Western companies doing business in some parts of Africa to own their workers outright. Schmidt recounted how private stewardship has been successfully applied to transport, power, water, traditional knowledge, and even the human genome. The WTO’s “full private stewardry” program will extend these successes to (re)privatize humans themselves. “Full, untrammelled stewardry is the best available solution to African poverty, and the inevitable result of free-market theory,” Schmidt told more than 150 attendees. Schmidt acknowledged that the stewardry program was similar in many ways to slavery, but explained that just as “compassionate conservatism” has polished the rough edges on labor relations in industrialized countries, full stewardry, or “compassionate slavery,” could be a similar boon to developing ones.. A system in which corporations own workers is the only free-market solution to African poverty, Schmidt said. “Today, in African factories, the only concern a company has for the worker is for his or her productive hours, and within his or her productive years,” he said. “As soon as AIDS or pregnancy hits—out the door. Get sick, get fired. If you extend the employer’s obligation to a 24/7, lifelong concern, you have an entirely different situation: get sick, get care. With each… Read more »

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Russ writes:
” since owners took better care of the their property than many employers at the time who viewed workers as largely disposable”
Russ has a point. I have viewed slave quarters in New Orleans and various other Southern areas. They were better than the housing obtained by poor Irish there.
Poor Irish were often hired for dangerous jobs, such as clearing and draining swamps. In those days before liabilty laws and Workers Comp, if a hired man died on the job, the boss saved 1/2 a days pay. Hence the phrase “jobs they wouldn’t waste a nigger on”.
Interestingly, a year or so ago, I attended a show at the RISD art museum. Pictured was what was captioned as “slave quarters in Georgia”. It was a small, round brick building, about 8 feet across. Notwithstanding the caption, closer inspection of the photograph revealed that it was the Revolutionary War “powder house” in North Attleboro, MA.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

When considering slavery in our South, it is well to remember that slaves reperesented the wealth in an agricultural economy. They were “human capital”. Loss of those slaves meant bankruptcy. It is also well to remember that only 10-15% of Southerners owned slaves in any real number, most people rented as needed.
I have no proof, but strongly suspect, that much of the “philosophy” surrounding slavery and black inferiority developed out of what I would call economic necessity. The economic system, as it developed, was unsustainable without subscription to that philosphy. Most of that philosophy was based on “facts” that uncommitted people would ignore, such as the difference in the size of the bones in the feet of blacks and whites.

Phil
Phil
10 years ago

“Second, statists often begin with the well-being of the lower classes primary in their minds. In that respect, their views are opposite those of slaveholders. What unites them is the notion that the great majority of human beings are better off letting experts with centralized authority govern their lives. No matter the impetus, that sounds like slavery to me, no matter how beneficent.”
Are you saying here that the slaveholders were the “experts with centralized authority who govern” the lives of their slaves?

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Warrington – economist Stanley Engerman did a very good talk on slavery back in 2006 on my favorite program, EconTalk. He confirms your economic hypotheses about the institution.
Available free at:
http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2006/11/engerman_on_sla.html

Phil
Phil
10 years ago

Dan
I listened to the podcast off your link.
I wonder if you have read Isabel Wilkerson’s book “The Warmth of Other Suns”.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

I have not, Phil, and I notice that it recently came out in 2010. I confess that I’m the guy reads books and watches movies 5 years after they’re cool. It’s so difficult for me to determine which new media will still be relevant in 5 years that I simply wait for other people to filter these products through to me instead. So I’ll make a mental note and put The Warmth of Other Suns down for 2015, if people are still talking about it then.

Phil
Phil
10 years ago

Dan
I know what you mean about books that are hyped. I sometimes reject them on that basis alone. I think these one may have some relevance for you though given your recent migration.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Another aspect of slavery and our civil war is the unfortunate tendency to “blame the victims”. I think this gave rise to “Jim Crow”.
I was reminded of this by a German woman I knew some years ago. While not old enough to remember WWII, she was steeped in family lore. This included family women engaging in prostitution to feed their families during our occupation. She was very intelligent and had several degrees from notable European universities. I remember being startled by her announcement that “everything would have been fine if the Jews had just left when we told them to”. I have wondered how many shared this opinion.

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