I: Aristotle on “Natural Slavery”
In the ancient world, slavery was hardly a moral dilemma. It raised no ethical issues worthy of examination, nor was it ever considered a source of embarrassment. That most of mankind could be forcibly enslaved without injustice was a truism that was seldom debated, even among philosophers. Nature had assigned some men the role of master and others the role of slave. This was so obvious it required no elaborate rational explanation; for centuries, the belief that the stronger had a right to dominate the weaker was always regarded as true, but trivially so. The great exception to this universal indifference was Aristotle, the only classical writer to develop a fully-fledged theory of natural slavery.
In Aristotle’s Politics, the “natural slave,” the man who could be enslaved without injustice, differed from the free man in certain fundamental respects. Nature had designed the slave for servile labor; he was brawny, but filled with humility because of the shabbiness of his appearance; in contrast, the free man, because of his “upright posture,” had a commanding presence or an air of dignity about him that made him ill-suited to working with his hands. Instead, Nature had designed him for the civic life of the polis. The slave shared “in reason to the extent of understanding it, but does not have it himself”; compared to the free man, he was deficient in reason. By this, Aristotle did not mean that the slave was necessarily deficient in technical rationality; rather, he lacked the autonomous practical rationality or deliberative choice needed to achieve eudaimonia or happiness.
Natural slavery had an ethnic component. Aristotle divided humanity into three main branches; northern Europeans, who were spirited or full of energy, but “deficient in intelligence and craft knowledge”; Asians, the Persians and other Near Eastern peoples, who were both intelligent and possessed craft knowledge, but lacked spiritedness, and; the Greeks, who possessed both intelligence and spiritedness because of their geographically intermediate position between Northern Europe and Asia; ergo, non-Greeks were barbarians who could be enslaved without injustice. Although the barbarians of Northern Europe were “comparatively free,” this didn’t mean they weren’t natural slaves; true freedom requires the capacity for autonomous practical rationality, which the barbarian clearly lacked.
Classical authors singled out whole ethnoi as worthy only of enslavement, in keeping with Aristotle’s doctrine of natural slavery. The Roman historian Titus Livy described the Syrians as “the meanest of mankind, and born only for slavery.” They were effeminate and servile in behavior, always overeating and seldom exercising. The Syrians were known for their cultic practices of ritual castration and homosexuality, practices that offended the Roman sense of manliness or virtus. Even if Hellenized, the Syrian was still considered a natural slave.
|Debate between Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, and Doctor Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, held in 1550|
The doctrine of natural slavery was not seriously considered again until the mid-16th century. The Spanish conquistadors, after having subjugated Mexico and Peru, forced the American Indians onto encomiendas and made them work as agricultural laborers and miners. The encomienda system was originally intended to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between Spaniard and Indian. The natives were to provide the conquistadors with tribute in exchange for the material goods of the Iberian peninsula; nevertheless, this quickly degenerated into a thinly disguised, but immensely profitable form of slavery. The defender of the encomenderos, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, argued that the American Indians were uncivilized and barbarous creatures governed by passion rather than reason. The Indians had also violated the natural law, revealed by the widespread practice of idolatry, sodomy, ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism among the indigenous tribes of the Americas. Because they were natural slaves, it was their duty to submit to the much superior Europeans; if they refused, the conquistadors would wage war against them until they surrendered or were physically exterminated. The Dominican friar Bartolomé de Las Casas disagreed; he believed that the Indians were fully human and not to be unjustly warred against; instead, the conquistadors should pursue a policy of peaceful colonization and evangelization. The Spanish Crown would later mitigate the harshness of the encomienda system. It was gradually replaced with a milder corvée in the Viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru, sometime after the late 16th century. Although Las Casas helped convince the Crown to curb the power of the encomenderos, Sepúlveda’s use of Aristotle to justify enforced servitude in the Americas was precedent-setting.
II: The Southern Intellectual and Aristotelian “Natural Slavery”
“[T]he true vindication of slavery,” proclaimed George Fitzhugh, the renowned pro-slavery apologist, “must be founded on [Aristotle’s] theory of man’s social nature, as opposed to Locke’s theory of the Social Contract.” This high regard for Aristotle was enthusiastically supported by southern consensus, which regarded Aristotle as the basis of pro-slavery ideology. Southern interest in Aristotle was not mere self-serving intellectual “embroidery,” but serious philosophical engagement with antiquity’s greatest thinker. By anchoring pro-slavery apologetics in an Aristotelian hierarchical conception of the natural order, the southern planters armed themselves with a sophisticated objection to Jeffersonian republicanism and the revolutionary ideals of the French Enlightenment.
In Locke’s “state of nature,” men governed themselves according to the law of reason, defined as the right of each person to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Because these rights had existed in the state of nature, they were inalienable; as a result, the civil government was obligated to retain them. Locke’s theory of natural rights was anathema to Fitzhugh. They were absurd because man had always existed in association with other men; there was never a time when an organic hierarchy of interdependent, but socially stratified classes had not existed. Freedom and equality in some mythical state of nature was a dangerous illusion.
In Fitzhugh’s opinion, government was no more based on consent than the family. In actual fact, the family derived its legitimacy from the natural inequalities that had always existed between men. Man is not born free, but in subjection; as a child, he is under parental authority; as a man, he is subject to the laws and institutions of his native country. Although Fitzhugh had made Aristotle the cornerstone of his pro-slavery ideology, he never accepted Aristotle’s belief in man’s fundamental rationality. To Fitzhugh, man was a social being, a slave to instinct, custom and habit. Aristotle had said that perfection through rational contemplation could be achieved with society’s aid; in contrast, Fitzhugh believed that man, the quintessential political animal, was sorely in need of the civilizing influence of the laws and institutions of society for his own personal development.
The antebellum popularity of Aristotle ensured that the South’s caste-like social order would be grounded upon the ordered hierarchical conception of reality found in Aristotelian philosophy. In 1858, southern politician James H. Hammond echoed this Aristotelian justification of slavery in his sociological theory of the “mudsill”:
In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mudsill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mudsill.
Greece and Rome achieved greatness because of the “mudsill,” which freed the ancients from the “drudgery of life,” providing them with the aristocratic freedom to advance Western civilization through rational contemplation of the universe. Slavery would also make the United States a great world power, including the North, which practiced a form of human bondage known as wage-slavery. Both southern and northern conservatives wholeheartedly embraced Aristotle’s organic theory of state formation. The master-slave relationship was not a necessary evil, but a mutually beneficial symbiosis. In the Politics, Aristotle wrote:
In the first place there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other […] For that which can foresee by the exercise of mind is by nature intended to be lord and master, and that which can with its body give effect to such foresight is a subject, and by nature a slave; hence master and slave have the same interest.
If the planter desired an adequate return on his capital investment, he had to ensure the slave’s contentment by providing him with adequate nourishment and clothing; the slave would receive the benefits of Western civilization under the white man’s paternalistic management. In return, he would work to provide his master with income. In 1837, southern political theorist John C. Calhoun described slavery as a “positive good” because of its civilizing influence:
Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.
The negro slaves of the South, said Calhoun, were in much better condition than the wage slaves of Europe. At least the negro was well taken care of, unlike the free laboring classes of Europe, who had only the wretchedness of the poorhouse to look forward to. The South also benefited; by firmly placing Southern civilization on the “mudsill” of negro slavery, “the most solid and durable foundation on which to rear free and stable political institutions” had been established. Since there was no free competition to bid the free laborer’s wages down to subsistence levels, antagonism between labor and capital were virtually non-existent. This made the South “more stable and quiet” than the North.
In keeping with Aristotle, the South’s plantocracy acknowledged the necessity of ethnic distinctions between masters and slaves. The Greeks never enslaved their own ethnic kin; as members of the same kindred race they possessed the same capacity for autonomous rationality, which meant that fellow Greeks could not be enslaved without injustice. In the Politics, whether the subject was Greek or barbarian determined whether he could be enslaved or not. Because only the Greeks possessed autonomous rationality, Nature had assigned them to rule over the barbarians. Likewise, the antebellum slaveholders had been assigned by Nature to rule over a barbarian race, the African negroes. Because the negro was at all times a slave wherever he went, his chief virtue was slavery; even when the negro achieved freedom for himself in St. Domingue, he was still unable to govern himself because of his slave nature. The Indo-Germanic peoples, the French, the Germans, the Scandinavians and so on, even though reduced to slavery from time to time, were able to continuously advance until they were no longer fit for slavery. The chief virtue of the Indo-Germanic race was freedom.
III: Biblical, Economic and Scientific Pro-Slavery Arguments
Southerners weren’t the only ones to engage in pro-slavery apologetics. Spaniards and Portuguese had occasionally written pro-slavery tracts, but none were as influential as those written by the planters of the British West Indies. The English-born West Indian planter Edward Long was the most well-known 18th century pro-slavery apologist. His massive, 3-volume History of Jamaica (1774) described the negro as “a brutish, ignorant, idle, crafty, treacherous, bloody, thievish, mistrustful and superstitious” creature. In Long’s opinion, the negro belonged to a different species, proven by the virtual absence of native manufactures in Africa and interspecies miscegenation between “bestial” Hottentot females and orangutans.
Long affirmed the advantages of slavery for the negro; as a benevolent and civilizing institution, slavery had rescued the negro from the savagery of Africa, “that parent of every thing that is monstrous in nature”; he was taken from the jungle and exposed to the white man’s superior civilization. These arguments, like many others, were appropriated by southern polemicists. This made the West Indian slaveholders the single largest influence on the development of the South’s non-Aristotelian pro-slavery apologetics. Although the field of southern pro-slavery apologetics was inaugurated in 1701, the richest and most voluminous body of pro-slavery literature had been written between 1831 to 1861.
A variety of non-Aristotelian arguments were deployed by pro-slavery apologists. Biblical and theological arguments enjoyed widespread popularity. Southern apologists delighted in pointing out to northern Christians that the Old Testament patriarchs were slaveholders and that the Mosaic Code had given explicit instructions on slavery and the slave trade. The curse of Ham was the most frequent biblical justification of negro slavery. In 1848, future Confederate leader Jefferson Davis located the origins of slavery in “divine decree ― the curse upon the graceless son of Noah.” This curse had been “wonderfully fulfilled” in the slaveholding South, where the descendants of Ham were currently held in bondage. The New Testament was frequently used by pro-slavery Christian theologians, who focused on St. Paul’s exhortations to slaves to obey their masters. With the advance of science and technology in the 19th century, many pro-slavery writers became skeptical of Christian religious doctrine. If Christianity was false —and the rise of biblical criticism and growing scientific discovery confirmed this — then other arguments would have to be sought in favor of African slavery.
There were economic arguments in favor of slavery’s greater profitability and efficiency. Edward Ruffin discussed these at length in his Political Economy of Slavery (1853). If labor demand is high, but supply low, then wages would rise. They would continue to rise until they exceeded the cost of the free laborer’s bare subsistence. High wages ensured that the laborer would only work as much as was necessary to provide for himself and his family. Given the free laborer’s indolence at high wages, the advantage of slave labor was that it was continuous. If the free laborer worked only one day out of every three for 10 hours straight, but the slave worked two-thirds of the alloted time for three days consecutively, than slave labor was obviously the superior alternative. Ruffin concluded that:
[I]t is manifest that slave labor […] will be cheapest and most profitable to the employer, and to the whole community, and will yield more towards the general increase of production and general wealth.
Josiah C. Nott developed a scientifically informed pro-slavery apologetics by focusing on racial differences in cranial capacity. The negro’s skull was found to be much smaller, its bones thicker, denser and heavier than the white man’s. In nature, the brains of animal species could be ranked in size and form. The most developed intellectual faculties were found in the largest brains. The negro’s brain was much smaller than the white man’s, in keeping with his low intelligence, ape-like appearance and inability to develop a civilization of his own. The negro clearly belonged to a different species. “No one at all familiar with the past history of the negro and his present peculiarities, can entertain a doubt that he is now very widely separated, both in physique and morale, from the white man,” observed Nott in 1847. The reality of negro mental inferiority and innate savagery forced Nott to conclude that the negro was naturally suited to slavery:
I think we may safely conclude, that the negro attains his greatest perfection, physical and moral, and also his greatest longevity, in a state of slavery.
Although Nott paid lip service to Christian doctrine, southern clergymen were angered by his assertion that theologians and biblical commentators had to make concessions to modern science because of the bible’s inadequacy as a scientific document. Moreover, his polygenism posed a dilemma for Christian believers, forcing them to decide between scientific truth and the “truth” of the bible.
Henry Hughes adopted the Comtian language of positivism to add a veneer of intellectual respectability to descriptive analyses of antebellum society. He used the terminology of “warranteeism,” his philosophical system of “unfree labor,” to describe southern slavery. Because its principles were general and abstract, warranteeism was made broadly applicable to all societies, regardless of whether they were free or slave-based. In Hughes’ unfree labor scheme, the masters were the “warrantors” and the slaves “warrantees.” The “societary organization” of the antebellum South was a “simple-labor warranteeism, with the ethnical qualification.” The “ethnical qualification” referred to the racially heterogeneous composition of the southern population. Warranteeism served as a cradle-to-grave support system for warrantees; in contrast, free laborers had no social network to rely on in the event of unemployment, sickness or old age. Warranteeism is not chattel slavery, wrote Hughes, because neither warrantor nor warrantee are free men, but the property of an authoritarian and paternalist commonwealth.
The ideas of Hughes, despite their objective, scientific-sounding language, were largely ignored by planters outside antebellum Mississippi. His advocacy of centralized, instead of limited, government and denial of southern property rights were considered anathema to southern interests. His belief that warranteeism in the South was possible without “the ethnical qualification” aroused the umbrage of the South’s plantocracy.
IV: “Without Regard to Race or Color”
If the possibility of warranteeism without “ethnical qualification” ruffled slaveholder sensibilities, George Fitzhugh’s insistence that slavery was good, “without regard to race or color,” made him one of the South’s most controversial apologists. In the eyes of northern abolitionists, he embodied the pro-slavery movement’s worst excesses; he was the devil incarnate and his defense of slavery was a gospel from hell.
Fitzhugh believed that if pro-slavery ideology was to remain logically consistent, the implications of pro-slavery should be taken to their inevitable, logical conclusion. In 1854, Fitzhugh declared all-out war on “free society.” Lockean natural rights were contrary to the natural order of things; the universal principles of the Declaration of Independence were both absurd and dangerous. If slave society was the ideal socio-economic mode of organization, it would have to “be vindicated in the abstract and in the general, as normal, natural, and, in general necessitous element of civilized society, without regard to race or color.” If slavery was good for blacks, it was also good for whites. As Fitzhugh had observed: “White slavery, not black, has been the normal element of civilized society.” How could this be so if slavery was not good for whites? In 1854, he wrote:
We abhor the doctrine of the ‘Types of Mankind;’ first, because it is at war with scripture, which teaches us that the whole human race is descended from a common parentage; and, secondly, because it encourages and incites brutal masters to treat negroes, not as weak, ignorant and dependent brethren, but as wicked beasts, without the pale of humanity.
This wasn’t a denial of race differences, but a repudiation of Nott’s theories of polygenesis, which mandated separate roles and treatment for whites and blacks based on racial differences in brain size. If slavery had proven benefits for negroes, then why shouldn’t inferior, less capable whites also experience these benefits? Blacks and inferior whites should be treated equally, otherwise the antebellum slaveholders were lying about the supposed benefits of slavery. On a lecture tour through the North in 1856, he extolled the benefits of non-racial slavery before audiences of horrified, gasping whites. To assuage white fears, Fitzhugh said the South was “fortunate” because “she has this inferior race, which enables her to make the whites a privileged class, and to exempt them from all servile, menial, and debasing employments.”
In Aristotle’s Politics, the barbarians of Northern Europe were considered natural slaves. Southern apologists had excused this on the grounds that Aristotle lacked sufficient knowledge of anatomy and physiology, the result of the ancient world’s scientific and technological limitations. The newly inaugurated racial science had revealed the fundamental biological and mental equality of the various Indo-Germanic subraces of Europe. By affirming Indo-Germanic brotherhood, apologists believed they had scientifically improved upon Aristotle’s doctrine of natural slavery. As a general practice, southern intellectuals avoided the issue of white slavery for reasons of political expediency, even if it concerned the inbred, moonshine-drinking hillbillies of Appalachia. If there could be no rational justification for white slavery, it was because they did not wish to alienate the South’s non-slaveholding white citizens.
Fitzhugh, for the sake of logical consistency and historical accuracy, vehemently disagreed with this position. It was illogical to say that slavery was only good for Africans and other inferior races, but not for whites. Many apologists attributed the great achievements of Greece and Rome to slavery, including the tribal democracy of Periclean Athens. How could slavery not be good for whites when logic and historical evidence said otherwise? Were not the slaves of Greece and Rome also white? Fitzhugh said that “to defend and justify mere negro slavery, and condemn other forms of slavery, is to give up expressly the whole cause of the South.”
The end of medieval serfdom in Western Europe was a tragedy. Their descendants, the free laborers, found themselves in far worse circumstances than either medieval serf or negro slave. They were industrial wage slaves, with the freedom to be poor or starve to death. The free market had failed to produce free men, producing “slaves without masters” instead. Fitzhugh’s solution to the problems of the working class in Europe was to replace industrial wage slavery with “socialism,” a relatively benign form of slavery akin to the “peculiar institution” of the antebellum South. He repudiated the idealism that motivated socialist reform because of the inherently exploitative nature of all socio-economic arrangements. Fitzhugh acknowledged that socialism and slavery were virtually indistinguishable:
Socialism proposes to do away with free competition; to afford protection and support at all times to the laboring class; to bring about, at least, a qualified community or property, and to associate labor. All these purposes, slavery fully and perfectly attains.
V: The Benign Institution of Antebellum Slavery
As southerners nostalgically remembered it, the antebellum South was a land of stately white mansions, large, prosperous plantations, grinning pick-a-ninnies, contented slaves, and southern white gentlefolk dressed in the latest and trendiest fashions of the Victorian era. The white men of the South were idealized as rural aristocrats and gentlemen-scholars. They were strong, brave, truthful at all times, honorable and chivalrous. The white women of the South were idealized as gracious, pure and virginal. Kinder, Küche, Kirche were always uppermost in the minds of the best southern housewives and mothers.
This romantic view was contradicted by, among others, Frederick L. Olmsted. A landscape architect by profession, he had toured the South as a news correspondent in the early 1850s. In a series of articles for the New York Times and New York Daily Tribune, he scathingly criticized the South as backwards and impoverished. He found the negro slaves careless and lazy, only prepared to work when ruthlessly driven by threats and punishments. He negatively characterized southern whites as “unambitious, indolent, degraded and illiterate.” The southern work ethic had been adversely affected by the influence of negro slavery, which compromised the southerner’s ability to work “industriously and steadily.” In The Cotton Kingdom (1861), Olmsted wrote:
[T]he citizens of the cotton States, as a whole, are poor. They work little, and that little, badly; they earn little, they sell little; they buy little, and they have little – very little – of the common comforts and consolations of civilized life. To work industrially and steadily, especially under directions from another man, is, in the Southern tongue, to ‘work like a nigger’ […] It is this habit […] of disdaining something which they think beneath them, that is deemed to be the chief blessing of slavery.
In Olmsted’s view, slavery had retarded southern economic development. This view, widely propagandized in the North, strongly influenced Marxist historian Eugene D. Genovese. In his writings on political economy, Genovese denied that the South was ever capitalist or that the slave trade was profit-oriented. The slaveholders resembled a “pre-bourgeois ruling class” characterized by “an aristocratic, anti-bourgeois spirit.” The paternalist system established by the masters to replace the industrial capitalism of the North emerged from within a dialectical master-slave relationship yielding “resistance in accommodation and accommodation in resistance.”
For over a century, the general consensus among scholars was that slavery was an unprofitable institution responsible for Southern industrial and technological backwardness. It was zealously propagated by generations of abolitionists, liberals, southern conservatives and Marxists, even though the slaveholders of the antebellum South said otherwise. The publication of Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman’s groundbreaking Time on the Cross in 1974 shattered the traditional consensus. These scholars used a “cliometric” approach to analyze the historical economic trends of the antebellum South. Objective quantitative analysis of the data revealed that slavery was more efficient and profitable than free labor. Far from being “paternalist,” the southern slaveholders were just as capitalist and profit-oriented as their Northern peers. The decisive element was the unlimited force slaveholders could use to obtain their desired results, an advantage not to be had with white indentured servitude or free labor. For the South’s main crops, cotton, sugar, coffee and rice, the planters achieved economies of scale through rigorous scientific management of agricultural labor and production. By breaking up the agricultural work into small, easily supervised tasks and forcing slaves with similar ability and physical strength to work together, the “gang system” of labor increased intensity of labor per slave, thereby reducing hours worked and raising productivity levels. Comparison of average total factor productivity on free and gang-system farms reveals that the latter were typically 50% more efficient.
Fogel and Engerman’s work contradicted the traditional view of the South as an impoverished antebellum backwater. Between 1840 to 1860, the South experienced a higher growth in per capita income; this was 1.7%, compared to 1.3% in the North. By 1860, the South had higher per capita wealth. The number of people who owned estates of over $100,000 were more numerous in the South than in the North. If the South was an independent country, it was the fourth most prosperous one in the world, after Holland, the North and Great Britain. Although less urbanized and industrialized than the North, levels of urbanization and industrialization in the South compared favorably with Germany and France.
Historians have long suggested that slavery and industrialization were incompatible, but the evidence supports the opposite conclusion: industrial slavery, like its agricultural counterpart, was more profitable and efficient than free labor. Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia, the Confederacy’s largest iron-producing factory, was partially reliant on slave labor precisely because of its cheapness and efficiency. However, the demand for negro slaves in the rural South was inelastic, so urban manufacturers had to look elsewhere for cheaper labor alternatives. The main reason for the lag in industrialization between North and South is related to differences in the labor supply, which was heavily dependent on women and children. In the manufacturing industries of the Northeast, 80% to 90% of the workforce were women and children, paid at 40% of the male wage. In the South, women and children could only be hired at 60% to 70% of the male wage, which made manufacturing in this area of the United States less profitable for southern capitalists.
The usual abolitionist account, repeated by Marxist historians, is that conditions under slavery were a tale of unrelenting white violence against black bodies, but this is false. Slaves in the antebellum South received more than adequate nutrition. According to Fogel and Engerman, there were no significant differences in average annual per capita meat consumption between American whites and negro slaves. If height is an indicator of malnutrition, than American whites and negro slaves were of approximately the same height. The slave population grew rapidly in the antebellum South; from 1 million slaves in 1808, when the US Congress had finally prohibited the trans-Atlantic slave trade, to 4 million in 1860. Unlike the West Indies and Latin America, which required a continuous supply of African slaves because of death from overwork, the growth of the American slave population was entirely due to natural increase. The total absence of slave rebellions over a 250 year period (with the exception of Nat Turner’s Insurrection) also indicated that slaves were generally well-treated.
Most negro ex-slaves had a favorable view of their masters. Fogel and Engerman write:
Although some masters were brutal, even sadistic, most were not. The overwhelming majority of the ex-slaves in the W.P.A. narratives who expressed themselves on the issue reported that their masters were good men. Such men worried about the proper role of whipping in a system of punishment and rewards. Some excluded it altogether. Most accepted it, but recognized that to be effective whipping had to be used with restraint and in a coolly calculated manner.
The slaveholders only used the whip as a last resort. In place of corporal punishment, cash bonuses and gifts were used to increase productivity and encourage good behavior. Opportunities for career advancement and greater freedom of movement were also used to motivate slaves.
Why had Olmsted, a competent observer and ethnographer by all accounts, produced such a distorted picture of the Old South? It appears that Olmsted only interviewed the middling yeoman farmers of the South, but not the planters or white lower classes. The yeoman typically despised the white laborers, who they regarded as lazy and ignorant. Politically, Olmsted was a Free Soiler; he was strongly convinced of free labor’s superiority over slavery. In his view, New England industrial society represented the only legitimate model of economic development; anything that deviated from this was to be harshly criticized.
Because of Fogel and Engerman’s research, the new general consensus is that slavery was more profitable and efficient than free labor, as the slaveholders had long insisted. The Dixie of southern lore was more realistic than the portrait of unrelenting brutality and white stupidity offered by generations of abolitionists and Marxist historians. Fitzhugh’s description of the negro slave’s living conditions in the South was essentially correct:
The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm, work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are opposed neither by care nor labor.
VI: Morality and the Slavery Question
If we follow Fogel and Engerman’s research, antebellum slavery allowed American blacks to enjoy the world’s highest standard of living among Africans. In retrospect, however, blacks should never have been allowed onto American soil. Hindsight is always 50/50; to the enterprising colonist, black slavery seemed an attractive proposition given the pressing labor scarcity and the need to secure a livelihood. If secession had been peaceful, slavery would have continued indefinitely, largely because the ideology of black inferiority was the “cornerstone” of southern civilization. In 1861, the Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens said:
Our new government is founded […] upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition.
In all probability, slavery would have continued to produce immense wealth for the South; a sizable number of southern households, perhaps one-quarter, became wealthy because of it. Perhaps the institution of slavery would have eventually died out, without the need to shed a single drop of blood. The plantocracy, unlike the North, had long believed that blacks were incapable of functioning in white society without the institution of slavery; once the “peculiar institution” had become moribund, blacks would have been repatriated to Central America or Liberia. The Confederacy believed that because they were wealthier, the Union armies would be easily defeated. But they were wrong; with the South defeated and the institution of slavery in ruins, blacks were let loose, rampaging across the southern countryside. The devastation caused by the Northern War of Aggression and the many problems caused in black and white relations since 1865 are not the fault of the South, but the Union that sought to destroy an entire civilization that defied the tyranny of its federal government.
It can be argued that American Indians also benefited from Spanish colonial rule. In exchange for cannibalism and ritual human sacrifice, they were exposed to the white man’s more advanced civilization on the encomiendas and mitas of the conquistadors. Today, the indigenous population of Latin America, now with a large infusion of European blood coursing through their veins, enjoy a much higher standard of living than would have otherwise been the case if the conquistadors had never set foot in the New World.
In addition to its civilizational and financial benefits, it has been argued that slavery reduces the violence and societal instability created by intense male-male competition for a considerably smaller pool of unattached females. This was true in the ancient world; if a man desired a lover or concubine, he could choose from a bevy of young beauties offered for sale on the local slave market. In the Muslim world, the slave trade reduced the sex inequality created by polygamy. Arab men, unable to obtain harems of same-race females because of various physical shortcomings, would purchase wives, concubines and slave-girls from the slave markets of the Middle East. In the west, this trade continued until Algiers was conquered by the French in 1830; in the east, the Sultan of Zanzibar was forced to abolish the trade in 1873. No longer able to wage jihad and capture wives and concubines as booty for himself or his compatriots, the career of suicide bomber is the only path open to the unattractive Moslem who desires female companionship, albeit as a martyr in paradise with the 72 virgins promised him by the Koran.
If we were to accept the logic of Aristotle’s argument about “natural slavery,” it can be argued that forced labor is beneficial for the less capable white, as is shown by the existence of white slavery in classical antiquity and the Moslem world, white indentured servitude and Russian serfdom. Some whites are so vicious and ignorant that only slavery or indentured servitude could reform their characters. The generally unproductive Third World “immigrants” imported into Canada and the United States by the hostile elites of those countries would significantly increase GDP if they were employed as “natural slaves” (in the Aristotelian sense of the term). Third World slave labor would raise white living standards and generate more than enough revenue to finance manned missions to Mars and beyond.
If managed properly, with masters and slaves drawn from the same race whenever possible, it can be argued, from an Aristotelian perspective, that slavery is a beneficial institution with few potential drawbacks. So how does one explain the anti-slavery impulse? Today, of course, slavery is a moral problem because of “human rights,” an ideology that is behind the forced diversification of the West, and which can be identified as dangerous product of the French Enlightenment and American Revolution. As Nietzsche explained in On the Genealogy of Morals, rights are a morality of denial, a reflection of the mass-man’s hatred of the master caste. Those who defend rights are the enemies of all societies, apart from the democratic society of the autonomous herd. In liberal-socialist ideology, the secular religion of the herd, intrinsic value is conferred upon the members of humanity by virtue of their “humanness”; the social order is subordinated to the common good, transforming the state into a leveling instrument that replaces healthy, value-creating masters with the thoroughly uniform mediocrity of the slave.
In Nietzsche’s aristocratic ethos, man is a means to an end. His value is determined by his capacity to overcome himself, to produce something greater. Those with the greatest capacity for human flourishing must take first priority over all others. Why should the master’s drive to achieve greatness be hindered by the tyranny of the masses? If the higher man is to free himself from the drudgery of ordinary life, then it would seem that the spirit of ancient Athens, the tribal democracy of aristocratic equals, should be revived, as well as the institution of slavery upon which it was based. The idea that society must strive for the common good is a negative judgment against life itself, subverting the most important function of politics: the development of a socially stratified order, a breeding ground for the higher man. Those who care about Western civilization, and who accept the logic of Aristotle’s natural slavery thesis, should oppose the leveling-down of the world’s higher types with the values of the Reactionary Enlightenment.
Human rights are fundamentally life-denying; they diminish man’s stature by turning him into “the perfect herd animal.” Rights embody the principle of dissolution and decay in an already decaying and decadent world. They threaten the existence of all aristocratic privileges and claims; when taken to their logical conclusion, rights entail their own dissolution. If rights exist to safeguard human equality, then rights are an absurdity because equals cannot have rights. This is not to say that the great, unwashed masses must be denied their human rights. Let the masses have their morality, but let the superior man have his own morality as well. When the great pro-slavery apologist George Fitzhugh advocated socialism instead of industrial wage-slavery, he was recommending it only for the masses; the master would still exercise paternalist control over his socialist slaves while enjoying a life of aristocratic freedom. In Nietzschean terms, the master, the higher type, would elevate himself above the mass of slaves by overcoming himself, becoming something new. In the process, he would uncover a higher moral law that would glorify his mastery over the common herd. As it was in Greece and Rome, so it must be in all healthy societies, liberty must be “the privilege of the few – not the right of the many.”
The mass instinct is a leveling instinct; human rights are the mass-man’s leveling instrument, his hammer of conformity. The democratic state is the great leveler, an organization of slaves seeking vengeance against their masters for exposing human inequality to the light of day. Liberal democracy, the true heir to a moribund Christianity, discourages Man to overcome his lower instincts and strive for what his highest in the universe.
When the comfortable, easy life of Homo occidentalis comes to an end – and end it must – he will be forced to ask himself: Wither Western society? Whither Western man? Aristotle or Locke? When the hour of decision is at hand, he must be prepared to answer honestly: Natural rights or hierarchy? Civilization or savagery?