Tim Sandefur writes:
The pro-slavery argument was very much what we would today call “communitarianism”—the argument was that the society of status was more human and spiritually rewarding than the allegedly cold, commodified, alienating society of industrial capitalism. . . . There’s a reason why the term “dismal science” (describing economics) was coined by Thomas Carlyle in a pamphlet arguing in favor of slavery. Economics was liberal, artificial, atomistic, alienating, individualistic, and therefore dismal, in Carlyle’s eyes—as opposed to the warmth of a static, hierarchical, communitarian society of mutual bonds.
. . . .
[A] slave society will relieve the poor slave of the grueling, alienating feeling of having to work and provide for himself; it will provide him with life, home, and health. After all, the classical liberal just stands for an empty, bourgeois freedom—an unreal freedom, since the poor man won’t have access to the things he needs. A slave society, by contrast, will give him positive rights to life, home, and health—the things he really wants—instead of freedom.
Amazing how these arguments persist to this day. On one hand, those who argue for liberty, with all its joys and hardships—and on the other, those who scoff at such filthy, mean rights as liberty and the opportunity to choose for oneself, and promise instead to give us life, home, and health, if only we will give up such freedom.
The whole post is interesting and worth reading, particularly the recitation of a Confederate poem.
It is worth observing, with some humility, just how closely the political principles that support and condemn slavery run together. The social conservatism of John Calhoun, and to a lesser extent George Fitzhugh, was one of the central defenses of the pro-slavery cause. And the social liberalism of today is often defined not by any special devotion to freedom but rather to a devotion to entitlement, and this at the expense of freedoms deemed less worthy or as acceptable casualties. The political traditions of both the left and the right, then, share uncomfortable proximity to justifications for America’s most immoral institution.
While it may be in poor taste to compare another’s political philosophy with the pro-slavery cause, it is never acceptable to be without a defense of one’s politics that identifies articulable, non-arbitrary limits between legitimate government action and totalitarianism. It will not do to suggest simply that “there is something deep within liberalism [or conservatism, or whatever], from its earliest beginnings, that prevents it from degenerating into fascism.”
[Here’s an example. Teddy Roosevelt remarked that “the spread of the English-speaking peoples over the world’s waste space” was “the most striking feature of the world’s history,” and that only “a warped, perverse, and silly morality” would condemn the American conquest of the West. This muscularity might be serve as ready support of a muscular foreign policy, for example, encouraged by modern conservatives. Before doing so, however, one would have to contend with Roosevelt’s accompanying observation that “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian.”
If one wishes to find support for a muscular foreign policy, it will be necessary to do more than quote Teddy Roosevelt. It is not enough to roam through history looking for friends. One must look also for underlying principles.]