Friday, April 8, 2005

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 8: Southern defense of slavery

The South had no shortage of propagandists to defend the Peculiar Instituion of slavery. The following is one of the best-known works if that sort by one of slavery's most famous advocates: Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters (1857) by George Fitzhugh.

Fitzhugh's sputtering rage at those who thought that it was wrong for the good Christian slaveowners of the South to own property in human flesh will be familiar to those who have been exposed to our drooling-at-the-mouth superpatriots today.  (And who can totally avoid them?)  He opens Chapter 20 with this scholarly analysis:

All modern philosophy converges to a single point - the overthrow of all government, the substitution of the untrammelled "Sovereignty of the Individual," for the Sovereignty of Society, and the inauguration of anarchy. First domestic slavery, next religious institutions, then separate property, then political government, and, finally, family government and family relations, are to be swept away. This is the distinctly avowed programme of all able abolitionists and socialists; and towards this end the doctrines and the practices of the weakest and most timid among them tend. Proudhon, and the French socialists generally, avow this purpose in France, and Stephen Pearl Andrews re-echoes it from America. The more numerous and timid class are represented by Mr. Greeley and the Tribune, who would not "at once rush," like French revolutionists, "with the explosive force of escapement, point blank to the bull's eye of its final destiny," but would inaugurate social conditions, that would gradually bring about that result. Mr. Greeley does not propose to do away at once with marriage, religion, private property, political government and parental authority, but adopts the philosophy and the practices of Fourier, which promise gradually to purify human nature, and fit it, in a few generations, for that social millenium, into which the bolder and more consistent Andrews urges society at once to plunge.

We like the Northern socialist theoretical abolitionists - read their speeches, essays, lectures and books, because they agree with us, that their own form of society is a humbug and a failure; and in their efforts, speculations and schemes to re-organize it, afford the most beautiful, perfect and complete specimen of the reductio ad absurdum. A lecture from Mr. Andrews on No-government, an Oneida den of incest, a Greeley phalanstery, or a New York free love saloon, afford eternally good instances of this mode of demonstration by the absurdities which they exhibit, and equally good proofs of the naturalness and necessity of slavery, since such horrid abuses are everywhere the approved and practiced outgrowth of free society. As all our thoughts, arguments, proofs and demonstrations are suggested by or borrowed from the abolitionists, it seems to us we ought to dedicate to them. The Tribune very properly remarked that our Sociology was the first attempt of the kind at the South. It ridiculed our ignorance, too, severely. It should have recollected that were there no sickness there would be no physicians. We assure the Tribune, we are quite a prodigy in these matters for a Southern man. We have no social diseases, and therefore no social doctors to write about them or cure them. Such diseases have been rare; for Aristotle complains that there are no terms to express the relations of husband and wife, or parent and child. These relations have worked so smoothly in slave society to this day, that we in writing have felt the same want of language of which Aristotle, more than two thousand years ago, complained. You should invent such terms at the North, if it be true, as Mr. Andrews states in italics, that there are ten fugitives from Northern matrimony to one from Southern slavery - from which he seems to infer very logically, that the necessity of abolishing the family at the North, is ten times as great as that for abolishing slavery at the South. (my emphasis)

Slavery, in other words, was "pro-family."  Those who criticized it were anarchists who wanted to destroy the family, the government and religion and have free-love saloons.  (Our hyper-moralists even today imagine that there are free-love saloons on every other street corner in San Francisco and similar wastelands of decadence.)  Oh, and they were socialists, too.  And, and ... French!!

This kind of rhetoric resounded with Southerners, because one of the features of slavery is that the whites lived in constant fear of slave insurrections.  Although actual insurrections were few - though there were many other types of slave resistance - the terror of them  became pervasive in the Southern slaveowning states.

The following little rant is also intriguing, because it seems to start off by describing historical progress from feudal institutions in Europe to modern democracy.  But it's unclear in this presentation whether he considers the Declaration of Independence to be a positive development or just one more step on the road to free love, anarchy and atheism:

The first streak of light that streamed through the dense darkness of the old regime was the declaration by Martin Luther of the right of private judgment in matters of conscience. The next, which shed terror upon the old world, as a new portent of impending revolutions, was the denial, by Hampden, Sidney, Cromwell, and others, of the divine right of kings, and the assertion of inherent political rights in the people themselves. This was followed by the American Declaration of Independence, the establishment of a powerful Democratic Republic in the western world upon the basis of that principle, followed by the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, the Re-action, and the apparent death in Europe of the Democratic idea. Finally, in our day, comes the red glare of French Socialism, at which the world is still gazing with uncertainty whether it be some lurid and meteoric omen of fearful events, or whether it be not the actual rising of the Sun of Righteousness, with healing in His wings; for there are those who profoundly and religiously believe that the solution of the social problem will be the virtual descent of the New Jerusalem - the installation of the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth. (my emphasis)

No, gay marriage in 2004 was far from being the first such diversionary tactic used in American politics:

The reader will thus see that Abolition contemplates the total overthrow of the Family and all other existing social, moral, religious and governing institutions. ... The Family is threatened, and all men North or South who love and revere it, should be up and a doing. (my emphasis)

This portion from Chapter 21 gives a good summary of some of the major assumptions and attitudes associated with the partisans of slavery:

But our Southern slavery has become a benign and protective institution, and our negroes are confessedly better off than any free laboring population in the world.

In previous entries this month, I have mentioned some of the forms of benign protection slaves enjoyed.  Inadequate food and medical care, control of family life by the masters, beating, rapes, separation of husbands and wives, taking young children out of the arms of their mothers to be sold as property, turning the few surviving elderly slaves out to fend for themselves when they became too old to work - this is what the benevolent Christian slaveowners of the South considered "benign and protective."

How can we contend that white slavery is wrong, whilst all the great body of free laborers are starving; and slaves, white or black, throughout the world, are enjoying comfort?

We write in the cause of Truth and Humanity, and will not play the advocate for master or for slave.

It's hard to imagine anyone being able to take those kinds of things seriously.  It's probably a reflection of how closed-off the slave states had made themselves to that they didn't regularly have to confront abolitionist arguments as part of normal politics in their own states.  When you talk too much to your own side and don't pay attention to the critics, it can create a warped perspective of the world.

The aversion to negroes, the antipathy of race, is much greater at the North than at the South; and it is very probable that this antipathy to the person of the negro, is confounded with or generates hatred of the institution with which he is usually connected. Hatred to slavery is very generally little more than hatred of negroes.

Insistance on some kind of hyprocrisy on the other side must have been part of politics from the days of Adam and Eve.  Although we could probably say there is an element of truth in this, that mightunderstate how inverted this is from the real process.  Hatred of slavery and fear of its economic consequences for free workers created the environment in which racism could flourish.  And as far as the more "scientific" and ideological arguments for white racism, advocates of the Slave Power were the ones most actively promoting those, including this particular book.  As the paragraphs following that one amply illustrate:

There is one strong argument in favor of negro slavery over all other slavery: that he, being unfitted for the mechanic arts, for trade, and all skillful pursuits, leaves those pursuits to be carried on by the whites; and does not bring all industry into disrepute, as in Greece and Rome, where the slaves were not only the artists and mechanics, but also the merchants.

Whilst, as a general and abstract question, negro slavery has no other claims over other forms of slavery, except that from inferiority, or rather peculiarity, of race, almost all negroes require masters, whilst only the children, the women, the very weak, poor, and ignorant, &c., among the whites, need some protective and governing relation of this kind; yet as a subject of temporary, but worldwide importance, negro slavery has become the most necessary of all human institutions. (my emphasis)

Notice also that he puts white women and poor whites in the same category of inferiority and specifically requiring masters.  Fitzhugh's work shows clearly how the ideology of slavery was becoming more and more intensely anti-democratic in relation to free whites.  And the ideology was being implemented in practice at the time, as well.

(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month posts 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)

2 comments:

amkpantera said...

Guy sounds like he could fit in with the Republicans of today.  

"Hatred to slavery is very generally little more than hatred of negroes."  Sounds like something they would say.  "Hatred to war in Iraq is hatred of freedom and human progress."  Nevermind that the masterminds behind the war (and slavery) have no sincere concern for the people who are being bombed or shackled and beaten.  

You did say that a good portion of who are neo-Confederates are in the Republican party right now.  Guess I shouldn't be surprised at their logic then.

bmiller224 said...

Actually, there is a big similarity between this sort of thing and Republican black-is-white, up-is-down, war-is-peace kinds of arguments.

You really see it whenever Democrats criticize someone like Alberto "the torture guy" Gonzales for his role in promoting torture in the gulag and the Republicans immediately jump to saying the Democrats are being racist.  Same with Condi-Condi and foreign policy.

There is a lot of this kind of "projection" that goes on in politics, and not just among Republicans, of course.  But it does seem that, the more extreme and divorced from reality an argument is, the more likely its advocates are to use this sort of projection.  And it's probably the case that racial attitudes especially lend themselves to projection, because they are so often based on phony ideological constructions to begin with. - Bruce