Skip to comments.Yale's David Blight Blames Slavery on Burkean Conservatism
Posted on 09/25/2013 3:24:13 PM PDT by Titus-Maximus
Chapter 3. Slavery for the Sake of Social Stability [00:23:54]
Now, how is slavery defended? In many ways, to say the least. But I want to give you at least some sense of the development of the pro-slavery argument, the kinds of arguments that were used, how they changed over time, who made the arguments. Now, the best way to begin to understand pro-slavery ideology, whether we're in the early period of its defense in the 1820s actually, a quite virulent defense of slavery begins early, it isn't something that just sprung from Southern pens in the 1850s during all this expansion, it comes very early. But a framework in which to understand it is that pro-slavery ideology was, at its heart, a kind of deeply conservative, organic worldview. And by that I mean a Burkean conservatism, a set of beliefs that says the world is ordered as it is, for reasons, and that human beings ought not tinker with that order, very much. It was a set of beliefs in the sustenance of a social order as it is. It was a belief in a hierarchical conception of not only society, but of people. That people were conceived, whether by nature or by God or even by evolution, with a certain order to them; some born to do this and some born to do that and some born to do that. It's an organic conception of the world. It just is the way it is. It's natural. Remember back to Alexander H. Steven's cornerstone quote he uses the word "natural" twice in that passage.
This worldview had, of course, an obsession with stability. It's one of the reasons white Southerners didn't like reformers. It's one of the reasons Abolitionists are dangerous. What are Abolitionists calling for? Upsetting the social order. They're offering a critique of the social order, and they even have the audacity to talk about good and evil. It's a worldview often obsessed, as we said last time, with notions of honor and duty. And it's a worldview deeply rooted in the idea or respect for tradition; tradition and social control. In this worldview, institutions human institutions evolve only slowly over time and cannot be altered by abrupt human interventions. It's dangerous to abruptly intervene in the evolution of human institutions.
Now, think what's at stake here in this worldview, especially as we transition next Thursday to a developing though by no means unanimous or homogenous northern worldview in which reform impulses get embedded. White Southern defenders of slavery were to some extent like other Americans products of the Enlightenment. Some of them come to really believe in intellect. They really do come to believe in the power of reason, of human beings to figure out the universe. But to figure it out in different ways. You can be a product of the Enlightenment and still be deeply conservative. You can be a product of the Enlightenment, with a faith in reason, and not become a Romantic who begins to believe in the possibilities of man, or even the perfectibility of man. Conservativism deep organic forms of Conservativism is not antithetical to the Enlightenment, at least not entirely. Although pro-slavery writers will become deeply contemptuous of Natural Law of Natural Law doctrine as it can be applied to the possibilities of man.
Many of them will argue, therefore, that ideas like freedom and that idea of liberty, so much at stake in the age of the American Revolution and falling off everybody's tongue, and eventually falling off their tongues and off their pens as well, what they're fighting for by 1861 were their liberties, they said, over and over and over and over again. But in their worldview, the pro-slavery worldview, ideas like freedom and liberty were simply never absolutes, and many of them will directly reverse Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and simply say, "Nobody is born equal." They will argue over and over and over again some of them almost in a feudalistic way that freedom must always be balanced with order, and that order is rooted in certain kinds of prescribed stations in life, for the various statuses of humans. Or freedom, they will argue, must be balanced with tradition. The possibilities of freedom must always, in their view, be balanced with the world as it as not as it ought to be. They are, therefore, going to have an extremely different point of view from at least Abolitionists in the North on this concept of equality. Although a lot of Abolitionists had their struggles with this one too. Southern pro-slavery defenders are much more likely to stress a human's duty, than they're ever to stress a human's rights. They believed the world was made up of a struggle between human autonomy, on the one hand, and human dependency on the other, and you should never give up on that dependency.
As early as 1826 an important pro-slavery writer named Edward Brown argued that "Slavery," he said, quote: "had ever been the stepping ladder by which nations have passed from barbarism to civilization." There you have the roots and the kernel of the so-called "positive good thesis" about slavery. That slavery was a way in which you sustained a social order, a way in which you built an economy, a way in which you maximized the possibilities of those who deserved it, by using those who did not deserve the same fruits.
Pro-slavery writers, you have to understand, had also a really often a fundamentally different conception of history itself, or of how history happens, than will many eventually northern anti-slavery writers even, eventually, the political anti-slavery folks like an Abraham Lincoln, who was never a real abolitionist but did at least grow up with anti-slavery in his heart. Thomas R. Dew, a very important pro-slavery writer, who wrote a whole book in the wake of the state of Virginia's debates in 1831 and '32 over whether to re-write its Constitution. And they squarely faced the question of a gradual abolition plan for the state of Virginia in 1831 and '32. They had been planning to rewrite their Constitution an extraordinary turning point in Southern history. The problem was, of course, Nat Turner's Insurrection; it had just occurred in October of 1831 and they held these debates in the wake of it. And Dew wrote a forceful defense of slavery in the wake of this, which became kind of a seminal text for all future pro-slavery writers. Among the many things he said, and that was the simple sense of how history happens. "There is a time for all things," wrote Dew, "and nothing in this world should be done before its time." Now, what would you do if your parents told you that? They probably have. What would you do if your professors told you that all the time? "Stop trying to change things. Nothing will change before its time." You'd probably get bored, or angry. Or who knows? Maybe you would just agree. I don't know. Youth are supposed to be impatient.
What Burke is he referring to... Edmund Burke was an abolitionist!
They have very little integrity.
And of course there was no slavery before Burke. /s
Bllght is correctly named.
Maybe Billie Burke-Glenda, the Good Witch of the North
Idiot. First, you are correct, Burke was an abolitionist. Second, that is a misrepresentation of his point of view, which was that present social arrangements often contain non-obvious but beneficial elements that you lose when you change the arrangements. And that sometimes the unintended consequences are worse than the condition you're trying to address. (Reflections on the Revolution in France).
There is nothing in this that implies a defense of slavery and it is outrageously disingenuous to imply that there is.
The whole first paragraph is bunk and is actually quite communist in description of the world, not conservative at all and certainly not Burkean!!
I’ll be honest...I couldn’t even bother to get past that first paragraph of such drivel as this.
Like Aristotle, Burke believed that man is by nature a social animal. Therefore, he rejected every political theory of the origins of society based on the a priori assumption of a primitive or pre-civil state of nature, such as those propounded by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He refuted them with the aphorism, Art is mans nature. Theories based upon a supposed state of nature were to Burke the fairy land of philosophy. They were highly dangerous because they ignored history and opened the door to ideological, abstract speculations that substituted for the facts of history fictions that were then taken for reality in practical politics. Social contract theories invariably conceived of society as consisting of so many isolated and self-sufficient individuals rather than corporate human beings living in organized communities. Burke was aware that for the corporate conception of man Hobbes had substituted monarchical will, Locke majority will, and Rousseau collective will, and that all of them ended by replacing community with some form of collectivism. http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=695
Oh look. A Blight at Yale.
Burke’s plan for gradual abolition of the slave trade and slavery.
ah, Slavery started and still going on because blacks and islamics sell and buy humans they consider property
I’ve never had this much time on my hands, thank God.
To be fair to the author, he is saying that southern apologists for slavery used (their interpretation of) Burkean conservatism to justify slavery as a positive good. This is quite true.
However, opponents of slavery and particularly its moderate opponents like Lincoln, also appealed to Burkean conservatism, and IMO more appropriately.
That sounds a lot like another pro-slavery 19th-century writer:
One need not get over zealous with the philosophy of slavery when greed serves as the first principle. There was a need for cheap labor, and there was a means of supplying that need. Moral justifications came along to fit the circumstances, kind of like what we’ve done to justify illegal immigration, or what the left does to preserve the welfare plantation. In place of agriculture insert the politics of Socialism, the continued growth of the Democratic Party.
Yale gave degrees to the Hillabeast and Bubba.
No more needs to be said about any clown they chose to be a “professor”.
(Science, technology, and math departments excluded, of course.)
Here's another thing:
This "scholar," sitting on his ass in an air-conditioned office, simply cannot grasp what "upsetting the social order" meant for most of the people in the US at that time. It meant food and shelter, livelihoods built over generations...
Slavery is just the next level of socialism
That's one POWERFUL man!
That’s OLD SCHOOL SLAVERY. What about NEW SCHOOL SLAVERY like what the democrats have over the poor blacks through entitlement government programs. Ask old David about that one.
He's saying that slaveowners and supporters of slavery used Burkean arguments in their defense of slavery. Then or now, people get arguments wherever they can find them when they try to defend what they take to be their vital material interests.
Lincoln and the Whig Party he belonged to were themselves conservative in very real ways, and when you consider all the talk in Charleston about the "Revolution of 1860 [or 1861]" it's clear that on can't really describe slavery, its supporters, and their actions wholly as Burkean or conservative developments.