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Yale's David Blight Blames Slavery on Burkean Conservatism
Yale Online ^ | Spring 2008 | David Blight

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.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: academicbias; indoctrination; ivyleague; revisionisthistory; slavery; yale
Slavery comes from conservatism,... what did you expect?

What Burke is he referring to... Edmund Burke was an abolitionist!

1 posted on 09/25/2013 3:24:13 PM PDT by Titus-Maximus
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To: Titus-Maximus
I would expect today's academics to interpret history to fit their contemporary worldview.

They have very little integrity.

2 posted on 09/25/2013 3:27:44 PM PDT by skeeter
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To: Titus-Maximus

And of course there was no slavery before Burke. /s
Bllght is correctly named.


3 posted on 09/25/2013 3:27:49 PM PDT by mkmensinger
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To: Titus-Maximus
If he wants to know what motivated the defenders of slavery, what kept even Washington from supporting abolition, then one word suffices: Haiti.
4 posted on 09/25/2013 3:29:56 PM PDT by RobbyS (quotes)
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To: Titus-Maximus

Maybe Billie Burke-Glenda, the Good Witch of the North


5 posted on 09/25/2013 3:33:43 PM PDT by americas.best.days... ( I think we can now say that they are behind us.)
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To: Titus-Maximus
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.

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.

6 posted on 09/25/2013 3:38:49 PM PDT by Billthedrill
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To: Titus-Maximus

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 man’s 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


7 posted on 09/25/2013 3:39:18 PM PDT by EBH ( Freeman: A person not in slavery or serfdom.)
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To: Titus-Maximus

Oh look. A Blight at Yale.

Surprise.


8 posted on 09/25/2013 3:40:19 PM PDT by Hardraade (http://junipersec.wordpress.com (Obama: the bearded lady of the Muslim Brotherhood))
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To: Titus-Maximus

Burke’s plan for gradual abolition of the slave trade and slavery.

http://www.econlib.org/library/LFBooks/Burke/brkSWv4c7.html


9 posted on 09/25/2013 3:40:21 PM PDT by Sherman Logan (Mark Steyn: "In the Middle East, the enemy of our enemy is also our enemy.")
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To: Titus-Maximus

ah, Slavery started and still going on because blacks and islamics sell and buy humans they consider property


10 posted on 09/25/2013 3:41:14 PM PDT by svcw (Stand or die)
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To: Titus-Maximus

I’ve never had this much time on my hands, thank God.


11 posted on 09/25/2013 3:42:45 PM PDT by Tijeras_Slim
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To: Titus-Maximus

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.


12 posted on 09/25/2013 3:45:07 PM PDT by Sherman Logan (Mark Steyn: "In the Middle East, the enemy of our enemy is also our enemy.")
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To: Titus-Maximus
"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."

Wow.

That sounds a lot like another pro-slavery 19th-century writer:

Karl Marx.

13 posted on 09/25/2013 3:45:40 PM PDT by tsomer
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To: Titus-Maximus

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.


14 posted on 09/25/2013 3:54:54 PM PDT by pallis
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To: Titus-Maximus

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.)


15 posted on 09/25/2013 3:56:48 PM PDT by Da Coyote
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To: Titus-Maximus
...What are Abolitionists calling for? Upsetting the social order...

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...

16 posted on 09/25/2013 3:59:55 PM PDT by tsomer
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To: Titus-Maximus

Slavery is just the next level of socialism


17 posted on 09/25/2013 4:08:39 PM PDT by GeronL
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To: Titus-Maximus
Are we to assume that Burke was the author of the slavery suffered by the countless Jews, Assyrians, Babylonians, Ionians, Greeks, Slavs, Russians, Chinese, Huns, Japanese, Incas, Aztecs, Olmecs, Toltecs, Egyptians, Zulus, Hutus, Watusis, Aborigines, Indians, Franks, Britons, and Celts who were slaves at one time? Was he also the godfather of the feudal system and indentured servitude, which amounted to the same thing as slavery? And even though he's dead, is he still responsible for the slavery that continues to exist in parts of Africa and the Middle East?

That's one POWERFUL man!

18 posted on 09/25/2013 4:10:17 PM PDT by IronJack (=)
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To: skeeter

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.


19 posted on 09/25/2013 4:10:35 PM PDT by spawn44 (MOO)
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To: Titus-Maximus; Sherman Logan
Right. He's not saying Burkean conservatism caused slavery. Slavery was around well before Burke was.

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.

20 posted on 09/25/2013 4:15:53 PM PDT by x
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To: Titus-Maximus
so the africans that sold their neighbors were conservatives??? wow...
21 posted on 09/25/2013 4:25:01 PM PDT by Chode (Stand UP and Be Counted, or line up and be numbered - *DTOM* -vvv- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: tsomer

And just as his own reference to Nat Turner reminds us, mayhem and violent death. The ready spectre of genocide made upsetting the social order a bit risky.


22 posted on 09/25/2013 4:25:55 PM PDT by Chewbarkah
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To: skeeter

The integrity issue is the key. Their worldview is a lie from the Master of Lies.


23 posted on 09/25/2013 4:27:05 PM PDT by 1010RD (First, Do No Harm)
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To: pallis

I find it amusing that slavery was justified by economics and need to preserve the social order when slavery put a limit on the development of skilled labor, and all slave owning societies had a justified fear of revolt. Also one of the most jealously guarded privileges of slave owners was the ability to command sexual favors.


24 posted on 09/25/2013 4:31:45 PM PDT by Fraxinus (My opinion, worth what you paid.)
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To: x

Indeed. The pro-slavery apologists were radicals, which is why Davis did not include them in his government.


25 posted on 09/25/2013 4:37:54 PM PDT by RobbyS (quotes)
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To: Titus-Maximus
I notice he, like all libs, conveniently ignores the LEADING defender of slavery, Virginian George Fitzhugh, an ardent admirer of Marx and a man who wrote that slavery was the ultimate form of communism. Free men in the North were truly the slaves because of all those terrible choices, but the slaves in the South perfectly depicted the utopian communist model where slaves were unburdened of all decisions by their masters. Only a few poor people "had" to be masters, but they did it for the good of society.

The reason almost EVERY academic dealing with this period ignores Fitzhugh is obvious: his argument is exactly accurate. Slavery is communism, and communism, slavery.

26 posted on 09/25/2013 4:52:10 PM PDT by LS ('Castles made of sand, fall in the sea . . . eventually.' Hendrix)
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To: Fraxinus

Unlike earlier indentured servitude, where slaves were like part of an extended family, learning trades in return for debt and labor, the Slavery in early America was more like animal husbandry, and keeping the herd under control to perform its function. Plantation owners weren’t interested in developing skilled labor. Lucky was the slave who got domestic duty, or something requiring more than brute labor.


27 posted on 09/25/2013 4:52:56 PM PDT by pallis
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To: Titus-Maximus
Liberals are opposed to individual liberty as defined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The only real issue they have with chattel slavery in America two hundred years ago is that the slaves were privately owned.

They are all orgasmic over the idea of slavery to the state.

Democrats never pass up on opportunity to tell us why slavery by the state is for our own protection and our own safety, because life under the anarchy that conservatives want to impose is just too risky and dangerous. We can't have any of that inhumane "on-your-own economics" that conservatives advocate.

Thereby proving that you no longer have to be black to be an Uncle Tom.

28 posted on 09/25/2013 5:18:31 PM PDT by Maceman (Just say "NO" to tyranny.)
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To: Titus-Maximus

Uh, how does this dim-bulb explain the slavery in Pharoah’s Egypt, or anywhere else, for that matter, before black tribal chiefs sold their prisoners, from other tribes, to Arab and Portuguese slave traders, so they could bring them to the US.


29 posted on 09/25/2013 5:36:55 PM PDT by SuziQ
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To: Titus-Maximus

Once again, a liberal (as usual) fails to do his homework. The writer, while trying to condemn conservatism ends up justifying anarchy. He really doesn’t know what Burke thinks. Like Reagan said, it’s not that liberals are ignorant, it’s that most of what they know isn’t true.


30 posted on 09/25/2013 9:35:38 PM PDT by driftless2
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To: x

The southern revolution, or perhaps counter-revolution, was intensely conservative, in that they were trying to preserve and protect a way of life.

The problem is that the particular way of life they were trying to conserve was at its base anti-American, since it was based on rejection of the core principle of America, that all men are created equal.

So while it was conservative, it wasn’t American conservatism in any but a geographical sense.


31 posted on 09/26/2013 5:00:19 AM PDT by Sherman Logan (Mark Steyn: "In the Middle East, the enemy of our enemy is also our enemy.")
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