Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Slavery and the Founding Fathers

Usually conservatives aren't keen on remembering that many of our founding fathers were slave owners. But Tony Blankley is a more positive fellow, and, in his latest article, argues that slave-owning actually helped our founding fathers.
He [Edmund Burke] recognized that it wasn't despite being slaveholders that American Colonists felt so powerfully about liberty. Rather, being in the midst of the obvious evils of slavery, those men who were free more fully appreciated their freedom. "Those who are free are by far the most proud and jealous of rank and privilege," Burke argued. Or, as Jedediah Purdy (from whose historically rich and ingenious book "A Tolerable Anarchy" I have abstracted these observations) put it: "Slavery made masters uniquely sensitive to any invasion of their independence."
It's a tricky argument isn't it? Slaveowners were very sensitive to losing their freedom because they were so dependent on removing the freedom of others. This transformed the denier of freedom into the champion of freedom. Somehow.

I suppose the parallel to today would the corporations - corporations do control our lives to an increasing extent - and yet they are champions of freedom, simply by being aware of how precarious freedom is. Which is why they work hard to protect their own freedom - freedom to pollute, freedom to treat their workers poorly, freedom to foist unsafe products on consumers, freedom to buy votes as they see fit. One might argue that these "freedoms" impinge on the freedoms of other American citizens. But like in the time of our founding, without this impingement, these champions of liberty would not realize how very valuable freedom is.

Or something like that.

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