14. Progress to Humanness

14.9 Slavery versus Liberty

The belief that men are born free is a “post-logical-era” concept: free men are those who are not slaves. Liberty is a value corresponding to an Anglo-Saxon individualistic orientation but is a notion alien to the vast majority of the human cultures. In most of them, a global view of society is taken. Such an orientation is found in Plato’s Republic, the caste society, feudal societies, imperial societies, communist and socialist societies dominated by Marxist and Hegelian concepts, and all societies (French, Spanish, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Japanese, Chinese) dominated by the concept of the Nation.

Australia, South Africa, North and South America provided immense areas available for exploitation yet devoid of a population apt to valorize it. An attempt at exploiting the native inhabitants to this end resulted usually in genocides and even sometimes in a collective suicide, when native women refused to procreate further (e.g. the Caraibs, fig. 14.10).

Figure 14.10. Rather dead than enslaved. H. Andrae and E. de Cerqueira Falcao. Americae Praeterita eventa. 1966, Sao Paulo, Brazil. In Haiti, the natives were brought under the tightest and most inhuman form of slavery. They choose suicide and, after casting into an abyss their own children (upper left), they hanged themselves (upper right) or broke their head or drank poison. This genocide was known as early as 1630.

Afbeelding 57

The human culture most amenable to exploitation was Black Africa because it was sufficiently sophisticated to serve the new masters best in tropical lands.

For the Spanish, French and Portuguese Crowns, slaves were subjects legally distinct from other colons. For these Crowns, all colons are subjects, a secure place must be given to all subjects and the most destitute subjects should be protected from the rapacity of more powerful subjects. As early as 1547, the Emperor Charles the fifth prohibited the enslavement of Indians (but not of needed African Negroes. He granted the monopoly of slave trading to his native city of Gent). There are no Indian Reserves in the greatest part of South America, Central America and Mexico. Those existing, in Brazil and elsewhere, are places where Indians lived from time immemorial, not barren reserves where uprooted indigenous populations were parked. The Church vigorously backed this legal protection and the Church was represented in fairly large numbers from the beginning of the colonization. It continuously advocated protection for Christians, even the souls not yet converted from paganism. However, greedy colons opposed this protection, with success. In 1639, the Jesuits had secured excommunication for the slaveholders and had organized the Indian communities of Paraguay into efficient producers of goods. This was not tolerable to the colons and the Indians were exterminated at the battle of Cabaile, in 1756. In 1767, the Jesuits were chased from South America because their order – alone- refused to allow that the Spanish Crown designates their missionaries. When Pedro II, emperor of Brazil, freed the Negro slaves (1888), he was forthwith sent into exile (1889) and the landowners proclaimed the independence of Brazil. It is at that time that the plight of the Negro and Indian races became unendurable in Brazil. About 5 to 6 million native Brazilians occupied the land when Cabral reached Brazil, 500 years ago. Today, there are 300,000 Indians left. Their recent extermination proceeded via smallpox willfully inoculated as “vaccine” and they were also machine-gunned from helicopters. The opposition between the races became extreme in Brazil and lasted until about 1950. At that moment in time Blacks and Whites reconciled and the Brazilian culture lost a great deal of its spuriousness. Today, the insecurity is traced to the opposition between the few rich and the numerous poor.

In North America, the voice of friar Bartholomew de las Casas, the relentless defender of the Indians in the Spanish dominions, was not heard: the near-totality of the North American Indians was exterminated (e.g. 21 Seminoles were left alive in Florida after their pacification on 14 August 1842, at a cost of 20 million dollars and 1500 American lives). It was not heard in South America and Mexico either. Savagery is the common denominator of both the Spanish and English conquests and the new rulers in South and North America managed to wipe out the vast majority of the indigenous population. In the opposition between a native and the colonizer, death was usually the outcome but the way death was inflicted was not the same: if the choice were given to die at the hand of the Spaniard or at that of the English, the English was the better choice because he killed systematically but without undue cruelty a population perceived as anachronistic, superfluous and useless.

There was no conquistador who did not fear to be brought back to Spain in chains, as happened to Columbus and his brothers. This was not the case for English colonists. The English Crown had given to the colonizers a free hand in the exploitation of the new land. Labor was an acute problem: up to 1680, most labor in Virginia was white indentured but this service ended after about 4-5 years and the independent farmer would then move West. Once Africa opened up, Negro slaves were preferred in the new colonies because they could not and would not move even when freed, because they were profoundly non-adapted. Yet, the English Crown did not protect the slave. Faced with slavery, the egalitarian belief of the white colonists, themselves Europeans often poorly endowed with intellectual gifts and with their minds poisoned by the appeals to hatred distilled by a holy book they had learned to read, took a rigid way of handling this property. Slavery was opposed to independence and an intermediary status was intolerable. Slavery can only be opposed to freedom and black or red to white, i.e. racism. A property, a black slave, cannot be conceived as existing “free”, as a father, husband, wife with human feelings, lest all slaves are humans and must be free. A free Negro under conditions of slavery is an enormous paradox. It is inconceivable. Not even Jefferson, who sired a child from a Negro mistress, could visualize a community in which free Negroes originating from slaves might live side by side with the other Americans.

The drive for the abolition of slavery initiated in 1783, by a petition of the Quakers. They argued that the treatment reserved to the slaves was not compatible with the Christian faith. By 1790, there were less than 700,000 slaves in the US and the problem could have been easily solved. For this, there lacked the generosity and imagination to foresee the dramatic consequences of perpetuating the peculiar institution, which denied the premises upon which American independence were based. The Federal convention of 1787 left to the States the care to resolve it. Rhode Island had freed all imported slaves as early as 1774. Massachusetts had abolished slavery in 1781. Most Northern States were engaged in gradual abolition by 1804.

In the South, the old Federalist and Jeffersonian leaders were not adverse to emancipation (e.g. J.E.B Stuart, Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Maury). These leaders were driven out and replaced by populist politicians who fostered racism. As practiced in the South, slavery was the apotheosis of the social exploitation of one class, black, by another, white. In the South, the latent racism aggravated the social exploitation. When applied to slaves of another race, logic fosters and amplifies attitudes of racism. With Southern plutocratic mediocre leaders at the helm, the antagonism between the two starkly opposed classes became irreducible. That it need not necessarily have been so was proven by the racial tolerance of Hawaii. In Hawaii, an intense immigration of various races (white, yellow and black) occurred to work the huge sugar plantations. Yet the ruling class, largely descendants of New England missionaries, kept a tight political control and promptly clamped down on racial enmity.

Christianity is a religion. Its vocation is not to amend or change social or political structures, including slavery. Augustine warns that a Christian should suffer the political system that administers his life and Paul advises the slave to obey his master. The Catholic and Episcopalian Churches never endorsed slavery. These Churches also never made many converts among Whites in the South. Christianity inscribes in the soul of the slave the limits of his submission, by placing a universal master above his own master. The essence of Christianity is to bind master and slave in a universal community and, on the other hand, to state the equality of all human beings in the eye of God. The black priest maintained the humanity of his flock. He knew how to temper revolt and avoid manslaughter. To make his people sing every Sunday was to realize that it was neither prone to suicidal revolt nor inclined to abject submission. The black priest tremendously helped his brethren to live through the day and construct their lives in an autonomous culture that immensely contributed to the American culture. It contrasts with the poverty and mediocrity of the spurious dominant Southern culture, highly policed and refined yet based on censorship and deceit, that was transcended only by Poe 7 and the excellent amateur naturalist Audubon.

References

7. He studied in Virginia and worked for a while in Richmond, but died in Boston.

This entry was posted in 14. Progress to Humanness. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.