July 14, 2012
Things you mustn't do
Almost everyone seems to be against slavery these days. In fact, I haven’t met a single advocate for slavery, in almost 20 years. And that was not a wannabe cotton plantation owner, but a highly intelligent Japanese girl. She argued, with shocking historical cogency, that “democracy is impossible without slavery.”

Serfdom wasn’t good enough, she said; serfs always have some rights, and some degree of free association, so they can easily organize. No, she insisted: without a distinct class of slaves, held as personal possessions, and therefore freely bought and sold, democracy collapses into its own “grey areas” — into class wars, and other contradictions.

The Athenians understood the need for sharp distinctions between owners, and the owned. The Christians were too wimpy to get this, she insisted, and that is why real, serious democracy has never emerged in the West, and cannot in the foreseeable future. It died with Athens.

Gentle reader may be wondering what I said to confute this. As I recall, my argument amounted to, “Who says I’m in favour of democracy?” Whether either of us was serious, I shall leave as an open question.

I am against slavery myself. My arguments are oppressively Christian, and they apply not only to slaves held in abject conditions, with no legal rights at all, but also to forms of indentured labour, and other conditions resembling slavery. I think it is morally wrong to enslave another human being, and I go so far as to condemn my own ancestor, Stetson Holmes.

He was a Loyalist émigré from New England who, more than two centuries ago, upon arriving in Cape Breton to claim some dubiously-awarded Crown land, found a very hungry Irishman squatting on the property.

So he enslaved that man.

There was no struggle, so far as I am able to deduce from (possibly inaccurate) family records. The man himself was eager to be enslaved. His essay in subsistence farming had come to grief. (Freedom does not always end well.) He was willing to do anything, in return for meals.

Now from other information in the genealogical file, I am sure Stetson Holmes was a kindly slave master. And there were many kindly masters, even on those cotton plantations, and in the cane fields of Jamaica, and in the jungles of Brazil. I’m willing to believe that Washington and Jefferson and the other American Founding Fathers were gentle with their runaway slaves. (Many fled behind British lines; others were caught fleeing.)

But this is beside the point of my argument, which is against slavery, per se. Look around you, today, and you will see many, among them perhaps your best friends, who have sold themselves into some fairly painless modern form of slavery. It may be as mild as “wage slavery” - people who will do anything to keep a job.

Slavery can be a subtle business, and the eradication of slavery requires more than a law. Quite possibly it can never be eradicated entirely, for no matter how that law is written or enforced, cases will slip through. Indeed, in the Christian view, slavery begins not on paper but in the heart, and as our Founder preached, “know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

I cannot find a convincing libertarian argument against slavery. If someone wants to be a slave, and another wants to own him, what is the objection? If it is a voluntary transaction, it is nobody else’s business. Similarly, what if we set up a free-market “slave exchange”? So long as all transactions are properly contractual, who can, in principle, object? Only “social conservatives,” and we know what we think of them.

Or take another example, from Germany the other year, when one man agreed to be killed and eaten by another. It was an entirely voluntary arrangement, and therefore by the logic of the advocates of legal euthanasia, a “death with dignity.”

But in my own backward-looking, traditionalist, and reactionary view, both men were criminals. The man who freely chose to be killed and eaten was an accomplice in his own murder. Indeed, so traditionalist and reactionary am I, that I still consider suicide to be “self-murder.”

For there are certain things that you cannot do to a human being - to any human being, and even if you are that human being. And it is upon that very notion that all genuine human rights depend.

On June 15, a British Columbia judge, Lynn Smith, struck down the Canadian criminal code provisions against euthanasia and assisted suicide. Rob Nicholson, our attorney-general, had until this weekend to appeal the decision. Had he not finally done so Friday, Canada would have had unrestricted euthanasia, to pile on unrestricted abortion. This anyway looks inevitable, for according to polls, a majority of Canadians would be happy with that.

But who says I’m in favour of democracy?

David Warren