Simple, Docile, Gifted

by Henry on December 28, 2011

Via David Moles, Winston Churchill’s Grasshopper-Lies-Heavyesque exercise in the genre of alternative history within an alternative history deserves a wider readership. I give you the counter-counter-historical bit of “If Lee had not won the battle of Gettysburg.”

If Lee after his triumphal entry into Washington had merely been the soldier, his achievements would have ended on the battlefield. It was his august declaration that the victorious Confederacy would pursue no policy toward the African negroes which was not in harmony with the moral conceptions of western Europe that opened the highroads along which we are now marching so prosperously
But even this famous gesture might have failed if it had not been caught up and implemented by the practical genius and trained parliamentary aptitudes of Gladstone. There is practically no doubt at this stage that the basic principle upon which the color question in the Southern States of America has been so happily settled owed its origin mainly to Gladstonian ingenuity and to the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations. There was not only the need to declare the new fundamental relationship between master and servant, but the creation for the liberated slaves of institutions suited to their own cultural development and capable of affording them a different yet honorable status in a commonwealth, destined eventually to become almost world wide.
Let us only think what would have happened supposing the liberation of the slaves had been followed by some idiotic assertion of racial equality, and even by attempts to graft white democratic institutions upon the simple, docile, gifted African race belonging to a much earlier chapter in human history. We might have seen the whole of the Southern States invaded by gangs of carpetbagging politicians exploiting the ignorant and untutored colored vote against the white inhabitants and bringing the time-honored forms of parliamentary government into unmerited disrepute. We might have seen the sorry force of black legislators attempting to govern their former masters. Upon the rebound from this there must inevitably have been a strong reassertion of local white supremacy. By one device or another the franchises accorded to the negroes would have been taken from them. The constitutional principles of the Republic would have been proclaimed, only to be evaded or subverted; and many a warm-hearted philanthropist would have found his sojourn in the South no better than “A Fool’s Errand.”

Since the JSTOR version is apparently a straight reprint of Churchill’s original 1930 essay, I’m presuming it’s not in copyright any more, and have put it up here taken it down as I understand from comments that it is still in copyright.

{ 119 comments }

1

rea 12.28.11 at 4:06 pm

Well, yes, things might have gone better if a victorious South had voluntarily abolished slavery even before the end of the war, although perhaps not in the way that old Imperialist Churchill (who gassed more Kurds than Saddam Hussein) suggests. The notion that Lee would have done that, or that the Confederate government would have allowed him to, is, however, risable.

2

P O'Neill 12.28.11 at 4:22 pm

Also crazy is the part where he sees a path to a “United States of Europe.”

3

Bloix 12.28.11 at 4:26 pm

“Churchill (who gassed more Kurds than Saddam Hussein)”

Source, please. Wikipedia appears to conclude that the allegation of British use of gas (whether poison or merely tear gas) against Kurds in Iraq is a myth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alleged_British_use_of_gas_in_Mesopotamia_in_1920

4

Anderson 12.28.11 at 6:02 pm

I will at least venture the suggestion that Churchill’s narrator expresses racial attitudes that would have been much more socially acceptable (even than they actually were) had indeed the South won independence.

… Such issues aside, Churchill here is a much more entertaining Niall Ferguson.

5

bob 12.28.11 at 6:08 pm

Alas, the Mickey Mouse Protection Act (AKA Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998) means that works published after 1923 are still under U.S. copyright. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Term_Extension_Act

And Disney Corporation will ensure that as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, no matter how much they need to bribe Congresscritters.

6

Jeffrey Davis 12.28.11 at 6:31 pm

It reads like A Modest Proposal.

7

Jim Harrison 12.28.11 at 6:47 pm

One occasionally finds a counterpart to Churchill’s fantasy among apologists for the Third Reich who imagine that the Jews would never have been exterminated if England and America had allowed Germany its rightful place in the sun.

During the Civil War, various Englishmen supposed that the South would willingly give up slavery if it weren’t for the meddling Northerners. Lord Acton, among many others, were simultaneously pro-Confederacy and anti-slavery. I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on them. After all, to this day, most Americans are reluctant to recognize that the South was a vicious society and that people like Lee and Davis belonged on the end of a rope.

8

ogmb 12.28.11 at 6:54 pm

Works by a foreign nationals published in the U.S. more than 30 days after publication abroad have copyright (in the U.S.) for 95 years after publication, see copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm. UK copyright term is death +70 years.

9

Barry 12.28.11 at 7:06 pm

No, Jeffrey, it reads like every other defense of the Confederacy which didn’t have the honesty to admit that (a) the Civil War was caused by slavery, and (b) a Confederate victory would have strengthened and expanded slavery immensely.

10

Anderson 12.28.11 at 7:46 pm

No, Jeffrey, it reads like every other defense of the Confederacy which didn’t have the honesty to admit that (a) the Civil War was caused by slavery, and (b) a Confederate victory would have strengthened and expanded slavery immensely.

Again, I submit that, had the South won, the ideological mystifications we associate with the Lost Cause would’ve been even more triumphant. Reading Churchill’s little exercise in journalism (the man wrote for money; Dr. Johnson would’ve approved) as stating his real views may or may not be incorrect, but it’s not self-evidently correct.

11

Antonio Conselheiro 12.28.11 at 7:50 pm

Lord Acton, among many others, were simultaneously pro-Confederacy and anti-slavery.

Young, idealistic Henry Adams spent the Civil War trying unsuccessfully to figure this out. Some of his political heroes followed Acton, including Gladstone as I remember. Adams eventually came to accept realpolitik.

12

Glen Tomkins 12.28.11 at 8:31 pm

The peculiar institution had become too peculiar, had gone too far out on a limb, for there to have been any prospect at all by 1860 of the South ending it voluntarily.

I am not aware of any other case in history of slavery being designed to be a permanent, inherited condition of a defined group of people. There are near parallels in the helotry of Sparta, or the caste system in India, both of which have this similarity to the slavery of the South, that the defined underclass had to become understood as an inferior race in order to make these systems morally palatable to the overclass.

Southern slavery grafted the idea of a racially defined underclass onto the commercial institution of slavery. As a commercial institution, every other implementation of slavery I am aware of found that the most profitable use of slaves, at least after they had become sufficiently acculturated to be able to function at a high level, involved letting them work at as high a skill level as they were capable, and as freely as they were capable. Slaves were expected to buy their freedom from wages earned outside the hours they worked directly for their owners, because manumission was found to be both quite profitable itself, as well as producing slaves who would generate more profit even when working for “free”, directly for their owners. Of course owners would educate their slaves, because that was the route to maximum profitability.

For this reason, slavery tended to disappear in a society unless there was a steady supply of new slaves generated by war captives. The US was no exception, at least early on. Manumission practically extirpated the institution in all but the Southern states, and those states evolved large populations of free blacks. The Founders believed that they had effectively ended slavery in the US when they provided in the Constitution for the cessation of fresh imports after 1808.

What the Founders did not forsee was that the Southern states which still had significant slave populations at the time of the founding, would purposefully change the institution to shape it into a permanent state that could survive without fresh supplies of new unacculturated slaves. Slavery had to be transformed from an institution that fostered acculturation, into one that denied it systematically. Slaves had to be denied education, they had to be denied the practical ability to purchase manumission. Blacks had to be made into a permanent underclass, made up of people made as incapable of freedom as a conscienceless society could make them.

No doubt the whole system was economicly non-viable. But while this led many observers at the time to expect that the institution would therefore end somehow, be allowed to wither away, this path of extreme and inhumane distortion of slavery could not be left voluntarily once the South had entered down it. Fear of slave revolts, an assertion of Black Power that Southerners had no reason to think would be any less conscienceless that what they had inflicted under White Power, became the insurmountable barrier to any even marginal easing of conditions. The South could not voluntarily have gone back even to a pre-1808 slavery, much less emancipation.

Churchill was a moron. Not that we needed this passage to convince us of that. But the ability to write a phrase such as “…the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations.”, and mean it as an encomonium, is about as succinct a proof of moral and intellectual idiocy as you are ever likely to get from anyone.

13

Bruce Wilder 12.28.11 at 9:31 pm

Glen Tomkins: “No doubt the whole system was economicly non-viable.”

I’ve never quite understood this ritual assertion, with regard to cotton plantation slavery in the antebellum South.
I think Glen is right in supposing that many of the Founders thought they were placing slavery on the road to ultimate extinction, by authorizing a ban on further importation after 1808, a ban Great Britain chose to echo and enforce.
What the Founders had failed to anticipate was the effect the Industrial Revolution would have on demand for short staple cotton. It was the commercial institution of the cotton plantation that made a slavery, which reproduced itself, viable.
Slavery would not seem, by its nature, to be an institution, which reproduced itself, and, historically, it has not been. It requires war to feed its numbers. Manumissions are the sunny side of that dynamic, for slaves, who have to be trusted by their masters. For slaves, who are to be used up, whose lives are to be sacrificed in swamps or mines or sugar cane fields, it is simply death outrunning opportunities to have and raise children.
King Cotton made slaves valuable enough that slaveowners wanted them to reproduce, wanted to expand cotton plantation agriculture.

Ironically, perhaps, it was reproduction and expansion, which made political enemies for slavery as an institution.

14

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.28.11 at 9:56 pm

Anything can be economically viable; a better question is whether it was more efficient than
sharecropping, or some other model.

15

David Miller 12.28.11 at 11:05 pm

Any system can be more efficient than slavery; a better question is whether you can “get there from here” without killing 600,000+.

It’s thermodynamically favorable for the gasoline in my car to oxidize into carbon dioxide and water. But without a spark, my car can sit in garage indefinitely without exploding (thankfully).

16

DaveL 12.28.11 at 11:17 pm

Re #14, my understanding has always been that absent the invention of the cotton gin, somewhat after the writing of the US Constitution (the late 1790s), slavery might well have become uneconomical, especially if importation of new slaves after 1808 had still occurred. Even had it remained economical, it might not have been the economic powerhouse it became in reality.

17

Stochos 12.28.11 at 11:39 pm

This article provides yet further evidence that Churchill was a racist.

A book review based on the Churchill that appeared in the New York Times stated:
“I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” This hatred killed. In 1943, to give just one example, a famine broke out in Bengal, caused, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proven, by British mismanagement. To the horror of many of his colleagues, Churchill raged that it was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits” and refused to offer any aid for months while hundreds of thousands died.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/books/review/Hari-t.html

Why is it that Churchill is so revered when he practiced genocide so frequently? Did he not practice an English form of Nazism?

18

Dilettante 12.29.11 at 12:27 am

Churchill was a moron? Ad hominem is usually counter-productive, especially here, where it is so utterly wrong. Churchill believed many things an educated person would be far less likely to believe today, some of them certainly quite repellant to our minds. But it’s silly to infer that he had inferior intelligence because he had the Victorian values common to his time and class. And it’s silly to assume that we are somehow smarter than him because we do not have common Victorian values. The man was an intuitive strategist, a brilliant orator, one of the most successful journalists of his time, a pretty decent historian, and not a bad artist. The fact that he had a different view of the British Empire than we do today is, well, just not very surprising.

You might as well dismiss Thomas Jefferson as a ‘moron’. He agreed with slavery, after all (most of the time). And didn’t mind taking the country from the original inhabitants of North America. But that doesn’t really work – he was clearly a bright guy despite those beliefs. Assailing historical figures for having been morally wrong just seems an indulgent way to make ourselves feel smarter – like laughing at medieval priests for not knowing the earth went around the sun.

(Also, as noted above, it is very unclear that Churchill personally agrees with the views of his narrator in this alt-history exercise. In 1930 he was churning out an awful lot of material very quickly to keep his family financially afloat.)

19

bexley 12.29.11 at 12:45 am

Playing devils advocate:

If Churchill had asked a historian about the Civil War in the 1930s would he have been given a Lost Cause view? Despite his pretensions he wasn’t a trained historian so when he wrote the essay, if real historians had presented Lost Cause arguments then he could have taken at face value the tripe about how the War of Northern Aggression totes wasn’t about the slavery. At which point writing something where the South frees the slaves at the end of the war isn’t totally ridiculous.

Doesn’t excuse “… and to the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations” and other nonsense in the essay of course. And given Churchill’s known views on race (eg “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion”) I can’t bring myself to give him the benefit of the doubt on this despite my argument above.

20

Nemo 12.29.11 at 12:52 am

Thanks for publishing this. BTW, while this may have originally been published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1930, it was apparantly written for an anthology of such essays, the other contentsof which are listed here (and all of which are almost certainly still under copyright).

http://www.uchronia.com/bib.cgi/label.html?id=squiifitha

21

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 12.29.11 at 1:11 am

I would never, never, never trust Churchill with the wisdom of knowing how to treat black people appropriately.

Look at how the Kenya Emergency went down under his second PMship in the fifties. The Mau Mau were horrible people, and so were the British trying to put them down: lots of hanging, torture (including shoving hot eggs up people’s rectums and vaginas) and internment. No wonder Obama sent Churchill’s bust (originally loaned to Bush II) back to the UK Embassy. His grandfather was in the camps.

22

Barry 12.29.11 at 1:21 am

Jim Harrison: “Lord Acton, among many others, were simultaneously pro-Confederacy and anti-slavery.”

Since the cornerstone of the Confederacy was negro slavery, he’s – conflicted.

23

Barry 12.29.11 at 1:34 am

12.28.11 at 9:31 pm

Glen Tomkins: “No doubt the whole system was economicly non-viable.”

Bruce Wilder: ” I’ve never quite understood this ritual assertion, with regard to cotton plantation slavery in the antebellum South.”

Because if that were true, then the Civil War was unnecessary, and the Evul Abolishunusts is all to blame.

24

Donald A. Coffin 12.29.11 at 2:26 am

The argument that slavery was not economically viable can be traced to the historian U. B. Phillips (American Negro Slavery; a Survey of the Supply, Employment, and Control of Negro Labor, as Determined by the Plantation Regime: 1918). This point of view persisted, apparently without successful push-back until Alfred Conrad and John Meyer demolished it in the late 1950s (The Economics of Slavery in the Antebellum South: 1958). When I was studying economic history in grad school (early 1970s) the Phillips position was clearly in retreat, but by no means abandoned.

So Churchill could very easily have “learned,” from prominent and well-respected historians, that slavery was dying and could not have survived much later than 1860…He was wrong (as would have been the hypothetical historiand from whom he learned), but, in the 1920s and for decades to come, that was the conventional point of view.

25

Belle Waring 12.29.11 at 6:17 am

Don’t forget rice! South Carolina got very rich on plantation farming of rice, with only 20% of the population white at some times, due to their preference for importing “fresh” (i.e. African) slaves right up till the last minute and beyond. The fear was that Caribbean slaves had already learned to communicate with one another and were inclined to rebellion, while “fresh” slaves taken from various parts of Africa and then purposefully mixed together would find it harder to resist. Brutal organized repression was required to keep this going, though oddly the slaves would sometimes be left quite alone for the malarial part of the year on the barrier islands. The slaves were much more likely to be immune, while the white population really would drop like flies over the summer. It is interesting to imagine what it was like the day the masters got back.

This is why some people still speak Gullah (and though Clarence Thomas is a force for evil in the world, it’s still cool that a native speaker of Gullah made it to the Supreme Court of the United States.) I think they could have gone on farming rice indefinitely with enough slaves; I’ve never heard that it was anything but massively profitable before the war. It appears to have been unprofitable without slaves, or at least uncompetitive with Asian rice, but Carolina Gold Rice is far superior and worth seeking out and buying (oddly this is the second time I have seen people talking about this today.)

26

Belle Waring 12.29.11 at 6:24 am

I only learned about the engineered famine in Bengal which Stochos describes last year, from Neil Sinhababu; my opinion of Churchill has declined precipitously, such that this pushes it down only slightly further into the hole.

This place has got the best, though as friends have pointed out, the history part is a bit…whitewashed, one could say. It is still worth trying; it genuinely tastes different than other rice, as different as whole-wheat flour and white flour. Mmmm, better example: as different as poorly-prepared, starchy Idaho potatoes, from new potatoes which you have just dug up and boiled with lavish amounts of butter. Just a pat of butter in the rice and some salt is all you need to eat it.

27

Glen Tomkins 12.29.11 at 6:43 am

Barry,

I should have referred to slavery as an economic drag, and perhaps more importantly a social drag, rather than it being economically non-viable, which admittedly implies that it would have died on its own. The point I was trying to make was that however badly slavery performed economically compared to alternative arrangements (HV’s point), however much a drag it was on society in the South, the South was never going to end it voluntarily because they had pushed it past a point of no return when they made slavery a permanent, inherited, race-based condition. They made blacks into an unassimilatable underclass that they did not feel it was at all safe to emancipate. However much of an economic debit, however much that debit grew, the South could not let slavery wither away, or even become less harsh, because what they had done to blacks made it impossible for them to trust any degree of power in black hands.

So, yes, absolutely, a push from the outside, from those Damned Yankee Abolitionists, was necessary to end slavery. It wasn’t going to wither away on its own no matter how inefficient it was, no matter how much the gradient of inefficiency compared to the free soil US grew. However inherently non-viable, slavery was going to be maintained on life support as long as the South could manage, because fears for their security trumped any economic considerations.

The same reasoning applies to Jim Crow, the system of a permanent slave class — slavery without slavery — they managed to reinstate after their defeat by the damn abolitionists. However much an incubus it was on the South to maintain a permanent underclass, where fostering productive, equal citizens instead would have been much more conducive to economic and social developement, the white South was not going to end Jim Crow, ever, on its own.

28

Glen Tomkins 12.29.11 at 7:39 am

Dilettante,

Perhaps one might excuse members of the ruling classes in the societies I mentioned, Sparta and the India of a few centuries ago, for taking the racist and imperialist foundations of their exalted stations in life for granted, for not really ever perceiving that there was a moral question inherent in those arrangements. It is true that if no alternative had ever presented itself, that individuals in a society that has inherited social arranagements handed down as an unquestioned tradition from time immemorial might not be seriously expected to question those traditions. If we can only perceive a choice in social arrangments, a possibility that they could be different, from our perspective in 2011, it is indeed anachronistic to expect people from an era when no choices were available to have made what we would consider the right choices.

I’m not entirely comfortable conceding that point even about Sparta or ancient India. The Spartans seem to have been at constant pains to keep down their helots, with rather vicious means of repression necessary in an ongoing reign of terror. The perpetrators of that repression cannot have been unconscious of the violence needed to maintain their society, and that constant need for violence should have served to place that society in a ongoing question in the minds of its beneficiaries. Similarly, while we can tell a story about people in ancient India having a caste system handed down from time immemorial as the only alternative present for their consideration, perhaps we only find that story convincing insofar as we are not so familiar, as I confess I am not, with the details of Indian history, or the thinking of Indian philosophers available in those times.

I am somewhat familiar with the range of alternative views available to Victorian Englishmen, and I think that evidence is pretty conclusive that the imperialists of that day deserve absolutely no free pass on the grounds that no alternative to empire was intellectually or morally available to them. The British Empire was certainly no tradition handed down without question from time immemorial. It was the creation of that time, and its creation was questioned at every step and in every particular by people of that era. People who chose to ignore those questions and plow right on in support of empire were simply moral and intellectual idiots, as surely as are those who supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The people who created the peculiar institution of Southern slavery in the early 19th Century were engaged in wilfull immorality. The slavery they inherited, though a relatively humane institution by comparison to the moral and practical horror they created, was already widely viewed as morally questionable. They took that already questionable institution and made it far worse. No one (to my knowledge, and please correct if this point is wrong) had ever before attempted to reduce a whole people to permanent slavery, down through future generations.

The people who created Southern slavery, though, claimed to answer to a Higher Authority than the Enlightenment thinking that questioned even the traditional form of slavery. These folks were fond of quoting Leviticus to justify slavery, for if God set down rules for slavery, then surely slavery was part of God’s plan, whatever carping free-thinkers might say. That citation leaves them with no defense whatever for not following those rules governing slavery that Leviticus set down, just one of which, the Jubilee Year, would have seen the last slave in the South freed some time in 1857. Don’t try and claim that these people, who, by the way, are my people, had no way of knowing any better, that judging them by our standards is anachronistic. They held up Scripture to justify themselves, and Scripture condemns them pretty unequivocally. Their own stated standards are far more strict and unyielding against the slavery they created than ours, and that is the only charge of anachronism I will allow to have any merit in this matter.

29

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.29.11 at 8:21 am

Glen, I feel that you’re moving the goalposts somewhat, by talking now about an underclass and classifying Jim Crow as a form of slavery.

On the narrow question of the plantation slave labor in the South (I imagine house slaves is yet a different matter), if (I don’t know if it’s true or not) the sharecropping arrangement proved to be more efficient, it seems reasonable to speculate that the slaves would’ve been eventually converted into sharecroppers, and, possibly, without any violence, because it wouldn’t require a land reform or anything like that, and could’ve been done internally and independently on each plantation. Wikipedia says that there were already sharecropping plantations in the South before the war.

Of course the sharecroppers are an underclass too (I watched Novecento a while ago, so I can’t help but feel like an expert), and can be (and usually are) deprived of any political power, intimidated, oppressed, and so on. But they are not slaves, it’s a different socioeconomic arrangement.

30

maidhc 12.29.11 at 10:42 am

Churchill was almost as prejudiced against the Irish as he was against Indians and other dark-skinned people. De Valera drove him absolutely batty. Luckily his staff managed to restrain him from ordering an invasion of Ireland in WWII.

31

Belle Waring 12.29.11 at 12:32 pm

Henri, this is just silly. Even if we were to stipulate that sharecropping was more efficient than slavery (which I, in fact, would dispute), the magic hand of the marketplace would have been totally, utterly unable to effect a change to the more efficient system, due to the fact that Southern society was built on, and deeply invested in, white supremacist racial theories. I don’t know why anyone ever has to belabor this point: “it’s the racism, stupid.”* That’s not even sufficient, more like, “it’s the ‘makes David Duke look like motherfucking Malcolm X White Supremacy,’ stupid.”

*Not that you are stupid; it’s just a quote.

32

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.29.11 at 12:52 pm

Um, sorry to go all marxy on you, but aren’t you putting the cart before the horse, the superstructure under the base? Is racism a consequence of slavery, or is it a cause of it?

33

Barry 12.29.11 at 1:36 pm

DaveL 12.28.11 at 11:17 pm

” Re #14, my understanding has always been that absent the invention of the cotton gin, somewhat after the writing of the US Constitution (the late 1790s), slavery might well have become uneconomical, especially if importation of new slaves after 1808 had still occurred. Even had it remained economical, it might not have been the economic powerhouse it became in reality.”

If the (legal, mass) importation of slaves had continued, then the price of slave labor would have been lower, making the use of slaves more profitable.

34

J. Otto Pohl 12.29.11 at 1:51 pm

Glen Tomkins:

I am not too familiar with either Sparta or India. But, the Soviet Union under Stalin also certainly sought to create a permanent class of people defined as members of racialized ethnic groups with restricted rights and used for menial labor during the 1940s. On 26 November 1948, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet declared the internal exile and classification as “special settlers” permanent for Russian-Germans, Kalmyks, Karachais, Balkars, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, and Meskhetian Turks. The decree used the term “navechno” which is Russian for eternity. It turned out to not be for eternity, but that has to do with policy changes after the death of Stalin and Beria.

35

peterv 12.29.11 at 2:12 pm

“…the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations.”

The influence of Britain was not universally malign. Throughout the 19th century, the Colonial Office insisted that British colonies introducing elected (or part-elected) legislative chambers or local councils do so using non-racial franchises. The Cape Colony, for instance, had a conditional franchise (voters needed to own property above a certain value) that was strictly colour-blind from 1836. London was usually far more liberal than the local British settler population on this issue, and this explains why some non-whites could vote in Rhodesia all the time before Independence (from the first advisory council in 1898, through white self-government in 1923 and right up to 1979) and in South Africa, for some non-white people, right up to 1968.

36

soru 12.29.11 at 3:21 pm

Since the cornerstone of the Confederacy was negro slavery, he’s – conflicted.

By the standard 19C liberal interpretation of the right of self determination, the two things don’t conflict, but reinforce one another. Under that view, the unit of self-determination is the nation, defined by shared language, customs and religion.

They may speak the same language, but calling both churchgoing abolitionists and Leviticus-quoting slaveholders ‘Christians’ is about as valid a label as calling both Jedi and Sith ‘worshippers of the Force’. A territory containing populations who have demonstrably irreconcilable views on such a fundamental and significant moral issue cannot be a nation.

Territories collected by mere military aggregation, without shared culture, are an empire.

And Empires are always Evil.

Obviously, once the South had split off, they would, in principle, have given full moral support to a slave revolt or black separatist movement, providing only that it was indigenous, strictly without any direct aid from interfering imperialists such as London or Washington.

37

Anderson 12.29.11 at 3:58 pm

Is racism a consequence of slavery, or is it a cause of it?

How about “mutually reinforcing”? But Belle is correct that New World slavery in general is unthinkable without racism.

Enlarging somewhat, and even further speaking outside of any actual competency, it’s always been unusual to enslave members of one’s own group, right? The ancients enslaved peoples they defeated in battle. The Ottomans enslaved Christians. The Saxons enslaved Celts. Treating a human as property doesn’t fit well with that human’s being a person in one’s own group.

… As for “Churchill was a moron,” it’s the kind of statement that tells you very little about Churchill and quite a lot about the speaker. I am not going to defend his attitude towards India or his comments during the Bengal famine, but unless the Wikipedia article on the subject is utter tripe (always possible), it’s a great deal more complicated than “Churchill ordered genocide.”

38

Stephen 12.29.11 at 4:00 pm

maidhc 12.29.11 at 10:42 am
“Churchill was almost as prejudiced against the Irish as he was against Indians and other dark-skinned people. De Valera drove him absolutely batty.”

With de Valera, it wasn’t prejudice, it was experience. Believe me, the man drove a good number of Irish batty too. Some he drove into the lunacy of a vicious and futile civil war; some he drove into exasperation by his posturing in the Emergency. His visit of condolence to the German Embassy on the death of Hitler, though not to the American embassy on the death of Roosevelt, was perhaps his low point; some would say it was his ordering the arrest of Irish troops who had served in the British army, on their return after the war.

” Luckily his staff managed to restrain him from ordering an invasion of Ireland in WWII.”
Source, please.

39

Dilettante 12.29.11 at 4:10 pm

Glen,

Thanks for the response. I’m afraid you’re missing the point I was making, however. My contention is that Churchill may have held morally wrong positions, but that it is silly to call him a moron. Further: lots of very intelligent people hold (and have held) morally wrong positions. This is tragic, but there’s no point deluding ourselves that holding an evil belief makes a person stupid.

This is not just about the inappropriateness of applying anachronistic value judgments. Certainly there were Victorians who opposed things like the British Empire or British conduct in its defense; that position was ‘available’ to Churchill as you put it. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson was aware of the position that slavery should be abolished. Neither of them are morons because they did not come to agree with those positions. The more balanced conclusion is that they were complex people with great gifts, capable of doing much good (fighting Nazis, fighting the US revolution), with some admirable beliefs (freedom should be defended) and some bad beliefs (white people are better than others).

Bad moral beliefs don’t negate intellectual ability. Wagner’s antisemitism doesn’t mean he was not a good composer. Einstein’s treatment of women doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good physicist. Kant’s racism doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good philosopher. Many Victorians were intelligent but also defended the Empire – see Disraeli. And I noted Churchill’s intellectual accomplishments in my post above.

(By contrast, one can indeed argue that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, et al are intellectually lacking. Sometimes people with morally wrong beliefs are also not very bright. It’s just that one doesn’t imply the other).

Finally, one example of Victorian British statecraft was the forcible ending of the slave trade in the Atlantic in the nineteenth century — over loud protests from the USA, naturally, who could no longer send out slave ships. (If we dislike slavery, it’s hard to disagree that sometimes imperial power did some good). For an imperialist like Churchill, exercises such as that were part of the justification of Empire. Certainly we can say today he was wrong. But not that he was stupid.

40

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.29.11 at 4:29 pm

How about “mutually reinforcing”?

You need racism to have slavery going, that’s clear, but the logic in #32 goes like this: entrenched white supremacism means that slavery could not be abolished, even if it clearly became an inefficient mode of production. That doesn’t make sense to me.

One doesn’t need slavery to feel superior, and to practice one’s imaginary superiority. Look at the quote in the post, the title of it. Obviously there is a hint there, he’s saying: wogs are like children. Yeah, that’s supremacism all right, we all feel superior to children. But that doesn’t mean we chain them to their beds, though some do.

41

Alex 12.29.11 at 5:06 pm

this explains why some non-whites could vote in Rhodesia all the time before Independence (from the first advisory council in 1898, through white self-government in 1923 and right up to 1979) and in South Africa, for some non-white people, right up to 1968.

WSC was almost certainly thinking about the South Africa Act 1909, for the excellent reason that he presented the bill in the Commons, was the responsible minister, and probably thought he wrote most of it. Much of his writing, in general, is on the theme of “History: I could have done better myself!”

Very ironically, this quote from above is a reasonable summary of the coming of high apartheid and what would become of the Act:

By one device or another the franchises accorded to the negroes would have been were taken from them. The constitutional principles of the Republic Union would have been were proclaimed, only to be evaded or subverted

42

Jim Harrison 12.29.11 at 5:43 pm

Discussions of the economic rationality of slavery sometimes confuse the prosperity of the South as a whole with the prosperity of the people who had political power, i.e., the plantation owners. The slavery system hardly benefited the majority of whites, but it hugely benefited the minority that mattered. Oligarchs put the protection of their wealth and income above all other considerations, defending their privileges with far more energy than others defend their rights. The Confederacy was like a state run by drug lords, except that the slave power was rather more successful than the cartels in coming up with political, religious, and biological justifications for its activities.

43

lurker 12.29.11 at 6:03 pm

‘it’s always been unusual to enslave members of one’s own group, right?’ (Anderson)
Being sold to pay off your debts is a quite common way of getting enslaved, but then the rich and the por are not members of the same group.

44

ragweed 12.29.11 at 6:22 pm

bexley 12.29.11 at 12:45 am
If Churchill had asked a historian about the Civil War in the 1930s would he have been given a Lost Cause view? Despite his pretensions he wasn’t a trained historian so when he wrote the essay, if real historians had presented Lost Cause arguments then he could have taken at face value the tripe about how the War of Northern Aggression totes wasn’t about the slavery. At which point writing something where the South frees the slaves at the end of the war isn’t totally ridiculous.

The Lost Cause view may have even been more prevelant in the UK than in the US. In the US, the denial of slavery as prime cause was a post-war phenomenon. In the UK it was a deliberate part of Southern lobbying for British intervention during the war. Karl Marx, of all people, wrote in 1861:

For months the leading weekly and daily papers of the London press have been reiterating the same litany on the American Civil War. … In essence the extenuating arguments read: The war between the North and South is a tariff war. The war is, further, not for any principle, does not touch the question of slavery and in fact turns on Northern lust for sovereignty.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1861/10/25.htm

In London, these arguments would carry particular weight as the British sympathy with the South was all about cotton. The lack of access to southern cotton was hammering the British textile industry, and the possibility of a strong tie to an independant southern nation as a counter to the US industrial power had a big draw. The South, for their part, were lobbying hard for British intervention – the British Navy was the only hope the South had afte Hampton Roads for breaking the Northern Blockade. So it is even less surprising that Churchill would have latched on to an interpretation that would have likely dominated British conservative thinking on the war even while it was being waged.

John

45

Nine 12.29.11 at 6:56 pm

“I will at least venture the suggestion that Churchill’s narrator expresses racial attitudes that would have been much more socially acceptable (even than they actually were) had indeed the South won independence.”

I will at least venture the suggestion that Hittler expresses racial attitudes that would have been much more socially acceptable (even than they actually were) had indeed Germany South won the whaterver.

Man, I hope this becomes a new internet tradition.

46

Tom West 12.29.11 at 7:05 pm

It’s a subject that even alternate history writers are loath to tackle, but if the South did manage to secure their independence, is there even the slightest consensus as to when slavery would have eventually been abolished in the South?

I have to say that the idea of the South digging itself deeper and deeper into the slavery hole with no means of escape seems plausible, but then I cannot imagine a modern (1950+) society with slavery, so somewhere, somehow, something has to break.

Anyone care to speculate when it would have occurred or even more out on a limb, how? (Oddly enough, under any scenario I can imagine, losing the civil war would be the best thing that could have happened to the South by orders of magnitude.)

47

J. Otto Pohl 12.29.11 at 7:14 pm

There have been lots of post 1950 societies with slavery. I would not call them modern, but certainly Saudi Arabia and Mauretania had domestic slavery after 1950.

48

Anderson 12.29.11 at 7:28 pm

entrenched white supremacism means that slavery could not be abolished, even if it clearly became an inefficient mode of production. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Really? How efficient was Jim Crow? What economic sense did it make to exclude black patrons? To deny the economy the benefit of blacks with intelligence, genius, or talent, forcing them to be farmers or at best schoolteachers in segregated, ill-kept schools?

Henri, you surely do not subscribe to the fallacy that *economic* value captures *all* value? What economic or military sense did it make for the Nazis to murder 5 or 6 million Jews, in the middle of trying to win a world war?

49

Glen Tomkins 12.29.11 at 7:28 pm

Dilettante,

I think that a phrase such as “moral idiocy” is in pretty common usage, and I suspect that you don’t object to the concept, or much disagree that the statement of Churchill’s that I said told the tale of his moral idiocy (“…the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations.”) is pretty morally idiotic.

Where you seem to disagree is in going the next step, the idea that moral idiocy necessarily leads to, or is a necessary concomittant of, plain, intellectual, idiocy.

I won’t disagree that people may be quite clever while being morally idiotic. And I won’t dispute that this sort of cleverness commonly passes muster as “intelligence”. I suspect that Churchill had at least an above average IQ, probably not terribly high, judging from his writing, but he would definitely pass as “intelligent”. So yes, by the common meaning of words, Churchill was at least intelligent, if not obviously a genius.

Well, I don’t agree with common usage on this point. I think that common sense and common decency always, if you take a sufficietnly broad sweep, and wait long enough for consequences to accumulate, always go hand in hand, and that therefore moral idiocy and just plain idiocy do likewise. The idea implicit in this Churchill quote (the small bit I cite, and the larger bit Henry quotes), that there are inferior races, is both morally idiotic, and just plain idiotic. That is true both of the “inferior” part, and the “race” part. You cite his wide experience of the world, as a journalist and historian, as a sign of intelligence. But in his wide travels, did he never talk to any of the “natives” while he was in India or Africa? And could he come away from even fairly casual such contact with his belief in superior and inferior races intact, unless he were both sorts of idiot?

If we’re talking about someone who has never left the little town where he was born, be that Breaux Bridge or Waddington, who has never had an advanced education, or held any station in life that required him to think much beyond immmediate practicalities, then I would have to allow that many beliefs that would be clearly idiotic if held by a person of wider experience, should perhaps not be judged so harshly. But that doesn’t describe Churchill. From those to whom so much is given, shouldn’t we be able to expect this little, that they not be completely blind to what is right in front of them? And isn’t the failure to see what is right in front of you at least as much intellectual as moral? I mean, if you want to distinguish different species of idiocy, which I don’t think really necessary.

50

Anderson 12.29.11 at 7:31 pm

I will at least venture the suggestion that Hittler expresses racial attitudes that would have been much more socially acceptable (even than they actually were) had indeed Germany South won the whaterver.

I’m happy to aspire to memehood, but what is your point? Suppose Germany had won the war in some fashion – wouldn’t its racist ideology become the norm in its sphere of influence? Wouldn’t its allies and trading partners tend to mimic that ideology?

Put another way, do you believe that your own virtue is so intrinsic that, being raised in a racist state, you wouldn’t fall for what your parents, schools, church, and friends were all teaching you? Maybe not.

51

Anderson 12.29.11 at 7:34 pm

“…the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations.”

Okay, I’ll bite. It’s not “alien” you object to here, so it must be “more primitive” (which itself is subtle – more primitive than Britain?). Is there no valid sense of the word “primitive,” so that no contemporaneous society can ever be more primitive than another? What sense of the word did Churchill have in mind?

Saudi Arabia executed a woman for sorcery a week or two ago; I find that primitive. Does that make me a moral idiot?

52

rea 12.29.11 at 7:58 pm

“‘Luckily his staff managed to restrain him from ordering an invasion of Ireland in WWII.’
“Source, please.”

Well, I’m not the one who made that claim, but I’ve recently been re-reading Churchill’s history of WWII–splendidly written, although wrong about a lot of things.

Churchill, of course, never says that he considered invading Ireland. However, he makes it quite clear that he regarded Irish neutrality as extremely dangerous to Britain in the Battle of the Atlantic. Neutral Irish territory was an obstacle to providing air and sea coverage for inbound convoys in the Western Approaches, while air and sea bases in Ireland would ahve greatly simplied matters. So, although he doesn’t admit having considered an invasion of Ireland, it would be surprising if he had not–hell, you could argue that he should have.

53

Anderson 12.29.11 at 8:08 pm

Re: Ireland – Roy Jenkins’ bio of Churchill confirms that, in his stint as First Lord of the Admiralty, he advocated obtaining use of the Treaty Ports (surrendered in 1938), by diplomacy or otherwise. The Cabinet thought otherwise, and “Churchill grudgingly accepted defeat.” At 614-15.

I bet Max Hastings addresses this, and perhaps a recurrence to the idea after C. became PM, in his newish book on Churchill, but alas that was the first book I bought on the Nook, which means I can’t actually look it up, b/c where the hell did I put it ….

54

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.29.11 at 8:20 pm

What economic sense did it make to exclude black patrons?

They were poor, the underclass. Small loss, clear benefit: making your business respectable.

Anyway, you’re making my point: that slavery is not necessary in order to maintain white supremacy.

What economic or military sense did it make for the Nazis to murder 5 or 6 million Jews, in the middle of trying to win a world war?

None, but that wasn’t a socioeconomic institution, let alone a major socioeconomic institution, like a plantation with slave labor.

55

Nine 12.29.11 at 8:44 pm

“Put another way, do you believe that your own virtue is so intrinsic that, being raised in a racist state, you wouldn’t fall for what your parents, schools, church, and friends were all teaching you? Maybe not.”

You do realize that there were numbers of anti-imperialists in imperial states, abolitionists in slave holding societies & so on ? Maybe not. Very likely not.

Firing up the handy-dandy troll filter script.

56

Nine 12.29.11 at 8:59 pm

Btw , for those who are inclined to other that Mr. Anderson’s pro-Churchill fwapping, here’s some info.
http://www.amazon.com/Churchills-Secret-War-British-Ravaging/dp/B0055X58YU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325192034&sr=8-1

I’m sure Churchill was a complicated leader but the book makes a strong case that he was a world historic douche.

57

Anderson 12.29.11 at 9:07 pm

I am curious to see how Mukerjee’s book fits with the evidence at the Wikipedia article linked upthread. One of the things I miss about academia is easy access to scholarly reviews.

58

Stephen 12.29.11 at 9:10 pm

“So, although he [Churchill] doesn’t admit having considered an invasion of Ireland, it would be surprising if he had not—hell, you could argue that he should have.”

This is more than a shade different from arguing that, being prejudiced against the Irish, he wanted to order an invasion of Ireland for no other reason and had to be restrained by his staff.

“In his stint as First Lord of the Admiralty, he advocated obtaining use of the Treaty Ports (surrendered in 1938), by diplomacy or otherwise. The Cabinet thought otherwise.”
As FLotA he was of course in no position to order any invasion.

We could argue for some time as to whether it was better that the Treaty Ports went unoccupied, at the cost of the Battle of the Atlantic being prolonged (a victory in 1942, rather than mid-1943, might have made the liberation of France possible a year earlier) or even of the battle being lost.

I suppose you could equally argue that Churchill’s ordering an invasion of Iceland made an invasion of Ireland unnecessary. Oddly, this violation of Icelandic neutrality never seems to be held against him, even by hyperpatriotic Irish (or worse, Irish-Americans). Possibly the subsequent American violation provided retrospective absolution.

59

Henry 12.29.11 at 9:12 pm

bq. You need racism to have slavery going, that’s clear, but the logic in #32 goes like this: entrenched white supremacism means that slavery could not be abolished, even if it clearly became an inefficient mode of production. That doesn’t make sense to me. One doesn’t need slavery to feel superior, and to practice one’s imaginary superiority. Look at the quote in the post, the title of it. Obviously there is a hint there, he’s saying: wogs are like children. Yeah, that’s supremacism all right, we all feel superior to children. But that doesn’t mean we chain them to their beds, though some do.

You know, it might be worth taking a look at the historiography here rather than pulling generalizations out of nowhere – e.g. Eugene Genovese in both his pre-conservative and conservative modes – it’s pretty clear that the pre-Civil War American South refused multiple beneficial economic innovations which would have challenged their ‘special traditions.’

60

mds 12.29.11 at 9:16 pm

Saudi Arabia executed a woman for sorcery a week or two ago; I find that primitive.

Indeed, if only a more civilized nation such as Great Britain had intervened in the Middle East, the House of Saud might not be ruling today.

61

Anderson 12.29.11 at 9:25 pm

Here is Joseph Lelyveld’s review of Mukerjee’s book on the Bengal famine. You can also google up the subsequent NYRB letters exchange between Mukerjee, Amartya Sen, etc.

It seems to’ve been more of a collective clusterfuck than any Churchillian plot to starve India into submission, although I agree that his comments and indifference show him at what is probably his very worst. India was his bete noir.

62

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.29.11 at 9:54 pm

Well, since this is all hypothetical, we have no choice but to rely on logic and intuition. Historical facts too, of course, but no one has brought up any so far; just the intuition, mostly.

As Tom West @47 noted, it’s almost impossible to imagine the institution surviving till now, so somehow at some point it would have to be abolished, and the only question is how soon…

63

P O'Neill 12.29.11 at 11:02 pm

On Churchill and the Irish Free State during WWII, worth reading a couple of Wikipedia entries, with the usual allowance for source.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Green_(Ireland)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_W

64

gray 12.29.11 at 11:06 pm

I’m sure Churchill was a complicated leader but the book makes a strong case that he was a world historic douche.

He certainly was a racist and and reactionary, and his strategic vision was questionable but he was right to keep fighting the Nazi’s and was just the man the world needed when much of Britain would have cavilled and made terms with Nazi Germany. For that he is a world historic hero, in spite of all the other stuff.

And as a bonus he kept Britain in the fight thus exhausting its finances and making de-colonialism possible, although of course he did not wish this.

65

bexley 12.29.11 at 11:13 pm

Okay, I’ll bite. It’s not “alien” you object to here, so it must be “more primitive” (which itself is subtle – more primitive than Britain?).

It was more the implication in that passage that Britain had some happy way of dealing with “more primitive” populations and that counterfactual Lee had drawn upon this to end slavery and make all race relations shiny. I mean it isn’t as if the Amritsar massacre was only just over a decade old or that the enlightened Empire wouldn’t go on to carry out some brutal atrocities in Kenya and continue to try to suppress information until earlier this year.

66

Anderson 12.29.11 at 11:24 pm

Bexley, I concur that C. grossly exaggerated the British competence in dealing w/ colonial peoples, but he could certainly think that British “statecraft” looked good by comparison to, say, the Belgian Congo.

The idea that colonial populations had to be educated into the rule of law and democracy is obnoxious, even when not a deliberately asymptotic event, but there is something to the notion that the liberal state cannot simply be declared overnight. Another conservative, Edward Crankshaw, was either more or less obnoxious than Churchill – I’d have to think about it – in taking the same attitude towards the subject peoples of Austria-Hungary and to Tsarist Russia. I am not sure that events have proved him wrong (cf. recent politics in Hungary).

Conservatives are on relatively strong ground when they argue that culture is a real force that changes relatively slowly. (Not so much when they conclude that it’s impossible or undesirable.) Now, one can argue that it’s imperialist or whatever to say that liberal democracy and the rule of law are preferable to whatever conditions the British found in India or their other colonies. But I would tend to side with the Churchills on that point.

67

Harold 12.29.11 at 11:47 pm

In Italy they say that Northern countries have the rule of law and southern countries the “rule of love” (though the “rule of law” was invented in Greece, Rome, Byzantium and Persia — not to mention Babylonia). Perhaps the Northerners merely adopted it with special thoroughness and fervor, as converts often do.. The rule of love is not entirely to be sneezed at when shows mercy and protection to someone who has needs or has special circumstances for which the law makes little allowance. But most people prefer the the rule of law and with good reason.

68

stostosto 12.30.11 at 12:18 am

This makes one think: What if Hitler hadn’t won the Battle of Britain?

69

Charrua 12.30.11 at 12:20 am

That Churchill has a pretty racist and reactionary vision of the Civil War shouldn’t be surprising, since we’re talking about a middle aged British conservative with so-so historical knowledge during the Thirties. It would be surprising if a firm believer in the British Empire at that time WEREN’T somewhat racist.
On the subject of the future of slavery in the South, the experience of Brazil (the other big economy dependent on slavery at the time) is useful.
Slavery ended gradually and more or less peacefully there, probably due to better possiblities for a non-slave economy and to more cultural-social integration between whites, natives and Afro-Brazilians.

70

between4walls 12.30.11 at 1:05 am

@Anderson- I’m confused by what you mean by “Now, one can argue that it’s imperialist or whatever to say that liberal democracy and the rule of law are preferable to whatever conditions the British found in India or their other colonies. But I would tend to side with the Churchills on that point.” Isn’t part of the issue that Churchill wasn’t a supporter of liberal democracy as far as India was concerned, and contrary to fostering democracy, the British rulers jailed the very same people who founded India’s democracy?

71

Nine 12.30.11 at 1:23 am

“And as a bonus he kept Britain in the fight thus exhausting its finances and making de-colonialism possible, although of course he did not wish this.”

Is this state of the art Churchill apologetics ? I can do better if they build me a west coast office !

72

Belle Waring 12.30.11 at 2:35 am

Argh! We don’t have to rely merely on logic and intuition; we can use fact-licious facts! Brazil was crazy racist prior to (and after!) the ending of slavery. Brazil’s probably not the least racist place ever now. However:
White society in the American South was committed to a view of white supremacy so impossibly vast and immoral that it would punish a man who taught his own property to read. There is no efficiency there. It would be more efficient to have educated slaves do everything for you (cf. The Roman Empire, passim). So immoral that it came to regard work itself as a sort of duty fit only for Negroes, creating as a waste by-product a white underclass that was genuinely shiftless. So vast that in order to survive it would have to expand westward or be hemmed in by possible refuges for its suffering slaves. Sharecropping sucked, Jim Crow sucked. They weren’t chattel slavery. No one could tear your infant from your breast and sell her to a man who could kill her whenever he liked.

Did economic circumstances drive the creation of this hateful ideology? Duh. Did it metastasize into a worldview so evil and all-encompassing that not even the feeblest ray of economic rationality which would directly benefit you could shine through any chink? Hells Yeah. Now, it wasn’t super-powered, and if an insufficient number of white people were getting rich it wouldn’t take root in shallow soil (West Virginia. It exists.) Where is anyone’s nickel in denying this? I see people on the right do this all the time, but I’m cynical and assume they’re racist.

If you cannot imagine a post-1950 society with slavery perhaps you lack imagination. Can you imagine the Axis winning WWII? Can you imagine them undertaking to wipe out all the Jews in the world when it made no economic sense whatsoever? I can. Did Stalin’s system of Gulags make economic sense for the Soviet Union? Not a fucking bit. I’m not sure when being a Marxist warped round the circle into being a Chicago School economists, but human beings are perfectly capable of acting against their own interests for loooong years at a time. Some white people were made unimaginably rich by chattel slavery. The rest were bound into a system of racism so virulent that it brought them to support even their own immiseration if it meant a black man couldn’t be free. Christ, why am even bothering to say this?

73

Belle Waring 12.30.11 at 2:42 am

Oh well, at least we’re not arguing about feminism, right guys?
The influence of Britain was not universally malign.
No, they weren’t made of pure, concentrated, heads-on-stakes evil, like the Belgians. If you had to get colonized by somebody, it was better that it was the British. Just think: Deutsch Südwestafrika [shudder]. Having spent a lot of time in Indonesia, I can say the Dutch blew goat balls. They were killing tens of thousands of people in the 1960s to hold onto their colonial property, if one requires refreshers in imagining horrible stuff going on long past its expiry date, and they didn’t leave anything behind aside from lots of carefully cultivated inter-group hatreds. Lazy bastards didn’t even build any roads!? So, two cheers for the British Empire.

74

john c. halasz 12.30.11 at 3:16 am

@73:

What? Here’s Wikipedia:

“For most of the colonial period, Dutch control over the archipelago was tenuous outside of coastal strongholds; only in the early 20th century did Dutch dominance extend to what was to become Indonesia’s current boundaries.[26] Despite major internal political, social and sectarian divisions during the National Revolution, Indonesians, on the whole, found unity in their fight for independence. Japanese occupation during World War II ended Dutch rule,[27] and encouraged the previously suppressed Indonesian independence movement.[28] A later UN report stated that four million people died in Indonesia as a result of famine and forced labor during the Japanese occupation.[29] Two days after the surrender of Japan in August 1945, Sukarno, an influential nationalist leader, declared independence and was appointed president.[30] The Netherlands tried to reestablish their rule, and an armed and diplomatic struggle ended in December 1949, when in the face of international pressure, the Dutch formally recognized Indonesian independence.”

75

john c. halasz 12.30.11 at 3:38 am

Here’s a link to a comparative historiography of American slavery and Russian serfdom by an American scholar of Russian descent:

http://www.amazon.com/Unfree-Labor-American-Slavery-Russian/dp/0674920988

It’s been years since I read a lengthy review of the book, but IIRC the comparison did not entirely redound to the benefit of Russian nobles and the conditions of their serfs. (This is just to go to the issue of whether the oppressions of systems of coerced labor necessarily require racist ideology or are rooted in it).

76

CBrinton 12.30.11 at 5:32 am

Tom West asks ” is there even the slightest consensus as to when slavery would have eventually been abolished in the South? . . . . Anyone care to speculate when it would have occurred or even more out on a limb, how?”

I agree that there is an odd lack of informed speculation on this area. Lots of people, including respected scholars like David Goldfield, simply assert that it’s plausible to think an independent CSA might soon have ended slavery, but they never say how or why.

My own guess is that 1910 to 1920 is about the earliest plausible date for a CSA which gained independence peacefully to end slavery. No political movement in that direction would be at all likely until outside pressure (tariffs/boycotts on slave-produced goods, etc.) began, and no such pressure would be at all likely until the 1880s or 1890s. After that, it’s a question of how long the CSA resists. Maybe for considerably longer than South Africa did in actual history. Assembling a political coalition in the CSA in favor of getting rid of slavery even in name only (replacing it with debt-bondage, say) would take a long time.

I don’t think there’s any particular reason a “modern (1950+) society with slavery” couldn’t exist, though. Depending on other global political developments, I see no reason the CSA couldn’t have held on to slavery at least as long as Saudi Arabia did (1962).

77

Gene O'Grady 12.30.11 at 5:35 am

Personally I find Plato’s admiration of Sparta more morally repulsive than most of the Churchill stuff. But then Plato is the father of reactionary pseudo-history (and lying cultural history, cf. Timotheus.)

No one seems to have mentioned that Robert E Lee actually proposed freeing the slaves to fight for the South in early 1863 (and was apparently nearly lynched for his efforts).

The execution of General Yamashita was not one of the finer moments in American law, but in fact his last words were a tribute to the American military lawyers who handled his trial and appeals. By contrast the Dutch trials of any Japanese officers they could get their hands on (if you can call a procedure in which the defendant is not allowed to speak a trial) and their chosen form of execution (gun shot to the stomach) would have embarrassed Pontius Pilate.

78

Glen Tomkins 12.30.11 at 6:02 am

@52

“Saudi Arabia executed a woman for sorcery a week or two ago; I find that primitive. Does that make me a moral idiot?”

It’s perfectly unremarkable to be horrified at the prospect of any country’s justice system condemning people to death for imaginary crimes. But why would you characterize this horrible practice as “primitive”, rather than simply unjust, unless your horror was motivated by racism rather than the injustice? If you went the step further that the context of the Churchill quote has him going, and you advocated on the basis of Saudi “primitiveness” , that more advanced nations had the duty to take up the white man’s burden (excuse me, “more advanced man’s burden”, don’t want to stack the deck in the argument) of making sure primitive peoples don’t do injustice to one another in their primitive ignorance and superstition, the case would be even clearer.

The US has to be current world leader in putting people to death for crimes the accused has actually been proven not to have committed. I think you get a special cheer from a Republican debate audience if you are responsible for executions of the innocent, because only leaders who will sign those death warrants can really be trusted to be 110% pro-death penalty. Do you think that’s because the US is primitive, rather than simply systematically unjust? Do you think this particular horrible systematic injustice in the US would be usefully adressed by having some or another more advanced country send in troops to keep we primitives from killing each other?

I would stand by a characterization of someone who would answer yes to either of those last two questions as an idiot. Someone who answered no to the last two questions about the US, but yes to the parallel questions when the country in question was SA, does indeed shoot straight to moral idiocy status.

79

dr ngo 12.30.11 at 7:14 am

@73, 74: I myself am a bit puzzled. The only Dutch military encounters with Indonesians of which I am aware AFTER 1949 would be in the very early 1960s, when Sukarno “confronted” the ongoing Dutch occupation of West New Guinea (Papua, Irian) and forced them out (in 1962). But I’d be very surprised if “tens of thousands” were killed in that conflict.

I haven’t spent the time in Indonesia that Belle (whom I greatly respect has), but I have co-authored a textbook on the modern history of the region. So may I politely wonder: did she perhaps mean the late 1940s? That would make much more sense.

80

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.30.11 at 7:20 am

White society in the American South was committed to a view of white supremacy so impossibly vast and immoral that it would punish a man who taught his own property to read. There is no efficiency there.

Of course there is. The only reason to ban education of slaves is to make it easier to keep them enslaved.
Banning education because of the commitment to a view of white supremacy doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
Here, again, slavery as an economic system is the cause.

You write “a view of white supremacy”, but you seem to be thinking “racial hatred”. But their idea of supremacy wasn’t the Nazi kind. In the pre-war South slaves were cooking and serving their food and taking care of their children. So, I imagine it was the sort of racism that you see in the Churchill quote (they are primitive, like children, but not even ‘half-devils’), and that I often observe in some of my British friends today: foreigners are of course all inferior, but they aren’t evil or anything like that.

81

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.30.11 at 8:26 am

As far as the Nazis and such: expelling or exterminating a population based on its ethno-religious background, if anything, it goes against your assertion that slavery, however inefficient, is an inevitable consequence of extreme racism.

As for the penal labor practices (gulag, and elsewhere, see Cool Hand Luke): if you can demonstrate that people were imprisoned specifically to provide labor for the state, then you got a point there; but if they are imprisoned for other reasons, and then forced to work, to recover at least part of the costs, then it’s a different story.

82

Stephen 12.30.11 at 8:34 am

Glen Tomkins 12.30.11 at 6:02 am
“why would you characterize this horrible practice as “primitive”, rather than simply unjust, unless your horror was motivated by racism rather than the injustice?”

Well, try this one. The British, a little over two thousand years ago, were head-hunters who sacrificed humans to their gods. The English, a thousand years ago, had slaves, and had slaves abroad till the early nineteenth century: some Scots were still slaves, in Scotland, till the late eighteenth century. The English hanged witches in the seventeenth century, the Scots burned them in the eighteenth. Modern England and Scotland don’t do any of these things, and regard them as primitive and barbaric.

Now, that isn’t due to racism (unless you want to argue that you can be racist against your own ancestors, which would be loopy beyond belief). It’s due to regarding themselves as, in these matters, modern and civilised; and their ancestors as primitive by comparison.

Not all cultures are the same: and for the same reason that (aspects of) earlier English and Scottish culture are regarded by non-racist modern English and Scots as primitive and deplorable, aspects of some modern cultures – in the case of Saudi culture, a good many aspects – are equally regarded as primitive and deplorable, by non-racists.

Sorted?

83

Belle Waring 12.30.11 at 8:45 am

1940s indeed, typo, sorry!

84

Stephen 12.30.11 at 8:52 am

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.30.11 at 7:20 am
“the sort of racism that you see in the Churchill quote … and that I often observe in some of my British friends today: foreigners are of course all inferior, but they aren’t evil or anything like that.”

Oddly, I have often noticed much the same attitude – foreigners, and their cultures, are of course all inferior, but sometimes interesting and not (with exceptions) evil – in some of my friends from other nations: French, Germans, Hungarians, Japanese. I don’t think it’s racist, just culturalist, and a fairly frequent consequence of being part of a nation with a distinct culture. Monsieur Vieuxtemps will perhaps forgive me for saying that it seems to be most prevalent among the French.

I have even noticed this attitude, believe it or not, in many US citizens, perhaps in most of them.

85

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.30.11 at 9:12 am

You are forgiven, Stephen.

…and finally (sorry about multiple comments), the idea that relations of production evolve doesn’t belong to the Chicago school. Quite the opposite, in fact. They are stuck on one particular model, and believe it’s the best and final.

86

Stephen 12.30.11 at 9:50 am

P O’Neill 12.29.11 at 11:02 pm cited Wikipedia on Churchill’s intention to invade Ireland during Big Mistake II.

It’s hard to know how to take a message from P O’Neill.

Explanation for people outside Ireland: this was the signature used by the IRA for their bulletins announcing they had shot or bombed their way towards the inevitable liberation-of-the six-counties-whether-the-people-there-wanted-it-or-not. It is generally assumed to be in tribute to Sir Phelim O’Neill who led the great massacre of Protestants in 1641. In an Irish context, using this name is rather like making a contribution to a discussion of events in the American South, signed The Grand Wizard.

On the other hand, use of that name might be deeply ironic.

Or it could even be genuine. I did know of another Sir Phelim O’Neill, of the same family, who was however a Protestant and a Unionist.

Whatever about the name: the articles cited show that Churchill’s government did indeed make contingency arrangements, Plan W, to move troops into southern Ireland IF the Germans invaded there AND IF the British troops were invited by the Irish government: with whom the plan was discussed.

To P O’Neill of the IRA communiques, of course, that would be further evidence of the irredeemably evil nature of the British oppressors, since in the IRA’s eyes they, not de Valera’s government, were the only legitimate rulers of Ireland.

I hope that P O’Neill of this parish sees things differently.

87

bexley 12.30.11 at 10:23 am

Anderson @ 67

Well moving to the claim that the British Empire wasn’t as bad as the Belgian Congo is a rather extreme lowering of the bar from where Churchill’s essay is arguing from.

Now, one can argue that it’s imperialist or whatever to say that liberal democracy and the rule of law are preferable to whatever conditions the British found in India or their other colonies. But I would tend to side with the Churchills on that point.

Yes but how good were the British at actually moving their non-white majority colonies in that direction? The British administration in India had to be pushed every step of the way to grant jobs to Indians in the judiciary, the civil service and in administrative posts in the Indian Railways. And lets be clear, the British were fastest moving in this direction with India, African colonies hardly moved in this direction at all.

And for people keen on introducing liberal democracy the British administration in India was particularly keen on censoring the press (see the Vernacular Press Act).

88

Josh G. 12.30.11 at 11:26 am

It’s amazing how many people will make arguments defending British or American atrocities which would be considered blatant Holocaust-denial if the same arguments were applied to Nazi atrocities.

89

Stephen 12.30.11 at 11:54 am

bexley@88
The first Indian members of the Legislative Council were appointed in 1861. The first elected Indian members came in 1909. This progress was due to acts of the Westminster parliament, ie the British government. By whom were they pushed?

The Vernacular Press Act was passed by the Government of India in 1878. It prohibited attempts to subvert the functioning of democratic institutions; agitations and violent incidents; false allegations against British authorities or individuals; attempts at endangering law and order to disturb the normal functioning of the state; threats to internal stability.

Comparable things have been from time to time illegal even in the US. But the Act was felt to be too harsh, and was repealed in 1881: which you would never guess from Bexley’s post.

90

Stephen 12.30.11 at 11:57 am

Josh G @89
Please give examples of people on this thread making arguments defending British or American atrocities which would be considered blatant Holocaust-denial if applied to Nazi atrocities.

91

Nine 12.30.11 at 12:28 pm

“The first Indian members of the Legislative Council were appointed in 1861. The first elected Indian members came in 1909. This progress was due to acts of the Westminster parliament, ie the British government. By whom were they pushed?”

There was this little matter of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and subsequent sustained calls and agitation for representation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_mutiny

The Vernacular Press Act was passed by the Government of India in 1878. It prohibited attempts to subvert the functioning of democratic institutions; agitations and violent incidents; false allegations against British authorities or individuals; attempts at endangering law and order to disturb the normal functioning of the state; threats to internal stability.”

“Comparable things have been from time to time illegal even in the US. But the Act was felt to be too harsh, and was repealed in 1881: which you would never guess from Bexley’s post.”

Wow … orwellian. The VPA press “gagging act” was naked censorship in response to the 1857 mutiny. It was universally opposed in India and therefore repealed. You would never guess any of this from Stephen’s post.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernacular_Press_Act

92

chris y 12.30.11 at 12:37 pm

It’s due to regarding themselves as, in these matters, modern and civilised; and their ancestors as primitive by comparison.

This implies a rather progressivist and indeed Whiggish view of the historical process. I rather suspect that most historians under the age of 80 would suggest that it’s more complicated than that and that your position assumes facts not in evidence.

93

bexley 12.30.11 at 12:38 pm

1. Sooo it took 48 years for some members to actually be elected? With a very limited franchise. And the majority of members still unelected. The last point is key, the British administration could still pass bills solely using its majority of unelected members. Something they did when passing the repressive Rowlatt Act in 1919 when every single nonofficial Indian on the legislature voted against it. Moreover the Viceroy wasn’t responsible to the Council he was responsible to London. This is somehow supposed to be impressive?

2. The pressure was from the Indian National Congress (and later the Muslim League and other nationalist organisations) which was formed in 1885 and called for greater Indian participation in the actual running of India. The fact that their demands were partly met by acts of Parliament hardly shows that there was no pressure for reform that was driving the acts.

3. Yes the Vernacular Press Act was repealed in 1881 but at the time it was introduced the newspapers it targeted were outraged. Presenting repeal as having occurred in a vacuum misses the point.

94

Stephen 12.30.11 at 12:47 pm

Chris Y @ 93

Your comment would have merit if I had said modern people correctly regard themselves as having, always and in every way, progressively improved on the behaviour of their ancestors. As I didn’t, it hasn’t.

My actual position, not the one you imagine I hold, assumes no facts not in evidence. Unless you believe there is evidence that earlier generations in Britain did not in fact keep slaves and kill witches? Or that they now do?

95

bexley 12.30.11 at 1:00 pm

Actually it may be worth going into more detail about the Rowlatt Act.

It allowed for the indefinite detention without trial of those accused of terrorism (hmm wonder where we’ve heard this since). It was passed in the teeth of opposition from every elected member of the legislature by using the unelected officials appointed to the legislature. In protests that arose in Amritsar a whole load of unarmed protestors were shot.

I’m not sure any of that suggests deep commitment to setting up a liberal democracy in India.

All of this only just over a decade before Churchill’s essay waffling about “Gladstonian ingenuity and to the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations”.

96

Anderson 12.30.11 at 1:34 pm

Isn’t part of the issue that Churchill wasn’t a supporter of liberal democracy as far as India was concerned, and contrary to fostering democracy, the British rulers jailed the very same people who founded India’s democracy?

The kindest thing to say is that their theory exceeded their practice. Rule of law of course can be imposed without democracy, and to a great extent it was so imposed in India. But unfortunately, the timeline for the “colored” races to rule themselves was exaggerated beyond reason. One wonders how long independence would’ve taken without WW2.

… Yes, comparison to the Congo is a low bar, but as Belle points out, there were other horrid colonizers. The Brits with their two cheers were well ahead of the pack. Bad as (say) Amritsar was, the really shocking thing about it was that it was the British doing it.

Should they have been there at all? Probably not, but the moral consciousness it took to accept that fact was a time comin’.

97

Stephen 12.30.11 at 1:35 pm

Bexley

I think we may not be all that far apart. You think that the introduction of the Vernacular Press Act was an instance of intolerable censorship by the Government of India: I agree, but I also think it was very significant that, three years later, the act was repealed by the Government.

You think that progress towards democracy in India was too slow and too uncertain. That it was slow, I quite agree (but then, if you see the VPA, 1878, as being a response to the Mutiny, 1857, we agree that things often happened very slowly in India). I don’t know when it was first proposed that the ultimate aim of British rule in India should be self rule by a more liberal and educated Indian people: it’s in one of Macaulay’s essays, I think, but I do not have it to hand. Likewise, I agree there were times when progress was reversed. But I’m not certain that more rapid progress was always attainable, and I would point out that governing the successor states of the Indian Empire by liberal democratic means has not always been possible. Within India, consider Indira Gandhi’s State of Emergency in which, to quote Wikipedia again, “police were granted powers to impose curfews and indefinitely detain citizens and all publications were subjected to substantial censorship”. Compare events in Amritsar in 1919 and in 1984. And as for Burma and Pakistan … or neighbouring Ceylon, though that was not technically part of the Indian Raj … That liberal democracy didn’t catch on there as well as it did, mostly, in India is possibly not entirely the fault of the British.

98

Stephen 12.30.11 at 1:49 pm

Anderson @97 wonders how long independence would’ve taken without WW2.

Hypothetical, of course, but given the Government of India Act, 1935, might there not be an arguable case that without the military imperatives of the war, and their consequences in embittering Indian politics, independence might have come as soon, if not sooner,and a great deal more smoothly?

99

stostosto 12.30.11 at 2:10 pm

Threads such as this makes Crooked Timber worthwhile. At least to ignorant middlebrows like me.

100

roger 12.30.11 at 2:17 pm

Churchill was a much better orator than writer. For a truly writerly alternative history of the Civil War, the place to go is thurber:http://www.visi.com/~tomcat/poetry/Grant.shtml

101

soru 12.30.11 at 3:26 pm

I rather suspect that most historians under the age of 80 would suggest that it’s more complicated than that and that your position assumes facts not in evidence.

Been waiting for an appropriate occasion to use this David Mitchell quote:


As a former lazy history student myself, I know that the trick here is to look for the point in the debate where someone says: “It’s a bit more complicated than that” and then go back to the previous assertion. The things that historical events are a bit more complicated than are, in my experience, also the things that they basically are.

Proper controversy is when one historian says: “This is caused by Thing A” and another says: “Shut up, you! It was caused by Thing B.” But when one is saying: “It was Thing A” and the other says: “It’s more complicated than that”, I reckon we pretty much have an answer. Some say it’s Thing A, others say it’s partly Thing A – that’s as close to a consensus as naturally argumentative and contrarian people (which is a tautology, and you’ll only prove me right if you disagree) are ever likely to come to.

So, to a first approximation, the US executes people because, institutionally, it is more primitive. It’s legal system was set up in the 18C or before, at a specific level of economic development above the tribe or simple military state, and before the welfare or liberal state. It’s constitution was specifically designed to prevent incremental change in this area, and has largely been successful at that task.

If it was instead newly-founded, it would have more modern institutions, reflecting contemporary economics. These would themselves then persist until such time as things collapsed from sheer non-viability, or external forces intervened in some way.

Take a graph, plot ‘GDP/head at time of adoption (or last rewrite) of current constitution’ on one axes, ‘executions per head on the other’. Are there any states that would be significant outliers from the main sequence?

102

Henry 12.30.11 at 3:39 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps – again – there are historians who have written on this. Lots and lots. It might be no harm to read them. Or, less politely, Another Edition of What Belle Said.

On the Bengal Famine, from Cormac O’Grada’s book on the political economy of famines …

bq. “A shortcoming of Sen’s classic account is its overreliance on the _Report on Bengal_ and failure to take account of once-confidential correspondence between London, Calcutta and Delhi in 1943-44. … Its version of the events does not support that in the Report. Thus, as early as November 1942 it reveals Linlithgow, conveying his serious worries about the “food situation” to Amery, after receiving “most urgent representations” from the governor of Bengal, John Herbert. … And yet, in January 1943, despite accumulating evidence of a poor harvest in Bengal, we see Linlithgow insisting to Chief Minister Fazl-ul Huq that “he simply must produce more rice out of Bengal for Ceylon even if Bengal itself went short!” … Herbert – hitherto a strong supporter of the “sufficiency” position – began to sound the alarm in early July. He pleaded in confidence with Linlithgow … “I am now in some doubt as to whether I have not erred in the direction of understatement.” … Further reports of the rapidly deteriorating crisis forced Linlithgow to change his tune. … demand[ed] food imports as a matter of extreme urgency … realizing its “serious potential effect on military operations.” … Amery, now convinced that disaster was looming, took Linlithgow’s plea seriously … advised that unless help was forthcoming, India’s role as a theater of war would be compromised … But the war cabinet held, against all the evidence, that “the shortage of grain in India was not the result of physical deficiency but of hoarding,” and insisted that the importation of grain would not solve the problem.”

103

Stephen 12.30.11 at 4:02 pm

Soru @102

For an extreme outlier try the Republic of San Marino. Present constitution promulgated in 1600, being an update of the Town Statutes from about 1300. GDP/head at either date unknown but probably very slight (republic is small, inland and entirely mountainous). Death penalty abolished in principle in 1863, there having been in practice no executions since 1468.

Given the diversity of the world, and the difficulty of getting believable statistics for many places now and for many more at the time of adoption of current constitution (query: which date for UK/Britain/England?) wouldn’t it be better to start with a plot of GDP/head at time of constitution versus executions/head for the various US states?

Let us know what you find.

104

Andrew Brown 12.30.11 at 4:15 pm

On the Dutch in Indonesia:

There was a British army sent there in 1945 to help the Dutch, or to keep peace or something., Brian Aldiss served in it, and has covered the period both in his autobiographies, and in an excellent novel (“A rude awakening”). One of the scenes has him going swimming with a couple of Dutch friends. The guerrillas come and shoot them, but spare the Englishman.

On the other hand, an uncle of mine served as a doctor in that army, and told me once some stories of the war, which struck him as more horrible than D Day (where he also served). The one I remember was that the British freed some interned Japanese troops to fight for them: uncle traveled in a convoy with them, and remembers them driving their jeeps into a village “with all guns blazing” — ie machinegunning first the houses and as the opportunity arose the fleeing villagers. This was just routine. The way they drove. One child was rescued from such a massacre by a British sentimentalist and kept as a mascot around headquarters.

105

Anderson 12.30.11 at 4:46 pm

remembers them driving their jeeps into a village “with all guns blazing”—ie machinegunning first the houses and as the opportunity arose the fleeing villagers. This was just routine. The way they drove.

Different in degree (perhaps) from the “contractors” in Iraq, but not in kind!

I keep meaning to pick up those Aldiss autobiographies, and Fraser’s account of his time in Burma’s sunny clime.

106

Andrew Brown 12.30.11 at 4:50 pm

The Aldiss book is very good about racism

107

Anderson 12.30.11 at 4:52 pm

might there not be an arguable case that without the military imperatives of the war, and their consequences in embittering Indian politics, independence might have come as soon, if not sooner,and a great deal more smoothly?

The Act of 1935 kinda fell between stools, IIRC. At the risk of oversimplifying, I think the myth of working jovially together towards home rule was dead after Amritsar (by which I really mean, after the failure to shoot Dyer). Those actually competent in India’s history may disagree.

I wouldn’t guess earlier independence w/out the war, but it’s an imponderable.

108

Michael Hemp 12.30.11 at 5:18 pm

Charles Krauthammer Day just got another fan/observer. How wrong can these geniuses be without being embarrassed off the stage of public credibility? But Charles alone is not sufficient: there should be a comprehensive National Day of Neocon Hubris, Hypocrisy and Intellectual Error for the whole gang…to educate and remind the nation of the dangers of ideologial arrogance proven wrong.

109

soru 12.30.11 at 5:25 pm

@104: Sorry: should have qualified ‘adoption (or rewrite)’ to ‘(re)adoption or rewrite’. Otherwise you would end up counting the Magna Carta and saying there has been no political change in England since 1215…

San Marino was sort of fascist-ish in WWII, under allied occupation after, then communist up until the 1957 coup/Italian intervention. So the current incarnation of it’s constitutional order probably dates from 1957, and certainly no earlier than 1945.

The equivalent date for the US, for at least most of the population, is the end of the civil war (1865); 4500$ according to wiki. Comparable to Angola or Algeria, way above Kenya or Rwanda. Notably, way below Gabon (14K$/head), which abolished the death penalty this year (2011), under institutions that trace their legitimacy to either 1990 or 2009.

If you have a GDP/head that is insufficient for everyone to live out their natural lifespan, then some people are going to die as a result of resource allocation decisions _even in the best case_.

Stupidity and wickedness only come on top of that. And it is pretty questionable how wise it is to set up institutions that only work only in the absence of either.

Which is why it is a founding constitutional principle of the United States that the poor must not be freely supplied with adequate medicine, or merciful justice. And its great contemporary wealth allows those principles to be applied on a unprecedented scale: few, if any, other countries could afford the costs of the US health and prison systems.

Of course, there are those within the USA (including, I would imagine, most US-based readers) who date the founding of the legitimacy of the Republic to MLK and the Civil Rights Act (1964, $15K). Naturally, the opinions of those groups does pretty much align with their international economic peers. Which neatly explains why, for an american, their opinion on economic and racial issues almost always form a matching pair.

110

Glen Tomkins 12.30.11 at 7:35 pm

@83
It is still quite puzzling that anyone would attribute any of this irrationality and injustice to primitive vs advanced levels of civilization.

Yes, England burned witches in the 17th Century. Did it do so, as much, in the preceding centuries? Can you trace a progressive diminution over the centuries before and after in the number of witch-burnings?

There is indeed a train of thought that just waves a hand over this sort of question and answers yes, absolutely, something I can recognize as irrational has to be the result of primitive superstitions that I and my fellow advanced people of the US or GB of the year 2011 would never countenance. Witch burnings have to have existed from time immemorial, been continued in unthinking tradition, and only decreased as advanced ideas took hold.

That, of course, is rubbish. Whole centuries passed in which there were no witch burnings. It seems quite unlikely that they were a truly primitive practice in GB, and I suspect (happy to be instructed otherwise if wrong) the practice only got to the island in the train of that notably advanced religion, Christianity. If you really want to understand the cluster of witch burnings in 17th Century GB, you need to look at why people at that time and place would introduce that novel and quite irrational practice, what paranoid fears they were responding to, and why that time rather than before or since.

If I may suggest a parallel, look into why the people of the US chose, in the first decade of the 21st Century, to bring back judicial torture. This quite irrational, horrificly unjust practice seemed to have been so thoroughly refuted in the 18th Century, so widely accepted as being against both common sense and common decency, that we could rest assured that we would never see it again in “civilized” countries. How that expectation was frustrated, how torture did come back, is a complicated story, definitely not a story that lends itself to simple dichotomies of primitive vs advanced. The US is definitiely not doing judicial torture now because it is unthinkingly carrying on a traditional practice present since time immemorial, any more than the slavery the South made in early 19th Century was at all the traditional and “primitive” practice of slavery that it had inherited. In fact, we had to do considerable violence to our traditions to get to both judicial torture and to the slavery of 1860. It’s really quite advanced of us that we aren’t frightened off by shibboleths that might have deterred less advanced, less free-thinking, minds — but I don’t think many would approve of this advancement as progress over the primitive condition of not practicing judicial torture, and not practicing permanent, race-based slavery.

We recognize this complexity in our own society. We recognize a peculiar history driving our own particular irrational injustices — of which all societies have had their share, and no clear progression towards fewer such over time — and we aren’t willing to settle for cheap and easy reductionist explanations. If the US is overtaken at the moment by a paranoia of a “Global Terrorism” that seems to me every bit as obviously stupid as the belief that witches might be conspiring and conjuring all the world’s ills, and if we can see that this paranoia is the cause of the irrationality of judicial torture, we can also see that sending in the black helicopters just might not be the right way to cool down those paranoid fears.

I assume you would agree with me that sending a UN force into the US to end judicial torture would not be helpful. I can’t understand a failure to recognize similar complexity, but a turn instead to some ridiclulously reductionist notion of primitive vs advanced as an explanation of irrationality, when the object of study is either 21st Century SA, or 17th century GB.

Any idea that the GB of Churchill’s day, or the US of our own, are two societies with a clearly lower degree of irrational injustice than the world average, seems to me completely ridiculous. You could point to irrational injustices we don’t do that 17th Century GB did, but I can’t see that folks pointing to irrational injustices that we do that 17th Century GB never got around to would have a very tough time matching you irrationality for irrationality and injustice for injustice.

111

Stephen 12.30.11 at 10:52 pm

Glen Tomkins @111

Please do not attribute to me views I am far too well-informed to hold. Of course persecution of supposed witches varied from one time to another: the point is, though, that once people in what are now modern, enlightened countries mostly believed in witchcraft, and now they don’t. Likewise, they once thought slavery or human sacrifice was right and now they don’t, do they? That’s an improvement on more primitive practice, isn’t it?

Leaving aside your platoon of straw men, can we return to the original question? You wrote (@79), about executions for sorcery in Saudi, “But why would you characterize this horrible practice as “primitive”, rather than simply unjust, unless your horror was motivated by racism rather than the injustice?”

I explained that reasonable non-racist people can regard the horrible behaviour of their own ancestors as primitive, and therefore can as non-racists regard similar contemporary behaviour as primitive also.

You have not addressed this: perhaps you are unable to accept that behaviour you have infallibly condemned as racist might not actually be so.

Instead, you have come up with the remarkable statement that “Any idea that the GB of Churchill’s day, or the US of our own, are two societies with a clearly lower degree of irrational injustice than the world average, seems to me completely ridiculous.” Well, those with a wider knowledge of world history will have to endure your ridicule with philosophic serenity.

It might help, though, if you could explain whether, in your opinion, there are now or ever have been “societies with a clearly lower degree of irrational injustice than the world average”, and if so which they are (or were). Given your belief in “irrational injustices—of which all societies have had their share, and no clear progression towards fewer such over time” you might find that a little difficult. You do realize you’re tending to the argument that all societies are equally irrational and unjust?

112

Substance McGravitas 12.30.11 at 11:31 pm

once people in what are now modern, enlightened countries mostly believed in witchcraft, and now they don’t

Here is a picture I took in Memphis. I gather “mostly” is doing the work, and “the authorities” are the keepers of mostliness. Let us pray – HA HA – we continue to have wise people in authority.

113

soru 12.31.11 at 9:35 am

@111: I don’t want to be too crudely economically deterministic, especially over local and exceptional incidents like the Salem witch trials. It is always possible to do worse than your economy will allow. Sometimes some of those worse things will even be novel, rather than mere continuations of obsolete institutions and practices. Take a 1930s military-communist economy and add surveillance cameras and indoctrination techniques and you have 1984, or North Korea. Add armed robot sentries and brain imaging and you are going to be creating something newer, richer, and worse.

But it is kind of telling that your main example of things getting worse, given all of history and geography to choose from, has landed on one of the few nation-generations within the last few centuries that has a declining economy.

In the normal course of things, you would expect the 1964-patriots to become the majority, and so become conservatives defining themselves against some new development they rejected. Instead, under Obama they are having to try and form a coalition with the 1865-patriots (‘habeus corpus is a nice idea – can we afford it?’) to fend off the resurgent 1776-patriots (‘I could kill you and take that – maybe I won’t if you fit my definition of a good person’). Future-patriots sit on the sideline in despair.

Imagine that wasn’t the case, that things were different. Then you would know how the rest of the world, those that don’t have anomalous economic statistics, lives.

114

dr ngo 01.01.12 at 12:36 pm

Also among the British forces serving in the Dutch Indies (= Indonesia) just after the end of WW2 was one Dirk Bogarde, actor/writer, who has also drawn on his experiences in both memoir(s) and novel(s), IIRC. Worth reading; not as memorable as Aldiss.

115

Peter Erwin 01.01.12 at 9:12 pm

soru @ 110:

As Stephen pointed out, the last execution in San Marino was in 1468, and the death penalty was formally abolished in 1865. So the absence of capital punishment there pretty clearly has nothing to do with any supposed constitutional “readoption or rewrite” in the 1940s or 50s. (Another interesting case is Venezuela, which eliminated the death penalty in its 1863 constitution.)

An obvious outlier in the other direction would be the Islamic Republic of Iran: constitution in 1979, when GDP/capita was somewhere around $3000 in 2005 dollars (source); about 200 executions/year in the last 10 years, for a rate of 30 per 10 million people.

For contrast: the US had about 55 executions/year in the same time[1], for a rate of 2 per 10 million people. Constitution: 1789[2], when GDP/capita was somewhere around $1000 in 2005 dollars (source).

[1] Though the rate was less than 1/year during the 1970s, so it’s a rather variable statistic.

[2] Yes, I noticed that you re-dated the US “constitution” to 1865, but your original argument was this: “So, to a first approximation, the US executes people because, institutionally, it is more primitive. It’s legal system was set up in the 18C or before, at a specific level of economic development above the tribe or simple military state, and before the welfare or liberal state.”

116

soru 01.02.12 at 3:44 am

the last execution in San Marino was in 1468,

San Marino’s population is 31,000. Pretty good odds of getting though a century or two without running into the kind of clearly guilty mass murderer that would be used in a pro-execution political campaign.

Venezuela, which eliminated the death penalty in its 1863 constitution

Venezuela is an interesting case. The 1863 figure is commonly quoted, but not necessarily true. What it did on that date was produce a document _saying_ that it was doing so. That may or may not have had a measurable influence on the actual constitution: what the relevant people openly say, do and expect. This is generally going to be much more a matter of precedent than pure textual interpretation.

The point being that economic constraints can only effect the actual day-to-day operation of policies and institutions; not the claims made on some scroll held in the national museum.

To pick a clear case of the two differing, Stalin’s _written_ constitution was a model of liberality and fairness. But as a document it was completely constitutionally irrelevant, not even something that could be usefully quoted in a political argument between the powerful, let alone successfully appealed to by the weak

Whether there is a meaningful difference between ‘you can’t stand as a candidate’ and ‘you can stand as a candidate, but if you do so you will be arrested, tried and sent to the gulag’ is a question perhaps best left to professional philosophers.

Returning to Venezuela, the Chavez period is controversial (to say the least) and there is a lot of misinformation out there. But the period before that is well documented, for example:

http://www.gendercide.org/case_imprisonment.html


According to official statistics, 207 prisoners were killed and 1,133 prisoners were injured in Venezuelan prisons in 1996, most by their fellow prisoners. In other words, an average of four prisoners were killed each week and over twenty injured. Although shocking, these numbers represent a decrease compared to past years.

Feeling increasingly cornered by crime, Venezuela quietly follows a policy of locking up the suspects and virtually throwing away the key. According to the Justice Ministry, only 40 percent of Venezuela’s prisoners have been tried.
—-

Despite it’s massive prison population, the US actually only has ~50 murders a year in prison.

As the population of Venezuela is about 10% that of the US, the figure quoted above corresponds to an annual rate of of over 2000. Those prison murders look very likely to be filling the perceived needs (deterrence and retribution) met in the US by execution. And it is clear they are (or were, if Chavez changed things) a matter of deliberate policy, institutional decision.

117

Glen Tomkins 01.02.12 at 7:17 am

Stephen,

What I’m not getting from you is where the characterization of belief in witchcraft as primitive comes from. You seem to think it’s self-evident. I certainly agree that executing people for imaginary crimes such as witchcraft is irrational and immoral, and the same for the other items on your list, slavery and human sacrifice. But I don’t agree that any of these things is primitive. And even if they were, what does their status as primitive or not primitive have to do with their irrationality or immorality?

You seem to agree with me that executing people for witchcraft isn’t really primitive in GB, in any objective meaning of that word. We have no reason to think that the first inhabitants practiced this species of irrationality, that it was practiced at all early, or that it was handed down in an unbroken and unthinking tradition. If that were the case, we would see it practiced most frequently and consistently in the earliest times, then decreasing in proportion as enlightenment and progress spread in that country. Instead we see a late origin and paroxysmal activity. It’s nice that we haven’t had such an irruption for a few centuries, but it’s not at all clear that we haven’t had longer respites in the past, or that we are at all invulnerable to repeat episodes in the future, if not of exactly this species, then of similar or worse manifestations of paranoid unreason. Ask yourself, 11 years ago, might you not have put judicial torture on your list of atrocities that only primitives practiced, along with slavery and human sacrifice, things that we are fortunately long since grown too advanced to countenance?

Of course you are not alone in this tendency to explain irrational injustice as a developemental phenomenon, something that afflicts less advanced societies, our own in the past, and foreign societies now. It is not at all an excuse from the fundamental racist tendency of this maneuver, to say that you are willing to attribute the same primitivism to the GB of centuries ago that you attribute to the SA of today. It has long been a standard part of racist typologies of the world’s societies, this idea that some have been able to advance socially and politically, while others, despite having had longer histories of material advancement in their civilizations, have not been able to progress beyond despotism in their governance, and moral ignorance and superstition in the general organization of their societies. I believe that China and Egypt are the classic references for this idea. It is completely consistent with this racist idea that we ourselves were once as depraved as all of those Orientals and Africans, but we have since advanced morally and in our capactiy for self-governance, while they have lagged behind, even if Egypt and China had a head start on us techologicially, and they had indoor plumbing while our ancestors were chasing through the woods of Britain clad in nothing but blue paint. (Oh, and, just in passing, the human sacrifice thing is something you should avoid if you are going to make this sort of arguement and don’t want to be set down as a racist. There really is no reason to think that the druids of the blue paint phase of our own past actually practiced human sacrifice. It seems much more likely that was just Roman propaganda, just one more set of racist imperialists trying to justify their empire by vilifying the primitives. That and the bit from Leviticus about the worshippers of Moloch practicing child sacrifice — plus of course the Protocols of the Elders of Zion — are the classics of the whole field of making up stories about human sacrifice as a means of cultural invective and justification of empire.)

But much worse than the basic racist tendency inherent in making into a developemental issue what I would argue you should just see as irrational immorality itself, is that believing that we are in any way beyond such paroxysms of unreason is a terrible threat to our own societies. “Oh, sure, the USA Patriot Act is even more enabling than the Enabling Act, but, please, this isn’t the Third Reich, no one who could be elected as US president would ever actually use this law as Hitler used the Enabling Act.”

Gee, I hope they’re right, but hope is not much of a plan, and why have a USA Patriot Act if not to use it? The people who can make you believe the absurd idea that we need such a thing, can make you commit the atrocities that will ensue if anybody actually uses it.

You raise the shibboleth of dread Moral Equivalence. Frankly, I would not know where to begin making the measurements of comparative atrocity needed to establish or refute the notional Moral Equivalence of one society to any other. The comment of mine you cite declared my agnosticism on the question. One reason you cannot even begin to measure our own atrocity quotient at all, is that we have yet to see which absurdities our age believes will actually bear the full fruit of the atrocity they promise. We’ve got some real beauts growing out back, and while they might not take the blue ribbon yet, the growing season isn’t over.

To bring this back to Churchill, by way of the paroxysm of witchcraft persecutions we had in GB in the early 17th century, consider that greater disaster of that same era, the Thirty Years War. That war saw the systematic use of what it took our own age to devise the vocabulary for, “counter-value warfare”. The combatant governments, fueled by religious hatred and despairing after more than a decade of ever defeating the enemy armies on the battlefield, turned to the systematic destruction of enemy peoples. In addition to the armies they fielded, they released hordes of small armed bands, too light and agile to be intercepted by enemy armies, to slaughter and plunder at will in enemy territory. They were frighteningly effective at the destruction of whole provinces.

Europe had one of those paroxysms of Reason in reponse to the resulting horror, paroxysms that we seem to have mainly in response to the paroxysms of unreason. We drew back from the brink, and warfare for the next 300 years was generally “counter-force”, and armies mostly stuck to doing no wider destruction than to opposing armies. Well, we stuck to this morally advanced practice until Mr. Churchill sent his bombers against Berlin. Oh, maybe someone else would have done it, gone ahead and put Douhet’s theories into practice even if Churchill hadn’t broken the ice, but in the actual event, Churchill must bear the dubious honor of relegitimizing the killing of civilians (As long as this is done from the air! Oh, wait, as long as this is done from the air in your own bombers, not hijacked civilian planes.) as an acceptable means of warfare.

Now, yes, strategic bombing has probably not, yet, caused deaths in excess of the Holocaust, so yes, no moral equivalence here if we’re going by body count. But the Ides of March are not yet passed, we still believe this absurdity that killing civilians is permitted as a means of war, and it may yet lead to further atrocities that will push us past even the Third Reich. Just one little nuclear exchange, and we reclaim the title all in one go, and future generations will react with indignation to anyone who warns that they themselves are headed down a path anywhere close to matching the deeds of those primitives who ran the American Empire.

118

Peter T 01.02.12 at 9:06 am

Glen Tomkins

No comment on the argument as a whole, but please check a few facts. On the blue paint period, bodies sacrificed as described in Latin texts have turned up in British bogs (teenagers stabbed in the lower spine); on Moloch, urns containing the burnt bones of young children are a feature of Phoenician burial grounds at Carthage and elsewhere. Targeting of civilians was “normal” practice well before the 30 Years War (see ecorcheur, routier, chevauchee in the 100 Years War) and on strategic bombing, check the dates of the destruction of Rotterdam and Belgrade.

119

Glen Tomkins 01.02.12 at 8:08 pm

Peter T,

I’m not sure what you’re referring to in mentionng Belgrade. I have never heard that its fall to advancing German armies was accompanied by notable variances from the laws of warfare, warfare which, yes, is never less than a disaster no matter how carefully conducted. And since it fell in 1941, it’s fall could not possbily have served as any sort of excuse for GB adopting a policy of targeting German civilians in a “strategic” bombing campaign, because that air campaign started in 1940, even if its most notable accomplishment, the destruction of Hamburg, didn’t come until 1943.

As for Rotterdam, the 30,000 civilian deaths claimed by Allied propaganda of the time has been thoroughly refuted. The city was not subjected to massive or indiscriminate air attacks as charged by Allied propaganda of the time, much less air attacks that targeted the civilian population. The city was attacked by German paratroopers, the Dutch unsurprisingly chose to refuse to surrender the city as an open city, so there was ground fighting and it is thought that under a thousand civilians died.

Again, I do not claim to understand any sort of calculus that can bandy numbers and come up with a determination of who is in the wrong. I am quite happy with the idea that an unjust, irrational, unecessary war such as the Germans started in 1939, even if carried out with the most punctilious respect for the laws of warfare, if it results in even one death, and that “merely” of someone in uniform rather than a civilian, is as black and detestable a crime as is possible from the pint of view of judging the morality of the perpetrator.

My point is that such judgments of others are woefully beside the point. Just such a judgment of the Nazis, fueled in part by lies about their treatment of Rotterdam that you thoughtlessly repeat even as you reprove me for my sloppiness with facts, led the Allies to quite unnecessarily start systematically killing German civilians, in the quite amazingly irrational belief that the Germans could be terrorized by that sort of treatment of their civilian population into surrendering. The topper to the absurdity, of course, is that Allied propaganda at the time was busy pointing out how absurd it was that the Germans imagined that the Blitz would do anything but harden British resolve to win!

War is never anything less than a moral and practical disaster for all concerned. But is is not the worst disaster imaginable. War is a half-way point, a compromise between the desirable state of peace among nations, and the worst case of mutual genocide among nations. What I find both objectionable and quite frankly, frightening, about these attempts to vilify the Other, over their practices in war or over anything else, is that even when the moral condemnation is eminently justified, the simplification being sought by these vilifications leads to a response that just adds crime on top of crime, completely beyond the natural minimum of disaster that we have to expect from the working of our imperfect natures.

So yes, of course neither the Thirty Year’s War, nor our own age’s strategic bombing are the only violations in history of the laws of warfare. Within the overall disaster of war itself, the heat of what is a life and death struggle even in limited wars, of course spills over the distinctions, which are hard to maintain with the best of wills, which of course often fray in war. There sometimes is, more often falsely seems to be, some advantage in winning the war to be gained by stepping over the bounds. But that reasoning cannot be invoked to explain away strategic bombing, or what Europe did to itself in the Thirty Year’s War. There is no way that a non-insane person could have imagined that killing German civilians intentionally, in what Bomber Command itself called a terror campaign, would make the Germans conclude that surrendering to GB would be a wise and prudent move. The absolute worst of the chevauchees of the Hundred Year’s War did not involve the intentional systematic slaughter of whole peoples as the expected means of winning the war. Most peoples, most of the time, have been able to avoid this particular madness our own age embraces as policy, that killing enemy civilians is a useful and justifiable means of war.

As to human sacrifice, the scattered factoids you cite, even where you’ve got them right, do not add up to an established practice.

So, they’ve found burned chidren’s bones at some Carthaginian burial sites. We think that urban populations before we had immunizations and careful sewerage experienced up to 50% mortality among children before the age of 6. But of course it’s impossible that the Carthaginians might have cremated any of their dead children. It’s far more probable that those primitive peoples were able to ignore the universal love that parents have for their children and burn some of them alive on a regular basis, because that’s what savages do, and Leviticus tells us in 18:21 that’s what these particular Phoenician savages did, pass their chidren through the fire as a sacrifice to their pagan gods. Well, they’ve also found thousands of charred clay figurines of children at Phoenician sites, and most scholars have concluded that the practice that Leviticus refers to is the burial of clay figurines of children in order to insure a good harvest. It’s not even the case here that we should blame the authors of Leviticus for spreading this blood libel about the Phoenicians, since it is tolerably clear that the authors of Leviticus would have disappoved of any even otherwise innocuous pagan worship practice, and the words of the text may not have been understood when written as accusing the Phoenicians of actual human sacrifice, any more than the neighboring words about laying not with a man in a womanly bed were thought until much later, when the libel was dreamed up by homophobes, to refer to homosexuality.

Similarly, Roman stories about blue-painted Druids sacrificing people to their dreadful deities, plus the corpse of a teenager with a wound to the spine is sufficient evidence to convict an entire people of human sacrifice? Really? After our own society unleashes a nuclear holocaust, and future generations are willing to believe any outrageous libel about the people who did that indisputably outrageous thing, what will they make of the disinterred remains of people embalmed by modern methods? What horrific inhuman tortures might they read into the evidence they will find of the widespread injection of the incredibly noxious cocktails we use for that purpose? Granted, to make the mistake that we did this to people while still alive, we have to posit the disappearance in this nuclear holocaust of a written record rich and detailed enough to correct that misperception. We have to posit in them, in short, as complete an actual ignorance of actual practice as we possess in relation to GB at the time of the druids.

But you’re willing to take on faith the absurd belief that, of course, primitive Britons killed children to appease their gods. Have you ever known anybody that killed their child on a religious whim? Do you know of any societies whom we really know, not just from dubious CSI deductions on thousand year old evidence, actually took children forcibly from their parents to kill as human sacrifices? If we can’t imagine this happening systematically, as the act of anything but the occasional literally insane individual, even in our own obviously insane time, why would you think that there is any sort of categorical divider of primitive vs advanced that somehow overrides our common human nature as you have seen it play out your entire life? Fortunately our ancestors are beyond your ability to visit atrocities upon them in consequence of your absurd beliefs, but unfortunately, there are still plenty of foreign cultures not beyond the power of aburdities believed to result in atrocities committed.

Comments on this entry are closed.