D’Souza on Slavery

small image of Dinesh D'SouzaThe issue of slavery, in particular that which existed in early America, is a sore subject. A shameful shadow is cast over American history because of its part in continuing this abominable practice. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s/60s was made necessary because of the nation’s failure to fully integrate non-whites into society even after the Civil War and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. But, unfortunately, Americans are often only taught select facts about this history, such that America gets an undue amount of attention and is reviled for something that it only played a relatively small part in. Dinesh D’Souza, India-born American and well-known author, made a few comments on the topic in his book What’s So Great about America?:

“Slavery has existed in all known civilizations. In his study Slavery and Social Death, the West Indian sociologist Orlando Patterson writes, ‘Slavery has existed from the dawn of human history, in the most primitive of human societies and in the most civilized. There is no region on earth that has not at some time harbored the institution.’ A brief survey of the nations of the world confirms this. The Sumerians and Babylonians practiced slavery, as did the ancient Egyptians. The Chinese, the Indians, and the Arabs all had slaves. Slavery was widespread in Greece and Rome, and also in sub-Saharan Africa. American Indians practiced slavery long before Columbus set one foot on this continent.

If slavery is not distinctively Western, what is? The movement to end slavery! Abolition is an exclusively Western institution. The historian J.M. Roberts writes, ‘No civilization once dependent on slavery has ever been able to eradicate it, except the Western.’ Of course, slaves in every society don’t want to be slaves. The history of slavery is full of incidents of runaways, slave revolts, and so on. But typically slaves were captured in warfare, and if they got away they were perfectly happy to take other people as slaves.”

So, we begin to see that, while early America is not to be excused for its participation in slavery, neither should it be singled out.

Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet

Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet

“Never in the history of the world, outside of the West, has a group of people eligible to be slave owners mobilized against the institution of slavery. This distinctive Western attitude is reflected by Abraham Lincoln: ‘As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.’ Lincoln doesn’t want to be a slave — that’s not surprising — but he doesn’t want to be a master either. He and many other people were willing to expend considerable treasure, and ultimately blood, to get rid of slavery not for themselves, but for other people. The uniqueness of this Western approach is confirmed by the little-known fact that African chiefs, who profited from the slave trade, sent delegations to the West to protest the abolition of slavery. And it is important to realize that the slaves were not in a position to secure freedom for themselves. The descendants of African slaves owe their freedom to the exertions of white strangers, not to the people of Africa who betrayed them and sold them.”

A bold statement? Perhaps. But, a proper perspective and attitude can only be had when informed by the facts — in this case, historically verifiable facts.

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