In recent speeches, Richard Spencer has advanced a powerful gambit that the Alt Right, including southern Christians, should consider. He admits that our people have “sinned” against other races, and that he “owns” that. Of course, Spencer doesn’t really believe in a concept of sin, in the sense of a cosmic infraction against an Almighty God, but it’s an interesting and useful tactic nevertheless. By embracing the central charge of the multiculturalists, that whites in the past have abused their power, he disarms the thrust of their main argument. Instead of taking the bait, cuckservative-style, of defending America and the West as the vehicle for the Whig version of history, he forces the Left to make their next point. The next part of their argument is the one they dare not make – because white people in the past have done bad things, therefore whites today must suffer and die out as a people. The Left knows this is a losing argument with most whites, and so by choosing to not defend their attacks on historical whites as a group, Spencer exposes the ugliness of their contemporary anti-white stance. By saying essentially, “yes, our people have sinned, we own it, now what?” he forces the Left to answer the question in a way that will be detrimental to their propaganda. Spencer then turns on their timidity, for the smart Leftists do not want to be seen as anti-white, and demands the same rights for whites that are claimed for all other people groups.
Southerners under constant cultural attack can be tempted to defend all aspects of our history without reservation. We forget, however, that the best Southerners, from Lee to Dabney to Jefferson, all considered slavery to be at best a necessary evil, a “least worst” solution to a serious problem, which was the occupation of the same territory by both Africans and Europeans, two groups with incompatible notions of the good life, and both of which would be frustrated in any attempt to compromise their way of life with the other. In debating other Christians in the past about how slavery was Biblical, an objection I often received was that Southern slavery was different from Biblical slavery in that is was “race-based slavery.” I now agree with this argument, for perhaps different reasons, and with definitively different conclusions.
While I am sympathetic to George Fitzhugh‘s arguments about the benefits of a slave-based society over a free society – Fitzhugh was a brilliant, highly readable writer whose arguments convince me of the necessity of some base level of socialism in society, slavery being a form of private socialism – I do believe Southern slavery, being race-based, was qualitatively problematic relative to the Biblical concept. Slavery, to be practiced in a way that is just, must have some degree of social mobility. Masters in the ancient, Roman world, for example, would often free virtuous, intelligent slaves as an act of kindness – they understood that slavery based on lineage would tend towards injustice if exceptional men were not freed from their accident of birth. A freed slave in the Roman world could, within a generation or less, completely blend in with his fellow freedmen, including marrying into Roman families. The racial differences between most Romans and their slaves were minor – Slavs or Germans are descended from the same Indo-Europeans that gave birth to the Romans themselves. The slaves in Roman society were assimilable. The ability to assimilate into a particular flavor of Indo-European society was available to any Indo-European. However, as genetic distance increases to the maximal differences between whites and blacks in the Old South, the idea of assimilation was horrific.
In the Roman world, if a free Roman married a former slave from Ireland, no one fretted about the descendants’ possibly inheriting Irish blood. In the South, however, the genetic differences were so profound that mixing with blacks was unthinkable. The resulting progeny were pitiable, and could fit in with neither group, so vast were the genetic differences and proclivities.
The need to protect this color line, and the reactionary defense of slavery from abolitionists, led to the late antebellum trend of seeing slavery not as a necessary evil but rather as a positive good. By 1861, Texas is citing the “blessings of Negro slavery” in their Articles of Secession. This is followed by Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech,” where he makes the claim that all blacks are only fit for slavery under the white man.
The problem with the racial superiority, absolute slavery position is that it’s false. There are blacks that are intelligent enough such that they are fit for more than slavery, yet due to the need to maintain the color line, these blacks were not freed. Such slavery was especially unjust to the mulattos, and even more so to those blacks with a majority of white blood.
Human justice is organized under the principle that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than one innocent man to be punished. Similarly, a system of slavery that forever seeks to keep the intelligent part of the population in chains will be seen as unjust. Since some blacks are clearly very talented, any absolutist position that makes claims like Stephens did will be seen as morally hollow. Clearly the most talented blacks would be better off leading their own societies than as slaves in a white man’s society.
The position consistent with justice is in my view the older Southern view of Lee, Dabney and Jefferson: African slavery was forced upon the South by the English crown and the institution was thought to be a necessary evil that enlightened Southerners hoped would one day be abolished, followed by repatriation of the African population. We should “own” the sins of our ancestors to take away the power of the charge – their sin was to allow King Cotton to make permanent an institution that could have been eliminated, and its victims repatriated, during the period following the Revolutionary War. Both Dabney and Thornwell privately expressed doubts about the southern system of slavery, its inconsistencies with Biblical practice and feared these injustices, despite the hypocrisy and legalism of the North, might bring God’s judgment.
One problem with race-based slavery is that it works too well, for a while. Had the fire-eating pro-slavery faction prevailed, they would have established a great slave empire in the South and Caribbean. It would no doubt have been prosperous, but its long-term fate would have been that of South Africa. If not isolated by international do-gooders, eventually law and order itself would break down. People forget that part of the reason for the fall of apartheid was the difficulty of maintaining order in a situation where whites are a single digit percentage of the population – the raw numbers of the subjugated group, enabled by the very prosperity of the race-based system, eventually collapse the golden circle.
The Spencerian gambit is powerful. We obviously are not personally responsible for the injustices of the past, but by acknowledging them, even to some vague degree, we force the Left to reveal its ugliness: their seeking to take out blood guilt on whites today for the acts of whites of the past. When we propose the reasonable alternative – if whites are so bad/racist/imperialist/hateful, then why don’t we all just agree to be good neighbors in our own countries – we will have the moral high ground.