Sunday, November 20, 2011

Picking the wrong fight?

I just finished a book I should have read decades ago--Uncle Tom's Cabin--and there are a lot of things that I can say about it, starting with the fact that I now know why I didn't get to read it in school.  It's the same reason that I didn't get to read Pilgrim's Progress, Paradise Lost, and any number of other great works of literature; just "too much religion" for the secular schools.  And it's a shame for all of these.

(but of course we did get to see the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, of which I am ashamed to admit that I remember exactly five seconds, and if you're a man, that's the five seconds you remember, too)

OK, that aside, I almost wonder whether Stowe made the wrong argument; while a system of slavery can only be enforced with violence (at least the threat of it), and unaccountable power over the lives of others can only result in barbarism, is that the best argument, or is there another?

A better argument perhaps being "What gives you the right to the rightful wages of your fellow man?  What gives you the right to make decisions for your fellow man?"  "Losertarian" argument?  Yes, but it forces the opponents to argue inalienable rights, and denies them the opportunity--used by Stowe's detractors--of claiming that the atrocities catalogued were due to "bad actors" and not a bad system.

And there are a lot of things we can apply this to.  Think about who you can ask; "What gives you the right?"


Gino said...

those were a fine five seconds, too.

Bike Bubba said...

Kudos for illustrating exactly why it's difficult for a genuine moral proposition to get traction today.....and I'm surprised you were so moved by Tybalt's death.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

I read Uncle Tom's Cabin when I was in tenth or eleventh grade. But don't get your hopes up for public ed, BB. I read it on my own time. I like your comments on what argument to make.

Brian said...

If Stowe had made the libertarian argument, do you think it would have been the same boon to the abolitionist cause (and by extension, possibly contributed to the eventual Civil War?) And might that have been a better outcome?

I'm not exactly an expert on these things, but my impression is that the concept of liberty as freedom from coercion rather than an ideal of self-government is a relatively modern idea.

Bike Bubba said...

Brian; I don't know, but it's worth noting that many of the Founders, 80 years before Stowe, made basically the same argument as I propose in freeing their own slaves upon their deaths. So at the very least, the argument of freedom antedates Stowe.

(and we might also posit that Wilberforce's approach, which banned slavery without a war in 1833, is morally superior to what we did in our country, no?)

Brian said...

I think the Civil War is one of the country's great failures, surpassed only by the institutional acceptance of slavery at the founding. ANY approach that would have ended slavery without killing off 1-2% of the population in the process would have been better.