Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Monday, January 30, 2006
Industrial Revolution and Slavery Part II and On with the game! Two more letters from JEM. (This post originally just had the one, so scroll down if you haven't read the second yet.) In the first letter, JEM revisits his earlier one on the causes of the end of slavery. He writes:


"It has been put to me this evening that far from causing the end of slavery, the industrial revolution was financed at least in part by slavery, and that far from ending slavery it led directly to an actual increase in the numbers enslaved. A Google search shows this perspective to be quite popular.

"Well it may sound odd but I agree with these two points, so far as they go; however they don't go very far.

"Firstly it cannot be denied that the wealth of 18th century Great Britain was to a considerable extent built upon the triangular trade with its notorious middle passage of slaves from west Africa to the Americas, together with the slave-powered sugar and cotton economies of the West Indies and what I'll call 'Dixie' for short.

"So yes it was that great wealth and surplus capital, all greatly enhanced by the proceeds of slavery, that made the industrial revolution feasible. Yet this is beside the point although highly ironic, and a classic example of the law of unintended consequences.

"Secondly, it is indeed true that the great new water and steam powered cotton mills of England led to a vast growth in the demand for cotton from Dixie, and hence a huge increase in the number of slaves working on the plantations.

"Yet this does not alter the fact that in the longer term the industrial revolution made slavery outmoded and ultimately extinct, even when it came to picking cotton. It just did not happen overnight. I never claimed it did. And on the way to it happening, there were times when things got worse again before they got better.

"So I stand by my central thesis: the industrial revolution destroyed slavery."


Teasing out the multiple causes of an historical event is fascinating. Which was it that did for slavery, the industrial revolution pushing us to what the Albion's Seedlings team have called "the Exit", the point when production started to pay better than predation - or was it the religiously-inspired political and military campaign cited by me and ARC? I expect everyone here would answer, "both." But there's plenty of arguing to be done about the proportions, and even more about the line of cause and effect. That may well be less a line and more a ping-pong game. - NS

In the second letter, JEM responds to Reader B:

"As Reader B puts it, "The game of comparing good and bad historical achievements of Christianity is deeply suspect..." but then so is the game of comparing good and bad historical achievements of science, or Freemasonry, or Socialism, or macrame, or anything else you case to mention. However, unlike most alternatives candidates for this treatment playing this game with religion is as you say, kind of fun.

"So on with the game!

"But first, science:

"I have observed earlier that it is mistaken to look upon science as a moral process. The only moral thing about science is the search for truth. All other moral questions are beyond its competence, so I believe that should be the end of Graylings's case, holed below the waterline by a fundamental logical flaw.

"So now, religion:

"Reader B reminds us of Lewis's observation that history is everything that ever happened. Indeed. And as my physics tutor once pointed out, time is nature's way of preventing everything from happening at once. Also indeed. These remarks may be technically correct, but get us nowhere.

"Then in his [actually her, although JEM had no way of knowing this - NS] Paragraph (2) and indeed again in his Paragraph (3) he contends that the principals of Christianity are more important than their practical application. This is like saying that a scientific theory is perfect but the experimental results don't agree with it, therefore the experiment is wrong. This part of his argument is worse than the first. It does not just get us nowhere, it leads us deeper into the quagmire."