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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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Monday, February 06, 2006
"What killed slavery" - the debate so far, and one more from ARC.

I'm going to give this debate until midnight on Wednesday night (that's midnight Greenwich Mean Time), because I'm going away on Friday and I need to pack and stuff. OK?

To recap, as part of the big Science vs Religion debate, my correspondent ARC brought up the nineteenth century campaign against slavery as an example of a good thing motivated by religion. Then what had been a sub-debate took on a life of its own. (That's cool. What blogs are for.) My other correspondent, JEM, replied that the industrial revolution was real cause of slavery's demise. He added more here. Then ARC responded that slavery had already died out once in Christendom before the Industrial Revolution was ever thought of. By this time the Religion vs Science debate was officially over, but JEM took the What Killed Slavery debate one step further by discussing the role of capitalism and the Black Death.

Before I go any further, I'd just like to mention that I suspect that there is considerable overlap between all three* participants concerning the superior desirability and productivity of free markets. (I first got to read Milton Friedman's Free to Choose by borrowing ARC's copy some time in the mid-1980s.) I also suspect that there is less difference between ARC and JEM as to the order of events than they seem to perceive; I think they are talking at cross-purposes in a way that it would take too long to describe exactly. Can we all broadly agree that, although slavery in most of the world continued as it always had, strict slavery died out in Britain by the time of the Plantagenets, and serfdom was gone by the start of the Tudors, before (alas) restarting again once the enslavement of Africans became practical?

ARC apologised for giving his reply in a slightly bald bullet-point style. Then he said,

"- That slavery existed in areas not in significant contact with 1500s England is not relevant to my point.

"- Though one would not wish to be either, serfdom _is_ significantly different from slavery, but that's also irrelevant, mid-millenium England having eliminated both.)

"- Re the new argument: true, the black death had a great impact on the death of serfdom. However it was not worse in these islands than elsewhere - rather the reverse. Thus you must explain why it helped the cause of freedom sufficiently in England while leaving that cause in other massively-affected areas still needing more help.

"Suppose you grant that the black death had much to do with the fact that in the UK during the 1700s the idea of a society without slavery was the practical experience of ordinary people, and so left them free to see its existence elsewhere as an anomaly instead of as the norm. They still had the choice of whether to fight it or profit from it. Unless you go far down the path of denying free will in general, the fact that English people discovered (long before the industrial revolution) that a society without slavery was _possible_ does not force them to make a particular choice. It only gives them choices. - ARC."

*John Costello has also contributed. As soon as I do the Annoying Format Thing, you'll see his letter.