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.)

Back to main blog

RSS thingy

Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.


( '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.)

The Old Comrades:

November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 August 2007 October 2007 February 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 March 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 October 2009 January 2010 March 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 April 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006
What apology, if any, should Mr Blair make for Britain's role in the slave trade?

There are several ways of assessing whether one should be ashamed of the acts of a group to which one belongs.

  • 1) One should feel shame for the bad acts of the group in the same degree as one feels pride in the good acts of the group.

  • 2) One should feel pride or shame in the actions of a group in proportion to the degree of choice one has about becoming or remaining a member of that group.

  • 3) One should feel pride or shame in the actions of a group in so far as the link between the acts committed by group members and membership of the group is not fortuitous.

  • 4) One should feel pride or shame in the actions of a group in so far as the group you belong to is identifiably the same group that did the actions.

To illustrate point (1), my pride in the role of Britain in putting down slavery must be accompanied by shame for the role of Britain in the slave trade. A pride that cannot encompass shame is a dead thing.

To illustrate point (2), I feel neither pride nor shame for the acts of whites or women. I had no choice about being born white or female and the utility of undergoing surgical procedures to demonstrate lack of solidarity with either condition is not obvious. In contrast, a member of a political party who resigns on a point of principle is acting meaningfully. Midway between the two extremes just mentioned comes the nation. Changing nationality on a point of principle is a major disruption but it can be done, at least for some of us.

To illustrate point (3) it would be crazy to re-spray your blue car because a serial killer was found to have a blue car; but if blue cars became known as a symbol denoting membership in some vicious gang it would not be crazy. (Added later: I was thinking of a gang in your area, one to which you could reasonably be supposed to belong.)

Point (4) refers to continuity of identity over time. Britain 2006 does have some continuity of identity with the Britain that carried out the slave trade. Although I would argue (and have argued, possibly at tedious length) that slavery is inefficient and does not enrich the societies that practice it, there seems little doubt that Africa is poorer because of slavery, even if Britain is not richer. Of course Britain in 2006 has more continuity with the Britain that abolished slavery and flung its ships and men to Zanzibar, West Africa and Brazil in order to stop the slave trade.

Nonetheless, all my four points seem to apply. It is certainly right for Tony Blair (and not only him) to feel patriotic regret for Britain's role in the slave trade. For Tony Blair as Prime Minister to make an official statement of regret about the slave trade is not an outrage to common sense. (Even though it is mostly an opportunity to display virtue, and to make party political points about lottery funds and immunisation programmes.) Who knows, perhaps his action will serve as a model for the coming statements of deep personal sorrow about the slave trade from various Arab and African rulers? At any rate it may make some people, black and white, feel more at peace with their history, and there are many worse uses of his time.

But among all this acknowledgement let us acknowledge one more thing. The slaves are all dead, the masters are all dead, and pride, shame and a sense of injury are all among the things that the living sometimes steal from the dead.

(An earlier post about apologies for the slave trade is here, and one about a proposed C of E apology for the Iraq War, that touched on point (4), is here.)