Today we are witnessing extreme examples of moral nihilism. By moral nihilism I mean the concoction of novel “moral laws” in rapid succession, combined with the expection and demand that everyone else respect and obey these new “laws.” Moral nihilism is often associated with moral subjectivity. The opposite is the case. The current chaos in our cities is a direct manifestation of objective morality. It requires the assumption that one is acting on behalf of some objective “good,” existing independently of anyone’s mere opinion. It is an illusion spawned by the very power of our moral emotions, and one that we must shed if we are ever to make anything that can be accurately described as “moral progress.” Absent objective morality, the very notion of judging people who lived centuries ago by the moral fashions prevailing today becomes absurd.
The fundamental lie of objective morality is commonly used to justify all kinds of ancillary lies. Indeed, the illusion often promotes a sincere belief that the lies are true. One of the best antidotes is historical source material, taken straight up rather than filtered by some academic historian to fit a preferred narrative. I found a good example bearing on our current situation in the pages of the December, 1857 issue of the Atlantic Monthly entitled “Where Will It End?” (To see the article, click on the link that appears when you click on the first link).
The “it” referred to was slavery, and the question was to be emphatically answered in a few years. Among the lies that this article demolishes, along thousands of other articles like it that appeared in contemporary books, newspapers, and magazines, is the argument, beloved of Marxists, Confederate Heritage zealots, and 19th century British aristocrats alike, that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. By all means, read the whole thing, and you’ll see what I mean. However, its value hardly ends there. Let’s take a look at some of the more striking excerpts. The first explodes the leftist narrative that the country was built on the backs of slaves:
When the eyes of the thoughtful inquirer turn from the general prospect of the national greatness and strength, to the geographical divisions of the country… He beholds the Southern region, embracing within its circuit three hundred thousand more square miles than the domain of the North, dowered with a soil incomparably more fertile, watered by mighty rivers fit to float the argosies of the world, placed nearer the sun and canopied by more propitious skies, with every element of prosperity and wealth showered upon it with Nature’s fullest and most unwithdrawing hand, and sees that, notwithstanding all this, the share of public wealth and strength drawn thence is almost inappreciable, by the side of what is poured into the common stock by the strenuous sterility of the North. With every opportunity and means that Nature can supply for commerce, with navigable rivers searching its remotest corners, with admirable harbors in which the navies of the world might ride, with the chief articles of export for its staple productions, it still depends upon its Northern partner to fetch and carry all that it produces, and the little that it consumes. Possessed of all the raw materials of manufactures and the arts, its inhabitants look to the North for everything they need from the cradle to the coffin. Essentially agricultural in its constitution, with every blessing Nature can bestow upon it, the gross value of all its productions is less by millions than that of the simple grass of the field gathered into northern barns. With all the means and materials of wealth, the South is poor. With every advantage for gathering strength and self-reliance, it is weak and dependent. Why this difference between the two?
The author doesn’t leave us guessing. The answer is slavery. Far from being the economic dynamo on the back of which the evil whites stood to build their empire, it hobbled and impoverished them for the benefit of a few. In his words,
The key of the enigma is to be found in the constitution of human nature. A man in fetters cannot do the task-work that one whose limbs are unshackled looks upon as a pastime… Hence the difference so often noticed between tracts lying side by side, separated only by a river or an imaginary line; on one side of which, thrift and comfort and gathering wealth, growing villages, smiling farms, convenient habitations, school-houses and churches make the landscape beautiful; while on the other, slovenly husbandry, dilapidated mansions, sordid huts, perilous wastes, horrible roads, the rare spire, and rarer village school betray all the nakedness of the land. It is the magic of motive that calls forth all this wealth and beauty to bless the most sterile soil stirred by willing and intelligent labor; while the reversing of that spell scatters squalor and poverty and misery over lands endowed by Nature with the highest fertility, spreading their leprous infection from the laborer to his lord.
In the next passage we find a denunciation of slavery similar to those penned by a myriad other authors in the decades leading up to the Civil War:
That the denial of his natural and civil rights to the laborer who sows and reaps the harvests of the Southern country should be avenged upon his enslaver in the scanty yielding of the earth, and in the unthrift, the vices, and the wretchedness which are the only crops that spring spontaneously from soil blasted by slavery is nothing strange. It is only the statement of the truism in moral and in political economy, that true prosperity can never grow up from wrong and wickedness.
There is a striking similarity among virtually all of these authors; they are all white. Similar denunciations of slavery in the literature of any other race or culture are virtually nonexistent in comparison. We don’t know when or where the first incidence of human slavery occurred, but we do know who put a stop to it, and they happened to have white skin. Absent the battle waged by whites against slavery, first with the pen and then with the sword, the chances that slavery would be considered anything but a benign social institution today are vanishingly small. This fact alone exposes the gross racism of today’s pious social justice warriors.
The article also exposes the racism inherent in the claim that all whites are born tainted with the original sin of slavery. As the author points out,
The entire sum of all who have any direct connection with slavery, as owners or hirers, is less than three hundred and fifty thousand, – not half as many as the inhabitants of the single city of New York.
The white population of the country at the time the article was written was about 25 million. Slave owners and hirers made up little more than one percent of the total, especially when one deducts women and children from the total. As the author points out, the remaining white population of the South was impoverished by slavery, not enriched by it. He notes that the increasing desperation of the slave oligarchy is driven in part by growing signs of resistance among poor whites:
It rages, for its time is short. And its rage is the fiercer because of the symptoms of rebellion against its despotism which it discerns among the white men of the South, who from poverty or from principle have no share in its sway. When we speak of the South as distinguished from the North by elements of inherent hostility, we speak only of the governing faction, and not of the millions of nominally free men who are scarcely less its thralls than the black slaves themselves… That such a tyranny should excite an antagonistic spirit of resistance is inevitable from the constitution of man and the character of God. The sporadic cases of protest and of resistance to the slaveholding aristocracy, which lift themselves occasionally above the dead level of the surrounding despotism, are representative cases… The unity of interest of the non-slaveholders of the South with the people of the Free States is perfect, and it must one day combine them in a unity of action.
Just as many of us have underestimated the recently demonstrated willingness of many of our fellow citizens to grovel and humiliate themselves for such sins as telling the truth and mildly challenging leftist dogmas, the author underestimated the willingness of southern whiles to fight for the oligarchs who impoverished them. The Civil War demonstrated the southern oligarchy’s ability use their nearly unchallenged control of the social media of their day to influence and manipulate the behavior and opinions of the population. The techniques they used will sound eerily familiar to 21st century readers:
There must be intelligence enough among the non-slaveholding whites to see the difference there is between themselves and persons of the same condition in the Free States. Why have they no free schools?… Why are they hindered from taking such newspapers as they please? Why are they subjected to censorship of the press, which dictates to them what they may or may not read, and which punishes booksellers with exile and ruin for keeping for sale what they want to buy? Why must Northern publishers expurgate and emasculate the literature of the world before it is permitted to reach them?… The slaveholders, having the wealth, and nearly all the education that the South can boast of, employ these mighty instruments of power to create the public sentiment and to control the public affairs of their region, so as best to secure their own supremacy. No word of dissent to the institutions under which they live, no syllable of dissatisfaction, even, with any of the excesses they stimulate, can be breathed in safety. A Christian minister in Tennessee relates an act of fiendish cruelty inflicted upon a slave by one of the members of his church, and he is forced to leave his charge, if not to fly the country. Another in South Carolina presumes to express in conversation his disapprobation of the murderous assault of Brooks on Senator Sumner, and his pastoral relations are broken up on the instant, as if he had been guilty of gross crime or flagrant heresy. Professor Hedrick, in North Carolina, ventures to utter a preference for the Northern candidate in the last presidential campaign, and he is summarily ejected from his chair, and virtually banished from his native State. Mr. Underwood of Virginia dares to attend the convention of the party he preferred, and he is forbidden to return to his home on pain of death. The blackness of darkness and the stillness of death are thus forced to brood over that land which God formed so fair, and made to be so happy.
Do you notice any similarity between the tactics of 19th century slave owners and 21st century social justice warriors? You should! Source literature is a wonderful thing. It transports you to a different world where you can watch the narratives that pass for “history” pop like soap bubbles before you eyes. The author concludes,
Thus the ideal of a true republic, of a government of laws made and executed by the people of which bards have sung and prophets dreamed, and for which martyrs have suffered and heroes died, may yet be possible to us, and the great experiment of this Western World be indeed a Model, instead of a Warning to the nations.
It was whites who first raised a moral challenge to slavery, and finally put an end to it. Their reward has been blanket condemnation as a race for the sins of a tiny minority. No, dear author, your hopes were vain. The monuments to the martyrs and heroes you refer to are being defaced and pulled down as I write this. We did not become a Model for others. We certainly became a Warning.