[ExI] Liberals and Political Labels (was History of Slavery)

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sat Jun 2 19:24:47 UTC 2007

Gordon writes

>>> If anyone deserves credit for freeing the slaves, I'd say it was the
>>> political liberals and the Quakers.
>> Yes.  It's the same "mentality", if you will.
> Yes, the same mentality. Abolitionism has a 'liberal flavor', even though  
> the meaning of the word liberal has changed over time.

The certain writer T.S. has some harsh things to say about
abolitionists, with which I fully concur. He contrasts them
to Burke, for whom he has great admiration. Burke
thoroughly despised the use of "abstract principles" in
treating real world problems.

     Later, Burke proposed "to give property to the Negroes" when they
     should become free. But nowhere did Burke view this as an abstract
     question without considering the social context and the consequnces
     and dangers of that context. He rejected the idea that one could
     simply free the slaves by fiat as amatter of abstract principle,
     since he abhorred abstract principles on political issues in general.
     Thomas Jefferson likewise regarded emancipation, all by itself,
     as being more like abandonment than liberation for people "whose
     habits have been formed in slavery".

     In America, John Randolph of Roanoke took a similar position:
     "I am not going to discuss the abstract question of liberty, or
     slavery, or any other abstract question."

     Today, slavery is too often discussed as an abstract question with
     an easy answer, leading to sweeping condemnations of those who
     did not reach that easy answer in their own time. In nineteenth
     century America, especially, there was no alternative that was
     not traumatic, including both the continuation of slavery [and
     any alternative, as T.S. describes at lenght].

and a few pages earlier T.S. writes

     Quakers, who had spearheaded the anti-slavery movement on
     both sides of the Atlantic, nevertheless distanced themselves
     from the abolitionist movement exemplified by Garrison.

and a bit further back

     Abolitionists were hated in the North as well as the South: 
     William Lloyd Garrison narrowly escaped being lynched
     by a mob in Boston, even though there were no slaveholders
     in Massachusetts, and another abolitionist leader was killed
     by a mob in Illinois. Abolitionists were also targets of mobs
     in New York and Philadelphia...

     None of this was based on any economic interest in the 
     ownership of slaves in states where such ownership had
     been outlawed decades earlier.  But, just as Southerners
     resented dangers to themselves created by distant
     abolitionists, so Northererners resented dangers to the
     Union, with the prospect of a bloody civil war. Even people
     who were openly opposed to slavery were often also
     opposed to the abolitionists....

     ....It was the abolitionists' doctrinaire stances and heedless
     disregard of consequences, both of their policy and their
     rhetoric, which marginalized them, even in the North and
     even among those who were seeking to find ways to phase
     out the institution of slavery, so as to free those being held in
     bondage without unleashing a war between the states or a
     war between the races.  Garrison could say "the question
     of expedience has nothing to do with that of right" --- which
     is true in the abstract, but irrelevant in a world where
     consequences matter.  Too often the abolitionists were
     intolerant of those seeking the same goal of ending slavery
     when those others---including Lincoln---proceeded in ways
     that took account of the inescapable constraints of the times,
     instead of being oblivious [as were the abolitionists] to the
     context and constraints.

This is a revolutionary mind-set that is being described here---
one that surfaced in the French Revolution and the Russian
Revolution, and which it would be libelous to say always
characterizes liberals.  Nonetheless one often hears today
echos of these same kinds of sentiments, when revolution
is advocated over evolution.  The more I read of Burke,
especially exemplified by his far-sighted criticisms of the
ongoing French Revolution, the more respect for his
wisdom I have.


> Interesting about the progressives, and thanks for your generally  
> interesting post.

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