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Prior to the Civil War, apologists for the South’s “peculiar institution” concocted “positive good” rationales that claimed slavery was beneficial. Though the arguments varied, they were broadly based on assumptions of white superiority: intellectual, spiritual, and civilizational. The “superior” white man had the right to live off the labors of the “backward” African because doing so freed him to engage in the higher pursuits afforded by his loftier intellect, morality, and civilization.
Abraham Lincoln’s rejoinder — made during his debates with Stephen Douglas — was that the Southerners’ arguments could equally justify their own slavery by their supposed betters. Islamists, for example, believe their religion, morals, and culture are infinitely better than ours and so it is their religious duty to conquer the West and bring it under Sharia Law. Those refusing to convert to Islam are to be subjected to death, slavery or — at best — to the partial slavery of dhimmitude, which entails limited rights, obligatory humiliation, and special taxes to help enhance the lifestyles of the faithful.
In early America, people voluntarily supported the weak and infirm, but such practical compassion is not compatible with the enlightened and progressive times in which we live. Instead, the left of today imposes its own form of better living through coercion, based – not on assumptions of superiority – but on assumptions of inferiority. In the left’s utopia, productive individuals are forced to support those unable or unwilling to work; the recipients’ poverty, ignorance, infirmity, or victimhood entitling them to the fruits of others’ labor. The successful must be subjected to special taxes and to humiliation (“greedy,” “uncaring,” “elitist”) to justify the confiscation of their property and to soothe the beneficiaries’ feelings.
Antebellum apologists for slavery buttressed their arguments with force, sometimes running obstinate newspaper editors and preachers out of town. Today’s apologists resort to similar tactics. They “disinvite” or shout down speakers with whom they disagree. They charge dissenters and deniers with committing “hate speech” and “micro-aggressions” to bully them into subservient silence.
Lincoln’s response is just as relevant today as it was in 1858. Those who live by claims of their own inferiority and victimhood can be outbid by others purporting to be even more wretched than they. Thus, a world ruled by the progressive dictum “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” collapses into a downward spiral of competition to demonstrate ever less ability and more need. Those hoping to live by the efforts of others end by enslaving themselves; they forge their own chains of helpless dependence.
Image Credit: “Abraham Lincoln November 1863” by Alexander Gardner – http://www.britannica.com/bps/media-view/112498/1/0/0. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.Published in