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Argument against the abolition of slavery

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How would you answer this argument in a society where slavery is still practiced?

"The ruling class of slave owners ought not to release their slaves because, by relinquishing their power, they risk that another group will gain power in the future, and that they themselves will be enslaved by these people."

Edited by Kjetil
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I'm tempted to say that there is a such thing as a stupid question. :P

Are you familiar with the Objectivist justification(s) of individual rights, and Objectivist arguments against stealing? If so, it shouldn't be too difficult of a question. Individual rights ought to be respected, and any enslavement of anyone by anyone is a violation of individual rights. If you're not familiar with those positions, I'm sure someone will come along and elaborate.

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It's hard to imagine any argument for slavery that doesn't collapse immediately with a basic understanding of the concept of rights. Briefly, slavery requires that the slave owner initiate force to stay in control, making him a rights violator and therefore in the wrong. If, after gaining freedom, a former slave tried to enslave someone else, that would make the ex-slave a rights violator as well, and the government of a free country would punish him just as it would anyone else who initiated force.

A free society rejects the use of "power" in the sense the argument you quoted uses that term, i.e. power over men. Understanding freedom means recognizing that one person's success does not entail harming or subjugating anyone else.

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How would you answer this argument in a society where slavery is still practiced?

"The ruling class of slave owners ought not to release their slaves because, by relinquishing their power, they risk that another group will gain power in the future, and that they themselves will be enslaved by these people."

Many societies had slaves in the past. Most no longer have slaves (assuming you're talking of full-fledged slaves, and not a broader use like "I am a slave to the tax-man").

Do you know of any society that ended slavery and then reimposed it a generation or two later? In these cases, did the tables turn in terms of what segments of the population were slaves and masters? If this has actually happened, it would be useful to use such an example as a starting point for discussion. If it has never happened, then what are the reasons for it not happening?

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How would you answer this argument in a society where slavery is still practiced?

"The ruling class of slave owners ought not to release their slaves because, by relinquishing their power, they risk that another group will gain power in the future, and that they themselves will be enslaved by these people."

I would tell them they could be wealthier and happier without a slave-based economy.

A slave based system is made up of two classed that don't want to work. The masters obviously don't want to work, and the slaves usually don't want to work because they aren't gaining from their labor. So what do you think happens to productivity in that country?

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How would you answer this argument in a society where slavery is still practiced?

I’d advise the slave owners to get the hell out of town. To go into exile, before they get lynched. Is there a particular modern day country you have in mind?

I think we can turn this into a more interesting subject for discussion. The classical Greeks had slavery, Aristotle even approved, and arguably this freed enough of them up to develop philosophy, science etc., and without their contribution we’d all be where? Somewhere not as good, presumably. There’s the rub when talking contrafactual history, whichever side of an issue you take, you can’t conclusively prove a case.

But anyway, what if slavery was a necessary institution at one time in the evolution of the culture? So the cultures that adopted it advanced, and the ones that didn’t, didn’t. Does this open the door to moral relativism? Or a critique of principled morality, meaning the view that a valid moral code must apply to everyone equally? How to argue the issue with Aristotle, knowing that his context was one where there were other nations that would invade and enslave the Greeks without a qualm?

I’ve always been struck by Rand’s claim that she couldn’t have developed her political views before the Industrial Revolution. Hmm, I suppose that calls for a citation, sorry but I can’t recall where I read that right now.

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  • 2 weeks later...

How would you answer this argument in a society where slavery is still practiced?

"The ruling class of slave owners ought not to release their slaves because, by relinquishing their power, they risk that another group will gain power in the future, and that they themselves will be enslaved by these people."

That argument, of course, is a very good reason why such a society should never have imposed slavery in the first place.

However, assuming philosophical enlightenment came late, then the next thing they need to understand is that by continuing to enslave people, they risk rebellion, destruction and death. Plenty of past history of slave revolts.

So, the problem is that they have risk whichever path they choose. The value of a proper morality is that it helps shed light on the correct path. If the society were to reject slavery as an institution, and to welcome the formerly enslaved into their culture as (potential) equals, that might help offset the risk, by encouraging the formerly enslaved to reject slavery themselves. But there's no way to eliminate the risk all together, which is why they should have avoided going down that road.

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