Sunday, 29 September 2013

The slave trade 'rescued slaves from night-black Africa'

It is clear that there are certain people who are free and certain who are slaves by nature, and it is both to their advantage, and just, for them to be slaves. Aristotle



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A former slave named Gordon shows his whipping scars. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863


It would be very interesting and perilous to write the history of the Africans in North America from an objective point of view. 

Slavery, as opposed to serfdom, faded out in Europe by the 12th century and was abolished by the British Empire in 1833 - other countries following us. Outside Europe, slavery had always existed and was probably justifiable in prehistoric times and in primitive tribal societies. Life in such societies was, in any case, nasty, brutish and frequently short.  

Slavery is in the forefront of people's minds these days not because it was a cruel institution, but because it was an example of white people exploiting brown ones. We hear less about the African slaves owned and traded by Arabs. We hear next to nothing about the 23 million Russian serfs, one-third of the Russian population, who greatly outnumbered the fewer than four million American slaves and who were freed in 1861 by Czar Alexander II. 

At school we might have heard of the English thralls, including those enslaved by the pagan Danes, but one rarely hears of the white slaves captured by the Barbary pirates, or of slavery in India or China. Slavery in China was abolished in 1909 but continued until 1949 under the Nationalists. Under Chinese Communism it continues to this day, of course - the slaves are nowadays prisoners. In its more traditional form, slavery continues in Mali and other parts of Muslim Africa.

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Slavery is therefore not something for which only Europeans, and in particular the British and Americans, are to be blamed. On the contrary, Europeans, in particular the British and to a lesser extent the Americans, can be credited with its abolition.

However terrible slavery in the Americas was, and it certainly very often was (as was serfdom in Europe), slavery was an African institution, as it was an institution in most primitive societies, which whites adopted. The African slaves were enslaved by other Africans, who sold some of the slaves to white men. 

Slavery is barbaric, but it brought African slaves to civilisation, as a very good interview with the (black) Governor-General of Jamaica in the Spectator reminds us.  I cannot forbear to quote a few lines from it:
As we waited for the tea, Cooke began to speak in patriotic terms of Jamaica as a colony of "marvellous antiquity", far older even than British India or Australia. 
"Now hear me on this. When Australia was just a convict settlement, Jamaica was an established outpost of British commerce and British civilisation. "Civilisation? "Yes," he replied. "Even during slavery the British were sending some very good people out to Jamaica . . . missionaries, reformers . . . but, as I said, to Australia, just convicts." 
"But Jamaica was a brutal place . . . the plantation," I said. 
Cooke was not going to condone slavery, was he? 
"Well, neither am I going to harp on about the wickedness of slavery. Jamaica's greatness was due entirely to slavery." 
Yes, the iniquities; yes, the horrors; but slavery, for all its manifest brutality, had rescued Cooke and his forebears from "night-black" Africa and shown them "true" (that is, British) civilisation.
Sir Howard Cooke is a British patriot to put both the BNP and British intellectuals to shame.

An interesting proof of the civilising effects of slavery is that the freed American slaves who settled Liberia did not intermarry with the natives but treated them as coolies and regarded themselves as representatives of a higher civilisation, which of course they were. I remember people wrote about Liberia as the first free black African country, when it was in fact the last colony. The rule of the 'Americo-Liberians', the black colonists, was only ended in 1980, by a military coup.

I once outraged a liberal Anglican parson friend of mine, who was a very intelligent trained philosopher, when I suggested slavery was a relative rather than an absolute evil. He congratulated himself that he did not think like this, but I have never known how Christians can square the idea of slavery as an absolute evil with the fact that the Old Testament takes it for granted and approves of it. I recently came across, thanks to Mr. Valentin Dimitrov, this very interesting explanation of why slavery might have been morally acceptable in the time of King David and later but not in America in the 18th or 19th centuries. 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Bishop Spong and the death of God


I came across these insightful words by John Shelby Spong, about priests facing the congregation, which seem accurate. Spong is the wildly liberal bishop of the Episcopalian Church in the U.S.A. 

"This shift has become almost universal in liturgical churches over the last fifty years. Though it seems a minor change and has been defended by proponents in a variety of ways, it signifies to me the gradual realization of the death of theism. The priest or pastor with his or her back to the people is addressing the

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Prince of Wales is now the oldest heir to the throne since the Electress Sophia

21 September, 2013

HRH the Prince of Wales was already the heir to the throne who has remained heir apparent the longest. Today he passes the age when King William IV ascended the throne. He was 64 years, 10 months and 5 days old when he became King. He had been heir presumptive to his brother, King George IV (William was heir presumptive not heir apparent because the elderly King George IV could theoretically have married and fathered a child, who would have inherited the throne). 

Prince Charles will be, God willing, the oldest king in our history to ascend the throne. He is the oldest immediate heir to the throne for almost 300 years. 

The one older immediate heir to the throne was the Electress Sophia of Hanover, who died, aged 83, in 1714. after running to escape a shower of rain. (Sophia, of course, has a long 'i' - to rhyme with 'via'.) Queen Anne died a few weeks later at the age of 49 and Sophia's son became King George I. Or the usurper, George of Hanover, if you are a Jacobite. 

Sophia, who never visited England, was the daughter of Elizabeth Stuart, James VI and I's daughter, who was for a few months the famous Winter Queen of Bohemia. The Electress Sophia, unlike her royal descendants, who have been singularly philistine (the present Prince of Wales is the first exception), was a woman of culture and erudition. She was a good friend of Liebnitz, with whom she corresponded. Like Jeeves, her favourite author was Spinoza.





There are some English people who say they have nothing against the royal family as people (how could they have?) - it's the idea of a hereditary unelected monarchy that they hate. I, on the other hand, am not interested in the members of the royal family, only in the institution, in the idea of inheritance, a line that goes back to King Edgar and before that to the men in skins who founded Wessex. 

But I make an exception for the Prince of Wales, whom I have come to love as I have watched him grow out of his long drawn-out and gawky hobbledehoyhood to become the eccentric toff he is today. I suppose being married to a woman with borderline disorder tried him in the fire. He is the Grand Young Fogey, fussing over traditional architecture and the countryside and wanting to reintroduce mutton to England's tables. Not by coincidence does he love Romania so much, as do many foreigners who feel out of place in the modern world. Some have even suggested he should be made King of Romania but Romania has a very good king already. 

The Prince is, by the way, a collateral descendant of Vlad ČšepeČ™ and is said to be  a direct descendant of, among many other illustrious men, the Prophet Mahomet, through Peter the Cruel of Portugal, though doubt has been cast on this.

I think the Prince of Wales is one of the best dressed man in the world but his good taste is not innate. At Cambridge he wanted a suit with horizontal stripes but was dissuaded by his tailor. Actually it might not have been a bad joke, but I don't think the Prince was the man to carry it off.

Second-hand bookshops weaned me

I always loved second-hand bookshops above all things - they were my true alma mater, not my university. But now I see that old books are also the last bastions of freedom of speech.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Middle East DOES NOT MATTER, people!

Syria is a proxy war between Iran and Russia on the one hand and America, Saudi Arabia and Israel on the other. Russia and America alike are actuated by a mixture of healthy national egoism and some principles. Israel thinks that a victory for Assad in Syria will endanger Israel's security more than a failed state on her borders much of it ran by  Al Qaeda. Israel probably knows her interests best but it seems to me that for the rest of us the status quo ante is much preferable - a strong (very bad) man in Syria, allied to Iran and Hezbollah, but keeping order, operating a secular state and protecting Christians, Druse and other minorities. Though of course a complete victory for the Assad regime is, I imagine, very unlikely and the cantonisation of Syria, with the regime in place in Damascus, Aleppo and the coast, is the nearest to victory that the regime can achieve. 

Israel's security is not the most pressing concern for me but I think Israel has lived with the Assads for a long time and does not have nearly so much to fear from them as from chaos. Israel, however, fears Iran.

By the way, Putin suppressed Chechnya with extreme brutality - and 100,000 or 200,000 dead. Putin made a desert and called it peace. Still it worked and might work in Syria - but Assad and Putin are on a par when it comes to respect for human rights. And many of their enemies are just as cruel as they are.

What is clear, even to an imperialist like me, is that most of the problems in the Middle East stem from Western interference, from the Franco-British conquest of the region during the Great War and the Balfour Declaration to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the intervention in Libya last year. The people of the Middle East want to be left alone by us and we should leave them alone. 

It also seems to me that we should realise that the Middle East is a charming, picturesque area of no real importance. A bit like the Balkans up to 1914. Please read Edward Luttwak's brilliant explanation of why this is so. 

Professor Luttwak, by the way, is a Jew from Arad. He talked about the subject of Syria a few months ago and spoke much sense.

'The United States has other new responsibilities: To respond effectively to a rising China, it is essential to disengage from the futile pursuit of stability in North Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Their endless crises capture far too much policy attention and generate pressures for extremely costly military interventions that increase rather than reduce terrorist violence.' 

Yes. Where I disagree with with him is where, more recently, he said that prolonged war in Syria was the best outcome and would weaken and tie down both Iran and Al Qaeda. Apart from the inhumanity of this, I am not convinced that a limited victory for Assad, and by extension Iran, would do any harm to US or Western interests. This seems to contradict his thesis that the West has no important interest in the Middle East. 

I thought these words were thought-provoking. 
One is tempted to explain the common fate of these exceedingly different countries by invoking the role of Islam in politics. Islam may well preclude democracy -- to cite Turkey as the counterexample is perverse, for doing so ignores that the country was founded by an authoritarian as a secular state, which its current Islamist rulers are eroding day by day. But there is no reason to trip over the vast problems of contemporary Islam, because the economic level of the populations in these North African states would not support effective democratic governance anyway.The Arab Spring has indeed been consequential in awakening populations from passivity. But this merely precludes dictatorial rule, even while these countries' fundamental conditions continue to preclude democracy.Only varieties of anarchy remain. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Vladimir Putin master class



Vladimir Putin (whom I do not like in general) is giving Mr. Obama a master class in how to conduct foreign policy. Even the ranks of Tuscany in America (liberals and conservatives and Mr. Obama, though not Mr. Kerry or the State Department) can scarce forbear to cheer. 
An American surgical strike like Reagan's bombing of Tripoli might have been a good idea - without any need for allies like England or France - but my fear is it would have helped defeat Assad and thus helped Al Qaeda. Reagan after all was trying to kill Gadaffi. That would have been regime change (and assassinations, by the way, were against U.S. law). But today America looks ridiculous and weak. As under Bush and let's remember how very much worse he was than Obama. America is in decline, tragically. Henry Kissinger thinks the US must make a short sharp limited intervention. I think we should have negotiations between Syria, the rebels, Iran, the Saudis, Russia, America, France.


But what a disaster for America this is. Another milestone in her decline. Assad, like the other players in the game, only understands force. He was frightened the USA would try to kill him or overthrow him but now he thinks he is safe. Gestures about chemical weapons are not his language.

I wonder if the USA should leave Iran, Israel and the Saudis to squabble and detach from the Middle East? I suppose this is what Mr. Obama has been trying to do?