Ante Bellum
by George Fitzhugh and Hinton Rowan Helper

In 1857, George Fitzhugh published Cannibals All! or Slaves without Masters in which he argued that the free, white laborers would be better off if they were slaves. The economic facts and the labor theory of value were on his side. I read his book years ago and was impressed with his logic, given his faulty premise that labor is the source of all value.

Of course the fact that the slavery system was efficient in all measurable ways is irrelevant to the morality of it. That is why economics and utilitarianism are useless when it comes to making moral decisions. The most important factors in moral decisions (rights, duties, and moral agency) cannot be measured or combined or compared mathematically. That is why books like Uncle Tom's Cabin that take a moral point of view and that appeal to our moral sentiments were needed to fight slavery.

Fitzhugh's defense of slavery is just what libertarians have always thought to be the logical inverse of their own beliefs. He is very consistent, candid, and perceptive. He sees socialism as a form of slavery, as was feudalism. He advocates all the things that one who believes in slavery should advocate, and he opposes all the things he should oppose: laissez faire, freedom of speech, free press, public protest, migration, contract, profit, capital, etc. He makes a good case for Southern-style slavery being superior to socialist-style slavery, and he is consistent enough to draw the logical, but self-evidently absurd, conclusion that the Negro slaves in the South were better off than the "free men" of the North, because slaves are less profitable and therefore less exploited!

Year Read: 1974, 1993


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