Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Against "the Conservatism of Slavery"

In Darwinian Natural Right, I have a chapter on slavery that shows how a Darwinian view of morality allows us to recognize the immorality of slavery while exercising prudence in managing the tragic conflicts that slavery has created in history. On this blog, I have have posted a series of comments on the similarities between Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin in this opposition to slavery.

Unfortunately, some American conservatives who look to the Southern tradition of political thought try to justify slavery in the American South as a natural and customary institution supporting liberty. In his comments in The Conservative Mind on the Southern conservatism of John Randolph and John C. Calhoun, Russell Kirk observed that "human slavery is bad ground for conservatives to make a stand upon." But, even today, some conservatives disregard Kirk's warning.

For example, the fall 2007 issue of Modern Age has a collection of articles on American intellectual conservatism that includes a section on the "defense of the Old Republic," and the "Old Republic" turns out to be predominantly the "Old South" and its institutions. One of the articles is "The Old Republic and the Sectional Crisis" by Mark Malvasi. According to Malvasi, the demise of the "Old Republic" came with the defeat of the South and the emancipation of slaves in the Civil War. He criticizes Lincoln for leading those Republicans who "knowingly misrepresented" slavery as "a departure from the original intentions of the Founding Fathers." Malvasi quotes a Southern congressman as warning his Northern colleagues that "the conservatism of slavery may be necessary to save you from the thousand destructive isms infecting the social organization of your section." Malvasi notes that the proslavery Southerners were Christians who believed the Bible supported slavery as necessary for a good social order. "For men who took seriously the biblical injunction to be their brothers' keepers, slavery was the best, if not the only, means of preserving a Christian social order in the modern world."

Malvasi's defense of "a genuinely Christian slavery" as the foundation for the conservatism of the "Old Republic" is a disturbing manifestation of the intellectual and moral confusion in contemporary conservatism. A Darwinian conservatism would escape such confusion by showing how conservative thought can be rooted in prudence and Darwinian natural right, which allows us to recognize the evil in practices like human slavery.

Some of my posts on Darwin, Lincoln, and slavery elaborate these points. Some of them can be found here, here, here, and here.


Derek Copold said...

Malvasi is right that "Old Republic" did die with the "Old South", but it seems (from your summation) that he, like so many southern apologists, misses the essential point that the Old South had a large role in that demise. Instead of accepting the even-then-obvious fact that slavery was a dying institution and trying to slowly eradicate it, southern leaders were trying to expand it and inflict on the North through measures like the Fugitive Slave Act and it noxious offspring, the Dred Scott ruling. If those two things had never existed, Abe Lincoln would have probably ended his life a lawyer.

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