History

The Truth and Post-Truth about Slavery

Jacques Derrida was perhaps the most influential anti-Enlightenment postmodern thinker, apart from Antonio Gramsci, on the development of the contemporary Left, when he introduced the idea of “post-truth” (anti-empiricism) in his book De la grammatologie (1967). This work formed the basis of his theory of deconstructionism particularly in relation to the Platonic concept of “true forms in the written word”, upon which the four pillars of the Enlightenment rest—meaning, truth, reason and knowledge. Deconstructionism is a rejection of these forms and is selectively used by the Left, not only to silence the scientific community, and any empirical critique of the Left’s ideology and objectives, but to reject the validity of the scientific method. Deconstructionism, has, over several decades, attached itself like a parasite to the syllabi of the Social Sciences and Humanities departments of Western universities, where it has also embraced contemporary Marxist theory, which includes the study of history.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, post-truth means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Derrida was by no means a hypocrite in this regard, and somewhat ironically, he lived up to the standards he set for others, a factor acknowledged by a group of prominent academics who signed a letter to the Times on May 9, 1992, objecting to Derrida receiving an honorary degree from Cambridge University: “In the eyes of philosophers, and certainly among those working in leading departments of philosophy throughout the world, M. Derrida’s work does not meet accepted standards of clarity and rigour.”

This essay appears in the July-August Quadrant.
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It is not difficult, in an Australian context, to find examples of post-truth deconstructionism, particularly in relation to the study and recording of history. Recently, for example, we have the fraudulent claims made by Bruce Pascoe in his fairy-tales about Aboriginal culture in his book Dark Emu, which has been proven to be almost a complete fabrication based on appeals to emotion and belief. Pascoe’s claptrap was exposed by Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, two academics who, fortunately, have not been infected by the intellectual poisons of postmodernism. Stuart Rintoul, in his article “Debunking Dark Emu” (Australian, June 12, 2021), notes:

In page after page, Sutton and Walshe accuse Pascoe of a “lack of true scholarship”, ignoring Aboriginal voices, dragging respect for traditional Aboriginal culture back into the Eurocentric world of the colonial era, and “trimming” colonial observations to fit his argument.

Another book that deserves as much credit is Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest, which can be purchased here and demonstrates how Pascoe omits, distorts, invents and romanticises his subject matter.

None of this seems to matter to post-truth politicians like Penny Wong or Gladys Berejiklian, or Aboriginal activist Marcia Langton, the ABC, the Australia Council, or of course Melbourne University which, following the success of Dark Emu, made Pascoe a “professor of indigenous agriculture”. Even after Dark Emu crashed and burned, the university did not withdraw Pascoe’s appointment with its six-figure salary. But then, why should they? The malign influence of the Humanities and the Social Sciences has long since gone well beyond their academic departments, to impose their post-truth postmodernism on the institutions of the West, including the mainstream media and corporations like Disney.

As for the four pillars of the Enlightenment, Derrida and his deconstructionist comrades have demonstrated just how “reactionary” such things are, there being, in their opinion, no universal, objective means of judging any given concept as “true” because all judgments of truth exist within a cultural context (cultural relativism). Pascoe’s work fits such thinking like a glove, and will probably live on as an Australian classic.

For half a century the postmodern Left have been doing their best to debunk the concept of objective truth wherever it dares to question the validity of their totalitarian ideology. Take, for example, the theory of transgenderism which, like Pascoe’s Dark Emu, is a compendium of touchy-feely, anti-scientific, anti-historical balderdash that asserts that women can have penises and men can give birth. The critics of post-truth are considered cold-hearted reactionaries, to whom facts are more important than feelings.

Keith Windschuttle, in his meticulously researched book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002), brought meaning, truth, reason and knowledge to Australian history, for which he was mercilessly attacked by so-called historians like Henry Reynolds. In a debate on the ABC’s Lateline on April 16, 2001, when Windschuttle and Reynolds discussed frontier violence between Aboriginal and white Australians, Windschuttle, in terms of factual evidence, wiped the floor with Reynolds, whose accusations in many cases were based on his own emotive beliefs, computer modelling and dubious reporting. Near the conclusion of this debate Windschuttle had this to say:

You need journalistic evidence, eyewitness accounts of someone who was there and saw the bodies, and even second-hand accounts where there is an internal credibility will do. But the method that Reynolds uses in Queensland is extraordinary and even though I taught this sort of history for ten years I never investigated the material on which these estimates were based. I thought Reynolds had done some research. When I went into the research papers that underlie his claims in his book The Other Side of the Frontier, I found that it’s all based on mathematical formulas.

In his recent book Truth-Telling: History, Sovereignty and the Uluru Statement, Reynolds presents further evidence of his carelessness when he refers to Dark Emu as a credible source—even after its academic debunking. Windschuttle wrote a book about post-truth and postmodernism called The Killing of History (1994), in which he argues that history today is in the clutches of literary and social theorists who have little respect for or training in the discipline. He says they deny the existence of truth and substitute radically chic and emotive theorising for real knowledge about the past. Perhaps even truer today than it was in 1994!

The post-truth fabrication of history articulated mostly by Marxist literary and social theorists is also at the core of, and what fuels the racism of the neo-fascist Left today—particularly against white people—when it comes to the history, not only of colonialism, but of slavery itself, of which the exploitation of indigenous people was the most prominent part, along with the exploitation of poor white people. Generally speaking, the great bulk of post-truth leftist books on the subject seem to attribute the invention and perpetuation of slavery to white people, and have linked skin colour to a “historical guilt complex”, believing that this generation and future generations of Caucasian people should carry the shame, guilt and burden of the past—of people and institutions they have no connection with whatsoever. In fact, as we shall see, many of their white ancestors were transported to the New World as slaves and indentured servants, or migrated from Europe long after institutionalised slavery in the New World was brought to an end after a moral crusade by white people.

The historical reality of slavery, particularly in the Americas, is very different from the racist rants and accusations against white people perpetrated by post-truth progressive academics and BLM activists, that has now been formulated into the doctrine of Critical Race Theory, which draws on the work of postmodern Marxist Antonio Gramsci: a radical teaching that focuses on race as the key to understanding society, and objectifies people based on race, like Nazi racial doctrine with its hierarchical tribal blood relationships.

But as any empirical study of history will reveal, unequivocally, white people were the least interested in institutionalised slavery, and those who profited from it were not the people per se, but the ruling and aristocratic elites. These historical facts have been suppressed, censored or hidden. So, let’s look at some of the major ones as they relate to the institution of slavery: first, in the United States; second, in South America; and finally, slavery as it exists in the world today.

 

SOME Christians in the US, for a short time, initially supported the slave trade, but later the overwhelming majority helped to end it through the development of the Abolitionist movement, especially from the 1830s, which had strong bases across the northern and southern states. Jews were also involved in the early African slave trade and later, like the Christians, regretted such involvement and fought to end it.

Rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment condemned slavery for its violation of the rights of man. Diderot’s Encyclopaedia (1772) said: 

The Slave Trade (Commerce of Africa) is the buying of unfortunate Negroes by Europeans on the coast of Africa to use as slaves in their colonies. This buying of Negroes, to reduce them to slavery, is one business that violates religion, morality, natural laws, and all the rights of human nature.

Enlightenment thinkers also argued that liberty was a human right, and reason and scientific knowledge were responsible for human progress.

Powerful evangelical movements arose to impart spiritual direction to society, by stressing the moral imperative to end the sinful practice of slavery and each person’s responsibility to uphold God’s will in society. Preachers like Lyman Beecher, Nathaniel Taylor and Charles G. Finney developed what came to be called the Second Great Awakening, in which white women also played a significant part. The Puritan Samuel Sewall wrote America’s first anti-slavery tract: The Selling of Joseph (1700).

There was never any overwhelming consensus even in the southern states in terms of the justification and support for slavery. The hundreds of thousands of Confederate soldiers who crossed the line and fought for the North are proof of this. Even at its height slavery was a divisive issue, which got most of its support from the vieux riche, aristocrats and the Democratic Party. A lecture for PragerU by Carol Swain, an African-American Professor of Political Science, presents a primary-sourced, factually-based argument which proves these very points. Some African-Americans even owned slaves. In 1924, Carter G. Woodson, whose grandparents and father had been slaves, was one of the first black Americans to write about the black slave owners.

Of the 10.7 million Africans transplanted to the New World, almost all went to South America. The most comprehensive analysis of shipping records over the course of the slave trade is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (TASTD) edited by professors David Ellis and David Richardson, considered to be the “gold standard” in the study of the slave trade. Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the Slave Trade to the New World, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World; 10.7 million survived the voyage and disembarked in the US, the Caribbean, and South America. Of these 10.7 million Africans, only 388,000 were shipped directly to the US.

The developing free market economy had a very marginal involvement in the slave trade and saw slavery as an unfair competitor used by the aristocracy to escalate the price of production and drive down wages. Free market advocates of the anti-slavery Free Soil Party (1848 to 1854) concluded:

Slaves produce poorly. You have to monitor them, not only to verify production but to avoid the possibility that they may run away or kill you in your sleep. They are costly to buy and maintain. You have to pay for their food, their clothes, their housing. If you make them yourself, they are not productive for years. When they die, you lose money.Quoted by Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labour, Free Men

White slaves were predominant in America throughout the 1600s, including those who were sold into indentured servitude. One report noted that 50,000 Irish men, women and children were transported to Barbados and Virginia.

During this period an estimated million Irish were killed by the English and several hundred thousand sold into slavery. Two of the most accurate accounts of Irish slavery and related matters during this period are Michael A. Hoffman’s They Were White and They Were Slaves (2016) and Ian McBride’s Eighteenth-Century Ireland: The Isle of Slaves (2009). The publicity for Rhetta Akamatsu’s The Irish Slaves (2010) says:

They came in chains, under horrible conditions, and were sold to others who owned them completely. They were helpless. It sounds like a familiar story, but these people were not African. They were Irish, and they were slaves before African slavery became widespread.

The northern states fought the South in the Civil War primarily to free the slaves. The war cost 600,000 young white soldiers their lives. Leftist post-truth propagandists often say that whites were “inherently racist” because many from the South joined the Confederates to fight the North. They seldom mention that the average Confederate soldier was a poor white man without slaves, who joined the army to earn money to feed his family.

By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10 per cent of the Union army) served as soldiers (above) in the Union army and another 19,000 served in the navy. Another important fact that is rarely mentioned is that 300,000 southern whites also joined the Union army. In fact, nearly a quarter of all Union armed forces, around one and a half million, actually came from the South.

What apolitical historical facts tell us about the institution of American slavery is different from the Left-liberal post-truth narratives, that America was “built on the backs of black slaves”. It is often assumed by the Left that slavery was an integral part of early European free-market capitalism, which in relation to North America is demonstrably false. The economics of slavery were a far cry from the burgeoning free-market economies of the nineteenth century, the ethos of which was diametrically opposed to slavery, which by its very nature stifled competition and the free market in the US before the Civil War.

It is difficult to access credible primary or secondary source information which presents a truthful, objective study of pre-colonial societies in South America. As with the US, much of the historical and other documentation is infected with Marxist romanticism, exaggerations, lies and fairy-tales.

However, what is irrefutable is that South America had in excess of ten million African and other imported slaves as well as tens of thousands of indigenous slaves, who were the backbone of the Inca and other slave-built empires long before they were conquered by the Spanish Conquistadors. Far from the “noble savage” fairy-tales popularised by the Left, the Incas and other South American civilisations were hierarchical, sectarian and brutal. The indigenous aristocracy, masters of their own great empires, maintained the right to press the inhabitants into their service on a vast scale and to their own profit. Few people had the opportunity to improve their social status. Once a person was born into a caste, that was where they would remain for the rest of their days. The Soviet dissident Igor Shafarevich compared Inca civilisation to Soviet Marxist socialism:

 The complete subjugation of life to the prescriptions of the law and to officialdom led to extraordinary standardisation: identical clothing, identical houses, identical roads. As a result of this spirit of standardisation, anything the least bit different was looked upon as dangerous and hostile, whether it was the birth of twins or the discovery of a strange rock. Such things were believed to be manifestations of evil forces hostile to society … Socialist principles were clearly expressed in the structure of the Inca state: the almost complete absence of private property, in particular of private land; absence of money and trade; the complete elimination of private initiative from all economic activities; detailed regulation of private life.  The Socialist Phenomenon, 1980

What is the nature of slavery, if not the forfeiture of property rights and individual freedom, for compulsory service for which one receives enough sustenance to do another day’s work for one’s masters? The essence of socialism.

Human sacrifice was also an important aspect of the Aztec, Inca and Mayan slave-based empires. Beheading, ritual cannibalism and drinking human blood formed the core of religious ceremony. Human sacrifices were taken by force from the lower castes and offered to the gods. The Incas performed child sacrifices during and after important events, such as the death of the emperor or during a famine. Children were selected as sacrificial victims as they were considered to be the purest of beings:

It looks to us as though the children were led up to the summit shrine in the culmination of a year-long rite, drugged and then left to succumb to exposure … Although some may wish to view these grim deaths within the context of indigenous belief systems, we should not forget that the Inca were imperialists too, and the treatment of such peasant children may have served to instil fear and facilitate social control over remote mountain areas.— Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013

When the Conquistadors conquered South America many of the local “oppressed” people and tribes supported them, only to be betrayed and further enslaved following the Spanish aristocratic regime’s conquest, when they imported over ten million African slaves into South America to help extract the wealth from the defeated slave empires, for the benefit of the Spanish aristocracy. Just as in the United States, it was primarily the aristocracy (local and later Spanish) who introduced and benefited from slavery in South America, not the people or the country as a whole. The French Revolution itself was a rebellion against the rule of the European aristocracy and their propensity for enforced human servitude. History has shown clearly that it is the aristocracy, in most cultures, who have been the biggest advocates and supporters of slavery and those least willing to give it up. The free-market system was anathema to the royal bloodlines of Europe and South America.

While European involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the Americas lasted for three centuries, the Arab/African involvement in the trade has lasted fourteen centuries, and in many parts of the Muslim world still exists and has its enablers. For example: 

Google, Apple and Facebook-owned Instagram are enabling an illegal online slave market by providing and approving apps used for the buying and selling of domestic workers in the Gulf. BBC News Arabic’s undercover investigation exposes app users in Kuwait breaking local and international laws on modern slavery, including a woman offering a child for sale. The discovery of “Fatou” in Kuwait City, her rescue and journey back home to Guinea, West Africa, is at the heart of this investigation into Silicon Valley’s online slave market. — BBC News, November 2019

Slavery was officially banned in Qatar in 1951, yet was still practised up to quite recently, when the country had over 15,000 slaves. Slavery was banned in Yemen in 1962, but according to Al Jazeera, “In June 2010, a local Yemeni newspaper, Al-Masdar, reported that ‘slavery not only existed but was growing in Yemen’.” The estimated number of slaves living in Yemen today, according to the Global Slavery Index (GSI), is 85,000. Slavery was banned in Sudan in 1981, but was revived in 1983 when the Muslim government began using slave raids as a weapon in its war to put down a southern rebellion against the imposition of Islamic law. The estimated number of slaves living in Sudan according to the GSI is 465,000. Slavery was banned in Islamic Mauritania in 1981, but slavery still exists there today—the GSI estimates that 90,000 live in conditions of modern and traditional slavery in Mauritania. Here are a few more GSI figures but by no means all: Guinea 94,000 slaves; South Africa 155,000; the Democratic Republic of Congo 1,045,000; Zimbabwe 105,000. In markets across Libya today you’ll see human beings with “for sale” signs around their necks. The slavery in Africa is controlled exclusively by Arab and African human traffickers.

While they ignore the current practice of slavery in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, the post-truth, racist Left keep dwelling on a period in the history of the West, centuries ago, when a few European aristocratic regimes and their cohorts briefly profited from it, before the great majority of their subjects and institutions opposed and ended it.

Leftists keep dwelling on slavery in order to generate resentment and racial hatred against white people, to belittle democratic institutions and to use such tactics as a springboard for attaining absolute political power in the form of a totalitarian police state. Like Derrida, in their futile effort to convince us, ironically, of their truth, the postmodern Left employ the very forms they deny have any validity. Which is why, in their attempts to find relevance, they cling like rats to the sinking ship of Marxism, one of the great Platonic meta­narratives in Western history—the very history they seek to distort and destroy.

Eugene Alexander Donnini is a writer of poetry and prose who lives in Melbourne. He contributed the article “The New Left-Wing Fascism” in the June 2021 issue.

 

6 comments
  • Andrew Campbell

    Postmodernism is not only the refuge of academics.

    A recent article (7th August) by Brendon O’Neill exposes the ‘astonishing’ post-modern argument by Meghan Markle’s legal team. She said in her famous interview with Oprah Winfrey that she was an only child. Well, O’Neill comments:

    “The response of Meghan’s legal team to the ‘only child’ controversy has been astonishing. Meghan’s comment ‘was obviously not meant to be a statement of objective fact that she had no genetic siblings or half-siblings’, her lawyers say. Rather, it was a ‘textbook example of a subjective statement of how a person feels about their childhood’ (my emphasis). In short, Meghan’s feelings trump pesky facts. Meghan’s ‘truth’ – that she grew up all alone – takes precedence over the truth: namely, that she had a half-sister and a half-brother. Actual siblings. Real living and breathing kin.”

    I’ll hire those lawyers if I ever (God forbid!) rob a bank!

  • Citizen Kane

    Thankyou Eugene, an excellent essay. I might just add that the entire Spartan empire was built on slavery at an industrial scale while the Assyrian conquest happily transported the likes of the vanquished Berbers all over their kingdom as slaves. Of course the Egyptian pyramids were built with slave labour – all this prior to biblical times, which makes the sole attribution of slavery to the ‘white’ western civilization all the more laughable.
    If conservatism is to make any kind of a meaningful revival it must find its foundation in enlightenment philosophy and rationally dismantle and dethrone the deconstructionists of the post truth, post modern left. This endeavour needs to be focused on the epicentre of post truth narrative nascence – namely the universities and the left wing MSM (in other words the MSM).

  • Macspee

    A good commentary on slavery is to be found in Prison & Slavery – a surprising comparison, John Dewer Gleissner. One thing that comes out strongly there in addition to Donnini’ work above is the role of the sellers of slaves. Advocates for the payment of reparations never suggest chasing up the descendants of African chieftains who benefited.

  • Daffy

    I note the anti-slave movement in Australia, and more strength to it, of course, has said diddly squat about the enthusiastic installation of solar panels on government and ecclesiastical buildings…let alone on trade union properties. Oh the lamentableness of selective blindness and to heck with the Chinese slaves that make them.

  • Stephen

    Slavery existed just about everywhere for as long a history itself. Through most of this time no one saw anything wrong with it whilst no one would have been keen to be a slave themselves. Contrary to the to the views of the stupidly woke it was white people who first saw that there was something wrong with it and that it should be stopped. The destruction of the slave trade, and slavery itself, was one of the primary concerns of the British Empire throughout the 19th century. One reason, there were others, the South lost the civil war was because the British, despite wanting their cotton and tobacco, would not support them because of the taint of slavery.
    White people have led and continue to lead the opposition to slavery. BLM and 1619 Project supporters should be ashamed of their ignorance.
    I think it is true to say that slavery has been so wide spread for so long that everyone alive today is both a descendant of slaves AND slave owners.

  • cbattle1

    Good article and good comments above. Regarding the Civil War in America, let us be mindful that it is the victor of any war who writes the history. Slavery in the South would have been rendered obsolete anyway, by technological advances in mechanisation. Blacks also volunteered to fight for the Confederacy; it was their home that was being invaded by the Yankees. Too late it was considered to recruit large number of Blacks into the army with the incentive of emancipation. The Southern states believed they were at liberty to succeed from the Union, according to the original Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. After all, their grandfathers, like the slave-owning Washington and Jefferson, fought for their liberty from British rule.

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