viernes, 24 de julio de 2009

Reparations for Slavery Is Dumb, says "History Professor" Guelzo

Read this article published in the Christian Science Monitor and reprinted by the History News Network. Then read my response, or write your own.

The article is authored by Allen C. Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and the author of "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President." He reminds me of another Civil War History Professor I love to hate: Ira Berlin. Anyway...

First the history. You would think a famous historian such as Guelzo, writing specifically about his area of investigation, should be able to make a better argument than: because most slave masters were between 17-45 years old, and because most casualties of the civil war were of that age group, then therefore most casualties were slave owners, and therefore the debt has already been repaid in blood. First, obviously, most people in the South of any age group were not slave owners. Second, slave owners were less likely to fight than non-slave owners. Why? Well, quite simply, someone had to keep running the plantations and make sure the slaves were kept from general insurrection (not to mention keep the Southern economy going to support the war effort). Would it make sense that the slave masters left their plantations at the charge of poor whites in order to go fight the Civil War? If a historian is to make such a bold and ridiculous assertion, s/he must provide extraordinary proof. None is provided. I did a quick search of Civil War books on Amazon and the top two books which treated the topic of "who fought the Civil War and why" had no mention of slave masters doing any fighting. None. Thus I stand by my obvious conclusion that few slave masters, numerically and percent-wise, fought in the war.

Now for the question of reparations. I will respond point by point.

1) The Federal Gov't was responsible for slavery. It sanctioned it (in the positive sense of the word) officially and unofficially. The author mentions the Fugitive Slave Act but then disregards its importance. Slavery would not have been possible in much of the South if the Federal Government allowed northern states to give slaves refuge from their masters.
Of course, state governments are also responsible, but as the author mentions, it would be impractical to sue each state in court one by one. You might as well sue white people one by one, if you don't mind being totally impractical.

2)Who should be paid? Rather than have a few justices decide who should be paid, let's have blacks come together in town hall meetings and decide for themselves, with the help of experts on the subject, what remedies would be acceptable to them as a group.

3) The Civil War was not reparations. 40 acres and a mule (taken from the slaves' masters) might have constituted reparations (ignoring Africa's and Latin America's claim for reparations for a moment), but that was never given. As I said in the beginning, slave masters were not significantly represented in the bloodshed. But even if they were, the U.S. as a whole benefited from the economy which rested on the backs of slaves.

Aside from the legal tort issue, let's remember that the effects of slavery on the economic and political inequalities between blacks and whites continue to weigh heavily on this country and on the world. I personally think one fair arrangement would be to redistribute wealth between the countries which controlled and which were victimized by the slave trade, such that all "Latin" Americans and Africans and Afro-Americans would have the same income and wealth as the average white American or French or Spanish or English or Portuguese citizen. Then as a measure against political inequality we could institute racial quotas for public office and the 4th estate.

People at this point generally argue to me that if we start the reparations ball rolling, where does it stop? Should poor whites get reparations from rich whites for being exploited? Sure! Why stop the reparations ball? I think it will destroy capitalism if nothing else. And I'm all for that. Let's start with reparations for slavery.

4 comentarios:

Michael Labeit dijo...

Here's an excellent article on reparations from Dr. Walter Williams:

Joel Rosenblum dijo...

Dr. Williams, in Capitalism Magazine, makes the old escapist argument that we don't have any way of specifying exactly who should pay whom. I already dealt with that argument in my blog. Just equalize wealth and incomes worldwide and that should be a great start (or put the debate to town meetings worldwide).

Those who came to the U.S. after the end of slavery still benefited from the oppression of blacks and the racial system: many Asians got to be the "model minority", etc.

And Williams' argument that slavery did not produce wealth and therefore did not build the country is ridiculous. If slavery was such a losing proposition, why were our founding fathers slave masters? Because they loved those poor black people so much? No. Slavery created familial wealth, at least, which survives today. Not to mention slaves literally built the capital. Oh and the northern economy required cheap ag. inputs, produced by, guess whom, and guess where.

Jim dijo...

1. Slave owners were fighting in the Civil War. In how many wars do the owning class personally fight.
2. Slave owners dying in the war would constitute reparations when slave owners dying of old age would not. Guelzo confounds reparations (which repair relationships by undoing some of the damage caused by the perpetrators) with retribution, hurting the perpetrators - the basis of our criminal justice system. People who critique reparations would do well to be acquainted with the Restorative Justice movement.
At this time, I think that it is important that reparations are being discussed. The fact that a well-known (according to Joel - not my field) personage will address the concept that African Heritage people living today were hurt by slavery and that there is (at least conceivably) some culpability by our society is an advance from where this discussion was ten years ago.

Joel Rosenblum dijo...

Thanks for your contribution, Jim. You are right to point out that reparations is not about revenge.