Front Page Titles (by Subject) Slavery, Ideology, and Subordination - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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Slavery, Ideology, and Subordination - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Slavery, Ideology, and Subordination
“‘The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture’: The Argument Summarized.” In The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution 1770–1823. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975, pp. 39–49.
Why did the West's moral consciousness shift to embrace antislavery during the 1760s and 1770s? “By the eve of the American Revolution there was a remarkable convergence of cultural and intellectual developments which at once undercut traditional rationalizations for slavery and offered new modes of sensibility for identifying with its victims.” In the era of liberal Enlightenment and revolution, the ideological function of attacking slavery was symbolic of a broader critique of all forms of legal subordination.
Slavery, as an extreme form of subordination, contained unstable tensions and contradictions that undermined its defense. On the one hand, the slave was regarded as a passive tool without an autonomous self-consciousness; on the other hand, the slave was also viewed as a conscious agent with traces of human personality. Also making for the instability of slavery was the paradox that the “master” was completely dependent on the slave's consciousness and recognition of him as a master to whom the slave owed obedience and subordination. Physical bondage reflected, in addition, an alleged but questionable cosmic hierarchy and subordination. Men who internally were “slaves” to sin or passions and judged incapable of virtuous self-government, were “natural slaves” deserving also of external bondage and subordination to virtuous or rational masters. The Cynics, Sophists, and Stoics offered the slave an ideological comfort that though outwardly a slave, he might inwardly be free. This cold comfort and the Christian emphasis on endurance and subordination prevented attacks on slavery.
The Quakers and other perfectionist sects questioned the morality of slavery as an inhumane treatment of fellow humans and an arbitrary subordination of equals who did not deserve to be treated as objects. Along with the Quakers' attitude, four developments in Western culture and British Protestantism fostered the burgeoning of antislavery consciousness: (1) Secular social philosophy came to interpret the master-slave relationship as a matter of fear, power, self-interest, utility, and social order. This undercut the ethical opposition to successful slave revolts. Furthermore, by sympathetically identifying with the slave's lot, the liberal Montesquieu (and Francis Hutcheson) “put the subject of Negro slavery on the agenda of the European Enlightenment.” (2) The growing influence of the ethic of benevolence embodied in the “man of feeling” and “moral sense” made slavery appear as an inhumane and brutal affront to liberal progress. The liberal, sympathetic spirit, reflected in Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776), viewed slavery as morally undeserved and as preventing “the spontaneous impulses” which the man of feeling cultivated. (3) The evangelical faith stressed conversion and sanctification of all men including slaves and warned against the abuse of power as a temptation of masters. (4) Finally, anti-slavery sentiments were fostered by primitivist “noble savage” currents which deflated white ethnocentrism and encouraged viewing blacks as autonomous human beings capable of virtue and creativity and as undeserving of subordination.