Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ambrose Bierce on slavery in east and west

Online Reader - Project Gutenberg: "Because the brutality of the civilized slave owners and dealers created a conquering sentiment against slavery it is not intelligent to assume that slavery is a maleficent thing amongst Oriental peoples (for example) where the slave is not oppressed.

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I wish I had had the benefit of the above observation several years ago. In one pithy sentence, Ambrose Bierce, in his essay 'Civilisation' (collected in 'A Cynic Looks At Life') has summed up what took me years of study and reflection. Doubtless living in a slaving economy helped his perspective no end.

Slavery has been universal, but not significant. Only 1 per cent of China's population were slaves, as opposed to a third of Athens's. Indeed, it has been recognised by scholars that slavery created Greek democracy. The latter rested on the former, like a rose on a dung-heap. In Egypt, slavery was practically unknown. Some people point to the pyramids and ask, "Who built those", as one gentleman indeed asked me. Good question. Recent research has established that the pyramids had not been built by slaves.

Biblical narrative of the Jews' captivity in Egypt is interesting. It seems that the so-called 'slaves' had houses and could afford to offer sacrifices. Indeed,experts believe that the narrative prior to the taking of Canaan to be largely myth, in both senses of the word.

Slavery was a western product: after the Greeks, it disappeared under the Hellenistic monarchies, reappeared with the Roman Republic with a vengeance, disappeared under the Roman Empire, then reemerged with the Renaissance....This is western civilisation.

Interestingly, slavery coexisted with political freedom, and never arose under Empires.

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