Tarring free-market capitalism and limited government with the brush of slavery is old hat. What is new is that prominent journals and major media figures now shamelessly slop that brush around.
Indeed, the argument is so often made that addressing it from several angles, as I have — twice in the last few outings of Common Sense — is important. Today I make an additional point.
The fact that human beings were treated as property, to be sold and mortgaged and disposed of at will, does not make slavery “free market.” If we legalized and institutionalized the market in stolen goods, that might make those markets legally above board — but not morally.
It is this moral argument against stolen goods that undergirds the case against slavery.
For slavery is stealing the rightful property of the people enslaved — their property in their own bodies.
Richard Overton called this “self-propriety” in 1646, and at about the same time John Locke, following Hugo Grotius, wrote of every man having “a property in his own Person.” This is the old liberal way to think about personal freedom when you are dealing with property: self-ownership.
“Free market capitalism” rests on it just as slavery abridges it.
Unfortunately, there has been a successful campaign to muddy up this logic and its history. Teacher Lawrence Ludlow recently informed readers of American Thinker about the results of this indoctrination: today’s students have “somehow ‘learned’” that “slavery was isolated to the United States instead of practiced worldwide for ages” and that “Westerners were the most enthusiastic practitioners of slavery instead of being among the first to abandon it.”
Freedom is not slavery and the truth shall set us free.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.