Saturday 12 October 2019

The slaves of the fathers

Various universities in Britain are investigating their links to the slave trade. They are asking whether they directly or indirectly benefited from slavery. Glasgow has already confessed its guilt and proposes to do penance. Cambridge, no doubt will, soon do the same. After that we can expect every university that existed during the Atlantic slave trade to find that it is guilty and needs to pay millions to people who are descended from slaves.

It’s all very Old Testament. The Glaswegian Lord ‘by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Do academics from Glasgow really think that they are guilty for things that their parents did? Perhaps they think that their sin is so original that it goes back to eating an apple.

But let’s apply this theory of guilt to more recent history. Imagine that someone donated a large sum of money to the University of Glasgow in the 1930s because he had made a great deal of money from trading with the Soviet Union. Did the University of Glasgow directly or indirectly benefit from Communism? Must it share the shame of the Gulag and pay reparations to the children who were oppressed by Stalin? The same argument could obviously be made for someone who made money from trading with Germany in the 1930s or China while ruled by Mao. Where will the guilt end, especially if it is to visited on the children so liberally.

Why focus merely on the Atlantic slave trade. It isn’t after all that slavery was invented when we discovered the West Indies or that it was located only in the southern states of the USA. There were slaves in the Bible. The Romans and Greeks owned slaves. Did any of us benefit from the fact that the English language is full of words derived from Latin and Greek? Did any of us benefit from Greek and Roman literature and culture and the contribution they made to the development of human civilization? Then we too are guilty and ought to pay reparations to the descendants of Greek and Roman slaves.

But who are these descendants and why should we stop with them? After all slavery was a feature of every European country until relatively recently.  Serfdom existed in Britain the Middle Ages and was abolished in Russia only in 1861. What this means is that if the University of Glasgow benefited from trade with people who owned serfs in Russia, the descendants of those serfs should equally be compensated. That’s rather a lot of descendants I’m afraid. It would be hard to find a Russian who did not have serf ancestors.

But it’s not just Russia. Did someone who owned serfs in the Middle Ages give money to the University of Cambridge? Well shouldn’t Cambridge pay the descendants of those serfs? Who are those children?

Here though we face one of the problems of visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the children. The children multiply. I have, two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents etc. If you go back enough generations then all of us are the descendants of serfs and equally the descendants of masters. With sufficient generations the number of my ancestors is greater than the population of the whole world. Everyone in the Britain is the descendant of a slave, whether Roman, Greek, or serf. But so too everyone in the West Indies is a descendant of a master. That master may have come from Africa, Arabia or Scotland, but if you go back far enough each of us is both the child of a slave and a master, because each of us is the child of everyone that ever was.

It is morally decadent to apologise for something I didn’t do. We do not think that Germans are guilty for what their grandparents did. But white liberals have become so obsessed with race that they are quite desperate to pretend to be sorry for something that they didn’t do. Of course, they are not sorry at all. The University of Glasgow will benefit from the reparations it sends to the West Indies in the form of the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research with departments both in Glasgow and the West Indies. It will benefit financially and it will benefit from the publicity generated by its confession of guilt and atonement.

But it is the obsession with race that is damaging all of us. Liberal guilt isn’t interested in historical examples of slavery in the UK, nor in the fact that slavery in Russia was abolished around the same time as slavery in the USA. It doesn’t care that millions of Russians and Chinese worked as slaves in the Gulags. All slaves are equal, but some slaves are more equal than others.

Once upon a time we had a dream where none of us would be judged by the colour of our skin. What mattered was how we lived our lives, the goodness of our actions. Each of us should be judged by the morality of our own actions, not by what our parents did. Someone is not a victim because of what happened to his ancestors. On that basis all of us are victims and all of us are guilty. Which of us does not have an ancestor who was wronged or who did wrong? No one deserve compensation for something that didn’t happen to him from someone who didn’t do him any harm at all. We should treat each other simply as human beings. The liberal obsession with race is itself racist. It thinks that the thing that matters most about a human being is his skin pigment. It views everything through that colour. In doing so it sets race against race by dividing us into the guilty and the innocent and in doing so loses all sight of our shared humanity.