Monday, September 29, 2008

Slavery as Basis for an Ideology of Deregulation

The following is from "Jefferson's Concubine," Marie Morgan and Edmund S. Morgan's review of Annette Gordon-Reed's book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (the review is in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, dated October 9, 2008—as usual, the NYRB is published in the future ...):

What is important to the Hemings family's story is the harsh and nearly inescapable nature of the "peculiar institution" in the time of Thomas Jefferson. Racial identification was its sine qua non, and specifically race as legislated by slave masters, whose primary goal was "the maximum protection of property rights—with little or no intervention by the state or other third parties." (The quotations are apparently from Gordon-Reed's book.)

What struck me here is something that I perhaps should have noticed ages ago, but it is something that I have never seen commented on: the historical starting point for an ideology of deregulation and non-intervention by government is slavery. More precisely, it is the attempt by slave-owners to defend their property rights.

I would be an idiot if I had not noticed that "states' rights" derives from the defense of slavery, but this is the first time I have ever noticed the connection between deregulation and the defense of slavery.

So from now on, when I hear someone support "deregulation," I'll think "slaveholder ideology," just as I long have done on hearing "states' rights."


Anonymous said...

That is intense - thank you for pointing that out. It makes perfect sense.

Jee Leong said...

Have you read Eric Foner's review in the Times? He criticizes the lack of basis for Gordon-Reed's depiction of the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings as a long-term and loving one.

Andrew Shields said...

Jee Leong, thanks for the tip about Foner's review, which is much more critical than the review by the Morgans.

Anonymous said...

Compare Foner's review with Gordon S. Wood's review in the current issue of The New Republic entitled "American Unions". October 22, 2008.