Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The more men you make free, the more freedom is strengthened

Fascinating. From Frederick Douglass, A Friendly Word to Maryland: An Address Delivered in Baltimore, Maryland, November 17, 1864.
The old doctrine that the slavery of the black, is essential to the freedom of the white race, can maintain itself only in the presence of slavery, where interest and prejudice are the controlling powers, but it stands condemned equally by reason and experience. The statesmanship of to-day condemns and repudiates it as a shallow pretext for oppression. It belongs with the commercial fallacies long ago exposed by Adam Smith. It stands on a level with the contemptible notion, that every crumb of bread that goes into another man's mouth, is just so much bread taken from mine. Whereas, the rule is in this country of abundant land, the more mouths you have, the more money you can put into your pocket, the more I can put into mine. As with political economy, so with civil and political rights.

The more men you make free, the more freedom is strengthened, and the more men you give an interest in the welfare and safety of the State, the greater is the security of the State.
Using different words of course, but here is Douglass both describing and condemning the zero-sum fallacy. A hoary fallacy still alive and thriving today in august corners of government power and in academia.

I have only read patches of Douglass's works but his insight is so fresh and clear that I sometimes wonder that we have massively underestimated him as a political thinker simply because we categorize him as a black writer. He reminds me of Alexander Hamilton, another of whose works I am more aware than I am well read. Every time I read something of or by Hamilton though, I am struck by his modernity of thought, just as with Douglass.

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