Review of "Occasional Discourse" by Thomas Carlyle

I'm not really sure that I have much to add on this book, beyond what I wrote for this book.

The main distinction with respect to slavery, for Carlyle, is the is-ought distinction.  Abolition was based on an "ought" however the reality, i.e. the "is", is different:

This is the everlasting duty  of all men, black or white, who are born into this world. To do competent work, to labour honestly according to the ability given them; for that and for no other purpose was each one of us sent into this world; and woe is to every man who, by friend or by foe, is prevented from fulfilling this the end of his being. That is the “unhappy” lot; lot equally unhappy  cannot otherwise be provided for man. Whatsoever prohibits or prevents a man from this his sacred appointment to labour while he lives on earth,—that, I say, is the man's deadliest enemy; and all men are called upon to do what is in their power or opportunity towards delivering him from that. If it be his own indolence that prevents and prohibits him, then his own indolence is the enemy he must be delivered from: and the first “right” he has,—poor indolent blockhead, black or white,—is, That every unprohibited man,  whatsoever wiser, more industrious person may be passing that way, shall endeavour to “emancipate” him from his indolence, and by some wise means, as I said, compel him, since inducing will not serve, to do the work he is fit for. . . .

Yes, this is the eternal law of Nature for a man, my beneficent Exeter-Hall friends; this, that he shall be permitted, encouraged, and if need be, compelled to do what work the Maker of him has intended by the making of him for this world!

Here he is again:

My friends, I have  come to the sad conclusion that Slavery, whether established by law, or by law abrogated, exists very  extensively in this world, in and out of the West Indies; and, in fact, that you cannot abolish slavery by act of parliament, but can only abolish the name of it, which is very little! In  the West Indies itself, if you chance to abolish Slavery to Men, and in return establish Slavery to the Devil (as we see in Demerara), what good is it? To save men's bodies, and fill them with pumpkins and rum, is a poor task for human benevolence, if you have to kill their soul, what soul there was, in the business! Slavery is not so easy to be abolished; it will long continue, in spite of acts of parliament. And shall I tell you which is the one intolerable sort of slavery; the  slavery over which the very gods weep? That sort is not rifest in the West Indies; but with all its sad fruits, prevails in nobler countries. It is the slavery of the strong to the  weak; of the great and noble-minded to the small and mean!  The slavery of Wisdom to Folly.

Compare that statement to this one, which I ran across this week, from Newsweek:

Anyone who's lived in D.C. is aware of the city's dirty secret: it essentially operates under an unwritten form of apartheid that the wealthy northwest rarely engages with the swathe of low income people who share their city.

Are these really saying anything different.  No doubt our Newsweek author would cringe from reaching Carlyle's conclusions.  But if we haven't reached the lofty goal of emancipation after this long (and given this many forms of support), isn't possible that Carlyle is correct?

Carlyle's form of slavery is different than our impressions.  He compares slavery to marriage repeatedly.  Here are some thoughts:

My friends, it is not good to be without a servant in this world; but to be without master, it appears, is a still fataller predicament for some. Without a master, in certain cases, you become a Distressed Needlewoman, and cannot so much as live. Happy he who has found his master, I will say; if not  a good master, then some supportable approximation to a good one; for the worst, it appears, in some cases, is preferable to none! . . .

In all human  relations permanency is what I advocate; nomadism, continual change, is what I perceive to be prohibitory of any  good whatsoever. . . . O my friends, what a remedy is this we have fallen upon, for everything that goes wrong between one man and another: “Go, then; I give you a month's warning!” What would you think of a sacrament of marriage constructed on such  principles? Marriage by the month,—why this too has been tried, and is still extensively practised in spite of Law and Gospel; but it is not found to do! . . .

How to abolish the abuses of slavery, and save the precious thing in it: alas, I do not pretend that this is easy, that it can be done in a day, or a single generation, or a  single century; but I do surmise or perceive that it will . . .

And if 'slave' mean essentially ' servant hired for life,'—for life, or by a contract of long continuance and not easily dissoluble,—I ask once more, Whether, in all human things, the 'contract of long continuance' is not precisely the contract to be desired, were the right terms once found for it? Servant hired for life, were the right terms once found, which I do not pretend they are, seems to me much preferable to servant hired for the month, or by contract dissoluble in a day.

4 Responses to Review of "Occasional Discourse" by Thomas Carlyle

  1. Alrenous says:

    That'll constitute independent corroboration to my idea that liberty is extremely expensive for some people – far beyond the reward of liberty itself. Problem is figuring out who is which.

  2. […] The writings of Mencius Moldbug (and the works of Thomas Carlyle (e.g. here, here, here, here)) – Ultimately, many of the questions raised by Rothbard were answered by Moldbug. […]

  3. […] if three books are all that is required, then I’m already in. You may now refer to me as Deacon […]

  4. […] As far as the progressive is concerned, the only work Thomas Carlyle has ever written is Occasional Discourse. […]

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