I’ve been grappling with the Carlylean notion that you cannot abolish slavery. At this point, I’ve come to understand it as the notion that certain people are – and will be – dependent upon others. These dependents, for him, are slaves. As Mencius Moldbug put it:
Many Californians – most Californians – are assets. That is: productive citizens, or children who will grow up and become productive citizens. Their place is the left side of the balance sheet. Their presence in California increases California’s productive power, and thus its value as a financial asset.
As the King begins the transition from democracy, however, he sees at once that many Californians – certainly millions – are financial liabilities. These are unproductive citizens. Their place on the balance sheet is on the right.
Slavery – for Carlyle – is the relationship between the dependent class (i.e. those on the right side of the balance sheet) and those upon whom the dependent class depend (i.e. those on the left side of the balance sheet).
When people think of slavery, they generally think of pre-Civil War chattel slavery in the South. However, if we’ve read our Carlyle, we understand that slavery can’t just be abolished. The old chattel slavery was eventually replaced by a new form of slavery that – if anything – was worse than the old form.
In the most cynical terms possible: pre-Civil War, blacks in the South were used to inflate the representation of white Southerners; post-Civil War, blacks in the South were used to inflate the representation of radical Republicans and help other white Northerners loot what was left of the Southern economy. In both cases, for many of the "freed" slaves, there was no meaningful "freedom" or "independence."
In modern times, slavery has been nationalized. Today’s dependents, are dependent upon the state.
The big point to take from this is that some people will be dependent on others. This basic fact cannot be wished or legislated away. Reforming slavery is possible – certainly everyone believes that slavery based on race is wrong. But abolishing dependency is impossible, as there will continue to be people who are dependent on others for their existence.
I’ve titled this post "Feminism and the illusion of abolition." I think I’ve covered the "illusion of abolition" part, but what about the feminism part?
Pre-feminism, many women were dependent on men. As I understand it, ending this dependence was the point. However, for some women, dependency is a fact. They may no longer be dependent on their husbands, but they are still dependent – now they are dependent on government.
Tas has a nice post illustrating this point. The woman profiled in the story is dependent on government to maintain her existence. In no meaningful sense is she "free." As Tas puts it:
Note that there is no mention of a father or husband. Indeed, she fails to mention him at all in the article. Perhaps she should have thought about the difficulties of raising three children before she decided to become a career woman with three kids. True, the father (probably fathers) of her children might not pay much in child support, could be incapacitated or dead, and might have abandoned her and her children. However, if that was the case, she probably would have mentioned it to gain the sympathy of her reader. She would have appeared as a hardworking woman who fell on tough times rather than being a dumb slut who bit off more than she could chew.
Single career women with kids don’t need a husband, remember? They are strong and independent women. Well, not quite independent, since they essentially use Big Government as a surrogate husband.
If she loses the subsidies, she says she will be screwed. Good. If more single mothers like her end up poor, maybe women will realize that both choosing to be a single mother and trying to live a middle class existence is impossible without some form of external support.
Many words could be used to describe this woman’s situation, but "free" and "independent" are not among them. For this woman, feminism has served only to change her master. She is no longer dependent on a man whom she chose, she is now dependent on a government that she didn’t. Government insulates her from the "consequences of her actions" as Tas says. Ancients would have recognized such a relationship as the relationship between master and slave.
I suspect that feminism helped to free intelligent women and has therefore (in its less radical form) been a significant benefit to such women. For the women on the other end of the intellectual bell curve, the results have been devastating, as government makes for a brutal master.