George Fitzhugh, the Honest Socialist

In the mid-nineteenth century debates over the virtues and evils of slavery, the arguments from the pro-slavery southerners evolved from a claim that slavery was a ‘necessary evil’ to arguments that it was a ‘positive moral good.’ A large part of this evolution in perspective was a reaction to the growing moral antipathy toward slavery by the North, breeding the need – from the southern perspective – to find a defense of slavery that they could counter on moral grounds.
But George Fitzhugh’s defense of slavery was unique. He accepted the paternalist argument that the southerners were increasingly adopting – specifically, that slavery bettered the position of the slave – but he rejected the racial division that they necessarily included in their argument. In his infamous 1954 publication, Sociology of the South, he wrote:
We abhor the doctrine of the ‘Types of Mankind;’ first, because it is at war with scripture, which teaches us that the whole human race is descended from a common parentage; and, secondly, because it encourages and incites brutal masters to treat negroes, not as weak, ignorant and dependent brethren, but as wicked beasts, without the pale of humanity.
True to the racist views of the day, Fitzhugh did believe that blacks were ‘weak, ignorant and dependent’ on the superior class of whites, but his racism was part of a class analysis common to socialists. In other words, the benefits that he believed blacks gained from slavery should also be applied to poor, less capable whites.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on November 4, 2017.