March 29, 2007
— Ace Steyn:
William Wilberforce,'' writes Eric Metaxas in Amazing Grace, "was the happy victim of his own success. He was like someone who against all odds finds the cure for a horrible disease that's ravaging the world, and the cure is so overwhelmingly successful that it vanquishes the disease completely. No one suffers from it again -- and within a generation or two no one remembers it ever existed.''
What did Wilberforce ''cure''? Two centuries ago, on March 25, 1807, one very persistent British backbencher secured the passage by parliament of an Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade throughout His Majesty's realms and territories. It's not that no one remembers the disease ever existed, but that we recall it as a kind of freak pandemic -- a SARS or bird flu that flares up and whirs round the world and is then eradicated. The American education system teaches it as such -- as a kind of wicked perversion the Atlantic settlers had conjured out of their own ambition. In reality, it was more like the common cold: a fact of life. The institution predates the word's etymology, from the Slavs brought from eastern Europe to the glittering metropolis of Rome. It predates by some millennia the earliest laws, such as the Code of Hammurabi in Mesopotamia. The first slave owners on the North American continent were hunter-gatherers.
As Metaxas puts it, ''Slavery was as accepted as birth and marriage and death, was so woven into the tapestry of human history that you could barely see its threads, much less pull them out. Everywhere on the globe, for 5,000 years, the idea of human civilization without slavery was unimaginable. . . . What Wilberforce vanquished was something even worse than slavery,'' says Metaxas, "something that was much more fundamental and can hardly be seen from where we stand today: He vanquished the very mind-set that made slavery acceptable and allowed it to survive and thrive for millennia. He destroyed an entire way of seeing the world, one that had held sway from the beginning of history, and he replaced it with another way of seeing the world.'' Ownership of existing slaves continued in the British West Indies for another quarter-century and in the United States for another 60 years, and slave trading continued in Turkey until Ataturk abolished it in the '20s and in Saudi Arabia until it was (officially) banned in the '60s, and it persists in Africa and other pockets of the world to this day. But not as a broadly accepted "human good.''
There was some hard-muscle enforcement that accompanied the new law: The Royal Navy announced that it would regard all slave ships as pirates, and thus they were liable to sinking and their crews to execution. But what was decisive was the way Wilberforce ''murdered'' (in Metaxas' word) the old acceptance of slavery by the wider society. As he wrote in 1787, ''God almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.''
More on Wilberforce's campaign for better manners and a stricter public morality at the article.
But continuing with the campaign that would end Western slavery -- forever -- within sixty years, Joesph Laconte notes that some take this anniversary as a (yawn) excuse to damn Britian all the more.
Theres a lesson for politicians and clerics alike: Great social evils are not defeated by mere talk. In the case of abolition, new laws demanded not only diplomacy but the threatand the useof military power. Without it, the proclamations and legislative victories might have come to nothing.
To this observer, many Britons seem to harbor a deep and nagging guilteven self-loathingfor their days of empire and the brutalities that sustained it. Americans could probably benefit, at least on occasion, from a stronger sense of shame. But, facing the post-9/11 threat of Islamic fascism, Britain (and America) cannot afford to indulge in self-flagellation. There are too many cheerless voices eager to demean British identity for their own craven reasons.
This danger is not new; Great Britain faced similar criticisms during another season of national testing. In the darkest hours of 1941as the British people stood alone against the Nazi juggernauta fresh generation of cynics and appeasers condemned the nation for its historical sins. American observer Lynn Harold Hough, a gifted preacher and theologian, took umbrage at them. Houghs critique, published in April of 1941, is worth quoting at length:
He [the cynic] reminds us of every evil thing he can find in the history of England since the Norman Conquest After his best efforts, Britain remains a dull grey against the bitter black of Hitlers Germany. The history of parliamentary democracy is ignored. The broadening liberties of the British Empire are forgotten. The word imperial is used in such a fashion as to black out intelligence and to set every fact in a false perspective. Nobodyleast of all the Britishwould deny the dark spots in British history. But they do not represent the defining matters in the British tradition.
Perhaps Andrew Sullivan should ponder the example of Christianist, morally-convicted Wilberforce when he rails against "certainty" and in favor of "doubt." If Wilberforce had any doubt that slavery was a purely evil insitutition without redeeming qualities, we would still would have had it for one hundred or more years.
Michael Gambon, Albert Finney (anyone get those actors confused, or is it just me?) and the persistently good but persistently unknown actor who played Horatio Hornblower so well. (It would help if his name weren't some hodgepodge gibberish of Welsh/Celtic/Retardese.)
Plus villainous actor par excellence Rufus Sewell. I don't know if he plays a villain, but I hope so. He's so good at being a dick.
They do the same with Abe Lincoln and our Civil War. It drives me crazy when my moonbat friends tell me the purpose of the war was to preserve the union. Well, duh! When I ask them how would slavery be abolished if the south had been allowed to cecede they look blank.
Posted by: Red at March 29, 2007 08:33 AM (ffvtp)
It's just you. I will always remember Gambon as the Singing Detective. Unfortunately, for the movie, the ads I have heard have been pretty lame. Not that that would stop me from seeing the movie. So, Ace, what time are you picking me up?
Posted by: Red at March 29, 2007 08:37 AM (ffvtp)
and the persistently good but persistently unknown actor who played Horatio Hornblower so well
That would be Ioan Gruffudd, aka Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and Sir Lancelot.
Posted by: EC at March 29, 2007 08:41 AM (mAhn3)
I saw it with the g/f a couple weekends ago. Pretty good. Doesn't guilt-trip you with overwrought images of slavery throughout. Nice to know they respect the audience enough to realize that we all understand what it was at this point.
Plus, the song is performed on bagpipe right at the end. Always a winner.
Posted by: RDub at March 29, 2007 08:46 AM (U4I5u)
Posted by: Drew at March 29, 2007 08:53 AM (gNyUT)
left a comment for you on the 'McCain supports hot democrats' thread.
Posted by: OregonMuse at March 29, 2007 08:55 AM (CkYzD)
He had it right the first time -- it's about guilt, not shame. Shame is not the same thing as guilt. Shame is the antithesis to honor. Guilt is the antithesis of innocence.
(There's a third cultural axis as well -- fear vs. power.)
The West has been a predominately guilt-innocence culture for a long time. It's why we are so obsessed with doing the right thing, good guys vs. bad guys, and characterizing our enemies as bad guys before we go to war with them. Modern war is not conquest, we say (as would be the case in a culture based on honor and shame), but punishment for bad acts.
If we had a stronger sense of shame, then we'd have a stronger sense of honor, too, and would therefore be more inclined to conquer weaker countries simply because we could, for the honor that victory and might would bring. Somehow, I don't think that's what Mr. Steyn intended.
Posted by: Phinn at March 29, 2007 08:58 AM (DiZv6)
No, I don't think it's what he intended and I don't agree with him this time. We have plenty of that.
Posted by: Entropy at March 29, 2007 09:02 AM (m6c4H)
Actually that was some other dude, Joseph Laconte, that said that Phinn.
When you said Steyn said it, it raised an eyebrow.
Posted by: Entropy at March 29, 2007 09:03 AM (m6c4H)
Posted by: Phinn at March 29, 2007 09:05 AM (DiZv6)
when my moonbat friends tell me the purpose of the war was to preserve
the union. Well, duh! When I ask them how would slavery be abolished if
the south had been allowed to cecede [sic] they look blank.
They are correct, Red. You are incorrect.
If there be those who would not save the
Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them.
If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same
time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this
struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I
could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save
it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and
leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the
colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I
forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.
-- A. Lincoln, 1862
Posted by: Phinn at March 29, 2007 09:15 AM (DiZv6)
Posted by: Red at March 29, 2007 09:24 AM (pPek3)
Posted by: Sobek at March 29, 2007 09:26 AM (6GK9U)
"Shhh. I'm trying to watch the play."
--A. Lincoln (to his bodyguard at the Ford Theater)
Posted by: moviegique at March 29, 2007 09:30 AM (HScxl)
We gave it an 8.
No car chases though.
Posted by: Retired Geezer at March 29, 2007 10:01 AM (+MBbl)
Geezer, don't tell me you slept through the car chase scenes...
Posted by: Sobek at March 29, 2007 10:07 AM (6GK9U)
Posted by: Scot at March 29, 2007 10:41 AM (qlZ26)
Like, say, the captain and a slave make their getaway from the evil
Slave Overlords in a car, or at least a pimped out coach-and-four.
Then they go on a Road Trip, kind of a "See America" thing, and the
slave is the hip wise cracking one, and the captain is the
seen-it-all jaded type, and by the end of the movie they have a
newfound respect for each other, and all of us in the audience have
And somehow all the slaves are freed in the middle of a bunch of cool
explosions, and dudes running around with automatic muskets.
Anyway, it's just a treatment, needs some fleshing out.
Posted by: Carl in N.H. at March 29, 2007 02:14 PM (BK97c)
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