Thursday, December 18, 2014

Slaves Identifying With Their Masters

Marx's attempt to describe how capitalism creates objective illusions, so to speak, is one aspect of Capital that I like. In this comment on a long-ago Crooked Timber post, "Ted" draws an analogy to J. S. Mill's Subjection of Women, which I have never read. Apparently, Mill explains how women can come to identify with their oppressors.

I happen to currently be reading the autobiography of local Rochester hero, Frederick Douglass. This passage identifies a curious phenomenon:

"Moreover, slaves are like other people, and imbibe prejudices quite common to others. They think their own better than that of others. Many, under the influence of this prejudice, think their own masters are better than the masters of other slaves; and this, too, in some cases, when the very reverse is true. Indeed, it is not uncommon for slaves even to fall out and quarrel among themselves about the relative goodness of their masters, each contending for the superior goodness of his own over that of the others. At the very same time, they mutually execrate their masters when viewed separately. It was so on our plantation. When Colonel Lloyd's slaves met the slaves of Jacob Jepson, they seldom parted without a quarrel about their masters; Colonel Lloyd's slaves contending that he was the richest, and Mr. Jepson's slaves that he was the smartest, and most of a man. Colonel Lloyd's slaves would boast his ability to buy and sell Jacob Jepson. Mr. Jepson's slaves would boast his ability to whip Colonel Lloyd. These quarrels would almost always end in a fight between the parties, and those that whipped were supposed to have gained the point at issue. They seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves. It was considered as being bad enough to be a slave; but to be a poor man's slave was deemed a disgrace indeed." -- Frederick Douglas, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas

Maybe some day I'll read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit - it is on my shelf - to learn some ideas about the master-slave dialetic. Mayhaps the above is analogous to the opinions of many wage-slaves. There seem to be many ways to be unfree, and many ways to deny this.


isomorphismes said...

Definitely not a thesis I would have expected from a post-enlightenment white-male libertarian. Maybe I shouldn't stereotype them so bad.

I'm reminded also of a passage here:

The worst snobs are not the masters but the direct servants of the powerful. George Will and David Brooks have the arrogance not of rulers but of their attendants.

D. Ghirlandaio said...

Not a libertarian, I think.

D. Ghirlandaio said...

"Maybe some day I'll read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit"

And maybe also The Story of O. It's shorter.

Robert Vienneau said...

I don't know that the comment over there on J. S. Mill is by a propertarian. (I have only one of those books on my bookshelf, and am not planning on obtaining the other.)