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The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays…
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The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation

by Eugene D. Genovese

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Genovese begins his two essays in interpretation by linking the concepts of class and race. His argument rests upon the conviction that the American South is essentially a pre-bourgeois system in fundamental opposition to the bourgeois opposition to the bourgeois system of the North. Therein lies the roots of differing approaches of the North and the South to African slaves. Comparing the American South to the slave systems of the French Caribbean and Brazil in his chapter on "Class and Race," Genovese argues that racial prejudice, which proceeded the institution of African slavery, is intensified and grows to racism when the class system is most strictly linked to race. He argues that both the Northern and Southern systems were based upon racism in the antebellum period. The close bonds between master and slave in the Southern plantation system did not engender the harsh racism which came about after the triumph of the bourgeois capitalist North. Reconstruction was to prove that Southern paternalism did actually offer a better life for blacks than the rule of Northern capitalists.

Genovese devotes much of the rest of this work to a consideration of the Southern planter ideology through an examination of George Fitzhugh's defense of the institution of slavery. Fitzhugh went back to pre-Lockean notions of social relations in which paternal bonds were unserverable. In this sense Fitzhugh invalidates the very premise upon which the American Revolution was fought. He is the ultimate feudal reactionary, thrusting the doctrines of Filmer in the face of Lockean bourgeois revolutionaries. Yet Fitzhugh went even further than the repudiation of the American revolution. He repudiated the English Revolution of the 17th century; he repudiated capitalism in favor of a pre-bourgeois romanticism:

In effect, he could only argue that exploitation and class stratification were inevitable and that slavery, with its principle of responsibility of one man for another, led to less hardship and despair than capitalism, with its principle of every man for himself, for at least the worker had a community to appeal to other than one based on the cash nexus. (p. 160)

If the slave mode of production had not been so profitable in the South, as the factory mode was in the North, there would never have been a Fitzhugh. Yet slavery was profitable and Fitzhugh consequently based his ideological exposition on a thriving institution. Fitzhugh knew, as did his contemporaries in the 1840s and 50s, that the very existence of the slave system was predicated upon the expansion of that institution into the territories. Here the national system broke down.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0819562041, Paperback)

A seminal and original work that delves deeply into what slaveholders thought.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:46 -0400)

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