slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him"
Americans are under the illusion that the 13th Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery. Its words certainly
sound as if it did: "Neither slavery nor involuntary
servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall
have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States,
or any place subject to their jurisdiction." The language sounds
quite clear. Neither "slavery" (defined by one dictionary
as "submission to a dominating influence") nor "involuntary"
("compulsory") "servitude" ("a condition
in which one lacks liberty esp. to determine one's course of action
or way of life") shall exist within the United States.
words are abstractions, and must always be interpreted. As Orwell
made clear to us, unless we pay attention to what is being said,
scheming men and women with ambitions over the lives and property
of others, will interpret words in such ways as to convey the opposite
meaning most of us attach to those words. This is true with the
American state — particularly through its definers and obfuscators
in the judicial system — in telling us the "true meaning"
of the 13th Amendment. This provision was only intended
to prohibit private forms of slavery; the state was not intended
to be bound by its otherwise clear language. Thus, the 13th
Amendment did not end slavery, but only nationalized
it. The state is to have a monopoly on trafficking in slaves!
systems of military conscription, jury-duty, school attendance,
and road-building duty, have long been upheld by the courts as not
being barred by the 13th Amendment. So, too, has that
most far-reaching form of involuntary servitude, taxation. When
the state desires your nonconsented services, the courts
— consistent with their record of expanding state power while giving
very restrictive interpretations to individual liberty — are quick
with the "newspeak."
the war in Iraq continues apace, and with Massa Bush suggesting
a seemingly endless presence in that country, proposals for expanding
the present state-slavery racket are being voiced. Bills have been
introduced in the House (H.R. 163) and the Senate (S. 89) by so-called
"liberal" Democrats urging a renewal of military conscription.
What is worthy of note is that a number of the sponsors of this
proposed legislation are African-Americans — Charles Rangel, Sheila
Jackson-Lee, John Conyers, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Elijah Cummings,
and Alcee Hastings, among others. Jesse Jackson has also urged a
reconsideration of the draft.
first impression, one might wonder why Blacks, whose identities
are so wrapped up in ancestral slavery, would be advocating a return
to a system of conscripted labor. But Rep. Rangel and other Blacks
have expressed another purpose. They have defended this proposal
as a way of focusing attention on whether Blacks, Hispanics, and
low-income people would — as in the Vietnam War — bear a disproportionate
share of the burden of military service. If conscription was applicable
to all, with no special exemptions or deferments allowed, it is
argued, the system could be operated in a "fair" manner.
is one of those four-letter "f" words that I discourage
in my classroom. Within a few days of being introduced to my strange
ways, students learn to omit that word from class discussions. The
word "fair" is an expression of teenager justice, carrying
no more meaning than to say "I don't like it." "If
you consider something to be u2018unfair'," I ask my students,
"tell me, specifically, why you think such a state of affairs
is wrong." It is more important to ask whether the state should
be impressing anyone into forced servitude than it is to debate
the "fairness" of who is selected for sacrifice!
yet, it is to the doctrine of "equality" that many advocates
of the "fairness" argument repair. Those who regard liberty
and equality as synonyms — instead of understanding their
contradictory, irreconcilable nature — tend to believe that, as
long as an oppressive measure is forced upon all, without regard
to distinctions, there is no problem. Such attitudes are generally
shared by statists, whose responses to a tax, a restriction, or
a mandate that is borne by only one group, is to urge governmental
impositions upon all. The chuckleheaded branch of "feminism"
— whose members cringe in terror at any expression of "liberation"
— insist that, as a matter of principle, women should share with
men the abuse by the state. To egalitarians, the "equal protection
of the laws" is to be furthered by universalizing oppression,
rather than ending it as to everyone! Had Hitler not singled out
minority groups for his tyrannical practices — had he, in other
words, oppressed everyone equally — the egalitarians would have
been hard put to find grounds for objection.
don't want to leave you with the impression that Black politicians
are the principal promoters of this renewed system of state slavery.
They are not. Nebraska Senator Charles Hagel is also championing
a return to conscription. While Rep. Rangel and others may be somewhat
forgiven for their misplaced strategies in using conscription as
a way of focusing on other issues, Sen. Hagel has no such ulterior
purposes. In expanding his openness to conscription to include other
forms of "mandatory national service" — which might include
involuntary servitude on behalf of some other governmental function
— Hagel made clear his commitment to state collectivism.
picked up the egalitarian chant about conscription imposing an equal
burden upon "the privileged, the rich," not being clear
whether he intended these as synonymous or separate words. If he
means to attack "the rich," generally, such an appeal
to class-warfare rhetoric is rather peculiar from one who, as a
Midwest Republican, I assume would not openly count himself a foe
of private capitalism. If, on the other, it is his purpose to criticize
"privilege," he might want to begin with a definition
of that term. One dictionary defines it as "a right or immunity
granted as a peculiar benefit."
by whom? As a long-standing member of the U.S. Senate, it should
be evident that it is the state, of which he is a key member,
that involves itself in conferring benefits and immunities upon
its well-connected supporters, just as Congress grants to itself
and its members special privileges not enjoyed by the rest of society.
If it is his desire to end such special dispensations, he might
begin by cleaning up his own house. Rather than universalizing state
power over people's lives, Sen. Hagel might consider joining Rep.
Ron Paul — and the seven cosponsors of his H.R. 487 — in a bill
that would permanently end the system of military conscription,
for the rich as well as the poor.
conservative Bill Buckley, and a self-styled "progressive"
Bill Moyers, have previously clucked the virtues of service to the
state, a fact that should help you understand why, in the words
of a friend of mine, the late James J. Martin, the political "Left"
and "Right" are simply "two wings of the same bird
of prey." All political systems and ideologies have, at their
base, an implicit belief that human beings are expendable resources
to be exploited on behalf of whatever ambitions those in power might
have. If the state needs more money, tax those who produce wealth.
If the state wants to conduct a war, appropriate the lives of hundreds
of thousands of young people to be slaughtered in its service. If
the state wants privately owned land, take it, without regard to
whether the owner chooses to part with it.
we wish to put an end to the systematic exploitation and enslavement
of people, we must confront the underlying premise upon which all
of this is grounded: that our lives belong to the state, to be consumed
in whatever manner and for whatever purpose state officials choose.
We must confront and move beyond the delusional thinking that a
responsible and meaningful life is to be found in participating
in coercive governmental undertakings. Sen. Hagel is but one of
many overseers on the state's plantation, whose entreaties on behalf
of enforced service must be resisted with the same determined spirit
that led many antebellum slaves to walk away from their servitude.
first case I have students read in my Property Law class is Dred
Scott v. Sandford, in which a slave raised the question of whether
he ought to be considered a "person" under the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he could not, that he was the
property of his slave master. I then demonstrate to my students
how "ownership" is a function of "control" over
an item of property; that whoever is able to effectively control
property is its owner, regardless of what some document might suggest.
go on to ask my students if they claim "self-ownership."
"Do you own yourself?," I inquire. I then warn them about
their answer to this question, and how we shall have occasion to
visit the implications of their answers throughout the school year.
"If you do claim self-ownership," I ask, "how
do you tolerate the state controlling your life through various
laws? And if you do not claim self-ownership, what possible
objection can you raise to anything another might choose to do to
you? If you do not want to own yourself — and to insist upon the
control that goes with such a claim — should you be surprised that
others might choose to assert a claim of ownership over that
which you have rejected?"
Sen. Hagel and his fellow slavers have their way, what will be your
response when the roundup of vassals begins? Will you — like the
people who watch or babble on FoxNews — rejoice at your good fortune
to live in a country where you enjoy the "freedom" to
be a slave, or will you exhibit the good sense to reject the system?
The state will have its modern version of the Fugitive Slave Laws
to hunt down, punish, and return you to the plantation; legislation
that Sen. Hagel and most other members of Congress will eagerly
is frightening enough to hear proposals for our universal enslavement
coming from people who pretend to be representatives of our interests.
It is equally disturbing that such dehumanized thinking can be defended
by so many out of what can only be regarded as a twisted sense of
community. Those who embrace such offerings without giving much
thought to their meaning should understand that the most important
quality we hold in common with our neighbors is a need to defend
one another's individuality. Being converted into humanoid servo-mechanisms
of the state perverts, not fosters, our sense of community. There
is something very sad about a society whose members think otherwise,
and who acquiesce in the collectivist premise that their lives,
and the lives of their children, are the property of the state;
that they amount to no more, in the political scheme of things,
than assets to be collected, counted, catalogued, warehoused, and
shipped off to whatever location, and exploited for whatever purposes,
serve the interests of their institutional owners.