Property, Slavery, and Godliness

January 18, 2008 § 3 Comments

I posted the following in a combox earlier today:

Another thing about slavery: slavery is just a particular and highly institutionalized instance of treating human beings as property. Human beings can be and often are treated as property without a formal institution of slavery, which doesn’t stop being evil simply in the jettisoning of its institutional character. And of course treating human beings as property is itself a species of treating human beings as things rather than persons. The servant-slave distinction as we understand it today hinges on exactly this: that the servant is treated as a person subject to a contingent earthly authority, while the slave is treated as nothing but an object the sole purpose of which is to provide utility.

I’ve argued (or at least asserted) in the past that even property shouldn’t be treated as property: that is, that our concept of property has become damaged by modern philosophy, which treats property as things subject to arbitrary will as opposed to things falling under legitimate jurisdiction in carrying out a mandate of stewardship. Modern people detest this idea, because modern people detest the idea that they cannot be God, and they especially detest the idea that they cannot be God even in little circumscribed “personal” domains.

Another thing that strikes me here is that to attempt to be a little tinpot God is to attempt to become the opposite of Christ. Because Christ is perfectly loving, perfectly giving, perfectly humble, incapable in virtue of His perfect goodness of treating a person as a thing. So in attempting to be like God in terms of the dominance of our will over some domain, we make ourselves the opposite of God.

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§ 3 Responses to Property, Slavery, and Godliness

  • William Luse says:

    And a good comment it was, too.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    The business about not even treating property as property reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s wonderful passage in Screwtape where Screwtape talks about all the meanings of “my,” ranging from “my boots” to “my God.” He says they try to teach humans from an early age to treat all of these as being the same, and the same as “my boots.” He says they try to teach the child in the nursery to mean by “my bear” not “my beloved companion” but rather “the bear I can tear to pieces if I want.” V. perceptive.

  • […] and ownership.  I’ve been very critical of libertarian conceptions of property rights in the past, and remain so today.  But just because liberalism misapprehends the nature of property, it […]

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