Douglas Murray is an apologist for slavery in The Times today – his arguments are unconvincing.
For Britons the issue is less about slavery as an evil but about Empire. Yes it is true that owning slaves was not an exclusively Anglo-Saxon amorality nor even only a second Millennium phenomenon. But imperialism was arguably an even greater evil and our British ancestors were the prime movers in that.
The conceit that a developed nation has the right to venture abroad, set up camp, exploit natural resources and dominate and enslave native peoples is about as venal as it gets. And still, astonishingly, we praise this venality by singing “Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be spread” at least once a year!
Empire and Slavery are inextricably interlinked. When British adventurers found natural resources to exploit, but without the indigenous labour to do so, they imported people to do it. Slavery was always driven by commercial ambition and the slaves were property – a factor of production rather than human beings.
To our modern sensibilities imperialism and slavery are abominations, though far from vanished. Putin’s attempt to enlarge the Russian Empire, the Chinese in Tibet, the mistreatment by Israel of Palestinians and all too many other examples are imperialism by another name. As was Hitler’s search for “Lebensraum”.
In short the British Empire was built by slaves and none of us should be sanguine about this. I commend Susan Neiman’s fine book “Learning from the Germans”. The Empire is not something to glorify but to be honest and, yes, contrite about.