Pro-Slavery Thought in Antebellum America and the Argument of Politics Book I
Southern academics, politicians, and polemicists claimed Aristotle as a notable progenitor of the proslavery cause. This chapter argues that this use of Aristotle was more than ‘learned embroidery’ but a significant consideration of his political philosophy. It details three contexts within which these propagandists turned to Aristotle: they relied upon Aristotle to anchor their proslavery activism in a sophisticated philosophical objection to natural rights theory; they appealled to Aristotle to shore up their view that the North practiced wage slavery; they exploited Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery to identify black Africans as slaves. The widespread practice among Southern intellectuals of citing of Aristotle is not ornamental but evidence of a dynamic engagement. The Aristotle they prize may be nearly unrecognizable to today’s moral philosophers and political scientists but this episode in the reception history of Politics Book I shows that Aristotle could provide an intellectual framework for a toxic way of thinking about human differences.
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