Note: I didn't include this Q&A from my latest Formspring round-up for a few reasons. First, it's really really long, and that post was long enough already. Secondly, it's totally different in tone from the typical sardonic smart-assery and I figured it would be jarring. But finally, I really am curious what people think about this issue, and in particular I want to be educated about what Southerners think about the Civil War today. So have at it, Southerners.
Are you still doing political-type questions? Because i have one. On NPR today a guy said, Violence was the only way to end slavery, because pacifism wasn't going to work." As a pacifist, i want to disagree. Opinions?
Before getting to the meat of the question, there are a few points that need to be made for clarification.
First, we have sadly been learning more and more about how alive slavery is today, so it very unfortunately can't be said that slavery has been ended in the world. I presume the caller was referring to the violence of the Civil War, and the ending of legally recognized institutionalized slavery in the United States.
It should also be pointed out that the Civil War was not technically fought over slavery -- it was fought over the secession of the Confederate states, and the federal government's unwillingness to allow them to do it. Of course, the trigger for secession itself was the abolition of slavery represented by the Emancipation Proclamation, so clearly slavery was involved, but it is a point worth making that the war itself was not directly fought over slavery.
However, it is clear that it took the Civil War to stop secession, bring the seceding slave-holding states back into the Union (some slave-holding states did not secede), and end slavery at that particular moment in time. So I think it needs to be conceded even by staunch pacifists that it took violence to end institutionalized slavery in the United States at that particular time.
What would have happened without violence? It's pretty much impossible to say, but I think we can make a few fairly safe assumptons.
First, slavery would have continued in the Confederate States of America for a period of time following secession. How long is a total guess, but I would have to think, given how violently civil rights was contested in the United States (and particularly in the South) up until the 1960s, that it would have been many decades, maybe even a century.
Secondly, it seems almost unfathomable that slavery would not have ended in the Confederacy at some point. Even by the early 1800s, many European nations were outlawing slavery. Britain in particular was entering into dozens (I think) of pacts with various countries to end or curtail the slave trade. By the 1860s, the world mood was generally one of abolition, with the United States one of several notable holdouts. So imagine if you will the level of animosity, sanction, and pressure leveled by the international political and economic community against a nation in (let's say) 1971 that still believed in buying and selling human beings as though they were livestock, which is essentially what they were under the law. Imagine South African circa 1980, but worse. It's hard to imagine a country not caving in to this pressure eventually, via comparatively more peaceful means, as South Africa did. And of course, then would begin the long and tumultuous process of Jim Crow laws and segregation and institutionalized racism and disenfranchisement -- but five or seven or fifteen decades behind schedule, and with all that extra corrosive water under the bridge, to boot.
(Incidentally, if any of my Southern friends would like to educate me on the true causes and motivations behind the War of Northern Aggression, and why they think -- if they do think this -- that the South being allowed to secede would have been a long-term good thing for the South, I am quite sincerely all ears. It seems like it would have been a total friggin' disaster for the Confederacy.)
So, I don't think that I would agree with that NPR caller that violence was necessary to end legal institutionally recognized slavery in the United States. Justice will win in the end. It's sort of a tortoise and the hare thing. Violence was 'merely' necessary to end it right at that moment in history. But the ramifications of letting that string play out would have been momentous, and logically it seems unlikely that the effects would have been positive. Ask a descendant of slavery if they think it would have been favorable to keep that institution around for another 70 years or so. Be careful how you word the question, though.
But more than that, it's possible that the world that we now inhabit, so hostile to slavery, might not exist in the same form today that it now does. To give just one obvious example, during the amazing upheavals of the two World Wars, the United States as it was composed would not exist. We would have been two countries -- one industrialized, urban, and perhaps like the United States as we understand it to have been at that time, but certainly greatly diminished by its loss, and the other agrarian, slave-holding, and as a result almost certainly alienated from other European countries (such as France and particularly Britain), with whom we aligned ourselves in those conflicts, and perhaps, just maybe, more amenable to a doctrine of race purity. It's difficult to know what worlds may have turned upon the decision to go to war with the Confederacy over secession.
That is a lot of speculation, especially at the end. But I don't think I'm going too far afield with it. I think we pacifists may have to wrestle with the fact that sometimes a thing is so unjust that ending it immediately is the best outcome, even if violence is the tool used to arrive at that outcome.
Then again, without violence, perhaps something even better would have occurred. It just doesn't seem likely.
To answer your other question: Yes. I'm still answering political questions.
As always, your questions answered here.