The slaves of General Thomas F. Drayton, 1862 © Henry P. Moore | Wikimedia Commons
CapitalismEssaysRace

Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism

A re-post

This post, adapted from a lecture in the team-taught course “Rethinking Capitalism” at The New School for Social Research and first published last year, is being reposted today to provide critical insight into today’s headlines. Slavery was central to the development of the American political economy. Ott reviews the recent scholarship that shows how it came to be that Black lives haven’t mattered. -J.G.

Racialized chattel slaves were the …

READ MORE →
Painting of the Battle of Spottsylvania by Thure de Thulstrup, 1864 ©  Adam Cuerden | Library of Congress
EssaysRace

Actually Essential Reading About the Confederacy

Understanding the historical context of the massacre in Charleston and the debate about the Confederate battle flag

The massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the subsequent debate about the Confederate battle flag have sent Americans scrambling for historical context. The shortlist of introductory readings on the Confederacy recommended by John Williams in the New York Times ArtsBeat, however, is an embarrassing catalog of dated scholarship that emphasizes the experiences and reflections of white elites. Histories of the lives of Confederate generals that date to the 1930s may have their virtues. The impact of the Civil War on the planter class is surely worth knowing. And no one ought to discount smart literary analyses of Harriet Beecher Stowe or Albion Tourgee. But scholarship that predates the Carter Administration and centers on a small segment of the slaveholding class hardly provides a starting point for understanding our current moment. …

READ MORE →
"Baggage," Kenya © Brett Jordan | Flickr
EssaysSex & GenderThe Psyche

Human Trafficking

A psychoanalytic and socio-historical view

I am going to think and write about human trafficking through a perspective both psychoanalytic and socio-historical. In fact, part of my quest and my thinking about this matter is to find the right disciplinary mix to speak from and to. This essay is situated in a problem. It may be an intractable problem. At the very least it is a very difficult one. How is it that there is not the social or political will to fight a social problem of great magnitude, great trauma, and great criminality: slavery in the 21st century? There was an abolitionist movement in the 19th century. Why not now? …

READ MORE →
Family of African American slaves on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1862. © Timothy H. O’Sullivan | learnnc.org
CapitalismEssaysRace

Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism

Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.

At the dawn of the industrial age commentators like Rev. Thomas Malthus could not envision that capital — an asset that is used but not consumed in the production of goods and services — could compound and diversify its forms, increasing productivity and engendering economic growth. Yet, ironically, when Malthus penned his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, the economies of Western Europe already had crawled their way out of the so-called “Malthusian trap.” The New World yielded vast quantities of “drug foods” like tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar for world markets. Europeans worked a little bit harder to satiate their hunger for these “drug foods.” …

READ MORE →