In Aristotle’s Politics, Aristotle poses the question “Is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?” (Aristotle, Politics, Book 1 here) In other words, are some people born and destined to be slaves? If so, does that mean they should be proud of such a thing? Aristotle answers his own question by stating “There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”(Aristotle, Politics, Book 1, same link as up there). To put it in a simpler manner; some are born to rule and others are just born to serve. The passage from Aristotle’s politics serves two purposes. One, many societies and cultures after Aristotle have used his book as a foundation on how to run their society and control the people. Two, the passage serves as a foundation to answer the main question posed; “How have cultures and societies evolved from the effects and ramifications of slavery?”. Slavery has long existed before the time of Aristotle. A well recognized example would be the enslavement of the Hebrew people by the Pharaohs of Egypt. Would Aristotle justify such enslavement by stating that the slaves should be elated that they are slaves because that is what they are meant to be? Moses could not agree with the notion that others are born to rule their “inferior”. Moses freed the chosen people and gave them a religion with one central theme; “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” That would mean that no man could be greater than another because man is created in his image.
Moses & Aristotle are clear contradictions on the view of humanity as a whole. Are humans all equal and created in the image of God? If Aristotle only paid more attention in Plato’s academy, he would’ve realized that Socrates had the answer all along. In Plato’s Meno dialogue, there are three characters. Socrates, Meno, and Meno’s slave boy. Socrates, in an attempt to show Meno that knowledge is innate, proposes to Meno that he can grab a young, unlearned, slave boy and have him solve a geometrical problem by simply asking him questions. Meno is stunned and does not believe that a slave boy who doesn’t know anything could solve such a problem. Socrates takes the ignorant slave boy to the beach where in the sand Socrates draws a square and proposes to “double the area of the square”(http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/meno.html). Through provocation and questions from Socrates, the slave boy was finally able to double the square. Why was the slave boy, in his own mind, able to formulate a solution to a problem he has never encountered before? Because Socrates is right, knowledge and understanding exist in every individual regardless of race or class. This only further proves how & why man is created equally, and therefore refuting the existence of classism. Every human being has the potential to make discoveries and understand their own nature.
If it was known since the time of the ancient Greeks that every slave was just as capable of genius as any ruler, why is it that Aristotle has been pushed to mainstream thought and seen as the leading philosopher for the past two thousand years? Aristotle did not speak his philosophies for the common man but rather spoke his philosophies for the rich and powerful as guidebooks to keep them in power. For the last two thousand years, the idea that some people are born to rule and others to serve has dominated societies and cultures. Kings, Queens and other rulers have benefited so greatly that their worthiness to rule is deemed not by their competency or knowledge but rather their lineage.
People in power have also benefited from this philosophy by keeping the lower classes ignorant. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the late 5th Century, the next six hundred years in Europe consisted of the highest illiteracy rates, highest rates of infant mortality and the shortest life expectancy possible(here). This is when Feudalism was at its peak. People lived only to work on the kings land and they were considered property of the noblemen and were part of the land. Though these people were not in chains, they were very much slaves. Even though every single one of these people had the innate potential to know just as much, if not more, than the rulers in their land, they were treated like cattle.
What event eventually broke the cycle of ignorance and disparity in this population? The Renaissance brought about a refocusing on classical literature. At its center, the Renaissance brought the focus back to the potential that lies in every individual. The scientific discoveries made by the greatest thinkers gave passage to everyone else to become greater than what they may think of themselves. However, this may have been a positive notion for humanity as a whole, yet for those who wished to maintain power it became a pressing issue. In an attempt to keep their reign, the British led the colonial race by starting colonies in Africa and America. They enslaved African natives and brought them to their colonies all over the world. Because of this occurrence, the narrative then focused upon people of color. They were chosen to be the ones born to serve because they were believed to not be able to know anything other than field work.
The African slaves were now, unfairly, put into a position where they had to prove their humanity. The slaves responded to their captive states with acts of non-violence rather than bloodshed. The slaves made a profound discovery through their singing of the spirituals. These spirituals consisted of coded messages in the songs that gave direction and instructions on how to flee the plantation and where to go afterwards. Take the song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. In the song, the words are as follows: “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home”. The “sweet chariot” inevitably refers to the group of stars that form the big dipper. When observed at night, the big dipper rotates around the north star. So when the song says “swing low, sweet chariot”, it refers to when the big dipper is at the lowest point in the sky. That was the time in which to make the escape. The slaves were able to compose music like this while surrounded in an environment that was designed to keep them subdued. The Negro spirituals, the most American of all music, is an expression of the beauty that can be brought out of people when conditions demand it the most. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, “Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars”(quote from here). The famous Harry Burleigh represents an African-American, post slavery, who continued the traditions of the spirituals by passing them onto the next generation. In an interview after being asked about his students such as Paul Robeson and others he says, “Through the genius of these people, I hope that my race will reach the end of a dark, long road of discrimination.”(Lee, H. (1974). Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. The Black Perspective in Music, 2(1), 84-86. doi:10.2307/1214154)
However, it was not only through the spirituals that slavery in America diminished. The civil war, at its core, was about slavery. Apart from Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, it was Lincoln’s motivation for the country to rapidly develop and bring in an industrial revolution that rendered a slave economy useless. As a result of the Emancipation Proclamation and the rapid industrial revolution, the country as a whole began to modernize and bonded slavery was no more. However, despite the slaves now being newly free, the country was now dealing with racial tensions as a result of slavery. This is what kept classism alive, to this very day. The balance of the United States was thrown out of proportion because there were no more slaves to rule over anymore. As a result of this, new forms of oppression were bred out of this void.. Jim Crow Laws were implemented all over the country as a form of discrimination against African-Americans disguised as being seperate but equal. As Dr. David Pilgrim stated, “Jim Crow was more than a series of strict antiblack laws. It was a way of life.”(Pilgrim, D. (2000). What was Jim crow. Ferris State University, 16, 2007.) Because of the Jim Crow laws, new forms of slavery now existed in the country that no longer involved chains and whips but rather disrupting the way of life for many black families.
History repeats itself as the struggle continued for decades as many black families continued to fight for a common living. What overcame Jim Crow was not a bloody revolution, but rather a reemergence of non-violence spearheaded by people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. In his speeches he often spoke about a ‘strength to love’. It took more courage to not hit someone back when they hit you and it took even more courage to love someone who hated you. His non-violent revolution ultimately worked because it showed the real strength and beauty that lies within all of us when we choose to fight for justice and supercede the conditions and thinking that allowing slavery and all its forms to exist in the first place.
As for today, many people of color are still suffering the ramifications of a post slavery world as it was only 50 years ago since the Civil Rights Movement ended. Yet despite that, people are no longer bonded in chains and are free to educate themselves to become conscious to advance the human race. The future looks brighter than ever if we choose it to be so.