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An argument that slavery reparations are wrong

History Oddly Thomas Jefferson was probably the first to imply that America ought to make reparation to its slaves. But the real object of the Society, or at least that of the slaveholders who founded it, was to rid the country of free blacks who they feared endangered their peculiar institution.

Demands for compensation related to slavery frequently came up during the Civil War, but not in the way present day Americans would expect. The demands were not to compensate the slaves for the injuries of slavery, but to compensate the slaveholders for the anticipated loss of their slaves.

These demands were voiced in the South when they faced the prospect of having to free their slaves, but also voiced in the North, and from the highest sources.

President Abraham Lincoln for example repeatedly urged compensated emancipation, which meant paying the slaveholders for the loss of their slaves who would then be deported from America.

Du Bois 1992 [1935]: Thaddeus Stevens, congressman from Pennsylvania argued that it was not enough to free the slaves and give them the right of suffrage; but that in addition they should be given land confiscated from the rebels.

  • For example he may have a right to be compensated for a loss if he is insured against it, but his right is a right to compensation not a right to reparation if no wrongdoing caused his loss;
  • Returning to the question of reparations for slavery, Americans prior to the Civil war knew that their government permitted and supported slavery and also knew that slavery was a crime.

Charles Summer, senator from Massachusetts eventually came to agree with him, but surprisingly the radical ex-slave Frederick Douglass did not. In an excellent discussion Peter C. Meyers suggests that Douglass was following Jefferson in emphasizing the corrupting effects of dependence. In other words Stevens had proposed his scheme for the freed people for exactly the reasons Jefferson proposed legislation for protecting the white yeomen.

Years later Douglass evidently saw the error of his moderation. The theme continues to the present day. This demand for reparation the Manifesto argued was justified because over three and a half centuries, whites with the assistance and collaboration of their churches and synagogues had unjustly, through slavery and discrimination, wrested enormous economic advantages from blacks.

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Although this argument relied on widely accepted moral intuitions, the Manifesto received little popular support. It did however provoke discussion in newspapers and news magazines as well as some scholarly discussion.

Although interest in the topic remained high among African American philosophers, the wider community of political philosophers preoccupied with Rawlsian ideal theory generally ignored it. But broad and vigorous interest has been rekindled.

Perhaps the causes lie outside of academia; in 1988 Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act which authorized payment of reparations to Japanese American citizens who had been imprisoned during World War II; John Conyers has in each session of Congress since 1989 introduced a bill to create a commission to study an argument that slavery reparations are wrong for slavery and segregation; in 2000 Randall Robinson published his book The Debt: Locke on Reparation John Locke provided an early and very clear argument for the reparation owed a lawful conqueror, and many arguments for black reparations follow the outlines of his argument.

For Locke people have natural rights they get directly from Natural Law and rights they have acquired in accordance with Natural law. To restrain violations of rights he proposed punishment; punishment must be administered with so much Severity as will suffice to make it an ill bargain to the Offender, give him cause to repent, and terrifie others from doing the like.

According to Locke reparation was a right stemming from the right of self-preservation. More precisely while the person damaged can seek help from anyone, she, the victim, has a right to reparation only against the one who wrongly caused her damage. For example she may be damaged because someone murdered her father and thus caused her to live in straitened conditions.

On his view we give up the right to punish to the state, but retain the right to reparation. Arguably then the apology the wrongdoer must give to his victim in order to give her the satisfaction she has a right to does not require that he repent and perhaps therefore does not require that his apology be sincere.

It is also worth noting that although unjust enrichment from crime should not be tolerated, it has little if anything to do with reparation. Reparation focuses on getting satisfaction for the injured victim of crime and the criminal need not unjustly enrich himself as a result of the crime to have wrongfully injured her.

He owes her reparation even if he impoverished himself in the process of injuring her. Clearly then reparation and restitution clearly both presuppose the separation of something from its proper owner. But equally clearly reparation is not restitution. Reparation can only occur after some losses or damage due to a prior wrongdoing. But though restitution can only occur after some loss or damage, that loss or damage need not be due to a prior wrongdoing.

If A loses his wallet and B finds it and returns it to A, restitution has been made although no wrongdoing was committed. Further while reparation is a right, though the right can be outweighed, restitution is not always a right. I doubt that a person who loses things has a right that others find it for him. If B keeps the wallet then again restitution has not been made, and A has a right that B return it.

But in that case A has a right that B return it because he has a right to reparation and restitution can sometimes be part of reparation. But it is not clear to me why his unjust enrichment is a necessary condition for his obligation to return the wallet to A. Even if the wallet is worthless and B is not unjustly enriched by keeping it, he has no business holding an argument that slavery reparations are wrong to it since it is an argument that slavery reparations are wrong his property.

Restitution is neither necessary nor sufficient for reparation even when the thing to be restored to its proper owner was stolen. But she may have lost more that the bicycle as a direct result of its theft and her right to reparation requires satisfaction for that further loss.

Consequently restitution is not always sufficient for reparation. On the other hand the bicycle may have been destroyed or loss after its theft, making restitution but not reparation impossible. Consequently restitution is not necessary for reparation.

Compensation is related to reparation and restitution but is not the same thing as either. It is not reparation because it simply makes up for damage, harm or loss or lack whether or not it was caused by wrongdoing. It goes as follows: Thus a person may be compensated for a loss though he does not have a right to reparation.

If a person deserves a loss he has no right to reparation for it, but he may be compensated for it, probably unjustifiably. Even if he has a right to compensation, he may still have no right to reparation. For example he may have a right to be compensated for a loss if he is insured against it, but his right is a right to compensation not a right to reparation if no wrongdoing caused his loss.

Of course, as in the case of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans in 2005 people who suffer losses caused by a hurricane may have rights to reparation against their an argument that slavery reparations are wrong if it was obligated to build sea walls to protect them from hurricanes but negligently failed to do so. But in that case their right to reparation would not be based simply on their losses but also on the fact that they resulted from the wrongdoing of the government Goldberg 2006: But if a person has a right to reparation he will also often have a right to compensation.

This is because his right to reparation is a right to satisfaction for the damages he suffered and such satisfaction often requires that he be made no worse off than he would have been had he not suffered the loss. This does not make a right to compensation the same thing as a right to reparation since a right to reparation can only be generated by damages caused by wrongdoing. But Rawls must allow that there can be rights to compensation in full compliance theory.

This is a principle of compensation for full compliance theory. It only means that those with the inequalities in question did nothing to deserve them. Neither are these inequalities necessarily the result of any injustice, though of course they could be. Reparation and Affirmative Action As we have suggested reparation can require different things depending on the nature of the wrongful harm that it addresses.

Black Reparations

As we saw earlier it can require that territory wrongfully taken from a country be returned to that country. Or as Thaddeus Stevens urged it could require that freed slaves be given forty acres and a mule to enable them to become independent yeomen farmers. Conceivably reparation for blacks today could require that they be according preferential treatment in the competition for jobs and places at universities or colleges.

Legislators encourage rather than undermine the self-reliance of the poor when they make laws that protect them from the powerful or enable them to protect themselves from the powerful.

Sycophancy not self-reliance is encouraged by being always at the mercy of the powerful. A different challenge has had more lasting effects and has thoroughly changed the face of affirmative action. Suppose to take a straightforward case that a firm wronged and harmed a black person by denying her on account of her race a well paying position for which she was the most qualified candidate.

Plausibly the firm an argument that slavery reparations are wrong satisfy her claim to reparation by hiring her in preference over better qualified candidates for the same position if it became available. In fact when affirmative action was introduced some years ago its fiercest and most effective critics usually claimed that they would support it if it involved reparation of the sort just described.

But the critics had anticipated this reply by insisting that the parents and grandparents would have to prove in court that they had suffered from unjust racial discrimination which was of course usually almost impossible for them to do.

The defenders of affirmative action tried more complicated replies, but their attempts to justify affirmative action as reparation came to an end when the Supreme Court offered a far easier and ostensibly less divisive way to justify affirmative action.

Probably it would fail to do so only for young able bodied middle and upper class white an argument that slavery reparations are wrong. But this essay is about reparation and not specifically about affirmative action so I will not attempt to examine the flaws of the new diversity based argument for affirmative action.

Reparations for Slavery This entry focuses on making a case for reparations for contemporary blacks for the enslavement of their ancestors, partly because slavery was the most horrific experience that blacks have endured in America, and the one for which the immediate victims of the experience most clearly deserve reparation; and partly because making the case in question nevertheless presents peculiar, difficult, and interesting philosophical problems.

As we will see much of that case will depend on the argument that the injustices blacks endured after emancipation have caused some of the injuries of the slaves to persist into the present. But there is no reason to suppose that these injustices did not themselves cause damages to their victims, quite apart from causing the damages of slavery to persist, and that these damages may also deserve reparation.

  • Otherwise if the Ps with ostensible generosity allowed Qs to drink they could also have demanded demeaning behavior from the Qs in exchange; or if they sold water to the Qs they could raise its price as much as they liked; and so on;
  • Waldron uses the following example to illustrate what he means by an historic wrong being superseded;
  • Reparations will not promote dependency.

In fact there is good reason to suppose that arguments to that effect may be more important politically that slave based arguments for black reparations.

Andrew Valls and Jonathan Kaplan have published a stimulating essay that focuses less on slavery and more on Jim Crow segregation and systematic housing discrimination as a basis for contemporary black reparation claims. The issues they raise deserve more attention, but I will persist in this entry on the issue of black reparations for slavery because as I hope we will agree it retains its fascination despite its age.

Today few would challenge that argument, at least publicly. The argument that many challenge today is that present day African Americans have rights to reparation from the American people or the American government because three hundred years ago the American government permitted the American people to enslave their ancestors.

That argument seems to get no support from the undeniable fact that their ancestors had rights to reparations from their masters. People do not have rights to reparation for the wrongful harms others suffer. Two arguments which I have called the harm argument and the inheritance argument attempt to circumvent that difficulty. The harm argument relies on the idea that the transgressions of slavery initiated an unbroken chain of harms linked as cause and effect that began with the slaves and continues among African Americans to the present day.

  • Therefore, demands for slavery reparations seem to disguise a much greater need-- the need of African-Americans to be recognized as being equal and worthy;
  • But in each case, the recipients of reparations were the direct victims of the injustice or their immediate families;
  • Although the immigrants had had a rough time in Europe—that is why they flocked to America—they were better prepared to take advantage of the opportunities available than the slaves.

Therefore since the transgressions of slavery harm present day African Americans they have rights to reparation against those who committed those transgressions. The inheritance argument relies on the idea that present day African Americans have inherited the rights to reparation that was owed their enslaved ancestors and was never paid.

The Harm Argument Three main objections have been urged against the harm argument. First, that although the transgressions of slavery harmed the slaves, and present day African Americans do suffer from many disadvantages, these disadvantages may not be the result of the transgressions of slavery; they could easily be the result of vast economic and political changes that have occurred since slavery ended one hundred and fifty years ago.

Reparations for slavery

Third that if present day African Americans demand reparation for the harms that the transgressions of slavery caused them, then since reparation implies compensation they demand to be made no worse off than they would have been had the transgressions of slavery never occurred.

But if these transgressions had never occurred present day African Americans would not exist. Consequently the harm argument is incoherent Morris 1984, Levin 1980. Fullinwider has reformulated the harm argument so that it avoids the first two objections. His reformulated argument goes as follows: Consequently if present day African Americans do suffer from various aspects of the legacy of slavery, the real cause of those harms is not slavery, but the governments after 1865, for if those governments had vigorously protected the rights of the freed people and their descendants, the legacy of slavery would have faded and present day African Americans would not be disadvantaged by it Fullinwider 2004.