This post provoked a comment by Steve Johnson in which he suggested a libertarian corollary to Godwin's law. He wrote "As a discussion about liberty grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving antebellum slavery approaches one . And, once such a comparison is made, the discussion is over, and whoever mentioned slavery has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress."
First off, I fail to see how my mentioning slavery makes the government's current war on obesity and adding another highly compensated bureaucrat to the Maryland State Department of Education’s already bloated payroll good public policy. In the definition of Godwin's law that Johnson links to we discover that "it is considered poor form to invoke the law explicitly” and that “there is also a widely recognized codicil that any intentional invocation of Godwin's law for its thread-ending effects will be unsuccessful.” Now, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I am going to choose to believe that Mr. Johnson intended further discussion.
Two questions about the proposed corollary come to mind. First, is the argument lost because contending that the 19th century pro-slavery philosophy and the modern day collectivist mindset which supports a government run war on obesity have the same paternalistic roots inaccurate?
Some years ago I wrote a paper for a seminar which I titled “Planters and Philosophers: Southern Writing on Slavery 1832 to 1860.” The piece compared the period’s literature defending the institution of slavery with articles on plantation, specifically slave, management. These were found in such journals as The Southern Planter and The Southern Cultivator. Also, there is an excellent collection of this type of writing, Advice Among Masters: The Ideal in Slave Management in the Old South edited by James O. Breeden. The research that I did for this paper taught me a very valuable lesson, the stated reason justifying controlling someone else is not usually the real reason.
The pro-slavery philosophers were all about helping the child like slaves lead better lives on the paradise that was the plantation. In 1854 Virginian George Fitzhugh wrote Sociology for the South in which he described a southern farm as “a sort of joint stock concern or social phalanstery, in which the master furnishes the capital and skill and the slaves the labor, and divides the profits, not according to each one’s in-put, but according to each one’s wants and necessities.”
On the other hand the planters were all about getting the greatest return on their investments. The desires of the slaves played a part in the masters’ practical discussions only in so far as how their property’s wants could be used to maximize profit.
The obesity warriors are all about health but their tactics are all about money, suing MacDonalds, government jobs, or junk food taxes. When the new health related food tariffs arrive it will not matter how much you weigh or how old you are, you will still have to pay them.
No, the comparison, citing great similarity, between the way slavery was justified and how it operated with the way more and more government is justified and how it increasingly operates is valid. Just as the slaves were condemned to a life of perpetual childhood so too are we being relentlessly put into the same condition.
Secondly, concerning the corollary, is the argument lost because the point is so obvious that it detracts from any discussion? When reading the agricultural journal articles you notice an astoundingly wide range of topics dealt with. Food, clothing, shelter, recreation, travel, health, work, marriage, religion, virtually every aspect of a slave’s life was open to manipulation by the master for the master’s benefit. The pro-slavery philosophy, however, argued that all of this interference was beneficial to the slaves.
Anyone paying attention can see how each and every day government seeks to extend its control into new areas of our lives, always for our own good. Sadly, I do not think that many people are paying attention and that is why the growing similarity between the way the slaves lived and the way we now live needs to be brought up more not less often. At the end of the day if you are constantly being told what to do, what not to do, and how to think it matters not if it is a single master or a totalitarian state that is giving the orders, you will still be profoundly unhappy.