“It is only in the past few decades that scholars have come to grips with how slavery and capitalism intertwined. But for the 18th-century French thinkers who laid the foundations of laissez-faire capitalism, it made perfect sense to associate the slave trade with free enterprise. Their writings, which inspired the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), aimed to convince the French monarchy to deregulate key businesses such as the sale of grain and trade with Asia. Only a few specialists read them today. Yet these pamphlets, letters and manuscripts clearly proclaim a powerful message: the birth of modern capitalism depended not only on the labour of enslaved people and the profits of the slave trade, but also on the example of slavery as a deregulated global enterprise.”
“Morellet insisted that state enterprises in general should be abolished, and cited the success of French slave traders after 1720 as proof of the superiority of laissez-faire over mercantilism. To those who felt that the deregulation of France’s trade with Asia was too risky, he answered: ‘This pretext is always relied on in the creation of monopoly Companies, and notably in the trade in Negroes on the African coast … However since then it has been observed that this competition, far from destroying commerce, sustained it. The French colonies in America had remained, until then , in a state of great weakness; liberty revived them.’ Liberty, of course, meant in this case the expansion of the slave trade. Colonial slavery was a force for economic freedom.”
The above passages come from an article written by Blake Smith for Aeon magazine titled, Slavery as free trade: The 18th-century thinkers behind laissez-faire economics saw slavery as a great example of global free trade.
The article goes a long way in explaining why, paradoxically, when libertarians and conservatives argue for “freedom,” “liberty,” or “free-trade,” what they’re really talking about is freedom FROM government preventing them from economically and/or politically dominating and ruling over other people. Capitalism is naturally exploitative. It just is. So it seriously angers me when libertarians who favor capitalism, for instance, put all of their energy into arguing for “freedom” when their philosophy by it’s very nature is a) unable to recognize power hierarchies and b) is metaphysically outdated which, therefore, unfortunately leads these people to argue for a very narrow concept of “freedom,” one that is very selfish, immature, and morally vacuous.
So yeah, it’s paradoxical to insist on a “hands off” approach to things (e.g. economics, politics, whatever…) because on one level letting people do whatever they want certainly is a type of specious “freedom,” but doing this, i.e. insisting that one is isolated and unaffected by things happening all around us, is to either a) say that one does not recognize this complicated, entangled messy situation we’re in (where things we do affect others in substantial and significant ways), or b) say that one does not care either way. Answer a is forgivable and understandable, but answer b, with it’s nihilistic indifference (reminiscent of Pilate washing his hands of Jesus’s blood), makes me seriously sick to my stomach.