The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas - Vol. 1

By Edward Westermarck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVII
SLAVERY

SLAVERY is essentially an industrial institution, which implies compulsory labour beyond the limits of family relations. The master has a right to avail himself of the working power of his slave, without previous agreement on the part of the latter. This I take to be the essence of slavery; but connected with such a right there are others which hardly admit of a strict definition, or which belong to the master in some cases though not in all. He is entitled to claim obedience and to enforce this claim with more or less severity, but his authority is not necessarily absolute, and the restrictions imposed on it are not everywhere the same. According to a common definition of slavery, the slave is the property of his master,1 but this definition is hardly accurate. It is true that even in the case of inanimate property the notion of ownership does not involve that the owner of a thing is always entitled to do with it whatever he likes; a person may own a thing and yet be prohibited by law from destroying it. But it seems that the owner's right over his property, even when not absolute, is at all events exclusive, that is, that nobody but the owner has a right to the disposal of it. Now the master's right of disposing of his slave is not necessarily

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1
Nieboer, Slavery as an Industrial System, p. 4sqq. Dr. Nieboer himself defines slavery as "the fact, that one man is the property or possession of another beyond the limits of the family proper" (ibid. p. 29).

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