Aristotle said that between the slave and the master who enslaves him there is “a common interest and a reciprocal friendship,” which makes a lot of sense, because Aristotle had 14 slaves who served him, we assume in a friendly manner. Like him, many of the great sages of history lived in societies where possessing other human beings was habitual and entirely acceptable, but even so it bothered many enough to seek elaborate intellectual excuses to justify the unjustifiable.

The wise Macedonian advanced several of the arguments that slaveholders have been using until not so long ago. The most repeated is that there are people who are “slaves by nature”, to whom their owners do little less than do them a favor by letting them fulfill a “convenient and fair” role, since even their body is different from that of free men. : “Some, strong for necessary work; others, upright and useless for such tasks, but useful for political life.”

Even with this plea for slavery, Aristotle was a revolutionary thinker for even raising the question and also for making the distinction between those “slaves by nature” and those enslaved “by convention or force.” Aristotle, a Macedonian in Athens, was against enslaving prisoners of war who were Greek or had “free souls.” Like him, other thinkers, such as Plato or Seneca, also criticized some moral aspects of slavery, although they themselves owned other people.

Nor did the rise of Christianity change those debates much. In the Gospels Jesus does not condemn slavery, and Saint Paul specifically told slaves to “obey your masters of this world with respect and fear, with simplicity of heart, as Christ.”

It can be understood knowing that the birth of Christianity occurred in the Roman Empire, where slavery was a main institution, but five centuries later Saint Augustine continued to justify it to “preserve the natural order”, and still in the 12th century Saint Thomas said that “ “God has not created all men equally free.”

For many centuries slavery did not need much defense, because it was not under any attack either. In the Middle Ages it was common for a person with certain resources to have foreign slaves, sometimes captives defeated in a war, although it is true that there were certain limits: a Christian could have an African or Slavic slave, but not another Christian, unless He would be considered a pagan or heretic. It was the conquest of America that generated the first great intellectual debates on the matter.

The denunciations of Brother Bartolomé de las Casas contributed to the Spanish Crown prohibiting the slavery of American Indians in 1542 (but not of African slaves), and the anger of some colonists in Peru was such that they took up arms against Charles I. .

The little brother of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro was the military leader of the revolt, but the philosopher Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda gave voice to the arguments of the discontented by returning to Aristotle’s concept of “slaves by nature”: “With perfect right the Spaniards reign over these barbarians of the New World and adjacent islands, who in prudence, ingenuity, virtue and humanity are inferior to the Spaniards as children are to adults, and women to men, there being as much difference between them as that between fierce people. to very merciful people […] I’m about to say that from monkeys to men. Little men in whom you will barely find traces of humanity; […] Such people are servants by nature.”

As often happens, the intellectual arguments were frankly convenient for certain economic interests. The economic impact of slavery has always been a key argument.

In Europe, the demand for slaves disappeared during the 18th century, and it was abolished in almost all Western countries throughout the 19th century. The country that experienced the most heated debate on the matter was the United States, where the abolitionist states of the North and the slave states of the South argued long and publicly about the moral and economic aspects of slavery, until they ended up facing each other in a civil war. about.

Most Northerners believed that slavery was morally inadmissible for a Protestant, while Southerners responded that the biblical patriarchs owned slaves and that the institution had a “divine origin.” The Reverend Benjamin Morgan Palmer preached in Louisiana that the providential mission of his parishioners was to “perpetuate the institution of slavery” and thus protect “a relationship recognized and approved in the scriptures of God.”

Some tried a less spiritual, but more pragmatic and economic argument: without slaves, they said, the economy would collapse. The southern US produced 75% of the world’s cotton, and it was a successful business based entirely on exploitation. Slavery, they claimed, would disappear of its own accord over time… but slaves could not be freed overnight without creating chaos.

However, the cruelest of the slave arguments was that they did it for the good of the slaves themselves. US Vice President John C. Calhoun argued that blacks “had never acquired a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually” as under slavery. It even used to be argued that it was better to be a slave in the South than a worker in the North, because, being “owned” by your employer, he would be more concerned about your well-being than if he only “rented” you during your working hours.

“The black slaves of the South are the happiest and, in a sense, the freest people in the world. […] White people, with so much rest and relaxation, would die, but black people enjoy that rest of body and mind. […] It is happiness in itself, and results from the joy of the present and secure confidence in the future. We do not know if a free worker will sleep; He would be foolish on his part, because if he sleeps the capitalist will be attentive looking for a way to exploit him. He is more of a slave than the black, because he works harder for less.”

That last text is the most colorful formulation of an argument that was common for centuries: you are a slave for your own good. This is an excerpt from the pamphlet “The Blessings of Slavery,” included in the book All Cannibals! or slaves without masters. With those two titles, which are not ironic, everything is said.