Tuesday, 28 May 2013


Because Poul Anderson wanted the Terran Empire defended by Dominic Flandry to be like the Roman Empire, he even gave it slaves. Is this plausible? In any good future history, we are shown an unfamiliar aspect of a future society, then are shown the origin of that aspect in an installment written later but set earlier.

Thus, having learned about slavery among Ythrians, Philippe Rochefort reflects that the practice is being revived in the Empire, albeit limited by law, as a punishment and to get some social utility from criminals. Really? Current British law has a provision for "community service orders" which compel an offender to perform specified socially useful tasks or be returned to prison. But simply "selling" criminals to private individuals would, first, be unjust as a punishment because their treatment by their owners would be arbitrary and unpredictable and, secondly, it would in no way ensure that their owners made them do anything socially useful!

Rochefort asks himself how more moral Terrans are than Ythrians but then answers, "Man is my race." (Rise Of The Terran Empire, New York, 2011, p. 487)

Rochefort is a Jerusalem Catholic. Should his Church not condemn a revival of slavery? As I understand it, in the Roman Empire, St Paul, the founder of Gentile Christianity, did not condemn slavery but urged slaves to obey masters and taught that both master and slave were one in Christ but Paul was responding to an already existing institution, not to a practice revived after millennia of being morally condemned, and he thought that Christ would return soon so that everyone would be freed then.

Rochefort, preparing for war, is on Esperance, a planet that had been colonized by pacificists as we, the readers, were informed in a van Rijn story in the previous volume.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I actually discussed the issue of slavery (along with crime and punishment in the Technic History) with Poul Anderson in one of my letters too him. To too briefly summarize his reply, Anderson said slavery in the Terran Empire had deeper roots than what you've said. That is, Anderson speculated that, implausible as it seems, the libertarian philosophy which underlay the Polesotechnic League may have led to the revival of slavery.

Again, too briefly, PA speculated that persons convicted of crimes like rape might be sentenced to work for their victims. Needless to say, rape victims are not likely to want such characters near them; so, they might sell the work contract to brokers who would in turn find persons who did have uses for these convicts. And, after the Empire arose, this kind of penal servitude would be placed on a systematized basis.

Anderson ended by saying he would not agree with something like this--but pointed out real world history and societies has seen analogous things. And might see similar things again in the future.