Thursday, 21 January 2016

Slave Owners

Slave Owners In Fiction
Poul and Karen Anderson's Romans
Poul Anderson's Terrans and Merseians
SM Stirling's human and New Race Draka

(There are many others, of course, but I am just considering these examples.)

Is slavery wrong? It is certainly wrong to enslave prisoners instead of merely detaining them. However, there were past periods when slavery was the stage of development of the means and relations of production. A good Roman citizen could not overthrow slave-owning society but could treat his slaves well and arrange for their eventual manumission.

Legally limited "slavery" in Anderson's Terran Empire is more like a form of community service by offenders. See here. However, women can be sold to be used against their will as concubines, which cannot be right.

The Merseians are racial supremacists and we cannot regard their enslavement of other races as in any sense right. Human Draka enjoy imposing their will on others and should be resisted in every way. A Draka woman believes that it is right that serfs serve the Race and that she herself lives rightly if she treats obedient serfs kindly - whereas any who resist should be impaled. Aristocratic arrogance. But what would convince her that she was wrong? If:

(i) the Draka were to be overthrown by a slave rebellion;
(ii) it could be shown that the rebellion had arisen inevitably from the conditions of servitude -

- then she would have to accept that the Draka way of life had failed. But SM Stirling does not show this happening. Thus, for the Draka, Might continues to be Right. In the Final Society, the New Race is a different species, which changes the situation to some extent. The scent of Homo servus brings Gwen "...a warm pleasurable feeling, a desire to protect and guide." (Drakon, p. 9)

Thus, she no longer has the human Draka pride of Race, derived from imposing the Will on other human beings against theirs. I will have to think more about the New Race.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

kaor, Paul!

Yes, I agree, by the time of the Early Roman Empire the view was spreading that even slaves should be treated kindly and humanely. This led to a fair number of Romans manumitting their slaves, either while still alive or by instructions in their wills.

I'm naturally flattered you linked this blog piece to my "Crime and Punishment in the Terran Empire" article. And you raised a good point I should have considered: sexual abuse of women slaves was a real risk, despite the limitations put on slavery by the Empire.

To be fair (Ugh!) even to the Draka, I think there was a scale of increasing severity of punishments for serfs who were disobedient or otherwise unsatisfactory. Impalement was restricted to what the Draka considered the worse offenses.

As regards your point (ii) intelligent Draka already KNEW their high pressure society faced serious risk from slave revolts. E.g., see the discussion by Eric von Shrakenberg and his guests in about pages 266-77ff in THE STONE DOGS.

And I argue a point (iii) should have been included: what if most of the Draka, human or New Race, became converts to Christianity? The beliefs of that faith, when taken seriously, would gradually undermine serfdom. Which is why so many of the Draka hated and feared Christianity.

While the mere scent of Homo servus might get many New Race Draka feeling a desire to protect and guide, that does not mean the old Draka ruthlessness was gone. Feuds and duels killed off many Draka even in the Final Society. And unmodified "feral" humans brought out all of a Draka's desire to dominate and impose his will on them.