Saturday, April 16, 2005

Wilberforce and the Darwinists

Today, I am reminded of a piece by the British columnist Richard Donkin, on William Wilberforce and his enormous achievement in abolishing slavery. The piece was published almost exactly a year ago in the Journal of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts Commerce and Manufactures.

In the article, Donkin asks a profoundly disturbing question: "How can someone who did so much for human rights have suffered such a mixed press both in his lifetime and beyond?",

In the article itself, he answers perfectly adequately the first part of his question (why was Wilberforce so vilified in his lifetime?) - the vast mass of the
middle- and upper-classes in the UK then owned slaves, and it was naturally not in their self-interest to have slavery abolished. It is worth adding that, in attempting to abolish slavery, Wilberforce and his colleagues were trying to change the entire basis of every economy throughout history round the world till then.

However, Donkin does not even attempt to answer the second part of his question (why has Wilberforce had at best a mixed press after his death?). This is a particularly interesting question because, since his death, long after all question of economic self-interest has disappeared, the press on him has been not so much "mixed" as uniformly patronising or antagonistic.

Before I give my own answer to Donkin's question, it is worth pointing out that Wilberforce did not merely abolish slavery. With the fifteen or so friends in his "Clapham Sect" or "Clapham Circle", he was involved in launching over a thousand initiatives for reforming Britain, from creating new companies such as Wedgwood, to trying to create universal literacy, to eradicating political and religious corruption, to setting up the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Between them, the Clapham Circle transformed England from a corrupt, feudal and exploitative society, such as we still find in most parts of the world today, into the relatively physically clean, organised, transparent, upright and cohesive
society that was Victorian England.

So it is the more astonishing that the names of neither Wilberforce nor the Clapham Circle will be recognised not only by any schoolchild but even by any participant in University Challenge or Mastermind.

Why is this? My answer is simple. The immense effort that the Clapham Circle put into the social transformation of England on the basis of their piety was not matched by any great intellectual exertion on their part.

The result was that, when the English elite started to turn to Darwinism as the defining myth of their intellectual landscape from, say, the 1880s, the children and grandchildren of Wilberforce's generation came to consider the Clapham Circle to have been well-intentioned but not quite as intelligent as themselves.
This is still the case today. People interested in spiritual things are, in England, considered nice people but somewhat outside the pale intellectually (how
many committed christians do you find among Oxbridge dons? Or any other
eminent university's professors?).

In other words, Wilberforce and the Clapham Circle have been written out of history by the Darwinists. The obscuring of Wilberforce and the Clapham Circle is part of the Darwinist rewriting of history - and the takeover of our mental life by the Darwinists and their successors has been particularly fierce since the end of the Second World War.

The logical consequences of Darwinist doctrine are now coming home to roost in our politics, economics and society.

So it is time to re-examine the incredible story of how the fifteen or twenty individuals in the Clapham Circle (including Wilberforce) transformed the culture of the whole of England within their lifetime.

We need to learn the lessons from their struggle, so that we are better equipped in our struggle against the forces of destruction and dehumanisation in our own time. Sphere: Related Content


Arcane Loremaster said...

An interesting first blog, Professor Guptara.

In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte: What is History, but a myth agreed upon?

Thanks for sharing Wilberforce's story with us. Unbelievable, what is and what is not included in a nation's school curriculum; what is rewritten and what is totally erased from memory.

This sort of inside revolution should be well known to all, but especially to those of the UK.

Look forward to seeing more.

haliaeetus said...

It's seems Guptara is performing a little revisionism himself.

Wilberforce - admirably - with the Abolition Act (first proposed 1781) pushed to end the slave trade, he did not favor emancipation of the slaves at that time.
" Some people involved in the anti-slave trade campaign such as Thomas Fowell Buxton, argued that the only way to end the suffering of the slaves was to make slavery illegal. Wilberforce disagreed, he believed that at this time slaves were not ready to be granted their freedom. He pointed out in a pamphlet that he wrote in 1807 that: "It would be wrong to emancipate (the slaves). To grant freedom to them immediately, would be to insure not only their masters' ruin, but their own. They must (first) be trained and educated for freedom."

Wilberforce did not think slaves from Africa had the mental capacity to immediately handle "freedom" without "proper" training. One wonders if such training would be as Native Americans received at the hands of Christians who tried to crush their identity as a people.

By the way, Darwin was married to a Wedgewood.

It's funny how all historians are suddenly all "Darwinists!" Too funny you conspiracy theorists.

Prabhu Guptara said...

Dear Haliaeetus

What specifically is the revisionism that you see in my position? I did not mention what you did in your post, but that was only because I did not wish to take up that point during the discussion of the quite unrelated point that was the subject of that post of mine.

However, since you raise the subject, I am perfectly happy to pursue it with you.

It is easy to take the "liberal high road" and make derisory remarks about Wilberforce's position on whether slaves ought to have been given their freedom immediately or only after they were "trained and educated for freedom".

In fact, the results of having political freedom without the right training and education (and commitment to appropriate values) are plain for all to see in Africa today, where Africans have ruined their own countries far more effectively (and in a relatively short time-span) than the white colonialists ever did.

By the way the same is true in all the erstwhile (non-white) colonies of the British Empire which were given their freedom - with the exception of India, which is the only one of these still to have political freedom, for reasons that are too complex to go into in this post (but if you are interested in them, do read Dr Vishal Mangalwadi's book, INDIA: THE GRAND EXPERIMENT.

Anywas, my position is that of the writer who said that political freedom is "delicate fruit of a mature civilisation". Every civilisation is of course mature in its own eyes and in terms of its own standards. The question is whether every civilisation is equally mature when it comes to supporting political liberty. Clearly, the answer is "No".

That is why Wilberforce was not being entirely idiotic in insisting that "mere" political freedom would end up doing more harm than good, if it was not preceded by the arduous work of building the appopriate culture.

If only the USA had kept that in mind before it decided to invade Iraq, neither the USA nor Iraq would be in the mess they are. Indeed, I am astonished that the USA did not learn from its own experience in creating democracy in other totalitarian countries such as Germany and Japan after WWII, or Korea a bit later.

Wilberforce was wise, not foolish - even if his position appears foolish when one first encounters it.