Slavery and Enlightenment

On page 63 Outram talks about the “intractable paradoxes in the relationship between the existence of slavery and the Enlightenment.” Explain what she means, evaluating her statement in the context of her larger discussion.

Slavery was essential to the globalization, “the increasingly integrated world economy,” of the Enlightenment (Outram 64). It was highly profitable, especially for colonial plantation production, and these profits “primed the economic pump, and provided higher tax revenues to the ever-expanding governments”(Outram 65). Slavery affected all aspects of world’s economies and people could not imagine the costs that would accrue if they were to abolish it. The institution of slavery was a highly profitable business and like any business, which other businesses depend on for survival, slavery was very difficult to get rid of. A contemporary equivalent might be the oil business. Many people agree that it is damaging to the environment and expensive for consumers, but many businesses depend on it for survival; thus, it is very difficult to get rid of (or transition it into green technologies).

But as Enlightenment ideas grew in popularity, the movement faced an increasing and powerful paradox. Slavery was totally against any notions of the Enlightenment in that the Enlightenment was a movement that aimed to promote equality and universal rights. True equality could not exist within a country that supported or had slavery. Similarly, I predict we will at some point reach a saturation point in consuming oil and other environmentally hazardous things for energy. At some point, people will choose to pay more for more environmentally friendly solutions because other choices will just be considered irresponsible. Thus, there will be a need for companies that sell these products and the world will be better for it.

Outram, D. The Enlightenment. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University. 2005. Print.

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