For quite some time it seems that the villains in any discussion regarding slavery tend to be White Christian Males with Western European Heritage. Interestingly, between the time I wrote the prequel to this piece and the publication of the article itself, it seems there has been some discussion regarding the subject and an apparent attempt to once again negate the facts. The irony of White European Christian Males stamping out slavery not once, but twice, while being held responsible for the institution is really quite breathtaking. Virtually every society practiced slavery in one way or another prior to the introduction of Western European Ideals. (1) In any event, let's take a look at the true story of slavery beginning at the birth of Christianity.
Towards the end of the Roman Empire, and certainly thereafter, slavery seems to have virtually disappeared in Europe. There were a variety of factors which were responsible for this result. Certainly there was the rise of Christianity, but it would be wrong to suggest that Christianity was the determining factor as the Roman Empire began to fall into chaos. I would suggest that, just as the rise of Christianity contributed to the eventual destruction of Rome, it also had an effect on the general social and cultural climate regarding the institution of slavery. This is not to say that Christians did not own slaves, because, in fact, they did. Economic forces were also extremely important in the decline of slavery during this time. One might also note here that it was not race, but conquest, which resulted in the enslavement of many and that it was not until later that restrictions were placed on who might be enslaved. At the end it simply became easier and more profitable to move to another system which provided many of the same benefits, namely, feudalism. (2)
As feudalism became more predominant, due, as previously stated, to a combination of economic, cultural, and social factors, the instances of slavery in Western Europe continued to decline, although there were few instances of an outright ban on the practice. This was not necessarily the case outside Western Europe where a thriving slave trade continued in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. This would lend some support to the suggestion that Christianity did provide a moral and ethical basis for discontinuing the practice. As noted in the article linked below, the practice did continue to a much greater extent in the Viking areas which were not heavily influenced by Christianity at the time. (3)
It is really quite ironic that it was only through contact with other cultures that the blight of slavery returned to Western European consciousness. The facts are clear. At the time of the "discovery" of the New World the practice of slavery was quite well established, whether in the more developed societies such as the Aztecs (4), or the more nomadic societies to the north(5). The same is certainly true of Africa, the Islamic World, and others.(6). An interesting fact regarding the slave trade in Africa is how the differences in need complemented each other so well. Whereas the indigenous slave owners of Africa were primarily interested in the women and children and thus saw the males as "troublesome" excesses to be eliminated in one way or another, foreign buyers saw the males as sources of labor.(7) The chance to sell what would otherwise have been considered a "cost of doing business" must have seemed like manna from heaven. Far from being forced into selling their brothers and sisters it would seem that Africans had been doing a brisk business in slaves from the beginning of time. In essence, numerous sources suggest that slavery was practised throughout the world. which brings us to the more pertinent question of what happened to it, and why White European Christian Males seem to continue bear the brunt of much criticism today.
Again, the irony is quite striking. In 1807, due in large part to the agitation of Christians, the slave trade was made illegal by the British, and yet Muslim traders continued to visit Africa.(8) A huge blow to the institution of slavery was struck in 1833 with the passage by the British Parliament of the Slavery Abolition Bill. This bill made the practice of slavery illegal anywhere within the confines of the British Empire.(9) One can only imagine the consternation on the part of those involved in the slave trade, particularly in Africa. Suddenly a huge source of wealth had been wiped out, while at the same time making the deportation of rivals and "troublemakers" much more difficult. Even today the slave trade continues.(10) Following the abolition of slavery by the British many others, particularly Christians, began to agitate for abolition of slavery wherever they found it. Many would argue that it was due in large part to this agitation by Christians that the American Civl War was fought with abolition of slavery as its result. And the list goes on of where Western Christian Values have continued to fight against the practice of slavery wherever it is found.
The question than becomes why write this article and why are White European Christian Males generally the ones attacked as the perpetrators of the practice? The answers are relatively simple. It seems that the aforementioned group is generally held to a higher standard than others and generally seen to be the group one goes to for redress of any wrongs. It is not enough to be the group who has been in the forefront of the battle against slavery, somehow this group should have been able to prevent its appearance in the first place. It is not enough to have fought and died for the concept when there are others of the same group who participated in the institution. It is not enough that it was within their domain that abolition was first accomplished, it is they who must be held responsible for the continuation of the practice anywhere in the world which brings me to the reason for the article. The misplaced emphasis on the wrongs of the White European Christian Males hides the very real, and continuing, wrongs on the part of so many others, even today.