Voters Should Consider the Worth of Reparations

August 10, 2020 Updated: August 25, 2020


At some point before the election, voters are going to have to focus on the Biden–Sanders Unity Agreement, which, whatever palliatives are administered at the virtual Democratic convention, will stand as the party’s platform.

The open borders, heavy tax increases, confiscation of assault-style firearms, imposition of the Green New Deal ultimately abolishing fossil fuel use, free university education for all members of families earning under $125,000 a year, a free full-service health care plan for everyone, gradual forgiveness of a trillion dollars of student loans, and the elevation of abortion—including recently born infants—to the moral level of childbirth, have all been noted.

When the country has adequate opportunity to consider the implications of all this, the effect should be sobering.

A key policy ingredient that the parties are pledged to study with a bias to the enactment of some version of it, is the steadily emerging issue of reparations to the descendants of slaves (and native people). The lowest figure for a lump sum to be distributed among the designated beneficiaries is several trillion dollars, and otherwise sensible people such as African American media entrepreneur Robert Johnson, have torqued themselves up beyond $10 trillion.

This is a subject that should also be considered before voting; it won’t make much headway while Donald Trump is president, but it will only go away when it’s specifically rejected.

‘The War Came’

It’s a bad idea. The current white U.S. population which would ultimately be paying most of these reparations isn’t responsible, even by heredity, for the forcible transportation of slaves acquired in Africa from Africans by the British and shipped to the United States to facilitate the profitable harvesting of cotton in the southern colonies of what became the United States, to satisfy the requirements of the British clothing and textile industries.

There’s no doubt that the inhabitants of what became the southern states became profoundly addicted to the economic virtues of slavery and elevated it as the centerpiece of a culture to which they appended the chivalrous rural patrician qualities of traditional nobility.

Though shamelessly romanticized, it was not an entirely contemptible society, but sophisticated Southerners always understood that there were serious moral problems with slavery.

Washington emancipated his slaves in his will, and Jefferson, late in his life, declared that slavery was “a fire-bell in the night.”

Yet, the majority in the southern states adopted the position that the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 on a platform that tolerated slavery but opposed its expansion, constituted a casus belli. As Lincoln famously said, “One side would make war rather than let the Union survive, the other side would accept war rather than let the Union perish, and the war came.”

The status of the slaves in Africa wasn’t necessarily inferior to their condition in America; it can safely be stated that their condition was pitiful in both places and that all slavery is evil. The United States was essentially responsible for the creation of the independent Republic of Liberia whose capital, Monrovia, is named after President James Monroe, as a place to which emancipated American slaves could be returned.

Comparatively few of them wished to do so, and their judgment has undoubtedly been vindicated by subsequent events. Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay were among the sponsors of the Liberia project.

Huge Effort

Reparations are customarily judged appropriate when a state or people commit reprehensible acts against another, that can be assessed and fixed in quantum of damages with some timeliness, as in German reparations to Israel and other countries after the World Wars.

In this case, Africans conducted the original enslavement and sales, and the British, whom Americans evicted from control of their affairs, transported most of the ancestors of American slaves, although their numbers were supplemented modestly from time to time after the United States achieved independence.

While it can’t be said that the Civil War was fought over slavery, it was, as Lincoln said, “in some way” the cause of the war. They were suppressing the insurrection, and implicitly curtailing, morally condemning, and ultimately abolishing, slavery. It’s offensive in all matters to monetize lives, but a powerful argument may be made that approximately 750,000 Americans died violently as blood reparations in full payment for what Lincoln called “the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil.”

It’s also true that for another century in the southern states the status of African-Americans was inferior, (and they weren’t equal in the North either). They had very limited capacity to vote, were frequently excluded from public places, were unjustly treated and judged, and were generally segregated in a manner that insured unequal treatment.

In the past 55 years, all laws and practices upholding segregation have been abolished and probably more than $1 trillion has been consecrated, not always efficiently, to the cause of accelerating the rise of the African American standard of living to equivalence with whites.

That a great deal remains to be done, and much of it by African Americans themselves, takes nothing from the fact that the United States has made a huge good faith effort, none of it based on condescension, to assist African Americans in bootstrapping themselves up to full equality and integration with white Americans.

Given all of these facts, the reparations argument, which even George Will in one of his weaker moments supported a few years ago, is tenuous. White Americans weren’t at the origin of this problem, and they expiated their responsibility for the continuation of slavery with the blood of the Civil War dead and the physical destruction of much of the South.

They then atoned for a century of segregationist bigotry and oppression with a mighty national statement of guilt and shame that has echoed through two generations and has been accompanied by the commitment of immense quantities of government resources in massive (though not always well-conceived) programs to eliminate inequalities.

America Torments Itself

It’s a cruel irony of contemporary American affairs that the cry of “systemic racism” has been uttered by blacks and whites and has led to new paroxysms of rioting and vandalism, most of it conducted by charlatans, hooligans, and anti-white racists. Their crimes mock the heroism and sacrifices of the abolitionists and the civil rights movement.

In all of these circumstances, a call for enormous monetized reparations is unjust to white America, which has made a great historic effort to eliminate racial discrimination. The concept of reparations goes beyond material benefit, attacks the legitimacy of the United States, and attempts to affix a hyper-draconian penalty to the crimes committed initially by the forebears of the slaves themselves and by the colonial authorities who were evicted from America by the ancestors of those whom it is now proposed to penalize harshly.

Substantial reparations would be a cruel and unusual punishment for acts that have already been materially repented, and for which those who would bear the penalty are little responsible even by heredity. The whole concept of reparations is evidence of the perverse cult of group self-hate.

The United States, having banished all foreign threats, now, as a replacement activity, torments itself. It’s time for America to resume some measure of the former moral self-confidence which served it so well for the more than two centuries in which it rose from a small and remote community of self-liberated colonists to the leadership of the whole world.

Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years, and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world. He is the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and, most recently “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other,” which is about to be republished in updated form.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.