On Conquering and Slavery


I was a teenager when I realized something.

Throughout human history, people have been conquering and enslaving each other. It seems that we talk about these conquests and enslavements as if there is some fundamental truth that everyone accepts but no one talks about. And that is that conquering and enslaving people will actually help you.

The thing that I realized is, “Why?”

Why would conquest make you richer? Why is a slavemaster better off with a slave than an employee?

The key realization is that people know how to govern themselves better than anyone else can govern them. After all, no one knows themselves better than themselves.

If I needed my cotton fields picked, I could force a bunch of African transplants to do the work for me, beating them mercilessly when I feel like they are working too slowly. The end result is that the slaves would work as hard as I demanded but no more. And if I demanded too much, they would die due to exhaustion. Indeed, slavemasters in the South noted how lazy and unmotivated the slaves were.

A better option is to simply pay people to pick the cotton. If I can’t pay them enough to get them to do it, I shut the whole plantation down and do something else with my time instead because obviously it’s not profitable.

When you look at history, the thing we often see that is called “conquest” is really a liberation of sorts. Alexander the Great didn’t conquer the people in the Middle East so much as open up their markets. See, Alexander’s MO (modus operandi, the way he did things) was to establish independent regional governors with a mutual contract of trade and commerce. The people who were conquered by Alexander were not enslaved but rather freed from the tyranny of their local government, particularly the highly inefficient Persian government form, that treated people like slaves.

Roman history is also full of conquest, but they followed Alexander’s MO. In the end, the Roman Empire was more of a Roman Federation, with the emperor who made sure that all the regions worked together and that citizens were free to travel wherever they liked. At the peak of the Roman Empire, you were pretty much free to do what you wished if you were a citizen. Granted, Romans practiced slavery, as did the Greeks, and this is probably the recipe for their disaster.

Perhaps they felt that the people they enslaved were better off as slaves. Or perhaps they simply stopped trying to make a profit. Whatever the case, it is pretty clear that their practice of slavery spelled the end of their empire, or at least contributed to it.

Now we are the top country in the world. In a way, we have already conquered the entire world, with token resistances in Russia, North Korea, Iran, etc… Let’s be extra-special careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We must not assert our will on other countries except to ensure free trade between them. We must be the enforcers of Pax Americana, not by slavery but by bringing freedom.

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