The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture

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The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture written by David Brion Davis and published by Cornell University Press in 1966[1] won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1967. [2] It was republished in 1988 by Oxford University Press[3]

Davis in his introduction lays out the basic problem as follows:

"I have long interpreted the problem of slavery as centering on the impossibility of converting humans into the totally compliant, submissive, accepting chattel symbolized by Aristotle’s ideal of the 'natural slave'."

He argues that white slaveholders used the violent Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 to bolster the "animalization" of blacks, with white slaveholders projecting onto their black slaves the qualities they repressed in themselves, making them represent "the finitude, imperfections, sensuality, self-mockery and depravity of human nature, thereby amplifying the opposite qualities in the white race."

After lamenting how failed efforts at recolonization in Africa combined with Southern intransigence resulted in the bloody American Civil War, he concludes:

"Moral progress seems to be historical, cultural and institutional, not the result of a genetic improvement in human nature."


  1. ^ Davis, David Brion (1966). The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. Cornell University Press. pp. 520 pages. ISBN 0-8014-0101-1. 
  2. ^ "Pulitzer Prize Winners: General Non-Fiction" (web). Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  3. ^ Davis, David Brion (1988). The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. Oxford University Press US. pp. 528 Pages. ISBN 0-19-505639-6. 

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