Aidan Beatty
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The failure of free society
in Private property and the fear of social chaos
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In Chapter Four, I cross back over the Atlantic, to investigate the most extreme example of Lockean conceptions of private property; the notion that certain human beings were themselves a natural resource awaiting privatisation. George Fitzhugh was one of the most prominent ideologues of slavery in 1850s America; in just a few years he produced a slew of newspaper articles and two books – Sociology of the south and Cannibals all! – in which he not only defended the ‘peculiar institution’ of American chattel slavery but also went on the offensive, constructing an image of the ‘free’ north as the true home of oppression and economic violence in antebellum America. And in opposition to an imaginary depiction of a chaotic and violent capitalist north, Fitzhugh constructed an even more fantastical image of a harmonious, peaceful and well-ordered south in which private property was dominant (including chattel property), slaves were happy and obedient, and male heads-of-household were never challenged or questioned.

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