Today we’re featuring a first on Southern Historian. This post is by Charles Harrison Fitzhugh, who works at the Life and Liberty and Institute, a conservative think tank in Roanoke, Virginia. He is also the author of Abraham Lincoln: War Criminal, John Birch: Sage Patriot, and Why Obama is the Anti-Christ and other Tales for Right-Thinking Children. He recently watched 12 Years a Slave. Here is his review.
(I was asked to watch this “film” by Mr. Historian, who I think no better than a communist and pedant. Nevertheless, I did sit in my chair for more than two whole hours, hoping that I could deflect some of the arrows this movie shoots at my beloved heritage. Actually, I was reassured by this movie, which I viewed on my Samsung UHD S9 during commercial breaks during the Patriots/Broncos game. Here are my thoughts.)
12 Years a Slave is set in the golden age of free market capitalism. The plot centers around hardworking job creators–essentially large-scale farmers–who were the progenitors of regional economic dynamism. At one point, a free black musician by the name of Solomon Northup gets drunk and finds himself in a waiting room of a firm’s corporate offices in Washington, D.C. There, after reconsidering his professional future, he awaits transfer to the Deep South. After regaining consciousness after his night of ill-advised debauchery playing fiddle (the devil’s music), he meets some men further up the corporate ladder. These men advise Solomon that he should accept the conditions of his transfer rather than negotiate for better terms of employment. These men apparently are at the middle management stage of their careers. They are effective motivators, who expedite Solomon’s relocation, which is all-expenses-paid.
On the boat down to New Orleans, Solomon meets disgruntled black workers, one of whom was Omar on The Wire. One of conspirators wants to mutiny in order to gain his “freedom.” However, Solomon, who no doubt knew–despite being subjected to the falsehoods of abolitionist fanatics–that “slavery” was far, far better than working in a northern factory. Solomon thereby chooses not to take part in an illegal revolt on the ship. Wise decision. One of the conspirators is killed and thrown overboard. Solomon’s work reassignment is allowed to continue unimpeded.
Once in Louisiana, Solomon is taken in by a kindhearted master, named Ford, played by Sherlock Holmes. Before being sent to work, we are shown the interview process whereby servants found new employers. It is in essence a cramped Human Resources office, run by a colorful, hilariously overworked, and well spoken Mr. Freeman, played by Paul Giamatti.
This grizzled, fast-talking salesman is like an Old South Archie Bunker. He shuns paperwork and bureaucracy and makes precious observations about people of color. What I found even better is that in this scene, the market speaks. There is minimal complaining on all sides concerning the natural workings of supply and demand.
Solomon finds himself working as a carpenter on a south Louisiana plantation. The place is like something from a tourism brochure, with dripping Spanish moss and verdant scenery. But Solomon, who is used to crass northern ways, criticizes his supervisor, a carpenter named Tibeats, who looks a bit like a young Pete Townshend. Solomon and his supervisor quarrel over how best to build a structure, and Solomon is justly reprimanded for speaking out of turn.
Solomon’s master decides it would be better to (again!) transfer the troublesome Solomon, who clearly has no respect for the costs involved in corporate management. Rather than continue to suffer a decline in productivity at the plantation, Ford sends Solomon to a new employer.
Louisiana is a Right to Work state, and the movie documents the history of how crushing the souls of workers has benefited the South, which consistently ranks at the top of per capita income, educational achievement, low crime, and quality of life. 12 Years a Slave shows the wisdom of settling disputes quickly by individuals rather than enduring arbitration and other tiresome practices found in organized labor.
The Freedom and Liberty Institute has advocated for the abolition of the minimum wage, a federal balanced budget amendment, the repeal of constitutional amendments 1 and 3-27, reinstatement of the gold standard, privatization of Social Security, liquidation of the Federal Reserve, reestablishment of debtor prisons, and other fiscally responsible measures. 12 Years a Slave shows what employers can do when freed from OSHA, Obamacare, child labor laws, and other drags on the free market. Supply-side economics clearly works. The workers depicted in this movie want for nothing, as they are given free housing, clothing, and provided with organic, fresh foods. The meat is even free range! When you think about it, the plantations were like the first Whole Foods stores.
Unfortunately, the film presents a distorted picture of “slavery.” One problem I had was that the movie depicted southerners as slaveholders. As everyone knows, only 5% of southerners in the antebellum era ever owned a slave. True. Look it up. Read your history, ignoramus. The other 95% of southerners of course had no interest or stake in slavery whatsoever. If you examine newspapers from say, October 1859, southerners were not talking about slavery or abolitionism at all. They were instead concerned with things like the tariff, which put an unfair burden on southern capitalists. The movie would’ve been far more historically accurate had it not dealt with slavery at all.
Nor does the movie deal with the cherished legal tradition of English property rights. As Mr. Epps states so insightfully in the movie, his slaves are his property, and he can do with them as he pleases. No one would condemn a man’s right to own a chicken, would he? Same with slavery. Maybe if you hate slavery, you should become a vegan. Property, too, like cows and chickens, must be kept in line through ruthless shows of force.
Slave revolts were awful things for masters. I mean, what if my Samsung UHD S9 all of a sudden sprouted legs and ran out my door in a mad dash to the Ohio River? Would you really object to me stopping it from doing so? Obviously, Mr. Epps’ claim to ironclad property rights–inherited from Locke, who wrote of one’s right to life, liberty, and property– has the better argument over the weak “humanitarian” critique of human bondage and chattel slavery.
On the whole, the movie shows how the free market incentivizes its workers. Solomon eventually is transferred back to the North, where he thinks he can find better economic opportunities. Solomon’s employers instilled in him a valuable work ethic, and gave him marketable skills like cutting sugar cane and picking cotton. But if you ask me, Solomon was nothing but an ungrateful trouble maker.
Sadly, this film shows how abolitionist propaganda still permeates the minds of the liberal Hollywood establishment. Naturally, the film’s backer, Mr. Bradley Pitt, is made to look the hero. Tough talk coming from a man who has made his fortune playing vampires and con men! And his wife is known for playing a lesbian drug-addict in Gia (I know, because I’ve seen that movie, many, many times). This movie presents a hopelessly biased look at antebellum southern life. Of course it’s easy to make slavery look bad in some ways. If you crammed all the bad things that have happened to you in the last 12 years, it would look something like this movie.
12 Years a Slave? More like 12 Years of Vacation.