When you hear people criticize socialism, they will often provide arguments based upon pragmatism or practicality, using some mutation of “Socialism has never worked.” However, the true argument against socialism is based on morality, not pragmatism. Regardless of whether socialism could ever be successfully implemented, it is a wholly immoral ideology that wields the weight of the state in order to enact unethical policies, justified by a misplaced sense of assumed compassion.
The same logic holds true when it comes to the debate surrounding slavery reparations. In an attempt to argue against the apparent pursuit of retrospective racial justice through monetary redistribution, many questions of practicality are raised. “What about some African-Americans whose descendents were never held as slaves? What about mixed-race citizens? Should people whose descendents actively fought against slavery have to pay?”
While these are all important questions, they become completely irrelevant when we analyze slavery reparations from a moral perspective. Even if these impossible questions were answered, and we were presented with a cogent and practical implementation strategy, the overarching moral truth would remain unchanged – slavery reparations are built upon the immoral and racist premise that some individuals are responsible for the crimes of other individuals based solely on a shared racial trait.
Individuals are responsible for crimes, even crimes as utterly abhorrent as slavery. To blame one individual for the crime of another solely because they share a skin color is, by definition, racist. This remains true regardless of how many years lie between the guilty and the innocent.
Advocates for reparations make the implicit assumption that there exists some metric by which we can measure societal guilt for slavery by which we can impart judgement and punishment in the form of monetary compensation. If we set aside the temptation to focus on practicality and remain solely in the arena of moral debate, it is clearly wrong to claim that any person alive today should be assigned blame or guilt for the crimes of the past, thereby invalidating the entire argument in favor of slavery reparations.
We shouldn’t blame Germans born to Nazi parents for the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis, let alone Germans born years later. The same is true of those born to slaveholders who rejected the foul practice, and is certainly true of those who are generations removed from the appalling legacy of slavery.
Slavery is a detestable practice, and a stain on Western history. Nothing should ever be done to dismiss or deny the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, the scale of these horrors alone do not justify the illogical and immoral leaps made by some who call for slavery reparations under the guise of righting historical wrongs, or in an attempt to blame all modern societal disparities on the legacy of slavery.
When we are faced with issues as complex as societal development over centuries, it is crucial that we build logical arguments upon immutable fundamental principles. One of these principles must be that we cannot allow racism to dictate policy. When we cannot find individuals at fault, it is unacceptable to apply blame on a racial level as an alternative, regardless of the motivation.
To hold those who are alive today as guilty for the crimes of the past is immoral. To hold those who are alive today as guilty for the crimes of the past based solely on their skin color is racist.