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The Politics of Slavery$
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Laura Brace

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474401142

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474401142.001.0001

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Empires of Property, Properties of Empire

Empires of Property, Properties of Empire

(p.60) Chapter 4 Empires of Property, Properties of Empire
The Politics of Slavery

Laura Brace

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter focuses on the colonists’ claim to property in persons. It looks at the arguments of Kant, Diderot and Cuguano contesting the progressive narrative of civilization and refinement and condemning the ways in which the European spirit of conquest created barbarity and ignorance, and allowed the process of commodification to develop. The chapter explores the contested discourse of improvement and what it meant to be ‘fit for freedom’. The complications of the debates over the abolition of the slave trade in the 1790s show us some of entanglements of the relationship between property, slavery, morality and the law. The unjust and uncertain tenure that owners held in their slaves undermined the stability of their landed property in the metropolitan centre, but also drew attention to the uncertain tenure that slaves held in themselves. The radical antislavery of the Haitian revolution was itself a contest over land and ownership, which at the same time as affirming the enslaved people as agents of change and subjects in their own right, also drew attention to the fuzzy boundaries and unclear content of the categories of slavery and freedom which are the subject of this chapter.

Keywords:   Kant, Diderot, Cuguano, Haitian Revolution, empire

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