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Diane Nash, the sit-in movement, and the grassroots desegregation of downtown Nashville. From Lynne Olson, FREEDOM’S DAUGHTERS (2001).

This is from Chapter 8, The Most Daring of [Our] Leaders, in Freedom’s Daughters, Lynne Olson’s history of women organizers’ role in the black Freedom struggle, in which she tells the story of Diane Nash, the campaign in 1960 to desegregate downtown Nashville through a direct-action campaign of nonviolent sit-ins and economic boycotts, and the protests that it helped inspire across the South.

[Diane] Nash’s moment of epiphany came at the Tennessee State Fair in 1959. She had gone to the fair on a date, and wanted to use the ladies’ room. She found two–one marked White Women, the other Colored Women–and for the first time in her life suffered the degradation of Jim Crow. This was no longer an intellectual exercise: She was being told in the most searing way imaginable that she was beyond the pale, unfit to use the same facilities as white women. Outraged by the experience, she was even more upset that her date, a Southerner, did not share her fury. Neither did most of her fellow Fisk students. They did not seem to care that they could shop at downtown stores but not eat the stores’ lunch counters, or that they had to sit in the balcony to see a movie. The more Nash found out about segregation in Nashville, the more she felt stifled and boxed in. In the rest of the country, Nashville had the reputation of being more racially progressive than most Southern cities. Blacks could vote in Nashville. The city’s schools and buses were integrated. Blacks served on the police force, fire department, City Council, and Board of Education. But segregation still firmly ruled in theaters, restaurants, hotels, and libraries, and Diane Nash, a deep-dyed moralist, decided then and there that Nashville was in a stage of sin. She couldn’t believe that the children of my classmates would have to be born into a society where they had to believe that they were inferior. Above all, she could not believe that her classmates were willing to let that happen.

Since they did not seem to share her anger, she looked elsewhere for support. Paul LaPrad, a white exchange student at Fisk, told her about a black minister named James Lawson, who was training college students in the use of nonviolence as the framework for an all-out attack on segregation. For Lawson, who had spent three years in India studying the principles of Gandhi, nonviolence was more than just a protest technique: It was the means by which he ordered his life. The young minister talked about the power of nonviolent confrontation with evil, about overcoming the forces of hate and transforming society through love and forgiveness. At first, Nash was skeptical. How could such high-flown idealism be harnessed as a weapon against gun-toting sheriffs and club-swinging racists? Even after attending several of Lawson’s workshops, she still was sure this stuff is never going to work. But since, as she said, it was the only game in town, she kept going back, and after weeks of studying theology and philosophy, of reading Thoreau and other advocates of passive resistance, of discussion and arguments with the workshop’s other participants, the intense young woman from Chicago was finally captured by Lawson’s vision. She was particularly drawn to his belief that to be effective, these young would-be activists would have to transcend self-hatred and a sense of inferiority, that they would have to learn to love themselves. Having been raised in a milieu that downplayed her blackness, she now found herself part of a group suddenly proud to be called black. Within the movement… we came to a realization of our own worth…

Many students at the workshops did not know what to make of Nash. She was one of only a handful who attended from Fisk, where the notion of protest was antithetical. So what was this beautiful, light-skinned, quintessentially Fisk type doing at the workshops? Whatever the reason for her being there, her presence entranced virtually every man in the group. Plenty of fellows attending those sessions gave a go at hitting on Diane, said John Lewis, an American Baptist College student who was one of the participants. You saw some resentment among some guys because they thought another guy was making an inroad with her. Several women in the group were jealous of the attention she was getting. Even so, sexual and romantic undercurrents remained generally in the background of the Nashville movement. In time, Lewis said, Nash came to be seen more as our sister than as an object of lust…. We all became brothers and sisters, a family.

In the late fall of 1959, the students at Lawson’s workshops formed a a central committee to act as the decision-making body for the group. Nash, who had impressed everyone with her clear-eyed thinking and the intensity of her developing commitment to nonviolence, was named to the committee. More and more, the students were turning to her as one of their main leaders.

The commitee had chosen the lunch counters and restaurants of Nashville’s downtown stores as the target of the students’ first protest, scheduled for February 1960. For the next several months, the students underwent rigorous training to prepare for the upcoming sit-ins, and on February 13, 124 students left a Nashville church and made their way to the lunch counters of several downtown stores. There, they took their seats and asked for service. The men wore suits and ties, the women, dresses, stockings, and high heels. They were poised and polite and gave little outward sign of the fear many of them felt. Diane Nash, for one, was terrified–a terror that would never leave her, no matter how many sit-ins and protests she would participate in afterward.

As frightened as the students were during that first sit-in, however, they had to struggle to keep from laughing at the stunned, panicky reactions of white store workers and patrons, who acted, Nash recalled, as if these well-dressed young people were some dreadful monster… about to devour them all. Waitresses dropped dishes, cashiers broke down in tears, an elderly white woman almost had a seizure when she opened the door of a store’s white ladies’ room and found two young black women inside. Throwing up her hands, she screamed, Oh! Nigras everywhere!

There were no arrests and no violence. After a couple of hours, the students left the stores, jubilant that their first foray had gone without a hitch. A second sit-in was planned for the following week. In the meantime, several members of the students’ Central Committee came to Nash and asked her to head the group. She was hardworking and outwardly fearless, and she did not seem to have the ego problems that a lot of the men had. Because she was a woman and not a man, I think Diane never had to go around and do any posturing, said Bernard Lafayette, an American Baptist College student and one of the Nashville movement’s leaders. But Nash had no desire to become the recognized head of this movement. Like most young women of that time, she had been raised to stay in the background. The men pressured her into accepting, however, and when she returned to her dorm room, she was so frightened by what she had done that she could hardly keep her legs from collapsing under her. This is Tennessee, and white people down here are mean, she told herself. Not only that, but we are going to be coming up against … white Southern men who are forty and fifty and sixty years old, who are politicians and judges and owners of businesses, and I am twenty-two years old. What am I doing? And how is this little group of students my age going to stand up to these powerful people?

Once again, she managed to damp down her fear. She joined the other students in the second sit-in, which was as quietly successful as the first. Nevertheless, the city was losing its patience. Nashville officials, deluged by complaints from store owners that the sit-ins were causing whites to stay away from downtown, warned the students not to continue. If the warning wasn’t heeded, they made clear, the kids could forget about being treated with kid gloves any longer. Worried about the possibility of violence and arrests, the ministers connected with the movement urged the students to reconsider their plans for another demonstration on February 27.

With their numbers swelling, the young people refused. In the middle of another snowstorm, more than three hundred of them poured into downtown Nashville. No sooner had some of them sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter than the ministers’ fears proved justified. The demonstrators were met with an opposing force of cursing young white toughs, who yanked them from their stools and threw them to the floor, beat them with fists and clubs, kicked them, spat on them, extinguished lighted cigarettes on their backs and in their hair. The police were nowhere in sight, and when they finally arrived, they approached not the white attackers, but the bruised and shaken demonstrators, who were spattered with mustard and ketchup, spit and blood. Okay, all you nigras, get up from the lunch counter or we’re going to arrest you, one of the cops barked. When no one obeyed, the students were ordered to their feet, arrested for disorderly conduct, and marched out, through a guantlet of hostile whites, to police paddy wagons. When they looked over their shoulders at the lunch counter, they saw a new wave of students quietly moving in to take their place.

As the police wagons pulled away, the demonstrators inside steeled themselves for an experience for which there was no adequate preparation. They had rehearsed the sit-ins, had tried to get a sense of what they would be like, how it would feel when someone beat them or called them nigger. But it was impossible to simulate how it felt to go to jail for the first time, to give themselves up voluntarily to this dreaded system, to risk incurring a stigma that would mark them forever. Like others in the wagons, Diane Nash was wrestling with an almost paralyzing fear. Only bad people went to jail, she had been taught, and bad things happened to them once they were there.

The eighty-one arrested students were released on bail that evening. Monday morning, they reported to the city courthouse for their trials. Nashville’s black community had been shocked by the arrests, and more than 2,500 blacks surged around the courthouse in an impressive show of solidarity. Inside the courtroom, the trials proceeded with bureaucratic efficiency–one after another, the students stood, were found guilty of disorderly conduct, and given fifty-five dollar fines. Then, suddenly, Diane Nash threw a monkey wrench into the works. Nash told the judge that she, John Lewis, and fourteen others had decided to go to jail instead of paying the fines. Drawing on the principles of Gandhi, Nash declared, We feel that if we pay these fines we would be contributing to and supporting injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction of the defendants. Stunned by Nash’s announcement, the students who already had agreed to pay their fines declared that they, too, would go to jail.

Until then, most students arrested in sit-ins nationwide had spent little, if any, time behind bars. The idea that young people who had done nothing more than politely demand their rights would be sentenced to jail for thirty-three days electrified Nashville’s blacks and touched off protests throughout the country. The city put the demonstrators to work, and the sight of the men shoveling snow and cleaning city streets and the women polishing the marble staircases of the courthouse threw the black community into even more of an uproar.

The jailing of the students had clearly backfired. Nashville’s mayor, Ben West, a political moderate who had courted black votes in his last election, proposed a compromise: He would let the jailed students go and appoint a biracial commission to consider steps to desegregate the downtown stores if the demonstrations stopped. Nash and the others agreed and were released. Nash, however, was not content to sit around and wait for the committee’s report. Two days after her release, she and three other students sat in at the city’s Greyhound bus terminal, which was not covered by the demonstration cease-fire that the mayor had arranged. To the astonishment of everyone, including the demonstrators themselves, they were served at the bus station without any problem. It was one of the first sit-in victories in the South.

But there was little time for celebration. When the mayor’s biracial committee failed to make any serious recommendations for desegregating downtown lunch counters and restaurants, the students resumed their sit-ins. At the same time they launched a boycott of downtown stores and picketed the city’s central square and courthouse. Racial tensions escalated, and this time the mayor seemed powerless to do anything about it.

On April 19, just two weeks after Nash and the other leaders of the Nashville movement attended SNCC’s organizing conference in Raleigh, a tremendous explosion ripped through the home of Alexander Looby, the students’ lawyer. The early-morning bombing was so powerful that it shattered more than a hundred windows in nearby Meharry Medical College, yet, miraculously, Looby and his wife were not injured. Outraged, the students called for a mass march to City Hall and sent a telegram to Mayor West, asking him to meet them. When the marchers, now numbering more than three thousand, reached City Hall, the mayor was waiting for them at the top of the steps. An activist minister named C. T. Vivian made a short speech, and the mayor began to reply, pointing out all that he had done for Nashville’s blacks and reminding them that he was mayor of all the community. Listening to him, Nash grew increasingly frustrated: He was making a political speech, and I remember feeling like, This is not getting us anywhere. What can I do? What can I say?

What she did was ask a simple question, one that would have far-reaching consequences in the city of Nashville. Mayor West, she said, do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color? The question went to the heart of nonviolence, bypassing all the political boilerplate and appealing directly to West’s conscience. The mayor did not disappoint. He nodded–and then said yes. They asked me some pretty soul-searching questions–and one that was addressed to me as a man, West said years later. And I found that I had to answer it frankly and honestly–that I did not agree that it was morally right for someone to sell them merchandise and refuse them service. And I had to answer it just exactly like that.

Stunned by West’s honesty, the marchers burst into thunderous applause, and the next day, the Nashville Tennesseean ran a huge headline: Integrate Counters–Mayor. Three weeks later, six downtown stores targeted by demonstrators opened their lunch counters to blacks.

It was an enormous victory for the fledgling movement. The day after the march, Martin Luther King came to Nashville to honor the students. Calling their campaign the best organized and the most disciplined in the South, he said he had come not to bring inspiration but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.

The Nashville students would become models for thousands of young people in the burgeoning Southern civil rights movement, and the Nashville leaders, including John Lewis, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette, and Marion Barry, would be among the movement’s foremost activists. But in the early days, at least, no one was better known or more awe-inspiring than the intrepid Diane Nash. Lewis called her the most daring of [our] leaders. Demonstrators on trial in Nashville were often asked, Do you know Diane Nash? Suddenly, she was everywhere–on the cover of Jet, on television, on the front pages of the Nashville newspapers. Her fame was not much to her liking–she was not fond of personal publicity, and she was often singled out by racists who recognized her from her picture in the paper. Once, at a sit-in, she was terrified when one of the toughs surrounding the students spotted her and yelled, That’s Diane Nash! She’s the one to get!

But if that was the price that had to be paid, so be it. She had been transformed by her experiences, and now she was true believer, surrendering her heart and soul, in a way few people ever would, to nonviolence and the fight for freedom. In early 1961, her reputation as one of the most daring young firebrands in the movement would be burnished even further by a monthlong stint in jail. At the request of local college students, Nash and three other SNCC activists, including a Spelman College sophomore named Ruby Doris Smith, had joined a sit-in at a drugstore in Rock Hill, South Carolina. They were promptly arrested, but rather than post bond, they opted to go to jail for thirty days.

Not long after the four were released, Nash dropped out of Fisk. The Chaucer classes, she said, became unbearable after Rock Hill. She was hired by both SNCC and the local SCLC affiliate. Her combined salary was about twenty-five dollars a week, and she rented a room at Nashville’s [YWCA][]. When Jet magazine asked about her plans for the future, she said, I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life.

–Lynne Olson (2001). Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970. 154-160.

Now online: two British labor manifestos on World War I

Continuing our collection of historical sources and political documents from the 1910s, especially those related to World War I, I’m happy to announce that the Fair Use Repository now features the complete text of two manifestos from British labor organizations taking on the outbreak of World War I.

  • On August 1, 1914, the British Section of the International Socialist Bureau published the Manifesto to the British People, written by J. Keir Hardie and [Arthur Henderson], arguing that Whatever may be the rights and wrongs of the sudden, crushing attack made by the militarist Empire of Austria upon Servia, it is certain that the workers of all countries likely to be drawn into the conflict must strain every nerve to prevent their Governments from committing them to war.

  • In September 1914, the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress issued a Manifesto to the Trade Unionists of the Country, supporting the war, praising the Labour Party’s role in the government’s military enlistment campaign, urging working-class men to enlist voluntarily in order to demonstrate to the world that a free people can rise to the supreme heights of a great sacrifice without the whip of conscription, and calling on the government to ensure that enlisted men receive at the hands of the State a reasonable and assured recompense, not so much for themselves as for those who are dependent upon them, and to take a liberal and even a generous view of its responsibilities toward those citizens who come forward to assist in the defence of their country.

The manifestos are taken from versions reprinted in the wartime anthology, Labour in war time (1915), by George Douglas Howard Cole; I initially put them up in order to fill out the references made to each of the two manifesto’s in Guy Aldred’s That Economic Army, which refers to each of them in the course of Aldred’s analysis of economic conscription, and how it had turned virtually all of English politics and civil society towards support of the war machine.

when warriors refuse to fight

Now available thanks to bkmarcus at lowercase liberty:

Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston, 1965In The War That Killed Achilles, author Caroline Alexander makes the same comparison I think of every time I read Book I of the Iliad.

First she quotes Achilles’s speech to Agamemnon. She quotes her favorite translation, by Richmond Lattimore. I will instead use my own favorite translation, by Stanley Lombardo:

Achilles looked [Agamemnon] up and down and said:

"You sorry, profiteering excuse for a commander!  
How are you going to get any Greek warrior
To follow you into battle again?
You know, I don’t have any quarrel with the Trojans,
They didn’t do anything to me to make me
Come over here and fight, didn’t run off my cattle or horses
Or ruin my farmland back home in Phthia, not with all
The shadowy mountains and moaning seas between.
It’s for you, dogface, for your precious pleasure —
And Menelaus’ honor — that we came here,
A fact you don’t have the decency even to mention!
And now you’re threatening to take away the prize
That I sweated for and the Greeks gave me.
I never get a prize equal to yours when the army
Captures one of the Trojan strongholds.
No, I do all the dirty work with my own hands,
And when the battle’s over and we divide the loot
You get the lion’s share and I go back to the ships
With some pitiful little thing, so worn out from fighting
I don’t have the strength left even to complain.
Well, I’m going back to Phthia now. Far better
To head home with my curved ships than stay here,
Unhonored myself and piling up a fortune for you."

Alexander comments:

It is a great gauntlet-throwing speech, particularly remarkable for occurring at the very outset of the epic. What Achilles is challenging is the bedrock assumption of military service — that the individual warrior submit his freedom, his destiny, his very life to a cause in which he may have no personal stake. In modern times, the speech finds its counterpart in Muhammad Ali’s famous refusal to fight in Vietnam:

I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong… No Viet Cong ever called me nigger… I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people.

Like Ali’s, Achilles’ words are particularly dangerous in that one can assume he is speaking aloud words that other, less charismatic men had long thought.

Read the whole thing at lowercase liberty.

Every age gets the Achilles it deserves.

Now available thanks to bkmarcus at lowercase liberty:

The War that Killed AchillesFrom The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War by Caroline Alexander:

When the Roman Empire split in the sixth century A.D., knowledge of Greek, which flourished in Byzantium, or the Eastern Empire, all but vanished in the West. The Iliad itself was forgotten, and in its stead stories about the war at Troy flourished, which, along with romantic sagas about Alexander the Great, formed the most popular "classical" material of the Middle Ages. The primary sources for these post-Homeric renderings of the matter of Troy, as the body of romance came to be called, were the Latin prose works of Dictys of Crete and Dares of Phrygia, dated to the third and fifth or sixth centuries A.D., respectively—both of whom were fancifully believed to have been eyewitnesses to the Great War at Troy. In these Latin renderings, Achilles, the complex hero of Homer’s Iliad, stripped of his defining speeches, devolved into a brutal, if heroically brave, action figure. In the hands of medieval writers, sentiment hardened further against him. The twelfth-century Roman de Troie takes pains, in thirty thousand lines of French verse, to ensure that Achilles is depicted as in all ways inferior, even in martial prowess, to the noble Trojan hero Hektor. Such interpretive touches would remain potent down the ages, arguably into the present time.…

But as knowledge of Homer was disseminated by English translations, as well as by knowledge of the original Greek, the perception of the Iliad’s central hero, Achilles, shifted, and so accordingly did the perceived meaning of the epic. Not only had Achilles been tarnished by the medieval lays, but from the time of Augustan England of the eighteenth century, he was further diminished by the ascendancy of another ancient epic: Virgil’s Aeneid, which related the deeds and fate of the Roman hero pius Aeneas—Aeneas the pious, the virtuous, dutiful, in thrall to the imperial destiny of his country. In contrast to this paragon of fascism, Achilles, who asserts his character in the Iliad’s opening action by publicly challenging his commander in chief’s competence and indeed the very purpose of the war, was deemed a highly undesirable heroic model. Thus, while the Iliad’s poetry and tragic vision were much extolled, the epic’s blunter message tended to be overlooked. Centuries earlier, tragedians and historians of the classical era had matter-of-factly understood the war at Troy to have been a catastrophe…

But now, later ages marshaled the Iliad’s heroic battles and heroes’ high words to instruct the nation’s young manhood on the desirability of dying well for their country. The dangerous example of Achilles’ contemptuous defiance of his inept commanding officer was defused by a tired witticism—that shining Achilles had been "sulking in his tent."  

Read the whole thing at lowercase liberty.

“I have a need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice around me to melt.” William Lloyd Garrison on rhetoric and polarization, from Henry Mayer (1998), All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery

William Lloyd Garrison was famous for his uncompromising, strident, and deliberately polarizing moral tone when writing about the sin of slavery and the call for immediate abolition. One of his most famous statements on the matter was a comment to his friend and fellow abolitionist Samuel May — a comment that has been often quoted but also often difficult to track down sources for, because the conversation was not recorded in the pages of Garrison’s paper The Liberator, but only in May’s memoirs. This passage is from Henry Mayer’s 1998 biography of William Lloyd Garrison, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin’s Press) discusses Garrison’s rhetorical choices, and recounts the conversation with May.

Unlike the self-effacing Lundy, Garrison had deliberately chosen to make himself an issue. There shall be no neutrals; men shall either like or dislike me, he announced. The editor–and the newspaper as an extension of himself–would draw energy, like a lightning rod, to galvanize the cause. His statements poured forth with an intensity that seemed more like a spontaneous eruption than a composed literary style, which was precisely the effect Garrison wanted. He could have been as smooth and politic as anyone, the editor once observed, but declared that he much preferred nature to art. It was nonetheless a deliberate decision, not an irresistible impulse, that led him to write as he did. He chose his words, one close friend said, with the care of a pharmacist weighing out a prescription.

Nearly every visitor commented upon the surprising contrast between the private Garrison and the public firebrand. People walked in expecting to find a stout, rugged, dark-visaged desperado, as one guest put it, and found instead a pale, delicate, and apparently over-tasked gentleman scurrying from desk to case to imposing stone, making light of the work with an unending series of hymn tunes and jokes, and stopping occasionally to stroke the pussycat stretched out affectionately on the periphery of the work space. Never too busy to talk, it seemed, Garrison stimulated an unending flow of conversation–copious, strong-minded, and fervent–that often turned the printing office into a seminar or Sunday school. The self-effacing Knapp formeda silent backdrop to conversation, as he struggled with the ledgers, the slips of paper containing fragments of subscription information, and the stack of bills. Knapp worked hard, spoke little, and quietly nursed the petty resentments that would one day rupture the bond with his more exuberant partner.

Each week Garrison took a perverse delight in reprinting the jibes of editors who called him everything from an officious and pestiferous fanatic to a mawkish sentimentalist who wept over imaginary suffering like boarding school misses and antiquated spinsters. The insults, he said, are like oil to the flame of my zeal. When New York’s Mordecai Noah, one of the most caustic editors in the country, dismissed Garrison as a printer by trade and a reformer of empires by profession, he accepted the sneer as a compliment. He had less patience, however, with people who professed sympathy for the cause but insisted that he moderate his conduct before committing themselves. Such demands came, significantly, from well-to-do whites; the editor’s black constituents seldom found his language too harsh or angry. A pinch of practical help–donations, subscribers, a supply of larger paper–would do more for the cause than all the admonitions to reform the reformers, Garrison said. It was not his language that caused offense, for virtually every editor engaged in the freewheeling style that seemed the essenec of a bumptious and aggressive free press, but rather the subject to which Garrison applied his words.

Yet even Samuel May, who understood more than most the dramaturgy of Garrison’s editorship, once entreated him to be more temperate. While out for a walk in early spring, Garrison listened patiently and tenderly, May recalled, as the older man rehearsed the concerns of their more timorous friends. Then, however, Garrison exploded, insisting that he would only soften his language when the poor downtrodden slaves tell me that I am too harsh.

O, my friend, urged May, do try to moderate your indignation, and keep more cool; why, you are all on fire.

Garrison stopped walking and looked straight at his beloved friend. He laid his hand upon May’s shoulder with a kind but emphatic pressure and, speaking slowly, with deep emotion, said:

Brother May, I have a need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice around me to melt.

The two friends stood there in the street, silent for a moment, and May could feel the pressure on his shoulder long after Garrison had withdrawn his hand. From that hour, May wrote forty years later, I have never said a word to Mr. Garrison in complaint of his style.

Henry Mayer (1998), All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 118-120

In the reference notes, on page 645, Mayer notes that the source for the all on fire conversation is Samuel Joseph May, Some Recollections of Our Anti-Slavery Conflict (Boston, 1869), pp. 36-37.

Susan Moller Okin on “Plato and the Greek Tradition of Misogyny,” from Women in Western Political Thought (1979, Princeton University Press). pp. 15-27

This is from the first chapter of Susan Moller Okin’s landmark study, Women in Western Political Thought, an examination of how male-dominated political philosophy has been shaped, in part, by the fact that women’s political status and women’s concerns in social life, have been systematically shoved to the margins of political theory.

1. Plato and the Greek Tradition of Misogyny

Plato’s ideas on the subject of women appear at first to present an unresolvable enigma. One might well ask how the same, generally consistent philosopher can on the one hand assert that the female sex was created from the souls of the most wicked and irrational men, and on the other hand make a far more radical proposal for the equal education and social role of the two sexes than was to be made by a major philosopher for more than two thousand years? How can the claim that women are by nature twice as bad as men be reconciled with the revolutionary idea that they should be included among the exalted philosophical rulers of the ideal state? Before we attempt to answer thee questions, it is essential to look at the Greek tradition concerning women, and the education, statu and treatment of the Athenian women of the time.

From the very beginnings of Greek literature, in Hesiod’s Works and Days and Theogony, a strong misogynic strain is obvious. According to Hesiod, after a period in which men alone dwelt on earth, free from disease and toil, it was Pandora, the first woman, who brought evil and misfortune to the world. And from her is a pernicious race; and tribes of women, a great source of hurt, dwell along with mortal men.1 Thus the fateful degeneration of the human race began with the appearance of woman, man’s eternal punishment. Though she is, unfortunately, necessary for reproduction and can be useful in the household–so that Hesiod advises the spiring farmer to First of all get a house, and a woman, and a ploughing ox2–he warns his readers that never, on any account, is she to be trusted.

From the Homeric epics we derive a similar picture, though one which is less overwhelmingly hostile to the female sex. In The World of Odysseus, M. I. Finley says:

There is no mistaking the fact that Homer fully reveals what remained true for the whole of antiquity, that women were held to be naturally inferior and therefore limited in their function to the production of offspring and the performance of household duties, and that the meaningful social relationships and strong personal attachments were sought and found among men.3

There are depicted, in both epics, goddesses of considerable strength, dignity, and prestige, but we must remember that, for the Greeks, the title goddess did not necessarily connote all the characteristics that were associated with human femaleness. The most powerful of goddesses, especially Athena, were praised for their manliness.4 In the Iliad, mortal women are seldom depicted as anything but causes of jealousy and war, or as part of the booty, along with animals and slaves. In the Odyssey, women play a more conspicuous part. With the partial and strange exception of Arete, Queen of the Phaeceans,5 however, they are consistently relegated to second-class status. In spite of the fact that Penelope is described as wise and as having an excellent brain, spinning and weaving are clearly her proper functions, and on several occasions she is ordered by her son Telemachus to return to the tasks that befit her, much as if she were a slave. Aristocratic women and even goddesses are shown engaged in domestic tasks such as washing clothes, bathing and making up beds for guests, preparing food, and, almost ceaselessly, working with wool. As Finley says, Denied the right to a heroic way of life, to feats of prowess, competitive games, and leadership in organized activity of any kind, women worked, regardless of class.6 They lived in separate quarters from the men, very rarely participated in feasts and festivities, and were sent off or sold as brides to the men their fathers chose for them.

The Homeric epics describe a world in which the standards of excellence applied to persons depended on their respective positions and functions in society. A thorough grasp of this conception of ethics is essential for understanding the classical writings at least up to and including Aristotle. The highest words of praise, agathos (good) and arete (excellence or virtue), were originally applied only to those who fulfilled the role of a Homeric Aristocratic man.7 The words meant that the individual to whom they were applied possessed both the internal skills and the external resources necessary for the performance of this role. As A. W. H. Adkins says, To be agathos, one must be brave, skillful, and successful in war and in peace, and one must possess the wealth and (in peace) the leisure which are at once the necessary conditions for the development of these skills and the natural reward of their successful employment.8 Mostof society, and notably women, were ineligible for such an aristocratic and male standard of excellence. Thus, woman’s arete was a qualitatively different concept. The virtues required in women, in order for them to best perform their assigned functions, were the quiet virtues of beauty and stature, skill in weaving and other household accomplishments, and, above all, marital fidelity. The obvious reason for this different standard of excellence in women is, as Adkins points out, that it was men who determined the standards, in this strictly patriarchal culture, so that it was women’s performance of their functions in relation to men that was considered important. Thus, being confined within the household, women did not need the competitive and aggressive virtues required by the warrior men.9

While the behavior of the Homeric heroes shows clarly that monogamous sexuality was not imposed on men, the worst possible crime a woman could commit was unfaithfulness to her husband.10 Helen, and even worse, Clytemnestra, traitor as well as adulteress, are the real villains of the Homeric epics, and the latter is constantly held up as a foil to the virtuous Penelope. Woman’s susceptibility to seduction is accentuated as her weakest point and her characteristic evil. Even the virtuous Penelope is afraid she will be bewitched as Helen was, and in spite of her long-lasting fidelity, the suspicion that she may at length betray or forget Odysseus permeates the poem. Thus the theme of the evil and treacherous female is found in Homer as in Hesiod: Clytemnestra, we are told, has branded not herself alone but the whole of her sex and every honest woman for all time to come.11

From the heroic to the classical age, the status of women was generally thought not to have improved, and this was especially true of classical Athens.12 The narrowly defined function of women as childbeares and housekeepers is well documented in classical Greek literature. Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, for example, presents a picture of the exemplary wife for an Athenian landowner. Reared under diligent supervision in order that she might see and hear as little as possible and ask the fewest possible questions, she is givn by her parents to a husband at the age of fifteen, and is trained by him just to the extent that she can manage his domestic affairs.13 The traditional male-female division of labor is presented to her as foreordained by the gods and deeply rooted in the natural qualities of the two sexes. Victor Ehrenberg, in his studies of Greek society, confirms that this is a description of the typical life such a woman would have led. Marriage was a matter of paternal wishes and economic considerations, he says. Girls were not educated: they only learned the arts of housekeeping. Even Iphigenia is presented as unable to write, and Ehrenberg makes the interesting observation that the few outstanding female characters of Aristophanes’ comedies do not cast doubt on this general impression; rather they acquire their full brilliance only by their complete contrast with the background of women’s everyday life.14

The seclusion of respectable women was rigidly enforced throughout their lives. Generally confined to separate quarters within the house, closed off from the men’s apartments by a locked door, wives and daughters were not regarded as fit to participate in serious discussion, with the consequence that the denial to them of intellectual experience continued through adulthood. They were treated as minors, the same things being forbidden to them as to boys under the age of eighteen. Even if unmarried, a woman was not allowed to bring a suit under Attic law, except via her legal guardian, or to dispose of more than the worth of a bushel of barley. Women were denied access to all those places where the boys and men discussed and learned about civic and intellectual affairs–the gymnasia, the market place, the law courts and symposia. As John Addington Symonds has summarized the situation, in his account of the homosexual culture of the Greek aristocracy: all the higher elements of spiritual and mental activity, and the conditions under which a generous passion was conceivable, had become the exclusive privileges of men. … The exaltation of the emotions was reserved for the male sex.15

It was not only the activities and movement of Athenian women that were harshly limited; as in the Homeric age, this repression was extended with equal force to their personalities, too. There is much evidence in Greek drama of the application of that ancient saw that Aristotle quotes from Sophocles’ Ajaxa modest silence is a woman’s crown.16 Pericles’ funeral oration, too, displays clearly the disparity between the contemporary standards of excellence that were applied to men and to women. For in the course of this panegyric, which is a classic example of the importance that Greeks placed on fame and being talked about, Pericles advises the widowed women to display that female excellence which accords with their natural character. The greatest glory, he says, will be hers who is least talked of among the men whether for good or for bad.17

Ironically, the claims of respectability meant that the women who an upper-class Athenian might marry were significantly less likely to have acquired any knowledge of their society and its cultures than were those he was free to turn to as courtesans or prostitutes. The rigid distinction between the two types of women, which has of course persisted until modern times, and also the Greeks’ basically proprietary attitude toward women, are both well illustrated in the following statement from Demosthenes’ account of the lawsuit, Against Naera:

For this is what living with a woman as one’s wife means–to have children by her and to introduce the sons to the members of the clan and of the deme, and to betroth the daughters to husbands as one’s own. Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines are for the daily care of our persons, but wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.18

Thus those women who were eligible to become the wives of Plato’s contemporaries were valued for their chastity, their frugality and their silence–not for their personalities in any positive sense. The extent to which this objectification could be taken is indicated by Creon’s answer when asked if he intends to kill his own son’s bride: Well, there are other fields for him to plough.19 There is, then, much evidence to show that he women of the higher classes in classical Athens were reduced to one primary function. Lacking any role in those areas of life which were regarded as important by the men, lacking even that aura of mystery that their sex was later to acquire under Christianity and as the love objects of the romantic tradition, they were valued only as the instruments of reproduction of legitimate heirs.

It may seem strange that in such a climate the emancipation of women should have become a subject of discussion. However, just as in Victorian Britain, where the repression of women had again reached a peak, at the beginning of the fourth century, the status of women appears to have become a live issue in Athens. Aristophanes’ comedies, Ecclesiazusae and Lysistrata, are good evidence that it was one of those current talking points ripe for satire. In addition, there seems to be little doubt that the historical Socrates put forward ideas about women that were far from typical at the time. In Xenophon’s Symposium, he is depicted asserting that woman’s nature is nowise inferior to man’s, albeit with the rather paradoxical corollary that all she wants is strength and judgment.20 Within Platonic dialogues other than the Republic, too, there are several passages in which Socrates proposes a far more androgynous view of human nature, and specifically of human virtue, than was at all usual in the cultural context. In the Meno, for example, in the course of an attempt to discover the nature of virtue, he makes the radical assertion that virtue is the same quality in a woman as in a man, not different, as Meno has tried to claim by referring to the traditionally different duties and life styles of the two sexes. Both, says Socrates, need temperance and justice, if they are to be good at their respective tasks, whether the management of the household or of the city. Virtue is therefore a human quality, and is not to be defined differently according to the sex of the indivdual concerned.21 In the Protagoras, moreover, Socrates displays his rejection of the prevalent norms about women by praising Sparta and Crete, not only for their ancient philosophical traditions, but for presenting examples of women as well as men who are proud of their intellectual culture.22

Nevertheless, there are in the dialogues numerous other examples of extremely misogynic assertions voiced by Socrates, and since it is impossible to separate the ideas of the historical Socrates from those of Plato, it is pointless to try. The important poin to note is that, whether originating from Socrates or not, there was in Plato’s youthful environment a trace of radical thought about women, overlying a strong tradition of misogynic prejudice.

The prevailing depiction of women in the Platonic dialogues is extremely deprecating. To a large extent, this representation of the female sex simply reflects either the contemporary degradation of women or the fact that Plato and his companions (and consequently their theory of love) were predominantly homosexual. However, there are also passages in the dialogues that imply more than an adverse judgment against the women of Athenian society, and indicate a general belief on the author’s part that the female sex is inevitably and innately inferior to the male. I will examine passages of both these types in turn.

The fact that no woman participates in any of the dialogues in person merely constitutes evidence of the prevailing attitudes of the time and the characteristics of Athenian life they produced. It cannot reasonably be said to tell us anything about Plato’s own views about women’s capacities for intellectual discourse. That the womenof the household in which the Symposium takes place are not present at the dinner party, but are inside there, says nothing about Plato except that he chose to set his dialogues realistically in the context of contemporary society. In fact, the high point of the discourse is supposed to have come from the mouth of a woman, the priestess Diotima. Similarly, Plato’s characterization of woman as one who spins and works with wool is merely an accurate description of her role in his culture. Moreover, even much of his language that is deprecating to the female sex–such as the use of womanish to mean cowardly–should be read not as peculiar to Plato, but as current usage.23

However, Plato certainly shared his fellow Athenians’ contempt for the women of his day. He categorizes them together with children and animals, with the immature, the sick and the weak.24 Even the Republic is by no means free of such representation of women. Before the revolutionary idea of including women among the ranks of the guardians is introduced, it is stressed that the impressionable young guardians are at all costs to be prevented from imitating the female sex in what are regarded as its characteristic activities–bickering, boasting, uncooperative self-abandonment, blasphemy, and the frailties of sickness, love and labor. Women, easily deceived by worthless gaudiness, superstitious, prone to excessive grief, lacking in knowledge of what is good for them, and inferior in intellect and in general to men, are no more fit to serve as role models for the chosen youth than are madmen, craftsmen, or slaves.25 In the Laws, moreover, a significant part of Plato’s reason for forbidding homosexual intercourse is that, in addition to rendering the lover unmanly on account of his surrender to his lusts, it obliges the loved one to play the role of the much despised female.26

Although Plato disapproved of the physical practice of sodomy, the entire Platonic philosophy of love, as presented in the Phaedrus and the Symposium, reflects the pervasive homosexual culture of the Athenian upper classes. As Gregory Vlastos has said of the theory of love, A proper study of it would have to take account of at least three things about its creator: He was a homosexual, a mystic, and a moralist.27 As Vlastos has well demonstrated, Plato’s own homosexuality, taken together with his conflicting belief that anal intercourse was contrary to nature–a degradation not only of man’s humanity but of his animality–explain much of the origin of the idea that the physical aspect of love ought to be conquered and transcended so that the real object of love, which is the idea of beauty itself, can be attained. The Platonic theory of love can thus be understood, in large part, in terms of the need to sublimate unacceptable impulses.

Throughout the two dialogues on love, the love of women is consistently deprecated. It is notable that nobody, including Socrates, makes any objection to the accounts of love of either Pausanius or Aristophanes, and both are biased heavily against heterosexuality. Pausanius divides love into two kinds–that patronized by the elder, heavenly Aphrodite, whose attributes have nothing of the female, but are altogether male, and that of the younger, earthly Aphrodite, whose nature partakes of both male and female. The latter controls the passions of the vulgar, who are as much attracted by shallow people as profound, as much by women as boys, and who regard copulation as the most important aspect of the relationship. The former, by contrast, innocent of any hint of lewdness, inspires its followers toward male lovers only, ppreferring the more vigorous and intellectual bent.28 According to Aristophanes, whose myth of the originally double inhabitants of the earth underlies his rather comical account of love, the really fortunate men are nost those who seek out their lost female half, but those who are halves of what was once a double male, and whose sexual impulses therefore impel them to members of their own sex. Those men who have the most virile constitution, the only ones who show any real manliness in public life, are those who love boys rather than women, prefer to spend all their lives with men, and marry and beget children only in deference to social custom.29

In Socrates’ own speech, attributed though it is to the wisdom of a woman, the same bias continues to prevail. Although it is a characteristic of heterosexual love, procreation, which is taken as the symbol around which the theory of love is built, Socrates consistently denigrates the mere physical procreation–the production of offspring of the flesh, in favor of that superior procreancy which is of the mind, and whose adherents conceive and bear the things of the spirit. In contrast to love which chooses a woman for its object and raises a family, it is only through the love of a male that the lover, through the procreation of thoughts, poetry or law, can transcend the love of a particular individual and come eventually to knowledge of the very soul of beauty.30 Gregory Vlastos implies that the use of the heterosexual image of procreation somehow tempers the hostility to heterosexuality and to women that seems to be inherent in the theory. He concludes that at the climax of the whole philosophy of love, where the idea of beauty is at last encountered face to face, the homosexual imagery is ropped and what started as a pederastic idyl ends up in transcendental marriage.31 It is not made clear exactly what Vlastos means by this. However, if he is implying, as he seems to be, that there is any inclusion of heterosexuality in the theory of the higher type of love, his conclusion is unfounded. In spite of Plato’s use of an image that, as Vlastos says, has a heterosexual paradigm, it is clearly only the symbolic version of procreation–that of the spirit, which is only achieved in homosexual love–that is thought worthy of philosophical treatment. As Socrates asks, who would not prefer such fatherhood to merely human propagation?32 Just as Plato uses an image with an originally heterosexual application here, so he uses the image of the craftsman weaver throughout the Statesman. In neither case, however, is the reader justified in transferring to the real subject of discussion any of the qualities of the metaphorical subject except those that are explicitly intended to be so transferred. The heterosexual aspect of the one image, therefore, is no more legitimatey transferred to Plato’s real sphere of concern, than is the manual labor aspect of the other. It is quite clear, despite Vlastos’ suggestion, that Plato’s vision of love as a pathway to philosophic joy entirely excludes women. Given the Athenian social structure and the position of women within it, however, this can hardly strike us as surprising. Since, in a culture as intellectual and civically conscious as that of the Greek aristocratic man, it was virtually impossible for any real intimacy to develop between him and a woman such as the women were forced to become, Plato’s belief that only love between men could be of the most elevated type is quite understandable. Given the contemporary context, then, it is no wonder that the Phaedrus and the Symposium demonstrate such a preference for homosexual over heterosexual lvoe, nd so strong an affirmation of the ethical superiority of the former.33

It can reasonably be argued that in all the above instances, the contempt expressed or implied toward women is not by way of judgment on the entire female sex, past, present and future, but is rather aimed at the Athenian women of Plato’s time. There are, however, several significant passages in the dialogues which indicate belief in the general inferiority of any female human being at any time. The most outstanding passages of this sort are, ironically, contained in the Timaeus, the dialogue whose dramatic date is the very day after the Republic.34 Here, the origins of the human race are recounted, in a manner very reminiscent of Hesiod. Human nature, we are told, was of two kinds, the superior race would hereafter be caled man. The original creation consisted only of men,35 and those who conquered their passions and lived virtuously during their stay on earth were allowed to return to the happiness of the stars from which they came. For any who failed on earth, however, by being cowardly and unrighteous, the punishment was to be reborn as a woman. Thus, according to Plato’s myth, was woman created. Not only was she derivative from man, as in the Genesis myth, but she was derivative from those men who were wicked failures. If no improvement ensued after this punishment, it was followed by the penalty of rebirth as one of the lower animals, some brute who resembled him in the evil nature which he had acquired. The only way for a soul so debased to reattain the form of his first and better state was through demonstrating the victory of his rational over his irrational part. Thus we are presented wiht a hierarchy of goodness and rationality, in which woman is placed midway between man and the beasts.36 In the Laws, too, women are asserted to be twice as much disposed toward evil as men, and therefore in need of special discipline.37 Moreover, the wish to reenact the creation myth of the Timaeus is expressed in the Laws, in the form of the proposal that, were such a process possible, the most suitable penalty for a man who has displayed his cowardice by flinging away his shield is for him to be transformed into a woman.38

Such passages as these, in which the assertions are not restricted to any time or place, certainly imply that Plato believed women to be, inevitably and regardless of circumstances, inferior in reason and virtue to men. Some scholars have explained such statements as lapses. Cornford, for example, says that sometimes Plato slips into a popular way of speaking about women, and Levinson says it is as if for the moment he had forgotten his more advanced beliefs.39 But Plato was not the kind of thinker we an readily believe forgot his beliefs, especially on a subject to which he devoted a considerable amount of attention in some of his major dialogues. Nevertheless, there is a distinct gulf between Plato’s general attitude to and beliefs about women, which reflect much of the highly misogynic Greek tradition, and the radical proposals for the equality of the female guardians, which are set out in Book V of the Republic. It is only by examining these latter proposals in the context of the overall aims and structure of the ideal society that we will be able to find them intelligible.

1 Hesiod, Works; Theogony, p. 585 and cf. pp. 570ff; Works and Days, pp. 73ff.

2 Works and Days, pp. 400f. and pp. 370f.

3 M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus, p. 138.

4 For examples of this, see Plato, Symposium, 181a–d; also Finley, The World of Odysseus, p. 151.

5 Homer, Odyssey, VII, 50–60, and see Finley, The World of Odysseus, pp. 103–104 and 150.

6 Finley, The World of Odysseus, p. 83.

7 A. W. Adkins, Merit and Responsibility; A Study in Greek Values, pp. 30–36; Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics, Chap. 2.

8 Adkins, Merit and Responsibility, pp. 32&8211;33.

9 Merit and Responsibility, pp. 36–37.

10 Finley, The World of Odysseus, p. 148; Adkins, Merit and Responsibility, pp. 40 and 43.

11 Odyssey, XI, 330.

12 John Addington Symonds, A Problem in Greek Ethics, p. 64; Jean Ithurriague, Less Ideés de Platon sur la condition de la femme, pp. 38, 47; Sarah B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves, Chap. 4 and 5.

13 Xenophon, Oeconomicus, in Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse, trans. Carnes Lord and ed. Leo Strauss, Ithaca, 1970, pp. 29 and cf. pp. 30–33.

14 Ehrenberg, The People of Aristophanes, pp. 202 and 295; Society and Civilization in Greece and Rome, p. 59; cf. Ronald B. Levinson, In Defense of Plato, p 83.

15 Symonds, A Problem in Greek Ethics, p. 51; and as sources for this paragraph as a whole, see p. 33 and p. 64; Glenn Morrow, Plato’s Cretan City, p. 285, n. 111; Levinson, pp. 82–85; Ithurriague, pp. 47–48; Grube, Plato’s Thought, pp. 87–88; H. D. Rankin, Plato and the Individual, pp. 83–84; Alvin Gouldner, Enter Plato, p. 62.

16 Sophocles, Ajax, pp. 291–293; Aristotle, The Politics, I, xiii, 11; cf. Lysistrata, pp. 41–42, and Ehrenberg, The People of Aristophanes, p. 202.

17 Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, I, vi., p. 109.

18 Demosthenes, Private Orations, III, p. 122; cf. Ehrenberg, Society and Civilization, p. 26, for confirmation that this was a prevalent attitude.

19 Sophocles, Antigone, 570.

20 Xenophon, Symposium, II, 9, in The Works of Xenophon, trans. H. G. Dakyns, London, 1897.

21 Meno, 72d–73b.

22 Protagoras, 342.

23 Symposium, 175e; Ion, 540; and Levinson, In Defense of Plato, p. 129.

24 Laws, 817c; Letters, VIII, 355c; Thaetetus, 171e.

25 Republic, 387e–388a, 395, 431b–c, 605d–e; Laws, 639b.

26 Laws, 836e.

27 Gregory Vlastos, The Individual as an Object of Love in Plato, in Platonic Studies, pp. 24–25.

28 Symposium, 181a–d.

29 Symposium, 189d–193c, but especially 192.

30 Symposium, 208e and 211e; cf. Thaetetus, 150.

31 The Individual as an Object of Love, p. 42.

32 Symposium, 209c.

33 Cf. Levinson, In Defense of Plato, p. 121.

34 Timaeus, 42a–d.

35 In the Statesman, too, an original age is depicted, in which men were not reproduced by women, but sprang full-grown from the earth, and subsequently developed backward to childhood and then vanished. It was only after God forsook the human race that it had to propagate itself and so to develop from infancy to old age. Not only Hesiod and Plato, but Aristotle, the Christian tradition, and Rousseau, all have their own versions of this revealing myth of a time before women lived with men.

36 Timaeus, 42a–d; also 90e and 91d.

37 Laws, 781a–b.

38 Laws, 944d–e.

39 Cornford, Psychology and Social Structure in the Republic of Plato, p. 252; In Defense of Plato, p. 129.

Shows of Force without War under Anarchy in medieval Iceland

[From comments in response to Catallarchy 2005-12-09: Gang warfare without the warfare.]

Interestingly enough, these kind of displays were a common element of stateless arbitration in medieval Iceland, as well. Here’s Jesse Byock, in Viking Age Iceland:

The absence of pitched battles does not mean that the island inhabitants eschewed all forms of militant show, only that they ritualized the actual use of force. Parties to a dispute that was moving toward resolution frequently assembled large numbers of armed baendr [freeholders]. Sometimes these groups confronted each other for days at assemblies and at other gatherings, such as when a successful party was trying to enforce a judgment at the home of the defendant (féránsdómr). Althought opposing sides often clashed briefly, and a few men might be killed, protracted battles were consistently avoided. It was not by chance that the parties showed restraint. Leaders really had few options if they hoped to retain the allegiance of a large following, since the baendr were not dependable supporters in a long or perilous confrontation. They had no tradition of obeying orders, maintaining discipline, or being absent from their farms for extended periods. The godhar, for their part, were seldom able to bear the burdens of campaigning. They lacked the resources necessary to feed, house, equip and pay followers for more than a brief period.

Rather than signalling the outbreak of warfare, a public display of armed support revealed that significant numbers of men had chosen sides and were prepared to participate in an honourable resolution. With chieftains and farmers publicly committed, a compromise resting on a collective agreement could be reached. (p. 125)

A Dance in the Bunker, from William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

This is from William Shirer’s 1960 The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a History of Nazi Germany, as quoted by Randall McElroy at The Distributed Republic (2007-09-30)

Evening had now come, the last of Adolf Hitler’s life. He instructed Frau Junge, one of his secretaries, to destroy the remaining papers in his files and he sent out word that no one in the bunker was to go to bed until further orders. This was interpreted by all as meaning that he judged the time had come to make his farewells. But it was not until long after midnight, at about 2:30 A.M. of April 30, as several witnesses recall, that the Fuehrer emerged from his private quarters and appeared in the general dining passage, where some twenty persons, mostly the women members of his entourage, were assembled. He walked down the line shaking hands with each and mumbling a few words that were inaudible. There was a heavy film of moisture on his eyes and, as Frau Junge remembered, they seemed to be looking far away, beyond the walls of the bunker.

After he retired, a curious thing happened. The tension broke which had been building up to an almost unendurable point in the bunker broke, and several persons went to the canteen—to dance. The weird party soon became so noisy that word was sent from the Fuehrer’s quarters requesting more quiet. The Russians might come in a few hours and kill them all—though most of them were already thinking of how they could escape—but in the meantime for a brief spell, now that the Fuehrer’s strict control of their lives was over, they would seek pleasure where and how they could find it. The sense of relief among these people seems to have been enormous and they danced on through the night.

–William Shirer (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a History of Nazi Germany, p. 1132.

Overworking the Slaves, from Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men by J. R. Hummel

This is from Chapter 2, The Political Economy of Slavery and Secession, of J. R. Hummel’s overview history of the American Civil War, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, in a section entitled Overworking the Slaves.

Nearly three-quarters of America’s slaves toiled on plantations or farms in 1860, and the proportion was climbing. Most of these bondsmen were in the South’s cotton belt; others grew sugar in lower Louisiana, rice along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, or tobacco in Virginia. For the greater number of them, self-purchase was almost certainly unfeasible even had it been legal. Large plantations were the one place where free white labor could not compete effectively against black slave labor. The reason? The threat of the lash compelled field hands to work longer, or perhaps harder, than anyone would for market wages.

During peak seasons, black drivers herded gangs of men and women into agricultural assembly-lines that labored from sunup to sundown. Edmund Ruffin, a militant apologist for the peculiar institution, saw this as the source of its superior productivity: Slave labor, in each individual case, and for each small measure of time, is more slow and inefficient than the labor of a free man…. But the slave labor is continuous…. Free laborers, if to be hired for the like duties, would require at least double the amount of wages to perform one-third more labor in each day. Planters moreover put women into the fields, even when pregnant or soon after childbirth, and children beginning around ages eight to twelve. Slaves too old for field work took over the care of infants along with other light household duties. As a result of the plantation’s full employment regime, two-thirds of slaves participated in the labor force, compared with only one-third for free populations, North and South.

These slaves were being worked well beyond the point where the value of their output could cover a wage that would attract free laborers. One implication of Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman’s well-known and much-criticized study of American slavery is that a single field hand’s labor on large plantations was worth $52 per year more than the cotton he produced. If free and receiving the full value of their output, these blacks would have done less work and consumed more leisure, or perhaps done work that produced less but was more fun or interesting or had other non-pecuniary rewards.

In these instances, where planters compelled laborers to give up leisure or on-the-job rewards, slavery did raise the economy’s physical output. This, too, however, represented a misallocation of labor, a misallocation that made aggregate production too high rather than too low, because the extra output came at the expense of total well-being. Each additional hour of labor was producing less than its value to the laborer as leisure. In other words, for every dollar that slavery drove up southern output it drove up deadweight loss as well. Fogel and Engerman put this loss for the South overall at $7 million in 1850 alone.

The ultimate gainers from this increased cotton production were primarily consumers. Higher output drove down cotton prices and caused a redistribution from black slaves to American, English, and continental wearers of clothing. But since there were many more of them, these benefits were thoroughly dispersed. One estimate is that every dollar gained by the typical user of cotton cloth imposed a welfare loss of $400 on some individual slave. Although the planter usually earned a competitive return on his chattels, American blacks were being deprived of leisure so that millions of workers elsewhere could live slightly better.

To summarize, so long as we concentrate on the behavior of blacks, the peculiar institution pushed the South’s aggregate production of goods and services in two conflicting directions. Insofar as slavery forced laborers to work at less valued jobs, it lowered output. Insofar as slavery forced laborers to work more hours or more intensely, it raised output. Since increased output predominated in southern agriculture, it undoubtedly swamped the reduction in output, which must have been most common in the South’s urban areas. The adverse impact on aggregate well-being was unambiguous, however. For calculating slavery’s deadweight loss, the two tendencies, rather than counteracting each other, add together. And while bondsmen bore most of this burden, their effective exclusion from mor highly valued jobs hurt some white Southerners as well.

–Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War (1996). 45–47.