By Stephen Guest and Alan Milne (eds)
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Extra info for Equality and Discrimination. Essays in Freedom and Justice
E. ’6 It is difficult to believe that the powerful were naturally more gentle and humane in England and France than in other parts of Christendom; in the English case the ferocious Statute of Labourers of 1349-51 certainly suggests otherwise. Therefore it is the possession of other "means’ to the same end (presumably, labour control) that must bear the main weight in explaining the eclipse of serfdom and slavery. Popular revolt, not mentioned by Smith, also helped to determine the choice of means, even, as with the English Peasant’s revolt of 1381, when it was defeated or deflected.
Rather than rejecting enslavement root and branch, they focused instead either on pastoral concerns —the treatment of slaves, especially if actual or potential converts to Christianity —or on the moral perils of being a slaveholder. Even the most vehement critics of slavery at this time inclined to compromise their views and to impale themselves on the following dilemma: either they accepted the established order, in which case they advocated a pastoral amelioration of slave conditions rather than the overthrow of slavery; or they rejected King and Church in the name of a private sphere, in which case the morality of slaveholding became a matter of individual conscience.
2 Popular resistance to bondage reflected not simply an anxiety to avoid becoming a slave but also a fear of the outsize power which slaveholders could wield in dealings with free persons. This ‘egotistical’ anti-slavery might detest both slave and slave-owner, as a threat to the independence of the free. Those of slave origin might be used as bailiffs or henchmen. Where serfdom was in decline slavery became both more valuable to the lords and more vulnerable. It disappeared from neither East nor West Europe, though in the latter it did change its name.