"Try to find Cugoano in a philosophical syllabus," Coleman notes. You will fail. Similarly, if you search for "philosophers" in Google Images, you will find only ""white men," usually with beards."
According to Coleman, the philosophical canon is socially constructed and unjustly excludes Africans like Cugoano or Anton Wilhelm Amo, an African philosopher who lived in (what is now) Germany, in the 17th century. They were virtually written out of the history of philosophy. It has been recounted that enslaved Africans did not write anything worth reading, and much less anything of philosophical value. And if they did write anything, it was only "stories." But this is false.
These authors were philosophers, insists Coleman: Alongside Cugoano and Amo and the "Sons of Africa," Frederick Douglass, as well as African women such as the African British Mary Prince or the African American women Sojourner Truth, Harriet Ann Jacobs, and Sarah Parker Remond are also to be included or, better, intruded into the canon .
With the British campaign "Why is my curriculum white," the related South African campaign "Rhodes must fall" and the British solidarity campaign "Rhodes must fall Oxford," efforts are currently being undertaken to recover those voices that have been stifled and to challenge institutionalised whiteness, especially in Eurocentric curricula.
How deeply rooted racist views still are can be seen in the fact that there are still "orangutan" philosophers around. Take, for example Michael Levin, an emeritus professor of New York University, who, among other things, defended the 1994 book The Bell Curve, which attempts to establish a relationship between intelligence and "race."--(Coleman ) Dr. Nathaniel Adam Tobias
I have taught courses related to early modern and enlightenment thought on and off for twenty years. But I never included Cugoano or Amo. I have only known about them during the last few years (in part because of the work by Justin Smith on Amo). By contrast, I have taught and blogged about Charles Murray -- because you know, a great occasion to teach the tools of socially relevant philosophy of science -- and I have listened to and reflected on folk who think it's important we respectfully listen and engage civilly with Murray. I have, of course, noticed that there is quite a bit of financial and PR effort to make sure that Murray's writings are noticed and by now this notice has created a predictable ritual in response which creates more notice, etc. So, in order to break the cycle, I decided to read Cugoano.
Much of Cuguano's book is an effort with coming to terms how people who call themselves Christians can act so barbaric to others. (There is also a hint of theodicy, but about that some other time more.) And some of the best passages are actually an analysis of the institution(s) of slavery in the Bible and the abuse of it in justifying then contemporary slavery. The normative argument is Lockean in spirit and should appeal to contemporary libertarians in lots of ways.
But I picked out an extended aside (which echoes of Smith's critique of the political effects of Mercantilism and the role of debt in imperial projects, but is in some ways more specific) that I quote below. I call attention to three still relevant, inter-connected arguments about the political economy of slavery (and any imperial project) and its pernicious political effects. First, it creates the kind of riches that generate the means to influence and control government, which then will serve the interest of the well-connected abroad. So, Cugoano has clear sense of the ways in which immorality and theft leads to rent-seeking, which makes the state follow policies that enrich the immoral more.
Second, these policies lead to an endless cycle of wars initially to protect the newfound property abroad. These wars are both a source of riches to some in society, and actually impoverish the rest of society because they create debts that need to be paid through unproductive taxes (etc.). These debts are financed by the slave-owners and warmongers who benefit twice over from their immorality. Moreover, the immoral practices undermine the practice of virtue at home, too, and make the whole society more war-loving.
Third, these debts create opportunity costs in two ways: (i) the debts could have been used to finance more productive enterprise at home; (ii) the renter class is itself not productive. This argument strikes me as highly relevant for our present, political situation (if you think there is no slavery anymore, just insert 'oil', extracted 'commodities' or 'arms' into the argument). Anyway, here is Cugoano (maybe you can find more in his argument):
But should it be asked, what advantages Great-Britain has gained by all its extensive territories abroad, the devastations committed, and the abominable slavery and oppression carried on in its colonies? It may be answered ac|cording to the old proverb,It seldom is the grand-child's lot,To share of wealth unjustly got.
This seems to be verified too much in their present situation: for however wide they have extended their territories abroad, they have sunk into a world of debt at home, which must ever remain an impending burden upon the inhabitants. And it is not likely, by any plan as yet adopted, to be ever paid, or any part of it, without a long continued heavy annual load of taxes. Perhaps, great as it is some other plan, more equitable for the good of the whole community, if it was wanted to be done, and without any additional taxes, might be so made use of to pay it all off in twenty or thirty years time, and in such manner as whatever emergencies might happen, as never to need to borrow any money at interest. The national debt casts a sluggish deadness over the whole realm, greatly stops ingenuity and improvements, promotes idleness and wickedness, clogs all the wheels of commerce, and drains the money out of the nation. If a foreigner buys stock, in the course of years that the interest amounts to the principal, he gets it all back; and in an equitable time the same sum ever after, and in course must take that money to foreign parts. And those who hold stock at home, are a kind of idle drones, as a Page 88 burden to the rest of the community: whereas if there were no funds, those who have money would be obliged to occupy it in some improvements themselves, or lend it to other manufacturers or merchants, and by that means useful employments, ingenuity and commerce would flourish. But all stock-jobbing, lotteries, and useless business, has a tendency to slavery and oppression; for as the greater any idle part of the community is, there must be the greater labour and hardships resting upon the industrious part who support the rest; as all men are allotted in some degree to eat their bread with the sweat of their brow; but it is evil with any people when the rich grind the face of the poor. Lotteries must be nearly as bad a way of getting mo|ney for the good of a nation, as it is for an individual when he is poor, and obliged to pawn his goods to increase his poverty, already poor. On the reverse, if a nation was to keep a bank to lend money to merchants and others, that nation might flourish, and its support to those in need might be attended with advantage to the whole; but that nation which is obliged to borrow money from others, must be in a poor and wretched situation, and the inhabitants, who have to bear the load of its taxes, must be greatly burdened, and perhaps many of those employed in its service (as soldiers and others) poorly paid....
But when a nation or people do wickedly, and commit cruelties and devastations upon others, and enslave them, it cannot be expected that they Page 89 should be attended with the blessings of God, neither to eschew evil. They often become infatuated to do evil unawares; and those employed under their service sometimes lead them into debt, error and wickedness, in order to enrich themselves by their plunder, in committing the most barbarous cruelties, under pretences of war, wherein they were the first aggressors, and which is generally the case in all unnatural and destructive disputes of war. In this business money is wanted, the national debt becomes increased, and new loans and other sums must be added to the funds. The plunderers abroad send home their cash as fast as they can, and by one means and another the sums wanted to borrow, are soon made up. At last when the wars subside, or other business calls them home, laden with the spoils of the East or elsewhere, they have then the grand part of their business to negociate, in buying up bank stock, and lodging their plunder and ill-got wealth in the British or other funds. Thus the nation is loaded with more debt, and with an annual addition of more interest to pay, to the further advantage of those who often occasioned it by their villainy; who, if they had their deserts, like the Popish inquisitors, are almost the only people in the world who deserve to be hung on the rack.
But so it happens in general, that men of activity and affluence, by whatever way they are possessed of riches, or have acquired a greatness of such property, they are always preferred to take the lead in matters of government, so that the greatest depredators, warriors, contracting companies of merchants, and rich slave-holders, always endeavour to push themselves on to get Page 90 power and interest in their favour; that whatever crimes any of them commit they are seldom brought to a just punishment. Unless that something of this kind had been the case, 'tis impossible to conceive how such an enormous evil as the slave-trade could have been established and carried on under any Christian government: and from hence that motly system of government, which hath so sprung up and established itself, may be accounted for, and as being an evident and universal depravity of one of the finest constitutions in the world; and it may be feared if these unconstitutional laws▪ reaching from Great-Britain to her colonies, be long continued in and supported, to the carrying on that horrible and wicked traffic of slavery, must at last mark out the whole of the British constitution with ruin and destruction; and that the most generous and tenacious people in the world for liberty, may also at last be reduced to slaves. And an Ethiopian may venture to assert, that so long as slavery is continued in any part of the British dominions, that more than one-half of the legislature are the virtual supporters and encouragers of a traffic which ought to be abolished, as it cannot be carried on but by some of the most abandoned and profligate men upon earth.
However, the partizans of such a class of men are generally too many and numerous, whose viciated principles from time to time have led the whole nation into debt, error and disgrace; and by their magnetic influence there is a general support given to despotism, oppression and cruelty. For many have acquired great riches by some insidious traffic or illegal gain; and as these become often leading men in governments, vast Page 91 multitudes by sea and land pursue the same course, and support the same measures; like adventurers in the lottery, each grasping for the highest prize; or as much enamoured with any infamous way of getting riches...And when ambitious and wicked men are bent upon avarice and covetousness, it leads them on to commit terrible cruelties, and their hearts become hardened in wickedness; so that even their enormous crimes sink in their own estimation, and soften into trivial matters. The house-breakers and highwaymen, petty depredators, think nothing of any mischief or cruelty that they can do, so as they can gain their end and come off safe; but their villainy and crimes appear to other men as they ought to do, and if they can be detected, and taken hold of, they will meet with such punishment as they justly deserve for their crimes. But it is otherwise with the Colonians, the great depredators, pirates, kidnappers, robbers, oppressors and enslavers of men. The laws as reaching from Great-Britain to the West-Indies, do not detect them, but protect the opulent slave-holders; though their opulence and protection by any law, or any government whatsoever, cannot make them less criminal than vio|lators of the common rights and liberties of men. They do not take away a man's property, like other robbers; but they take a man himself, and subject him to their service and bondage, which is a greater robbery, and a greater crime, than taking away any property from men whatsoever. And, therefore, with respect to them, there is very much wanted for regulating the natural rights of mankind, and very much wrong in the Page 92 present forms of government, as well as much abuse of that which is right.-- Ottobah Cugoano (1787) Thoughts and sentiments on the evil and wicked traffic of the slavery: and commerce of the human species, humbly submitted to the inhabitants of Great-Britain,