An Empire Lies Dreaming In A Strange Plantation of Tails
Spending time in the late 17th century of Late with Scottish philosopher and Judge lord Monboddo. Looking at his critics, particularly early anti- abolitionists involved in the debate on slavery in both England and Scotland.
Monboddo is often described as a lover of paradox and his view that the orangutan is the brother of man coupled with his deep regard for the institution and benefits of slavery is perhaps the biggest paradox of all.
Monboddo’s views on slavery are not limited to enslaving Africans, he is a deeply conservative aristocrat with particular views on class. It’s an unusually extreme perspective.
I have stuck to examining his text’s just starting to branch out and look at his wider social network.
Despite his extreme and dismal view on slavery, he mixed in the same social circle which included a number of notable abolitionists strongly opposed to his perspectives, yet respectful of his social position. Criticism of his views on slavery have always been muted,and indeed he has at times been mistaken for a far more liberal creature than he was.
His work is deeply problematic and as a judge he was also directly involved in significant legal activity in regard to slavery and attempted to argue that the institution should be legal in Britain. His philosophical and empirical inquiries into the nature of humanity formed part of his legal perspective here. The Scottish courts were engaged in a significant, historical enquiry into slavery and Monboddo’s wider argument and philosophical perspective must be evaluated in this legal context, which offers a significant insight into his contemporary opinions on British society.
He was a highly unusual individual, with what seem to be very contrary perspectives. Hopefully placing him more fully in the context of the late 17th century and placing the subject in a social rather than philosophical, religious or scientific debate, may help resolve some of the significant issues that surround him.
Not got a full handle on Monboddo’s wider social network. Stick up a few choice sources of criticism stemming from conservative evangelical reformers strongly opposed to slavery and highly critical of Monboddo’s perspective. What remains to be done is to see how many figures tumble out of the shadows that may have supported his perspective on class and very rigid forms of social control.
Lord Monboddo’s perspectives look distinctly ahistorical, despite his constant appeals to ancient wisdom and history and it is against his position on social hierarchy and slavery, that his work on the origin and progress of language and his perspective on status of the orangutan must be drawn against.
His views are sometimes described as surprisingly modern in respect to his beliefs on the status of simians but his perspective is a deeply conservative late 17th century one.
He was a being chained to his political and rigid social beliefs. He is also a warning from history, a subject that must be examined fully in context. Debate surrounding Monboddo has long been overshadowed by retrospective concerns, and key aspects of his thesis have received little attention or close scrutiny as a result.
His social position and social connections may have been a factor in downplaying aspects of his beliefs during his lifetime, he was certainly marginalized as soon as he published in later life, but his social and political beliefs are notable by the absence of full commentary in much of the later material published about him.
His perceived ‘enlightened’ attitudes to simians (or counter arguments dispelling the notion he had an impact on biological thought) have long overshadowed his distinct views on class, race and slavery and it seems difficult to suggest that the subjects are not interrelated although the web is a tangled one that is not easy or intuitive to grasp as it is distant in time and distinct from modern perspectives on such issues.
But it is also surrounded by a long historical silence on these issues, its only recently that his perspectives are starting to be discussed and the full picture is still far from clear.