Better History, More Honesty

Why don't protesters focus on the 40 million slaves in the world today?



Taking 25 years as an average human generation, a quick calculation shows that each of you has had 4,096 ancestors in the 300 years since 1720. This fact is obscured by our obsession with patrilinear reckoning, which counts only the male line. Not only is that sexist, but it conceals the truth that all notions of racial purity or claims to noble or exalted birth amount to little more than daydreaming! In truth it is highly likely that you have among your ancestors slaves, slave owners, and persons who profited from slavery, as well as people from all sorts of ethnic and social backgrounds, criminals and saints, scoundrels and decent folk.

According to, the following five countries currently hold 58% of the world’s 40 million slaves: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, and Uzbekistan. The remaining 42% are distributed among a much larger number of countries. According to another source, there is still no criminal law penalizing slavery or the slave trade in 94 nations. Aside from disagreement on details, most reports agree on a total number of 40 million slaves in the world today. It is significant that cases of slavery exist rarely, and always illegally, in nations of Christian background.

With these things in mind it is difficult to see how the recent vogue in pulling down statues and denigrating the characters of people linked with slavery can be anything but cheap diversionary grandstanding. A few weeks ago, the British Library turned against former poet laureate Ted Hughes claiming that he had an ancestor involved in the trade. They have since apologized, but what a farce that was! He won’t be the last to be blacklisted in some way by practitioners of wokeness. When will this end?

The only solution is better history and more honesty. The best that can be said about activists who try to censor the public record by erasing the memory of those they deem undesirable is that most of them are probably genuine in their hatred of abuse. But would not their efforts be better directed toward the embassies of those nations incontrovertibly known to allow the continuation of this vilest of practices?

An old post-communion collect speaks of Advent as a time to prepare for reparationis nostrae ventura solemnia, the approaching solemnities of our reparation. This reparation is an interesting word, related of course to repair, which has always reminded me of a couple lines in the Song of Tom Bombadil, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:

Lost and forgotten be, darker than the darkness,

Where gates stand for ever shut, till the world is mended.

This is not a bad description of our world, when we face the facts about the flawed fragility of human life. Our Faith teaches us that against all the odds the world will be mended, not by the rise of the proletariat or by some other kind of fascistic oligarchy, but by the Grace of God assisted by the cooperation of good men and women.


David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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