George Fitzhugh on Liberty

A presentation of Fitzhughian thought on liberty through quotations by George Fitzhugh

“The best governed countries, and those which have prospered most, have always been distinguished for the
number and stringency of their laws. Good men obey superior authority, the laws of God, of morality, and of
their country; bad men love liberty and violate them. It would be difficult very often for the most ingenious casuist
to distinguish between sin and liberty; for virtue consists in the performance of duty, and the obedience to that
law or power that imposes duty, whilst sin is but the violation of duty and disobedience to such law and power.
It is remarkable, in this connection, that sin began by the desire for liberty and the attempt to attain it in the
person of Satan and his fallen angels. The world wants good government and a plenty of it – not liberty.”
– George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South, page: 30, 1854

The institution of domestic slavery, as it exists at the South, as it has existed, until recently, throughout the world, and
as it now exists in nine-tenths of the world, is the commonly assigned cause for these impending disasters. But the true
cause of quarrel lies deeper. It is not mere negro slavery, but the slavery principle; slavery in every form, that the great
moral and intellectual movement of the day proposes to remedy and remove. Those who feel so much for the negroes
of the West Indies and of America, begin to feel quite as much for wives, children, apprentices, wards, sailors, soldiers,
and hirelings-nay, for all the weak and the poor, for they begin to discover that the principle and the practice of slavery
is found interwoven with all human relations and human institutions as now existing, and with unflinching philanthropy
they have resolved to “cut sheer asunder” all those relations. They most consistently and courageously wage war
against, slavery in every form. The principle and the practice wherever found must be eradicated, and a transition
effected from the present state of society, to a millennial, an agrarian, or communistic status. Government, they
agree, is but slavery variously modified, from slavery to law, down to jails, penitentiaries, stocks, manacles, and
the gallows all human government, must, therefore, be abolished and the “sovereignty of the individual,” “free
-love,” “attractive labor,” and “passional attraction” supply its place.
– George Fitzhugh, The Conservative Principle, pages: 2-3, 1857

“As civilization advances liberty recedes, because laws become more complex and numerous, public opinion more stringent
and dictatorial, religion and morality more dominant and restrictive, fashion more exacting in its requirements, human wants
and luxuries more numerous, and the labor needed to supply them greater. Hence it will even be found that in large cities, the
great centres and foci of civilization, there is least of liberty. Not only the laws of the State and of the Union, but the corporate
laws, more restrictive than either, curtail men’s liberties in such cities. But, white men, especially good men, are extremely
averse to that degree of liberty which law and government still leave to thorn. They contract marriage and have families, and
both husband and wife become almost slaves to their children, for whom they are legally, morally, and religiously bound to
labor, take care of, and educate. Besides, they become members of a church, and thus incur new obligations, and further
lessen their liberty. But this does not suffice; whilst white men dislike liberty they love security, and very properly are not
satisfied with that loose and imperfect kind of security that mere law and government afford. They labor from morn to eve
to amass property, and whilst so laboring, if not slaves, are performing the part of slaves. But wealth is easier to lose than
to make, and to provide against such losses and the various contingencies and misfortunes of life, they enter into temperance societies, freemason and odd-fellow societies, and many other such that provide for their sick and unfortunate members,
and for their destitute families after their deaths. Trades Unions are another fashionable and most efficient way of parting
with liberty in order to beget security. We highly approve of them. Think them a great and beneficent discovery in social
science; nevertheless, they abridge liberty to acquire security.

We like especially the eight-hour rule, which, if it is secured, will pretty well give the “coup de grace” to the liberty of the
masses; but it will infinitely promote their well-being, and human well-being is cheaply purchased by the sale or sacrifice
of human liberty, when such liberty stands in the way of its enjoyment. But the most all-pervading, thorough and efficient
way in which civilization destroys liberty is through the agency of its servants and offspring, capital or property. Although
we cannot trace back civilization to its origin, the whole of the white race having been more or less civilized, as far back
as history (written or monumental) or tradition extends; yet observation and reflection will readily convince us that the
appropriation of the lands by the few was the first great step in the progress of civilization.”
– George Fitzhugh, Liberty and Civilization, Pages: 1-2, 1866

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