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From Boswell, an oracle for our time

August 3, 2006

These days I’m reading Bury the Chains, Adam Hochschild’s penetrating and compulsively readable history of the British antislavery movement. One of the attendees at a critical London dinner, at which M.P. Wilberforce agreed to take up the abolitionist cause, was James Boswell.

Even the crotchety Boswell (who was later to change his mind) expressed backhanded support: “After saying the planters would urge that the Africans were made happier by being carried from their own country to the West Indies, [he] observed, ‘Be it so. But we have no right to make people happy against their will.'”

How delightful it would be, if Johnson’s scribe could attend a present-day White House dinner. Upon being told of how Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, in raining death and destruction upon one Middle Eastern country after another, have no object in mind but the spread of Democracy and Freedom, and the happiness of whatever little brown folks might be left alive at the end of America’s kindly ministrations, that acerbic son of Scotland could deliver himself of exactly the same remark.

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