a commonplace book
When we marshal big arguments about the West’s superior economic performance, and build these arguments upon an account of the West’s allegedly superior institutions like private-property rights, lean government, and the rule of law, we need to remember that the world Westerners forged was equally characterized by exactly the opposite: vast confiscation of land and labor, huge state intervention in the form of colonialism, and the rule of violence and coercion.
Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 2014
This while discussing slavery as an essential part of the process of America’s rise as a capitalist superpower.
It is because of this contradiction that it can be frustrating to hear nationalistic nostalgia for times of the past, when things were simpler or easier or, as is more often claimed in my hearing, morally better. But scrutiny of history must shatter such an illusion. Conditions change, motivations change, sure, but one cannot claim that a difference of quality necessarily entails a difference in quantity when it comes to national moral deeds.