On Reparations for Historic, Collective Wrongs

From the Pen of Michael Z Williamson, genius. Remind me to read his SF books after buying them in hardback.


Dear United Nations:

I note with approval that there’s a bill before the US Congress to compensate African Americans for their mistreatment in the past. However, I was talking to a Russian Jewish friend of mine, and it occurred to me that her ancestors were slaves to Nubian Africans. Should she not be compensated also?

The Jews were also repressed by the Romans, forerunners of the modern Italians. But the Romans were subjugated by the Celts in 390BC. The Romans returned the favor, and then oppressed Christians as well, before becoming Christians themselves and forcibly converting the Pagan Celts. Later Christianized Celts were oppressed by other Christianized Romans, and the two combined, which is where we come to the African issue. However, certain Africans enslaved other Africans, so perhaps the Central African Republic should be footing part of the bill.

The Pagan Norse oppressed the Slavs, predecessors of the Russians, which brings us back to my Russian Jewish friend. On the other hand, the Germans have subjugated the Balts and Danes and Norwegians, as did the Russians, who also hurt the Finns and the Andronovan steppe people of Central Asia. Sweden claimed Finland and Norway for some length of time, and there were atrocities in Germany during the Thirty Years War by them, the Germans, the Austrians, the Scots, the English, the French and the Spanish. Then there were Norse-descended Norman French (coming back to England), who oppressed Jutes, Angles and Saxons from the German region who were in England to repress the Romano-Celts, and became English, but whose descendants were oppressed themselves under Henry II, and during the Hundred Years War by France or England, depending on whose land claims one believes. The later English oppressed the Irish, and Scots, who were Irish who earlier moved across the sea and displaced the Picts, who themselves oppressed the Celts and the Irish, as did the Phoenicians, which brings us back to the Greeks.

The French and Germans, besides the Franco-Prussian War, WWI and WWII, went at it over the African-exploiting Belgians a few times, and made their own incursions into Africa and the Far East, as did Portugal. Portugal and Spain maltreated large numbers of American people, except for those oppressed by the English, French, Russians, Old Norse and each other. On the other hand, the early Celtiberians were themselves subjugated by the Romans, so they can’t entirely bear the blame. Spain also subjugated the Netherlands during the Thirty Years War mentioned previously. On yet another hand, Spain was invaded by the black Moors, who also enslaved many white African Berbers. The Barbary pirates made raids on Cornwall. The Sudan has slaves to this day. This would mean that black Africans have their own debts to pay.

The Muslims also oppressed the Jews, as did the Persians, so it seems that the Middle East and Africa are liable once again. But then there’s the way Israel and the Palestinians treat each other. There’s the native Kurds, who play both sides against each other, and subjugate the local people north of them. Those from the former Soviet Southern Border states were oppressed by the Russians and the Turks, who have had go rounds with the Greeks, who also oppressed the Semitic peoples. And yet, those same Southern Asians made inroads into China and Tibet. And China is now IN Tibet, which puts me in an uncomfortable position, China being the last bulwark of the Marxist socialist utopia. And China has oppressed also Southeast Asia, Korea, Mongolia, which also oppressed them, and has been oppressed by Japan, who also mistreated the Pacific Islanders and it’s own Ainu people, as well as the Inuit and Alaskans and Americans in WWII, who were at that time good for fighting Nazism, but bad for nuking Japan. Then the US again oppressed Southeast Asians and Pacific people and Inuit.

The English usurped power in India, who has had incursions into Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan (as did the Russians), and there were various operations against the Bengalis, the Thais and Cambodians, and on into the Indian Ocean nations as far as Madagscar, which is African, at least currently, despite having Indonesian and Indian language groups. African nations under the British also had Indian slave laborers.

I tried thinking about the Balkans, but it made my head hurt, what with them killing Nazis, helping Nazis, killing Italians who oppressed them previously who had themselves been oppressed by Alexander of Macedonia, who also oppressed Africans. Also, the Huns went through there from Central Asia, and the Muslims came north. Then, the Christians went through there during the Crusades. The Vatican should likely be treated as a direct descendant of Rome, and charged separately from Italy itself, which includes the descendants of the Etruscans. The Etruscan descended Italians have a separate claim against Rome, I would guess. Also during WWI, the British Royal Family, the Saxe-Coburgs, were actually German but changed their name to “Windsor” to sound more British. This deception should not go unnoticed.

Back to Germanic peoples, there were the Dutch in South Africa, oppressing the Zulu and Bantu, who themselves oppressed the Bushmen and Hottentots, who harassed the Pygmy cultures. The Australian Aborigines were shoved aside by the Dutch and English, however, those Dutch and “English” (including many Irish), were themselves prisoners of their own regimes and in dire straits.

This brings me to my question: I’m an immigrant to the US from Canada, and before that came from Britain, where my mother is Anglican English of German and Celtic extraction, my father Norse-descended Presbyterian Scottish with some Spanish ancestry from after the wreck of the Armada, and my stepmother an Irish Catholic. My wife is English and Austro-Hungarian in origin, with some Macedonian. Which of us owes money to the other and why?

Michael Z. Williamson


  1. Comment by Mary:


    I’m sure I can figure this out.

    however, my hourly rate is not cheap.

  2. Comment by The OFloinn:

    The wonders we can accomplish once we start holding individuals guilty for what other individuals have done. Collective Guilt, thy name is wonder. Except for the bad rep he got vis a vis Jews and the Crucifixion.

    “There’s not an acre of land on the earth in possession of its rightful owner.”
    — Mark Twain.

  3. Comment by VunderGuy:

    Speaking of ‘historic wrongs,’ my current teacher said that Aristotle was the first person to use science as we know it, and as someone who knows that modern science came to us in the middle ages, this wrong to me. Is he right, or only half right? What was Aristotle’s deal?

    Also, on that note, have you ever noticed how Secularists and Atheists and Leftists always seem to ignore Judaism’s and Christianity’s contributions to the world and the fact that the West was built on it and like to say that the west was built on Greco-Roman stuff? I once encountered one libertarian atheist who said that if the Spartans and Greeks lost against the Persians, Western civilization wouldn’t have come about and really liked to stress that battle’s importance even though the battle of Caines could be argued to be even more relevant to the modern day than the conflicts between Greece and Persia.

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      Aristotle was the first (and actually the only) person to devise a philosophy of nature from scratch. He was not the go-to guy in ancient Greece. Eventually, the Neoplatonist woo-woos became the default ‘tude and, among the Romans, the Stoics. The Romans believed that nature might be imitated (with engineering) and placated (with rites) but not that she could be understood. The Arabs, who occupied the old heartland, commented on the Greek texts which the Syriac Christians recently expelled from Iraq, had translated, first into Syriac, then into Arabic. They also did some original work, mostly in mathematics and related fields (optics, astronomy) and in medicine.

      The Latin Christians went out a-hunting because the old Roman encyclopediasts had given only an encyclopedia’s overview and they were eager to get the full story – which they got in Spain after the jihad had ebbed, but also in Sicily and Constantinople from the horse’s Greek mouth. They purged the Greek natural philosophy of its organismic universe of endless cycles, where the heavens were “alive, divine, and influential in human affairs” and dryads inhabited trees, and gave us a universe that was more like a clock, which ran on secondary causes that could be investigated and understood on their own terms — underwritten of course by primary causation.

      The muslims, who had started off with the same Greco-Christian base in Syria and Egypt, got bogged down in an occasionalist metaphysic in which there were no “natural laws” but only “habits of God.” So “God did it” was the only viable explanation. Since natural philosophy was never embedded in their culture — it was never taught publicly — the early start could not survive. The wheat grew up quickly and then withered.

      • Comment by VunderGuy:

        So… in answer to my teacher?…

        • Comment by The Deuce:

          The short answer is that Aristotle did found the kernel of what would later become empirical natural science. However, it didn’t fit the worldview of his culture, and didn’t grow from there.

          It was only centuries later that medieval Christians, working from the Christian worldview of a rational and orderly universe upheld by a sovereign God, rediscovered his writings, mined and modified and sharpened his ideas, and built on them to bring about science as we know it.

    • Comment by ChevalierdeJohnstone:

      This is a ‘teachable moment’, so as a teacher, I will say that you need to ask your teacher, in cases such as this, to clarify their statement. From a strictly etymological viewpoint “science” refers to a specific branch or type of knowledge, and as such it cannot be “used”. “Technology” is a word we use to refer to the designs resulting from scientific knowledge which may be “used” (these designs may be physical things or processes of action).

      People often incorrectly conflate science with the scientific method, which is a process (a technology) which can be used to gain, uncover, or arrive at scientific knowledge. We have zero evidence that Aristotle ever engaged in the scientific method.

      In general I would recommend taking a page from the process used by the philosopher Alisdaire MacIntyre in his treatise, “After Virtue”, in which he establishes a modern philosophical basis for Aristotelian virtue ethics. Generally speaking people in the modern (post-Renaissance) period typically use language as a social signal. They will use words like “science” or “good” or “fair” without any common idea of to what concepts these words refer; in fact they may become resentful if asked to define such terms. I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s recollection of his brief dabble in Communism, during which time he heard people rant against the unjust oppression of the working class while in the next breath declaiming the concept of “justice” as a fictional creation of the oppressors.

      Because of the putrefaction of language as a means of signaling real concepts – a process already mostly completed when George Orwell wrote his seminal essay on the topic, “Politics and the English Language” – all conversations of a serious nature must begin with each participant defining his major terms. If we don’t demand that, we quickly end up in the topsy-turvy world in which “birth control” – which, as GK Chesterton remarks, does not involve either birth or control – is a pharmaceutical attack on the natural and healthy operation of a woman’s reproductive system which abnormal attack is termed an item of “health care”.

      • Comment by VunderGuy:

        “a process (a technology)…”

        Eh… I don’t know about defining technology or science as a process, because that seems like it’s only a stones step away from calling philosophical formulations and just ways of thinking in general as science and technology.

        Then again, I’m someone who formulates magic, whether inherent or borrowed, as:

        1. Thought.

        2. Effect.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Aristotle’s writings contain the first organized speculations about secondary causes in nature, and he was hence the father of natural philosophy, which is the grandfather of what we call physics. He did ‘science’ only in the older and broader meaning of the word, which used to mean any disciplined body of thought; he did not use, or even know about, the empirical method of controlled observation or experimentation. That is entirely a medieval invention.

      The slight of hand of dismissing all the contributions of Christendom from AD 1500 to AD 500 is a bit of Protestant propaganda that dates back to the Reformation, when the Reformers were wild to paint their Catholic fathers and grandfathers in the most negative light imaginable. When science took on its modern glamor during the Enlightenment, the Protestant writers decided that “science” came from the Greeks and Romans, and that all superstitions and follies came from the ages now declared to be ‘dark’ and ‘middle’ — a valley of benighted barbarism between two mountains of ancient and modern civilization. In fact, very nearly the opposite is true: the pagan Roman Empire opposed anything we would call scientific or social progress, except in the field of civil engineering, where they excelled. Otherwise, the Greeks and Romans, with those very few exceptions, philosophers and playwrights and historians selected and preserved by the Church, were oriental in their fatalism and superstitious and backward in thought and deed. There are accounts of witch hunts organized by Rome larger than anything alleged in the Middle Ages, and the mystery cults and distaste for the physical world, for physical labor, for technology, is the abiding leitmotif of Greek thought. It is the mere opposite of the monkish idea that hard and useful labor is pleasing to God, which rendered vast acreage of land in Europe, once swamp or forest, into arable land.

      One example must serve for a plethora of examples from many fields: in the Gladiatorial games, the Romans made their lowborn fight in mortal combat for the entertainment of the highborn. In the sport of tourney and joust, the Holy Romans had their highborn fight in mortal combat for the entertainment of the lowborn.

  4. Comment by Fail Burton:

    You missed 1 to 2 million Russians and Poles captured by Crimean Tartars from the 16th to the 18th century as well as Europeans enslaved by the Ottomans. The point has been made. Such failures exist on a human scale, not an ethnic one.

    The innate racism of the PC says otherwise. I say let’s call it a draw.

  5. Comment by Boogeyman:

    The only fair thing to do is to clone Neandthals from what ever snippets of DNA can be scrounged, apologize to the newly revived proto-humans for taking what was theirs, then pack all currently living modern men (and women and children) off to the Great Rift Valley in east Africa. All of our “Top Men” claim that’s were homo sapien sapiens came from, so that’s were we should be and stay.

    There, fixed it for ya.

  6. Comment by Stephen J.:

    Arguing for reparations is very rarely about securing actual reparations. Most of the time it’s simply establishing an atmosphere of guilty defensiveness to rob genuinely kind-hearted people of any motivation they might have to actually argue against whatever special privilege is being demanded for the nominally disadvantaged group under discussion. Note that even at its most hostile, radical feminist theory has never (at least that I’ve ever seen) cast any of its arguments against tradition in terms of “reparations owed” because its advocates recognize there’s no plausible way to express that particular guilt claim as a believable monetary value, and doing so would only make them look ridiculous rather than entitled.

    This is why Ta-Nehisi Coates’ famous recent article in The Atlantic ended with the strange exhortation that arguing reparations was still worthwhile even while simultaneously conceding that no resolution or solution on the topic was ever likely to actually be reached.

    • Comment by Mary:

      You leave out that since they will never, ever, ever get them, they will never face the situations where they have to fold up their tents, go home, and start doing good in ordinary, quotidian ways — not only without the fame of being Activists, but without the moral license having done all their do-gooding as such.

      They could get them in a week if only they agreed that they were reparations — and since we have made reparation, no more Affirmation Action, no more racially based civil rights groups — etc.!

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        True enough, but that’s a weakness common to all causes, not just those campaigning for anti-slavery reparations for American blacks.

        I like to call it the Crusader’s Temptation: “The tendency for those who commit their lives to crusading for a cause to eventually start seeing the crusade itself as more important than the actual accomplishment of the cause, and eventually to see their own position in that crusade as more important than either crusade or cause.”

  7. Comment by shroudedinwords:

    Mr Wright,

    I would only warn you, if you have not already read his work, that while Mr Williamson’s work is generally decently entertaining, one of the later novels has a scene of such horrible violence, with such excessive detail that I was nearly physically ill. I really I do not know if it would bother you, or anyone else for that matter, but I have not been able to read any of his other works since, even ones I had previously enjoyed.

  8. Comment by The Next-to-Last Samurai:

    OK, my back-of-several-envelopes figuring reveals that everybody on earth owes everybody else $1.73, American. You can donate mine to charity.

  9. Comment by meunke:

    This reminds me of a time back in college when we had a lobbyist (at least I think that’s what his ‘title’ really was) talk about how the local ‘displaced’ tribe had been wronged by the Europeans because they have taken their land by force.

    It surprised me because, as part of a project for my American History class I had done a little research and knew that this particular tribe, prior to the 1700s, wasn’t native to the area. It had rather, according to its own oral tradition, swept south to this region and engaged in what we would call today ‘ethnic cleansing’ and taken this land by force of arms from the previous tribal confederation and pushed them west.

    This put him in a real pickle, as if he denied right by conquest then he couldn’t really claim this land to be ‘theirs’ at all. If he didn’t deny right of conquest, then, again, he couldn’t really say this was his.

    Needless to say, very few people in my class agreed. I was disagreeing with a sacred cow.

  10. Comment by RKW:

    For anyone interested, the great economist Walter Williams, who is also black, has granted amnesty to persons of European descent. you can get the certificate here: http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/wew/WalterWilliamsAmnestyProclamation.pdf

    Leave a Reply