The Philosophical Foundations of Enslavement and Exploitation: Setting the Stage for Modern Human Trafficking




Enslavement and exploitation continue today across the globe and the term human trafficking has become a contemporary catch-all phrase to include a variety of abuses. Exploitation under the umbrella of human trafficking is often framed as a new issue in today’s discourse, or as an exception to an otherwise innocuous world system of progress, democracy, and global capitalism. However, if we examine the thinking that has undergirded the various phases of slavery and other types of exploitation, we find a diversity of rationalization for the kinds of abuses common in various historical eras and today. This essay explores the writing of key philosophers often associated with the development of democratic society, particularly in Western Europe and North America. The essay connects the thinking that laid the foundation for the global slave trade of the colonial era to the thinking that supports the current systems of neoliberalism and global capitalism. Threads are traced across key philosophical work to illustrate some of the common assumptions made today in western civilization that set the stage for our current predicament of widespread human trafficking. The essay builds upon the argument that the rationalization of the global slave trade in the colonial era are still present, even if latent, in the rationalization of exploitation for global profit-making today.

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