One technique Leftists use over and over is to take a legitimate issue, such as pollution, and turn it into something that undermines Capitalism, such as Environmentalism. Here we will see how an associate of the Ayn Rand Institute and The Objective Standard turns slavery into the virtue of Nat Turner.
How times have changed. Stories of Nat Turner’s Rebellion once presented Turner as a villain, a villain far worse than the men he murdered. Today, after half a century of Leftists’ “black is beautiful” moralizing, he is a hero. Recently Andrew Bernstein added an Official Objectivist twist to the new dispensation: Nat Turner, and the other black insurrectionists of the pre-war 1800s, were no ordinary heroes, they were magnificent intellectuals comparable to the founders of the republic. If your knowledge of this byway in American history is as murky as mine used to be, read on.
You know the background at least. The Southerners of the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth century were too lazy to work their own farms and so had Africans and Caribbeans brought over as slaves to do it for them. Whatever the Virginians’ shabby excuses and initial financial success, the importation of non-whites into a white country was an unmitigated long-range disaster.
History does not always provide us with a morality play featuring unalloyed good versus unalloyed evil. Frequently situations and events are a mixture, the two pure categories tangled up. Still, perhaps we can draw the line at hacking women and children to death. It is evil. I mean, it is evil unless you are an Official Objectivist and can say the magic word “context.” Though the word can represent a valid and important concept Mr. Bernstein abuses it, as we shall see.
In “Black Slaves Who Could Have Been American Founders”  Mr. Bernstein shows us three exemplary leaders, or would be leaders, of slave revolts. The first is Gabriel Prosser, a slave born in Virginia circa 1775. He and his followers, numbering in the several hundreds, planned to kill whites in and around Richmond (exceptions were Methodists, Quakers and Frenchmen, groups Gabriel perceived as being on his side) and take Governor James Monroe (Revolutionary War veteran and future president) hostage. The uprising was to begin August 30, 1800.
The plot was discovered in time – in time from the point of view of the whites – and Gabriel and his “lieutenants” subsequently hanged. For their stillborn effort Mr. Bernstein lays it on:
“Gabriel Prosser ... and his lieutenants took seriously the ideals of the American Revolution, the principles that men have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and have a right to rebel when those rights are denied.”No bona fide historian describes Gabriel as having studied John Locke, but he could have been influenced by the American Revolution, which had taken place some years earlier (1765-1783). He was influenced by talk of the French Revolution which was happening at the time (1789-1799; Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité; Robespierre; the Reign of Terror) and talk of the slave insurrection in Saint Domingue (1791-1803, afterwards known as Haiti, during which blacks slaughtered every white who didn’t get out of the country). Gabriel’s brother Solomon stated in his confession, read back to him and acknowledged in court: “My brother Gabriel was the person who influenced me to join him and others in order that – as he said – we might conquer the white people and possess ourselves of their property.” It looks like Gabriel was motivated not by the high ideals of the American Revolution but rather by vulgar egalitarianism. 
Likely what motivated the slaves who joined him was simply a desire to escape being, in effect, penned up, the natural motivation of any animal. The theoretical framework of the Declaration of Independence is seen only through Mr. Bernstein’s wishful thinking.
Mr. Bernstein’s second exhibit is Denmark Vesey. He was from St. Thomas, an island in the Caribbean, when it was a slave colony of Denmark. He was purchased and then sold in Saint Domingue (Haiti, as we have said, when it was a French colony). Taken back by his previous owner, he ended in Charleston, South Carolina. He soon purchased his freedom in 1810 after winning a lottery (his master gave him a low price, which left him most of his winnings). Though free and having become successful as a carpenter, he took it upon himself to organize a slave revolt with the goal of taking Charleston area blacks to what was by that time Haiti.
“Vesey deployed his great intelligence in pursuit of freedom. He embraced the principles of America’s Declaration of Independence ...”Mr. Bernstein has peculiar ideas of intelligence, success and freedom. One wonders if he really knows the history of Saint Domingue / Haiti. After the slave uprising in 1791 most whites fled the country and there ensued a civil war between mulattos and blacks. Eventually Toussaint, a black later to call himself L’Ouverture, rose to power. In 1799 L’Ouverture made public a new constitution in which (quoting the book The Haitian People by Prof. James Leyburn) “he not only assumed all political power for life, but also ascribed to himself the right of naming his successor.” The result of the insurrection was a typical Third World strongman setup. “The Negroes, though no longer slaves, were ordered back to work, and they docilely obeyed.” Vesey may well have been, as Mr. Bernstein says, “another Toussaint L’Ouverture” but it was nothing to boast about.
“To the Haitian slaves who had been transplanted to South Carolina by white masters escaping that country’s successful slave uprising, Vesey, with his powerful intellect, vast knowledge, and thorough familiarity with Haiti’s history, was another Toussaint L’Ouverture, the brilliant black general and statesman whose genius was largely responsible for transforming a society of slaves into the free republic of Haiti.”
L’Ouverture’s “for life” self-appointment didn’t last long; he was captured by the French during a failed attempt to retake the colony, and died in France. Saint Domingue then went through a succession of leaders. The next, Dessalines, under a flag emblazoned with “Liberty or Death” massacred the remaining whites, changed the country’s name to Haiti, proclaimed himself “governor-general for life” and reestablished slavery, this time by blacks. He was assassinated in 1806, probably by mulattos. At the time of Vesey’s planned insurrection Haiti was led by Boyer, a mulatto, and there was an unacknowledged caste system of mulatto officials and black peasants. 
With that dubious inspiration Vesey plotted an uprising of thousands of slaves in Charleston and the surrounding area. Quoting Mr. Bernstein:
“Through the early months of 1822, he and his lieutenants, all literate, all imbued with America’s revolutionary spirit, reached out extensively in all directions ...”As with the Gabriel plot this too was discovered in time. Two centuries later you can read Mr. Bernstein’s disappointment between the lines.
“By late May, Vesey’s men had secretly made hundreds of pikes, bayonets, and daggers; his artisans had manufactured bullets; his followers had stolen a keg of gunpowder and obtained a length of fuse; and they had plans to assault armories and steal guns.
“The planned assault involved five groups of armed slaves converging on Charleston from differing directions, and a sixth company, a cavalry, to sweep the streets ... The only whites to be left alive in Charleston were sea captains whose harbored vessels were to be commandeered and deployed for escape to Haiti.”
Again it’s doubtful there was authentic “America’s revolutionary spirit” in this affair. The fact that Vesey took the Saint Domingue uprising as a model tells against it.
To the African church parishioners of Charleston, Vesey “presented himself as a messianic Christian who spoke in terms of an Old Testament deliverance of blacks from their bondage.” (Quoting the book Denmark Vesey by David M. Robertson.) To persuade blacks to join his planned insurrection Vesey resorted to (Robertson quotes from the judicial summary of his trial) “Religion, hope, fear, and deception ... as the occasion required. All were told ... that God approved of their designs; those whose fears would have restrained them, were forced to yield by threats of death; those whom prudence and foresight induced them to pause, were cheered with the assurance that assistance from Santa Domingo [Haiti] and Africa were at hand. ... vast numbers of the Africans firmly believed that Gullah Jack [Vesey’s right-hand man, from Angola, Africa] was a sorcerer; that he could neither be killed [n]or taken; and that whilst they retained the charms which he had distributed they would themselves be invulnerable.” 
Now for the main feature, Nat Turner. As if to emphasize his prominence, at the top of Mr. Bernstein’s article – above the title “Black Slaves Who Could Have Been American Founders” – is a 19th century engraving of Turner, a light dress sword hanging from his belt, confronted by a Virginian with a rifle.
This time Mr. Bernstein will not be disappointed. The very fact that there was little planning or preparation helped the attack succeed.
The place was Southampton county in southeast Virginia. The soil there was unsuitable for extensive tobacco or cotton planting and most all farms were small. The county contained seventeen hundred free blacks. It was nothing like the wealthy Scarlet O’Hara setting in Atlanta three states to the south and a generation later.
Nat Turner was a slave and also a lay Baptist preacher in a slave church. In 1825 he began having psychotic visions presaging a slave revolt to be led by him. On May 12, 1828 a “spirit” told him (quoting his confession) “the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first,” and that a sign in the heavens would tell him when he could let other slaves know about it, until then he must keep quiet. On February 12, 1831 there was an eclipse of the sun. He understood this to be the sign, and told four trusted slaves about his visions. After much discussion they decided to begin what he called “the work of death” on the 4th of July, a holiday. Considering the work the choice was sarcastic mockery. But then, according to his confession, the effort of forming and rejecting various schemes caused him to fall ill and he put off the attack. On August 13 a discoloration of the sun together with a large sunspot, another mystic sign, determined him to proceed.
He began the attack on the evening of Sunday, August 21 – he was a few days shy of age 31 – with a band of seven blacks armed with hatchets and machetes. Before it is over the small group will grow to over 60, including several free blacks, and they will have murdered 55 whites – 12 men, 18 women, and 25 children – most of them hacked to death.
Turner acted as enabler; he himself didn’t participate much in the killing directly. He killed Margaret Whitehead, age 18 (counted among the adults above), chasing her out into a field and bludgeoning her to death with a fence rail. Earlier he had tried to kill Mrs. Newsome in her home by beating her over the head with the light dress sword he had decorated himself with (stolen from an earlier victim’s house) but the blade was not massive or sharp enough to kill her. His “lieutenant” named Will, whom Turner referred to as “the executioner,” finished the job with an axe.
Along the way, besides the slaves who joined the revolt voluntarily, the gang took several slaves by force, probably out of fear they would betray the insurrection. To quote one witness, these slaves “were constantly guarded by negroes with guns who were ordered to shoot them if they attempted to escape.”
At many of the homesteads, after killing any white occupants the gang would raid the store of brandy cider. Writes the historian Stephen B. Oates,  “even at its zenith Turner’s army showed signs of disintegration. A few reluctant slaves had already escaped or deserted. And many others were roaring drunk, so drunk they could scarcely ride their horses, let alone do any fighting.”
Within two days the local militia had suppressed the rebellion. The hapless Turner fled but was captured about two months later.
Mr. Bernstein weighs in on the hacked up youngsters:
“If Turner and his men were guilty of killing children – and if Vesey and others planned to perpetrate the same atrocities – it wa—”Hold it right there Bernstein. If ? There is no “ if ” here. Turner and his men murdered over two dozen children, including more than one infant. As for Vesey’s gang, “The only whites to be left alive in Charleston ...” etc. wouldn’t have left much hope for the children of Charleston either.
Let’s not be squeamish. Turner’s rebellion began with the initial group of seven sneaking into the house of Turner’s master, Joseph Travis. There they axed Travis, his wife, her nine-year-old son, and a hired hand as they slept in their beds. After the men left and talked among themselves they realized no one had gotten Mrs. Travis’ baby, which Turner knew was in the house, so Turner ordered two of his men to return. They killed the infant and threw it in the fireplace.
As the group swept across the countryside it grew by accretion, butchering whites and collecting slaves. Mr. Bernstein continues:
“... it was the hideous institution of slavery that established a context in which such horrific acts were conceived and perpetrated.”He said the magic word ! The murder and mayhem was all the Virginians’ fault. White #1 owns black #1. In that context it’s OK for black #2 to kill any white he can find, children and babies included. Mr. Bernstein then claims this follows from Ayn Rand’s metaphor (in Galt’s speech) “morality ends where a gun begins” and that regarding Vesey and Turner,
“their actions in pursuit of freedom cannot objectively be condemned.”According to this “Objectivist” the horrific acts were praiseworthy. Like other Cultural Leftists Mr. Bernstein sees Turner not as a villain but as a hero.
Though most historians are willing to cut Aristotle some slack for supporting slavery in light of his other good work, the slaves of Ancient Greece ought to have bludgeoned him to death, along with his wife and daughter.
Mr. Bernstein prefaces his hosannas to Gabriel, Vesey and Turner with this bit of Objectivist-sounding rhetoric (italics his):
“The purpose here is ... to focus on the meaning of the rebellions, the ideas that gave rise to them, and the nature of the men who understood those ideas sufficiently to act on the ideal of ‘Give me liberty or give me death!’ ” 
He concludes his article:
“The black men who led slave rebellions in early America understood the principles of individual rights and liberty as well as did the abolitionists among the Founding Fathers, and perhaps more clearly than did the ... Virginians. Were it not for [their race] ... these black freedom fighters could have been among the Founders and/or leaders of the American Republic.”Turner was a ... I’ll think of the best word that describes him in a moment, it’s on the tip of my tongue; in the meantime, for more evidence of Turner’s character read a selection from Prof. Oates’ account of the rebellion based on contemporary witnesses,  and if you have time, the section of Turner’s confession that describes his part in the affair, noting the manner in which he describes it.  These selections are placed in footnotes because of their length.
If Gabriel, Visey and Turner really had been the towering intellects Mr. Bernstein makes them out to be they would have realized that black success could not be the work of mass slaughter, and that a violent uprising of blacks would fail, leading to reprisals – as the Turner “rebellion” did during the hysteria that followed. 
The subject of the slave rebellions is difficult to write about because neither side was good. Mr. Bernstein has half a point. Slavery is indefensible. The Virginians were wrong to continue the practice they were born into of bringing black slaves into the country (begun in a small way by the British during colonial times). The 18th and 19th century slave buyers were the cheap labor businessmen of their day. (Today they invite immigrants.)
The Virginians were wrong to import yet more slaves, and stupid for failing to realize that in consequence – as blacks neared a majority in certain areas – insurrection was bound to happen. They tried to pretend they were in loco parentis for blacks, benevolent overseers instead of 24 / 7 jailkeepers complete with trusties. Yes, ultimately the Virginians did inflict Nat Turner on themselves, but that doesn’t make what he did good, or excuse it, any more than the acts of the regime of Louis XVI excuse those of Robespierre. Contrary to Mr. Bernstein, Turner and his gang can and ought to “objectively be condemned.”
Mr. Bernstein is Charles Dickens in reverse. In The Tale of Two Cities Dickens excoriated those responsible for the Reign of Terror. Mr. Bernstein praises their analogue in Nat Turner.
What did Mr. Bernstein expect would be the reaction to Turner’s gang decapitating a group of white children outside their schoolhouse? [7 again] That the Virginians would say to themselves: Golly, how hideous we have been. These blacks are no savages, they deserve to be free and live among us as neighbors ?
Suppose, in some fantasy, Turner’s gang had grown without limit and managed to butcher every white man, woman and child in America – as the blacks of Saint Domingue had done in that country – so that white opinion no longer mattered because it didn’t exist. Mr. Bernstein would have you believe that Nat Turner and his ilk, those vast intellects, could have built a better America with themselves as its people.
Mr. Bernstein is a Leftist in the way it really matters, a Cultural Leftist. His puffing an articulate – now I’ve got it – an articulate psychopath into an intellectual hero superior even to Jefferson and Paine is a new low in Official Objectivist bunkum.
In the last few years a new movie genre has appeared, the anti-white snuff film. These are Leftist daydreams in which angry non-whites go around righteously slaughtering whites. A line from one of these films, Django Unchained (2012), illustrates the atmosphere. It is uttered by the main character, a black presented as a heroic figure:
Then there is The Birth of a Nation (2016, produced by Nate Parker), the title mocking the title of D. W. Griffith’s silent movie of 1915 featuring Lillian Gish. The story is a sympathetic portrayal of the Nat Turner Rebellion just described. Like all Leftists Parker has no respect whatever for facts. The movie glorifies Turner, who in the movie is friendly and sociable, and misrepresents antebellum southerners, who in the movie flog or starve valuable slaves almost to death, etc. 
Mr. Bernstein’s article has two things in common with Parker’s movie: both promote white guilt and both promote black violence. The following is from a favorable review of the movie, published in the magazine The New Republic: 
“... Parker makes the case that all white Americans watching his movie are connected to slavery – that we all, in some small way, have it coming.”Mr. Bernstein makes the same case; the above is the effect of his article, with a slight modification: to those who oppose Third World immigration, you have it coming. Like the anti-white snuff films, he pumps self-esteem into looters and killers.
All our lives moralizing Leftists have pushed in our face the everlasting virtue of non-whites. Perhaps the Colonizationists – whose response to the Nat Turner Rebellion was to seek the deportation of slaves to a free African colony – had the right idea. (The Colonization movement was also known as the Back-to-Africa movement and Black Zionism.  ) Not only could the Bernsteins have seen what blacks can do unfettered by evil whites (not that nature hasn’t tried the experiment), we would have been spared an unending stream of “whites are ugly, non-whites are beautiful” movies and articles stretching back to the late 1940s.
Mr. Bernstein’s incompetent scholarship and anti-Americanism makes one wonder what it is about Objectivism that ever attracted him to it. Not its intellectual content, he doesn’t know what epistemology means outside of parroting snippets from the Ayn Rand Lexicon. All he gets from Objectivism is its moral language, certain words and phrases – crucial, profound, context, brilliant, individual rights – disconnected from the philosophy. In his hands Objectivist rhetoric can promote whatever he wants, be it the Iraq War,  open immigration,  or the mental outlook of a psychopath and the behavior of savages.