When the issue of reparations comes up, half-clever white people in Britain sometimes say things like, “Well, in that case, I want reparations from Denmark for the Viking invasions.” To which one answer is: You’re the one likely to be descended from Vikings; the Danes of today are descended from the ones who stayed behind. Similarly, who is likelier to have slave-owners in his or her family tree: An African-American, or a Polish-American?
Britain, unlike the United States, followed a policy of compensated manumission: Slave-owners were bought out, meaning that the institution was abolished much earlier, and without a civil war. Some leftist activists regard these payments as shameful, and Ron Paul was excoriated when he suggested that the U.S. should have done something similar.
But surely the fact that people were prepared to pay to abolish slavery is a cause for pride, not shame. If we absolutely insist on singling Britain out, let’s consider the truly exceptional factor, namely that, after thousands of years of slavery, Britain was the country that poured its resources and energy into stamping out the traffic, even diverting ships from a life-and-death struggle with Napoleon to intercept Atlantic slavers.