BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dr. Orlando Patterson, author of "Freedom." What is your book about?
DR. ORLANDO PATTERSON, AUTHOR, "FREEDOM" It tries to explain one of the most obvious but not frequently asked questions about freedom, our most cherished value. Namely: where did it come from and why is it so important? And why did this value become preeminent only in the West?
LAMB: Where do you teach?
PATTERSON: At Harvard.
LAMB: What do you teach?
PATTERSON: I teach sociology. I'm a historical sociologist. That is, most sociologists work on contemporary societies. I belong to the old tradition of sociology, which tends to believe that the only way you can understand society is by understanding how it's emerged over time.
LAMB: Where did you get your own education?
PATTERSON: Partly in the West Indies, University of West Indies where I went to college. Partly at the London School of Economics where I did my Ph.D. in the early '60s.
LAMB: Where did the idea for this book, "Freedom," first start?
PATTERSON: It first started growing up in what is a British colony, Jamaica -- which had one of the most brutal systems of slavery, so it was very much a part of the historical presence, if you like -- but also, it has a strong tradition of freedom, almost a chaotic commitment to freedom and democracy. And each year, the two most important holidays at school -- other than the long holidays of summer and so on -- the two days I remember we celebrated most had to do with slavery and freedom. One was on the 24th of May in which Empire Day was celebrated, in which we were made to believe that we were fortunate in being British colonials because we lived in a free empire. And the other day which is celebrated was Emancipation Day, which is on the first of August. And the whole day was spent talking about, celebrating the fact that the population had been made free from the horrors of slavery.
So it was growing up that idea of being free and its importance is imprinted upon one's consciousness. But more important, the idea that being free was somehow connected with slavery as the negation of slavery was something one thought about from very early, even if one didn't articulate in the way in which I did later on. But the seeds were there, and of course, going to the University of West Indies at a time when my college years coincided with the decolonization period of Jamaica, the period during which the island was essentially achieving its independence, which it achieved in 1962. And that was very important in my intellectual coming of age, so to speak.
There wasn't much of a struggle. It wasn't like decolonization movements in Africa and Asia. Nonetheless, it was symbolically very important and we had a lot of debates about the nature of this freedom we were getting. What was it? There's a lot of skepticism as to whether it wasn't a form of neocolonialism in the sense that we may have given up the British flag, but we were still dependent. And so throughout my college years we talk a lot about freedom, independence and what it really meant. Then I went to the London School of Economics, of course, which is a great institution if you were up on the world, devoted to the cause of freedom, and this was the home of Harold Laski -- he was one of the great scholars of the history of freedom. And that was also an extremely formative experience, and my dissertation there was on slavery -- slavery in Jamaica and how people survive it, what kind of effects it had on people, and what were the responses after slavery.
I wanted to take a much closer look, and I'm sure my reason for that -- selecting that topic -- goes back to my earlier grade school days when we were celebrating emancipation and I wasn't quite sure why. I knew it was important and I knew it was somehow connected with freedom, and so I spent my graduate years trying to answer that specific question because I was obviously very curious about it. Must have been; I wouldn't spend so many years in the archives on it. And from doing that it became increasingly clear to me that there was not only a profound commitment to the idea of freedom among Jamaicans, but that it went back to the horror of enslavement and the need to overcome it.
But even so, the notion which forms the core of this book was still being fashioned, and I guess the idea was finally crystalized when I wrote my other major study, which was a study of slavery, not in one country as in the first book -- but comparatively -- a book called "Slavery & Social Death." And it was in the course of writing that book that the idea hit me and became perfectly obvious to me that while I was writing about the history of slavery, I was also really writing about the history of freedom, and the core idea of the book, of course, is the fact that freedom became a value, was constructed as a value, as an important, cherished, shared ideal, as a result of people's experience of slavery on a large scale.
LAMB: You won a National Book Award in 1991?
LAMB: How do you do that? How's that happen?
PATTERSON: Well, you're nominated by your publisher, and there are several hundred people who are nominated and the process is a fairly rigorous one in which a group of finalists are selected and from that group one person is selected in the non-fiction category -- happens to be this book. I guess the reason -- there is a sense in which the book quite unintendedly was highly relevant to the times. When I started writing this book in 1983, no one anticipated the collapse of the Soviet empire or communism or the rise of freedom movements all over Eastern Europe. No one anticipated the developments in Latin America which, at that time were the old story of dictatorships and so on. It's really astonishing what happened toward the end of the '80s. The book came out just then. It was just a stroke of good luck, I guess, and it was highly relevant because people have been forced to ask, “What is this thing, freedom?” And more important, “Why do we consider it so important?”
Now one of the things I did was to push that question a little further. There's a sense in which most of us assume that freedom is something in our blood. I mean, this is what we do with any value we strongly -- any ideal we strongly value. We tend to assume that there's no need to explain it because just by being human you'd want it. So, I mean, the response of some of my students and even some people who are grown to examining this particular problem might be, “Well, why do you want to ask a question like that? Isn't it obvious?” And that's the way in which philosophers often go about it. But it's not obvious and how do I know it's not obvious, that people should just want freedom? Simply because if you look comparatively at the rest of the world and ask yourself a question: in how many societies traditionally has freedom been a great ideal towards which they strive? Very few and none outside of the West.
So obviously if freedom is natural, we would expect to find it everywhere, or at least we would see indications of it elsewhere. But, in fact, for centuries this was a Western preoccupation, both outwardly and internally. Once I decided that that was the case, my question became relevant. How did the West invent this idea and how did it become so hung up on it so that it becomes the overwhelming value, a value for which the average person will say, “I'll die for this”? And the answer, in a nutshell, well, is a bit disturbing to many people. In a nutshell, the answer is the fact that the West, and very early, from the very beginnings of its civilization, had an unusual relationship with slavery.
It's in ancient Greece that the thing we call large-scale slave society first emerged. Not simply slavery -- slavery is everywhere, but insignificant. For the first time in history, you had a society in which was able to transform itself through the use of slaves -- in which the elite is completely dependent upon slaves for their economic survival. You therefore had large numbers of slaves, people of slave ancestry, who were at the center of the economy and social life. And these were people from very literate, advanced cultures themselves. More important, there's something else to it. There's also society in which the most dynamic part was the urban sector. And what this meant was that there was space -- it meant two things. It meant that you're using slaves not just to do simple things, as in agriculture. Slaves weren't used much in agriculture. You're using them to do very skilled things. Many of those beautiful vases you see when you visit a museum -- Greek vases -- were produced by slaves, because the Greek elite disdained many of the things which today we would consider very highly skilled and admirable.
LAMB: Let me ask you about what a slave is. We, in this country, grew up thinking a slave to always be black.
LAMB: What's the case in world history?
PATTERSON: Well, 99.9 percent of all slaves who ever lived were not blacks. I mean, in the case of the history of Europe that's also true. The vast majority of slaves for over 2,000 years of Western history were white. In fact, the very word slave has the same root in all the European languages, and the reason for that is that it originates in the word Slav. In fact, in Spanish it's the very same word. They don't even make a distinction as we do in English. Sometime around the 10th century A.D., the vast majority of the slaves and the remaining slaves in Europe during the Middle Ages were Slavs -- blond, blue-eyed Slavs. I mean, so many of them that in fact, the word for slaves is identified with the Slavic people, in much the same way that later on in the New World blacks were identified with slaves and you want to assume -- well, before emancipation if you were black -- to assume that you're a slave.
Well, that was the case in the 10th, 11th century, and that is why the word -- that's how the word slave originated, because the original Latin word servus, for a slave, lost its utility because it was applied to serfs and it became the word we now call serf, and so when you needed a word for slaves, got to find another one that was identified with this group. So, no, the simple answer to your question is the identification of slaves with blacks is a wholly modern and I'd say, New World phenomenon.
LAMB: Let me ask you a couple other things before we get back to the book.
LAMB: How did you get to Harvard?
PATTERSON: Oh, my first job was on the faculty of the London School of Economics, and I was fortunate. I was very young and I got the appointment, and I visited Harvard five years later as a visiting professor, and I was asked to stay. This is 22 years ago.
LAMB: You teach.
PATTERSON: Yeah, I teach.
LAMB: What year? I mean, is it graduate or undergraduate?
PATTERSON: Both. In the faculty of arts and sciences you teach both. And we have a fairly large graduate program.
LAMB: What do you think of today's students?
PATTERSON: They are as bright as they ever have been and perhaps brighter. In many ways more sophisticated, far less innocent. But less equipped in certain ways. It reflects largely the failure of the high school system. That is to say their writing skills are much poorer than they used to be. But they think better, and they're far more independent in their views, sometimes almost irritatingly so. And so there have been successes in the American educational system. This emphasis on the fact that you don't employ rote learning, that you urge people to think for themselves, has been a success. It has its disadvantages, because you sometimes will get cases where people are determined to think for themselves but don't have the skills to think very well. But by and large -- and certainly the students who come to Harvard are far more independent, original and, I'd say, potentially far more productive intellectually. And this accounts for the fact that -- I mean, you hear a lot about America's educational woes, but you should never forget that this is at a grade school public level. American universities, both public and private, still remain far and away the best in the world, and it's because of these students.
LAMB: Of what country are you a citizen?
PATTERSON: America and Jamaica.
LAMB: Dual citizenship?
LAMB: You're married to someone in the same field.
PATTERSON: Well, she's a historical sociologist, too, yes. Yes.
LAMB: At Harvard?
PATTERSON: Yes. Lecturer at Harvard.
LAMB: Where'd you meet her?
PATTERSON: In London at the London School of Economics where everyone meets there.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
PATTERSON: Yeah. I've got two daughters -- one in the University of Virginia, and the other is now in publishing in London.
LAMB: And what kind of a family did you grow up in in Jamaica?
PATTERSON: Oh, I guess a sociologist would say it was a low, middle-class family. My father was a detective in the colonial police force, and this meant we moved around a lot. It was not a particularly eventful childhood.
LAMB: Brothers and sisters?
PATTERSON: Half brothers and sisters much, much older than I am.
LAMB: When did you get this interest in learning and writing and thinking? I mean, this is not exactly like reading a comic book, this ...
PATTERSON: No. Well, from very early. I mean, the society in which I grew up, Jamaica, had then excellent high schools, but more important, at university we had a very strong intellectual tradition. Almost every successful person desired to be, not a lawyer or a doctor, as is the case here, or a businessman, but to be an academic, or at least an intellectual. That was so when I was growing up -- immense prestige, scholarship. It's less so now. It's more like America now. Most people want to be lawyers and businessmen and so on. Well, when I was growing up there, there was a strong urge -- I mean, I published my first book when I was 23, and I was writing papers long before that, but so were a lots of my other friends in that generation. So my decision to become a scholar seemed almost a natural thing. I never thought about it. And that's why today I usually have a problem having to persuade my students that becoming a scholar is worth thinking about. Because for me it's just natural. I mean, it's something you want to do, and considerations of increments are just never enter the picture.
LAMB: How has winning the National Book Award changed your life, if any?
PATTERSON: Well, it drew considerable attention to the work and to the ideas there, and I really think the ideas are worth reading, but normally a book like this would get perhaps lost in the shelves of the libraries. It’s drawn people's attention to the work and I'm very happy about that. People are reading it and are discovering things in it which I had hoped that they would have. But, I mean, the press -- for example, Newsweek would normally not review a work of this nature, I guess, but they decided to take a look at it after it won the award and did a fine piece on it, I thought.
But you know, if I might talk about the idea a bit, because of how it developed, from it's wanting to discover something, to construct something -- and one of the points I emphasize, by the way, is the importance of women in the emergence of freedom. Because women were primarily the first slaves, it is natural, it follows, if the thesis has any merit, that women were the first to advocate and construct this as a value, and the enormous emphasis on women in Greek tragedy and, more important, the identification of women with freedom in ancient literature supports this, along with other things. But after the Greeks, of course, came the Romans in which you had an even more extraordinary spread of slavery.
Most people don't realize the degree to which Rome was a slave society. I mean, the way we teach history now is we emphasize the glories and the grandeur. We emphasize the great wars, Caesar's conquests of Gaul and Britain and so on, the heroics. But the reality was that by the end of the republic, the beginnings of the real period of glory, as traditionally found in the history books, the vast majority of Romans were either slaves, ex-slaves or descendents of slaves. I mean, the original Romans were down to a small minority. And slavery is more or less taking over the agricultural sector. This is where the plantation system began. In the urban economy, the Roman elite did not engage in trade. They were forbidden to do that for honorific reasons, and the way they got around this was by using their slaves and freedmen, so they ran the businesses of the city. They also ran the imperial civil service and freedmen dominated the centurion ranks, so it was a total slave society.
LAMB: When you talk about Greeks and Athens and Rome and all those periods, frame the -- I think I can remember reading back as far as the seventh century B.C. Do you go back before that?
PATTERSON: Oh, I see. No. The story begins near the end of the seventh century with the rise of large-scale slavery, which took place over the period of the sixth century B.C. in Greece, which was also the period of the rise of democracy, and it was no accident either -- so that the notion of freedom not only as in the personal individual sense emerged with freedom -- with slavery -- out of the desire to get away from this horrible condition, but also the idea of freedom as democracy. Civic freedom emerged with large-scale slavery, because what happened was that you had these large numbers of people coming into the society which automatically created a status which didn't exist before, the status of the free person vis a vis the slave.
And so what you find emerging over the course of the sixth and fifth century was the idea of we versus them, us versus the domestic enemy. We who are Greeks who are also, by definition, free, and who are of a superior culture versus them, who speak weirdly, barbarians who are not Greek. And so that antithesis also emerged and it's out of that emerging conception of a civic consciousness and a political power, which only we who are kissing kin and Greek share, that emerged the first democracy.
LAMB: Who were the slaves for the Greeks? Where ...
PATTERSON: Oh, they came from all over. They came mainly from the Black Sea area, but they came also as far north as Gaul -- France and Germans -- lots of Germans. Not many -- but also they came from as far south as Ethiopians.
LAMB: What was the period to the Romans?
PATTERSON: The period of the Romans would be the period of, quote, unquote, "glory," would be from, let's say -- it's usually dated from about 250 B.C. right down to the end of the third century -- it should be the middle of the third century -- and the empire began to crumble, but their period of control and hegemony went right down to the collapse, of course, in the early fifth century. So it was a long period of time.
LAMB: Fifth century A.D.?
PATTERSON: Yes. The early fifth century. But the real period of grandeur, if you like, would be, I'd say, roughly 100 B.C. to about 250 A.D. Now, that is a period in which the freedmen and the idea of freedom became very, very important. And this is very interesting. Let me tell you an interesting thing about this period. If you go to Rome now, one of the most important material remains -- or visible remains from that period -- are the tombstones of the freedmen. There are hundreds of them. And what they celebrate on their tombstone, what do they say? They mention, not the fact that they were rich -- most of them -- many of them were -- but the day when they were emancipated.
You would have thought that they would have been ashamed of it, but they weren't. That was the most important thing to them. So being free became the most important thing in life. The Romans, of course, emphasize this because they needed these people. They needed to encourage them, and the vast majority of people who were ever enslaved could look forward to being manumitted. One estimate is that by the time the average slave reached about 35, he could expect to be manumitted.
LAMB: What was the -- -- say in Rome or the Roman Empire area, what was the ratio of people -- the number of people who were free to the number of people who were slaves?
PATTERSON: Well, good question. It depends whether you are talking about the rural areas or the urban areas. In the rural areas, especially where the latifundia dominated, the ratio, as a rough guess, would be a ratio of about 5:1, five slaves to one free person. In certain areas it would approach Caribbean standards. It would be about nine slaves to one free person -- so few free persons that they even had to use slaves as overseers.
LAMB: What was ...
PATTERSON: And in the urban areas it would have been lower, but it depends now on whether you're talking about -- when you say free, whether you mean born free as opposed to freedmen. And I include these in the system of slavery, because you only become a freedman because you were once a slave. Now the vast majority it would have been -- the ratio may have been about 2:1 as people who were slaves and freedperson to persons who were born free.
LAMB: When you're a slave, what does that mean? What kind of rights did you have?
PATTERSON: None. You were legally dead, and the master had the rights of life and death. You were a nonentity. You're a non-being. That's why I use the term in an early book “social death,” and the term the Romans use was that you were legally dead as a slave and you're a mere extension of your master, which is why the Roman nobility found slavery so very useful, because in business, as I said, they could use these people -- one of the deficiencies of Roman law, for example, is that they -- the Romans -- never developed a law of agency. Even though they were such great legal practitioners, and one way they got around it was to use your slave or your freedmen -- there's no problem of agency here because he was you and you know, when a Roman wanted an accountant, he bought one. When you wanted a teacher for your children, you went out and you bought a Greek, an educated Greek. And, you know, they were very, very important in the system, hence the -- and of course, the way they motivated their slaves was to pull out the promise of freedom, which is why it became such an important value.
LAMB: Is there any place in the world today where slavery is legal?
PATTERSON: That's a good question that's been raised again. Sadly, Kuwait may be one of them. One or two of the Islamic -- certain parts of -- it's not legal. I mean, it's not on the books as so, but in customary law it still is. This would be true in certain parts of -- in rural Algeria, maybe, although again, it's been abolished legally in Algeria. But certainly slaves are to be found in Kuwait and maybe Saudi Arabia.
LAMB: In 1864 slavery ended for all intents and purposes here?
PATTERSON: Yeah, '65.
LAMB: At that point, were there slaves in other parts of the world?
PATTERSON: Sure. There's still a large-scale slavery in the Spanish Indies. Cuba, it wasn't until 1880s. Brazil didn't really end slavery until the 1880s and there were huge numbers there. One of the important points that I made in this book, which is important for Americans to understand, and I want to get back to it -- the way in which we've interpreted Western history is that we've only looked at the top and we've looked at the products, the artifacts. We've not asked what's produced them or the process -- who are at the bottom, the vast mass of people. And one of the points I make about this book is that the history of the West is a history of slavery and serfdom. The vast majority of people in Rome were either slaves or the descendents of slaves. The vast majority of people throughout the Middle Ages were serfs, and serfdom was just a recombinant form of slavery, or the descendents of serfs.
LAMB: When you say West, what are you talking about?
PATTERSON: Oh, I'm talking about Western Europe, primarily -- what we mean by it today. The central area, of course, in the Middle Ages and before would have been what's now France -- mainly France and Spain, Italy and Greece, until it was conquered, of course, by the Turks. But -- so that region -- England, Western Europe and later, of course, it includes the extensions of Western Europe. There's one other important aspect of the story which -- to complete the sort of picture, so to speak, and it's something that happened in the midst of this large-scale slave society of Rome, which was very important for our story. And you know what that is? It was in this hothouse of slavery and freedom that Christianity really emerged as a world religion. And that's another surprising aspect of the work for many people, because in trying to answer the question, why did it become so -- why did it capture the mind and imagination of the West, the heart and soul of the West, one has to understand the nature of Christianity and how it originated. That it originated in this large-scale slave society of Rome and that the really important early Christians were freedmen, these same people who cherished so much this ideal of freedom.
And what did Christianity do? In a way, it used the experience of slavery and freedom as a metaphor for expressing its most important religious ideal, namely freedom, spiritual freedom, which we call redemption. Well, you know what the word redemption means. I mean, in Latin -- from the Latin, it literally means to buy someone out of slavery, literally. And in Pauline theology, what you had was a simple interjection of the outward experience of freedom. He uses a powerful metaphor to explain sin as a form of spiritual slavery and salvation as a form of spiritual redemption. That is buying someone out of slavery. So really, Christianity became the only religion, the only great religion -- in this sense it differs from Judaism, Islam, from all other great religions -- the only religion which had at the center creed the idea of being free -- that's spiritually now. And it is true.
Many people say, “Well, we know the history of Christianity, that it's created a lot of situations in which it's justified the domination of peoples and so on,” and that may be so, but the fact nonetheless remains that if you have a religion, which is the core of your civilization, which has this idea as central, you have a problem on your hands immediately, because -- and the ruling classes have always recognized this, and so what has happened is a struggle -- the history of Christianity can be seen as a struggle for defining what this thing freedom meant, because it's a dangerous idea.
Now it's often been defined in a way such as, freedom as surrender to the only truly free being, which is God. But it also can mean freedom in a sense of liberation, and what you find is that the mass of people -- serfs and slaves, throughout history have given this meaning to it, even when it's being used in a conservative way. And it is fascinating that we see the same thing replicated in the United States, where it comes as no surprise that the religion in a sense could appeal to both the master class, but also to the slaves, of course, and black Americans remaining the most Christian section of the population of America today.
LAMB: Let me read a line out of part four here in chapter 16. And the chapter's heading is Jesus and the Jesus Movement.
LAMB: This is the line I want to ask you about. “Jesus was not the founder of Christianity.”
LAMB: Who was?
PATTERSON: Mainly Paul and the Roman Church. I mean, Jesus did not anticipate the Church. The whole point of everything he said was that we were at the end of days, and the whole point of his mission was not to form the Church. He was telling people to leave their homes and join him and prepare, repent, prepare for the coming end, and a Church, by this very nature, is an institution, a structure which is set up to last forever. There is no forever, this is the end of days, and so he came with a sword to destroy structures -- material structures -- and prepare for spiritual life. It was in that early phase of the movement, a Palestinian movement, which he founded and came to an end, of course, with his crucifixion. And then a radical change took place in Christianity, as historians of religion say, “The proclaimer became the proclaimed. The person who preached the coming of the end -- and his new vision became the object of the religion.
LAMB: B.C. and A.D -- what do they stand for, and who established that way to reference time?
PATTERSON: Oh, that's a development which came much later. In that time people didn't use that way of dating. It just so happens, by the way -- and this is deliberate -- that Jesus lived just around this time. He died -- in 29, I think, he was crucified. And ...
LAMB: 29 A.D.
PATTERSON: Yeah, I think it is about 29 A.D., yes, that he was crucified, yeah.
LAMB: But he was 33 years old.
PATTERSON: Yeah. So it doesn't completely fit, but ...
LAMB: I mean, A.D. and -- B.C. means before Christ and A.D. means after the death of Christ ...
PATTERSON: Yeah. So in terms of the reckoning, which came much later -- I forget when it was actually firmly fixed -- oh, if you're asking me if after the death means literally -- no, the answer to your question is no. Because it was about 29 A.D. There's a complicated story about why there is this confusion, the details of which I don't quite remember. I wouldn't try to explain it to you now.
LAMB: Let me read a line from your book. “The celebration of homelessness is one thing; his aloofness to his mother quite another. Jesus’ background was marginal in another important respect. He grew up in Galilee, which had a large Gentile population -- the term Galilee literally means circle of Gentiles -- that had remained basically semi-pagan.” Talk about all that there. What's the homelessness thing and the aloofness to the mother and ...
PATTERSON: Yeah. The religion which Jesus proclaimed, I argue, was not what -- one of the really important differences from the religion which Paul proclaimed using God as -- Jesus as the object.
LAMB: Who was Paul, by the way? Who was he?
PATTERSON: Paul, the Apostle Paul. Well, I'll get to him in a minute. But the important difference is Jesus did not emphasize freedom -- spiritual freedom -- he emphasized the need for righteousness, for repentance -- preparedness for the coming end, and the need for fellowship with each other and a new vision of people's relationship with God, a much more intimate one. And those were the things which he emphasized. If anything -- if you want to extract from his teaching a social value, a non-religious value, it was more of an emphasis on equality, and as I indicated, there's a clear suspicion of the wealthy and of the elite, especially the urban elites. This was very much a movement of country hicks, which we say today. He was from a very rustic part. They were not the poorest group, but they were mainly artisans -- country artisans, really.
LAMB: Where Jesus was from?
PATTERSON: Yes, his group. His father was a carpenter -- his father would have been from this group. I mean, poor rural folk don't -- not necessarily the poorest, but very much a sort of rural semi-literate group. This was a very Jewish movement, because it emerged at a time when Palestine was in ferment and it was a colony of Rome. And there's a lot of -- well, today we'd call it nationalist movement, so to speak, and decolonization movements. Some of them -- those are just purely political. Some of them were purely religious in the sense that they say, “Well, you know, let's forget about politics. I mean, what you really need to do is to prepare yourself for the end of the world in which the whole thing will come to an end. And so what you really need to prepare yourself for is just to see that your your spiritual state is in order, not your physical state.” But in the process of proclaiming, there is definitely a pass towards the poor, homeless. Just look at the people he associated with. Publicans were condemned, the prostitutes and beggars and so on. And so implicit in his teaching was more an egalitarianism and the emphasis on fellowship insofar as it had a social content, as what it was -- which was not one which emphasized freedom.
LAMB: When you research Jesus, are you surprised at all at how Christianity's developed over the years?
PATTERSON: I was surprised to discover the extent to which there is such a drastic shift. Now professional historians of religion have known this before. As I compile a list, I go to the specialists, I read the textbook. I depend heavily on the specialists. And so the insiders -- let us put it that way -- would have known this before. But it still struck me as quite extraordinary, the extent to which Paul and the early Church, the group that triumphed, really turned the early ideas around, in the sense that the focus really shifted towards this idea of spiritual liberation, and using very powerfully this idea of -- the slavery into freedom metaphor.
And that's the significance of -- and that's my part -- that's my special contribution to this, because my argument was Jesus did not grow up and preach in a slave society. Palestine -- there were a few slaves, but it wasn't a large-scale slave society. Whereas the Church, which made Jesus its object, emerged in a large-scale slave society. And I think that's the significant factor, explaining why the focus shifted from the early more millenarian emphasis on fellowship, equality, preparedness for the just life and for the life to come, and intimacy, both with each other and with God -- shifted from that towards an emphasis upon the idea of freedom -- spiritual freedom, and the idea of slavery -- sin as a kind of slavery. God never -- Jesus never used that metaphor.
He did once -- there's a famous reference to a slave in one of the parables, but it's significant that he just merely took slavery for granted that way in which he said, you know, “You should serve God, not expecting any return, but as a good slave would.” And that's his only reference to it. But the idea of emphasizing slavery as a great evil which becomes symbolic of one's spiritual condition, in which you're a slave to sin, to carnal desires, to all the wickednesses of the flesh, and that what happens inside is the equivalent of an emancipation in that the person who bought you out of that condition of spiritual slavery was Jesus with his death -- a life for a life, so to speak, a sort of physical life for the social death that is slavery, and spiritual death that is sin. And that metaphor -- that preoccupation emerged in Rome and it was completely different from Jesus’ preoccupation.
LAMB: In the course of doing your research and all, did you travel to Greece or to Rome or to ...?
PATTERSON: No, no. I traveled to the stocks of Widener libraries than the ...
LAMB: Where's Widener?
PATTERSON: Widener Library is the main library at Harvard, and I'm sorry I'm being a little bit parochial here, assuming that people know what Widener -- but it's one of the best libraries in the world and especially for these kind of studies. And I've been to Rome and -- but the work was done -- this is a library book.
LAMB: Over what years did you do the research that led to this exact book?
PATTERSON: Over -- exactly between early '83 up to when the book was finished -- I took in the manuscript in September '90.
LAMB: Are you surprised at how well the book's done?
PATTERSON: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that works of this nature tend to be neglected. Not surprised, no, because I thought it was a good book. I thought it had an original thesis and it certainly was recognized by colleagues as important. But academics write a lot of books which their fellow academics consider important which are not recognized. I mean -- mention any number of books of that nature or which become recognized much later on. So that might have been so, for example, that would have been true, say, of the earlier book I wrote, the book on slavery and social death, which is now widely used, but it took a little time.
But I think part of the reason, as I said, is that people are very interested in what someone has to say about freedom. And some of the surprises which emerged in the work, the fact that it had this rather strange origin. It presents a difficulty in interpreting history because, you know, we tend to like to see two things about the things we value. One, that we think we can trace it back to the head, the mind of some great, usually a man -- very rarely a woman -- so it pops out of the minds of great -- Plato, Aristotle and so on. And that's not how values emerge. I mean, they emerge from struggle and people's ideas emerge as they try to make sense of their world.
And quite often the great minds are opposed to these ideas, as -- you'll discover that the Platos and the Aristotles all loathe the idea of freedom. The second way in which this work departs from our common view of freedom -- of history -- sorry -- is that we also like to see things in terms of simple, straightforward trajectory, so that if something is good, we like to believe that it is always good, it is unambiguously good, and it has no connection whatever with anything bad. So it starts in somewhere -- some ancient source, as I said, preferably a mind, 2,000 years ago and is always a source of goodness. Now it's not so at all. If we explore any of the things we cherish, we'll find that they are associated with dangerous things. In the case of freedom, as I said, it's emerged in the antithesis of what it was, which is a thing that we loathe most. We're also finding that freedom has been used to destroy people in the name of freedom in the same way Christianity has been. But good and evil are not distinct things, but are interdependent, and so we -- and that's disturbing. That's disturbing. I mean, I would wish that it were not so, but that's life and that's history.
LAMB: We're running out of time and I want to get back to Paul for a moment.
LAMB: “All things to all men,” something he said. You write about it here.
LAMB: And what kind of a guy was he?
PATTERSON: He is a very complicated man. I think he's the greatest person in the history of the West. He certainly has influenced the West more than any other person.
LAMB: When will you ...
PATTERSON: I'm not a practicing Christian myself. I'm speaking now purely as a scholar. Look to the influence of all these other people. He was a complicated man. He was tormented. He was clearly neurotic in many ways -- and he was always impassioned about something. But he was a religious genius, and what he did was to get onto this idea that if you're going to make this religion stick, you got to translate what people consider very important in their ordinary lives and use that, if you like, in translating into spiritual terms, so to speak. And what he did was to really transform Christianity, as I said, in such a way that the central notion of freedom which the powerful -- the early, most prosperous members of the early Church were -- that was their central idea. So there's a kind of correspondence between their outer life, their outer freedom and their inner freedom as values they most cherish. But those letters determined the whole course of Western history afterwards because much of Western theology it's simply -- it's Jesus and Paul.
LAMB: Those letters were written when? Letters to the Romans, the Galatians?
PATTERSON: Tthose letters would have been written -- I don't know exactly when -- but they're sometime between 30 and 50 A.D.
LAMB: He lived when?
PATTERSON: Well, he was executed about 50.
LAMB: Executed because ...
PATTERSON: Oh, because he was a Christian and he was martyred. And it was a short period of time, but longer than Jesus’ ministry. Even so, Paul's letters, you know, are the very earliest things we have on Christianity. They're much earlier than the Gospels, which are, well, about 100 years later.
LAMB: Do you find a great dispute depending on -- are there people that love Paul and hate Paul?
PATTERSON: That's very interesting. Not really in Christianity, since his works are canonized. But people critical of Christianity usually blame Paul for all the evils they seem to find in Christianity. Bernard Shaw was one, the German philosopher Nietzche sort of thought Paul was a harlot, that he was a source of all the hangups of the Western mind -- the obsession with carnality and the flesh and the sins of the flesh and the duality between the spirit and the flesh. I think they misunderstood Paul on that, because Paul wasn't a dualist. He had a very sophisticated view of the material and the immaterial, which was not a simple one of body and spirit.
LAMB: We've a minute left. Of all the things you researched in here, what did you personally enjoy the most?
PATTERSON: Reading and learning about Paul and Epictetus -- those two. I mean, I came to a renewed appreciation of the significance of the Pauline text for the forming the Western mind.
LAMB: What are you going to do next?
PATTERSON: The second volume is the "Freedom in the Modern World." That's between the rise of the West and today.
LAMB: When's it due?
PATTERSON: Spring 1993.
LAMB: Have you finished writing it?
PATTERSON: Oh, it's very close to the end.
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour has been Orlando Patterson. He's at Harvard University. And this is his book, "Freedom: Freedom In The Making Of Western Culture." Thank you very much for joining us.
PATTERSON: My pleasure.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1992. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.