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Consensual Slavery

Consensual Slavery – Is it a Myth?

John Locke, who defined slavery as a state of suspended war where one person is conquered and has no rights relative to his captor, also said that no one could become consensually enslaved since they cannot give away what they do not own. You can free yourself from a despot at any time by taking your own life. If fear of your own demise stops you, then you can be enslaved by someone who is willing and able to exercise this threat against you. Because consensual enslavement does not include a threat to one’s life by one’s owner, it cannot be real enslavement according to Locke.

“This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power is so necessary to, and closely joined with, a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it but by what forfeits his preservation and life together. For a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot by compact or his own consent enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another to take away his life when he pleases. Nobody can give more power than he has himself, and he that cannot take away his own life cannot give another power over it.” –John Locke in “The Second Treatise on Government”

Victor Frankl who survived Auschwitz and went on to create the psychological theory logotherapy, echoed Locke in this when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but… the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” What choose one’s own way means in that sentence is one’s own way to face death. Once again, if death cannot dissuade you, no one can enslave you.

This is, of course, the genesis of the philosophical argument that no one can actually ever really be enslaved because they always have that ultimate freedom of choice. Many people look on this philosophical hair-splitting with contempt, and rightly so. Taking a philosophical truth that doesn’t apply to most instances of everyday life and pretending that it is part of our daily consciousness is a tremendous mistake. It ignores the historical and present reality that within the moment by moment living of our lives, people are controlled and under another’s power. And it is reasonable to ask whether consent and choice matter if they are not reachable by the conscious mind.


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If we are not going to look to history for the definition of slave and we are going to ignore our philosophers, where do we look? The dictionary is always a good place to find definitions. The second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines slave as: “One who is the property of, and entirely subject to another person, whether by capture, purchase or birth; a servant completely divested of freedom and personal rights.”

OK, so the word “slave” is not a great one. What do we do then? How do we indicate a state a person has entered consensually and given up all rights relative to the person she is enslaved to? And how do we deal with the absolute reality that such a person can break her vow and walk away? What is she? The problem is that we don’t have a good word.

But labels serve a useful purpose. They help us communicate what we want to other people and give us a short-cut to describe who and what we are. The word “slave” does not do a particularly good job of this because it has so many meanings, but since there are so few options, we are stuck with it.

Those of us who identify as “slaves” believe in the concepts of “owner” and “property” and relinquish our personal rights and freedoms in the context of our D/s relationship with a partner. The extent to which that transference of power exists is usually limited by circumstance and logistics, rather than by limited power exchange. Consensual Slavery, for us, is often the description for a Total Power Exchange with a Dominant, limited only by the restrictions of living in the “real world” (job, children, spouse), even if it cannot truly be 24/7. Does that make us less a “slave”? Perhaps. Purists aside, however, most of us in the lifestyle are content to use the term and grow weary of the endless debates about whether “slavery” is possible, healthy or legal. If the Master is happy with his property and the slave is able to serve Him satisfactorily, that is all that really matters.


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