Don Quixote: How Don Quixote Protested Slavery in Spain

Release Date
June 11, 2016


History Liberty Morality Philosophy Rights

History of Slavery: Did you know that Don Quixote is the first modern anti-slavery novel? Professor of Literature Eric C. Graf explains why Don Quixote’s author placed so much emphasis on the immoral nature of slavery.

Don Quijote (MOOC): The University of Francisco Marroquin invites you to join their 2-part course about Don Quixote. Learn about great universal values in dynamic scenarios, metaphors, adventures, and all the literary aspects of the novel.  
“Katniss vs. Power” (article): Want to explore more libertarian themes in literature? Check out Jeffrey Tucker’s overview on Katniss vs. power in The Hunger Games. 
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Liberty 101 (program): For a deeper understanding of some of the themes touched on in Don Quixote, check out our on-demand program, Liberty 101

>> Don Quixote is the creative fiction of classical liberalism. How do we know this? One, Don Quixote is anti-slavery. Don Quixote the First Modern Anti-Slavery Novel. Okay, I lied, it’s the second. The first anti-slavery novel is Apuleius’ the Golden Ass, second century A.D., it’s about a man who turns into an ass and then back into a man again.
He turns back into a man again when he empathizes with slaves and recognizes the immorality of the institution of slavery. Don Quixote is the first modern anti race-based slavery novel. Americans like to think it’s Mark Twain or Harriet Beecher Stowe, it was Cervantes. They off by 250 years.
Why would Cervantes write a novel against slavery? Because he himself was a slave and because when he returned from that Slavery to Spain, Spain had incorporated Portugal into the Spanish Empire, which meant slavery was now a basic part of Spanish life. Halfway through the novel, Don Quixote decides he has to do penance.
He’s up in the mountains whipping himself and doing cartwheels. His friends decide to get him to come out of the mountains by inventing the story of Micomicon, in which Don Quixote has to rescue a kingdom in equatorial Africa which is being besieged by a giant. Don Quixote is thrilled.
This fits his chivalric fantasy vision of himself. This guy, Sancho Panza, is however, very upset. People would like to think of Sancho as this cute, happy little comical peasant. Actually, bad dude. Sancho, not always comical sidekick, sometimes really evil. How is he going to get rich being king over a bunch of black people?
Then he gets an idea. I know what I’ll do, as black as they be, I will turn them into white and yellow, meaning silver and gold. Think about that for a second. Don Quixote and Sancho are supposed to liberate Micomicon. Sancho’s idea is to sell all the citizens of Micomicon into slavery.
By the way, when he has this idea, his ass disappears. Remember Apuleius’ novel, when the protagonist, Lucius, turns into an ass, bad, when he turns back into a human, good. He turns back into a human precisely because he learns to empathize with slaves and recognizes that slavery is an evil institution.
Same thing in Cervantes’ novel. When Sancho realizes that the Micomicon story is a lie, he’s upset because he’s not going to get rich selling people into slavery. Sancho’s ass present, good. Moral lesson learned. Sancho’s ass gone, Sancho is the ass, bad. Cervantes is telling us, my novel is anti-slavery.
I have read the original novel, Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. I know what I’m doing, pay attention. So, the novel is about the slave trade. It’s a critique of the slave trade. This is a big deal and that’s why Americans should read Don Quixote, because it’s about freedom. If you wanna keep learning about the ideas related to liberty, subscribe to Learn Liberty.
If you are interested in this beautiful novel and seeing more videos about how Don Quixote has to do with freedom, click here and enroll in the University Of Francisco Marroquin MOOC on Don Quixote.