By objectivist standards, what are the rights (if any) of primitive indigenous inhabitants of a given region when they come in contact with objectively more developed, technological peoples ?
The classic case is that of North America which was inhabited by Native American people when Columbus arrived. According to objectivist reasoning, did the Native American people have any right to maintain their territories and practices or were they viewed as having less rights than more developed people (eg: in the case of America)?
If the native people are seen as having the same essential rights as Western colonists, then could expropriating their lands have been a moral act (clearly the indigenous people had some lands and animals they considered theirs and some farmed their plots) ? They defended what they saw as "their" lands (although they did not have Western style title documents) --what is that status of this defense?
If per objectivism, they are not seen as having the same essential rights as more technologically advanced people then is there any limit to what objecivistism would allow to be done to them ? I.e. could you properly take their lands, shoot their animals, disallow their religious practices, expropriate their children to be taught in Western schools etc.? To some extent each of these was done in various colonial circumstances (not only in America but some variants around the world) and thus I ask the question.
In essence, what I am asking is the objectivist position on colonialism: what do objectivists see as the moral nature of a more advanced culture imposing its values on a more primitive one for the purposes of extracting values ? This clearly happened over and over in in Africa but also all across Asia. The legacy is interesting to note. In the cultures which were more or less eradicated: the Australian aborigine and the Native American, thriving Western nations emerged "de novo" (USA and Australia). In cases where the indigenous people survived in great numbers, the legacy has been benighted "independent" countries beset with corruption, tribal hatreds and armed to the teeth with Western military exports (eg: many nations in Africa). It is also worth noting that in many indigenous people who chose to abandon their ways and align completely with the colonialists did well in many circumstances, especially in the former cases where their culture was eradicated.
The term "colonialism" complicates the discussion. For an overview of the conventional meanings of that term, refer to Wikipedia, here. Objectivism does not necessarily endorse historical colonialism in all its varieties, particularly where the colonists did not recognize and uphold individual rights for the indigenous people (to the extent that the inigenous people were able and willing to understand their rights and respect the rights of the colonists).
As for American Indians, I agree with the references and discussion provided in the answer by Andrew Dalton. In addition, Ayn Rand was asked the following question directly during the Q&A session following her 1974 talk, "Philosophy: Who Needs It," at the West Point Military Academy:
When you consider the cultural genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of blacks, and the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War Two, how can you have such a positive view of America?
Her answer can be found in Ayn Rand Answers, pp. 102-103. It is quite illuminating and in agreement with the other references cited by Andrew.
Be sure not to miss all the other press releases and articles from The Ayn Rand Institute regarding Columbus. It seems to have become a tradition of sorts at ARI/ARC for more than 10 years now to publish or republish at least one article defending Columbus and the settling of America, at about the time of the Columbus Day commemoration in October every year.
In the comments, the questioner asks:
[I]s an aggressive "forward strategy" the right approach? After [?], why not go to a hotbed of tribalism like Kabul and set up nation-building ? Isn't this what neocons tried to do in Iraq ? Is that approach condoned by Objectivists ?
Objectivists advocate a foreign policy of national self-interest. It not necessarily in the national self-interest of the U.S. to convert tribal nations everywhere into better nations. What for, and at what cost, borne by whom?
As for Iraq, there was no need to attempt any kind of "nation building" there in order to accomplish the basic U.S. anti-terrorism goals (or containment of "weapons of mass destruction"), nor was Iraq the most appropriate target for action against militant Islamic terrorism. At most, it appears that the Bush administration was attempting, by invading Iraq, to project the U.S. as a mighty military power that terrorists should not "mess with." Iraq was the wrong place to do that, but Iraq was chosen apparently because it didn't require identification of the role of militant Islam behind terrorism, nor did it require any direct military action against any consistent Islamic theocracy. (Potentially, a strong U.S. presence on both sides of Iran may be strategically significant if or when the U.S. contemplates any serious military move against Iran, but such a move seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.)
In follow-up comments, the questioner takes issue with one particular formulation in the following excerpt from Ayn Rand's answer in Ayn Rand Answers, pp. 103-104:
[L]et's suppose they ["native Americans"] were all beautifuly innocent savages -- which they certainly were not. What were they fighting for, in opposing the white man on this continent [North America]? For their wish to continue a primitive existence; for their "right" to keep part of the earth untouched -- to keep everybody out so they could live like animals or cavemen. [Compared to that, any] European who brought with him an element of civilization had the right to take over this continent [North America], and it's great that some of them did. The racist Indians today -- those who condemn America -- do not respect individual rights.
The questioner applies this to European settlers in Africa who did not consistently respect and uphold individual rights. If the principle of individual rights is to be the basic criterion for evaluating the actions and stature of settlers, it must be applied to the indigenous people as well, which is exactly what Ayn Rand's answer does. Indigenous people are not exempt from the principle of individual rights merely because they never recognized that principle at all and do not abide by it, nor claim to, and were born into a tribal existence. They are not exempt merely because they were outright tribalists historically and treated their own fellow tribe members very badly by the standard of individual rights, albeit in a manner consistent with the nature of tribalism. The answer given by Ayn Rand makes the tribal status of the indigenous "native Americans" very clear.
Ayn Rand also points out that in the case of North America, the European settlers and their descendents eventually fought very hard to abolish slavery, many of them dying in their effort to abolish it, slavery being a blatant contradiction of individual rights.
Ayn Rand's answer does not specifically mention or address settlers in Africa, but certainly the principle of individual rights would be applicable there, too. The right of civilized (or semi-civilized) Europeans to "take over" Africa does not include the right to violate individual rights, insofar as those rights are being respected by the alleged victims of the settlers. If the settlers are to be criticized for the ways in which they failed to institute and uphold individual rights, then the hue and cry against the far worse atrocities committed by native Africans should be even louder than the criticism of the settlers, judging by the news reports of tribal blacks viciously hacking fellow blacks to death with machetes in parts of Africa, and tribal blacks wontonly raping and sexually enslaving black women. The actions of black tribalists toward the settlers' farms is utterly abysmal, as well -- seizing and plundering the farms, rendering once highly productive farming operations worthless and driving the settlers out.
By the standard of individual rights, there were certainly vast differences between the settlers in America and the settlers in Africa, notwithstanding the more basic comparison of European settlers to traditional tribalism. There is a hint of the difference in one of Ayn Rand's remarks about slavery: "slavery was a remnant of the politics and philosophies of Europe and the rest of the world." [Ibid. p. 102] The Americans worked to abolish slavery, and eventually did.
One of the questioner's comments is:
I imagine every white man who went to Africa to colonize it must have had a similar exalted view: I am trading with these sub-human savages and "helping them become civilized".
While this comment apparently was meant as characature and disparagement, there is a very real sense in which it is actually true. Ayn Rand observes [Answers, p. 103]:
[F]ollowing America's example, slavery or serfdom was abolished in the whole civilized world in the nineteenth century. What abolished it? Capitalism, not altruism or any kind of collectivism. The world of free trade could not coexist with slave labor.
Again, the principle of individual rights is not race-based nor racially selective, nor on "equal footing" with tribalism. In any conflict between individual rights (even if imperfectly upheld) and outright tribalism, the verdict has to come down on the side of individual rights if individual rights are to have any meaning at all.
From another comment by the questioner: "who really initiated [force, when foreign settlers come] to a tribal area..."
What is the meaning of "tribal area" here? Is it merely an area where tribes happen to roam? Or is it an area that one or more tribes consider to be their territory against all other tribes or foreigners? How does one tribe acquire dominance over individuals or over other tribes? Under tribalism, it would be by force. If force is acceptable, then how can a tribe object (morally speaking) when a superior force arrives, or a competing tribe attempts to "muscle in"?
The "tribal territory" view also expresses the idea of "Collective Rights." Objectivism most certainly denies that rights are collective. For an overview, refer to "Collective Righs" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Also refer to the original source from which the excerpts in that topic came: Ayn Rand's article, "Collectivized 'Rights,'" in The Virtue of Selfishness: A New concept of Egoism, Chapter 13.
Update: Some Objections Revisited
In the comments, user890 writes:
Any discussion of applications of the Objectivist view of rights to groups should begin with the following two essays by Ayn Rand, which can also be found in The Virtue of Selfishness:
Here are some key excerpts from the second essay:
Rand also discusses the criteria for a "free nation," given that all governments today violate rights to some extent.
For a more detailed discussion of the American Indians from an Objectivist perspective, see Thomas Bowden's 2004 lecture "Columbus Day Without Guilt." It can be viewed at the Ayn Rand Center website with free registration. (Follow the button for ARC Speaker Series / The Complete Video Collection.)
answered May 15 '11 at 18:53
Andrew Dalton ♦