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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.

asked May 14 '11 at 19:50

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Danneskjold_repo
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edited May 14 '11 at 23:00

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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I like the timeliness of this question wrt the one about the rights of sovereign nations. Nations do not have rights, people do. "If per objectivism, they are not seen as having the same essential rights as more technologically advanced people"- is a false claim and a false premise. All rational animals, humans, have inalienable rights. If a sovereign nation's government is systematically violating the rights of its citizens, the individuals belonging to that government are subject to the moral, forceful extinction by those of a rights respecting one.

(May 14 '11 at 23:04) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

Thanks for the answer. Let me ask some clarifying questions: I understand from your last sentence that individuals belonging to the government of the rights-violating nation are subject to being executed/killed (I paraphrase your "extinction" term). OK. What about governments that include otherwise normal people in their "government" at the point of a gun: North Korea, China have huge "parties" and they strongly push membership to promote obedience. Would it be OK to kill all Chinese party members (about 78 million people) since they are technically part of the govt?

(May 15 '11 at 09:20) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I also have another query since dreadrocksean's answer did not answer my question about colonialism. I would understand that pre-Western Native Americans had every right that the colonists did. Was it then moral to occupy what they considered as their tribal lands (they did not have land deeds so proving this gets problematic) and to take whatever was needed as if they did not exist? In short, when they rebelled (sometimes violently) against incoming colonists, was it moral to have rendered many of them "extinct" ? Was it moral for Britain and Portugal to have done similarly in Africa?

(May 15 '11 at 09:30) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I recommend keeping this question delimited to the issue of colonialism, rather than the proper conduct of war in general. The latter should be a separate question.

(May 15 '11 at 18:20) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Most of the time when people show up on the doorstep of tribes/hordes etc. and take up residence, war is a quick result. Tribes do not like interacting with "the other" in general. The question is: does enlightened country A have a moral right to go to undeveloped country B and then settle down there as if for good ? If country B is tribalist, then war will almost surely ensue (and we can discuss that...). Is it incumbent on undeveloped country/tribe B to welcome country A with open arms or suffer force ? In other words, when nations encounter tribes holding land, what is proper?

(May 15 '11 at 22:36) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
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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.)

Update

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.

Further Update

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:

  • "I thought Ayn Rand would support their [tribalists'] right to live like animals." Animals live predominately by the method of physical force (and exclusively perceptual cognition), which is the opposite of rights.

  • "You can't take over a country without first violating the rights of its inhabitants...." The alleged "rights" here would be the customs of tribes, i.e., collectivized rights. Objectivism holds that only individuals have rights, not collectives (apart from rights which individuals may delegate to the government so that it can act on their behalf as their agent). And "take over" here is meant to refer simply to moving in where individual rights did not previously exist, and establishing a system of individual rights. Settlers historically didn't always do that fully consistently, but those who broght progress toward that goal deserve credit for it.

  • "What atrocities did the Native Americans commit?" This comment assumes that Native Americans are in the same category of tribal terrorism as more recent African Natives, widely reported in the news (even on "60 Minutes"). The context of the quoted comment was modern Africa, not Enlightenment era America. Refer to the full context for specific examples of tribal terrorism by African Natives.

answered May 17 '11 at 01:47

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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edited Jan 05 '13 at 02:44

After reading Ayn Rand Answers I am left worried. "Any European who brought with him an element of civilization had the right to take over this continent" --A.R. This is powerful language. 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". I only wish there were more examples of white colonials having adopted a real "trader principle" versus disgracefully treating natives in so many colonized countries as servants if not outright slaves. Mark me unconvinced here.

(May 19 '11 at 00:16) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

What matters is the content of what Ayn Rand said (which has been elaborated elsewhere in this thread), not whether the language is "powerful." What European colonists in the past might have thought or done -- which was often motivated by religious zeal and/or desire for loot -- is irrelevant to the principles and applications of Objectivism.

(May 19 '11 at 08:31) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

I think it is naive to give all Europeans (who did have some "element of civilization"...) an implicit right to take over continents. Reality indicates that the track record has been catastrophic (African colonies). If A.R. was speaking about an idealized, perfectly rational European, she should have qualified her words. Given she did not it is vital that we understand the not only the rational meaning of these words but the sense of life that they implicitly endorse. I do not believe that having an element of civilization automatically confers any rights of conquest.

(May 20 '11 at 09:18) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I am writing about the Update above. The world certainly has primitive tribal people whose customs are barbaric and undeveloped. No argument there. My question was what is the status of these people? A.R. believed that force was fine (see my comment above) in dealing with these people since they were "savages" and used force themselves. The problem is who really initiated? Coming to a tribal area constitutes a threat to the tribal mindset. Tribal man will oppose. He will then be destroyed/killed by superior Western weapons. This dynamic of conflict seems to be moral to Objectivists.

(May 21 '11 at 15:35) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I want to thank Ideas For Life for helping answer this in a very helpful way. This subject is fraught with emotion and IMVHO, A.R. did no favors to herself by being a bit dramatic in her answers. This is a serious issue and deserves seriousness. Much pain in the world has resulted from supposedly civilized Westerners looking at undeveloped nations' inhabitants as sub-human slaves and treating them in some cases as lower animals. I appreciate the discussion and learned a lot. I leave the thread agreeing in principle but worrying still about the implementation of this philosophy. Thanks all!

(May 22 '11 at 13:26) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
1

I'm glad the questioner has found the discussion helpful. I would just like to re-emphasize one additional point that differentiates Objectivism from all other philosophies, including the philosophies of Old Europe: Objectivism regards the initiation of physical force against others as morally evil. All use of physical force condoned by Objectivism is only the retaliatory use against those who initiate its use. This is a new principle in the history of philosophy, but if implemented consistently, it should very effectively delimit the type and purpose of any physical force that might be necessary in defense of civilized settlers whose presence and settlements may come under attack by tribal "natives." There is much that Objectivism certainly would not endorse in the details of settlers' actions historically in North America and Africa (such as slavery), despite the larger trend of tribalism versus individual rights and the form of civilization and governance that proceeds from imlementing a system individual rights consistently.

(May 23 '11 at 01:09) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

"[L]et's suppose they ["native Americans"] were all beautifuly innocent savages -- which they certainly were not."

How were they not innocent? How could the colonizers be morally superior when they brought disease and destruction upon the defenseless Natives? The ends don't justify the means.

"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."

So what if they lived that way? I thought Ayn Rand would support their right to live like animals.

(Jan 04 '13 at 18:25) user890 user890's gravatar image

"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."

There can be no "right to take over." You can't take over a country without first violating the rights of its inhabitants; that's the whole essence of taking something over in the first place, as history has shown us repeatedly.

(Jan 04 '13 at 18:29) user890 user890's gravatar image

"the hue and cry against the far worse atrocities committed by native Africans should be even louder than the criticism of the settlers"

What atrocities did the Native Americans commit? Name at least three concrete "atrocities" committed by this specific group of indigenous people and please cite the source of that information.

(Jan 04 '13 at 18:34) user890 user890's gravatar image
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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:

A nation, like any other group, is only a number of individuals and can have no rights other than the rights of its individual citizens. A free nation -- a nation that recognizes, respects, and protects the individual rights of its citizens -- has a right to its territorial integrity, its social system and its form of government.

. . .

Such a nation has a right to its sovereignty (derived from the rights of its citizens) and a right to demand that its sovereignty be respected by all other nations.

But this right cannot be claimed by dictatorships, by savage tribes or by any form of absolutist tyranny. A nation that violates the rights of its own citizens cannot claim any rights whatsoever. In the issue of rights, as in all moral issues, there can be no double standard. A nation ruled by brute physical force is not a nation, but a horde -- whether it is led by Attila, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Khrushchev or Castro. What rights could Attila claim and on what grounds?

. . .

A slave country has no national rights, but the individual rights of its citizens remain valid, even if unrecognized, and the conqueror has no right to violate them. Therefore, the invasion of an enslaved country is morally justified only when and if the conquerors establish a free social system, that is, a system based on the recognition of individual rights.

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%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦
10009447

I read Bowden's note. OK so Western culture is provably superior to tribalism. Therefore, is 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 ? And, I notice some of the argument here revolves around "sparseness" of population. Is the number of individuals the moral issue (i.e. colonizing a place where 20 people live is OK even if they don't like it but don't do it when there are 200,000 people there?).

(May 15 '11 at 22:42) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

What "note" are you talking about? I am referring to a recorded lecture in the ARC archives.

(May 15 '11 at 22:56) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

sorry, it was Berliner's note on the subject http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_columbus

(May 16 '11 at 07:34) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

The morality of colonialism has nothing to do with the superiority/inferiority of the cultures involved. The crucial issue, as noted in the essays Andrew Dalton linked to in his answers, concerns individual rights. A nation that respects rights has a right to national sovereignty; a nation that does not respects rights does not.

As for your questions: Yaron Brook argues against the Bush conception of a "forward strategy" in an article in the Spring 2007 edition of The Objective Standard (it's accessible for free online). Where did you find that the argument revolves around "sparseness"?

(May 16 '11 at 19:42) Brandon Killen ♦ Brandon%20Killen's gravatar image

I am getting the "sparseness" from the "savage tribes" theme that keeps showing up. I took tribes and nomads to indicate sparsely populated areas. Probably an unwarranted assumption.

Re: colonialism, I think I may have answered my own question. A.R. justifies force against "savages" via the following quote from A.R. Answers p104 "anyone had the right to come here [America] and take whatever they could, because they would be dealing with savages as the Indians dealt with each other --that is by force". It follows that Objectivists view force against people they term "savages" as 100% moral.

(May 21 '11 at 15:22) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
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Asked: May 14 '11 at 19:50

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Last updated: Jan 05 '13 at 02:44