Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Ayn Rand on native American rights

This is Joseph.

Ayn Rand on the settling of North America:
The citizens in it have individual rights, but the country has no rights and so anyone has the right to invade it, because rights are not recognized in that country; and no individual or country can have its cake and eat it too--that is, you can't claim one should respect the "rights" of Indians, when they had no concept of rights and no respect for rights. But let's suppose they were all beautifully innocent savages--which they certainly were not. What were they fighting for, in opposing the white man on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existnece (sic); for their "right" to keep part of the earth untouched--to keep everybody out so they could live like animals or cavemen. Any European who brought with him an element of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it's great that some of them did.
 This quote is so brutal that I wondered if it might have been fabricated.  But, it seems to be sourced correctly to a speech at West Point Military Academy.

If we presuppose that this quote is an accurate view of Ayn Rand's views, then it has some really big implications.  It rejects group rights, which really isn't a big surprise to anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged.  What is more concerning is the individual rights of the American Indians.  It's not at all clear that these people lived in savagery, and there is good evidence that Europeans mostly come into contact with the survivors of a plague, aka smallpox.  Some degree of social degradation could be expected in these circumstances.

What is the most challenging element here is the notion that the "civilized" European was justified in expropriating land (i.e., property) based on cultural superiority.  And this expropriation had a great deal of force involved.

It creates a notion that force is justified to claim property if one is more culturally advanced.  That would totally change the thrust of her philosophy, given that there is no entity that can decide who can arbitrate this distinction, meaning that the winners are likely to declare themselves socially superior.  This is a collapse into force-based conquest when different groups come into contact.

To me this is a critical point of weakness in the Randian viewpoint, if this is how it looks at inter-cultural conflict.  It's only moral justification is the ideal that property rights have a key element in the ability of complex societies to function.  But if the conflict between groups is to be arbitrated by force, then you really don't have much distinction from feudalism, which had strong property rights and an ideal of enforcing/expanding them by force.

I wonder to what extent this was a "one off" line of thinking?

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