October 12, 2017
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Columbus, American Indians, and Whose Land is it?
Happy Columbus Day! And, yes, I recognize to express this greeting is to get oneself labeled, by today’s progressivist and culturally Marxist standards, both politically-incorrect and incorrigibly “racist.” Too bad, I shall continue to say it, every October 12—that is, until the PC crowd, if they gain complete control of the American judiciary and enact even more extreme “hate speech” legislation, decide to put me behind bars!
But celebrating this special day (the post office and certain government offices now celebrate a day next to the nearest weekend for “convenience”), once thought a normal part of observing and honoring the history of America, is now considered by cultural Marxists in academia, in the media, and amongst an increasingly growing number of politicians as just one more example of what’s wrong with America, or, more particularly, the country’s long history of bigotry, hatred, racism, and “white oppression.”
As the day approached this year, several excellent and distinguished writer-friends of mine have engaged in a friendly and scholarly conversation not so much about the historical figure and legacy of Columbus, but more so about the accumulated mythology which undergirds some of the present-day attacks on that intrepid explorer and on the genocide he supposedly unleashed (at the hands of future European colonists) on American Indians, in both the southern and northern hemispheres. Both authors understand that the cultural Marxist Left has created a target variously termed “historic white European supremacy,” “the history of white racism,” or “European colonialism,” which becomes central to its greater attack on Western and Christian civilization and traditions. Both reject that Marxist narrative.
Yet, their focus points differ. And in examining those points the most fascinating discussion comes in their examination of property rights, and in particular, the idea that American Indians had prior (natural) rights to the property that makes up the present American nation before the coming of the Europeans. Just what were those rights, how were they understood, and what did they entail? Were they anything like the concept of settled territorial property rights accepted generally by Europeans with their significant legacy of “property rights theory” inherited from the Romans—Roman law—and codified by such Christian authorities as St. Thomas Aquinas [e.g., in Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. lxvi] and by the medieval 12th-13th century Bologna Legal School, and the revaluation of Aristotle [e.g., his Politics, I. 2, c. 5]?
These questions go far beyond the scope of this introductory commentary.
I will make just a couple of more or less technical points before offering articles by my friends. I am not a follower of John Locke, whose philosophical approach I reject. Locke has much to say about property and property rights, and in particular the oft-quoted aphorism of an individual’s “right to the fruits of one’s labor.” But, essentially, he was wrong.
Locke believed the foundation of private property to be in the right which every man has to the products of his labor. This “labor theory” was strongly endorsed by 19th century liberal, free market political economists, especially by Adam Smith, Ricardo, and others. But it is untenable. No doubt labor is a powerful factor in the acquisition of property, but the right to the products of one’s labor is not the ultimate source and basis for the right of property. The worker can call the product of his work his own only when the material on which he works is truly his property, but then the question arises how he came to be the owner of the material. Suppose, for example, that a number of workers have been engaged by a car maker to build cars. After the work is done, they may claim their wages, but the products of their labor, those shiny new Ford F-150s, do not belong to them, but to the Ford Motor Company. Then the further question may be asked: How did Henry Ford, the original owner of the company, acquire his property? It was through Henry Ford’s own investment, his capital, in short, his use of his property, that Ford Motors came into existence.
The most primitive means of acquiring property is through simple physical occupation, and, as the old legal saying goes, “possession is nine tenths of the law.” But in pre-colonized America did American Indians actually possess or own the land? True, as largely hunter-gatherers they possessed a certain, but very limited, residual proprietary title to the lands on which they roamed. Especially the Plains tribes would roam for hundreds of miles in search of buffalo, oftentimes into “hunting grounds” where other tribes also roamed. But does traveling over a large breadth of land, searching for food and staples, without permanent settlement entitle the traveler to actual property rights over those lands? No, not really. Certainly those tribes that were settled on distinct and specific lands and engaged in agriculture on those plots had better founded claims.
With the coming of Europeans and the growth of what became the United States, and as the whole country was thus turned into measurable property under established law, physical occupation, alone, lost its significance as conferring a title to real estate. Other titles of acquisition, which are subordinate or derived titles, became the norm: for instance, accession, fructification, conveyance by various kinds of contracts, prescription, and especially the right of inheritance. Still, property via occupation for movable goods remained important. Only recall fishing and hunting on quickly disappearing unclaimed lands, searching and digging for gold or diamonds in regions—as in portions of Alaska around 1900—which had not yet passed over into private ownership.
My point here is to illustrate that the arrival of Europeans on these shores was not, at least from the point of view of natural law or property rights, necessarily a bad thing, not necessarily against the laws of morality that the Europeans themselves professed, or, for that matter, not against the common usages and accepted customs of the inhabitants they found here, who had engaged for centuries in the customary and armed incursion into the claimed “hunting grounds” of neighboring tribes: that practice was normal, as were regular conflicts and wars which could and did decimate those native populations.
Of course, the European explorers and colonizers were not without violations of those same standards and laws of morality that they held themselves to. And in that regard, we can always cite the horrid Sand Creek Massacre (Chivington), the “Trail of Tears,” and other instances when traditional standards—Christian standards—of conduct and morality were conveniently forgotten and violated by the newer settlers and their armed contingents.
Yet, to paint the European advance into the New World, whether in the Spanish and Portuguese areas of the Southern Hemisphere or in those areas settled by Britain and France in the north, as examples of genocide and mass murder is simply untrue, a useful trope and accusation employed by purveyors of cultural Marxism in their withering attack on Western Christian civilization and culture.
The fact is that when those Europeans came to these shores they found primitive peoples practicing animist/pagan religious cults. Especially in Latin American the apostolic calling was to Christianize and humanize native peoples, to halt human sacrifice and extreme cruelty, not to exterminate those peoples; and in this, Hispanic missionaries were largely successful. Yet, still, in much of Anglophone thinking, Spain receives a bad press and enjoys a poor reputation for its colonial policies. But, just as the superb historian Dario Fernandez Morera has demonstrated in his study, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, about Spain’s treatment of the Moors, Spain’s record in Latin America is far better than some Marxist historians would have us believe. Equally, Dr. William S. Maltby, in his important volume, The Black Legend in England, convincingly describes how the “legend” of Spanish mistreatment of South American Indians became an ideological cudgel, based not on fact, but on anti-Spanish English prejudice.
In North America, it was the existence of millions of vacant acres of land that attracted colonists. The dearth of native populations in those largely unoccupied areas provided both the incentive and the opportunity to settle and move beyond simple physical occupation of land. And with European settlement also came the implementation of those rules and standards of traditional European law, of registries of deeds, of legal sales by law, of regulated inheritance, of renting and contracts, and much more. In a sense, it was the triumph of a more developed and profound system which overwhelmed the previous, more primitive system and also replaced it.
The cultural Marxist narrative, under examination, does not hold.
Today, then, I pass on three essays: two by Dr. Jack Kerwick on Columbus and the idea of the “Noble Savage,” and by Ilana Mercer on the property rights of American Indians. I hope you find the conversation interesting.
Columbus, the West, and the Myth of the Noble Savage
Jack Kerwick Posted: Oct 09, 2017 12:01 AM
Well, it’s Christopher Columbus Day again.
And this, of course, means that it is but another occasion for leftists everywhere to repudiate their own civilization.
For a few decades now, the 15th century European explorer’s face has been held up as that of Western civilization, i.e. the face of all that is evil in the world. Columbus is the proverbial poster child for the White, Christian, Heterosexual Male, i.e. the contemporary left’s version of Public Enemy Number One.
Columbus Day assumes a new significance this year, however, for monuments to Columbus are no longer alone in being targeted for destruction by leftist agitators. They are now in the company of monuments to Robert E. Lee, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and, yes, even legendary Philadelphia mayor and Police Commissioner, Frank Rizzo.
It is now clear that the campaign against monuments to Columbus has always has been and remains a campaign designed to subvert the Western world’s historic identity as a predominantly European (white) and Christian civilization.
The leftist historian Eric Foner recently remarked that there is a conflict over monuments because the latter signify “power.” There is some truth in this—but only some truth. If the monuments signify power, this is only because there is power, self-empowerment, in knowing oneself: Essentially, monuments are expressions of identity.
In attacking monuments to historically famous white men, the vandals strike blows against, not this or that aspect of the Western world, and certainly not this or that person. They attack, and mean to attack, the very being of the West.
The enemies of Columbus convict the West with having introduced violence to the New World, a “Native American” idyll in which indigenous peoples lived in total harmony with one another and nature. This, though, is a Big Lie. For starters, those who were long recognized as American Indians constituted anything but a monolith but, rather, many tribes or nations. Secondly, American Indians comprised numerous tribes or nations that were continuously at war with one another. Thirdly, these wars were distinctively bloody and savage.
The Myth of the Noble Savage, a uniquely European fiction that Columbus himself initially endorsed, has long exposed as just that by anthropological and archaeological research.
Consider the Yellowknives, a tribe that once inhabited Canada. It has no present descendants, and for a very good reason: The Dogrib Indians launched a series of massacres against its members, effectively purging them from the planet.
There’s also evidence of plenty of intra-tribal warfare. Between the borderlands of what is now Brazil and Venezuela, the various Yanomami tribes would continually slaughter each other for purposes of status or in order to abduct female members. When Yanomami warred with others, like the Macu, they would enslave the latter’s members. Studies have found that over a third of Yanomami males died from warfare.
In his War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, the professor of archaeology Laurence H. Keeley determines that only about 13% or so of the indigenous population(s) of the New World did not partake of warfare annually.
Some Indian groups observed the practice of collecting human scalps as trophies. The Iroquois would slowly torture to death their victims—men, women, and teenage boys—over a period of many days. Torture was a ritual. It was also a communal event, a public spectacle, in which everyone, including the children, participated. If the prisoner of war was a “warrior,” he was expected to remain stoic during his tribulations and even sing “death songs.”
Captives were burned, not over a pyre, but by way of hot coals that were applied individually to exposed body parts over an extended tract of time. Additionally, the tortured were stabbed with knives and beaten with sticks and switches. Their fingernails were ripped out and their fingers broken. Children would then yank and twist the broken fingers. Captives were made to consume pieces of their own flesh. To insure that the ritual lasted for as long as possible, those who lost consciousness while being brutalized were revived with food and water so that their torture could resume. Eventually, they were scalped…alive.
Those tribes that inhabited the American Northwest would enslave war captives to such an extent that an enduring slave class formed. Slaves were regularly traded and given as gifts.
In South Dakota, over 100 years before Columbus was born, about 60% of the members of a tribe at Crow Creek were murdered. Archaeologists found a mass grave containing the remains of over 500 men, women, and children who had not just been killed, but dismembered and scalped. About 800 dwellings were destroyed, burned to the ground. Those who survived appear to have been young women who, it is believed, were taken as captives.
Not only is it a great lie that the West introduced violence to a world that had never known it. It is a lie as well that the West made a relatively violent world of indigenous peoples more violent. The European technology characteristic of modern warfare accounts for why far fewer people died in war throughout the 20th century than died in “pre-historic” tribal wars. About 60% of combatants in the close-quarter conflicts of non-Western, premodern tribal peoples were killed. In glaring contrast, about 1% of combatants involved in the wars of the 20th century lost their lives. Whether considered in terms of a percentage of total deaths due to war or in terms of average deaths per year from war as a percentage of the overall population, tribal warfare is about 20 times deadlier than the wars of the 20th century. To put this in perspective, Nicholas Wade, science writer for the New York Times and author of Before the Dawn wrote: “Had the same casualty rate [as tribal peoples in warfare] been suffered by the population of the twentieth century, its war deaths would have totaled two billion people” (emphasis added).
None of these facts are intended to deny, much less justify, those injustices that some American Indians undoubtedly suffered at the hands of some European explorers. They are, though, meant to undermine guilt-inducing lies regarding Columbus, yes, but, ultimately, Western or European civilization.
Everyone Has Property Rights, Whether They Know it or Not 10/11/2017Ilana Mercer
The Indian tribesman's claim to his ancient stomping grounds can't be reduced to a title search at the deeds office. That's the stuff of the positive law. And this was the point I took away from a conversation, circa 2000, with Mr. Property Rights himself, Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
Dr. Hoppe argued unassailably—does he argue any other way?—that if Amerindians had repeatedly traversed, for their livelihood, the same hunting, fishing and foraging grounds, they would have, in effect, homesteaded these, making them their own. Another apodictic profundity deduced from that conversation: The strict Lockean stipulation, whereby to make property one's own, one must transform it to Western standards, is not convincing.
In an article marking Columbus Day—the day Conservatism Inc. beats up on what remains of America's First People—Ryan McMaken debunked Ayn Rand's specious claim that aboriginal Americans "did not have the concept of property or property rights." This was Rand's ruse for justifying Europeans' disregard for the homesteading rights of the First Nations. "[T]he Indian tribes had no right to the land they lived on because" they were primitive and nomadic.
Cultural supremacy is no argument for the dispossession of a Lesser Other. To libertarians, Lockean—or, rather Hoppean—homesteading is sacrosanct. He who believes he has a right to another man’s property ought to produce proof that he is its rightful owner. “As the old legal adage goes, 'Possession is nine-tenths of the law,' as it is the best evidence of legitimate title. The burden of proof rests squarely with the person attempting to relieve another of present property titles.” (Into The Cannibal's Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa, p. 276.)
However, even if we allow that "the tribes and individual Indians had no concept of property," which McMaken nicely refutes—it doesn't follow that dispossessing them of their land would have been justified. From the fact that a man or a community of men lacks the intellectual wherewithal or cultural and philosophical framework to conceive of these rights—it doesn't follow that he has no such rights, or that he has forfeited them. Not if one adheres to the ancient doctrine of natural rights. If American Indians had no attachment to the land, they would not have died defending their territories.
Neither does the fact the First Nations formed communal living arrangements invalidate land ownership claims, as McMaken elucidates. Think of the Kibbutz. Kibbutzim in Israel instantiate the principles of voluntary socialism. As such, they are perfectly fine living arrangements, where leadership is empowered as custodian of the resource and from which members can freely secede. You can't rob the commune of its assets just because members elect to live communally.
Columbus Day has become an occasion for neoconservatives, conservatives and their followers to vent their spleen against American Indians. And woe betide the deviationist who pens anything remotely fair or sympathetic about, say, the genocide of the Indians, the “trail of tears,” or the relegation of Indians to reservations. Berated he will be for daring to lament the wrongs visited on the original inhabitants of this continent on the grounds, mostly, that they were savages.
Come Columbus Day, the same hackneyed observations are disgorged. You'd think conservatives were cutting through the Left's rhetoric of moral superiority to challenge a cultural script that upholds the myth of the purity of primitive life, juxtaposed to the savagery of Western Culture. But they're not.
I mean, who doesn't know that natives were hardly nature's custodians? This fallacy was popularized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's panegyric on the Noble Savage. Pre-Columbian America was no pristine natural kingdom. Native tribes likely engaged in bi-annual forest burning to flush out the species the Indians most wanted to hunt. There was the stampeding, during a hunt, of herds of animals over a cliff. Used repeatedly, some buffalo jumps hold the remains of hundreds of thousands of animals, with patterns of local extinction being well-documented. Where agriculture was practiced in the central and southern parts of America, evidence from sediment points to soil erosion, which was, too, likely ongoing before the arrival of Europeans.
It's old hat that the Americas are scattered with archeological evidence of routine massacres, cannibalism, dismemberment, slavery, abuse of women and human sacrifice among native tribes. In no way can these facts mitigate or excuse the cruel treatment natives have endured. For is such exculpation not the crux of the American exceptionalism creed, peddled by neoconservatives? "The world is up to no good. As a superior 'nation,' let American power remake it in its image." By hook or by crook, if necessary.
Neoconservative deity Dinesh D'Souza likes to claim Native-Americans were decimated not by genocide or ethnocide, "but by diseases brought from Europe by the white man." Not quite. In his magisterial History of the American People, historian Paul Johnson, a leading protagonist for America, details the rather energetic "destruction of the Indians" by Andrew Jackson.
Particularly poignant are Red Eagle's words to Jackson, on April 14, 1814, after the president-to-be had rampaged through villages, burning them and destroying crops in a ruthless campaign against the Indians east of the Mississippi: "I am in your power. My people are gone. I can do no more but weep over the misfortunes of my nation." Jackson had just "imposed a Carthaginian peace on 35 frightened Indian chiefs," forcing them to part with the lion's share of their ancestral lands.
Equally moving is the account of another philo-american, philosopher and historian Alexis de Tocqueville. The Frenchman describes a crowd of displaced Choctaw warriors—having been subjected to ethnic cleansing (in today's parlance):
“There was an air of ruin and destruction, something which gave the impression of a final farewell, with no going back; one couldn't witness it without a heavy heart. … it is an odd coincidence that we should have arrived in Memphis to witness the expulsion, or perhaps the dissolution, of one of the last vestiges of one of the oldest American nations.”
A Response to ‘Columbus, the West, and the Myth of the Noble Savage'
Jack Kerwick Posted: Oct 11, 2017 12:01 AM
My most recent article, “Columbus, the West, and the Myth of the Noble Savage,” elicited a quite surprising response from a friend that took me off guard. Although no one with whom I shared this article raised a single syllable’s worth of an objection to any of the facts that I stated, she proceeded to note that, though my thesis is true, it didn’t justify the virtual elimination of the “Native American” “as a people” from the Earth. Needless to say, some counter-replies are desperately needed here.
(1)Logically and substantively, this response to my essay is the ultimate non sequitur: I never so much as hinted that the perennial warfare in which the indigenous peoples participated against each other justified any kind of ill treatment on the part of Europeans, much less the effective “genocide” mentioned in this criticism. My thesis, which I will not restate but again, was entirely different in meaning, and there is no logically defensible way to get from it to the dastardly conclusion that genocide was morally permissible. In fact, not that I should have needed to do so, but I explicitly stated that none of the facts to which I alluded were intended to either deny or justify any of the injustices suffered by the original inhabitants of what would become the Americas.
(2)Another claim that I made is that those who have long been referred to as Indians did not see themselves in the monolithic terms that we speak of them in today. They comprised numerous tribes or “nations,” most of which were mutually antagonistic. It is indeed telling that some tribes allied with Europeans in their battles against other tribes.
(3)To speak of the land that we now call the Americas as having originally belonged to the Indians is to speak anachronistically: It is to project onto the foreign peoples of yesteryear quite contemporary, incorrigibly Eurocentric categories that are simply not applicable. It is to be guilty, in other words, of precisely that which the Columbus despisers insist is among European civilization’s gravest sins: Imperialism.
The conventional line that we (Europeans) took their (Indians’) land is the product of the colonizer’s, the imperialist’s brain. This landmass that we call the Americas was sparsely populated. Indians inhabited relatively little of it. The rest was wilderness.
And, again, they were no more “a people” than were the English and the Spaniards a single people. The indigenous saw themselves as peoples, mostly enemy peoples of one another.
Furthermore, the concept of “a natural right to private property” is a European specialty. Did the Iroquois think that they were violating the private property rights of their enemies when they invaded the latter’s camps, abducted their women, laid waste to their homes, and scalped them alive? I don’t mean to suggest that there isn’t some right to property rooted in natural law; rather, my point is that if there is an “inalienable” right to property, the Indians certainly didn’t give any indication that they were aware of it.
To be clear, a person no more manifests awareness of a right to private property in defending what he views as his or his tribe’s own than the gazelle manifests awareness of a right to life by attempting to flee the ravenous lion seeking to devour it. The insistence that this territory belongs to me and/or mine emphatically does not translate into everyone has a natural right to property. If indigenous peoples were conscious of a right to property, then they would have recognized the wrongness of raiding the goods of others. By the way, isn’t the left forever assuring us that the idea of property rights is a culturally-specific, namely, a Eurocentric construct?
(4)Regarding this last point, not all Indians were forcefully moved from their lands. Some most definitely were. Yet there was much bartering and trading going on between Europeans and Indians as well. While there was plenty of tragedy, there is no basis in fact for regarding the whole European encounter with Indians as one grave injustice, much less genocide.
(5) The idea that Europeans committed genocide against a whole race of people, nearly exterminating them from the planet, is as big a fiction as that of the Noble/Peaceful Savage. In fact, the former depends upon the latter. To repeat, Indian numbers were kept down not just by way of warfare with Europeans, but warfare with one another. Also, the bulk of casualties stemmed from diseases that indigenous peoples contracted from Europeans.
These points having been made, it is high time to put to rest once and for all the Big Anachronism at the very heart of the debate over Columbus:
Columbus did not discover America. And he most certainly didn’t invade America. There was no America before the Europeans, beginning with Columbus, began creating it. America was named after another Italian (European) explorer: Amerigo Vespucci.
If monuments to Christopher Columbus need to be razed and the name of his holiday changed because of what he (supposedly) represents to the descendants of indigenous peoples, and if these perpetually aggrieved activists who make these demands had the courage to follow their logic through, then they would concede that the name of America itself needs to be changed because of what it must signify to these same peoples.
The Columbus despisers would recognize that the label of “Native American” is even more offensive than that of “Indian,” for it is inescapably Eurocentric, affirming, paradoxically, the legitimacy of the Europeans’ founding, the rightness of naming the continent(s) after the European Vespucci.
To see the self-defeating moral and historical idiocy here, we need only consider the following analogy. Imagine if Jews had been the predominant population of Israel from the Biblical period straight through to, say, World War II. Now, further imagine that Hitler invaded Israel, renamed it Hitler Land, and decimated many, but not all, of the indigenous (Jewish) peoples. While we can imagine this scenario, we cannot imagine that these Jews (or their descendants) would eventually self-regard as “Native Hitlerians” and charge Hitler and his Nazis with having invaded…Hitler Land.
Here’s hoping that everyone had a very happy Columbus Day