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Was waging war w/ the "Native Americans" right?

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Rand addresses this exact topic on a Q & A on one of the audio tapes I have. She basically says that the settlers were not immoral to "take over" the land because the American Indians did not recognize property rights, were extremely collectivist (i.e. tribes), and more or less lived like savages.

First of all, as has already been noted in this thread, by the early 19th century not every Indian tribe "lived like savages" or practiced communal ownership. The Cherokees, for example, recognized individual ownership of homesteads, cattle, tilled land, etc.

Secondly, if it is not immoral to take over the land belonging to people who not recognize property rights, would one be justified in taking over the house or car of a socialist living in the U.S.?

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Secondly, if it is not  immoral to take over the land belonging to people who not recognize property rights, would one be justified in taking over the house or car of a socialist living in the U.S.?
There's one good way to find out: try it, and see if he suddenly asserts his capitalist property rights.
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First of all, as has already been noted in this thread, by the early 19th century not every Indian tribe "lived like savages" or practiced communal ownership.  The Cherokees, for example, recognized individual ownership of homesteads, cattle, tilled land, etc. 

Exactly. The forced removal of the Cherokee came after the Chereokee, more than any other indian nation, attempted to emulate the American system around them.

Secondly, if it is not  immoral to take over the land belonging to people who not recognize property rights, would one be justified in taking over the house or car of a socialist living in the U.S.?

I think the answer to that question is: of course it's immoral.

I think the confusion in this situation is caused by our own understanding of "taking over the land." I see two different situations:

1. Settlers forcibly moving natives off land that they are presently living on, and which might be legally recognized as theirs via treaty.

2. Settlers moving onto UNoccupied land, which the Indians claim to hold in a collective, but they are not currently using.

In situation 1, there is no justification for moving them off their land. It is clearly theirs, they are living off of it. In situation 2, their only claim to the land is some kind of spiritual or mystic ties, but they have no legal right to hold that land and if someone moved onto it, established a home and produced on it, then they would clearly have the right to do so.

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There's one good way to find out: try it, and see if he suddenly asserts his capitalist property rights.

But the socialist's claim to legal ownership and control of his house and car would not necessarily mean that he has altered his socialist ideology. 1) He may be lying. 2) He may fervently believe that one must use the system against itself, that any property in the hands of present socialists is to the good.

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But the socialist's claim to legal ownership and control of his house and car would not necessarily mean that he has altered his socialist ideology.  1) He may be lying.  2) He may fervently believe that one must use the system against itself, that any property in the hands of present socialists is to the good.
I don't really care what his personal beliefs are. The only question is whether he believes his bullcrap strongly enough to act on his supposed convictions, which in fact he does not. Nobody rejects the concept of private property once they understand what it is. The problem with the Indians was simply that by and large they did not even understand the idea.
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I don't really care what his personal beliefs are. The only question is whether he believes his bullcrap strongly enough to act on his supposed convictions, which in fact he does not. Nobody rejects the concept of private property once they understand what it is. The problem with the Indians was simply that by and large they did not even understand the idea.

I'm sure if the indians were aware of the private property discourse and thought appealing to it would have helped prevent their land getting taken, they would have done so without hesitation.

They 'didnt understand' the idea because they never grew up in a society which recognised private property, nor did anyone else before Locke. I'm not sure why this makes them less deserving of having possessions than someone who grew up in a society with private property, and came to reject it.

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I think most of us agree that government should remain outside of the market (not buying/selling). However, land purchases such as the Louisiana Purchase may prove a kind of exception (if anyone else has a different interpretation, please chime in!).

I think the Louisiana Purchase is a very interesting case, and one I dont have strong opinions on at present. It was certainly unconstitutional, and in a sense the government does not have the right to purchase land. And yet without it, America would not be anything like what it is today.
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I don't really care what his personal beliefs are. The only question is whether he believes his bullcrap strongly enough to act on his supposed convictions, which in fact he does not.

The statement we are dealing with is this from PoliticalJunkie: "The settlers were not immoral to 'take over' the land because the American Indians did not recognize property rights."

Now, I think it is fair to say that socialists do not recognize property rights or, if they do, recognize them in very delimited ways. That is why I asked if it would be moral to take over the property of a socialist.

Now your point seems to be that the socialist must believe "his bullcrap strongly enough to act on his supposed convictions,” because if he does believe in the "bullcrap" he would not object to his property being seized by the state. On the other hand, if he does object, he would not qualify as a socialist.

But it should be noted that one of the doctrines of Marxism is that a variety of approaches may be taken to achieve the revolution, including but not limited to electoral politics, violence, and infiltration of the existing bourgeois order. Thus, the socialist who argues that he should not have his property confiscated could be acting consistently within his belief system, a system that aspires ultimately to utopian, propertyless communism.

Nobody rejects the concept of private property once they understand what it is.

I suspect that it would be impossible for one to disprove this claim because any example offered to the contrary would likely be dismissed as someone who didn’t really “understand what” private property is.

The problem with the Indians was simply that by and large they did not even understand the idea.

Yes, but often even when tribes practiced private property rights, they were dispossessed anyway.

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I think the Louisiana Purchase is a very interesting case, and one I dont have strong opinions on at present. It was certainly unconstitutional, and in a sense the government does not have the right to purchase land. And yet without it, America would not be anything like what it is today.

When you say "purchase land" what do you mean? Clearly, the government has the just authority to seize land (eminent domain) with just compensation in order to carry out its functions, i.e., to establish a military base, police department or to construct a capital. The government needs to be able to possess land in order to function its proper role. Wouldn't you agree?

As for the Louisiana purchase...I really don't know what to think. Is it justifiable to accept certain actions of governments when it comes to international relations (i.e., purchasing large portions of land from another nation) that would be unacceptable within a free state because of how the international arena is structured? Yet, such actions still affect the people within the nations (where does the money to make such a purchase come from? the individuals of the nation). Perhaps it would have been moral had the funds to purchase the land come voluntarily from Americans who had a desire to settle the land, but with the government only acting as an intermediary because France wouldn't deal with individual American citizens. But is that really practical -- or proper -- of the government?

Maybe it is acceptable under some circumstances, where the national security of the nation depends on it (thus serving the proper function of defending the citizen's rights), and unacceptable where it is done to enrich a few well-placed individuals?

Thoughts, anyone?

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They 'didnt understand' the idea because they never grew up in a society which recognised private property, nor did anyone else before Locke. I'm not sure why this makes them less deserving of having possessions than someone who grew up in a society with private property, and came to reject it.
It's not a question of what they deserved or did not deserve, it's simply that they did not own the land which they may have trod upon at one time or another. And of course some of them did, so we're only talking about tribes who didn't have a concept of land ownership and therefore could not possibly enter into a sales contract for land (for instance the Plains tribes). You're also ignoring the fact that the debate is over land, not possessions in general. They all thought that a person could own a dead beaver or a woman. Take a look at zillions of socialist contries in the world, such as Tanzania and Mozambique -- private ownership of goodies is and always has been recognised, but not ownership of land.

And while Locke deserves all sorts of credit for good ideas, the Dutch bought Manhattan from the Indians by 1626, around 6 years before Locke was born.

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Yes, but often even when tribes practiced private property rights, they were dispossessed anyway.
Are you speaking of the Cherokee, or have you progressed beyond that? That was clearly an immoral act by the government, but the whole "we stole the land from the Indians" hysteria isn't about the Cherokee. Do you have the belief that it was immoral to use military power to defend settlers from murderers? I'm just trying to figure out if you have a point other than Whiteman Is Always Wrong.
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  • 3 weeks later...
Clearly, the government has the just authority to seize land (eminent domain) with just compensation in order to carry out its functions, i.e., to establish a military base, police department or to construct a capital. The government needs to be able to possess land in order to function its proper role. Wouldn't you agree?

I government must own (or lease) land to perform it's proper role but this does not grant the government a right to steal property. Eminent Domain is a crazy power that is starting to compete with interstate commerce in its overuse and absurdity. They have the authority but I doubt how "just" it is.

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I government must own (or lease) land to perform it's proper role but this does not grant the government a right to steal property.  Eminent Domain is a crazy power that is starting to compete with interstate commerce in its overuse and absurdity.  They have the authority but I doubt how "just" it is.

As spoken of in "Ethics of Emergencies", during an emergency it becomes imperative to act in any way possible to restore yourself to the state of life prior to the emergency. If there was, say, an insurrection or invasion in a town, the militia, military or police force will have expanded authority to act to restore legal order. In the process of this action, it may be necessary to seize land for the use of the militia/military/police. This power should be limited to emergencies and also by laws forcing the government to compensate any citizen for land taken in such a situation.

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I cannot imagine it could be justified for the government, on behalf of "society", to force people to move off their land.
I just read this and remembered your comments about the IDF being justified in removing settlers from the West Bank, "for their own good." Did you have a change of heart?
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I just read this and remembered your comments about the IDF being justified in removing settlers from the West Bank, "for their own good." Did you have a change of heart?

I'm sorry, but I fail to see the parallel between the military acting to defend the nation during war time by evacuating land that they cannot defend, and using force to evict innocent people from land that rightfully belong to them just so other individuals can make use of it.

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Um, I was referring to the general principal espoused in the quoted passage, and that is that government (whether police, Congress, military, or Joe Mayor) cannot use force to remove people from their land. This is a general principle that is violated by the IDF. I don't want to reargue the IDF situation, but I'll just say that there is no conflict between the proper use of force by a government, and the defense of individual rights. To claim that a government can ever be justified in using force to violate the rights of men "for the sake of saving them" is a to claim that "rights" could some how self-conflict or be at odds with the life of the rights-holding men.

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  • 9 months later...

Taken from 'Wikiquote':

"'[The Native Americans] didn't have any rights to the land and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using.... What was it they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their "right" to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves above it. Any white person who brought the element of civilization had the right to take over this continent."

o Source: [Ayn Rand] Q and A session following her Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, March 6, 1974"

Was the US ethical in its removal of the Native Americans from the land and claiming it as their own? Did the Native Americans really have no right to the land they were living on?

Edited by tnunamak
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Was the US ethical in its removal of the Native Americans from the land and claiming it as their own? Did the Native Americans really have no right to the land they were living on?

As a group, no. Rights only apply to individuals. If they had personal property or some concept of individual rights which specified ownership, and that was taken from them by force, then there would have been a moral breach. However, to my knowledge there was no such protection for individual rights which means there was no proper ownership. The closest might be that they were using some particular area for hunting and gathering, but wondering across land does not bestow rights in any meaningful sense. They had and have the same rights as white people to purchase land to use for whatever purpose they choose. Other people coming here and establishing a government to protect rights did not take away their land any more then it would today. If a wealthy Japanese businessman came here and purchased property, he would not be taking away my right to own some.

You might be able to support some number of abuses by white settlers in terms of raided villages, murders, and whatnot, but likely you could find as many on the other side. It would be hard(and improper) to speak to these circumstances in general. To decide on morality, it would be necessary to look at particular cases to have the right contextual details. Custer's last stand or the trail of tears or whatever.

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What about tribes that built permanent settlements/villages?

"Groups [of Ohlone/Costanoan Native Americans] moved annually between temporary and permanent village sites in a seasonal round of hunting, fishing, and gathering."

How do you determine what is considered "property?" If I build a house and say it's my property, does that specify ownership? If my tribe builds a permanent village, and we say it's "our" village, does that specify ownership? If I build a house in a permanent village, but only live there three months a year, do I still own it?

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The question is basically unanswerable because it is so broad. The US has no rights and The Native Americans have no rights, as aequalsa points out. In some cases, land was purchased by individuals, in some cases it was stolen by individuals, and in in some cases it was given by individuals. If you narrow the question down to a specific location, it could be possible to give a meaningful answer. For example in the Northwest, in Puget Sound, the white settlement was accomplished via peaceful coexistence and mutual trade whereas the settlement of the Plains was via force. The operative principle here seems to be level of civilization, the Plain tribes being the most uncivilized and the PNW tribes being among the most civilized. Whether or not white man or red man is to blame is impossible to judge in the context of our knowledge, since the question amounts to asking who fired the first shot. The question is also irrelevant to anything except a purely academic historical study (not to disparage the study of history, but there are no new consequences for current land ownership arising from answering the question).

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