Rant: Idiocies About the American Indian

Someone on Facebook published this quote by Ayn Rand:  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.

I would like to believe no one on this blog needs an explanation about how utterly disgusting that is.  In my opinion, it flows naturally from the concept that property rights are above–or a part of–human rights.  This is what one would expect of such an ugly, reactionary philosophy.  But it was the comments of some of those attacking the quote that made me roll my eyes.

“They were one with the land,” went one predictably inane remark.  And, “they were a part of nature,” went another.

First of all, probably the most offensive thing is referring to American Indians as a monolith.  I mean, seriously?  The pastoral (in the literal sense) lifestyle of the Navajo is somehow identical to the complex agricultural life of the Powhatans or the Aztecs?  The nomadic life of the Lakota is the same thing as the settled life of the Cherokee or the Seneca? The ancestors of the Pueblo who lived in Mesa Verde had the same life as the Iroquois of the Great Lakes?  Some tribes in the Kansas Territory supported abolition, others owned slaves  But they’re all the same?  What the fuck?

Second, what is this, “one with the land,” bullshit?  Like every human being ever on the planet, the American Indian, in different ways, according to the development of productive forces and the nature of his environment, consciously altered that environment. That is what human beings do.  If we are “a part of nature” then the form that “oneness” takes is conflict.  We wrest our living from nature, in conflict, as does every other living thing right down to the microscopic parasites in the intestines of our dogs.  What makes human beings unique is our ability to planfully alter nature in accordance with our wishes–we not only build tools, but we build tools to build tools.  This activity changes nature, adapts it to our needs.

This “one with nature” crap is only one, tiny step up from the racist “noble savage” idea every serious anthropologist had abandoned by the end of the 19th Century.   And speaking of anthropologists–it is very popular today to dismiss the work of Lewis Henry Morgan, and cry racism for his use of terms like, “savagery” and “barbarism” and “civilization”  in defining cultural states.  But Morgan, who took the time to study and learn the nuances and subtleties of the different tribes with whom he lived, was far, far more respectful than the “one with nature” types we run into today.

By claiming that those who lived on the North American continent didn’t planfully change their environment, and by lumping them together, you are, in essence, denying them humanity, every bit much as Ayn Rand does.


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60 thoughts on “Rant: Idiocies About the American Indian”

  1. Highly recommended: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.

    My family lived by an Ojibwe reservation. My father noted once that much of the “one with the land” myth comes from practical, not romantic reasons: the garbage left behind when shifting camp in older times decayed faster than tin, plastic, and aluminum. But it was still garbage left behind.

    That said, the Europeans were struck by many things about the first Americans, including their cleanliness. Bathing often? What kind of crazy notion is that?

  2. When it comes to doing lots of agriculture, in places where that agriculture works, you can support maybe ten times as many people on the same land. So you can get maybe ten times as many warriors to push out people who want to use the land in a way that produces less food.

    But lots of native americans took up european farming methods in circumstances where they saw those methods actually did work better. And that was part of the problem. In Georgia/Alabama (and probably lots of other places, that was the region I learned something about) the white settlers didn’t want to cut down a whole lot of trees and plant between the stumps. They didn’t want to start fresh. They wanted the productive farms that native americans had already cleared.

  3. Very well said.

    The ironic thing being that the most successful non-Rand Rand-influenced novel ever was Ruth Beebe Hill’s “Hanta Yo,” set among the Lakota. Hill’s basic idea was “The American Indian, even before Columbus, was the remnant of a very old race in its final stage, a race that had attained perhaps the highest working concept of individualism ever practiced.”

    (Actual Lakota Indians demolished the book, of course)

  4. Bravo! (And don’t get me started on the phrases “the white experience,” “the black experience,” “the adoptee experience,” etc.)

  5. Eh, I’m still more angry at Ayn Rand and her followers than the people posting inane rejections. Rand claimed reason is man’s highest good, and that she had used reason to derive a complete and faultless moral and political philosophy. I agree with her first part, but think she was deadly wrong with the second and it has caused terrible harm to billions around the globe.

    We should all strive to use reason in our actions, our planning, and our moral and political philosophy. We should also all realize that the road of scientific discovery is paved by hypothesis that seemed logical but were flawed. We should especially realize that human beings make mistakes. Rand didn’t start the last school of philosophy humanity ever needed, she founded a cult.

    Next to that, someone posting silly back-to-nature nonsense is just an annoyance.

  6. Mike: You make a valid point. I beg to submit, however, that nonsense and dehumanizing romanticism is an utterly ineffective method of fighting Randism. The need to combat Rand and everything she stood for I take as a given; that leaves as paramount the question of how to go about it.

  7. Yes indeed, these attitudes skzb describes are simply the ignorant flipside of colonialist condescension. Of course you can find a number of pre-Columbian American polities that indeed possessed some superior qualities when viewed in a modern light. But those desirable qualities, like the quasi-socialist economics of the Iroquois or the Navajo (for a couple of random examples) are emergent from their own progress of civilization and nation-building, not from magical “primitive” qualities.

  8. I agree with your sentiments. I’d like to add something about Rand, though. I’ve come to the realization that Ayn Rand is a symptom not a cause. In other words, I have to believe there are relatively few cases of decent people reading Ayn Rand and going, “Yes! This is my new philosophy of self-centeredness!”

    Instead, self-centered people found in Rand’s “writing” (used loosely) a great way to rationalize, to pretend to justify their selfishness and greed. If you could somehow vaporize all trace of Rand’s words or memories of having read it, you would only change what those people held up as their source of perfectly reasonable guiding principles.

    The problem is how we have raised our children. Or not raised.

  9. I think people who say things like that about Native Americans have read too many romance novels. It’s in the same vein as the woman who annouced to several of us in the break room (years ago but never forgotten) that “Clan of the Cave Bear” was a true story and there were documents to prove it. It caused my friend to almost need a Heimlich maneuver. Sometimes it is beter to laugh than cry, because you waste your breath if you try to talk sense to them.

  10. Ayn Rand was simply rationalizing the use of force to take the property of others who are “less deserving” than the one holding the gun.

    The problem is that even today, the US is a colonizing nation, using force to take the property and wealth of others who we rationalize as less deserving. This includes taking even more land from the American Indians. The rationalization doesn’t matter as it is just an excuse to cover theft by use of force.

    How do you fight this? Work to stop new wars. Work to weaken the power of the banks and uber wealthy. Work to weaken laws that allow those in power to steal from the weak.

  11. This anecdote may add nothing to the discussion as a whole, but I figured I would throw it out anyway. I’m a former Objectivist.

    I was raised Christian and as a teenager had a moral philosophy that anything less than living like a monk was evil. Ayn Rand was the first writer I encountered that addressed that kind of self-negating personal philosophy and completely rejected it, and I immediately fell in love with the idea.

    I think – I hope – I wasn’t an evil jerk just looking for a pseudo-philosophical excuse to be rude. I was a kid who hated himself for buying candy bars and video games when he could have donated that money to charity, and I finally found someone who tried to articulate an argument that such behavior was okay.

    My current moral and political philosophy is nothing like the ideas of Ayn Rand.

    Anyway, my point is that if I’m not a rarity, then some significant portion of the people who latch on to her ideas just find her as they’re trying to escape some radically self-negating belief system.

  12. As to stupid things people say about American Indians? I think there is a lot of the “Noble Savage” mythology left over from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most of us (me, at least) were not taught much about real Indians in school. Most of what we got were romanticized stories in books and on TV. I’m learning more, but there is a lot of BS that needs to be tossed out the window. So I can understand why a lot of people are clueless. I plead ignorance and at least try to not say too many stupid things. As you say, Steven, there is no monolithic Indian culture.

  13. Most Pre-Contact Native Americans and other pre-civilized peoples had a different relationship with nature than we civilized people do because they “wrested their living” from nature directly, whereas most of us get our living by doing things in buildings so we can trade with other people who trade with other people etc. who ultimately trade with farmers, miners, oil-field workers, etc. This has no bearing on the theft of American land from its inhabitants, but I see it as a big difference between how we are “a part of nature” and how our ancestors were.

    (I’m not using “civilized” as a term of praise or blame.)

  14. But I think that fact is irrelevant to refuting Ayn Rand’s position. The reason killing the Native Americans and driving them off of their land was immoral is completely unrelated to their ecological lifestyle versus that of the European settlers. It would have been no more or less immoral for French settlers to kill and drive away English settlers, or for that matter for Native Americans to band together and kill or drive away all Europeans.

    The idea that it’s okay for one culture to massacre another because the victims aren’t capitalist enough is just as morally abhorrent as massacres over religion or skin color. And most silly of all, it’s not morally consistent with capitalism. Ayn Rand’s romanticized super-capitalists acquired wealth through business and trade. Getting rich by seizing land and assets from others without cause is the very thing her most famous book, “Atlas Shrugged”, is all about. But apparently getting rich by seizing land and assets from others without cause is okay, *as long as the victims aren’t capitalists*.

    (I’m guessing this line of reasoning is evident to almost anyone anywhere who has spent a few minutes thinking about it. But it gets me extra mad because I was dumb enough to buy all of this nonsense fifteen or so years ago.)

  15. Well it would have been somewhat less immoral for the natives to drive off the colonists, seeing as they were after all invaders. Defense against invasion is generally considered legitimate use of force, after all.

  16. Good rant. One quibble: there’s no morality of capitalism. Or if there is, it’s the morality of the spreadsheet: what’s profitable is good.

  17. “The idea that it’s okay for one culture to massacre another because the victims aren’t capitalist enough is …”

    I don’t think that’s quite the argument. Though the argument I have in mind is not great either.

    Imagine that some capitalist were to corner the market in farmland. He owns all the farmland and then he chooses not to grow enough food. Because there isn’t enough food people will pay whatever it takes to get food, and the poorest will starve while he gets giant profits.

    Would it be acceptable to take his land away from him? He certainly isn’t using it to its greatest benefit.

    I think that’s more like the argument, that the native americans weren’t using the land very productively so it was OK to take it and use it better. It would be possible for them to live better on our charity than the way they were living before. But then when they committed violence to stop us, we felt justified in killing them and not giving them much charity.

    It isn’t that they weren’t capitalists, it’s more that they were keeping the land from being productive.

    But I think the real reason might have been more that they weren’t strong enough to keep us from taking it.

  18. Miramon – you’re correct, of course. I should have made the example something like the Native Americans creating an army to conquer Europe.

    Will Shetterly – you’re also correct. Rand was a fanatical advocate for honesty and fair trade, and an absence of coercion and deceptions in all negotiations. She erroneously equated all of those things with capitalism, and I erred in using that incorrect substitution of the latter for the former in my post. So substitute ‘scrupulously honest, fair, non-violent trader’ for ‘capitalist’ and ‘honest, fair, non-violent trade’ for capitalism in that post, with the understanding that the two sets of concepts have no relationship with each other.

  19. European land laws had nothing to do with sophistication. The complexity of rationing is according to its scarcity. It would be as if an alternate Earth with ten times our population visited, found we let people use air and water freely, then apportioned them into allotments claiming most for themselves.

  20. J Thomas,
    Of course, that argument still doesn’t hold up, and still is not consistent with her professed ethics. What if a European farmer is farming the land, but isn’t using crop rotation effectively? What if he’s not irrigating enough? Maybe his harvesting techniques are inefficient and too much potentially good crops go to waste. Maybe he would make more money growing cabbage instead of radishes. Should another farmer who thinks he can do better, even prove he can do better, be able to seize his land, and kill him if he resists? Of course not.

    Likewise if I have a warehouse for goods, but you think you can use the same square footage and store more inventory and retrieve it more quickly, should you have the right to take it? Again, of course not.

    What if you own a stretch of property on a coast that you use for vacation, and I believe I can set up docks and use it to house my fishing fleet? Can I take your land because I’ll get more food from it than you? According to her, no. As long as you bought it legally, you can do anything you want with it – including nothing at all, ever.

    By Ayn Rand’s own rules, all asset exchange should be voluntary, anyone using an inefficient business practice will eventually lose to someone better, and no private or government agency has a right to seize private assets for anything – neither ‘the greater good’ nor even to assist in the national economy. She specifically addresses this in Atlas Shrugged, when some people lobby the government to nationalize the formula for Rearden’s super-steel to help all metal companies make superior products and boost steel companies nationwide.

    So her justification of the treatment of the Native Americans is totally inconsistent with the rest of her moral philosophy.

  21. Mike, J: You are getting stuck in trying to make sense of the rationalization. As I said, the rationalization is just an excuse to take property by force. If it weren’t this rationalization, it would be a different one. The reality is: I have a bigger gun, so I take what I want and kill you if necessary. If you can’t defend your property, you deserve to lose it.

    I have actually heard a libertarian say this kind of stuff.

  22. David Hajicek, you’re right that the rationalization is nonsensical. But I think that’s the point of the discussion – so you can explain to an Objectivist that their libertarian philosophy supposedly based solely on reason is riddled with logical inconsistencies.

  23. People believe what they want to believe, especially if they think it benefits them financially. You are more in touch with Objectivist thinking than I am. But to a true believer in Ayn Rand, it suspect it is useless to try and point out inconsistencies in the philosophy. But I agree that the Objectivist “reason” is perverted to the intended end.

  24. Mike S.: “By Ayn Rand’s own rules, all asset exchange should be voluntary, anyone using an inefficient business practice will eventually lose to someone better, and no private or government agency has a right to seize private assets for anything…So her justification of the treatment of the Native Americans is totally inconsistent with the rest of her moral philosophy.

    Rand actually is being consistent in this case. Consider the opening paragraph of her 1964 article “The Property Status of Airwaves”: “Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property – by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort.”

    She didn’t recognize that the land was the private property of the natives because she thought they were all hunting-gathering nomads who hadn’t put any effort into making the land useful. She felt that since it wasn’t private property yet, the colonists had every right to claim it as their own.

    I could apply a host of derogatory terms to her economic ideas, but inconsistent isn’t one of them. She is a victim of her particular tunnel vision, though. When a person is determined to measure everything in the world against a single principle, her sort of arrogance is the inevitable result.

  25. Nah, she’s still being inconsistent. If you’re hunting-gathering nomads, you don’t need to develop your land to own it by the standards of most people who believe land can be owned. Or did she advocate taking undeveloped land that belonged to rich people?

  26. We’re moving far into mostly useless and pedantic territory here, but Will Shetterly is correct. If Bill Gates bought 40 square miles of land and put 400 people on it to hunt deer and live in tents, Rand would support it and oppose any attempts to appropriate the property for other uses. She used cultural differences – and possibly a dash of racism – to justify things that contradicted the rest of her moral philosophy.

    And of course, the Native Americans had tremendous knowledge and expertise with respect to their lifestyle. Yes, they had shamans and witch doctors with silly religious rituals. But they also had an extensive knowledge of edible wild plants, hunting, and crafting clothing, lifestyle-appropriate housing, and weapons. What they didn’t have – as far as I know – was a system of writing and mathematics as sophisticated as the European settlers.

  27. Mike S.: “Rand would support it and oppose any attempts to appropriate the property for other uses”

    This is right; she would, and she would be being consistent with her own philosophy, which was my point. Once something became private property, she felt it was sacrosanct. In her view of the world, the natives did not own the land because they hadn’t developed it in the way she felt qualified it as private property. Her ignorance of native civilizations in the Americas was breathtaking, but her statement of her principles was in line with her philosophy.

    Why does this matter? Well, if you’re just venting, it dosn’t, which is why I don’t have anything to say in response to the OP. But once you start dissecting someone’s philosophy, I think it’s important to see it from that person’s perspective, not your own. I appreciate how little you might want to do that, given your background with Rand, but I felt the need to put in a good word for context, just on prinicple.

  28. Out of curiosity, did Rand think the Normans should’ve apologized for the conquest and gone home?

    And no, let’s not let her off that easy. The history of European dealings with American Indians is a history of broken treaties. Treaties are a legal record of the right to the land. So, yeah, she’s still inconsistent.

  29. I agree with Will. Many native Americans had sophisticated legal and political cultures. Both the European crowns and then the American/Canadian/Brazilian/etc. successors recognized them as such for the purpose of diplomatic relations. On the other hand, if you look at the relatively contemporary processes of Polish Partitions and Highland Clearances, no amount of sophistication or cultural similarity protects you from the man who can hire guns. “Don’t speak to us of laws, we carry swords.”

  30. This is getting silly, but I have no objection to silly, so: I mostly agree with L. Raymond in that Rand is being consistent. My argument is that Rand’s premise is that property rights are the highest law, she believed (incorrectly in many cases) that the American Indian had no property in land, hence the law need give him no protection. This is only particularly clear and sharp example of a very common argument justifying colonization.
    Whether the argument was created to justify oppression, or whether the oppression followed naturally from the argument is academic in this case (though I incline to the former).

  31. All of European history is the story of some group fighting, conquering, enslaving, or driving out another. Same with most of the rest of the world.

    So, the Europeans were going to go to the New World and go, “Whoa! We’re going to do things different here!”

    Somehow, I find that unlikely.

    Given relative numbers, if my Cherokee ancestors had any interest in making their own steel knives, guns, gunpowder, or ships, and if they could have been arsed to make some effective organization past the tribal level, they could have established a functioning Cherokee government and economy and given the Spanish, French, and English the proudly upraised middle finger. But by the time they bought a clue, it was too late. Most of the other tribes never even made it that far, staying pretty much at the Cro-Magnon level.

    So, imagine a world where the Europeans came in, nicely swapped goods or services and acquired mutually agreeable title to land, married into the local power structure, and generally behaved in a peaceable and civilized (by modern ideas) fashion.

    In the nearly-continuous tribal conflicts, they wouldn’t have been satisfied with clubs and arrows. It wouldn’t have taken long before the mixed-race tribes were making their own tools and guns, taking over adjacent tribes, and setting up little European-style empires. And the primitive tribes that didn’t adopt European ways would still have wound up in pretty much the same state they are today; if not extinct, then getting there. If you’re a Seminole, a Lakota is just as alien as a Spaniard…

    The Europeans brought (ugly but effective) social organization and (primitive but effective) technology with them. “Compete on the same playing field, or die.”

    Pretty much the same deal as when the Romans rolled into Britain, except nobody even cares about the Dumnonii, Durotriges, Dobunni, Regnenses, Cantiaci, Catavellauni, Iceni, or Trinovantes nowadays.

  32. Steve, you’re arguing treaties are irrelevant to Rand’s concept of property or that Rand didn’t know about treaties?

    I would agree with a different proposition, that she probably didn’t know that many tribes engaged in what’s obviously development of the land, controlled burns.

  33. The controlled burns are part of what I was talking about, yes. And I would argue that it is consistent with Rand’s theories that treaties made with people who didn’t own property aren’t binding on property owners. Because property.

  34. Okay, did she not believe a group could own land? Because treaties with groups. Would her followers support us if we start seizing undeveloped and lightly developed land from corporations?

  35. No, because corporations can own land whether they do anything with it or not. Tribes are not corporations, because they aren’t recognized as such by capital.

  36. Let’s not forgot the old trope here, hardly challenged at all in her day: that Native Americans, in their primitive simplicity and Oneness with Nature, simply had no concept of ownership of land. That when Peter Minuet offered the Mannahatta a handful of beads for their island, they thought it was just a nice guest gift and that they and the Dutch would all continue sharing island to their mutual benefit, and were shocked when the Dutch told them to get out.

    It certainly wasn’t true in their case. It wasn’t true of the Cherokee, who I am sure had properly executed deeds to their farms, mills and businesses in the southeast of the brand new United States, or the Iroquois in the north. But that was not the image presented by the Lone Ranger or John Wayne or public school text books at the time.

    So, personally, I am more willing to give her credit for ignorance and cultural arrogance than inconsistency on this point. Oh, and intellectual laziness.

  37. I guess at heart there’s a good basic idea to Rand’s philosophy, that says people ought to do things to help each other. Then it make sense to reward people who help other people. It kind of makes sense that the ones to give out the most rewards would be the ones who have the most rewards because they did the most help in the past, and now it’s a chain letter. You want to honor the people who didn’t break the chain by not breaking the chain yourself, but maybe they just got their names on the list without helping anybody….

    Anyway, sure, Rand was willing to assume that rich people or corporations who owned a lot of land must have done something good to deserve it, and she wasn’t willing to assume that native americans had done anything good to deserve it.

    RA Lafferty wrote in _Okla Hannali_ that after the Civil War the US government decided to take away land from the native americans in Oklahoma who sided with the Confederacy. But then the land they actually took was from tribes who had sided with the Union. Lafferty speculated that the reason was that those tribes held their land in common, while the others had it divided up and owned by individuals. So the Federal commission that did it could claim that they had not harmed a single landowner by doing it.

  38. larswyrdson, I like your take a lot, though I think you’re too forgiving of someone as arrogant about her knowledge as Rand.

    Steve, I have to quibble with this: “Tribes are not corporations, because they aren’t recognized as such by capital.” Capital reluctantly recognizes governments, and governments recognize tribes. Otherwise, you have to say capital recognizes nothing, and Rand has no theory of property other than “grab it if you can”. (Which I could agree with.)

    But what’s fascinating is her notion that if you’re not using or developing something, someone else can take it. She’s getting very close to a socialist idea of property: what you use is yours, but what you do not is everyone’s.

  39. Oh, two interesting facts about slavery and American Indians:

    The last Confederate general to surrender was Stand Watie, a Cherokee.

    Slavery ended in the Indian Nations after it ended in the US, because ending it there called for separate negotiations. The Chickasaw, for example, had cotton-growing plantations and didn’t free their slaves until 1866. Don Cheadle’s ancestors were owned by a Chickasaw who had more than 60 slaves, which made him a very rich man in that time.

  40. Um, Will? The socialist idea of property, so far as I know, is that it should be abolished. Could you be confusing property with possession?

  41. Y’know, I’ve always had trouble with that. In a socialist society, do you really have to say, “You’re about to put on the jacket that I am currently in the habit of using; here is the jacket that you are currently in the habit of using”? Property as Rand has defined it by her attitude toward Indian land is effectively a claim on something that’s valid so long as you’re the socially recognized user and you haven’t taken it without agreement from a previous user. I think something like that definition of property would work in a socialist state. You’d just have to be more consistent in applying it than Rand was.

  42. I can refer to “my jacket” without it being property. The word “my” means many things besides property claims. After all, I do not own my next door neighbor, but he remains my next door neighbor. Property is meaningless without laws, courts, and people with weapons to enforce property rights. That is what property means. And Rand’s claim on the rights to Indian land was, quite simply, they were not using it for private profit, which to her was the highest good. I honestly do not understand what you are arguing about here.

  43. I’ve known a lot of people–or perhaps it’s just me–who have a lot of trouble with the precise socialist definition of property because it implies you can set something down and someone else can take it, no matter what your relationship to it is. That’s why I’m so delighted with what seems to be Rand’s take. It implies that work-for-hire or work-by-proxy isn’t valid, because what matters is the work. The Indians, in her mind, did not work the land that they claimed; therefore, it could be taken by someone who did work it.

  44. As for the “private profit” requirement you see in Rand’s thought, that suggests I can look at someone’s use and claim the thing if I then turn it to a more-profitable use. Which could be the premise for a fun short story, but I doubt Rand would agree that’s what she had in mind.

  45. So, then, in Rand’s mind, the workers who build the factories, the streets, the cars, are the ones who should own it, not the ones who hire the work done? Yep, that’s what Rand believed. Only, you know, the exact opposite.

    And I don’t know what you mean by the socialist definition of property. When I refer to property as a relation among people that meaningless unless universally recognized and enforced by the State, I’m not creating a new meaning, I’m simply giving a slightly more precise description of what everyone means by the word, whether consciously or not.

  46. Re your first point, that’s precisely why I’m arguing her thought is inconsistent. If American Indians can’t own undeveloped resources, tycoons shouldn’t be able to own them either.

    As for the more precise socialist definition, a lot of people hear “no property” and think they’ll be kicked out of their houses. The distinction between personal property and property for exploitation does not exist in capitalist thought.

  47. That’s precisely why it is consistent–indeed, inevitable. By seeing property as the highest right, and understanding her belief that the Indian had no property makes it inevitable that she would not recognize that rights. Her belief that there can be property without a State is not inconsistent, just profoundly wrong.

    Personal property and property for exploitation certainly ought to be treated differently (at least, in the case of those who do not have obscene amounts of personal property), but I don’t see difference in kind.

  48. Now I’m wondering what she would say if someone tried to turn her out of her apartment so they could run whores.

    Or if you want to stick to legal activities, turn it into a boarding house.

    I think that if we stay with Rand’s suggestion that use is a requirement for property, it’s impossible to have obscene amounts of personal property—you can only have as much as you personally can use.

    Ah, well. Prob’ly time to drop this. Though I use “property” more colloquially than you, I agree with the common socialist definition of it, and whether Rand’s consistent or not, her rationalization of exploitation hurts the exploited.

  49. During the great land rush after the civil war, the government issued deeds (homesteads) to property owned (by treaty) by the Indians on their reservations. Government claimed the right to ownership to land they did not use or control. Then gave that ownership to homesteaders who had to fight the Indians to claim the property. All for the purpose of displacing or killing as many Indians as possible. If the Indians tried to defend that property, their “uprising” gave an excuse for killing more Indians.

    I don’t think Ayn Rand would care that the Indians had a document giving them control of the land. What ever is convenient is rationalized one way or the other.

  50. J. Thomas wrote:
    “RA Lafferty wrote in _Okla Hannali_”
    … and that’s about as far as I got before Googling the title. A Lafferty book I’d never heard of?! So if anyone else is interested, here’s a review/précis.

  51. “So if anyone else is interested, here’s a review/précis.”

    I’m sure they’re wrong about the number of copies. It got reprinted in paperback.

    It’s historical fiction, as is _The Fall of Rome_.

  52. Will mentioned 1491 up-thread. I didn’t see a link to this summary of his book by Mann:


    Behind Mann, who is a great synthesizer, are a lot of outstanding historians and archaeologists. Many of them, of course, wouldn’t have jobs doing that kind of work if not for the advent of cultural studies in the decades before. I know that cultural studies folks get kind of bashed on this blog, and I get why, but thought I’d mention it.

  53. Good link! If I was in charge of these things, Mann’s 1491 would be required reading in 10th grade. I’ve been meaning to get to the sequel, 1493, for much too long.

  54. Uncontested property can theoretically exist without the state. Since property is actually always already potentially contestable, property without the State is as real as the rest state of a photon. However, as a practical matter, there is a lot of property the State will never bother to enforce. Such as whether your son or your daughter owns that particular toy. On a day to day basis those property rights are created or recognized by local community standards. The community can be as small as a family or as large as a small town. Most of the personal “property” rights you enjoy are local relationships; your co-workers and you probably create rights over coffee cups, etc., as an emergent property of your shared community. Your family decides who “owns” that pillow. The State reserves the right to alter or destroy your community’s judgements (or your community itself for that matter) as it sees fit. Depending on how you look at it, the State is either a benevolent synthesis of all these small communities or a parasite which can demand anything it wants from any smaller entity it can reach or affect. So enjoy that personal toothbrush, it could be gone tomorrow.

  55. As I understand it, Rand’s concept of the Native Americans has two fatal flaws:

    i, There was a city in America (Cahokia) around the 1100s which rivaled contemporary Paris or London in size and left pyramid monuments larger than those in Egypt. Assuming Rand thinks the French and British of the time were sophisticated enough to have established property rights over their land, it’s difficult to see why the Mississippi people didn’t have teh same rights.

    ii, All of post-Columbian relations with the Native Americans deals with a people shattered by apocalyptic epidemics – as in up to 96% of the population of some areas dying a decade or two before the colonists rolled in.You can’t draw conclusions about what they were like based on the broken societies of the survivors.

  56. Cahokia is a wonderful site, but much as I hate giving Rand a pass, I have to give her one there. No one really promoted it until the ’80s—it’s a small miracle it survived the highway boom of the ’50s and ’60s.

    ETA: But I agree with your general point. The history of the local people and their interactions with Europeans is entirely at odds with Rand’s concept of righteous capitalism. Unless she praised lying, theft, and slaughter in the service of profit, of course.

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