Ayn Rand, Native Americans, and property rights

Posted: 15 October 2015 in Uncategorized
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Readers may remember the voiceover (quoting a 31 March 1557 letter from French colonial commander Villegagnon to Calvin) at the beginning of Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s film How Tasty was My Little Frenchmen:

The country is deserted and uncultivated, there are no houses, no roofs, nor any country accommodations. On the contrary, there is much unfriendly and savage company, lacking in courtesy and humanity. So very different from us in their habits and education. With no religion and no knowledge of truth, virtue, justice or injustice, true animals in human bodies.

And, Ayn Rand [ht: ja] later added (during a talk she gave at West Point in 1974): no property rights.

Randian libertarianism has, of course, become increasingly popular in recent years (I certainly hear it from an increasing number of my students), in part because of the public profile of such devotees as Alan Greenspan, Paul Ryan, and Rand Paul. I wonder if and how the fans of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead would defend Rand’s claim that the Europeans had a right to colonize the Americas. How would they defend not her egregious historical mistakes (of which there are many, including the fallacious assertion that Native Americans had no notion of property rights whatsoever), but the terms of Rand’s claim itself:

But now, as to the Indians, I don’t even care to discuss that kind of alleged complaints that they have against this country. I do believe with serious, scientific reasons the worst kind of movie that you have probably seen—worst from the Indian viewpoint—as to what they did to the white man.

I do not think that they have any right to live in a country merely because they were born here and acted and lived like savages. Americans didn’t conquer; Americans did not conquer that country. . .

If you are born in a magnificent country which you don’t know what to do with, you believe that it is a property right; it is not. And, since the Indians did not have any property rights—they didn’t have the concept of property; they didn’t even have a settled, society, they were predominantly nomadic tribes; they were a primitive tribal culture, if you want to call it that—if so, they 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.

It would be wrong to attack any country which does respect—or try, for that matter, to respect—individual rights, because if they do, you are an aggressor and you are morally wrong to attack them. But if a country does not protect rights—if a given tribe is the slave of its own tribal chief—why should you respect the rights they do not have?. . .

I will go further. Let’s suppose they were all beautifully innocent savages, which they certainly were not. What was it that 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, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves about.

Any white person who brings the elements of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it is great that some people did, and discovered here what they couldn’t do anywhere else in the world and what the Indians, if there are any racist Indians today, do not believe to this day: respect for individual rights.

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