Locke’s American heritage
In recent years it has become fashionable, and in some circles even mandatory, to express feelings of guilt about the European discovery and settlement of America as if it were an unfortunate event from a 21st century perspective. Therefore, the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims’ landing did not receive a national commemoration. In fact, that very year the trustees of Plymouth Plantation, the museum of living history that has declared the pilgrimage site to school children and tourists since 1947, changed the name of the institution to Plimoth Patuxet (the Wampanoag name for the place ) to mean, in effect, that we should think of the place as still belonging to the Native American people who previously inhabited it.
Let me add that this attitude is by no means limited to Americans, or even residents of the Western Hemisphere: the Australian government has just changed a word in the country’s national anthem, which previously hailed the nation as “young and proud” to be now “One and Proud” reads. The reason for the change was that the description of Australia as a young country ignored the long existence of indigenous peoples on its territory prior to its discovery and settlement by the British. (Of course, the country’s previous residents had not identified themselves as a nation, nor is there any evidence that the Australian constitution, economy or culture originated from them.)
Another recent expression of guilt that learned residents of countries settled by Europeans centuries ago have been in a December 26 report published in the New York Times by two distinguished Harvard scholars, geneticist David Reich and the sociologist Orlando Patterson. In the column, the authors report that a recent analysis of the DNA of the “ancient indigenous Caribbean” by Professor Reich shows that previous estimates of the population of Hispaniola (the island now occupied by the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) were prior The landing of Christopher Columbus was greatly inflated. While estimates from Columbus’ brother Bartholomew to today’s scholars were “motivated to underscore how disastrous the arrival of Europeans was for the indigenous peoples,” the figure was over a million. Reich notes that “almost all previous estimates” of the population were “finally ten times too large” as the actual number was “no more than a few tens of thousands”.
Despite this statement, Reich and Patterson finally emphasize their “outrage” that the European colonization of the Caribbean “has led to such immense destruction that the rich cultures of” their indigenous peoples today “can only be reconstructed through a mixture of oral tradition and scientific study can be. ”And they specifically target the great 17th century liberal philosopher John Locke, whose thoughts had the greatest influence on the American Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution itself for allegedly portraying America as” huge “” vacuum domicilitum “or empty apartment populated by a handful of indigenous groups whose displacement could easily be justified. “
While it is true that Locke, in the famous fifth chapter of his second treatise on government, “Of Property,” portrays America as a vast, undeveloped domain that portrays what the whole world was like before the establishment of private property and its associated incentives Not only does Locke claim that the expulsion of American Indians by European settlers is justice. In fact, later in the second treatise (sec. 192-94) he explicitly denies that the conquest gives a conquering regime the right to command obedience to a subjugated people, unless the conquered people or their descendants can be implicitly judged to have the government given their consent by the security it offers for their lives, freedoms and property. (It follows that Locke implies in § 96 that the kings of England, who had inherited their titles centuries earlier from foreign conquests, have no inherent claim to the obedience of their subjects, but owe their proper authority to adherence to the same standard.)
No country on earth has ever had a morally sound history. On the other hand, no country has ever improved the condition of so many people like the United States.
For Lockean reasons, therefore, it is impossible to judge the European colonization of America by the standards of justice: if one were to trace the lineage of the Hispaniola peoples far enough, one would undoubtedly find that they in turn drove others out, etc. One can does not say that people have an inherent right to own their land as if it were autochthonous, any more than hereditary rulers have an inherent right to rule others without their consent. (In contrast, during his tenure as a senior member of the English Trade Committee, Locke worked diligently to undermine the slave trade, as historian Holly Brewer has documented, although his efforts to encourage colonization were, sadly, undone by Queen Anne – The practice of slavery is in direct contradiction to its principles, as stated at the beginning of his two treatises.)
But how should the colonization of America then be assessed? Even (or especially) if we turn our attention only to the North American continent, the relative scarcity of “indigenous” people compared to the many millions who, with their descendants, have found refuge from poverty and oppression abroad is significant certain relevance. More importantly, the land could feed such a large population as it was later acquired, the institutions of political and individual freedom that the American founders built on these shores. As Locke states, only with the secure establishment of private property and the invention of money as a stable measure of exchange would it be possible to replace undeveloped wilderness with ever greater wealth that has been acquired by industry and creates a large number of jobs (sec. 43) as well Increase in the general standard of living.
As much as some might idealize the freedom of the indigenous peoples of this continent before the arrival of Europeans (as Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia and Alexis de Tocqueville in his chapter on the three races in America) serious person wishes that civilization that ultimately established as a result, is being dismantled. Is there any reason to believe that indigenous oral cultures have a “richness” in comparison to what European civilization has brought to these shores – including the kind of scientific and scientific research that Professors Reich and Patterson are engaged in?
The “outrage” that Reich and Patterson claim to experience is neither productive nor justified. Though undoubtedly scholars, that outrage is a piece exemplified by the renamers of Plimoth Plantation, the rewriters of the Australian national anthem, and countless others who are motivated by either a resulting sense of moral superiority or fear will irritate those who present themselves as “woken up”.
Such moral cleaning is not without cost. As Matthew Continetti reported in his recent comment, “What Nathan Glazer Can Teach Joe Biden,” polls among Americans over the past two decades show a dire decline in pride in their country – especially among ethnic minorities, college graduates and women. who jointly dominate among “politically active Millennials and Gen Zers”. Continetti points out that the anti-United States “Vituperation” “was a feature of both radical and Stalinist tendencies because of its alleged endemic racism and imperialism,” which Glazer, an eminent social scientist, during his college years prior to the Second World saw war – but it gradually overcame it, only to see it repeated in the 1960s by the academic gurus of the New Left (C. Wright Mills, Herbert Marcuse, Noam Chomsky and their colleagues).
The crimes of the Spanish and Portuguese colonizers against the indigenous people of South America, as well as against the Africans who enslaved them to serve them in the western hemisphere, were numerous (far more slaves were imported by the Iberians than by the English). And no doubt American settlers and their governors also sometimes committed atrocities (on a much smaller scale) against the Indians. But no country or civilization on earth has ever had a morally sound history. On the other hand, no country has ever elevated the condition of so many people and served as a beacon (and fortress) of freedom as the United States.
Unfortunately, as Continetti reports, the “disgust” expressed by an alarmingly high percentage of younger Americans towards their country is largely fueled by ignorance of the nation’s real history. Wokeism, increasingly shaped by their education (its most recent iteration being the New York Times’ “1619 Project”), fills the void previously filled by the recognition of their country’s accomplishments and its shortcomings.
The fate of liberty may well depend on the ability of the individuals who employ our academic institutions, including our most learned scholars, as well as elementary and college teachers, to overcome the temptations to despise both Western civilization and American institutions through genuine intellectual honesty our legacy.