And When You Solve This One, There's a Nobel Waiting For You In Palestine.

I think I'm missing something. Jim Henley seems to be claiming that the Lockean notion of rights was somehow convenient for and enabling of European conquest of the Americas. He starts off quoting Locke's claim of a property right originating by mixing one's labor with unclaimed land. He then states:

This particular view of (real) property claims was very convenient to the Age of Colonization, since it gave Euro-originating settlers the opportunity to “mix their labor” with “something not already anyone’s property,” which is to say, land that was sustaining non-Europeans.

But I don't see the connection. The Lockean notion of property rights was very inconvenient for some European settlers. William Penn felt the need to negotiate for clear title with every indigenous community occupying his intended colony. This often included settling competing claims between multiple indigenous communities by buying the contested lands multiple times to ensure clear title.

The Lockean establishment of property rights by combining labor with unclaimed natural resources seems to me to be a fine rule. It is neutral with regards to an individual's ancestry or social class. The details can be set forth in a way to favor some particular individuals or class, but this does not appear to be the case in American history. There were a number of indigenous communities that met even the most strict interpretations of mixing labor with land. Many indigenous groups had agriculture and permanent settlements, obvious claims for land rights. Yet, European descendants still stole their land, and with the same rationalization as used for chattel slavery.

What was convenient to the settling Europeans and their descendants was that the indigenous people looked different enough that the Europeans could convince themselves that indigenous Americans were somehow not quite human, and therefore not entitled to any rights. This is the real problem - blatant racism. It has nothing to do with something being wrong with private property rights. By the Lockean notion of natural rights including property rights, many white settlers were clearly in the wrong, unjustly depriving people of life, liberty, and property.

Until we can all understand the root of the problem - treating some people as non-people - we will have seriously limited our ability to make things right and perfect our nation. As Americans we have a sordid history, with many wrongs that need to be corrected, including slavery, Jim Crow, and our treatment of the indigenous people. Unfortunately, how to correct those wrongs is not clear to me. My economic intuition tells me that straight reparations will be a cure far worse than the disease, likewise, just letting bygones be bygones or a token apology does not fit my moral intuition. My fear is that there is no just solution.

If you can figure out a good and just solution, Palestine also needs you.

Update: Kevin Carson has a good take, and I particularly like his quote of Karl Hess:

The truth, of course, is that libertarianism wants to advance principles of property but that it in no way wishes to defend, willy nilly, all property which now is called private.

Much of that property is stolen. Much is of dubious title. All of it is deeply intertwined with an immoral, coercive state system which has condoned, built on, and profited from slavery; has expanded through and exploited a brutal and aggressive imperial and colonial foreign policy, and continues to hold the people in a roughly serf-master relationship to political-economic power concentrations.

Update II: It is probably not clear above - I do not mean to say that Penn had read and adopted Locke's notions before coming to the conclusion to negotiate for clear land titles - this was more a matter of his Quaker beliefs and pragmatism. The Lockean notion of property rights are consistent with Penn's actions, and most likely not original to Locke.

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The answers to our problems...

No, I don't think there are any neat, logical, once and for all answers to all the problems.

There are, however, eternal and immutable principles of non-aggression, integrity and sovereign individuality to build real answers with.

Those who insist that all of the wherefores and how to do it questions must be answered before we can begin to build a free society are either cowards or misunderstand what liberty really is (as far as I'm concerned anyway).

I suspect the "easy" answer would be the total disintegration of everything, a wiping of the slate so to speak, and enough survivors who valued the above principles to rebuild with those principles as the bedrock of all law. That may happen yet, but I won't live that long.

Personally, the only answer for me is to live each day with those bedrock laws as my absolute, to the best of my ability. Everyone else pretty much has to fend for themselves.

If we all did that without waiting for the perfect solution to come along... who knows what might happen.

The Problem With Rights

I agree that as you say, colonialism is a matter of the ABUSE of property rights, and not simply an application of them.

But it could be argued that there is a real problem with "rights" (or any deontological principle) in that the application is the trick. The principle "All men are created equal" is all very well, but you can always argue about what a "man" is, as the colonialists did. And this will always be possible.

Always A Problem

But it could be argued that there is a real problem with "rights" (or any deontological principle) in that the application is the trick. The principle "All men are created equal" is all very well, but you can always argue about what a "man" is, as the colonialists did. And this will always be possible.

This seems to be a problem with any attempt at establishing all rules, laws or moral principles, I do not see how a utilitarian expression of a principle escapes the re-definition of "men" or "people". If utilitarianism is the rule, what stops someone from claiming that a black man's utility is only 3/5ths of a white man's?

David Masten

This is one area where I agree with formalism

Nobody's property can be proved legitimate and it seems too much of a hassle and likely to result in chaos to abrogate many existing titles. So I think the most prudent policy is just to halt any further property-rights violations.