"Political theorists have a part to play in bringing the question of legitimacy out of the shadows [i.e. the legitimacy of Canadian, U.S., and Australian sovereignty given that these nations were founded on the unjust legal doctrine of terra nullius.] A start has been made in recent discussions of the role of early modern theories in justifying European expansion and in debates about the rights of Indigenous peoples. The problem is that most political theorists, including democratic theorists, take the modern state for granted. Tully has recently called attention to the way in which much contemporary political theory obliterates any discussion of embarrassing origins; argument proceeds from "an abstract starting point...that had nothing to do with the way these societies were founded" (2000: 44). The most prominent example of such an abstract starting point, contract theory as revived by John Rawls (1999h), is a direct successor to early modern theories of an original contract.
Rawlsian contract theory has become extraordinary influential, but it takes no account of the actual origins of countries that, it is held, are best understood as if they were based on an agreement in an original position. Few traces can now be found of the settler contract and dispossession; contemporary contract theory is peopled by parties who are abstracted from social and political institutions and structures. The parties are provided with preferences, tastes, and a degree of risk aversion and are concerned with distributive justice rather than subordination or structural change. They are deprived of the knowledge that they systematically benefit from dispossession and the structures of racial privilege that constitute the modern democracies of the two New Worlds. For them to have such an understanding would require that the histories and institutions so efficiently eliminated in contemporary contractual theorizing are put back in place, a very difficult task within the confines of Rawlsian theory.
The logic of theories of an original contract is that the "beginning," the creation of a new civil society, is made on a clean slate. Such a condition can be part of a thought experiment but it forms no part of the political world; the lands of the two New Worlds were not empty. Terra nullius is now a legally and politically bankrupt doctrine and questions about sovereignty and legitimacy will have to be tackled in the long run if a just accommodation and reconciliation is to be achieved. The three states where terra nullius was central to the justification of their creation pride themselves on their democratic credentials. The credentials will be more presentable once the settler contract is repudiated and a new democratic settlement is negotiated with the Native peoples."
Me again: This is how imperialism works -- Kant, Hobbes, Locke, Smith, Ricardo, Rawls, Sandel -- "let's talk about an idea/hypothetical world." THAT'S THE HUSTLE -- It's the shiny coin in the hand of the magician. And meanwhile right outside their window, the multinational ships plow across the oceans to plunder distant lands. But don't look at that, let's debate 'what would you do in a state of nature'...
Related question, posed by Carole Pateman -- how come indigenous nations in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. do not have seats at the U.N.?
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