Jeff Fynn-Paul debunks the leftist myth of European guilt.
[N]o matter who ‘discovered’ the New World, it is inevitable that a large proportion of New World inhabitants would have died within the first few decades after first contact. This is universally acknowledged by specialists in the field. The New World population was smaller and more homogenous than the Old World population. Thus, its people had less immunity to disease than the people of the Old World, where disease communities from Africa, Asia and Europe had been intermingling for millennia. Even though some European captains did try and spread smallpox around a few forts and villages from time to time, the effect of their efforts was almost negligible compared with the natural spread of disease. So the claims of genocide by disease have almost nothing to do with European actions, apart from their simply reaching the New World. And of course, Europeans of the time had no way of envisioning the continent-wide epidemic repercussions of their actions. Verdict: not guilty.
Let us also acknowledge that Native American society was just as warlike as any other in human history. The anthropologists’ vision of Native Americans as peace-pipe-smoking environmentalists which gained purchase in the 1970s has long since given way to a more Hobbesian portrait of pre-Columbian reality. In North America, most Natives were primitive farmers. This means that (with some exceptions) they had no permanent settlements: they farmed in an area for a few decades until the soil got tired, before moving on to greener pastures where the hunting was better and the lands more fertile. This meant that tribes were in constant conflict with other tribes. It also meant that chiefs were continually vying for power, creating confederations under themselves, and that the question of who owned the land was in a more or less constant state of flux. In most of North America, the idea that any one piece of land belonged to any one tribe, for more than 50 or 100 years, is therefore highly questionable. In short, if you looked at a map of Native Canada 200 years before Europeans arrived, it would have been entirely different. In the meantime, some groups of natives would have slaughtered, bullied or enslaved others. Should we not be grieving for those Native Canadians whose land was stolen by other Native Canadians? Or is that somehow OK? I don’t suppose there is an app for that.
The idea that the Europeans stole some land which had belonged in perpetuity to any one tribe is therefore ludicrous. The situation in most of North America was similar to northern Europe on the eve of the Germanic migrations, or western Europe as the Celts were moving across the landscape. Precisely to whom the land belonged in any given century at these periods in history was anyone’s guess. The very notion of property is a Greco-Roman invention which most cultures found foreign until quite recently. But Europeans of the time had little chance of grasping this difference. What the Europeans did in the New World was insert themselves into a fluid power struggle which had been ongoing for millennia. Many Native American chiefs were ready to pledge allegiance to the Great ‘Chief of the English’, as a political expedient, just as various English colonies sided with this or that Native American ‘Great Chief’. Despite a few sensational cases of duplicity, most of the time, Europeans tried to buy land from Indians, just like they would buy an acre of land in England. If the local chief assented to this and liked the price, where then was the crime? Many individual Europeans believed that according to the norms of both parties, they had legal usufruct to the land they were working. To judge this as theft is therefore anachronistic. As Europeans set up farming communities, and introduced guns to North America, Native American communities were forced to move further away from European lands as game retreated. The areas around white settlements were often empty for this reason, making the land seem all the more abandoned. Musket use by natives probably depleted animal stocks at a higher rate than previously, meaning that the very introduction of firearms might have spelled the doom of hunting and gathering in North America in the long run, even if the Europeans had otherwise left the country alone.
Another major structural issue is this: what precisely would our pious anthropology professors have had Europeans do with the New World once they found it?
This is not a joke. Political reality has a way of crashing in on the pipe dreams of liberal academics. The reality is, if the English had not colonized, then the French or the Dutch would have. If the Spanish had not colonized, the Portuguese would have. This would have shifted the balance of power at home, and any European country which had not colonized, would have been relegated to secondary status. And it is easy to overestimate the amount of control that European governments actually had. As soon as the New World was discovered, many fisherman and traders sailed across the Atlantic on their own, in hopes of circumventing tax authorities and scoring a fortune. Long before colonies were established in most regions, the New World was crawling with Europeans whose superior technology gave them an edge in combat. Nonetheless, it was extremely dangerous for Europeans to provoke fights with Native Americans, and most of them tried to avoid this when possible. In retrospect, one could in theory be impressed that so many European governments showed a genuine concern to rein in the worst excesses of their subjects, with an express eye to protecting the Indians from depredation. The logic was simple: they attempted to protect their subjects at home, in order to secure good order and a better tax base. So they would do the same to their subjects in the New World. For a long time, few Europeans harbored any master plan of pushing the Native Americans out of their own lands. In more densely populated regions such as Mexico, such an idea must have seemed an absurdity. Reality tends to occur ad hoc. Boundaries often took generations to move, and would have seemed fixed at the time. For several centuries, many Europeans assumed that they would long be a minority on the North American continent. In Mexico and Peru, they always have been.
I think it is worth noting that none of those sanctimonious lefties telling Americand and Canadians that they are residing on land rightfully belonging to this or that “First People” tribe can be seen packing their bags and hopping on a plane back to Europe.