Williams On The Discourses Of Conquest
Ideas about the superiority of Europeans and the consequent justification of conquest have a long history. Native American Law Professor, Robert A Williams, Jr, begins his account of 'the discourses of conquest' in 1246 when Pope Innocent IV to the Great Khan of the Mongols in Central Asia. In his influential book, 'The American Indian in Western legal Thought. The Discourses of Conquest' (Oxford, 1990), Professor Williams, writes:
'... [T]he "West" has sought to impose its vision of truth on non-Western peoples since the Middle Ages. In seeking the conquest of the earth, the Western colonising nations of Europe and the derivative settler-colonised states produced by their colonial expansion have been sustained by a central idea: the West's religion, civilisation, and knowledge are superior to the religions, civilisations, and knowledge of non-Western peoples. This superiority, in turn, is the redemptive source of the West's presumed mandate to impose its vision of truth on non-Western peoples.' (p6)
'At the dawn of Renaissance Europe's discoveries in the New World and conquests of the American Indian, Europeans already enjoyed the singular advantage of possessing a systematically elaborated legal discourse on colonisation. This discourse, first successfully deployed during the medieval Crusades to the Holy Land, unquestioningly asserted that normatively divergent non-Christian peoples could rightfully be conquered and their lands could lawfully be confiscated by Christian Europeans enforcing their peculiar vision of a universally binding natural law'. (p13).
'For half a millennium... Western legal thought has sought to erase the difference presented by the American Indian in order to sustain the privileges of power it accords to Western norms and value structures... The Doctrine of Discovery was nothing more than the reflection of a set of Eurocentric racist beliefs elevated to the status of a universal principle - one culture's argument to support its conquest and colonisation of a newly discovered, alien world.' (p326).
Keywords: barbarism, native American, sovereignty
Quotes by kind permission of Oxford University Press.
Author: Nettheim, Garth
Source: Williams, Professor Robert A