A Book to Read; and Then to Read Again
Date: Wednesday, December 10 2003
A Book to Read; and Then to Read Again
by Robin Mathews
Anthony Hall has just produced a book of the kind and quality that appears only once every twenty-five years, a book that repositions our ideas and makes us see ordinary reality afresh. It is Volume One of The Bowl With One Spoon; this volume named The American Empire and the Fourth World (McGill-Queens University Press). We all know what the U.S. Empire is. But some of us still don't know that the Fourth World is made up of the indigenous peoples wherever they are found on the globe. And many of us have to learn that the long, long battle against the Fourth World, for power, territory, and wealth is the basis of what we often believe is the very recent and very modern activity we call globalization.
The term "the Fourth World" was given public meaning in the 1970s by a Shuswap Indian leader from the interior of B.C., George Manuel (The Fourth World:An Indian Reality, 1974). Manuel formulated what Hall calls a blueprint of decolonization (p. 238). But he did more. He took the mantle of great pan-Indianists such as Pontiac and Tecumseh, and then he opened the concept of pan-Indianism to the whole globe, seeing the necessity of de-colonization, certainly. But he envisioned the possibility of a re-rooting of traditional knowledge and being, from which indigenous peoples could spring forward to a place where revolutionary possibilities are real and can be realized. He was a significant part, globally, of the rebirth of indigenous self-confidence and resolve. In one small part of the book, Anthony Hall charts George Manuel's achievements.
Like Manuel, Hall began, early, to consider the oppressions, contradictions, stereotypes, histories, and real identities of Native People in Canada. To understand their condition, he had to go back in time. In doing so, he had to reconstruct the North America without borders where decades-long conflict was being enacted (a) to divest the Native Peoples of their land, their cultures, their natural communities, their wealth--and where possible their past as well as any meaningful future. The conflict was also being enacted (b) to consolidate territories dominated by one or other European power.
Genocide of the Native Peoples (which has been and still is a serious global activity) was effortlessly mixed with subjugation (the super-colonialism that robs the oppressed even of their language and identity). Together they are (often the unrecognized) defining qualities of "globalization", launched, Hall declares, in 1492. He dignifies the Native People with a full account of their statesmanship, their diplomatic ability, and their heroic efforts against a tidal wave of barbaric European imperialism.
How the two things happened (genocide and subjugation) why they happened, with what kinds of validation, and in whose interest, became inescapable questions. Like George Manuel, Anthony Hall moves both outward and inward in his search for answers.
His book, in its answers, is so large, so informative, so various, and in its apparently unrelated subjects so interlinked that a conventional description of the text is impossible. To know what it is about is to read it, and then to re-read it. Hall writes with enormous energy. The unfolding story drives forward, born on an ocean of controlled and unpretentious personal experience, scholarship, sharp observation, and masterful insight. On one of its most important levels it demonstrates that the history of the Native Peoples, of the aboriginals, the First Nations, "les autochtones" the indigenous populations of the world is absolutely mainstream history--history that we must know if we are understand ourselves and the world since at least 1492.
In his own country, nearest at hand, Anthony Hall has participated in, witnessed, and researched on-going conflicts involving the First Nations people, conflicts which have been tempered - even at their worst- by the rule of law in Canada, based finally on the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Through the smoke and confusion of conflict, that key date established itself for him, as did other key dates. Another was the date, 1871, when the U.S. denied the existence of aboriginal title, declaring that the land of the territorial U.S.A. is held by right of conquest. In 1987 the U.S. reiterated that claim and insisted afresh that the Native Peoples in the U.S.A. have no unique sovereignty, being wholly at the mercy of the conqueror's will.
To Anthony Hall, that decision in the U.S.A. had a beginning that went back to the 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence. In that (supposedly) liberating document not only are the black slaves who were brought into the society virtually ignored as human beings, but the indigenous peoples of whatever lands seized or intended to be seized by the U.S. are written down in the Declaration as "merciless Indian savages" whose "known rule of warfare is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions". (p. xiv) Those people are not - even by the slightest suggestion - recognized as people desperately defending a homeland they are losing by force and guile, by violence and European disease.
Expelled from the human community, they were "fair game" (pun intended: "animals or birds that it is legal to hunt") to be eradicated, extinguished, wiped out by whatever violence was effective.
The Declaration of Independence itself, however, was a document looking backwards as well as ahead. It was written, in part, to insist upon the continuation of practices already a part of the behaviour of white people in that country, furious because the British wanted takeover of Indian country to be effected only by the rule of law (The Royal Proclamation) and because the British proposed a huge Indian territory to be insulated from any white intrusion.
Having established those facts and dates in his mind, Anthony Hall can't help tracing the core mentality involved in the remarkably consistent U.S. foreign policy from earliest settlement violence to the latest U.S. unilateralism that rejects, for example, the Kyoto Accord, the new International Court, all human law for prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantanamo, and the advice of the world presented at the United Nations to prevent the war - the gangland war - begun by the U.S.A. against Iraq.
From the study of Canadian Native Peoples outward to analysis of the Super-empire, the U.S. global war against indigenous peoples, new forms of colonialism, and new forms of resistance in the Fourth World, Hall comes back to, lodges in, and views the world from the unique vantage point of Canada: our constitutional monarchy that is and is not a colonial territory of the U.SA., which does and does not give its assent to U.S. policies and aggressions, and which is and is not a U.S. cultural and intellectual extension in the hegemony of U.S. brutality.
Perched on this distant, contested development of British imperial policy - Canada - Anthony Hall is positioned for brilliant insights. The British Empire, for instance, he realizes may have been acquired "in a fit of absence of mind" (J R. Seeley, Expansion of England, 1883). But it was also formed as a legal entity, documented, formally contracted and treatied. Its footprints were and are traceable in large legal tomes that bound the British imperialists as much as they bound subjugated and subject peoples.
Very early, the U.S. leaders decided they would not be caught in the British trap. The U.S. traditional claim to enter "no tangling alliances" was, they themselves say, U.S. isolationism. It was, and is, no such thing. It was, and is, rather - as Anthony Hall makes chillingly clear - a determination to move to world domination, to unimpeded exploitation of foreign countries, to the enslavement and genocide of indigenous peoples anywhere on the globe, without a scrap of paper being signed that might involve the U.S.A. in legal obligation to the world at large or to any part of it.
Normally, the occupation of a country requires "terms of occupation" if the action is not be a naked process of exploitation, looting, and subjugation. U.S. policy has been from the beginning to engage in exploitation, looting, and subjugation through a process of gun-boat diplomacy, bribery and corruption, satrapies, client states, and subservient despotisms that existed (and exist) as plain fact without a shred of legal basis. Anthony Hall calls that condition "the informal empire". The U.S. is, in that very real condition, metaphorically speaking, a pirate ship that has gained temporary dominance of all Seven Seas.
Painstakingly, fascinatingly, from what seems to be regional quarrels within a distinctly middle power (Canada), Anthony Hall works to an analysis of the major global events, tendencies, and movements of the twenty-first century. I suspect that huge achievement became possible for him in part because of his location in his uniquely positioned country and in part because of his own political/philosophical position. He is fairly described (because that is how he describes himself) as a Canadian Red Tory (itself an ideological position unique to Canada).
That position permits him to weigh U.S. actions in history without the blinders of the Canadian imperiocentrists (people, that is, who see U.S. actions as defining, normative, the measure of reasonableness). It permits him to weigh British imperial actions neutrally and with sensitivity. Red Tories believe in the rule of law; so did the British imperialists, mostly and at their best. Red Tories believe the past often did things better than the present does. Such a position opens the way to seeing the past both clearly and afresh. Hall's position allows him to believe a powerful monarch is not by definition necessarily evil and might even act in a way that would secure the possibility of dignity for oppressed people over centuries. It allows him to see leading North American Indian statesmen as ranking with the greatest white statesmen history provides.
Finally, his political/philosophical position gives him the key to comprehension of the whole, huge, complex, indigenous reality. His Redness insists he really believe in the equality of human beings. It insists he investigate and care deeply for (as Frantz Fanon puts it) "the despised of the earth". And his Toryism insists that the aboriginals, "les autochthones", the people native to a land have real, intrinsic rights to and in that land. All those qualities inherent in the researcher, activist, philosopher, scholar, Anthony Hall, have come together to make this volume readable, stimulating, provocative, disturbing, epiphanic, deeply satisfying, and endlessly informative. Buy it. Read it. (And then read it again.)
* The American Empire and the Fourth World is, as well, its own encyclopedia. For the curious, there are nearly 85 pages of notes about enough books to spend a lifetime reading. The 65 page thorough index, as well, makes every person and idea in the book there at the reader's fingertips permanently.
Robin Mathews publishes on culture, politics, the arts, and Canadian Intellectual history. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, a potter. His column appears regularly on Vive le Canada.