Are you including the undoing of the Third Reich's dominaton over Europe and the fall of the Soviet and Japanese empires in your calculation? I don't know why you would leave them out. They seem to me like clear examples of national independence from foreign rule. And it seems to me that would add a lot of positive weight to the pro-self-determination side of the ledger.

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In many cases decolonization merely means the right to be oppressed by someone of one's tribe.

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Another thing is whether the neighbours of new self-determined country X are going to respect their self-determined borders, or will they say 'Time for a conquest'?

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You can't separate what is morally right from hard headed realism, because people's views of morality strongly affect their behaviour, and people's views of what is achievable strongly affect what they believe to be morally right. Even if you go full Hobbes, you have to factor in the morality of other people who haven't chosen to do so.

Self determination for Muslim Palestinians in 1880, in a sparsely populated land of barely educated peasants, ruled by foreigners for thousands of years, and part of a world of empires, isn't so much right or wrong as it is fantastical. By 1950 the situation would have been transformed with or without Jewish immigration.

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It's the conundrum for anti-colonialism activists. The historical record mostly suggests that being governed by competent people is good. By Western standards, "global south" governments are not very competent, whether these are democratic in nature or not. However, there was a time when Western governments were in place in their countries, and it seem to have had mostly beneficial effects. Thus, from a consequentialist perspective, one seems forced to support colonialism in some form or another. As you point out, this is in conflict with self-rule or the more abstract principle of self determination. I personally think self determination is more important, but I don't know of any consequentialist data that support this.

See also for a case study. https://www.emilkirkegaard.com/p/the-ea-case-for-german-colonialism

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My understanding of Indian history is that the British East India Company was there in search of profits—from saltpeter, from tea, and later from selling opium to the Chinese—but when their policies led to violent resistance the British government imposed the civil service regime that Kipling admired.

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My dad lives in New Calendonia (he married a local and is French now) and I've visited him twice.

The French spend a lot of money there and I was surprised at some of the buildings and equipment I saw, turns out there's two things, apparently, that keep them interested in pouring millions into the place, one: it's a Pacific presense and two: it's one of the world's leading nickel producers.

When they have a "vote for independence" the local tribes lose, and then tend to burn down their kid's schools and otherwise destroy things. They can't get along. Etc., etc., the same old story, which might be a bit of a over-generalization, but it seems on principle to hold.

Of course, it's not really a "colony" but a "territory" however, in the end, I think we see a general principle play out: big powerful country in charge leads to prosperity and peace, no big country in charge leads to chaos, potential war, and much less prosperity.

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I have long favoured the idea of self-determination, so your criticism of it is interesting, and I do take your point. In practice, how well people are governed matters much more than by whom they are governed. Therefore, if self-determination reduces the quality of government, it may not be a Good Thing after all. The problem is to prove that it will reduce, or has reduced in the past, the quality of government. As far as I know, it’s highly controversial to suggest that Britain’s former colonies were relatively well off as such and were unwise to seek independence; even though you give some evidence in favour of that suggestion. I imagine that most of the people of those former colonies would disagree with it strongly, and some of them would surely be able to argue their disagreement in a rational manner.

I don’t like to talk about a right to self-determination, because in general no such right exists, except in some places where a particular government may have granted it. In general, I don't see how anyone can say, “I have a right to X”, when he is in fact unable to obtain X. A right that you can’t claim successfully is just vapourware.

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I wonder if the evidence presented against self-determination isn’t actually against something else.

I suppose I run the risk of a “no true Scotsman” fallacy here, and I probably am biased. But an alternative explanation of the various civil wars was that the independence process was botched, not actually reflecting self-determination. The various European empires were not noted for drawing boundaries in a way that made local sense. In fact, there is a good argument that borders were used to divide populations.

The analysis has to assume that the counterfactual would have avoided the equivalent of civil war, meaning that the empires could have continued without violence. I suppose it is possible to imagine that having a foreign power rule over one might seem less obnoxious than being ruled by a different local ethnic or religious group, but it seems odd.

Decolonization, perhaps as a random occurrence, coincided with the high point of the ideology of centralization in government. This gave the various local factions a big prize to fight over. Ideally, self-determination would have allowed the dispersal of those rents in a way that better suited everyone, more like a market and less like a winner take all contest. It's not clear whether this ideal is approachable, but it seems clear that the colonial powers had little incentive to try. Inertia favored borders and institutions that had been designed to keep inhabitants under control, and once they had those institutions in their hands, the temptation was to use it against their political rivals.

At best, this suggests some historical contingency in how “self determination” can or should be accomplished, and that like many things, it is much easier to do a slipshod job than to get it right.

I think that the best argument in favor of self determination is, what is the alternative? Conquest had been the usual de facto alternative, and there is not much to be said for that. What else? Stasis?

States used to be smaller than nations, now they are larger. Perhaps they can be separated, but I don’t know how.

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An interesting take. But I have a couple of caveats. 1) Democracy does not necessarily, at the most fundamental level, mean governing by getting the most votes. It can mean one group of people slaughtering a rival group (no matter whether for ideological, religious, racial, or economic reasons) until a solid majority (60%? 75%? 90%" Whatever it takes) can get the remaining minority to submit to being ruled by the majority without needing to resort to mass killing. That appears to happen rather frequently.

2) While we apparently "know" a bit more about economics, prior to at least the mid-20th century in practice all governments regarded economics like a zero sum game. (Of course, almost certainly a very large majority of humans still do. Probably a majority of extant current governments do as well.)

So probably any :right to self determination" boils down to an evolutionarily-driven need to kill until your "group" can force, without killing (to the extent that they're still useful in some sense, like as slaves may be), the minority to allow the majority the right to appropriate whatever amount of the zero sum pie they want.

And I'm pretty sure most of those who insist on the "right of self-determination" are firmly convinced that their "side" will get to do the determining.

So, to me it's merely one more way of hiding an ugly truth, that many (most) people are willing to kill to get what they want.

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" the view Kipling expresses in “The White Man’s Burden,”⁶ colonization as a benevolent effort to spread the benefits of civilization:"

Written, if I recall, about the US taking over colonization responsibilities from Spain over the Philippines. There's a duality (if not plurality) of views, rather like in Kipling's "Tommy". The poet sees both how the public needs, and scorns, the thin red line of heroes. And he tells how "The 'Eathen, In his Blindness" needs, and hates, the Regiment that comes an' pokes the 'eathen out. I suspect it's difficult to find one "view" in Kipling that is consistently held from the beginning of the poem to the end. Well, setting aside "The Power of the Dog".

ANYhow, I have no idea of the numbers but if I'm not mistaken the whole problem with VietNam was that colony passing from France to Japan back to France and then torn between Soviets and the US with minimal respect for the middle class locals. It's never been clear to me why the US felt obliged to help the French in Indo-China.

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The idea of rights has become the fad of the last 100 years and is the equivalent of scripture in the new world religion that I call Secular Humanism. The most recent denomination of which is generally called The Woke. Someone is always claiming a new “Right” (as in the right of children to transition their gender without consulting parents). Spoken like a medieval chant, “I have a right to …” is the easiest way to identify a disciple of this new religion.

I smile the most at the claim of fundamental human rights. Like other religious claims there is no basis in fact but is simply a matter of faith. Parachute a believer into the jungles of Papua New Guinea or the Amazon basin, let them spout their claim of rights to the folks there and find out how many of your rights are truly fundamental. You couldn’t be certain they agree you have the right to even live. Rights are simply an agreement between people, or groups of people and are in force only as long as that agreement remains. Denied your rights, your only certain recourse is the use of power. Your power over another, the power of a group, of a police force or an army willing to enforce your right.

And that brings us to another important factor of rights. Any successful claim of a right immediately creates a responsibility and usually it is the responsibility of someone else to enforce your right. I would suggest that a claim to rights not hitherto agreed upon, becomes a form of de facto colonization. Your claim to a right of self determination imposes a responsibility on others to not only agree to your right but to enforce it with power. How is it moral or reasonable for one person to claim a right and expect others to die in its defence, if they haven’t agreed to that bargain?

No, there is no natural right of self-determination. The only way such a right could be claimed is to have sufficient power behind your claim.

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I think it would be useful to define what is meant by "right" in a context like this. Do you mean someone like "should we allow this to happen" or is it more of an abstract philosophical question in the spherical cow sense?

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I'm reminded of the famous CS Lewis quote

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies."

It can apply to both sides of the argument.

If I have to choose a ruler, the best option is one for whom ruling is a business, not a passion.

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Let's argue that instead of a right to self-government, people everywhere have the duty of self-government. It's a heavy burden and often, maybe very often, they fail.

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By the way, I read the 'Data Secrets Lots' thread, and it was quite frustrating. Many people talked about how Palestinians lost their land or their right to their land. However, it remained unclear what exactly was meant by this. Did it mean that they lost their land in a private property sense, that they were deprived of their rel estate? Or did it mean something more abstract and politically driven? Reading through it, it seemed that sometimes both were meant, and often, both aspects were mixed.

If we're talking about it in a private property sense, then the answer is both yes and no. During the Mandate period, Jews bought land. I would call this business, not losing their land. The same Al-Husayni clan, whom I mentioned in another post, were among the largest landowners, and when their political position during the mandate, lobbying the British, was that land should not be sold to Jews, they themselves sold their land to Jews.

Regarding the 1948 war, yes, many lost their property, but it was a war. Israel did not initiate it. Israel was attacked.

If we're talking about land in a political sense, then, of course, they did not lose it. Politically, it was British territory, and before that, Ottoman territory. The Palestinian political project, which would eventually define the state of the Palestinians and the political identity of the Palestinians, only began properly after the Mandate. Unfortunately, it is based on anti-Israel sentiment. In itself, there is nothing unusual about that. The formation of German nationalism and the definition of the German political identity had a element of opposition to France. The emergence of Zionism can be viewed as a response to various European nationalisms. But at some point, you have to move on from the anti-phase, from the phase of 'we are not x,' and define it positively. Palestine has not been able to fully do that.

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