The Empire of Political Thought: Perceptions of Indigenous Government in Australia
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This paper examines the relationship between perceptions of Indigenous government and the development of early-modern European, and especially British political thought. It will be argued that a range of British political thinkers provided a rationale for the 'subjection' of Indigenous peoples by articulating the view that such peoples were in want of effective government and regular conduct due to the absence of property relations among them. The deficiencies of Indigenous people were thus framed by understandings of concepts of 'civility', 'government', and 'society' in European and British political thought. In opposition to the reason and freedom of European civility, government and society, Indigenous peoples in Australia and elsewhere were perceived to live in associations bound by unalterable custom and tradition. The paper will thus identify conceptual connections made between property, polity, civility, and sovereignty in European and British political thought. Understandings of these conceptual relationships will then be traced in colonial literature on the subjection of Indigenous people to British law and sovereignty, and on the existence or non-existence of Indigenous government and nation-hood in Australia. The paper will conclude with some observations on the 1998 Federal Court of Australia decision in the Yorta Yorta case.
Proceedings of the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference
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