Renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery

The Original Doctrine

For the last four or five hundred years, Europeans honestly believed that they were superior to every other society in the world, and they could play “finders keepers” with the whole surface of the globe as well as what lay below the surface.

There’s nothing new about the idea. Every conqueror in history has motivated his population with the idea that they are superior people, and everything belongs to them by right, usually bolstered by the will of whatever gods they believe in. But the Church of Rome went one step further, putting the doctrine in writing in the form of papal bulls. The big news this week is that Pope Francis has officially repudiated the doctrine.

(America also has a version of it in civil law dating from 1823. No idea what they have done with it recently.)

There are several concepts related to this idea. Most of them, while discussed at length by philosophers of the time, never quite made it into written laws. Let’s look at a few.

Divine Right of Kings

A concept that has come from time immemorial. If you can persuade the populace that the guy with all the power got it directly from the gods, then anyone who rebels is breaking the laws and sinning as well. This idea had been codified in England, but by the time the British Empire was in full swing it had faded, to be replaced by:

White Man’s Burden

This was the concept that European nations were superior in ethics, metaphysics, and technology, and it was their right and duty to spread their culture to the other races of the world. In other words, their duty was to spread their religion because that gave them the right to help themselves to all the resources of the converts. How did they do? Drive down Main Street of any big city in the world and you’ll see the evidence. Automobiles, shop fronts, advertising techniques  and specifically stop signs are pretty well universal.

 Manifest Destiny

This is just a regional adjustment of the wider European concept with the Popism stripped out, espoused by the United States of America to take over whatever part of the continent they could get their hands on. Once American power grew to international level, the idea expanded to include the rest of the world.


Yes, this concept is just the next manifestation of European colonialism. It has replaced religion as the excuse for invading everywhere and pushing out the ethos of the societies who live there. Western nations believe that our form of government is the best for everyone. In point of fact, democracy is a complex and delicate organization of society, and it takes decades of education to achieve it. Trying to dump it wholesale into places like Afghanistan, Somalia or even Russia is doomed to failure. After all, England took a thousand years or so to create the system, and it still hasn’t moved to the next level of improvement, which is proportional representation. Democracy is legislated all over the world, but it’s still a work in progress. Close to half the population of the U. S. is shaky on what it means.

These elitist doctrines have rationalized most of the suffering in the world today, and that’s why it is so appropriate that the Pope does the renouncing. As the head of the largest religion in the world for the last 400 years or so, he represents the last bastion of that type of thinking. In the philosophical and legal sense, this announcement lays to rest the biggest injustice in history. Where the rubber meets the road, it might take a while longer. Especially where it’s European rubber travelling on Third World soil.

Now we must look to the future:

The Bottom Line

Let’s see what we’re going to do to renounce our latest, most egotistical error: thinking that we can use up the resources of the world with no regard for the future. I don’t think the Pope will be much use on this one. We have to do it on our own.

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