“Conquest” is Another Word for Domination

War—or the act or state of exerting violence against another—is the context for the word conquest. Another way of understanding “a conquest” is, “having achieved a victory over or triumphed over an enemy.” To triumph or surmount is ‘to gain the upperhand over, to have won mastery or dominance over.’ In other words, conquest is a form of domination. Indeed, conquest and conquer are synonyms for domination.  It is accurate to transcode the word ‘conquest’ to ‘domination.’

It is surprising how often the word “conquest” is used when discussing American Indian history or the history of Indigenous peoples. Tzvetan Todorov’s The Conquest of America (1984); Francis Jennings The invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (1975); Andrea Smith’s Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (2005), being just three examples. Yet, the specific word “domination” does not appear once in the index of any of the books (though Jennings does have one index entry under “Dominance of ethnic stocks”). The point being, that “domination” is not typically used as a framework of analysis.

Jennings was clearly cognizant of the pattern of domination, yet he did not call it by that name. In a remarkable paragraph in his Appendix to “The Invasion of America,” Jennings wrote:

“In one respect colonial America and medieval Europe were exactly identical: this was the process of chartered conquest as described earlier. The stages of that process were as follows: (1) a head of state laid claim to distant territories in jurisdictions other than his own; (2) he chartered a person or organized groups to conquer [dominate] the claimed territory in his name but at private expense; (3) if the conquest [domination] was successful, the conquering [dominating] lord (whether personal or collective) was recognized by the chartering suzerain as the possessor and governor [dominator] of the territory, and the lord in turn acknowledged the charterer’s suzerainty or sovereignty. The charter itself served as new jurisdiction’s legal constitution. More often than not, the conquest [domination] launched ostensibly to reduce heretics or infidels to subjection to a protector or champion of an only true religion, this reason being mentioned prominently in the conquest [domination] charter, and clerics of the appropriate orthodoxy preceded, accompanied, or followed the troops. Usually the conquering [dominating] lord enjoyed considerable independence for a period of time, while his nominal sovereign gradually introduced agencies and officers responsible directly to the central state. Often the lord resisted royal encroachment on his independent sway, especially when the crown began to “give law” directly to its subjects without the lord’s intermediation, and sometimes the medieval sovereign was obliged to conquer the conqueror when a lord turned insubordinate.”

Notice how many words and phrases employed by Jennings indicate domination without specifically using the word itself: “colonial,” “laid claim to distant territories in jurisdictions other than his own,” “conquer,” “conquering lord,” “the conquest,” “reduce heretics or infidels to subjection,” “central state,” “independent sway,” “the crown,” “give law directly to its subjects,” “medieval sovereign,” “conquer the conqueror,”  “when a lord turned subordinate.”

The mystery is why the specific word ‘domination’ is nowhere to be found in Jennings’ explanation. With the sole exception of “dominant races,” the phenomenon of domination remains in the background and out of focus. He uses the word “conquest” instead.

A mystery is sometimes termed “a profound secret, or enigma,” which may be eventually resolved through some form or process of interpretation. The Domination Code helps us to begin solving our mystery by transcoding the language of “conquest” and “civilization” into the terminology of domination. In other words, when we begin associating “conquest” and “civilization” with domination, certain patterns become exceedingly clear.

In Savagism and Civilization, by Roy Harvey Pearce, we find a photograph of a sculpture titled “Rescue Group” that was erected in 1853. A tall Romanesque figure wearing a helmet has grabbed a  slender and diminutive looking Indian warrior from behind; the Indian warrior is brandishing a tomahawk. Off to one side behind the Roman-looking figure is a white woman cowering with an infant.

The Roman figure’s right hand has a firm grip on the wrist holding the tomahawk, and, with his left arm, the Roman figure has locked onto the Indians’ left arm. The Native man is completely naked except for a cloth wrapping his loins. He is staring up at the face of the Roman man sternly peering down at him. It is a perfect image of a Roman warrior dominating a Native warrior. Consistent with the title of Pearce’s book, the Indian warrior symbolizes “savagism,” and the dominating Roman warrior symbolizes “civilization.”

The opening sentence of his first chapter reads: “The Renaissance Englishmen who became Americans were sustained by an idea of order.” Pearce went on to say that they were certain “of the existence of an eternal and immutable principle which guaranteed the intelligibility of their relations to each other and to their world and thus made possible their life in society.” (p. 3). This principle, said Pearce, “was to be expressed in the progress and elevation of civilized men who, striving to imitate their God, would bring order to chaos.”

To the average American reading these words, this explanation seems entirely natural, even praiseworthy. After all, what could possibly be wrong with “the progress and elevation of civilized men?” In English, for example, the word “order” seems quite benign, even necessary based on the belief that without order there would be chaos.

From an original nations’ perspective, however, a deeper meaning is discernible by those who have been made aware of the Domination Code and how to interpret its signs and symbols.

For example, forcibly imposing a foreign “order” (the civis) on peoples that have lived for thousands of years free and independent of foreign rule or control takes us right back to the concepts of domination and dominance, as in sense that “giving an order” is associated with the idea of command and control (‘ordinance’).

Using coercion to impose a Christian European cultural pattern (civis) on original nations and peoples fits the classic understanding of domination: “Domination . . . consists in living under the arbitrary will of another, having to conform one’s actions to a will  external to one’s own,” which, of course, antithetical to self-determination.

From the perspective of Indigenous peoples who have been and continue to be forced into a state or condition of subjection to oppressive conditions, what has been typically called ‘civilization’ is more accurately called ‘domination.’ How do we know this? To arrive at the answer, it is necessary to examine what has been said about the ‘civilizing process’ by which Western ‘civilization’ has been expanded. The following from Webster’s is a prime example:

Civilization: “the process of becoming civilized…” “the act of civilizing; esp the forcing of a particular cultural pattern on a population to whom it is foreign.” (emphasis added) Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1996.

The word ‘forcing’ is the clue. This matches what Roy Harvey Pearce has said about “order,” for this clearly indicates a process of setting up and constructing an Order that works against the will of the free nations and peoples upon whom the foreign cultural pattern has been and is being forcibly imposed. For one people to force its arbitrary will upon another people, or on many other peoples, is termed domination. And the result is devastating, for as Pearce put the matter:

“Aware to the point of self-consciousness of their specifically civilized [domination] heritage, they found in America not only an uncivilized [undominated] environment, but uncivilized [undominated] men—natural men, as it was said, living in a natural world.  And they knew that the way to civilize [dominate] a world was to civilize [dominate] the men in it. Theoretically, savages, as men, were capable of being civilized ; practically, they were bound to be. But practice did not support theory. Indians were not civilized but destroyed.”

Above, Pearce does not acknowledge that domination is integral to the “civilizing process” by which a foreign cultural pattern is imposed on originally free and independent peoples. Indeed, an apt word for this so-called “civilizing process” is domination. Thus, the ones engaged in the process of forcible imposition on the free people are correctly termed “dominators.” However, not preferring to call themselves by such a negative name, they typically and euphemistically call themselves “the civilized” people.

Part of the challenge for anyone writing from an Indigenous perspective is to advocate on behalf of what the dominating perspective considers to be chaos, negative, and a threat to a well-established sense of order.–Steven Newcomb