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Legitimate Expectations, Historical Injustice, and Perverse Incentives for Settlers

  • Timothy Waligore EMAIL logo


This article argues against privileging the expectations of settlers over those of dispossessed peoples. I assume in this article that historical rights to occupancy do not persist through all changes in circumstances, but a theory of justice should reduce perverse incentives to unjustly settle on land in hopes of legitimating occupancy. Margaret Moore, in her 2015 book, A Political Theory of Territory, tries to balance these intuitions through an argument based on legitimate expectations. I argue that Moore’s attempt to reduce perverse incentives (through expectation-altering institutional design) fails. Moore unduly privileges settler expectations, especially over those of indigenous peoples. I criticize United States court decisions resurrecting the expectations of past settlers in the allotment era (which share structural features with Moore’s arguments). Lastly, distinguishing between ‘final’ supersession of historical injustice through changing circumstances, and ‘dormant’ supersession, shows how indigenous claims to land and jurisdiction may revive.


For their helpful comments and suggested revisions, the author would like to thank Jared Alessandroni, Arthur Applbaum, Rahul Kumar, Irina Manta, Yael Peled, Katie Unger, Daniel Viehoff, Joseph Waligore, the anonymous referees and the editors of this journal, and the participants and organizers of a 2016 workshop on ‘Justice and Legitimate Expectations’ at the University of Graz in Graz, Austria.


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Published Online: 2017-11-9
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

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