The New World and the Noble Savage

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History book series (CIH)


As eighteenth-century Europeans looked to the Orient to debate the relative merits of Eastern and Western civilizations, they also looked across the Atlantic to consider the benefits and drawbacks of civilization itself, as weighed against the charms of a simpler, more primitive existence in harmony with an idealized Nature. The figure of the “noble savage” was increasingly invoked in these debates as a sort of discursive experiment, an effort to discover what Man would be in the absence of societal and cultural constraints. Cultural critics from Montaigne to Lahontan to Rousseau invoked the example of indigenous American peoples to condemn tyranny, religious persecution, social inequality, and artificial, alienating culture in Europe itself. While the Chinese mandarin had been the symbol most convenient for the advocates of enlightened despotism, the noble savage came to represent egalitarianism and a sort of romantic anarchy.


Native People Human Race Savage State Falkland Island Cultural Critic 
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© David Allen Harvey 2012

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