‘Savages’ were invented in the Old World but encountered in the New.
J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion
It is imperative to accept the idea that negation does not signify nothingness; that when the mirror does not reflect our own likeness, it does not prove there is nothing to perceive.
Pierre Clastres, ‘Copernicus and the Savages’
The savage Other
The call to decolonise philosophy demands, among other things, a preliminary assessment of the shaping power of the colonial relation across the discipline’s history. Such an inquiry involves an excavation of how the European encounter with, and exploitation of, other peoples conditioned the different forms taken by the problem of anthropological difference. 1 My concern in this essay is to explore how philosophers adopted, adapted and transformed – and in a sense invented – the figure of the savage from the late sixteenth to the late eighteenth century. In particular, I want to examine the varying and sometimes contradictory ways in which the savage emerged as the living negation or inverted image of civilised Western humanity. I have been greatly inspired in this undertaking – of which this essay is but a preliminary sketch – by two still-untranslated landmark works of philosophical historiography by Italian scholars, Sergio Landucci’s Philosophers and Savages and Giuliano Gliozzi’s Adam and the New World. 2
From Horkheimer and Adorno’s location of anti-Semitism within the Dialectic of Enlightenment to Said’s Orientalism, from Beauvoir’s The Second Sex to Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism, the critical history of Western philosophy and rationality has abounded in explorations of the intimate if often obscured bonds between the speculative subjection of Otherness and its social, material counterparts. The blatant instrumentality of the idea of the savage to the colonial project, from the Spanish conquest to the ongoing dispossession of indigenous people across the globe, would appear to militate against any sustained or nuanced investigation. Surely, we are dealing with the bluntest of racist and legitimising myths, to be fought politically rather than ruminated academically? In what follows, I want to propose that contrary to this justifiable but reductive reflex, there is much to be gained from an investigation of the uses to which the idea of the savage was put by European thinkers in the crucible of colonial modernity – mainly, perhaps, for a historical understanding of the politics of philosophy itself, but also to gain some insight into the contradictory endurance of colonial imaginaries in the present.
The idea of the savage played a critical role in the emergence of modern political philosophy, and the subsequent unfolding of the ideologies of progress and the social sciences of development: classical political economy, anthropology, sociology. In the period of this intellectual ferment, in a Europe wracked by inner turmoil and external conquest – which is to say amid the throes of the colonial emergence of a capitalist world from the matrix of Christian feudalism – the savage was figured largely with reference to the encounter with the indigenous people of North America, albeit drawing, as the term’s etymology suggests, on an intra-European imaginary of the homo sylvaticus, the man of the woods. 3 Though preceded by images of Otherness that drew on narratives of conquest and encounter in the Caribbean and Brazil (as we’ll see below with Montaigne), it was with reference especially to so-called ‘Canadians’ that modern philosophy sought to draw speculative and normative lessons from what appeared as savage difference. As Pocock has observed, the Americas became ‘a vast laboratory in which European speculative experimenters [tested] their hypotheses regarding the human mind’. 4
The first philosophical appearance of European philosophy’s ‘Canadians’ seems to have come with the debate among supporters and objectors to Descartes’ account of the innateness of the idea of God’s infinity. The engineer and physicist Pierre Petit argued that the absence of such an idea among the indigenous people encountered by French colonists offered empirical proof of the falsity of the Cartesian deduction. This view appeared in the 1641 ‘second objections’ to the Meditations. ‘Canadian philosophy’ as a locution actually appears in the 1707 inaugural lecture of a German professor Jonas Conrad Schramm, responding to the writings of the Baron de Lahontan (to whom we’ll return in the conclusion, and who instead referred to indigenous people as ‘Americans’) – where he speaks, paraphrasing Aristotle on the origins of Greek philosophy, of the ‘stammering’ philosophy of the native peoples of so-called ‘New France’. Jacob Brucker’s five-volume critical history of philosophy (1742-44) would also include a lengthy entry on the ‘Philosophy of the Canadians’, as would Diderot’s Encyclopaedia, presenting their ‘natural religion’ as a kind of spontaneous deism. 5
What kind of ‘Other’ is the savage? At first, and perhaps second and third glance too, the savage seems to differ from the Others that have so magnetised twentieth-century critical thought, lacking the unsettling, subversive qualities which reason’s confrontation with alterity is often deemed to have. In his suppressed 1961 preface to History of Madness, Michel Foucault envisaged a history of limits that would interrogate a culture from the (in some sense impossible) vantage point of its exterior, a hollowed-out void or tear ‘by means of which it isolates itself, [and which] identifies it as clearly as its values’, 6 forming the hidden basis of its historicity. Foucault drew here on Nietzsche’s identification of the origin of European metaphysics in the forgetting of the experience of the tragic. He presented not just madness (or unreason) as such a site of tragedy’s foreclosure, but also dreams (or the unconscious), and the Orient. These were all ‘limit-experiences of the Western world’, each one of which, ‘at the frontiers of our culture, traces a limit that is simultaneously an original division’. 7 Reflecting recently on the articulation of difference, otherness and exclusion in the phenomenon of racism, Étienne Balibar, in dialogue with Edward Said’s Orientalism, presents the latter as a paradigmatic study of something like an ‘essential’ Otherness, an ‘uncanny double’, ‘who is not only an adversary but embodies a negation of one’s moral and aesthetic and intellectual values, an Other who, at the same time, in the most contradictory manner, has to be constructed as a passive “object” of representation, study, dissections, classifications, and an active “subject” of threats, or simply of an alternative path to civilisation and salvation’. 8 This is an immanent and constitutive alterity.
Does the savage represent such an alterity, such that, to continue with Balibar,
the construction of the Other is the construction of an alienated Self, where all the properties attributed to the Other are inversions and distortions of those vindicated for oneself, where indeed the Self is nothing but the Other’s Other, whose identity and stability is permanently asserted and secured (in the imaginary) through the representation of an essential Other, or an essentialised Other, whose identity in this respect arrives from the Other in inverted form? 9
The answer is mixed. On the one hand, as I explore below, the savage is in some sense the ‘perfect Other’, the product of a matrix or accumulation of negations: he is exactly what ‘we’ are not. On the other, largely because of the simplistic formalism of this negation, the savage is rarely if at all the occasion for a limit-experience or an uncanny encounter, serving at best as the locus of ironic reversal and scepticism about the vaunted virtues of the ‘civilised’ – no doubt also an effect of the reliance of these philosophical texts on missionary literature already steeped in a classical and Christian image of Otherness, rather than on the encounters between settlers and First Nations. 10 As Sergio Landucci observes, perhaps the savage is really the caput mortuum of Western political philosophy. 11 This was the term – literally ‘the dead head’ – used by alchemists to describe the exhausted residue of their experiments. By analogy, the philosophical idea of the savage could be regarded as the sterile product of negating the distinctive and itemisable characteristics of Western political anthropology.
As Landucci has explored with daunting erudition, and as Ter Ellingson has amply corroborated in his compelling critique of anthropology’s racial legacies, The Myth of the Noble Savage (2001), 12 the figure of the savage is a product of ‘comparative negation’, to use Ellingson’s helpful formulation. Landucci starts his periodisation of philosophy’s invention of the savage with Montaigne’s famous essay ‘Of the Cannibals’, which, in John Florio’s early seventeenth-century translation, includes the following lines referring to the native populations encountered by French colonists and missionaries in Brazil:
It is a nation, would I answer Plato, that hath no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politic superiority; no use of service, or riches or of poverty; no contracts, no successions, no dividences, no occupation but idle; no respect of kindred, but common, no apparel but natural, no manuring of lands, no use of wine, corn, or metal. 13
In Montaigne, this logic of negation, or privation, was intended to frame the radical diversity he regarded as consubstantial with human nature, and to sceptically puncture the superior pride of the civilised, both by relativising the very category of ‘barbarism’ and by proposing that the savage’s greater closeness to nature condemned the ‘bastardising’ effects of our artificial customs. To paraphrase Foucault’s treatment of Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly, this was a critical-ironic rather than a tragic critique of Western polity and rationality. 14 Relying, by his telling, on a naïve and thus more reliable witness, Montaigne would then fill in the framework of otherness or difference-by-negation with the description of forms-of-life – anthropophagy, above all – which were incommensurable enough with our own to undermine the dominant doctrines that defined something like a universalising political anthropology of the Middle Ages: the Christian consensum gentium and Aristotle’s vision of man as a zoon politikon. Though the uses and effects of Montaigne’s savage, in which negation and difference heralded a sceptical and ironic suspension of Europe’s divisive confidence in its own superiority, were sui generis, and though his attempt at a dispassionate description of indigenous forms of life was unique for his day, the logic of comparative negation was not.
In one of the very first travel narratives from the ‘New World’, a famous letter to his patron Lorenzo de Medici, the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci declared:
They have no cloth either of wool, linen or cotton, since they need it not; neither do they have goods of their own, but all things are held in common. They live together without king, without government, and each is his own master. They marry as many wives as they please; and son cohabits with mother, brother with sister, male cousin with female, and any man with the first woman he meets. They dissolve their marriages as often as they please, and observe no sort of law with respect to them. Beyond the fact that they have no church, no religion and are not idolaters, what more can I say? They live according to nature [secundum naturae], and may be called Epicureans rather than Stoics. There are no merchants among their number, nor is there barter. The nations wage war upon one another without art or order. 15
In 1505, a version of Vespucci’s privative description would caption one of the first visual representations of Amerindian peoples in Europe. 16
Columbus’ own 1493 letter, announcing his great ‘discovery’, spoke of the natives of ‘Hispaniola’ as having ‘no iron and steel, nor any weapons, nor are they fit thereunto’. In 1511, Peter Martyr d’Angheria, in another landmark text for the European perception of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, would write in similar terms:
Lande is as common as the sunne, and water; Myne and Thyne (the seedes of all mischeefe) have no place with them…. A fewe thinges contente them, havyng no delyght in suche superfluities, for the whiche in other places menne take infinite paynes, and commit manye unlawfull actes…. But among these symple soules, a fewe clothes serve the naked: weightes and measures are not needeful to suche as can not skyl of crafte and deceyte, and have not the use of pestiferous money, the seede of innumerable mischeeves: so that yf we shall not be ashamed to confesse the trueth, they seeme to live in that golden worlde of the whiche olde wryters speake so muche, wherein menne lyved symplye and innocentlye without enforcement of lawes, without quarrelying, judges and libelles, content only to satisfie nature, without further vexation for knowledge of thynges to come…. They are content with so lytle, that in so large a countrey they have rather superfluitie than scarcenesse: so that (as we have sayde before) they seeme to lyve in the golden worlde without toyle, lyvynge in open gardens, not entrenched with dyches, divided with hedges, or defended with walles; they deale truely one with another without lawes, without bookes, and without judges… 17
Francesco Guicciardini, in his Storia d’Italia (1537-1540) would say of native Americans that ’they had no knowledge (scientia) and no experience whatsoever of things’.
As Margaret T. Hodgen has shown, citing these and other examples from the early sixteenth century, such descriptions constituted ‘conventionalised statements’, 18 which were not unique to any one author, nor particularly philosophical in orientation. The barbarous or savage Other was defined by the privation of certain enumerable elements of European civilisation: law, property, sovereign power, the mechanical arts, agriculture, mathematics, writing, and so on and so forth. As Stephen Greenblatt remarked in his perceptive study of linguistic colonialism, ‘The mention of the nakedness of the Indians is typical; to a ruling class obsessed with the symbolism of dress, the Indians’ physical appearance was a token of a cultural void. In the eyes of the Europeans, the Indians were culturally naked. This illusion that the inhabitants of the New World are essentially without a culture of their own is both early and remarkably persistent, even in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence.’ 19 The framing division between bios and zoe, political life and ‘bare’ life, identified in Agamben’s Homo Sacer, was manifest here in all its raw literalism (although, as we shall further detail below, the postulate of the cultural and political bareness of the Indians was not shared by all European philosophers).
Now, this particular convention, the negative itemising of difference, is nigh-on ubiquitous from the sixteenth century onwards, and can be registered across traveller’s chronicles, and in Enlightenment encyclopaedias and dictionaries, and from Kant’s anthropology to Darwin’s voyages. To take just one striking example, from the Franciscan missionary Louis Hennepin’s Nouveau voyage d’un pais plus grand que l’Europe:
The Apostolick Man [missionary] ought much more to acknowledge this dependance upon the Soveraign Lord, in respect of those barbarous Nations who have not any regard of any Religion true or false, who live without Rule, without Order, without Law, without God, without Worship, where Reason is buried in Matter, and incapable of reasoning the most common things of Religion and Faith. Such are the people of Canada. … They live without any subordination, without Laws or any form of Government or Policy. They are stupid in matters of Religion, subtle and crafty in their Worldly concerns; but excessively superstitious. 20
Missing from Hennepin’s list of negations is a leitmotiv found in many of the others, that the savages know neither thine nor mine, that they are peoples without property. Among innumerable examples (taken mainly from Landucci, Ellingson and Hodgen), we encounter it in:
The Dutch geographer Joannes de Laet’s 1633 Novus Orbis: ‘[they have] no laws, no political institutions, they act like animals’.
The 1694 Dictionary of the Académie Française: ‘Savage, also said of peoples who usually live in the woods, without religion, fixed abode and rather more like beasts than animals’.
In the soldier-explorer Baron de Lahontan’s 1706 Mémoires de l’Amérique Septentrionale, in the chapter ‘Moeurs et Manières des Sauvages’ (Mores and Manners of the Savages): ‘They have neither laws, nor judges, nor priests’; ‘The Savages know neither yours nor mine’.
In the naturalist Buffon’s 1749 Variétés dans l’Espece humaine: ‘no rule, no law, nor master, nor habitual society’.
In Louis de Jacourt’s entry Sauvages for Diderot’s Encyclopaedia (1765): ‘barbarian peoples who live without law, police or religion, and who have no fixed abode’.
Leibniz in the same year, in the New Essays Concerning Human Understanding: ‘Even with regard to the soul, their practical morality can be said to be in some respects better than ours, because they have neither greed for the accumulation of goods nor ambition to dominate.’
Kant, in the lecture notes from his courses on philosophical anthropology of the 1770s: ‘The American people are incapable of civilisation. They have no motive force; for they are without affection and passion’. 21
Charles Darwin on the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego in 1839: ‘The different tribes have no government or chief; yet each is surrounded by other hostile tribes, speaking different dialects, and separated from each other only by a deserted border or neutral territory: the cause of their warfare appears to be the means of subsistence. … They cannot know the feeling of having a home, and still less that of domestic affection; for the husband is to the wife a brutal master to a laborious slave. … How little can the higher powers of the mind be brought into play: what is there for imagination to picture, for reason to compare, for judgment to decide upon?’ 22
If Europeans preoccupied with hierarchical codes of dress and appearance were culturally confounded by the savage’s nakedness, viewing the indigenous populations of the Americas through the lens of law and property meant that where social and political relations were supposed to be, all that actually appeared was absence and lack. Yet, as Hodgen has noted, there is nothing particularly modern (or exclusively European) about this ethnocentric logic of contrast with the Other, who only exists as a negative or inversion of the Self. She encounters it in the twelfth-century Old French Roman d’Alexandre, where the Indian ‘brahmin’ were described as having ‘no agriculture, no iron, no building, no fire, no bread, no wine, no clothing, nor anything pertaining to the productive arts or pleasure’. 23 She also finds it in Ancient Roman and Greek accounts of the nomadic Scythians (not by accident among the fantastic ancestors postulated by European writers for the Amerindian populations), who were said by Strabo in the first century BC to ‘know nothing about the storing of food, or about the peddling of merchandise either, except for the exchange of wares [barter]’, and whom Homer before him described as men ‘who by no means spend their lives on contracts and money-getting, but actually possess all things in common. . . and above all things have their wives and their children in common’.
The sheer monotony of comparative negation is no surprise, if we reflect on the extent to which Renaissance and early modern thinkers interpreted the world through a framework compounded from Ancient Roman and Greek traditions, along with their Biblical hybrids. Particularly when it comes to their apparent ignorance of private property and its social consequences, the New World ‘savage’ is enduringly haunted both by ancient utopias of the Golden Age and by classical figures of barbarism. As Hayden White has suggested, in his suggestive study of the ‘forms of wildness’ that preceded the emergence of the modern figure of the savage, what we are dealing with in this pattern is a ‘technique of ostensive self-definition by negation’, in other words with the creation of antitypes. 24 From a certain angle, the modern ‘savage’ could be seen as the illusory realisation of the fantastic figure of the wild man which had menaced and enlivened the real and psychic margins of European cultures in antiquity and the middle ages. Did anything uncanny remain in the formalisation, projection and spatialisation of the pre-colonial homo sylvaticus onto the native peoples of the Americas, anything that would confront a colonising rationality with the experience of its limits?
We might be tempted to single out the ‘noble savage’ as one such obstacle to cognitive imperialism, but that identification would be mistaken. As Ter Ellingson, and before him Arthur Lovejoy, 25 Giuliano Gliozzi and Michèle Duchet have all detailed, the ‘noble savage’ is largely a retroactive and negative ideological construction; nineteenth-century pro-imperialist anthropological and philosophical polemicists attacked the ‘myth of the noble savage’ as a confected proxy for their assaults on the rather more imposing revolutionary legacies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau – who had himself never used that formulation, and who crucially differentiated the primitive state of nature from the social reality of North American populations. As Ellingson notes, the nexus between nobility and savagery was a short-lived and idiosyncratic product of Marc Lescarbot’s experience in ‘New France’ in the early seventeenth century:
Rather than an idealised equation of morality with nature, [the noble savage] was a technical concept based on legal theory, attempting to account for the problem of societies that could exist in the absence of anything Europeans might recognise as legal codes and institutions, by projecting a model drawn from European ‘nobility’ that could satisfactorily account for the absence of a wide range of European-style political and legal constructs. And rather than being associated with an idealisation of ‘savage’ peoples or promotion of them to the status of exemplars for revealing European corruption, it was instead offered in the context of a colonialist project that would promote European dominance, guided by a salvage ethnology that would show later generations how their forefathers had lived, once the inevitable destruction of their culture had been achieved. 26
What comes to be misrecognised as a myth of the noble savage, as Ellingson concludes, is rather the sign of ‘the lingering transformations of the Golden Age discourse of comparative negation and the dialectic of vices and virtues, playing itself out in oscillating interaction with the opposing energies and increasingly negativising forces of Enlightenment sociocultural evolutionary progressivism and nineteenth-century racism’. 27
Building on a suggestion by Duchet, we could further argue that to the extent that the reality of the savage world is trapped in a ‘network of negations’ – negations that serve as screen and mirror for the ‘Other’s Other’, the internally conflicted ‘Self’ of a Europe in cultural and political tumult – it is the very formalism of these negations which opens them up to a quasi-structuralist play of combinations and inversions of valence, as well as the emergence of various negative utopias. 28 As I will explore below, it matters to the historical mutation in the figure of the savage which negations take precedence. First and foremost, is the savage negatively the human without property (or else, positively, with common possessions), without religion (or with non-monotheistic spiritual practices), without government (or with equality), without industriousness (or with freedom)?
As I have just intimated, the negations can also be inverted, in either a critical or a utopian guise, namely in the form of what Anthony Pagden has termed the ‘savage critic’, the reversal of the savage as negative stereotype, the negation of the negation of the civilised.
The savage was believed to live in a world of his own making, a world of extremes, of inexplicable and frequently repellent ritual behaviour, a world controlled by passion rather than reason. The literary image of what I shall call the savage critic is, in a number of crucial respects, an inversion of this stereotype. The fictitious Mexicans of Dryden, Sir William Davenant’s Peruvians, the Huron and the Incas of Voltaire, Diderot’s Tahitians, Denise Vairasse d’Alais’s Australians, the Huron of the Baron de Lahontan (to take a random sample) all claim in their attacks upon the world of civil men that it is we, not they, who have failed to see what is written in the book of nature: that in the end it is we who have failed to grasp what it means to be human. 29
As concerns utopia instead – and as White has aptly noted about the very idea of wildness – in moments of cultural, political and economic crisis, the antitype can become a positive type, even, we could add, a kind of prototype. Rather than a positive valuation of indigenous Amerindian societies (though this is not wholly absent, for instance from the writings of missionaries like the Jesuit Charlevoix) the ‘nobility’ (in the sense of affirmative value) of the savage lies in its negativity. By now, I imagine some readers may have already heard echoing, across the ‘litanies of comparative negation’, the libertarian communist slogan: ni dieu, ni maître, no Gods, no masters.
This negative dialectic of savage dystopia and colonial utopia is present in what is perhaps the most well-known literary instantiation of the savage as comparative negation of the civilised. This is Gonzalo’s evocation, in Act 2 Scene I of Shakespeare’s Tempest, of the anti-political ‘commonwealth’ he would impose, had he the chance, on Prospero’s island:
I’ the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.
As Shakespeare scholars began to notice in the late eighteenth century, and continue to discuss to this day, the speech appears as a détournement of Montaigne’s ‘Des Cannibales’ – though Hodgen has argued powerfully for the position that if this is indeed the case, then Shakespeare borrowed from the least original, most conventional of Montaigne’s musings on the ethico-political lessons of Brazilian anthropophagy. What is perhaps more telling in The Tempest is that this is a European’s utopia, of the island as tabula rasa where one may elide or invert civilisation and its discontents; it is not a description of the ‘natives’, who receive in the figure of Caliban a far more pejorative, but also far more unsettling image.
We are in the presence here perhaps of a kind of secondary or imaginary colonisation, one that projects onto ‘savage’ colonised lands, spatialising it, a European desire for the negation of his own civilisation – a desire which, as White suggests, inverts the valence of the antitype in moments of cultural crisis. Shakespeare in a sense punctures the sureties of this colonial utopian imagination with the interjection of Antonio’s Realpolitik: ‘The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning’. Gonzalo’s withering away of the state in the colonies forgets that the birth of the commonwealth is a matter of ‘treason, felony, sword, pike, knife, gun’. When in 1969 the Martinican anti-colonial poet and politician Aimé Césaire adapted Shakespeare’s play in his own A Tempest, the words he put in Gonzalo’s mouth also spoke to the limits of his negative and primitivist colonial utopia:
I mean that if the island is inhabited, as I believe, and if we colonise it, as is my hope, then we have to take every precaution not to import our shortcomings, yes, what we call civilisation. They must stay as they are: savages, noble and good savages, free, without any complexes or complications. Something like a pool granting eternal youth where we periodically come to restore our aging, citified souls. 30
Savage Warre, or, reading Thomas Hobbes in Virginia
I haven’t forgotten about political philosophy, or its history, and it seems fitting now, having touched on the dialectic of political realism and anti-political idyll in The Tempest, to turn to that most fiercely anti-utopian of modern philosophers, Thomas Hobbes, a crucial author in Landucci’s narrative. With Hobbes, we can briefly explore how notwithstanding the seemingly trans-historical invariance and portability of the savage as anti-type, seemingly analogous negations can be the bearers of very different philosophical contents and projects. Four decades after Shakespeare’s Tempest, Hobbes’s Leviathan depicted the state of nature in the following well-known terms:
during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition which is called Warre…. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short. 31
Modern political philosophy is arguably born of a matrix of negations, juxtaposing an imaginary at once formalistic and terrifying of pure privation in the state of nature to the imperative necessity of the State, that artificial man. Though Hobbes, who was personally involved in the colonial enterprise as a stockholder of the Virginia Company, 32 spoke of the ‘savages of America’ sparingly, he did so at crucial points in his oeuvre, and, as Landucci forcefully argues, the role of ethnological accounts of North American forms-of-life in shoring up or verifying Hobbes’s political anthropology should not be underestimated. Homo homini lupus est, was, after all, an expression first used in a colonial travel narrative. Two paragraphs after his famous formulation ‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short’, anticipating the response of a sceptical reader, he notes:
It may peradventure be thought there was never such a time nor condition of warre as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small Families, the concord whereof dependeth on naturall lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. Howsoever, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there were no common Power to feare; by the manner of life which men that have formerly lived under a peacefull government use to degenerate, into a civill Warre. 33
A number of elements of Hobbes’ use of the savage antitype are worth pausing on. Hobbes firmly rejected Aristotle’s political anthropology and psychology – the one that had served as a bulwark for the Spanish humanist and theologian Sepúlveda’s juridical arguments about the Indians as ‘natural slaves’. 34 He did so by affirming the thoroughly artificial character of politics: human beings are not ‘political animals’. The state, like property itself, is a thoroughly artificial institution, whereas if we can speak of a ‘natural’ state among human beings this will be a state of civil war. In Hobbesian political philosophy the rejection of a natural political disposition is accompanied by the assertion of an instituted identity, both artificial and ineluctable, between social life and life under a state.
Hobbes’s first important work had been a remarkable translation of Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, a text in which armed strife within the city, stásis, is a pervasive theme. 35 He would project the spectre of internecine war within the horizon of the European city or state, be it ancient Athens or contemporary England, into his selective sampling of travel narratives of the Americas. Hobbes depicted the life of the ‘savages of the Americas’ as one of permanent warfare and insecurity, discouraging all productive and propertied activity. One may wonder whether Hobbes’s fearsome images of North American warfare were more a function of the frightened reports of anti-colonial resistance, as manifested in the Virginia Company’s own Jamestown settlement in 1622, than any account of indigenous practices of conflict and warfare. Though he certainly situated the savage of the Americas on an inferior rung in the hierarchy of the civilised ‘arts’, Hobbes, like his seventeenth-century rationalist contemporaries, maintained an ultimately homogeneous and paradoxically egalitarian philosophical anthropology. Social and political differences were necessary and salutary, but they were not natural.
Such an approach also implied that one could read the past of European countries themselves in the contemporary savage condition. The perception of the Other as ‘allochronic’, living in an other time, and in a space other than time, which Johannes Fabian juxtaposed to the notion of non-Western cultures as ‘coeval’, was later constitutive of the anthropological gaze. 36 It is painfully manifest in the widespread figure of the savage as a kind of ‘living fossil’. Pierre Clastres identifies this perspective as the ‘ancient Western conviction … that history is a one-way street, that societies without power are the image of what we have ceased to be, and that for them our culture is the image of what they have to become’. 37 This theme, later crystallised in Locke’s dictum ‘In the beginning, the whole world was America’, makes an important appearance in the 1642 Elements of Law, where Hobbes writes of ‘the experience of savage nations that live at this day, and by the histories of our ancestors, the old inhabitants of Germany and other now civil countries, where we find the people few and short lived, and without the ornaments and comforts of life’. 38
This European introjection of the ‘savagery’ projected onto the Americas is iconographically evident in the frontispiece to Hobbes’s De Cive, which visually quotes De Bry’s engravings for Thomas Hariot’s 1588 A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (Fig. 1). 39 The juxtaposition of sovereign Imperium on the left, with its accoutrements of production, science and law to savage Libertas on the right (the two capped by the religious sphere, depicted as a sphere of political domination and judgment) could not be a pithier counterpart to the practice of comparative negation, while at the same time indicating the openly repressed utopian dimension of modern political philosophy, which, in Hobbes but also Locke and Adam Smith after him, recognises that order, law and production can only be secured at the cost of freedom. The iconography also shows us how much European imaginings of the Americas were steeped in a classical visual and political culture, one which, in the case of De Bry’s compendium, made graphic the link between New World and Old World ‘savagery’ in a way that matched Hobbes’s reflection in the Elements, by including a series of plates of ancient inhabitants of the British isles, the Picts, in their own ‘state of nature’ (Fig. 2; see below). 40
At a more theoretical level, attention to Hobbes’s own use of the savage antitype suggests that, rather than operating an ethnocentric invariant across Western history, the figure of the savage shifted in historically and politically significant ways, and that these shifts were articulated, at least in part, in terms of a hierarchy of negations. In other words, though Hobbes’s list largely matches Montaigne, and indeed echoes the Ancient and Mediaeval examples adduced by Hodgen, one negation reigns supreme: the negation of the state. It is from this, the savage absence of sovereign government, that stem all the other apparent privations: laws, property, security, agricultural development, productive labour, the arts, and so on. Contrast the dislocation of this hierarchy by Locke, for whom it is the absence of property in land which is the dominant negation, from which the others, especially that of government, then follow.
This recombination of comparative negation, from the problem of political order to that of productive development, will be crucial in moving beyond the moral axiomatics of comparative negation, flipping between dystopian denigration and deromanticised utopia, towards a historical and materialist problematic of social development, in which means of subsistence serve as the basis on which the superstructure of laws, property, government, the arts and religion rests. 41 This paradigm, grounded in the Lockean ideology of property, and contradictorily presaged in Rousseau’s anthropological speculations, will be fundamental to the development of classical political economy and its attendant philosophical anthropology, above all in the work of the Scottish Enlightenment, from Robertson’s History of America to Adam Smith’s writings on law, history and economics.
For Landucci (as for Ronald Meek, in his largely congruent study 42), and notwithstanding all of its shortcomings, the bourgeois social science in which the savage is a figure of ‘development’ will mark a crucial step beyond the formalistic inversion of civilised type and barbarous antitype, in the direction of a positive knowledge of social and cultural change and conflict. This ‘progressive’ history, in which the Scottish Enlightenment stands as Marxism’s scientific precursor, has to incorporate a little too quickly and smoothly the acknowledged fact that modern racism is a key function of the shift from a rationalist to a socio-historical conception of the ‘savage’. But it must also, to my mind, underplay how a framework of comparative negation is transmuted but not abandoned in the proto-ethnological philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment. This is manifest above all in the endurance of the Lockean axiom that from the absence of property derive all of the other absences, lacks and lags that pertain to the savage condition. It is also demonstrated in the extremely selective way in which the writers of the Scottish Enlightenment assimilated and ‘edited’ the travel narratives of Jesuit missionaries in North America, for instance to minimise agricultural practices or marginalise the record of collective political deliberation, in order to underwrite the hierarchy of negations that Locke had put in place. These are some of the ideological devices that have enforced a settler-colonial relation in which, to Audra Simpson, ‘to be Indigenous is to be structured into [a] position of scarcity’. 43
A political miracle?
We should thus question the postulate, undergirding Landucci’s research, according to which historicism or developmentalism, even if laced with the propertied ideologies of racial capitalism, is to be preferred to rationalism or scepticism, if only as a precursor of historical materialism. Or at the very least, we might take the prevalence of such a view in critical historiographies of the philosophical savage to impel a more self-critical perception of the survivals within Marxism of a stageism built on the implicit negation of indigenous forms of life. We can nevertheless draw an important lesson from Landucci’s text, where he identifies the key turning point in the history of European philosophy’s conceptualisation of the savage in the thesis – made with reference to missionary travel narratives originating from Jesuits in so-called ‘New France’ – that there can be societies without a state. The sharpest statement of this anti-Hobbesian argument, which seeks to counter the identification of social life with governed life that dominates European political thought from Aristotle’s zoon politikon onwards, is to be found in a text of Leibniz from 1711, a response to the writings of the Baron de Lahontan, where the author of the Monadology writes that:
The Iroquois and the Huron … have reversed the excessively universal political maxims of Aristotle and Hobbes. They have shown … that entire Peoples can live without magistrates and without quarrels. … But the rudeness of these Savages shows that it is not so much necessity but the inclination to go towards the good and approach happiness, by mutual assistance, that is the foundation of Societies and States. 44
A year earlier, in a letter also engaging with his reading of Lahontan, Leibniz had subverted the logic of comparative negation even more thoroughly, writing that
It is entirely truthful … that the Americans of these regions live together without any government but in peace; they know no fights, nor hatreds, nor battles, or not many, except against men of different nations and languages. I would almost say that we are dealing with a political miracle, unknown by Aristotle and ignored by Hobbes. 45
Whatever the ‘truthfulness’ of such claims, Leibniz’s mention of a political miracle opens up a possibility distant from most European and philosophical responses to the encounter with the indigenous populations of the Americas. Rather than a negation of Europe and its notions of the political – a negation that may have utopian or subversive valences, but ones that belong to an imaginary repertoire immanent to Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian sources – the encounter with North American societies may require thinking of a different, unprecedented politics. As many commentators have detailed, the colonial encounter with the indigenous populations of the Americas was marked, in the intellectual sphere, by assimilation to the models, myths, conceptual imaginaries and formal taxonomies that populated the European mind in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and beyond, an encounter in which comparativism was laced with the violence of an imperialist instrumental rationality. In this sense, the idea of the savage largely served as a screen on which to project the reflection of a Europe wracked by the emergence of capitalism and its contradictions, as well as by the crisis of Christian political theology. The ‘savage’ was a kind of inverted mirror in which European intellectuals could pose the enigmas of the age: What is politics? What is law? What is religion? What is property?
Very rarely was there a sense, as in Leibniz’s ‘political miracle’, that the people of the Americas could actually impel Europe to dislocate or expatriate its political philosophy. In a sense, European intellectual life would have to wait until the second half of the twentieth century, with the emergence of radical and anti-statist trends in anthropology, to give the ‘savage’ pride of place in a critique of the dominant image of the political. In this regard, Pierre Clastres’s 1974 Society Against the State could be read as an extended elaboration of the anti-Aristotelian and anti-Hobbesian effects of the encounter with Amerindian people glimpsed by Leibniz. 46 From his field work among the Guayaki Indians in Paraguay, and the observations of so much anthropological work across the Americas, Clastres would draw a drastic challenge to the political anthropology of the West. This challenge stemmed from the ubiquity, in both North and South America, of societies where political power was not synonymous with the dialectic of obedience and command, with the monopolisation of violence and the separation of a distinct, state-bound political sphere. Clastres would even go so far as portraying Amerindian forms of chiefdom as collective stratagems to prevent the emergence of politics as sovereign domination. As he commented: ‘One is confronted, then, by a vast constellation of societies in which the holders of what elsewhere would be called power are actually without power; where the political is determined as a domain beyond coercion and violence, beyond hierarchical subordination; where, in a word, no relationship of command-obedience is in force. This is the major difference of the Indian world.’ 47
Yet it would also be erroneous to treat the modern philosophical discourse on the savage as mere ventriloquism or monologue. Balibar’s comments on the othering of the Orient are apropos here, especially in his reminder that an encounter at the level of the imaginary is an encounter nonetheless:
Does imaginary mean that the Other is a pure fiction, a pure projection of the Western mind upon ‘Orientals’ who can’t help it, who are entirely left outside of the picture that is supposed to picture them, or is it the case that within this imaginary frame an actual encounter does take place, conflictual to be sure, but also in a sense ‘real’, which would imply that the ‘real others’ also somehow contribute to the construction of the idea of Otherness, albeit in a ‘subaltern’ place, but which can involve irreducible difference? … The imaginary of which the idea of ‘Orient’ is the product, contradictorily combines a real encounter (if only an encounter with real texts, with the writing of the Other) and a denial of the reality of the encounter, indeed of its very possibility. Or, to put it in Althusserian terms, that it combines recognition with a misrecognition, each taking place within the limits and in the language of the other. 48
As Giuliano Gliozzi noted in his methodological critique of Landucci’s book, 49 while a history of ideas may lead us to suppose that, at least until the full deployment of colonial anthropology, the debate about the ‘savage’ was largely an intra-European discussion about the nature of humanity, a critical history of ideology shows us that European ideas and philosophies were deeply affected by the shifting demands of the colonial relations that Europe forced on so many other parts of the world. In Gliozzi’s monumental study of the seemingly bizarre Biblical and counterfeit genealogies that European powers projected onto Amerindian populations to shore up the justificatory and juridical demands of their colonial policies – genealogies that sought the ancestors of the peoples of the Americas in the Tribes of Israel, pre-Adamite creation, the inhabitants of Atlantis, Jews, Tartars, Norwegians, the Dutch or the Welsh … 50 – we see how unintelligible the colonial history of anthropology and philosophy would be if we fail to investigate its articulations in relation to very unique conjunctures of dispossession and resistance.
For example, the Spanish conquistadors in conflict with their crown could argue that the Aztecs were a properly political society, rather than a savage one, in order to ground the transfer of sovereignty that they’d supposedly agreed to. By the same token, the Spanish state could support the critique of Aristotle’s natural slavery or refute the conquistadors’ tale of the natives as sinful descendants of Jews – not out of a humanitarian concern with historical or anthropological truth, but because they needed wage-labourers to pay taxes to their metropolitan sovereign. Or, to return to our starting point, attentiveness to ideological conjunctures can reveal that behind Montaigne’s redeployment of the logic of comparative negation, and his seemingly anti-colonial scepticism regarding claims of American barbarism and European superiority, lay a French Huguenot tradition of opposition to, and competition with, the hegemony of Spanish colonialism – whence the vociferous attacks on the genocidal nature of the conquista. But also that Montaigne’s philosophy implied its own ‘civilising’ project, one in which recognition of difference remained the prelude to an apologia for the supposedly ‘gentle’ virtues of an emergent French colonial project. As Pocock has noted, the ‘Enlightenment could deny history to others even as it asserted their humanity … writing a histoire philosophique in which Europe was denounced for its imposition of history on a world of nature, but a histoire politique in which Europeans alone are actors.’ 51
In the end, the injunction to decolonise philosophy cannot be reduced to the goal of producing a philosophy shorn of its colonial sediments. Rather, it demands the unrelenting practice of working through that inexorably imaginary and ideological space – occupied by philosophy’s many and mostly monotonous savages – in which a real encounter and the denial of that encounter remain inseparable from one another. This is a project that requires both the kind of historical archaeologies and genealogies that Sergio Landucci and Giuliano Gliozzi (along with Olive Dickason, 52 Michèle Duchet, Ter Ellingson and others) have contributed to, and a critical openness to the kind of ‘political miracles’ that Leibniz spoke of, the ones that can help dislocate a European and state-centred monopoly over the meaning of collective political life – a monopoly that remains among the most enduring legacies and present determinants of the colonial relation. 53
See Étienne Balibar, “‘Rights of Man’’ and “Rights of the Citizen”: The Modern Dialectic of Equality and Freedom’, in Masses, Classes, Ideas: Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx , trans. James Swenson (London: Routledge, 1994), 39–60; Citizen Subject: Foundations for Philosophical Anthropology, trans. Steven Miller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016). ^
Sergio Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi, 1580–1780, new ed. (: Einaudi, 2014) (this is a considerably revised version of the more explicitly Marxist first edition, published by Laterza in 1972); Giuliano Gliozzi, Adamo e il nuovo mondo. La nascita dell’antropologia come ideologia coloniale: dalle genealogie bibliche alle teorie razziali (1500-1700) (Florence: La nuova Italia, 1976). Gliozzi’s book has been translated into French: Adam et le Nouveau Monde: la naissance de l’anthropologie comme idéologie coloniale: des généalogies bibliques aux théories raciales, 1500-1700, preface by Frank Lestringant, trans. Arlette Estève and Pascal Gabellone (Lecques: Théétète, 2000). ^
See Roger Bartra, Wild Men in the Looking Glass: The Mythic Origins of European Otherness, trans. Carl T. Berrisford (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1994). In his 1972 course on Rousseau, Louis Althusser suggests that the forest, conceived as a place of inexhaustible natural abundance, plays a critical role in the French philosopher’s narrative and critique of origins, namely of figuring the savage as inhabiting a space without determinate ‘places’ (lieux). See Louis Althusser, Cours sur Rousseau, ed. Yves Vargas (: Les Temps des Cérises, 2015); translation forthcoming as Lessons on Rousseau, trans. G.M. Goshgarian (: Verso, 2019). ^
J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, Volume 4: Barbarians, Savages and Empires (: Press, 2005), 189. ^
See Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi; also Raymond Klibansky, ‘Introduction’, in La Pensée philosophique d’expression française au . Le Rayonnement du Québec (ed. Raymond Klibansky and Josiane Boulad-Ayoub) (Saint-Nicolas: Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 1998), 14–18. ^
Michel Foucault, History of Madness, ed. Jean Khalfa, trans. Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa (London: Routledge, 2006), xxix. ^
Ibid., xxx. ^
Étienne Balibar, ‘Difference, Otherness, Exclusion’, Parallax 11: 1 (2005), 30. ^
Ibid., 30. ^
On the shaping role of Ancient and Biblical figures of Otherness in the colonial encounter, see Gliozzi, Adamo e il Nuovo mondo, and Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, Volume 4. For an iconographic reflection on this pattern of the preformation of the savage, inspired by Aby Warburg, see Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Memory and Distance: On a Gilded Silver Vase (Antwerp, c. 1530)’, in Fear Reverence Terror: Five Essays in Political Iconography (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2017), especially pages 4–8 on the ‘New World’. ^
Sergio Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi, 1580–1780 (Bari: Laterza, 1972), 338. ^
Ter Ellingson, The Myth of the Noble Savage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001). ^
Michel de Montaigne, ‘Of the Cannibals’, in Shakespeare’s Montaigne: The Florio Translation of the Essays – A Selection, ed. Stephen Greenblatt and Peter G. Platt (New York: New York Review of Books, 2014), 61. The question of the savage is also (differently) articulated by Montaigne in the essay ‘Des Coches’ (Of Coaches). For a thorough exploration of Montaigne’s speculations on Amerindian life and their wide-ranging intellectual impact see Frank Lestringant (ed.), Le Brésil de Montaigne. Le Nouveau Monde des «Essais» (1580–1592) (Paris: Éditions Chandeigne, 2005). ^
Foucault, History of Madness, 165. ^
Amerigo Vespucci, Mundus Novus: Letter to Lorenzo Pietro di Medici, trans. George Tyler Northup (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1916), 6. ^
Wilberforce Eames, Description of a Wood Engraving Illustrating the South American Indians  (New York: The New York Public Library, 1922). ^
Margaret T. Hodgen, ‘Montaigne and Shakespeare Again’, Huntington Library Quarterly 16:1 (November, 1952), 33. ^
Hodgen, ‘Montaigne and Shakespeare Again’, 28. ^
Stephen Greenblatt, ‘Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century’, in Learning to Curse: Essays in early modern culture  (London: Routledge, 2007), 24. ^
Quoted in Ellingson, The Myth of the Noble Savage, 57. ^
Elsewhere, Kant was not incapable of a (politically) romantic idealisation of ‘Canadians’, which seems to unsettle his certainty about the uncivilised character of the indigenous people of North America: ‘Among all the savages there is no people which demonstrates such a sublime character of mind … They have a strong feeling for honour, and as in hunt of it they will seek wild adventures hundreds of miles away, they are also extremely careful to avoid the least injury to it where their ever so harsh enemy, after he has captured them, tries to force a cowardly sigh from them by dreadful tortures. The Canadian savage is moreover truthful and honest. … He is extremely proud, sensitive to the complete worth of freedom, and even in education tolerates no encounter that would make him feel a lowly subjugation. Lycurgus probably gave laws to such savages, and if a law-giver were to arise among the six nations, one would see a Spartan republic arise in the new world … Among all the savages there are none among whom the female sex stands in greater real regard than those of Canada. In this perhaps they even surpass our civilised part of the world. Not as if they pay the women their humble respects; that would be mere compliments. No, they actually get to command. They meet and take council about the most important affairs of the nation, about war and peace. They send their delegates to the male council, and commonly it is their vote that decides. But they pay dearly enough for this preference. They have all the domestic concerns on their shoulders and share all of the hardships with the men.’ It is worth noting that the passage about ‘Canadian’ women is immediately preceded by one of the infamous statements of Kant’s persistent anti-black racism: ‘There might be something here worth considering, except for the fact that this scoundrel was completely black from head to foot, a distinct proof that what he said was stupid.’ See Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime , in Kant, Anthropology, History, Education, ed. Günter Zöller and Robert B. Louden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 60. ^
Quoted in Ellingson, The Myth of the Noble Savage, 141. ^
Hodgen, ‘Montaigne and Shakespeare Again’, 37. ^
Hayden White, ‘Forms of Wildness: Archaeology of an Idea’, in Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1978), 151–2. See also ‘The Noble Savage Theme as Fetish’, in the same collection. ^
Arthur O. Lovejoy, ‘The Supposed Primitivism of Rousseau’s "Discourse on Inequality"’, Modern Philology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Nov., 1923): 165–86. ^
Ellingson, The Myth of the Noble Savage, 32. ^
Ibid., 375. ^
On this ‘network of negations’, see Michèle Duchet, Anthropologie et histoire au siècle des lumières (Paris: Albin Michel, 1995 ). ^
Anthony Pagden, ‘The Savage Critic: Some European Images of the Primitive’, The Yearbook of English Studies 13 (1983), 33. ^
Aimé Césaire, A Tempest, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2002), 29. ^
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson (London: Penguin, 1985), 185–6. ^
Noel Malcolm, ‘Hobbes, Sandys, and the Virginia Company’, The Historical Journal 24: 2 (1981): 297–321. ^
Hobbes, Leviathan, 187. ^
Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). ^
See Giorgio Agamben, ‘Leviathan and Behemoth’, in Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm (Homo Sacer II, 2), trans. Nicholas Heron (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015), 25–69. ^
Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983). ^
Pierre Clastres, ‘Copernicus and the Savages’, in Society Against the State, trans. Robert Hurley with Abe Stein (Oxford: Basil Blackwell/Mole Editions, 1977), 11. ^
Thomas Hobbes, The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, ed. J.C.A. Gaskin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 80. ^
For a fascinating structuralist inquiry into the gendered iconography of the savage in De Bry, see Bernadette Bucher, La Sauvage aux seins pendants (Paris: Hermann, 1977). See also, more recently, Michael Gaudio, Engraving the Savage: The New World and Techniques of Civilisation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008). ^
The iconographic and ideological survivals of archaic Britain in the imaginary of the savage projected onto the Americas is insightfully explored in Ioannis D. Evrigenis, Images of Anarchy: The Rhetoric and Science in Hobbes’s State of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), esp. chapter 8 ‘America’, 202ff. ^
This momentous displacement from morality and normativity to development and social science is at the heart of Landucci’s landmark study. ^
Ronald L. Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976). ^
Audra Simpson, ‘The Ruse of Consent and the Anatomy of ’’Refusal”: Cases From Indigenous North America and Australia’, Postcolonial Studies 20 (2017), 25. ^
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, quoted in Réal Ouellet, ‘Introduction’, in Lahontan, Dialogues avec un Sauvage, ed. Réal Ouellet (Montréal: Lux, 2010), 18. ^
Ibid., 18. See also §256 of the Theodicy: ‘But even to-day entire tribes, such as the Hurons, the Iroquois, the Galibis and other peoples of America teach us a great lesson on this matter: one cannot read without astonishment of the intrepidity and well-nigh insensibility wherewith they brave their enemies, who roast them over a slow fire and eat them by slices. If such people could retain their physical superiority and their courage, and combine them with our acquirements, they would surpass us in every way. … They would be, in comparison with us, as a giant to a dwarf, a mountain to a hill.’ (Leibniz, Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil, ed. Austin Farrer, trans. E.M. Huggard [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001], 283). ^
Pierre Clastres’s argument could also – along with the writings of Robert Jaulin, Jacques Lizot, and others – be legitimately read as an instrumentalisation of the anthropology of ‘primitive societies’ for the sake of an anti-Marxist polemic. For a trenchant critique of this libertarian anti-Marxist trend in anthropology, see Jean-Loup Amselle (ed.), Le Sauvage à la mode (Paris: Le Sycomore, 1979). While I cannot address this polemic in this forum (nor indeed the fascinating relation between Clastres’s work and Deleuze & Guattari’s speculations on the Urstaat, the war machine, and related themes), tackling it is crucial for any serious appraisal of the afterlives of European philosophy’s savages. ^
Clastres, ‘Copernicus and the Savages’, 5. Clastres also tackled head-on the ethnocentric monotony of the discourse of comparative negation: ‘the encounter between the West and the Savages has always been an occasion for repeating the same discourse concerning them’ (8). To transcend this is it necessary to leave behind all exotic conceptions of the ‘savages’. Clastres’s critique of the supposition whereby ‘the absence of any command-obedience relationship ipso facto entails the absence of political power’ (9) prevents him from articulating his critique in terms of a notion of the non-political, such as we may encounter in the partially congruent views advanced in Cedric J. Robinson’s Terms of Order. ^
Balibar, ‘Difference, Otherness, Exclusion’, 30. ^
Giuliano Gliozzi, ‘I filosofi e I selvaggi’, in Differenze e uguaglianza nella cultura europea moderna. Scritti 1966-1991, ed. Anna Strumia (Napoli: Vivarium, 1993). This collection also includes several illuminating essays on the place of ‘savages’ and the ‘New World’ in European thought and culture. ^
Gliozzi, Adamo e il nuovo mondo; see also in English his ‘The Apostles in the New World: Monotheism and Idolatry Between Revelation and Fetishism’, History and Anthropology 3:1 (1987): 123–48. ^
Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, Volume 4, 223. ^
Olive Patricia Dickason, The Myth of the Savage and the Beginnings of French Colonialism in the Americas (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1984). ^
While my focus here has been almost exclusively on matters of historiography and intellectual history, any further elaboration of the speculative figure of a non-statist ‘political miracle’ will perforce need to engage with contemporary developments in indigenous political thought. See Audra Simpson, ‘The Ruse of Consent and the Anatomy of “Refusal”’, and Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014); Glen Sean Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014). ^