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The not so noble savage

An indiscriminate attack on the cult of the primitive is redeemed by some disrespect for Isaiah Berlin

By Samuel Brittan   October 2001

Roger Sandall, a retired New Zealand lecturer in anthropology, has launched a broadside against the modern version of the idea of the noble savage. The basic thesis can be found in a three page appendix “The Four Stages of Noble Savagery,” (which could well have come at the front).

The first stage is that of the Captain Cook era in the 18th century. Rousseau was already praising the superiority of primitive culture. In the actual encounters between explorers and primitive peoples men are killed on both sides, but they are baked and eaten on one side only.

The second stage…

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