Latest Issue

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…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect