Book

The Myth of the Noble Savage

Ter Ellingson

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780520222687
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520925922 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520222687.001.0001
The Myth of the Noble Savage

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In this study, the myth of the Noble Savage is an altogether different myth from the one defended or debunked by others over the years. That the concept of the Noble Savage was first invented by Rousseau in the mid-eighteenth century in order to glorify the “natural” life is easily refuted. The myth which persists is that there was ever, at any time, widespread belief in the nobility of savages. The fact is, as this book shows, the humanist eighteenth century actually avoided the term because of its association with the feudalist-colonialist mentality that had spawned it 150 years earlier. The Noble Savage reappeared in the mid-nineteenth century, however, when the “myth” was deliberately used to fuel anthropology's oldest and most successful hoax. This book's narrative follows the career of anthropologist John Crawfurd, whose political ambition and racist agenda were well served by his construction of what was manifestly a myth of savage nobility. Generations of anthropologists have accepted the existence of the myth as fact, and the book makes clear the extent to which the misdirection implicit in this circumstance can enter into struggles over human rights and racial equality.

Keywords: Noble Savage; Rousseau; myth; John Crawfurd; savage nobility; human rights; racial equality

Book.  467 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural Anthropology

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Table of Contents

Introduction in The Myth of the Noble Savage

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Poetic Nobility in The Myth of the Noble Savage

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Philosophers and Savages in The Myth of the Noble Savage

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