Noble savage

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Noble savage is a phrase with several related meanings. In this article, it refers to the politically correct view that various non-European populations before the contact with the Europeans lived in less technologically advanced, but peacefully environmentalist and utopian societies, which were corrupted by the Europeans.

Warfare and violence

The 1996 book War Before Civilization described the existence of extensive warfare and violence in pre-civilization societies. Warfare in such societies likely caused a risk of death due to combat that was far higher than in civilized European countries. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for tribes and sub-tribes to become extinct due to warfare.[1]

The book argued that the warfare was cruel, with captives killed on the spot or tortured, and with mutilation and trophy-taking common. Amerindian scalping had a double purpose: the mutilation would cause harm to the defeated enemy in the after-life, and battle trophies were proof of work well done.[1]

Cannibalism has been documented for Maoris and for some Amerindians, Australoids, and Africans. There is also clear archaeological evidence for prehistoric cannibalism.[1]

The victors commonly burned or sacked anything they could not carry away.[1] Possibly meaning a death sentence for survivors not enslaved, in subsistence societies already at risk for starvation.

The book argues that in the United States during the nineteenth century, positive views of Amerindians as noble savages were directly proportional to one’s geographic distance from them.[1]

The book found only a few examples of groups that did not make war. Invariably, these were small bands of nomads who lived in very difficult country, far from others. They had very few possessions, and preferred to flee rather than to fight. However, even these societies were not non-violent, with violence taking place within the groups.[1]

See also Amerindians: Historical Amerindian warfare and violence.

See also Race and morphology/physiology: Skull thickness.

See also the competitive exclusion principle, implying that two groups cannot for long co-exist in the same ecological niche and that such hunter-gatherer groups will fight one another.


Very high rates of infanticide have been stated for prehistoric and hunger-gatherer groups, with some estimates stating up to half of infants being killed.[2][3][4]

Racial differences regarding evolutionary adaptations to more complex societies

See Racial differences regarding evolutionary adaptations to more complex societies.

Environmental damages

One part of the popular image of less advanced societies is of being environmentalists living in harmony with nature.

One aspect of this is that less technologically advanced societies may simply not be able to cause certain kinds of environmental damages due to lack of the technologies causing such environmental damages.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is book by Jared Diamond, more known as the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. The book argues that many societal collapses, both in early and modern history, were due to environmental damages and consequent overpopulation compared to the carrying capacity of the area inhabited by the society. Such relative overpopulation may also occur for a less advanced society, causing a societal collapse leading to an even less advanced society or to extinction.

See also Amerindians: Environmentalists?

Slavery and colonialism

"Noble savage" views may be associated with the false belief that it was Europeans who invented slavery. See the article on this topic.

Western colonialism may similarly be viewed as having caused many problems. See the article on this topic.

Social anarchism

"Noble savage" views have been popular in social anarchism. There is even a social anarchist variant called "anarcho-primitivism", which advocates an abandonment of civilization.

Boasian anthropology

"Noble savage" views have been spread by Boasian anthropology, as discussed in the article on this topic.

Chagnon controvery

See the article on the American Anthropological Association on the Chagnon controvery, which is related to less politically correct views on violence among the Amerindian Yanomamö.

Early "Noble savage" concepts by Europeans

"Noble savage" concepts existed early (although they were less influential than the recent Boasian anthropology concepts), such as in Antiquity and during the European Age of Discovery, such as in some descriptions by Europeans of less advanced societies, often combined with criticisms of the own society. Similar concepts by non-Europeans have been argued to be rare or absent. Personality differences between Europeans and non-Europeans is an argued explanation for this, possibly related to argued differences between Europeans and non-Europeans regarding openness, curiosity, inventiveness, and pathological altruism.[5]

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Ignoble Savages
  2. Harris, Marvin (1977). Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures. NY: Random House.
  3. dsell, Joseph, B. (1986), Some predictions for the Pleistocene based on equilibrium systems among recent hunter gatherers, in Lee, Richard & Irven DeVore, Man the Hunter, Aldine Publishing Co., at 239.
  4. Hoffer, Peter; N.E.H. Hull (1981). Murdering Mothers: Infanticide in England and America, 1558-1803. NY: New York University Press, 3.
  5. Why the West Dominated