Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization

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From one of the world's leading experts on Native American law and indigenous peoples' human rights comes an original and striking intellectual history of the tribe and Western civilization that sheds new light on how we understand ourselves and our contemporary society. Throughout the centuries, conquest, war, and unspeakable acts of violence and dispossession have all been justified by citing civilization's opposition to these differences represented by the tribe. Robert Williams, award winning author, legal ...

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Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization

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Overview

From one of the world's leading experts on Native American law and indigenous peoples' human rights comes an original and striking intellectual history of the tribe and Western civilization that sheds new light on how we understand ourselves and our contemporary society. Throughout the centuries, conquest, war, and unspeakable acts of violence and dispossession have all been justified by citing civilization's opposition to these differences represented by the tribe. Robert Williams, award winning author, legal scholar, and member of the Lumbee Indian Tribe, proposes a wide-ranging reexamination of the history of the Western world, told from the perspective of civilization's war on tribalism as a way of life. Williams shows us how what we thought we knew about the rise of Western civilization over the tribe is in dire need of reappraisal.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Whether a group is defined by secret handshakes or restrictions, such behavior taken to the thoughtless extreme leads to misperceptions of individuals outside that group. The narrowed worldviews that result enhance the domineering group’s delusions of superiority: negative profiling, exclusionary behavior, and ultimately clashes of civilizations. Attorney and Native American Williams relentlessly searches through three millennia of Western stigmatizing and racism—with a concentration on the uncivilized, uncouth, destabilizing projection of the Wild Man or Noble Savage. Williams’s canvas is broad, his examples sweeping: Homeric xenia, or guest-friendship, a bond that separated the civilized from the savage, Hesiod’s account of the Golden Age and its Noble Savage; imperial Roman adaptations of the noble savage concept; and medieval Crusaders pitted against savage infidels; the Renaissance, the colonization of the new world, and Rousseau and the Enlightenment; and ending with the colonial-constructionist “Doctrine of Discovery,” which asserted into modern times that colonizers had superior rights to land occupied by native peoples. Although often breathless, conveniently selective and reductive, as well as inconsistently paced, this can be a provocative contribution to multicultural studies. 7 photos. Agent: Robert Williams, Trident Media Group. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“Armed with guns, horses, and machines, European settlers relentlessly mowed down, pushed aside, and in some cases enslaved  peaceful natives they found living in the new worlds they were overrunning.  Reaching back to antiquity, they resurrected myths about one-eyed giants and other monsters to rationalize the harsh treatment they were visiting on Indians and Mexicans.  Later, they would deploy very similar rhetorical strategies to justify extermination and enslavement in other parts of the world.  The suspicion grows that Western agents are the savages and the peace-loving natives the superior race.  Savage Anxieties explains how, like bad money driving out good, a savage society will win every time.”--Richard Delgado, professor, Seattle University School of Law and author of Critical Race Theory 

Kirkus Reviews
A tidy academic survey of the savage, from the ancient centaurs to today's indigenous tribal peoples. Williams (Law/Univ. of Arizona; Like a Loaded Weapon: The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights, and the Legal History of Racism in America, 2005, etc.) asserts that the West's obsession with the outsider, the alien, the barbarian--those living outside of the rule of law, presumed to be oppositional and subversive--has actually helped form by "counterexample and antithesis" the conventional forms of Western civilization. The first savages in ancient times were those depicted by Nestor in Homer's Iliad, who recounted the tale of the great warrior heroes who destroyed the mountain-dwelling centaurs. Homer's idea that these half-humans lived outside the inhabited, civilized world has been scripted down through history, allowing what evolved as Western civilization to justify the enslavement of other peoples, wage war against barbarians and stage crusades against the infidel. On the other hand, there has evolved the notion of the noble savage, thanks originally to Hesiod, who celebrated the virtuous, simple life of the yeoman farmer, far from the evils and corruption of civilization. These virtuous primitives can also be traced through Western philosophy in the works of the Sophists, Plato, Ovid and Rousseau. To the Enlightenment mind, the Indians of America acted as "an ideal stand-in for humanity's first, primitive, backward stage of social development," ripe for study yet never accorded actual humanity or equality with the white man. Williams demonstrates how colonizing nations continue to use the Doctrine of Discovery to justify their claim over indigenous people and their land. A straightforward scholarly study that concludes with a compelling look at the pervasive harm in stereotypical attitudes and language.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230338760
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/21/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert A. Williams, Jr. is a member of the Lumbee Indian Tribe as well as the professor of law and director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona. He is the author of the classic work on Indian rights under US law, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, which won the Gustavus Meyer human rights award recently. The recipient of awards from the MacArthur, Ford, and Soros foundations, Williams is also well known for his work defending tribal groups before the United Nations and the Supreme Court.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v

Introduction 1

1 Homer and the Idea of the Savage: First Impressions 11

2 The Legend of the Golden Age and the Idea of the Savage 31

3 The Emergence of the Classical Idea of the Savage 49

4 The Classical Idea of the Savage and the Invention of Western Philosophy 67

5 The Idea of the Savage and the Rise of Roman Imperial Civilization 83

6 Parallel Lives: The Idea of the Savage and the Decline of the Roman Empire 103

7 The Medieval Christian Church's War on the Classical Idea of the Savage 121

8 The Wild Man and the Medieval Christian Idea of the Savage 139

9 The Renaissance Humanist Revival of the Classical Language of Savagery 159

10 The Renaissance Discovery Era and the Idea of the Savage 179

11 The Enlightenment Idea of the Savage and the Founders' First Indian Policy 197

12 Savage Anxieties: Indigenous Peoples' Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century 219

Notes 237

Bibliography 249

Index 259

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