Another review from the archives while I am away, the last hopefully before normal service resumes on Pandaemonium. This is a review of Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s Civilizations, first published in the Independent on Sunday, 8 October 2000.
‘It can now be asserted upon convincing evidence that savagery preceded barbarism in all the tribes of mankind, as barbarism is known to have preceded civilization.’ So wrote Victorian anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan in his 1877 classic Ancient Societies. According to Morgan, savagery, barbarism and civilization ‘are connected with each other in a natural as well as a necessary sequence of progress.’
The idea of history as progressing in a series of natural stages from savagery to civilization is a very Victorian notion, testament to the values of a bygone era. Ours is an age deeply skeptical both of the idea of historical progress and of the capacity of humans…
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