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class="post-1403 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry">

Claude dit:

And yet, it seems that the diversity of cultures has rarely appeared to men for what it is:  a natural phenomenon, resulting from the direct or indirect relationships between societies.  They rather tended to see in it a sort of monstrosity or scandal…

This mode of thought by which the “savages” (or all those one chooses to qualify as such) are rejected outside mankind, is precisely the most marked and characteristic of these very savages themselves… Mankind stops at the frontiers of the tribe, of the linguistic group, and sometimes even of the village, to the extent that a great many of the peoples called primitive call themselves by a name which means “men” (or sometimes — shall we say with more discretion — the “good ones,” the “excellent ones,” the “complete ones,” thus implying that the other tribes, groups, and villages have no part in human virtues or even human nature, but are at the most made up of “bad people,” “nasty people,” “land monkeys,” or “lice eggs.”  One often goes so far as to deprive the stranger of this last shred of reality by making him a “ghost” or an “apparition.”  Thus curious situations are created in which two interlocutors proceed to cruel exchanges.  In the Greater Antilles, some years after the discovery of America, while the Spaniards sent out investigating commissions to ascertain whether or not the natives had a soul, the latter were engaged in the drowning of white prisoners in order to verify, through prolonged watching, whether or not their corpses were subject to putrefaction.

This anecdote, at once baroque and tragic, illustrates well the paradox of cultural relativism (which we will see elsewhere in other forms).  It is by the very manner in which one attempts to to establish a discrimination between cultures and customs that one identifies most thoroughly with those one tries to refute.  By refusing to see as human those members of humanity who appear as the most “savage” or “barbaric,” one only borrows from them one of their characteristic attitudes.  The barbarian is first of all the man who believes in barbarism.

–Race and History; see also (esp. pg. 475); cf.


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Strong is Thomas Strong, lecturer in the department of anthropology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.