Barbarian Tribes, American Indians and Cultural Transmission: Changing Perspectives from the Enlightenment to Tocqueville

NATHANIEL WOLLOCH
HISTORY OF POLITICAL THOUGHT 34.3 (2013): 507-539

Abstract: This article examines the change which occurred in discussions of cultural transmission between the Enlightenment and the liberal outlook of the nineteenth century. The former is exemplified mainly by eighteenth-century historical discussions, the latter by the thought of Alexis de Tocqueville. An interest in the influence of advanced Western cultures on seemingly inferior non-Western societies was consistent throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was manifested mainly in discussions of the barbarian conquest of the Roman Empire on the one hand, and of European colonial policies on the other. The sources discussed here evinced a clear Eurocentric chauvinism, yet were inherently non-racial in nature. While many Enlightenment intellectuals retained a generally positive view of cultural transmission, Tocqueville’s post-revolutionary outlook was more pessimistic.