American Freedom

Enlightenment ideals of "freedom" and "equality" actually arose first in dialogue with the indigenous people of the "New World" the French were just coming into contact with, as social critique of French society by the native Americans. (i.e. Rousseau wasn't that original, dahlin')

tl;dr: If the indigenous seemed to lack bosses, governments, bureaucracies, economic classes, it's because they are more, not less imaginative than the Europeans (and not simply "naïve")—they were self-consciously organising their societies to keep such things at bay.

Mais les seules ’lois’ sont celles que nous inventons nous-mêmes.

Cela aussi, bien sûr, est l’une des grandes intuitions de la pensée des Lumières, et comme nous le verrons, elle est elle-même, au moins en partie, dérivée des conversations entre Européens et Nord-Américains.

tl;dr: Et si le genre de personnes que nous aimons imaginer aussi simples et innocentes parce qu’elles sont libres de dirigeants, de gouvernements, de bureaucraties et de classes dirigeantes, étaient libres non pas parce qu’elles manquent d’imagination, mais parce qu’elles sont en fait plus imaginatives que nous. Nous avons du mal à imaginer à quoi ressemblerait une société vraiment libre ; peut-être n’ont-ils pas autant de mal à imaginer ce que seraient un pouvoir et une domination arbitraires. Peut-être qu’ils peuvent non seulement l’imaginer, mais aussi organiser consciemment leur société de manière à ce que de telles choses ne se produisent jamais.


This is a strange state of affairs to find ourselves in. Liberty(, equality, fraternity) is frequently talked about as some sort of French Enlightenment-era "social innovation", realized first in the French revolution, and then the American revolution, when according to Graeber and Wengrow (and their sources), we've had it backwards: the French revolution had its roots in the encounter with America.

During bison hunts w/ large numbers gathering, peacekeeping forces existed. Also in place were mechanisms to limit authoritarian abuses.

The ‘unequivocal authoritarianism’ that prevailed before a bison drive, and during the later Sun Dance rituals, was kept in check by the dispersal of sovereignty among tribal chiefs and police squads (“soldiers”), and also by the ‘seasonal rhythm’ of social life on the Great Plains. ‘During a large part of the year’, as Lowie (1948: 19) noted, ‘the tribe simply did not exist as such; and the families or minor unions of familiars that jointly sought a living required no special disciplinary organisation. The soldiers were thus a concomitant of numerically strong aggregations, hence functioned intermittently rather than continuously’. Their sovereignty was no less real for its periodicity; and we must therefore accept that the Plains Indians knew something of state power, without ever having developed a state. In more recent evolutionary parlance, they were a kind of band/state amalgam.

Even more critically, Lowie observed that the Plains nations – like almost all societies of the Americas – were quite self-conscious about the dangers of authoritarian power, and created explicit mechanisms to limit its abuse (e.g. rotating the clan or warrior societies that held office so that anyone holding coercive powers one year would be subject to them the next).


tl;dr: "individual liberty" in the European conception ~ private property, while the liberty of the indigenous ~ some basic level of communism that ensures well-being of its members.

En d’autres termes, les théories de l’évolution sociale ont d’abord été formulées comme une réponse directe au pouvoir de la critique indigène.

En fait, la liberté de l’individu était supposée reposer sur un certain niveau de communisme de base, puisque, après tout, les gens qui meurent de faim ou qui n’ont pas de vêtements ou d’abris adéquats dans une tempête de neige ne sont pas vraiment libres de faire grand-chose, si ce n’est ce qu’il faut pour rester en vie. La conception européenne de la liberté individuelle, en revanche, était intimement liée aux conceptions de la propriété privée.



sagesse-kandiaronk Graeber, David, and David Wengrow. 2019. “La Sagesse De Kandiaronk: La Critique Indigène, Le Mythe Du Progrès Et La Naissance De La Gauche”. Revue Du MAUSS Permanente. [link] ↩︎ 1 2

farewell-childhood-man Wengrow, David, and David Graeber. 2015. “Farewell to the 'childhood of Man': Ritual, Seasonality, and the Origins of Inequality”. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Wiley. doi:10.1111/1467-9655.12247. ↩︎ 1