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Savages, Romans, and DespotsThinking about Others from Montaigne to Herder$
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Robert Launay

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226575254

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226575421.001.0001

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Savage Critics: Lahontan, Rousseau, and Diderot

Savage Critics: Lahontan, Rousseau, and Diderot

(p.146) Nine Savage Critics: Lahontan, Rousseau, and Diderot
Savages, Romans, and Despots

Robert Launay

University of Chicago Press

Lahontan’s literary dialogue with the wise and well-travelled Huron Adario pioneered a genre which pitted clever dialectical savages against slow-witted Europeans. Adario contrasts the virtues of natural religion and natural equality, in the economic and political domains, with the moral decadence of contemporary France. Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins of Inequality goes further by imagining an asocial humanity, fully free and equal but also profoundly amoral and incapable of transmitting any learned knowledge. Society, for Rousseau, contains the seeds of inequality, but property is the real driving force for social injustice. Diderot reprised the dialogue form used by Lahontan, pitting the Tahitian Orou against a French chaplain whose attempts to defend organized religion and repressive sexual morality fail miserably. These French Enlightenment thinkers all mobilize ideals of Nature to address issues of religion, politics, economics, and sexual morality.

Keywords:   savages, Rousseau, Diderot, Lahontan, religion, property, government, nature, inequality, Tahiti

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