Robert Edgerton’s ‘Sick Societies’ (1992) Revisited: Is Culture Adaptive?

A critique of cultural relativism by an ethnologist and anthropologist of longstanding high repute, Robert B. Edgerton’s Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony (1992) has implications not only for how one might evaluate the pre-modern, non-Western folk-societies (primitive societies) studied by professional ethnographers and anthropologists, but for how one might understand both institutions and social practices – and perhaps even political ones – more generally. Sick Societies provoked moderate controversy when it appeared, but probably few remember the book today. Nevertheless, Sick Societies deserves not to disappear into the oblivion of the library stacks. Revisiting it nearly twenty years later indeed holds promise of intellectual profit. Sick Societies might well be a meditation on culture urgently relevant to the current phase of the West’s seemingly interminable crisis at the end of the first decade of the Twenty-First Century.


Adaptation, a Darwinian evolutionary concept, plays a central role in anthropology. The theory of adaptation articulates the anthropologist’s conviction that all societies manage to come to terms optimally with their external environment, and with the internal difficulties presented by communal life, as a people strives to fit itself in its niche. This optimal coming-to-terms will be the case even when it might seem to uninformed or prejudiced outsiders that the beliefs and practices of a given community operate inefficiently or counterproductively and that they therefore fail to meet the requirements of human happiness. Under this view, a modern Westerner’s disdain for magic or witchcraft or for elaborate rituals or proliferating taboos would itself indicate a deformation (“ethnocentrism”) because the objects of that disdain, which the anthropologist or ethnographer properly understands even where the lay person does not, operate by concealed rationality. On this assumption, seemingly irrational commitments and practices would in fact be just as rational as modern Western arrangements, but in a way that Western prejudice makes people liable not to recognize.

From this position, in Edgerton’s words, “it follows that any attempt to generalize about either culture or human nature must be false or trivial unless it is confined to people who live in a specific cultural system.” This would imply, in turn, that “Western science is only a culturally specific form of ethnoscience, not a universally valid way of verification or falsification.”

Edgerton does not directly state, but rather he implies, that, if the idea in the last sentence quoted above were true, as anthropologists and ethnographers by consensus assert, then that truth would hold important implications for anthropology and ethnography themselves. Why, for example, must one validate the tribal belief in magic while withholding validation for the modern Western suspicion about magical thinking? But ethnography does not treat Western self-confidence as adaptive.

The idea that all societies have achieved adaptation, whether apparent to the outsider or not, thus communicates strongly with that longstanding strain in the modern Western mentality of irate rebellion against norms, simply because they are norms, and of seeking to replace the existing order, blamed for all sorrows, with a utopian one. In anthropology, this strain of antinomian rebelliousness can take on a rebarbative character, violating its own ostensible principle that cultures are “incommensurable” by extolling pre-modern and non-Western societies at the expense of modern Western society, the latter now coming under condemnation through a sneaky reintroduction of commensurability. The ethnographer, becoming an advocate for what he studies, declares the ethnic societies to be better adapted than the modern Western society. Adaptation as a concept belongs with the set of ardent convictions called cultural relativism, with the codicil that relativism is never really relative, but always serves the rhetorical purpose of establishing a covert, antithetical hierarchy.

The rhetoric of cultural relativism stems classically from the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who asserted, with literary flair, the supposed unique sickness of the European civilization of his own day. Rousseau joined his denunciation of civic society with nostalgic speculation about a primitive utopia before the invention of prohibitions and institutions – la société commencée. There is a strong Rousseauvian strain the work of Franz Boas (1858-1942), usually credited with being the founder of modern anthropology, as such.

Edgerton, whose willingness to admit reservations and concede opposing points makes him quite different from Rousseau, argues, not that no folk-societal arrangements are truly adaptive (some are), but that anthropologists and ethnographers have exaggerated adaptation, always taken to signify some type of rationality, into a dogma. The acceptance of that dogma has rendered practitioners of the discipline uncritical of what they actually observe when in the field and, if not exactly incapable of an honest evaluation, then quite reluctant to embrace a strictly neutral type of objectivity. Edgerton’s subtitle names the fixed position: The Myth of Primitive Harmony. In fact, Edgerton writes, “it has never been demonstrated that all human customs or institutions, or even most of them, have adaptive value, but the assumption that this is so is still commonplace among scholars who study,” not only ethnic or primitive cultures, but also, in larger terms, “human evolution.” Edgerton indeed brings against ethnology a universally observed phenomenon: “All populations yet discovered have agreed [that] a steel axe is better than a stone one.”

Against adaptation, as dogmatically construed, Edgerton posits “maladaptation.” The term, he asserts, requires subtlety of explanation, so he throws out a number of complementary definitions and analogies. Thus by analogy, and in Darwinian terms, “a single gene or number of genes that in combination may predispose an individual to depression, schizophrenia, or panic,” would illustrate the idea.

Edgerton’s interest lies mainly elsewhere than in individual psychology, however; so he swiftly reminds his readers that, for example, “a group of related individuals’ refusal to engage in altruistic behaviors, or the absence of well-being among cooperating groups of people engaged in warfare or big-game hunting” would illustrate the idea just as well, if not better. In the discussion of maladaptation, Edgerton writes, “the focus can legitimately fall on categories or corporate groups of people who share common interests and risks because of their age, gender, class, ethnicity, race, occupational specialty, or some other characteristic, or it can encompass an entire society, a kingdom, an empire, or a confederation.” Edgerton imagines that, in certain circumstances, the whole of the human race might prove itself maladapted to some emergent global condition. Nuclear arsenals on hair trigger might well have constituted such a condition, as more than one science fiction scenarist imagined.

Edgerton finally offers three formulaic definitions. In the first of these definitions, maladaptation refers to “the failure of a population or its culture to survive because of the inadequacy or harmfulness of one or more of its beliefs or institutions.” In the second, “maladaptation will be said to exist when enough members of a population are sufficiently dissatisfied with one or more of their social institutions or cultural beliefs that the viability of their society is threatened.” In the third, “it will be considered to be maladaptive when a population maintains beliefs or practices that so seriously impair the physical or mental health of its members that they cannot adequately meet their own needs or maintain their social or cultural system.”

Edgerton’s first definition applies mainly to historical peoples, whose existence today only the physical remains or vestiges of their societies – items of their material culture – indicate. Edgerton’s second definition operates historically but also implicates societies that exist today and are subject to observation; this would include the modern Western societies. Edgerton’s third definition has the same range of application as his second.


In the main chapters of Sick Societies, Edgerton piles up the instances of maladaptation, one after the other, until the quantity of examples seems to make his case all by itself. In about two-thirds of these instances, Edgerton finds himself obliged to discuss, not only the particular maladaptation, but also the deliberate eliding of failed or counterproductive or misery-producing institutions or practices in the field-reports of the ethnographers. Deliberate misreporting and the suppression of unflattering truths occur with alarming frequency in professional accounts of folk-societies, Margaret Mead's romantic descriptions of the supposed sexual utopia in Samoa establishing the pattern. Aware of a widespread tendency to excuse the exotic Edgerton directs his analysis to two cases of specifically Western – indeed of American – sub-cultures that demonstrate how maladaptation can result in the destruction of a community. These cases are significant because romantic misreporting has not distorted the relevant facts, which, belonging as they do to the historical record, no one disputes.

The first of Edgerton’s two preliminary cases is that of the Oneida Colony in mid-Nineteenth Century Upstate New York, founded in 1848 by its leader John H. Noyes, and dissolved in a major scandal in 1879. The second of these two cases is that of the “Duddie’s Branch” community in Eastern Kentucky in the mid-Twentieth Century.

The Oneida Colony functioned, in effect, as a large-scale experiment in group-marriage, the governance of which ran to the bizarre. In Edgerton’s words, the Colony’s rules of promiscuous cohabitation “prohibited any lasting emotional attachments (including those between mothers and their children), and required all men, except Noyes and a few other leaders, to practice coitus reservatus,” or non-ejaculatory intercourse. Later on, Noyes imposed new strictures, according to which, “only older men… would be allowed to have sex with young… women,” whereas “young men… could only have sex with postmenopausal women.” These arrangements, which exist elsewhere only in a comedy by Aristophanes, produced so much revulsion that communal order broke down in open rebellion, with Noyes fleeing to Canada in order to evade charges of statutory rape.

“Duddie’s Branch” was an extremely isolated mountain hollow, home to two hundred and thirty-eight incestuously related people, who, while nominally English-speakers, “spoke to one another so rarely that for some time [Rena] Gazaway,” the anthropologist who studied them, “thought that many of them were mute.” The “Branchers” not only could not read or write; they could not even count change. They had no notion of the civic order and could not name for Gazaway the (or any) president of the United States or explain their situation as citizens of a county or state. The Branchers’ poverty and insouciance left them perpetually malnourished, especially the children; people defecated not in outhouses or trenches (they had none), but on the ground outside their shacks, in the perpetual mud where their louse-infested children played. The Branchers found it impossible to reckon kinship both from lacking the requisite terms and “because sexual relations were indiscriminate… and illegitimate births were commonplace.”

Concerning the Oneida Colony, the glaringly patriarchal and sexually exploitative set-up of the community makes it difficult for cultural relativism to mount any kind of rhetorical rescue, especially given Noyes’ final megalomaniacal rule that reserved to him – and to him alone – the jus primi nocti with any adolescent girl who had just experienced her first menses. The regulatory structure of Noyes’ little kingdom cut across every propensity in the sexual side of human nature, exacerbated the predisposition of people to resent unjust shares, and more or less doomed itself to death by internal revolt.

The Branchers, by contrast, lived without internal regulation, and were so symbolically, as well as so materially, impoverished that they only survived through food-welfare from the county and state governments. “There was little interaction,” Edgerton writes, “among households, and none at all as an entire community,” no church or community council or neighborhood picnics on holidays. Families slept in piles on the floor and “girls began to have sexual intercourse as early as the age of six.” The Oneida Colony qualifies as maladapted under Edgerton’s first and second definitions and the Branch community under the third.

While it is next to unimaginable that even a committed cultural relativist would want to touch either the Oneida Colony or the Branchers apologetically with a ten-foot pole, the non-anthropological laity will probably – if only from its vestigial impulse to Christian charity – experience considerable sympathy for another case: that of the Tasmanians. Yet according to Edgerton these people, whose demise came about in part due to heavy-handed European interference, present a case of maladaptation as vivid as any other. At the same time, they present an actual people whose level of cultural development stands remarkably close to that of Rousseau’s speculative société commencée, the supposed happiest era of human existence. Once the ice-bridge that permitted human migration to Tasmania melted, the Tasmanians remained in isolation from all other human contact for somewhere between ten and twelve-thousand years before the arrival of Europeans in modern times.

Not only did the Tasmanians have at least ten millennia to come to terms with their natural environment and learn how to live together happily in a territorially ample multi-tribal community; they also lived in a resource-rich, exploitable landscape that would have yielded a bounty, had only the denizens innovated an instrumentality and devised the social practices to realize the potential. Instead, as Edgerton notes, “when Europeans first made contact with them in the Eighteenth Century, the approximately 4,000 Tasmanians then living had the simplest technology ever reported for any human society.”

On the Australian mainland, where the closest kindred-peoples lived, the tribes had developed “a substantially more complex array of tools, weapons, and other artifacts long before European contact.” As Edgerton puts it, “the Tasmanians put the lie to the myth of Homo Faber.” They also put the lie, once again, to “The Myth of Primitive Harmony.” Tasmanian men dominated and exploited Tasmanian women, delegating almost all of the necessary subsistence labor, some it arduous, to them while taxing themselves hardly at all. Worse: “Despite the risks that women took and their crucial role in the economy, Tasmanian women appear to have been treated harshly by men, and to have been denied access to the choicest foods.” Tasmanian women complained of such maltreatment already to the earliest European travelers, clearly indicating their unhappiness. Now institutions serve to mediate conflicts within a community, but, as Edgerton writes, “unlike the Australians, the Tasmanians had no initiation rituals, only rudimentary religious conceptions and rituals, and no elaborated forms of social organization.


Although the physical conditions of the island of Tasmania did not of themselves impose scarcity, the meager material culture did, as did also fierce tribal rivalries, which resulted in raids for women and food and counter-raids for revenge in an endless cycle. “The Tasmanians failed to devise social and cultural mechanisms to control their destructive tendencies.” An unhappy people, their way of life could not withstand contact with outsiders. Edgerton finds similar patterns of maladaptation among or Kalahari Bushmen, the Inuit, and the medieval Icelanders, among others, who all suffered from internal violence driven by social arrangements that exaggerated rather than reduced resentment and capitally failed to address matters of scarcity and fair distribution. The much-romanticized Chumash tribes of California raided their neighbors for slaves and developed a materially impoverished forced-labor-economy that, while discouraging innovation, necessitated the devotion of considerable energy to policing the chattels. Such practices stultified and brutalized the society. But tribal societies are not the only ones vulnerable to maladaptation, as the case of the Aztecs shows.

Aztec achievement at the level of material culture ran high. Their pyramidal remains testify to their engineering audacity. The Aztec elites articulated a social hierarchy, governed by elaborate rituals, on par with those of the Early Bronze-Age, Old-World kingdoms, from which they differed, however, in signally failing to win the friendliness and loyalty of the masses. The bloody order of the Aztec polity – although defended by such relativistic lights of academic anthropology as Marvin Harris and Marshal Sahlins – justly inspires a high degree of popular revulsion. The Aztec elites valued warrior-competency and male-super-dominance above all other values, practiced slavery, human sacrifice, and cannibalism all on a lavish scale, and incessantly raided their neighbors for slaves and victims – the latter also furnishing the viands for the great ritual feasts. Aztec art celebrated these forms of brutality and the Aztec calendar provided a precise schedule for the bloody displays.

Edgerton writes: “The desire for human flesh was so great that many wars were fought for no other reason than the capture of prisoners.” The commoners tilled, planted, harvested, and paid burdensome harvest-taxes to the nobles, who returned almost nothing in the other direction.

The nobles apparently believed in their many superstitions, and this credulity contributed to their downfall when Europeans arrived in the form of Hernan Cortez and his Conquistadors. Montezuma, the Aztec Royal, interpreted Cortez in mythic terms as an avatar of Quetzalcoatl, a god whose return the prophecies foretold. That served Cortez well, but even more so did the fact that the neighbors of the Aztecs, weary of harassment, willingly formed a military auxiliary to back up the handful of Spanish troops. Spanish occupation of Tenochtitlan refuted Montezuma’s claim to divinity, broke the hold of superstition on the elites, and triggered a belated coup-d’état against the Royal by the cadet branch of the aristocracy. The spasm bespoke pure ire, as no possibility existed, once the rebels had assassinated Montezuma, that the commoners would then side with them to expel the interlopers.

Aztec society disintegrated rapidly, as did also Tahitian society, equally warlike if not equally sacrificial or cannibalistic, on initial contact with Europeans. The complex of social structures and ritual practices characteristic of Aztec society, dominated by the haughty elites, ultimately doomed itself because it systematically shut out the masses from the actual commonwealth and aroused the hatred of the neighboring peoples through constant aggression and depredation.

It is worth saying that Spanish colonial society in the New World was almost as brutal and perverse as the societies of the sacrificial kingdoms – Aztec, Inca, or Caribe. The anomaly that redeems Spanish colonial society marginally is that it could produce someone like Bartolomé de las Casas, a man willing to speak out, at no little risk to himself, on behalf of native peoples against the atrocious colonial policies.


Dramatically deformed societies such as those discussed in the foregoing summary of Edgerton’s book represent only a small minority of known human communities, as Edgerton openly allows. Nevertheless, Edgerton writes, “all societies maintain some beliefs and practices that are maladaptive for at least some of their members, and it is likely that some of these social arrangements and cultural understandings will be maladaptive for everyone in the society.” Edgerton reminds his readers that his “insistence that maladaptive beliefs and practices are commonplace must not be construed to mean that humans never make effective adaptations to their environments.”

Edgerton confesses to being uninterested, finally, in the question “whether so-called primitive thought is less abstract, more magical, or less able to assess marginal probabilities” than modern Western thought. Edgerton asserts otherwise that, “most people in all societies, including those most familiar with Western science, sometimes make potentially harmful mistakes and tend to maintain them.” Thus as Edgerton writes: “It must be… acknowledged that populations have not always gotten things right,” but rather, “inefficiency, folly, venality, cruelty, and misery were and are also a part of human history” and “human suffering is one result.”

One can hardly read Sick Societies, nearly twenty years after its publication, without speculating how Edgerton’s arguments and observations might apply to the existing condition of the West, governed as it is by dogmatic elites who would implement the antitheses of the market and repeal longstanding norms – I refer to redistribution of wealth, penalization of productivity, and the infliction, via immigration, of pre-modern and non-Western cultural forms on Western societies, under a doctrine that goes by the misleadingly abstract name of “Multiculturalism.” For one thing, the maladaptation theory implies a consistent human nature that bad arrangements can violate. This notion of a consistent human nature is rejected by the reigning cultural relativism, but affirmed by the continuity of the Western tradition from Greek philosophy through the Gospels to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and the American Constitution.

Self-criticism is central to the Western tradition, from Plato and Aristotle to Immanuel Kant and Edmund Husserl. The currently prevalent self-hatred, urged on the commonality by the elites (who certainly never show any similar hatred of themselves or their own beliefs), differs radically from genuine introspection. One might trace the history of this self-hatred, while cataloguing its destructive results, from Rousseau, who directly influenced the French Revolution and provided theoretical justification for its enormities, through Karl Marx’s inspiration of the Bolsheviks, with their homicidal record, to the deliquescence of civic society consequent on the socialist-and-multicultural policies of existing Western governments. Not least of these inimical governments would be the increasingly radical and dictatorial Democrat-Party regime in the USA, whose idea of economics resembles the magical thinking of primitives and whose social policies, administered by “Czars,” mimic the most non-productive notions of Soviet-era Third-World governments.

We have seen earlier how Edgerton identifies the semantic slipperiness in the standard ethnographic claim that intuitively maladaptive practices operate by concealed rationality, which the professionally uninitiated cannot perceive or understand. It is striking that the advocates and defenders of many-times-tried-and-failed public and national policies, invariably leftwing, make similar counterintuitive claims. High taxation and deficit spending first cause and then deepen economic recessions, but the authors of such programmatic devastation invariably assert that their tax-and-spend schemes “are working” to revive prosperity, even despite the non-appearance of the promised results and the worsening of the general picture. The architects and defenders of borderless-ness claim that the massive unrestricted influx of foreign nationals, many of them linguistically and educationally handicapped, serves a goal of utopian (call it “neo-primitive”) harmony, even despite the visibly demoralizing, because culturally divisive, effects that large-scale demographic intrusions inflict on the host-society.

One cannot blame the current sickness of the West on governments solely, which after all acquire their mandates through majority endorsement at the ballot box. To turn slightly an old observation: everyone in a democratic polity, no matter how wisely he votes, gets the government that the gullible majority deserves. Many widespread traits of Westerners qualify as “sick,” from the willingness of the underclass to live on welfare, letting producers subsidize their destructive habits, to the willingness of elites to defend anti-social behavior, to the unwillingness of the middle class to assert morality, crippled as the bourgeoisie is, spiritually, by a metastatic “White Guilt.” The elites have carefully inculcated same “White Guilt” through the educational system for decades. That again is “sick.”

A friend of mine, a psychologist specializing in corporate culture, recently asked me, in my capacity as a “humanist,” whether I could think of any historical precedent for the current “norm-hatred” of the elites. I could not. I can also not think of any historical society that was as absorbed in diversion as the modern Western society, whether it is the ubiquitous pornography of the Internet or the gangster-ethos of “youth-culture” or the stupidity of TV game shows and glitzy amateur hours and so-called reality-dramas.

Insofar as they abet the laziness caused by enthrallment to diversion, other practices, such as those that encourage “self-esteem” in individuals who have no real claim on it, also qualify as maladaptive and therefore as “sick.” These customs and proclivities satisfy the conditions of all three of Edgerton’s operative definitions of maladaptation.

M'lady (2)

Henry William Allingham (RIP) died (peacefully in his sleep) last night, while YOU still live. Only God knows why.


"They did it because they could" isn't an attempt to  legalise anything, it's a simple statement of fact.


i Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler and Kissinger were/are all White, male and of Western (cultural) origin.


ii Kappert claims NOT to hate her own (Western) culture.


iii Kappert refuses to tell us which aspects of Western culture she does NOT hate.




PS That question is directed at you, as if you didn't already know.

altitude and imperialism

If there is a blueprint for imperialism then the first place to look is the green book, as for bombing marriage parties that is an issue of intent and proximity (altitude).

July 2009- A bomb planted on a wellwisher's car at a wedding celebration in Iraq killed two people and injured 18 others. (Iraq)

June 2009- Somali Security Minister was among at least 50 people killed in a suicide-bombing. The attack happened at the Medina Hotel in central Somalia ahead of a wedding ceremony.

May 2008- Two suicide bombers attacked a wedding convoy as it passed through a busy market area in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 35 people

March 2007- A car bomb that was aimed at a policeman’s wedding party in Falluja, killed seven guests on Thursday and wounded six.

Nov 2005- suicide bombers struck at three luxury hotels in Amman, killing at least 57 people in the worst attack, hundreds of guests were enjoying a wedding reception at the Radisson SAS when the bomb went off.


Yet, there is scientific support for these narratives: Windshuttle is a small example, John Lewis Gaddis a bigger one.

For the sake of argument

Let's say kappert is correct in her 'analyses'. i.e. NATO has bombed Afghan marriage parties with impunity, European colonialists did murder and abuse Aussie abos the length and breadth of that Continent, and Israelis have occupied 'Palestinian' lands and stole their water.

 Q: Why did they do it? And how did they get away with doing it?


 A: They did it because they COULD. They did it because nobody could stop them doing it, and, even if somebody could have stopped them doing it, they got away with it because people like kappert say it's as evil  to  stop them doing these things by force as it is for the 'evil' perpetrators  to do these things in the first place. 

Yes, Kappert, we hear you and we feel your pain. Now SOD OFF!!!

for the sake

'They did it because they could!' That's a really easy way to legalize the lunatic decisions of Alexanders, Cesars, Napoleons, Hitlers and Kissingers.

Rien ne va plus

If you have already answered the question, point me  in the right direction. If you haven't, and you know you haven't, either answer it now, or suffer the consequences of your lies, obfuscation, hypocrisy and arrogance. 

Still waiting...

Kappert has still to explain what she means by the term "European/Western culture",  and which aspects of that culture she does NOT hate. 

still waiting

If after all our posts you still are waiting, then continue to wait.


Another excellent article from Mr Bertonneau.  I had the great fortune of reading "Sick Societies" soon after it was published by 'The Free Press' in North America in 1992, and it had a major impact on my own thinking.  It seemed to confirm my earlier experiences as a young economist in 'a primitive society' in the 1970's.

Mr Bertonneau's application of Edgerton's concept of "maladaptation" to modern Western society is convincing and frightening at the same time.  One wonders if such illuminating books could still be published in Europe today - and in America tomorrow - without risk of being dragged into some 'court' on charges of 'racism, hate-speech' or some such similar ruse? How did Edgerton 'survive' in the Department of Anthropology at UCLA?


Colonialism 2

@A911: Thanks for the reference to Windschuttel, a valuable writer. Papua New Guinea is apparently in need of another episode of foreign rule.

Strong and confident peoples have a "right" to leave their home territories and express themselves in foreign projects, conquests or state-building or extraction of wealth. This is recognized in natural law. It is a solution to domestic problems they have earned the right to exploit. The result may be tragic and wasteful, but life was not designed to be comfortable. All peoples have a duty to prepare themselves to hold their own territory against all comers. If they try and fail, they have done what they could do. See ending of Beowulf. The British Victorians were possibly the greatest civilization we have seen. The ending was tragic, though by now it has degenerated into vulgar farce.

Voegelin condemns the imperial concupiscence of the post-national age of the ancient empires. Certainly, imperial adventures can be a sign of weakness and disorder--an Edgertonian maladaptation. Charity towards one's own, however, may recommend conquest over the welfare of others to whom one owes little. Thus "attunement with the divine," the Voegelinian summum bonum, does not exclude conquest. See Genesis and Joshua.

RE: Colonialism

Interesting article. I have ambivalent feelings towards colonialism myself. I believe that Western colonialism was really inevitable. We began exploring the world and we found new continents and places with other environments and inhabitants that looked very different and lived in very different ways from us. Hence, we saw this as an opportunity for more prosperity for our countries and as well as an opportunity to spread Christian civilization. A lot of the natives were hardly civilized and often had some very barbaric practices even if they were quite advanced in other regards. A lot of the inhabitants of these regions died because of the diseases we brought and the technological advantages we had when conflicts emerged. Unfortunately it is also true that these discoveries and advantages were misused by the Western colonial rulers and that innocent people were exploited and have died as a result of the greed of some. The problem is that rather than condemning the exploitation and excesses, many have begun to condemn Western civilization and Christianity in its entirety, and conveniently ignore the fact that colonialism was an unavoidable point and progression in history that was a result of many historical factors, and that colonialism also produced good things. They depict colonialism in such a way that it seems as though the White man was responsible for nothing but evil and that the natives were united as one peace-loving people defending their territory. This is simply not true. There were good and evil men on all sides and 'Whites' and 'natives' were not always as united and opposed to each other as they wish to make it seem. I fully support the advancement of Western civilization and Christianity in the colonies but I am opposed to the excesses and to the way in which, at various points throughout the history of colonialism, these goals were pursued in an unchristian and oppressive manner. There is no need for Whites to feel guilt for 'colonialism' in itself, only those colonists who did commit evil in the colonies are truly guilty.

@pale rider

"There is no need for Whites to feel guilt for 'colonialism' in itself, only those colonists who did commit evil in the colonies are truly guilty."
Does this work for American/NATO soldiers bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan?


'NATO Wedding raides in Afghanistan': I suppose the list is far from being complete: 06/07/2008; 11/07/2008 47 killed; 05/11/2008 40 killed; 16/12/2008; 04/05/2008 girl killed; 31/05/2009; by the way: any indication/font/proof, that Mr Robinson didn't wrote the discussed article?? After all, he was in Tasmania from 1823 and occupied Tasmanian territories (and sold them for very good money) under Sir George Arthur. Speaking of 'reconciliation' by sending them to Flinders Island, sounds more like 'Arbeit macht frei', but I'm sure you'll find an excuse/explanation.


Sounds like the Taliban's using weddings as a front to hide their operations, doesn't it, kappert?

Thanks for the useful idiot POV, btw.

@ atheling

Come on now, you know that the USAF has special training flights specifically aimed at wedding parties. They are programmed right after they learn to strafe girl schools and nurseries.


And don't forget the baby milk formula factories in Iraq... especially the ones with the hastily written signs, "Baby Milk Factory" in English - so kappert can read them.

@ Mr. Bertonneau

For a long time I have thought about one aspect of the Catholic Church.
The Church had an original imperial structure which needed a large number of "soldiers/representatives" in the form of priests, monks, bisschops and monasteries. It also needed a large number of educated scholars to support the needed teachers and professors of the Catholic schooling institutions.
This created a very large thinking mass in the outskirts of the European continent with enormous distances and travelling problems.
In my opinion this was the real origin of the many-facetted theories and thoughts which came to fruition independently from all corners of Europe. Of course there was a lot of difference between the ideas and arguments started.
I think that the real source of enlightment came from there. It was not done on purpose but it was done anyway for which we have to be thankful and without which we wouldn't have been so critical of unified thinking.

As soon as the communication and travelling times became an instant service, unified "consumption-thinking" became more the norm. The speed of consumption doesn't allow for thinking anymore.

@ 4Symbols RE: Neo-liberalism

Unfortunately, the application of liberal economic policies has been thwarted repeatedly by elites that cling to power and inside access to the institutions of state and society. The investment banks that demanded and profited from de-regulization where crying foul when brave Republican congressmen were threatening to de-rail TARP. As it is, these entities are not using funds to extend credit, but to shore up their ill-advised positions. The money would have been better spent on a tax rebate for all and for rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure.

British underclass.

"Many widespread traits of Westerners qualify as “sick,” from the willingness of the underclass to live on welfare,"

From my view in the U.K. there is no willingness to live on "welfare", a large part of the indigenous population have been forced into an underclass, surviving on a subsistence level of approx £8.60 per day, this sum can not in any way be considered welfare.

So sad to blame the British underclass for the collapse of western civilisaton but of course you do not want to blame those who have had the privilege of a university education and dumbly have implemented the nonsense that is neoliberalism.  

White guilt

There was never a systematic annihilation or Endlösung of the Australian aboriginals, get over it. Most Aboriginals died because they were not immune to the diseases that the British unwittingly (that is: without knowledge or intention) brought with them. The Aboriginals were too few and their culture also was not developed and strong enough to resist the British and make any serious legal claims on the Australian territory. Though many of the British colonizers were indeed qualified scum, it is simply a lie to say that Britain sought to exterminate the Aboriginals and that nobody ever treated the indigenous peoples fairly. That is not to say we cannot criticize and admit the mistakes and crimes that were committed on behalf of the White colonizers, but to suggest that they were nothing but a bunch of genocidal maniacs and that the Aboriginals and other indigenous peoples were all peace-loving and civilized Gaia-worshipers living in harmony with man and nature, is plain politically correct drivel.

Sick Societies 2

This reminds me of my teenage years when I wrestled with the "thoughts" of Marx and Engels who, like Marquis De Sade for his own purposes, utilised hundreds of uncontrollable examples of primitive societies to "prove" that capitalism was "inhuman" and "unnatural".
As teener I considered this utter drivel and classified Marx and his "ideas" vertically.
In later years I could only shake my head when I heard the resulting socialist "lunatic" theories.
Seriously now, Mr. Edgerton is 200% right and the "Rousseau" call of "back to nature" is just a romantic expression of some personal frustration with the world around him, I probably would have the same thoughts in his shoes and living in his time.
I guess the book, which I didn't read, continues with explanations of his own thoughts why the Judeo/Christian society achieved the degree of civilisation we have and the others didn't.
I would be interested to know what he thought, 20 years ago, about the Chinese civilisation?

Anyway, thanks Mr. Bertonneau for a new admirable article.

@ kappert

The 18th and 19th century Australian "whites" where hardly representatives of the intellectual elite of England, they were mostly cutthroats and thieves, with apologies to the many innocents among them. They were certainly a match for the barbarian Tasmanians whom you, by definition, will consider good barbarians because non-white and non-European.


Is this some kind of excuse to argue that Australian whites are not really English elite (David Collins, Edward Lord, Captain Murray, Captain Paterson, Colonel Davey, were all appointed by HM). If so, it's clear that George Augustus Robinson, a Christian missionary could write: We make no pompous display of Philanthropy. We say this unequivocally SELF DEFENCE IS THE FIRST LAW OF NATURE. THE GOVERNMENT MUST REMOVE THE NATIVES -- IF NOT, THEY WILL BE HUNTED DOWN LIKE WILD BEASTS AND DESTROYED! Colonial Times, 1826. Viva la self-defence of Judeo-Christian society and hail the 'degree of civilization' which permits to wipe out anything.


Thanks for proving how dishonest you are.

According to Wiki (who cannot be completely reliable, but can provide some rudimentary info), Robinson was "Chief Protector" of the Aborigines of Port Phillip District, who reported on a massacre of the aborigines in 1833 or 1834.

His journals are regarded as amongst the most important of early documents of the early years of Victoria, being significant for its observations on Koorie culture, early Melbourne personalities, landscape and settler society.

He was known as a 'Victorian do-gooder'.

His work is also kept as a record of Aboriginal heritage in Australia.

Hmmm... why would someone who wants to destroy a culture write extensively about said culture, and whose records are kept as historical evidence? You fail to note that the quote you cite urges relocation of the natives in order to prevent further massacres.

Not all people have the same motive as your ideological heir, Herr Hitler.


If you have so much insight perhaps you can deliver the author of the Colonial Times, 1826 - and, if your analysis is right, I acknowledge the 'chief protector' Mr. Robinson who was unable to avoid the extintion of the Tasmanians.

black war

The Black War in Tasmania 1803-1820 and the consequent deportation to Flinders Island was only one of the Late Victorian Holocausts. Very sad that the ideas of Knox, Morton, Spencer etc. still have so many supporters. The 'War against the Weak' and the auto-proclaimed eugenics (all with 'scientific evidence') is truely an European watermark.

RE: Sick Societies

Jared Diamond's Gun, Germs & Steel, comes to mind. I recall him praising the Austronesians of Papua New Guinea, and comparing them favorably to Western Europeans. While Western European youth were playing video games and quaffing unhealthy food and beverages, the Austronesian youth were exploring the jungles, constructing shelters, hunting, etc. He concluded that the latter were much more intelligent. Mr Diamond's ethno-religious affinities seemingly enable him to denounce European civilization and Whiteness. Yet, it is worth nothing that the Levantine peoples formerly of urban and European extraction are adaptive, and those whose ancestors had been absorbed into Islamic civilization are maladaptive.


I should have read Sick Societies, rather than Diamond's infuriating offerings. Speaking of maladaptive, I also recall Swedish feminists attempting to prohibit men from urinating while standing; urinals signifying superiority over toilet bowls. Yet, I cannot think of any societies that can claim greater gender equality than the Scandinavian ones. Indeed, fair skin, light eyes and blond hair is correlated with respect for women and femininity, not the reverse. However, feminists are convinced that angry dark youth can act as the violent vanguard of those opposing the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy (to reference Bell Hooks).