The empire of political thought: civilization, savagery and perceptions of Indigenous government

History of the Human Sciences 18 (2):1-22 (2005)
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Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between understandings of Indigenous government and the development of early-modern European, and especially British, political thought. It will be argued that a range of British political thinkers represented Indigenous peoples as being in want of effective government and regular conduct due to the absence of sufficiently developed property relations among them. In particular, British political thinkers framed the ‘deficiencies’ of Indigenous people by ideas of civilization in which key assumptions connected ‘property’, ‘government’, and ‘society’ as the attainments of civilized polities and societies. Accordingly, Indigenous peoples in Australia and elsewhere were perceived to live in associations (rather than ‘societies’) bound by custom and tradition (rather than ‘government’). The paper will thus identify conceptual connections made between property, polity, and sovereignty in European and British political thought, and argue that such understandings provide a useful resource for understanding colonial attitudes to Indigenous people in Australia down to the present day.

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