savagery


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savagery

one of the stages of development identified in early theories of SOCIAL EVOLUTION. MONTESQUIEU proposed that the three main stages of social development were:
  1. hunting or savagery;
  2. herding or BARBARISM; and
  3. CIVILIZATION.

The concept gained currency in the 19th-century through the distinction made between simple/primitive and complex/ modern societies in EVOLUTIONARY THEORY. The term was inevitably pejorative, since evolutionary theory saw social development as also involving a ‘civilizing’ process. Thus 'savagery’ was meant to convey a condition of brutal backwardness, the very opposite of the civilized manners, morals, intellect and taste of Europe's privileged classes.

Apart from its pejorative connotation, it was also inaccurate. Simple societies were not 'savage’ in the way in which Europeans understood the term. The concept had its political uses in an age of expanding colonialism, but its adequacy as a description of non-European preindustrial societies could hardly survive events such as the 1914-18 war.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Savagery

 

(1) A term used in European science to designate the first stage of man’s history, followed by barbarism, and then by civilization. The term “savagery” was first used in this meaning by the British philosopher A. Ferguson (1767). L. H. Morgan used the term to designate the first period in his periodization of primitive society, beginning with the initial appearance of man and concluding with the origin of pottery-making. Morgan’s periodization was reproduced by F. Engels in his work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. However, as Engels foresaw, with the accumulation of new data from ethnology and archaeology, Morgan’s scheme became partially obsolete. In the periodization accepted by present-day ethnology, the period of savagery corresponds to the time of the emergence of man and the early tribal system (Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods in terms of archaeological periodization).

(2) In ordinary usage, an extreme degree of uncouthness.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Savagery

Apache Indians
once fierce fighting tribe of American West. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 123]
bandersnatch
imaginary wild animal of great ferocity. [Br. Lit.: “Jabberwocky” in Through the Looking-Glass]
berserkers
ancient Norse warriors; assumed attributes of bears in battle. [Norse Myth.: Leach, 137]
Comanche Indians
warlike tribe of American West. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 607]
Crommyonian sow
ravager of the Corinthian countryside. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 237]
Erymanthian boar
ravaged Arcadian countryside until capture by Hercules. [Gk. Myth.: Jobes, 523]
Huns
Mongolian invaders of western Europe until 453. [Eur. Hist.: Espy, 167]
Magua
a renegade Huron who scalps white men. [Am. Lit.: The Pathfinder, Magill I, 715–717]
mares of Diomedes
lived on human flesh; their capture was Hercules’ eighth labor. [Gk. and Rom. Myth.: Hall, 149]
Taras Bulba
savage yet strangely devoted Cossack leader. [Russ. Lit.: Tarns Bulba, Walsh Modern, 77]
Tartars
13th-century rapacious hordes of Genghis Khan. [Medieval Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 1064]
tiger
aims at annihilating mankind. [Animal Symbolism: Mercatante, 55]
Vandals
5th-century sackers of Rome and its art. [Ital. Hist.: Espy, 168]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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at Los Angeles) tracks racist stereotypes of "savagery" versus "civilization" (seen once again in George W.