on August 16, 2018
Europe’s colonial encounter with the Americas has profoundly influenced modern conceptualisations of the political subject. As argued in an article ‘Amazonian Struggles for Recognition’ in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Europeans started from a point of non-recognition of Native Americans – they were either too innocent or too evil, too degenerate or too weak to be considered human and civilised. Renaissance travelers such as Jean de Léry (1536–1613) saw them as innocently Prelapsarian (before fall of Man), representing a lost Eden. Comte de Buffon (1707–1788), conversely, saw only savagery, degradation and moral and biological corruption. Early in the colonisation of the Americas, debates raged over the status of Native Americans, whether they should be recognised, and if so, as what kind of being? Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566) was famously the first European to assert that Native Americans had a soul and were therefore human. These reports and debates influenced Enlightenment philosophers, from Kant (who advanced a hierarchy of races) to Rosseau (the noble savage) and Locke (only European plantation agroecologies produce value). All elaborated their thought in relation to the Others of the New World (and elsewhere in what is today called the ‘global south’).
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