The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind by Robin Fox - review by Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Hit That Perfect Beat

The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind


Harvard University Press 417pp £22.95 order from our bookshop

Kant originally coined ‘anthropology’ a little more than two centuries ago when trying to figure out the terms on which the disparate strands, if not races, of Homo sapiens might come together as citizens of a common world. In this respect, anthropology was the name of a project, whose goal was the realisation of some universal sense of humanity. Its natural descendants may be found in Comte’s and Hegel’s progressive theories of world history, socialism understood as a movement of global import, and today’s lingering preoccupation with the spread of human rights. Some of Kant’s original conception even remained in the discipline we now call anthropology, though that was largely gone by the time I took courses at Columbia University in the late 1970s with one of the few people who, in his own strange way, still believed in Kant’s idea, the late Marvin Harris.

Robin Fox, now aged seventy-four, was born less than ten years after Harris and is another self-styled materialist. Over the years he shared many of Harris’s professional bugbears. However, those similarities mask a fundamental difference in world-view. Harris revelled in a ‘vulgar materialism’, a righteous brew of Karl

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