“The native depicted in the image at the top of this post does not look powerless. As for Benjamin West’s native, he is a ‘Noble savage.’ Did Canada need the Indian Act? Canada Day, a celebration of Confederation, is fast approaching. But Confederation led to the creation of Indian Reserves and Residential Schools. Moreover, Quebec became the only Canadian province where the language of instruction could be French or English. The British Empire was at its zenith.”
Imperialism is very much to blame. Cecil Rhodes wanted to paint the world red, the colour of the British Empire. So, I suspect the architects of Confederation also wished to paint Canada red. Besides, they feared Manifest Destiny, an American form of imperialism. Manifest Destiny alone invited the federation of Canadian provinces and the purchase of Rupert’s Land. Unfortunately, unity dictated uniformity. To this end, Amerindians were to be stripped of their identity. The events that followed Confederation were brutal and genocidal. The French could not leave Quebec. Why?
I suspect more bodies will be found. However, the comforting thought is that other Canadians will help pull Amerindians out of this nightmare. They are in schock, but so are other Canadians. As you know, I have Amerindian ancestry. In the early years of New France’s history, its motherland was slow in sending women across the Atlantic. “Survival” is the keyword in Canadian literature, in both French and English. Margaret Atwood‘s book, entitled Survival (1972), is insightful and it has remained popular and informative reading.
We are returning to Les Anciens Canadiens where the myth of the Noble savage is well and alive. We will read The Good Gentleman, Chapter IX, Le Bon Gentilhomme, Chapitre X. In Les Anciens Canadiens, monsieur d’Egmont depicts Amerindians as more civilized than the white.
Yet, by 1735, Thomas Hobbes (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679) had written his Leviathan (1651) and, in Chapter XIII, entitled Of the Natural Condition of Mankind Concerning Their Felicity, and Misery, Hobbes had negated the idea that in the state of nature, man was good. But such was not the opinion of the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, an English politician and philosopher. Nor was it altogether John Locke‘s view of man in the state of nature, FRS (29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704).
Hobbes and John Locke were political philosophers. But it would be useful to take into consideration various travel accounts that inspired writers such as John Dryden. One traveller was the baron de Lahontan[i] who had depicted a noble savage or bon sauvage, a man in the state of nature portrayed not only as good, but as superior to Europeans.
Louis Armand, Baron de Lahontan
Louis Armand, Baron de Lahontan (9 June 1666 – prior to 1716) was a French baron who served in the French military, in New France, from 1683 to 1693, but, as I have noted above, also travelled in the Wisconsin and Minnesota region and the upper Mississippi Valley. Lahontan deserted and upon his return to Europe, he published three books, the third of which is about Adario. The titles are:
1. Les Nouveaux Voyages de M. le Baron de Lahontan dans l’Amérique septentrionale (a narrative of the Baron de Lahontan’s new trips to North America)2. Les Mémoires de l’Amérique septentrionale (history of the territory, the settlers and the Amerindians)
3. Les Dialogues curieux entre l’auteur et un sauvage de bon sens qui a voyagé (The curious dialogues between the author and a sensible savage who has travelled)
Lahontan’s three books, published at The Hague in 1703, were bestsellers and they were translated into various languages. It is therefore entirely possible that by giving the name Adario (The Rat) to the bon sauvage whom Zima chooses as her husband, Jean-Philippe Rameau (25 September 1683, Dijon – 12 September 1764), and his librettist Louis Fuzelier (1672 – 1752) were attesting to the popularity of Lahontan’s three books, the third in particularly. Naming Zima’s bon sauvage Adario cannot be a mere coincidence, even if there were a number of Hurons named Adario.
According to Lahontan, there are five areas in which Adario is depicted as morally superior to the French: religion, law, property, medicine and marriage. However, if we look at property, the third area in which Lahontan’s Adario is considered as superior to Europeans, the French in particularly, it is difficult to dismiss the idea that, on the subject of property, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) was influenced, first, by Lahontan and, second, by Hobbes.
Adario tells Lahontan that among Amerindians, there is no “le tien et le mien” (yours and mine). In this respect, there is a significant degree of affinity between Lahontan and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality(1754).
“[t]he first man who, having enclosed off a piece of land, got the idea
of saying ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him
was the true founder of civil society.” (Second Part: first line)
“What crimes, what wars, what murders, what miseries and horrors would someone have spared the human race who, pulling out the stakes or filling in the ditch, had cried out to his fellows, ‘Stop listening to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits belong to everyone and the earth belongs to no one.’” (Second Part: second line)
In Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, the “sovereign” has twelve principal rights, the seventh of which is “to prescribe the rules of civil law and property.” But, as I noted above, it would be my opinion that, given the popularity of Lahontan’s books, Rousseau’s “This is mine” may have been Adario’s “le tien et le mien” (yours and mine), down to the very wording.(First Part: two paragraphs after note 15)
Moreover, it does not appear that “civil society” as first introduced in the Discours on Inequality is the society in which individuals have entered into a social contract (government) and where the rule of law prevails. In the Discourse on Inequality, Jean-Jacques argued that “moral inequality is endemic to a civil society and relates to, and causes, differences in power and wealth. (Discourse on Inequality, Wikipedia)
Therefore, the “civil society” in which innate human goodness deteriorates when the innately good individual is no longer isolated or “savage,” would be plain society. Civil society, as it is understood in the Social Contract, is a later development.
And savage man, deprived of every kind of enlightenment, experiences only the passions of the latter sort: his desires do not go beyond his physical needs. (Discourse on Inequality, (First Part).
According to Rousseau, man corrupts man. Note that Rousseau uses the words “savage man,” hence his being associated with the idea of the “noble savage,” when in fact, Dryden coined the term “noble savage.”[iii]
“Tout est bien sortant des mains de l’Auteur des choses, tout dégénère entre les mains de l’homme.” (Émile, ou, De l’éducation, Livre premier)
God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil. (Émile, Project Gutenberg, Chapter 1).
[i] Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce de Lahontan, Baron de Lahontan (9 June 1666 – prior to 1716), known as Lahontan or le baron de Lahontan published his three books at The Hague in 1703.
[ii]The first Discourse, entited the Discourse on the Arts andSciences was written in 1750 in response to an add that appeared in a 1749 issue of the Mercure de France, a newspaper. It was a prize competition sponsored by the Academy of Dijon and the subject to be discussed was the following question: “Has the restoration of the sciences and the arts contributed to refining moral character?” Rousseau won first prize in the competition.