Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
The Tribal Imagination

The Tribal Imagination

Civilization and the Savage Mind

Robin Fox

ISBN 9780674059016

Publication date: 03/08/2011

We began as savages, and savagery has served us well—it got us where we are. But how do our tribal impulses, still in place and in play, fit in the highly complex, civilized world we inhabit today? This question, raised by thinkers from Freud to Lévi-Strauss, is fully explored in this book by the acclaimed anthropologist Robin Fox. It takes up what he sees as the main—and urgent—task of evolutionary science: not so much to explain what we do, as to explain what we do at our peril.

Ranging from incest and arranged marriage to poetry and myth to human rights and pop icons, Fox sets out to show how a variety of human behaviors reveal traces of their tribal roots, and how this evolutionary past limits our capacity for action. Among the questions he raises: How real is our notion of time? Is there a human “right” to vengeance? Are we democratic by nature? Are cultural studies and fascism cousins under the skin? Is evolutionary history coming to an end—or just getting more interesting? In his famously informative and entertaining fashion, drawing links from Volkswagens to Bartók to Woody Guthrie, from Swinburne to Seinfeld, Fox traces our ongoing struggle to maintain open societies in the face of profoundly tribal human needs—needs which, paradoxically, hold the key to our survival.

Praise

  • The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind is an exciting synthesis of earlier work like the anthropological classic Kinship and Marriage (1967) and [Fox’s] latest wide-ranging thoughts. In a way reminiscent of the breadth of Charles Hill’s recent masterpiece Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order, Fox ranges from a discussion of the Ten Commandments to an analysis of the great warrior epics and Sophocles’ King Oedipus, from incest taboos and the myth of Isis and Osiris to the ambiguous nature of human rights, from the plot of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights to Karl Popper’s thoughts on the desirability of ‘open’ as against ‘closed’ societies. But his most topical and provocative comments are found in a chapter entitled ‘The Kindness of Strangers: Tribalism and the Trials of Democracy.’

    —Roger Sandall, American Interest

Author

  • Robin Fox, anthropologist, poet, and essayist, is University Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers University and author of Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective and The Red Lamp of Incest: An Enquiry into the Origins of Mind and Society.

Book Details

  • 432 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

Recommendations