The Culture Cult

Designer Tribalism and Other Essays


Roger Sandall

First Edition • December 1, 2000 • 224 pages


Print ISBN: 9780813338637 • $42.00 USD$56.50 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780813347097 • $25.99 USD$28.99 CAN

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The Culture Cult is an acerbic critique of that longing widespread in society today to “retreat from civilization.” From Rousseau and the Noble Savage to modern defenders of ethnicity such as Isaiah Berlin and Karl Polanyi, a prominent intellectual tradition has over-romanticized the virtues of tribal life. In contrast, another tradition, represented by Karl Popper, Michael Polanyi, and Ernest Gellner, defends modern values and civil society. The Culture Cult discusses both sides of this divide between culture and civilization, and between closed and open societies. The romantic insistence on the superiority of the primitive is increasingly grounded in a fictionalized picture of the past–a picture often created with the aid of well-meaning but misguided anthropologists. Such idealizations work to the detriment of the very people they are meant to help, for they isolate minorities from such undeniable benefits of modern society as literacy and health care, and discourage them from participating in modern life. Few will find comfort in The Culture Cult, but many will recognize a valuable criticism of currently popular social politics.

Roger Sandall is a writer who recently retired as Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Sydney, Australia.

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“Fully conscious of arguing ‘against the prevailing [politically-correct, culturally-relativistic] trend’ Sandall writes compellingly, marshalling anecdotes, scholarly literature and case studies in support of his project…Sandall consistently implicates anthropology and anthropologists in the Culture Cult with a brusqueness at once refreshing and disconcerting.”
— The Journal of the royal Anthropological Institute

”An invaluable account of questions of great importance.”
— Quadrant

”The Culture Cult has a serious argument to propose about the persistence of romantic dreams running deep through the fabric of modern philosophy, social criticism and political thought.”
— The Australian

”…a tour through an intellectual and moral rogues’ gallery.”
— The New Criterion

At a time when the study of culture is being used to undermine the values of Western society, Roger Sandall has given us a revealing analysis of the intellectual and political follies committed by those who see romantic virtue in primitive societies. This is a brilliant study which explains why civilization’s critics have become so influential, and what we stand to lose should their ideas prevail.
— Keith Windschuttle, , author of The Killing of History

”I sat down with The Culture Cult, wondering how in the world I would find time to read it, only to spend the entire day reading it cover to cover. …This is a fascinating book with a message that certainly will reverberate within anthropology, yet it also should appeal well beyond anthropology.
— Robert B. Edgerton, professor, departments of anthropology and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, UCLA.

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