Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy

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* Book: Karl Widerquist and Grant S. McCall. Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy. Edinburgh University Press, 2017

URL = draft version


"This book looks at how modern philosophers pass on myths about prehistory. Why do political philosophers talk so much about the Stone Age? The state of nature, the origin of property, the origin of government, and the primordial nature of inequality and war are popular topics in political philosophy, but are they being used as more than just illustrative examples? Does the best available evidence from archaeology and anthropology support or conflict with the stories being passed on by political philosophers? This book presents a philosophical look at the origin of civilization, examining political theories to show how claims about prehistory are used and presents evidence that much of what we think we know about human origins comes not from scientific investigation but from the imagination of philosophers."



"The name, Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy, refers to the belief that everyone is better off in a society with government and/or private land- and resource-ownership. The book shows that this claim is an essential premise in the social contract justification of the state and most Lockean, liberal or libertarian justifications of private property. It shows how theorists have repeated this claim for hundreds of years, but they seldom if ever provide any evidence of it. The widespread belief in this claim seems to stem from the colonial prejudice that all “civilized men” are better off than all “savages.”

This book then examines anthropological and archaeological evidence to show that this claim is false. Some people in contemporary capitalist states are worse off than they would likely be in a small-scale society with neither government nor private landownership. The promise of the social contract and the so-called “Lockean proviso” is unfulfilled, not because people in small-scale societies are well off—their lives are poor and difficult—but because the lives of the most disadvantaged people in capitalist states are even poorer and more difficult. As long as this is so, the state and the property rights system are unjust in terms of the main theories that have been used to justify them for the last 350 years. The book concludes that the best way to right this wrong and to justify government and property rights is to introduce a basic income." (