Modern anthropological research may be settling the great debate between the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Was the state of nature a “war of every man against every man” in which life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” as Hobbes wrote? Or did “savages” live in utopian bliss, thanks to “the tranquility of their passions and their ignorance of vice,” as Rousseau believed?
Two new books, Marlene Zuk’s Paleofantasy and Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, examine the data on how hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers have eaten, loved, socialized, fought, reared children, and lived. As Ronald Bailey reports, both side mostly with Hobbes.