Thinker's Corner

Wild in Woods: the myth of the noble eco-savage (Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street, London SW1P 3LB, 0171-799 3745, £8), by Robert Whelan, accuses gullible westerners of swallowing the fantasy that native people are born conservationists. Hollywood perpetuates the myth: Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas keep alive the stereotype of nature-loving Indians and destructive Brits, but the truth is that indigenous peoples can be as careless of their environment as anyone. In tracing the history of the "noble savage", conceived of by Montaigne in 1580, Whelan demonstrates how westerners seeking a good cause, including the rock star Sting and the Body Shop boss Anita Roddick, have always been fascinated by the idea that these people live simply, free from capitalism. But American Indians burned forests to create grasslands, Australian Aborigines made many animal species extinct and when Brazilian Indians got land rights recently, they exploited the natural resources so thoroughly that campaigners fought for its return. Whelan delivers a fact-packed, often witty argument, not least against jumping on to the latest trendy bandwagon.

Brussels on Britain (European Policy Forum, 125 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5EA, 0171-839 7565, £10), by James Temple-Smithson, finds continental commentators "courteous, engaged but puzzled" about British ambivalence towards Europe. The MEPs, business leaders and journalists surveyed by the author are exasperated by UK fence-sitting, seeing it as the result of 30 years of official misgivings about the European project (the Thatcher era especially has left deep scars) which have encouraged in the British public deep suspicion about Brussels. This in turn, they claim, is being exploited by "professional Europhobes". It will take more than prime ministerial speeches committing us to a fully integrated role in a "Europe of winners" to convince those at the heart of Brussels that, this time, we really mean what we say.

This article first appeared in the 24 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Luvvies, stop moaning