Honoring The Circle: The Impact of American Indian Tradition on Western Political Thought and Society


  • Stephen M. Sachs


Although it is rarely recognized in mainstream historical work, contact between Native People and
Europeans coming to America has had a profound and continuing effect on western political thought
and practice, and upon American life more generally. The Indigenous people in North America in
different forms, and to differing degrees, practiced inclusive participatory democracy, in collaborative
societies in which every individual needed to be respected because all contained a holy spirit – the
Great Mystery was in all things – all beings. Moreover the multiplicity of spirits existing within the
Great Mystery were a unity in diversity that as a basic principle enhanced the functioning of inclusive
participatory democracy. Human beings were seen as essentially good, but needing an appropriate
experiential education to develop their character and abilities. As is well documented by Grinde,
Johansen, Weatherford, Donohue, Pratt, and others, the first three hundred years of close contact
between many Europeans coming to the “New World” and Indians had a profound impact on many of
them, contributing to the development of an American Identity, different in many aspects from the ways
of seeing dominant in Europe, in what became the United States. Moreover, contact with Indians
brought about a significant shift in western political and social thought that continues to shape
governmental structure, function and policy, with ongoing broader effects on social and other aspects of
life, across the western world and beyond.