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GOBINEAU, RACISM, AND LEGITIMISM: A ROYALIST HERETIC IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY FRANCE

  • STEVEN KALE (a1)
Abstract

The work of Arthur de Gobineau has presented scholars with a number of interpretive problems concerning his status as a race theorist, his place in the history of racial thought, and the influence of his work on subsequent thinkers. This essay addresses the particularly vexing issue of the origins of Gobineau's racism from the perspective of his affiliation with French royalists in the 1840s and challenges the existing scholarship on the derivation of L'Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines by placing the Essai in the context of his international experience as a member of the French diplomatic corps. Although disillusioned with legitimist politics during the July Monarchy, Gobineau never abandoned his youthful ideological priorities. From the perspective of his royalist past, the Essai appears as part of an extended rumination on the decadence of the French aristocracy and its failure to stem the tide of revolution and bureaucratic centralization. As such, Gobineau's racism can best be understood as a royalist heresy rather than a continuation of his aristocratic elitism or a clean break with his earlier preoccupations.

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1 Biographies of Gobineau include Biddiss, Michael D., Father of Racist Ideology: The Social and Political Thought of Count Gobineau (New York, 1970) and Boissel, Jean, Gobineau (1816–1882): Un Don Quichotte tragique (Paris, 1981). Tocqueville appointed Gobineau his chef de cabinet when he became foreign minister in 1849. This marked the beginning of a diplomatic career for Gobineau that lasted until 1877, and which took him to Switzerland, Hanover, Persia, Greece, Newfoundland, Brazil, and Sweden. He was also the mayor of Trie-Château and a member of the general council of the Oise.

2 de Gobineau, Arthur, The Inequality of Human Races, trans. Adrian Collins (New York, 1967), xiv, 31–2, 149, 210–11.

3 See Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York, 1958), 161–2, 171–3; Mosse, George L., Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (New York, 1978), 52–4.

4 Biddiss, Father, 5, 59, 64–9, 105, 107, 130, 133, 154–5, 164–5, 175–6, 244, 265–6; idem, Gobineau: Selected Political Writings (New York, 1970), 18, 28–9; idem, “Prophecy and Pragmatism: Gobineau's Confrontation with Tocqueville,” Historical Journal 13/4 (Dec. 1970), 611–33, 625–6.

5 Biddiss, Father, 105–6, 161, 164.

6 Buenzod, Janine, La Formation de la pensée de Gobineau et l'Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (Paris, 1967), 198, 218, 275, 328–9.

7 Biddiss, Father, 12, 17; idem, “Prophecy and Pragmatism,” 613.

8 On Gobineau's career as a journalist see Buenzod, La Formation, 80–89.

9 “Gobineau et Hercule de Serre,” Etudes gobiniennes (Paris, 1967), 146. See also Buenzod, La Formation, 203, 246.

10 Buenzod, La Formation, 198, 201–5, 214.

11 de Gobineau, Arthur, “Etudes sur les municipalités,” La Revue provinciale 1 (Sept. 1848), 32; idem, “Etudes sur les municipalités II,” La Revue provinciale 1 (Oct. 1848), 409–11; idem, Ce qui est arrivé à la France en 1870 (Paris 1970), 73–4.

12 Gobineau, Ce qui est arrivé à la France, 41, 94.

13 Gobineau quoted in Buenzod, La Formation, 222.

14 On Gobineau's persistent attachment to “le clan monarchist” and “une monarchie décentralisée,” See Pierre-Louis Rey, L'Univers romanesque de Gobineau (Paris, 1981), 150.

15 Biddiss, Father, 266. See also Arendt, Origins, 161; Mosse, Toward the Final Solution, 51; and Michael Banton, Racial Theories (Cambridge, 1998), 52.

16 Gobineau, Inequality, 42–53; Gobineau, Essai, 724–5, 789–801; Joseph-Marie Rouault, La Troisième République vue par le comte de Gobineau (Paris, 1943), 75–9.

17 Arthur de Gobineau to Alexis de Tocqueville, 1 Jan. 1856, in Alexis de Tocqueville, The European Revolution and Correspondence with Gobineau, ed. John Lukacs (Glouster, MA, 1968), 274–5; Gobineau, Essai, 784–5, 815–16; idem, Inequality, 43, 98, 201.

18 de Gobineau, Arthur, Au Royaume des hellènes (Paris, 1993), 44; Clément Serpeille de Gobineau, ed., Correspondance entre le comte de Gobineau et le comte de Prokesch-Osten (1854–1876) (Paris, 1933), 321, 328; “Situation générale de Corfue [sic]. Sur le Roi,” 26 Sept. 1865, in Jean-François de Raymond, ed., La Grèce de Gobineau: Correspondance politique d'Arthur de Gobineau, ministre de l'empereur à Athenes, 1864–1868 (Paris, 1985), 192–5.

19 Gobineau, Au royaume, 82, 145, 153, 171–2, 372; Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 272.

20 Gobineau, Inequality, 46; La Grèce de Gobineau, 75, 192, 244–9, 334–5, 357–8; Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 328, 333–4; Tetreault, James, “This Violent Passion: Gobineau and Greece,” Modern Greek Studies Yearbook 8 (1982), 5774, 63.

21 Gobineau, Au royaume, 95–6, 100–1.

22 La Grèce de Gobineau, 152 ff., 245; Gobineau, Au royaume, 173; Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 334.

23 “Considérations sur la situation, la race greque et la Grande Idée,” 6 Dec. 1866, in La Grèce de Gobineau, 356–57; Gobineau, Au Royaume, 69, 182–3, 234–5; Tetreault, “This Violent Passion,” 69.

24 Arthur de Gobineau, Lettres à deux athéniennes (1868–1881) (Athens, 1836), 184, 186; Rey, L'Univers, 210; Jean-François de Raymond and Maryvonne de Raymond, eds., Le Royaume de Suède-Norvège au tournant de deux règnes. Correspondance diplomatique d'Arthur de Gobineau, Ministre de France à Stockholm, 1872–1877 (Paris, 1994), 5, 34, 161–2, 171, 205, 219, 225–7, 307–8; Biddiss, Selected Political Writings, 154, 236; Boissel, Gobineau, 265; Jean-Albert Sorel and Claude Pichois, “Arthur de Gobineau et Albert Sorel: Correspondance inédite (1872–1879),” Revue d'histoire diplomatique 91/3–4 (1977), 229–63, 233, 251.

25 Gobineau to Prokesch-Osten, 23 Sept. 1872, in Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 358; Le Royaume de Suède-Norvège, 84.

26 Gobineau, Essai, 791; Rey, L'Univers, 121; Le Royaume de Suède-Norvège, 5; Boissel, Gobineau, 204. Gobineau saw the Sweden of his imagination rather than the one that actually existed. During the 1870s, when he served in the French Embassy, the country began to industrialize and was completing its evolution toward parliamentary democracy.

27 Gobineau to Prokesch-Osten, 23 Sept. 1872, in Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 358; Le Royaume de Suède-Norvège, 122.

28 Gobineau to Dom Pedro, 10 July 1872, in Rey, L'Univers, 96; Gobineau to Albert Sorel, 1 July 1872, in Sorel and Pichois “Arthur de Gobineau et Albert Sorel,” 233, Le Royaume de Suède-Norvège, 85–6; Gobineau to Prokesch-Osten, 23 Sept. 1872, in Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 358; Gobineau, Lettres, 186–7.

29 Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, A Gentleman in the Outports: Gobineau and Newfoundland, ed. Michael Wilkshire (Ottawa, 1993), 104–5. See also Gobineau to Prokesch-Osten, 15 Dec. 1859, in Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 209. Gobineau traveled to Newfoundland in the spring of 1859 as part of an Anglo-French Commission to enquire into problems relating to French fishing rights. The book that resulted, Voyage à Terre-Neuve, was published by Hachette in 1861 as part of the Bibliothèque des chemins de fer, a collection of light reading directed at a popular audience and sold in railway stations.

30 Gobineau, Gentleman, 16, 18–19, 30, 62, 82–3, 104–5, 126–7, 134–5, 177–8, 180.

31 Gobineau, Inequality, 103; Buenzod, La Formation, 423, 439.

32 Gobineau, Essai, 776–7, 813.

33 Gobineau, Essai, 776–7, 800–1; idem, Inequality, 36, 103.

34 Gobineau, quoted in Biddiss, Father, 130.

35 Arendt, Origins, 162, 171–3; Mosse, Toward the Final Solution, 52–4.

36 See Biddiss, Father, 5, 154–5, 161, 175–7; Biddiss, Selected Political Writings, 15, 29, 201–2.

37 Biddiss, Father, 130–32, 135, 173, 244. See Banton, 52.

38 Buenzod, La Formation, 338, 460–61. de Gobineau, Arthur, Son of Kings (Les Pléïades), trans. Parmee, Douglas (London, 1966), 1516. “Je fais aussi un roman très developé intitulé Les Pléiades ayant pour but cette idée, qu'il n'y a plus de classes, qu'il n'y a plus de peuples, mais seulement dans toute de l'Europe, quelque individualités, surnageant comme des débris sur un déluge.” Gobineau to Prokesch-Osten, 7 Oct. 1872, in Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 361.

39 Boissel, Gobineau, 69, 126–7, 142, 150, 204. See also, Rey, L'Univers, 197. “What is my Essai sur les races if not proof that I am not afraid and that I do not accept the commonplaces and the ideas so dearly held by our century.” Gobineau to Tocqueville, 29 Nov. 1856, in Tocqueville, The European Revolution, 298.

40 Gobineau, Inequality, xi, 23, 78, 84; Biddiss, Selected Political Writings, 175.

41 Gobineau, Ce qui est arrivé à la France, 85–86.

42 Biddiss, Selected Political Writings, 218–21. See also Buenzod, La Formation, 202–5; and Biddiss, Father, 17–21. On representative government see Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 272; and Tocqueville, The European Revolution, 302; Gobineau, Essai, 858; Gobineau, Ce qui est arrivé à la France, 116; Gobineau, Son of Kings, 97; Sorel and Pichois, “Arthur de Gobineau et Albert Sorel,” 258–9.

43 Gobineau, Ce qui est arrivé à la France, 76–77; Buenzod, La Formation, 215–16, 228–9; Gobineau to Tocqueville, 29 Nov. 1856, in Tocqueville, The European Revolution, 300.

44 See especially Arthur de Gobineau and Louis de Kergorlay, “De la Politique rétrospective,” La Revue provinciale 2 (June 1849), 242–52.

45 Gobineau, Inequality, 3–4, 13, 18.

46 Gobineau to Prokesch-Osten, 1856, in Correspondance entre Gobineau et ProkeschOsten, 94.

47 Quoted in Buenzod, La Formation, 466; Gobineau, Inequality, xi.

48 Gobineau, Ce qui est arrivé à la France, 73; Gobineau to Mère Bénédicte de Gobineau, 23 June 1871, in Gobineau, Ce qui est arrivé à la France, 45.

49 Gobineau to Sorel, 20 March 1873, in Sorel and Pichois, “Arthur de Gobineau et Albert Sorel,” 248.

50 Tocqueville to Gobineau, 20 Dec. 1853, in Tocqueville, The European Revolution, 231–2.

51 Comte de Gobineau and Mère Bénédicte de Gobineau, Correspondance, 1872–1882, 2 vols. (Paris, 1958), 1: 91, 113, 133. On Gobineau's Catholicism see Buenzod, La Formation, 362.

52 See Koenraad Swert, The Sense of Decadence in Nineteenth-Century France (The Hague, 1964).

53 Raudot, Claude, De la Décadence de la France (Paris, 1850), passim.

54 See Basdevant-Gaudemet, B., La Commission de décentralisation de 1870: Contribution à l'étude de la décentralisation en France au XIXe siècle (Paris, 1973).

55 Gobineau, Inequality, 68; Simar, Théophile, Etude critique sur la formation de la doctrine des races au XVIIIe siècle et son expansion au XIXe siècle (Geneva, 2003; Slatkine reprint), 139.

56 Gobineau, Inequality, xi, 78.

57 Raudot, De la Décadence, 137–39. Legitimist views on decentralization are discussed in Kale, Steven, Legitimism and the Reconstruction of French Society, 1852–1883 (Baton Rouge, 1992), 111–34; and in Hazareesingh, Sudhir, From Subject to Citizen: The Second Empire and the Emergence of Modern French Democracy (Princeton, 1998), 96161.

58 Raudot, De la Décadence, 121–2. On the scientific uses of degeneration see White, Owen, Children of the French Empire (Oxford, 1999), 93–6; and Pick, Daniel, Faces of Degeration: A European Disorder, c. 1848–1918 (Cambridge, 1989), 2022, 39, 51–4.

59 Gobineau, Inequality, 25.

60 The theme of noble decline was common in the nineteenth century, especially in the writings of Tocqueville and Renan, with whose ideas Gobineau was familiar. See Jonathan Dewald, Lost Worlds: The Emergence of French Social History, 1815–1970 (University Park, PA, 2006), 165, 170–71.

61 Gobineau to Tocqueville, 29 Nov. 1856, in Tocqueville, The European Revolution, 299; Gobineau to Prokesch-Osten, 20 June 1856, in Correspondance entre Gobineau et Proksch-Osten, 93–4.

62 Biddiss, Father, 154.

63 On Gobineau's growing pessimism concerning France's potential to decentralize in 1848 and 1849 see the many articles he wrote on provincial and municipal government for the for La Revue provinciale between Sept. 1848 and April 1849.

64 Gobineau, quoted in Biddiss, Father, 64.

65 Buenzod, La Formation, 276, 279, 301–6, 311; Biddiss, Father, 64–9.

66 On Gobineau's scientific sources see Banton, Racial Theories, 46; Buenzod, La Formation, 262, 326, 344, 368–77, 553; Boissel, Gobineau, 137–38; and Jean Boissel, Victor Courtet (1813–1867), premier théorcien de la hiérarchie des races (Paris, 1972), 85–6.

67 Tocqueville to Gobineau, 17 Nov. 1853, in Tocqueville, The European Revolution, 258.

68 Gobineau to Prokesch-Osten, 20 June 1856, in Correspondance entre Gobineau et Prokesch-Osten, 93–4. See also Buenzod, La Formation, 291, 326.

69 Boissel, Victor Courtet, 10–13, 82–3, 89, 127, 178–81.

70 Boissel, Victor Courtet, 32–3.

71 Arthur de Gobineau, “Opposition royaliste,” La Quotidienne 194 (13 July 1843); idem, “Pourquoi êtes-vous royaliste,” La Quotidienne 339 (4 Dec. 1844).

72 Gobineau, “De la politique rétrospective,” 239–41. In his book on Newfoundland, written after the Essai, Gobineau repeated the suggestion that environmental factors (namely the harshness of life in remote places) rather than blood bred heroic qualities.

73 Buenzod, La Formation, 231, 237. On Thierry's theories concerning the Franks and the Gauls see Augustin Thierry, Lettres sur l'histoire de France (Paris, 1866); and Krzysztof Pomian, “Franks and Gauls,” in Pierre Nora, ed., Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, 2 vols. (New York, 1997), 2: 51–61.

74 Buenzod, La Formation, 205.

75 Gobineau to Tocqueville, 29 Nov. 1856, in Tocqueville, The European Revolution, 302.

76 Gobineau, Ce qui est arrivé à la France, 121–2. Gobineau returns to these themes repeatedly in Les Pléïades (1876) and in Histoire d'Ottar Jarl, pirate norvégien, conquérant du pays de Bray, en Normandie, et de sa descendance (Paris, 1879). On dictatorship see also Biddiss, Selected Political Writings, 221.

77 Gobineau, Son of Kings, 143–5.

78 Gobineau, Ce qui est arrivé à la France, 94; Gobineau, Essai, 812–13; Simar, 165; Buenzod, La Formation, 218.

79 Gobineau, Inequality, xi–xiii; Buenzod, La Formation, 439; Arendt, Origins, 172.

80 For a discussion of Gobineau's reception among republican raciologues see Paligot, Carole, La République raciale: Paradigme racial et idéololgie républicaine (1860–1930) (Paris, 2006).

81 See comte de Gobineau, “L'Instruction primaire en Suède,” Le Correspondant (25 Feb. 1873).

82 Dewald, Lost Worlds, 171; Gobineau to Tocqueville, 20 March 1856, in Tocqueville, The European Revolution, 285. See also Jean Gaulnier's introduction to Gobineau, Ce qui est arrivé à la France, 15.

83 Armand de Quatrefage, “Histoire naturelle de l'homme. Du Croisement des races humaines,” Revue des deux mondes 8 (March–April 1857), 168–75.

84 Gobineau to Tocqueville, 20 March 1856, in Tocqueville, The European Revolution, 284–85; Buenzod, La Formation, 155; Boissel, Courtet, 178–9.

85 Jacques Bainville, “Nos Infériorités,” La Gazette de France (9 Oct. 1905); Charles Maurras, Devant l'Allemagne éternelle. Gaulois, Germains, Latins (Paris, 1937), 4–12; Linda Clark, Social Darwinism in France (Tuscaloosa, AL, 1984), 102–3. Gobineau received just one mention in Jean-François Sirinelli's three-volume Histoire des droites en France, in an article by Alain-Gérard Slama noting that there has never been real fascism in France because the French right has never viewed biology as a principle of causality. Slama, Alain-Gérard, “Portrait de l'homme de droite,” in Histoire des droites en France, ed. Sirenelli, Jean-François, 3 vols. (Paris, 1992), 3: 823.

86 See Grossman, Lionel, “Augustin Thierry and Liberal Historiography,” History and Theory 15/4 (1976), 883, 23–5.

87 Straum, Martin S., Labeling People: French Scholars on Society, Race, and Empire, 1815–1848 (Montreal, 2003), 149, 155, 178; Lemaire, Sandrine, “Gustave d'Eichthal, ou les ambiguïtés d'une ethnologie saint-simonienne: du racialisme ambiant à l'utopie d'un métissage universel,” in Régnier, Philippe, ed., Etudes saint-simoniennes (Lyons, 2002), 153–76.

88 See Banton, Racial Theories, 6, 37, 46–7, 59–60, 64, 79–81, 84–5.

89 Mosse, George, The Crisis of German Ideology (New York, 1981), 9091. According to Mosse, nineteenth-century European racism drew its power and appeal from its association with nationalism and bourgeois respectability, which served the middle class “as a weapon against the so-called loose life of the aristocracy.” Mosse, Toward the Final Solution, xiii–xiv.

90 See Fortier, Paul A., “Gobineau and German Racism,” Comparative Literature 19/4 (Autumn 1967), 341–50.

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Modern Intellectual History
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