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Race-Thinking Before Racism

  • Hannah Arendt

If race-thinking were a German invention, as it is now sometimes asserted, then “German thinking” (whatever that may be) was victorious in many parts of the spiritual world long before the Nazis started their illfated attempt at world conquest. Hitlerism exercised its strong international and inter-Europeanappeal during the 'thirties because racism, although a state doctrine only in Germany, had been everywhere a powerful trend in public opinion. The Nazi political warmachine had long been in motion when in 1939 German tanks began their march of destruction, since—in political warfare—racism was calculated to be a more powerful ally than any paid agent or any secret organization of fifth columnists. Strengthened by the experiences of almost two decades in the various capitals, the Nazis were confident that their best “propaganda” would be their racial policy itself, from which, despite many other compromises and broken promises, they had never drifted away for expediency's sake. Racism was neither a new nor a secret weapon, though never before had it been used with this thorough-going consistency.

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1 During the German-Russian pact, Nazi propaganda stopped all attacks on “Bolshevism” but never gave up the race-line.

2 The best historical account of race-thinking in the pattern of a “history of ideas” is: Voegelin, Erich, Rasse und Staat (Tuebingen 1933). Up to the middle of the last century, race-opinions were still judged by the yardstick of political reason. Wrote Tocqueville to Gobineau about the latter's doctrines: “Je les crois bien vaisemblablement fausses et très certainement pernicieuses.” Lellries de Alexis de Tocqueville el de Arthur de Gobineau. In Revue des Deux Mondes (1907), Tome 199, Letter of November 17, 1853.

3 Plato, , Phaidros, 261.

4 Plato, , Theaetetos. 172.

5 Plato, , Phaidros, 260.

6 Two rather outstanding examples from scholars of good standing may be quotedas characteristic of “scholarship” during World War I. The German historian of art, Strzygowski, Josef in his Altai, Iran und Volkerwanderung (Leipzig, 1917) discovered the Nordic race to be composed of Germans, Ukrainians, Armenians, Persians, Hungarians, Bulgars and Turks (pp. 306–307). The Society of Medicine of Paris not only published a report about the discovery of “polychesia” (excessive defecation) and “bromidrosis” (body odor) in the German race, but proposed urinanalysis for the detection of German spies; German urine was “found” to contain 20% non-uric nitrogen as against 15% for other races. (See: Barzun, Jacques, Race (New York, 1937), p. 239.)

7 For the host of 19th century conflicting opinions see: Carlton, J. H. Hayes, A Generation of Materialism (New York, 1941), pp. 111122.

8 “Huxley neglected scientific research of his own from the '70's onward, so busy was he in the role of ‘Darwin's bulldog’ barking andbiting at theologians.” Hayes, , op. cit.. p. 126. Ernst Haeckel's passion forpopularizing scientific results which was at least as strong as his passion for science itself, has been stressed recently by an applauding Nazi writer, Bruecher, H., Ernst Haeckel, Ein Wegbercitcr biologischen Staatsdenkens. In: Nationalsozialistische Monatshefie, (1935), Heft 69.

9 This quid pro quo partly was the result of the zeal of students who wanted to put down every single instance in which race has been mentioned. Thereby they mistook relatively harmless authors for whom explanation by race was a possible and sometimes fascinating opinion for full-fledged racists. Such opinions, in themselves harmless, were advanced by the early anthropologists as starting-points of their investigations. A typical instance is the naive hypothesis of Paul Broca, noted French anthropologist of the middle of the last century, who assumed that “the brain has something to do with race and the measured shape of the skull is the best way to get at the contents of the brain” (quoted after Barzun, Jacques, op. cit, p. 162). It is obvious that this assertion without the support of a conception of the nature of man, is simply ridiculous.

As for the philologists of the early 19th century, whose concept of “Aryanism” has seduced almost every student of racism to count them under the propagandists or even inventors of race-thinking, they are as innocent as innocent can be. When they overstepped the limits of pure research it was because they wanted to include in the same cultural brotherhood as many nations as possible. In the words of Seillière, Ernest, La Philosophic de l'lmpérialisme (4 vols. 19031906) “Ce fut alors une sorte d'enivrement: la civilisation moderne crut avoir retrouvé ses titres de famille. …et l'organisme naquit, unissant dans une même fraternité toutes les nations dont langue présentait quelques affinités sanscrites.” (Préface, Tome I, p. xxxv.) In other words, these men still belonged to the humanistic tradition of the 18th centuryand shared its enthusiasm about strange people and exotic cultures.

On the other side, it has bern a rather common error of the few scholars who were immune to racism because of their true humanism, to place a great deal of responsibility for modern bestiality on the naturalistic or biological outlook on life. But the opposite would have come closer to the truth. As a matter of fact, the doctrine that Might is Right needed several centuries (from the 17th to the 19th) until it had conquered natural science and produced the “law” of the survival of the fittest. And if, to take another instance, the theory of De Maistre and Schelling about savage tribes as the decaying residues of former peoples had suited the 19th century political devices as well as the theory of progress, we would probably have never heard much of “primitives” and no scientist would have wasted his time looking for the “missing link” between ape and man. The blame is not to be laid on any science as such, but rather on certain scientists who in no lesser degree than their fellow-citizens became hypnotized by ideologies.

10 See, Review of Politics. January, 1942.

11 Jaspers, Karl, Nietzsche, (Berlin, 1938).

12 François Hotman, French 16th century author of Franco-Gallia sometimes is held to be a forerunner of 18th century racial doctrines, as by Ernest Seillière, op. cit. Against this misconception, Théophile Simar has rightly protested: “Hotman se présente non pas comme apologiste des Germains, mais comme défenseur du peuple opprimé par la royauté.” (Etude Crilique sur la Formation de la doctrine des Races au I8e et son expansion au 19e siecle (Bruxelles, 1922) p. 20.

13 Histoire de l'Ancien Gouvernement de la France, (1727) Tome 1, p. 33.

14 That the Comte Boulainvilliers' history was meant as a political weapon against the Etat, Tiers was stated by Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, XXX, Chap. X.

15 From the noted Spinoza scholar Adolph S. Oko I learned that Boulainvilliers was the most competent exponent of Spinoza of his day and that he was an avid collector of unorthodox MSS which were circulated clandestinely.

16 Les Origines de l'Ancien Gouvernement de la France, de l'Allemagne el de l'Italie (1789).

17 Seillière, , op. cit., p. XXXII.

18 See: Maunier, René, Sociologie Coloniale (Paris, 1932), Tome II, p. 115.

19 Montlosier though in exile was closely connected with the French chief of police, Fouché, who helped him improve the sad financial conditions of a refugee. Later, he served as a secret agent for Napoleon in French society. See: Brugerette, Joseph, Le Comte de Montlosier (1931), and Simar, , op. cit., p. 71.

20 Qu'est-ce-que le Tiers Élat? (1789) published shortly before the outbreak of the Revolution. Translation quoted after Clapham, J. H. The Abbé Siéyès (London. 1912) p. 62.

21 “L'Aryanisme historique est parti du féodalisme du 18e siecle, s'est appuyé sur le germanisme du 19e siècle” observes Seillière, , op. cit., p. II.

22 Considérations sur l'hisloire de France (1840).

23 This original confusing situation in which harmless national sentiments expressed themselves in what we know today to be racial terms, has caused a certain confusion among historians whc by identifying the German brand of racism with specific German nationalism have strangely and much against their will helped to underestimate the immense international appeal of Hitlerism.

24 This is the case for instance in Schlegel's, Friedrich Philosophischen Vorlesungen aus den Jahren 1804–1806, II, p. 357. The Prussian Junker Ludwig von der Marwitz also held that peoples are distinguished by their language. The same holds true for Ernst Moritz Arndt. See Pundt, Alfred P., Arndt and the National Awakening in Germany (New York, 1935), p. 116 f. Even Fichte, the favorite modern scapegoat for German race-thinking, hardly ever went beyond the limits of nationalism.

25 Goerres, Joseph. In: Rheinischer Merkur (1814) No. 25.

26 “Die Deutschen sind nicht durch fremde Voelker verbastardet, sie sind kein Mischling geworden.… Die gluecklichen Deutschen sind ein urspruengliches Volk.” See: Phantasien zur Berichtigung dcf Urteile ueber kuenflige deutsche Verfassungen (1815).

27 “Mischlinge von Tieren habe keine echte Fortpflanzungskraft und ebensowenig Blendlingsvoelker ein eigenes volkstuemliches Fortleben,… Der Menschen Stammvater ist gestorben, das Urgeschlecht ist ausgegangen. Darum isl ein jedes verloeschendes Volkstum ein Ungluecksfall fuer die Menschheit.… in einem Volke kann sich der Adel der Menschheit nicht einzig aussprechen.” In: Deutches Volkstum (1810).

The same instance is expressed by Goerres who despite his naturalistic definition of people (“alle Glieder umschlingt ein gemeinsames Band der Blutsverwandtschaft”) follows a true national principle when he states: “Es hat kein Stamm einen Anspruch auf den Besitz des anderen.” (op. cit.)

28 Blick aus der Zeil auf die Zeil (1814).—Translation quoted after Pundt, Alfred P., op. cit.

29 “Not until Austria and Prussia had fallen after a vain struggle did I really begin to love Germany.… as Germany succumbed to conquest and subjection it became to me one and indissoluble” writes Arndt, E. M. in his Erinnerungen aus Schweden (1818) p. 82. Translation quoted after Pundt, , op. cit, p. 151.

30 Neue Fragmentensammlung(1798). See: Schriften (Leipzig, 1929). Tome II, 335.

31 For the romantic attitude in Germany see Schmitt, Carl, Politische Romantik (MÜnchen, 1925).

32 Mussolini, Relativismo e Fascismo. In: Diuturna (Milano, 1924). The translation quoted after Neumann, F., Behemoth, p. 462463.

33 Goethe, Wilhelm Meister, Book V, ch. 3. Letter of Meister to his friend Werner.

34 Compare the very interesting pamphlet against the nobility by the liberal Buchholz, Untersuchungen ueber den Geburtsadel (1807, Berlin), p. 68; “Der wahre Adel… kann weder gegeben noch genommen werden; denn gleich der Kraft und dem Genie setzt er sich selbst und besteht durch sich selbst.”

35 Brentano, Clemens, Der Philister vor, in und nach der Geschichte (1809).

36 See Neumann, Sigmund, ”Die Stufen des preussischen Konservatismus.” Hislorische Studien. Heft 190 (Berlin, 1930). Especially pp. 48, 51, 64. 82. For Adam Mueller, see: Elemente der Staatskunst, esp. 3 and 7 Vorlesung.

In this respect it is interesting to note that the only Junker of this period to develop a political theory of his own, Ludwig von der Marwitz, never indulged in racial terms. According to him, nations are separated by language—a spiritual and not a physical difference—and although he is violently opposed to the French Revolution, he actually speaks like Robespierre when it comes to the possible aggression of one nation against another: “Wer seine Grenzen zu erweitern trachtet, der soil als ein treuloser und Verraeter unter der gesamten europaeischen Staaten-republik betrachtet werden.” See: “Entwurf eines Friedenspaktes.” Printed in: Ramlow, Gerhard, “Ludwig von der Marwitz und die Anfaenge konservativer Politik und Staats-auffassung in Preussen.” Hisiorische Studien, Heft 185, p. 92.

37 Translation quoted after The Inequality of Races translated by Collins, Adrien (1915).

38 Not even Hegel. For his concept of history with its dialectical law of development was concerned neither with the secret of the rise and fall of cultures nor with the death of nations but solely with truth as revealed in the historical process as awhole.

Decay doctrines, on the other hand, seem to spring always from race-thinking. It certainly is not coincidence that another early “believer in race,” Benjamin Disraeli, was as fascinated by the fall of cultures as Gobineau, his contemporary.

39 Essai, Tome IV, book VI, p. 340.

40 See Dreyfus, Robert, La vie et les prophéties du Comte de Gobineau (Paris, 1905). In: Cahiers de la quinzaine, Ser. 6, Cah. 16, p. 56.

41 Gobineau accepts almost literally the 18th century doctrines about the French people: the bourgeoisie is called “issue…des esclaves gallo-romains” and the nobility is supposed to be germanic. (See Essai, Tome II, book IV, p. 445 and the article “Ce qui est arrivé à la France en 1870,” published in: Europe, 1923.) Gobineau—the French origin of his title being rather dubious—had strong personal reasons to prefer an international aristocracy. He claimed for himself a special genealogy which led over a Scandinavian pirate to—Odin; whereupon he exclaimed: “Moi aussi, je suis de la race des Dieux.” (See: Duesberg, J., “Le Comte de Gobineau.” In Revue Génerale, 1939, t. 142.)

42 Compare the Gobineau memorial issue of the French Review Europe, 1923. Especially the article of Clément Serpeille de Gobineau, “Le Gobinisme et la pensée moderne.” “Mais…ce n'est que… en pleine guerre, que L'Essai sur les Races m'apparut comme dominé par une thèse féconde, et seule capable d'expliquer certains phenomènes qui se déroulaient sous nos yeux… j'ai eu la surprise de constater que mon opinion était presque unanimement partagée. Après la guerre, je remarquais que pour ue tous les hommes des jeunes generation l'oeuvre de Gobineau fut une révélation.”

43 Essai, Tome II, Book IV, p. 440. Compare p. 445, note: “Ce mot patrie… ne nous est vraiment revenu que lorsque les couches gallo-romaines ont relevé la tête et joué un rôle dans la politique. C'est avec leur triomphe que le patriotisme a recommencé à être une vertu.”

44 See Seillière, op. cit. Tome I: Le Comte de Gobineau et l'Aryanisme hislorique, p. 32: “Dans l'Essai l'Allemagne est à peine germanique, l'Angleterre l'est en plus haut degré.… Gobineau changera d'avis, sans doute, mats sous l'lnfluence du succès.” It is interesting to note that for Seillière who during his studies became an ardent adherent of Gobinism—(“la sphère intellectuelle ou devront vraisemblablement s'acclimater les poumons du XXe siecle”)—success appeared as quite a sufficient reason for Gobineau's suddenly revised opinion.

45 Examples could be multiplied. The quotation is taken from Spiess, Camille, Impérialismes. Gobinisme en France (Paris, 1917).

46 For Taine's stand see: White, John S., Taine on Race and Genius. In: Social Research, 01 1943.

47 In Gobineau's opinion, the Semites were a white hybrid race bastardized by a mixture with blacks. For Renan, see: Histoire Générale et Système comparé des Langues, (1863). Ie partie, pp. 4, 503 and passim. The same distinction in his Langues Sémitiques, I, p. 15.

48 This has very well been exposed by Jacques Barzun, op. cit.

49 This surprising gentleman is nobody else than the well-known writer and historian Faure, Elie, Gobineau et le Problème des Races, in Europe, 1923.

50 Reflections on the Revolution in France, (1790). (Everyman's Library Edition, New York), p. 8.

51 Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,(1873), p. 254. See: Disraeli, Benjamin, Lord George Bentinck, p. 184.

52 Op. cit., p. 31.

53 A significant if moderate echo of this inner bewilderment can be found in many an 18th century travelling report. Voltaire thought it important enough to make a special note in his Diclionaire Philosophique: “Nous avons vu d'ailleurs combien ce globe porte de races d'hommes différentes, et à quel point le premier nègre et le premier blanc qui se recontrèrent durent être étonnés l'un de l'autre.” (Article: Homme.)

54 To what extent the men of the French Revolution were aware of the terrible danger involved in colonial possessions may be seen by the famous words of Robespierre: “Périssent les colonies s'il doit nous en couter notre honneur, notre liberté!”

55 Hisloire Naturelle, (1769–89).

56 Or to put it in the admirably precise words of Tocquevillet “Buffon et après lui Flourens croient à la diversité des races, mais à l'unité de l'espèce humaine.” op. cit., Letter of May 15, 1852.

57 Allgemeine Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit, (1843–1852). See Tome I, p. 196.

58 Carthill, A., The Lost Dominion, (1924), p. 158.

59 During the seventies and 'eighties of the last century, Darwinism still was almost exclusively in the hands of the utilitarian anti-colonial party in England. And the first philosopher of evolutionism, Herbert Spencer, who treated sociology as part of biology, believed natural selection to benefit the evolution of mankind and an everlasting peace. See: Brie, Friedrich, Imperialislische Stroemungen in der englischen Litteratur, (Halle, 1928). Pp. 144, 145.

60 This possible consequence of applied eugenics was stressed in Germany during the 'twenties as a reaction to Spengler's Untergang des Abendlandes. See forinstance: Bangert, Otto, Gold oder Blut, (1927). “Eine Kulture kann also… von ewiger Dauer sein…” p. 17.

61 For the inherent bestiality of eugenics, see the early remarks of Ernst Haeckel, who defends mercy-death because of the “useless expenses for family and state” caused by incurable illness. See: Lebenswunder, p. 128 ff.

62 Almost a century before evolutionism had put on the clothes of science, warning voices had already foretold the inherent consequences of a madness that was then merely in the stage of pure imagination. Voltaire more than once, had played with evolutionary opinions—see chiefly “Philosophie Générale: Metaphysique, Morale et Théologie,” Oeuvres Complètes, (1785), Tome 40, p. 16 ff. He wrote: “L'Imagination se complait d'abord à voir le passage imperceptible de la matière brute a la matière organisée, des plantes aux zoophytes, de ces zoophytes aux animaux, de ceux-ci à l'homme, de l'homme aux génies, de ces génies revêtus d'un petit corps aérien à des substances immatérielles; et … jusqu' à Dieu même… mais le plus parfait des génies crées par l'Etre suprême peutil devenir Dieu? n'y a-t-il pas l'infini entre Dieu et lui? … n'y a-t-il pas visiblement un vide entre le singe et l'homme?” In: Diclionnaire Philosophique. Article: “Chaine des Etres Créés.”

63 Hayes, , op. cit. p. 11. Hayes rightly stresses the strong practical morale of all these early materialists. He explains “this curious divorce of morals from beliefs” by “what later sociologists have described as a time lag” (p. 130). This explanation, however appears rather weak if one recalls that, on the other hand, materialists who, like Haeckel in Germany or Vacher de Lapouge in France, had left the calm of stiudies and research for propaganda activities, did not greatly suffer from such a time-lag; that, on the other hand, their contemporaries who were not tinged by their materialistic doctrines, such as Barrès and Co. in France, were very practical adherents of the perverse brutality which swept France during the Dreyfus Affair. The sudden decay of morals in the Western world seems to be caused less by an autonomous development of certain “ideas” than by a series of new political events and new political and social problems, which confronted a bewildered and confused humanity.

64 Such was the title of the widely read book of Fr. Galton, published in 1869, which caused a flood of literature about the same topic in the following decades.

65 The most important works of this kind are: Huxley, Thomas, The Struggle for Existence in Human Society, (1888). His main thesis: The fall of civilizations is necessary only as long as birth-rate is uncontrolled. Kidd, Benjamin, Social Evolution, (1894). Crozier, John B., History of Intellectual Development on the Lines of Modern Evolution, (18971901). Pearson, Karl, National Life(1901), Professor of Eugenics at London University, was among the first to describe progress as akind of impersonal monster which devours everything that happens to be in its way. Harvey, Charles H., The Biology of British Politics (1904), argues that by strict control of the “struggle for life” within the nation, a nation could become all-powerful for the inevitable fight with other people for existence. “A Biological View of Our Foreign Policy” was published by P. Michel, Charles in Saturday Review, London, 02, 1896.

66 See especially K. Pearson, op. cit., But Fr.Galton, had already stated: “I wish to emphasize the fact that the improvement of the natural gifts of future generations of the human race is largely under our control.” op. cit. (ed. 1892), p. xxvi.

67 See: Testament of John Davidson (1908).

68 See: Bodelsen, C. A., Studies in Mid-Viclorian Imperialism (1924), p. 22 ff.

69 See:Damce, E. H., The Victorian Illusion (1928). “Imperialism began with a book. … Dilke's Greater Britain.…”

70 “We are not cleverer than the Hindu, our minds are not richer or larger than his. We cannot astonish him as we astonish the barbarian by putting before him ideas that he never dreamt of.” (ed. 1914), pp. 255–256.

71 Two Lectures on South Africa.

72 “Saxondom is with us, whether you see it or.… not historians have concentrated upon constitutional issues only because they are blind to the issues that matter. Half the world is English: What about the rest?” Quoted from Damce, , op. cit., p. 161.

73 See Damce, , op. cit., p. 161.

74 This motif is strongest with Froude who “wishes to retain the colonies because he thought it possible to reproduce in them a simpler state of society and a nobler way of life than were possible in industrial England.” Bodelsen, C. A. op. cit., p. 199. Seeley's, Expansion of England was planned in the same way: “When we have accustomed ourselves to contemplate the whole Empire together tnd we call it all England we shall see that here too is a United States,” p. 184.

75 It would lead us too far here to discuss the religious origin, the secularization, and the final perversions of this idea which ended shamefully in the different pan-movements of our century.

76 For the same phenomenon in France see Comte, Auguste, Discours sur l'Ensemble du Positivisme (1848), in which he expressed the hope for a united organized, regenerated humanity under the leadership—“présidence”—of France, p. 384 ff.

77 Monypenny, W. F. and Buckle, G. E., The Life of Benjamin Disraeli Earl of Beaconsfield (New York, 1929) Vol. I, Book 3.

78 This peculiar tendency of Disraeli's political convictions is stressedby all his biographers. It is most clearly expressed in his study of the life of his friend Lord Ceorge Bentinck in which he stated: “The truth is, progress and reaction, are but words to mystify the millions.… the vicissitudes of history find their main solution—all is race” and in his novel Endymion in which he defines: “It (Race) is the key to history… Language and religion do not make race. There is only one thing which makes a race and that is blood.”

79 “Power and influence we should exercise in Asia; consequently in Eastern Europe; consequently in Western Europe.” (Monypenny-Buckle, , op. cit., II, p. 210). But “If ever Europe by her shortsightedness falls into an inferior and exhausted state, for England there will remain an illustrious future.” (Ibid., I, Book IV, ch. 2). For “England is no longer a mere European power.… she is really more an Asiatic power than a European.” (Ibid., II, p. 201).

80 Burke, , op. cit., p. 4243: “The power of the House of Commons.… is indeed great; and long may it be able to preserve its greatness.… end it will do so, as long as it can keep the breaker of the law in India from becoming the maker of law for England.” About the “backward and inward effect” of empire-making see: Barker, Ernest, Ideas and Ideals of the British Empire (Cambridge, 1941), p. 33.

81 The most interesting example of these writings isCarthill's, A. The Lost Dominion (1924).

82 It is very interesting to note that one of the most violent and uncompromising foes of democracy in England, SirStephen, James F., for whom equality and liberty were “big names for a small thing” (op. cit. p. 253 and passim), confessed as early as 1883, “that there is no transaction in the history of England of which wehave more just cause to be proud.…than the establishment of the Indian Empire.” See: Foundations of the Government of India,” in The Nineteenth Century, No. LXXX 10 1883.

83 In his novel Coningsby, quoted from Wit and Wisdom of Benjamin Disraeli (New York, 1881), p. 289.

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