An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853–1855) by Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau is a voluminous work; while originally intended as a work of philosophical enquiry, it is today considered as one of the earliest examples of scientific racism.
Expanding upon Boulainvilliers' use of ethnography to defend the Ancien Regime against the claims of the Third Estate, de Gobineau aimed for an explanatory system universal in scope: namely, that race is the primary force determining world events. Using scientific disciplines as varied as linguistics and anthropology, De Gobineau divides the human species into three major groupings, white, yellow and black, claiming to demonstrate that "history springs only from contact with the white races." Among the white races, he distinguishes the Aryan race as the pinnacle of human development, comprising the basis of all European aristocracies.
De Gobineau's ideas found a new and receptive audience in the United States, and in German-speaking areas, at the end of the nineteenth century, becoming the inspiration for a host of racial theories, for example those of H.S. Chamberlain and Josiah Clark Nott.
In the dedication, Gobineau writes that he presents to His Majesty the fruits of his speculations and studies into the hidden causes of the "revolutions, bloody wars, and lawlessness" ("révolutions, guerres sanglantes, renversements de lois") that had been going on in Europe through many years. Gobineau uses a very picturesque language with expressions such as "descendant la lampe à la main dans les sentiers obscurs de la philosophie et de l’histoire" ("descending with the lamp in hand into the dim passages of philosophy and history"), which makes it sound more like something from a gothic novel than from a scientific text.
Further, Gobineau mentions that in less heroic times people may turn to the "grand shadows of past heroic times" and ask for advice; but that's not the way of doing things. Instead you need to make things happen, not hang around and wait for them to happen to you. The young, vigorous, virile, noble races have won over the older races, when these had lost the qualities that had made them winners in the first place.
Therefore, Gobineau claims, ethnicity is the most important question in history, and the inequality of races that make up a nation are sufficient to explain how the destinies of peoples are linked together.
In the same paragraph, where Gobineau writes this, he also mentions, just as an example, that by the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Great Britain, a new strength came about that ruled some of the peoples of that island by the sword of the illustrious ancestors of his majesty, and now in one "August Person", two branches of the same nation have been united in one royal house, which draws its glorious throne rights from distant sources of a most heroic origin.
In 1714, prince-elector (Kurfürst) George of Hanover had become king of Great Britain, and the personal union between Hanover and Great Britain remained until the accession of Queen Victoria to the British throne in 1837. Hanover itself was occupied by the French in 1803; but the electorate was restored in 1813, and in 1814 Hanover was made a kingdom.
In 1849 Prussia had suggested a plan for a German federation, including the Habsburg monarchy, but under Prussian leadership. The king of Hanover had first supported this plan, but Austrian diplomacy made him change his mind and support a coalition hostile to the Prussian plan. George V, who became king in 1851, continued this policy. During the war between Austria and Prussia in 1866, Hanover supported Austria and was after the Prussian victory made a Prussian province.
Possibly Gobineau with his dedication had tried to suggest that George V stopped supporting the Habsburg emperor and make himself a candidate as leader of the German states.
In Vol I, chapter 11, "Les différences ethniques sont permanantes" ("The ethnic differences are permanent"), Gobineau writes that "Adam is the originator of our white species" ("Adam soit l’auteur de notre espèce blanche"), and creatures not part of the white race are not part of that species.
By this Gobineau refers to his division of humans into three main races: white, black, and yellow. The biblical division into Hamites, Semites, and Japhetites is for Gobineau a division within the white race. In general, Gobineau considers the Bible to be a reliable source of actual history.
Vol I, chapter 16, the final chapter of that volume, carries the long superscript "Récapitulation; caractères respectifs des trois grandes races; effects sociaux des mélanges; supérorité du type blanc et, dans ce type, de la famille ariane", or, in English, "Recapitulation; respective characters of the three great races; social effects of [racial] mixtures; superiority of the white type and, within that type, of the Aryan family". Gobineau claims that there have been no more than ten great civilizations, and that they have all been started by the white race. These civilizations are:
In Vol VI, chapter 7, "Les indigènes américans" ("The native Americans"), Gobineau discusses the racial status of the native Americans and ends up suggesting that at least the royal families of the three American civilization groups mentioned above (8.-10.) were white, even Aryans of Scandinavian origin.
Josiah Clark Nott translated Arthur de Gobineau's "Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines" into English. Nott later became a leader of the polygenist movement, suggesting that whites and blacks were two distinct species. Gobineau's work has been republished several times, most recently by the white nationalist Noontide Press.
The German translation first appeared in 1898 and was translated by Ludwig Schemann.
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