I wrote a preamble to this piece relating it to a recent debate over postmodernism and Enlightenment. Since it got a bit overlong, I decided to repost as a standalone entry. But you can still read Goldner’s excellent essay on “Race and the Enlightenment” below.
Pre-Enlightenment phase: Spain, Jews, and Indians1
It is not often recognized that, prior to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the period which Western history calls the Enlightenment, the concept of race did not exist.
It is still less often recognized that the origin of the concept of race, in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, in very specific social circumstances, was preceded by centuries of a very different vision of Africans2 and New World Indians, which had to be eradicated before the concept of race could be invented, expressing a new social practice in new social relations.
In the current climate, in which the Enlightenment is under attack from many specious viewpoints, it is important to make it clear from the outset that the thesis of this article is emphatically not that the Enlightenment was “racist,” still less that it has validity only for “white European males.” It is rather that the concept of race was not accidentally born simultaneously with the Enlightenment, and that the Enlightenment’s “ontology,” rooted in the new science of the seventeenth century, created a vision of human beings in nature which inadvertently provided weapons to a new race-based ideology which would have been impossible without the Enlightenment. Prior to the Enlightenment, Europeans generally divided the known world between Christians, Jews, Muslims, and “heathens”;3 beginning around the 1670s, they began to speak of race, and color-coded hierarchies of races.
What was this alternative “epistemological grid” through which, prior to the 1670s, the West encountered the “Other”?
Part of the answer is to be found in the impact of late medieval heresy on the ways in which the West understood the New World, and its peoples, for more than 150 years after 1492.
One of the most important sources of the heretical ideas and movements which ultimately destroyed medieval Christianity was the Calabrian abbot, Joachim di Fiore, whose work resonated through centuries of heresy and is often decried by detractors as a forerunner of Marxism.4 Writing at the end of the twelfth century, and sponsored by three popes, Joachim wrote a prophetic vision of history consisting of three ages: the age of the Father, which was the epoch of the Old Testament; the age of the Son, or the epoch of the New Testament, whose end was near, and the third age of the Holy Spirit, in which all humanity would enjoy ever-lasting saintliness and bliss. The heretical potential of Joachim’s historical scheme was that in the third era, mankind would transcend the institution of the Church itself.
Joachim’s particular interest for the questions at hand is his later impact on the so-called “Spiritual Franciscans.” In the thirteenth century, in response to the popularity of the heresies, and particularly the Cathar heresy in southern France, the Church created two new monastic orders, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, with the aim of parrying heretical ideas through an appearance of reform. Important in the latter regard was the “apostolic poverty,” the imitation of Christ among the poor, pursued by the Franciscans. When, after decades of success, the Franciscan order had in turn become wealthy and had begun to interpret the vow of “apostolic poverty” as an “inner state of mind,” the Spiritual Franciscans broke away to return to the founding orthodoxy. Their interest for the origins of the concept of race lies in their absorption of Joachimite ideas and their later influence, at the end of the fifteenth century, on Christopher Columbus.
Columbus’ diaries and Book of Prophecies show messianic pretensions of the highest order. It was through Columbus, first of all, that the prophecies of Joachim di Fiore passed into the ideology of Spanish conquest in the New World. Prior to 1492, Columbus had lived for several years with the Franciscans of the monastery of La Rabida, near Huelva, in southwestern Spain. Though the idea was hardly unique to Joachim, this group, in Spain, shared in the general crusader conception of the late Middle Ages that the millennium would be inaugurated by the reconquest of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. The idea of the unification of the world under Western Christendom had already inspired Franciscan missions to the Great Khan in China in the thirteenth century with the aim of converting China to the crusade against Islam. In the fourteenth century, a navigator’s guide called the Catalan Atlas showed “Ethiopia” (which meant Africa) under the rule of the legendary black monarch Prester John,5 who as a Christian was viewed as another potential ally against the Muslims, if only he could be found. The Portuguese voyages along the African coast after 1415 were partially inspired by a mission to enlist Prester John in such a crusade. Columbus conceived his own expeditions as an attempt to reach the court of the Great Khan for the same purpose, and he took along a sailor fluent in Arabic and Hebrew: Arabic for the Chinese court, and Hebrew for the Lost Tribes of Israel, believed to be living in Asia. Columbus may have heard of a prophecy, attributed to Joachim di Fiore and current among Spanish Franciscans, that the man who would recapture the Holy Land would come from Spain.6 He did use the assertion of the Biblical Apocrypha of Esdras that the world was six parts land to one part water to buttress his claim that Asia could be easily reached by sailing west. On the third voyage, off the mouth of the Pernambuco river on the (now) Venezuelan coast, Columbus reported that such a large river must surely be one of the four rivers in the Garden of Eden, and was certain that the terrestrial paradise was close by.7
It is therefore clear that the messianic ideas of Joachim and Columbus are, to put it mildly, from a different “cosmology” than our own. However, to see their implications for the appearance of the idea of race, some historical background is necessary.
In the eleventh century, just before the medieval Christian West embarked upon the Crusades in its attempt to take the Holy Land from the Muslims, it would have been a daring observer indeed who foresaw the rise of the West to world hegemony. The West existed in the long shadow of Islamic civilization, which in the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and Spain was just reaching its apogee and elsewhere still expanding vigorously, and of Byzantium (the Orthodox Christian East) which was arguably far more the heir of Greco-Roman antiquity than semi-barbaric western Europe. These civilizations in turn lived in the shadow of Sung China.
However, the eleventh century medieval West was in fact already embarked on a social, economic and cultural recovery and expansion that soon posed serious problems for its more powerful rivals. This recovery continued until the late thirteenth century, when a system of world trade already connected Venice, Barcelona, Flanders and the Baltic region with the Levant, India and China.8 By the early fourteenth century, however, the medieval West (like much of the rest of the world) was in total crisis, culminating in the Black Death of 1348-1349, from which it required more than a century to recover.9 Between 1358 and 1381, in the aftermath of the Black Death, there were major popular uprisings in France, Flanders, and England, weakening (or, in the case of England, destroying10 the old order of serfdom. In Italy, in 1378, the Ciompi uprising in Florence was a proto-proletarian rebellion.
This fourteenth century breakdown crisis created in Europe a situation of “interregnum,” in which the institutions of the medieval period, the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire, and feudal kingdoms such as France and England sank into chaos and interminable war; the interregnum lasted until the consolidation of the absolutist states (above all in England, France and Spain) of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Into this interregnum moved high medieval messianism, millenarianism and heresy.
Both before, and well after, the general breakdown crisis of feudalism, during the twelfth and thirteenth century phase of high medieval expansion, western Europe underwent a series of social explosions that continued until the middle of the seventeenth century. These heresies and millenarian movements extended from the Cathars in southern France beginning ca. 1146, to the English Lollards and Bohemian Hussites at the end of the fourteenth century and the Anabaptists of the German Reformation in the 1520s and 1530s, to the radical sects of the English Revolution in the 1640s. Joachimite ideas of the “third age” beyond the Church were only one of many theological sources of these movements.
The English Revolution, which reached its most radical phase in 1648/1649, was the last major insurrection in which such ideologies played a role… Figures of the radical left of the revolution, such as the Digger Winstanley, saw private property as the result of the Fall from Paradise, and articulated a kind of Christian communism as the overcoming of the Fall. The English Revolution was the last act of the Reformation, and its radical wing,11 the Levellers, Diggers, Muggletonians, Ranters and Fifth Monarchy Men, the last mass social movement in which Adamic ideas of the overcoming of the Fall came to the fore. The coming of capitalist society was henceforth increasingly articulated in the new secular garb of the Enlightenment, which began to take hold in the 1670s.12
The second, “Glorious” Revolution of 1688/1689 coincided with a large jump in England’s participation in the new Atlantic slave economy. Prior to its takeover of Jamaica in 1655, England’s New World presence had been far overshadowed by Spain and Portugal, consisting only of Barbados, St. Kitt’s, some smaller islands, and the new North American colonies (at a time when the Caribbean was the far bigger economic prize, as it would remain well into the eighteenth century).
A mere quarter century after the elimination of the radical wing of the English Revolution by Cromwell, the idea of race, and of Enlightenment generally, moved into the space created by the ebb of millenarian utopia. It is here that we see the final disappearance, ca. 1675, of the heretical imagination and its social program. With the consolidation of English constitutional monarchy, following the consolidation of French absolutism, the post-medieval “interregnum,” in which the radical social movements, from the Cathars, by way of the Lollards and Hussites, to the Anabaptists and Diggers, could still speak the language of religion, was over. This process ended just as England and France, the countries par excellence of the Enlightenment, were beginning to surpass Spain and Portugal in the Atlantic slave trade. To better understand what the Enlightenment displaced, it is necessary to look more closely at the ideological world which produced Columbus and the Spanish world empire.
From antisemitism to white supremacy, 1492-1676
“Race,” as blood consciousness, an idea unknown to antiquity and to the Middle Ages,13 first appeared in fifteenth century antisemitism in Spain as a new phenomenon, but still entangled in the old “cosmology” of Christian, Jew, Muslim, and heathen;14 it then migrated to the New World in the Spanish subjugation of the (“heathen”) native American population (and in the further actions of the Inquisition against Jews, both in Spain and the New World). 150 years later, it re-migrated to the newly-emergent British empire, which was picking up the pieces of the decline of Spanish power, (in part by posing as a humane alternative to the widely-believed (and largely true) “black legend” of Spanish cruelty). In the second half of the seventeenth century, with the defeat (as indicated) of the radical wing of the English Revolution, the triumph of the scientific revolution (above all in Newton, and theorized into a politics by Hobbes), the burgeoning British slave trade, and the revolution of 1688, this evolution culminated in the new idea of race. The collapse of the idea of Adam,15 the common ancestor of all human beings, was an unintended side effect of the Enlightenment critique of religion, which was aimed first of all at the social power of the Church and, after the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at religion generally. But it was also the necessary “epistemological” prelude to the appearance, in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, of a color coded hierarchy of races. Locke drove out Habakkuk, as Marx said, and Hobbes drove out Shem, Ham, and Japheth.16
In the waning phase of more than 200 years of Anglo-American dominance of world capitalism, it is easy to forget that England was a relative latecomer in the 500 years of Western hegemony, and the significance of that latecomer status for ideology. The impulse, conditioned by the Anglo-French Enlightenment, to overlook the entwining of the Enlightenment and racism, is part of the same impulse that downplays the significance of pre-Enlightenment developments in Spain in shaping the modern world.
The initial European experience of proto-racism17 was the appearance of high medieval antisemitism, where it had largely receded during the lower Middle Ages (sixth-eleventh centuries). England expelled its Jews in 1290; France did the same in 1305, and Spain, where Jews had prospered for centuries under both Muslim and Christian rule, expelled them in 1492.18 It is interesting to note that this new19 antisemitism came into existence at the time of incipient national consciousness20 and also on the eve21 of the feudal breakdown crisis; the accelerating transformation of “Christian kingdoms” into nations eroded the older, tolerated citizenship of Jews (and, in Spain, also Muslims) based on religious identification, often linked to relative self-administration within the confines of the ghetto. In the English, French and Spanish22 cases, (the three major European countries which consolidated national monarchies by the late fifteenth century, and developed absolutisms in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) the expulsion of the Jews was also often a pretext for the confiscation of wealth by the heavily-indebted monarchies (often indebted to Jewish money-lenders, as Christians were at least theoretically proscribed from charging interest). In deeply-fragmented Germany and Italy, on the other hand, where early modern national unification was blocked by the medieval legacy of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, Jewish expulsion was a local and sporadic phenomenon, and Italy received many Jews expelled from Spain. Thus the correlation between antisemitism and the new national consciousness (the latter, like race itself, being unknown in the ancient or medieval worlds23 is one compelling reason to see the appearance of racism as a byproduct of early modern developments.24
In fifteenth century Spain, antisemitism moved from a late-medieval “communal” phenomenon to a modern ideology of blood consciousness, and it is here that the difference between the one and the other is clearest. But Spain (which actually was still divided between the two major kingdoms of Aragon and Castile until 1469) was preoccupied for centuries with the crusade to reconquer the Iberian peninsula from the Muslims, a crusade which was only completed with the fall of Granada in 1492. The Inquisition began its activities in Spain in 1478, and its targets were first of all Jews and suspected marranos, or Jews converted to become “new Christians” and engaged in clandestine practice of the old ways.
The foundations of the Spanish empire in the New World were laid under the so-called Catholic kings, Ferdinand and Isabel, the sponsors of Columbus. But in 1519, through dynastic marriage, the already powerful Spanish empire became the administrative center of the largest Western empire since Rome, the Holy Roman Empire of the Habsburg Charles V. To the already considerable Spanish lands were added the Habsburg domains in central Europe, and the Netherlands, and after 1527 two-thirds of Italy fell under Spanish dominion. The Habsburg world empire was the hegemon of European politics, involving itself directly in the internal affairs of all countries (such as France, England, and Scotland) it did not directly control. With the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, (aunt of Charles V), it appeared briefly that England as well might be integrated by dynastic alliances into the Habsburg sphere. With the marriage of Philip II to Mary Tudor, English queen from 1553 to 1558, this appeared even more likely, expressed first of all in an exponential increase in the persecution of Protestants.
European power politics, including politics in the New World, for more than 150 years after 1492 revolved around the rivalry between Spain and France, a rivalry ultimately won by France by the middle of the seventeenth century. This history can hardly be sketched here, but it must be kept in mind that England, in 1492 and for a long time thereafter, was a second-tier power undergoing the social transformation that culminated, after 1688, in the overthrow of absolutism, and did not begin serious empire building until the 1620s, and really not until the 1650s, when the revolution had ebbed. The story of relations between Spain and England, from 1530 onward, became completely enmeshed in the international politics of the Protestant Reformation, (which constantly reached into domestic politics), and remained into the seventeenth century the story of England’s attempt to escape the orbit of the Spanish empire. Catholic monarchs such as Mary Tudor (1553-1558) and the Stuarts after 1603 were considered “Spanish” and “Papist,”25 and were the targets of popular resentment for that reason. England raided Spanish shipping, sent explorations looking for the mythical Northwest Passage to Asia26 (and thereby began serious trade in the Baltic and with Russia) aided the Dutch rebellion against Spain after 1566 and fought off the Armada of Philip II in 1588, but the English managed to avoid involvement in the ongoing Franco-Spanish wars on the continent, and only after emerging from the first phase of its revolution (1640-1649) was it able to intrude boldly into the scramble for empire with its massive repression in Ireland, in its three successful wars against the Dutch, and its capture of Jamaica. Thus England’s serious challenge to Spanish (and Dutch) power in the New World and in the slave trade began only in the mid-seventeenth century, after the turmoil of its (first) revolution, when the slave trade, though already considerable, was nonetheless only one-fourth of the volume it reached in the eighteenth century, under Anglo-French ascendancy.27 Only after the overthrow of the Stuarts in 1688 (by which time France had replaced Spain as the major Catholic power), and English successes in the Nine Years’ War (1689-1697) and the war of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713, fought to prevent a united Franco-Spanish — and Catholic — dynasty under the control of Louis XIV) could England feel itself secure from Spanish and “Papist” interference in its internal politics.28
It is this Anglo-Spanish entanglement, overlapping the Reformation and Counter-Reformation wars, the ultimate defeat of English absolutism, and the English, French, Dutch and Spanish rivalry for world domination which “mediate” between the appearance of the first ideas of racial purity and blood consciousness in fifteenth century Spanish antisemitism, their extension to the inhabitants of the New World, and the full articulation of a race theory in the Anglo-French Enlightenment. It is through this history that Jews, Indians and Africans are the successive “Others” in the development of a full-fledged Western racial doctrine.
The 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain created a massive Jewish diaspora in Portugal,29 North Africa, Italy, the Netherlands, the Ottoman empire, and ultimately in the New World.30 But even more significant, for our purposes, were the large-scale conversions of Jews into so-called “New Christians,” conversions which allowed Jews to remain in Spain and Portugal, while still leaving them vulnerable to the Inquisition and the blood purity laws.31 The New Christians were therefore able not only to arrive in the New World in different monastic orders such as the Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits; they were probably involved in the better part of the Spanish high culture of the sixteenth century siglo de oro.32 Finally, Jewish messianic ideas, mixed with such currents as the Joachimite millenarianism discussed earlier, filtered into the Christian communist utopias which some religious orders, above all the Franciscans,33 attempted to build in the New World with the indigenous peoples subjugated by the Spanish and Portuguese empires. The most notorious were the Spiritual Franciscans in Mexico, who came to the conclusion that Europe was too decadent for their ideal of “apostolic poverty,” learned Nahuatl and planned a communist utopia with the Indians, until they were discovered and repressed by the Church,34 but similar messianic utopias were advocated or enacted by the Jesuits in Peru and Paraguay, or in the prophetic sermons of the Jesuit Antonio Vieira in Brazil.35
One should not idealize these currents, nor exaggerate their weight in the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires, but neither should they be judged with anachronistic criteria of the present. They were all crushed, defeated or marginalized by the opposition of local colon elites with no scruples about massacre and forced labor.36 They did not question the evangelization of the New World, nor the empires themselves, nor did they doubt that Christianity was the unique Truth; few thought that they had anything to learn from indigenous cosmologies.37 No one in the sixteenth century, from either the Christian or Muslim Mediterranean world, where slavery had been practiced (without a color code) for centuries, called slavery as an institution into question,38 and they were no different. They sought the support of the monarchs to curb the cruelty of the local elites, a support which, when obtained, mainly remained a dead letter in practice. The point is rather that their messianic utopias did include Indians and Africans and that their ethnocentrism was universalist in the medieval monotheist sense of Christian/Jewish/Muslim vs. heathen, not yet a racial doctrine.
An important transition from the era of Spanish and Portuguese dominance in the sixteenth century to the emergence of northern European (English, French, and Dutch) empires and control of the slave trade in the seventeenth century is the belief that the New World inhabitants were descendants of the “lost tribes” of Israel. It is here that the connection is made between the Spanish expulsion of the Jews, the diaspora of Jews and New Christians in different New World projects, and the ultimate appearance of the Enlightenment doctrine of race.
The encounter with the New World shook European culture after 1492 as profoundly as the Copernican revolution after 1543, if not more so. The flood of cosmography, travel accounts, new plants and animals, and above all previously unknown peoples and cultures stretched the doors of perception past the breaking point. Europe had notions, however fantastic, of the Old World civilizations such as Islam, India and China; it had notions, however fantastic, of ancient Egypt, and the empires of Alexander and the Caesars; it had within its own borders Celts, Slavs and other peoples whose existence converged on various current ideas of the “primitive.” Even encountering peoples such as the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas, however exotic they may have seemed,39 still did not challenge a concept of “civilization” they knew from Old World experience. But nothing they could mine from tradition quite prepared them for the encounter with “primitives,” “peoples without the state,” in the Caribbean, the Amazon or later in North America. To situate such peoples for themselves, they could only draw on the legacies of the two strands of Greco-Roman classicism and Judeo-Christian monotheism. Columbus, as was indicated earlier, knew at the mouth of the Pernambuco in 1498 that he was near the garden of Eden, and for more than 150 years Europeans would debate whether the New World peoples were the Lost Tribes of Israel, the descendants of Ham, the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the Biblical Ophir, descendants of a Phoenician voyage, the survivors of lost Atlantis, the descendants of Gog and Magog, or the peoples of King Arthur’s island of Avalon.40 The Renaissance had for half a century before the discoveries been excavating a vast lode of the lost, or half-buried legacy of classical antiquity; the heretical currents which prepared the way for the Reformation had been reviving the idea (against the whole weight of the Church) of the “original community” and the “apostolic poverty” of Christ and the disciples, and this mass of cultural memory came rising to the surface, like a sunken cathedral, just in time to provide the “imagination” for the encounter with a previously unknown continent. When, 150 years later, the new tools of scientific and rational critique had turned the battle of the “ancients and the moderns” in favor of the latter, and had destroyed this “epistemological grid” provided by tradition, the West could invent the pseudoscientific idea of race.
The theory that the inhabitants of the New World were descendants of the “lost tribes of Israel” is, once again, the link between antisemitism in Spain and the beginnings of race theory in the rising English, French and Dutch world empires of the seventeenth century. Europe had the historical experience of Africans; the new race theory first emerged out of the debate about the Indians. The “lost tribes” theory was first articulated by various Spanish writers on the New World in the sixteenth century, and, as indicated, some of the Franciscan New Christians were struck by Old Testament parallels in Aztec culture.41 But the theory first created a sensation when systematized by the Amsterdam rabbi Menasseh ben Israel (a marrano and teacher of Spinoza) in his 1650 book Esperanza de Israel [Hope of Israel].
Menasseh’s book told of a Jewish traveler in South America who was convinced that there were Hebrew words in the language of his Indian guide, and who concluded from conversation with the guide that “a lost tribe of Israelites still lived in the South American highland,”42 and therefore went to meet them. The traveller returned to Amsterdam and told his tale to Menasseh ben Israel, where its messianic overtones in 1648 fit into the overall apocalyptic climate of the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the most radical phase of the English revolution (where the Fifth Monarchy Men were at the peak of their influence), and a massive pogrom against Jews in the Ukraine.43 Menasseh’s book came to the attention of Cromwell, who met him in 1655 to consider the readmission of Jews to England,44 which began the following year.
But in the very year of Menasseh’s meeting with Cromwell, another book appeared in Europe that marked the final phase of the pre-Enlightenment debate on the meaning of the New World peoples. This was Isaac La Peyrere’s Pre-Adamitae [The Pre-Adamites].45 Using the most advanced methods of the new Biblical criticism, La Peyrere’s book seized on internal inconsistencies in scripture to argue that the Bible itself proves that there were people before Adam. For La Peyrere this meant the overthrow of the Bible’s monogenetic explanation of the origins of humanity (and therefore of the peoples of the New World), and the truth of a polygenetic view of multiple origins. La Peyrere’s book was denounced all over Europe by Catholics, Protestants and Jews. (No one dared to defend it publicly until Voltaire, a century later, and he was still an isolated voice). La Peyrere was arrested a few months after Pre-Adamitae appeared, was threatened with the gravest consequences, and had to convert to Catholicism and go to Rome to personally apologize to the Pope to exculpate himself.46 Nevertheless, his book became popular with the radical milieus of the period, such as the remnants of the defeated left wing of the English Revolution. The Digger Gerard Winstanley, like many others, saw in Pre-Adamitae support for a completely allegorical reading of the Bible.47
La Peyrere’s book had been daringly radical Bible criticism in the mid-seventeenth century, and he saw all peoples, Adamites and pre-Adamites, saved in the messianic recapture of Jerusalem. But others seized on his demolition of the authority of the monogenetic account in scripture and used it to justify the newly-emerging racist color code. In 1680, in Virginia, the minister Morgan Godwin, in a work called Negro’s and Indians Advocate, polemicized against people in the American colonies who were using polygenetic arguments influenced by La Peyrere to deny that blacks and Indians were human. In 1774, Edward Long’s History of Jamaica used polygenetic theory to precisely this end. In 1844, Alexander von Hulmboldt, the German scientist, argued in the first volume of his book Kosmos that it was necessary to uphold the monogenetic theory against evidence “as the safe means of avoiding classifying people as superior and inferior.”
The death of Adam, together with the defeat of the English radicals, had by the 1650s closed the Joachimite cycle, and ended the debate that had begun in 1492. The triumph of the moderns over the ancients meant that the models and the “epistemological grid” of both Greco-Roman classicism and Judeo-Christian messianism were exploded, either for interpreting new peoples or for interpreting the motion of bodies in space. The epicenter of the West was now the Anglo-French rivalry for world empire. The first phase of political economy began, and one of its first practitioners, Sir William Petty, wrote the first known treatises proposing a world hierarchy of races, The Scale of Creatures (1676). Petty groped toward the definition of an “intermediate stage” between man and animal, in which he could locate the “savage”:
Of man itself there seems to be several species, To say nothing of Gyants & Pygmies or of that sort of small men who have little speech… For of these sorts of men, I venture to say nothing, but that ’tis very possible there may be Races and generations of such…48 …there be others [differences — L.G.] more considerable, that is, between the Guiny Negroes & the Middle Europeans; & of Negroes between those of Guiny and those who live about the Cape of Good Hope, which last are the Most beastlike of all the Souls (?Sorts) of Men whith whom our Travellers arre well acquainted. I say that the Europeans do not only differ from the aforementioned Africans in Collour…but also…in Naturall Manners, & in the internall Qualities of their Minds.49
Here were the unanticipated extrapolations of La Peyrere’s radical Biblical criticism. Here is one of the founders of political economy also founding an unprecedented color-coded world hierarchy of races. A truly modern figure, indeed. Henceforth, as the Atlantic slave trade rose exponentially to its eighteenth century peak, the naturalistic world view of the Enlightenment could impose itself, sadly tied in so many cases to such an “epistemological grid.”50 The New World Indian was no longer a possible descendant of the Lost Tribes; rather, as the Puritans said, “Satan had possessed the Indian until he became virtually a beast.” Where there had once been the kingdom of Prester John, there now was only the Guinea coast, the Bight of Benin and the Middle Passage.
Henceforth, the concept of race could be invented.
The Anglo-French Enlightenment and beyond
The animal is immediately one with its life activity, nor distinct from it. The animal is its life activity. Man makes his life activity itself into an object of will and consciousness. It is not a determination with which he immediately identifies. [The animal] produces in a one-sided way while man produces universally… The animal only produces itself while man reproduces the whole of nature.
— Karl Marx, 1844
They enslaved the Negro, they said, because he was not a man, and when he behaved like a man they called him a monster.
— CLR James, The Black Jacobins (1938)
The only race is the rat race.
— wall graffiti, London rioters, 1981
The Western51 invention of the idea of race in the seventeenth century, at the beginning of the Enlightenment, was not merely a degradation of the peoples of color to whom it was applied.52 Such a degradation had to be preceded, and accompanied, by a comparable degradation of the view of man within Western culture itself. A society that sees the racial “Other” in terms of animality must first experience that animality within itself. “If you’re going to keep someone in the gutter,” as a black activist of the sixties put it, “you’re going to be down there with them.”
Part one showed how rationalist Biblical criticism in the mid-seventeenth century tore away the last of the myths, drawn from Greco-Roman classicism and Judeo-Christian messianism, which purported to explain the origins of the New World Indians in terms of traditions then known to Europeans. This critique unintentionally left in its wake a new, purely biological vision of “natural man” which, in some instances (such as the North American colonies), fused with the new white supremacist color-code justifying the Atlantic slave trade, and the previously unknown idea of race, the identification of cultural attributes with physical features such as skin color, was born.
It is now necessary to situate the Enlightenment between what preceded it and what followed it, in order to see how it got caught up in this definition of human beings as animals, which underlies any association of cultural attributes with skin color or physical features. As stated in Part One, the Enlightenment as such is neither inherently racist nor valid only for “white European males.” But the Enlightenment today cannot be defended merely in terms of the Enlightenment alone. Its limited rationality can only be adequately understood and seen in true proportion by those who see a higher rationality. The best of the Enlightenment, taken by itself, is disarmed against the worst of the Enlightenment.
An ideology is best understood when seen against the background from which it began, and against the future in which it will end.
The view of human beings as animals is inseparable from the birth of bourgeois and capitalist society, which simultaneously gave rise to two interrelated questions which that society has never solved, and will never solve: the question of the proletariat, and the question of the underdeveloped world. (By “animality” in this article I mean what Marx meant in the above quote: someone — i.e., a wage laborer — compelled by society to identify themselves with their life activity. From this fundamental degradation flow others, namely compulsory identification by any presumably “fixed” “natural” quality, such as skin color, gender, or sexual orientation.)
The philosophically-disinclined reader is asked to bear with the following, for in a critique of the Enlightenment, it is necessary to first set up the question philosophically. Ideas by themselves of course do not make history. To go beyond the idea of race — the connection between biology and cultural attributes which, for one strand of the Enlightenment, succeeded medieval religious identities — the mere idea of the human race would be sufficient. But before locating these questions in the balance of real social forces where they are actually decided, it is necessary to know what the questions are. Once they are posed, it will be clear why the immediate attitudes on race and slavery of this or that Enlightenment thinker are not the real issue; the issue is rather the view of man of even the best of the Enlightenment which is ultimately disarmed for a critique of its bastard offspring.
The new society which arose out of the collapse of feudalism in early modern, pre-Enlightenment Europe, between 1450 and 1650, was revolutionary relative to any preexisting or then-contemporary society. Why? It was revolutionary because it connected the idea of humanity to the new idea of an “actual infinity.”53
What does this mean? In social terms, “infinity” in class societies prior to capitalism is the world of creativity, e.g. art, philosophy, science, usually monopolized by an elite, as well as improvements in the society’s relationship to nature, first in agriculture and then elsewhere, usually made by skilled craftsmen. “Infinity” here means innovations that allow a society to reproduce itself at a higher level, by creating more “free surplus” for its members, or cultural innovation that anticipates or expresses those improvements in human freedom. (The word “infinite” is appropriate because the elasticity of these innovations is infinite.) These improvements in a society’s relationship to nature are universal and world-historical, beginning with stone and bronze tools, and societies that fail to make them run up against “natural barriers” (known today as “ecology crises”) to their existence and either stagnate or are destroyed, often by other societies. This freedom in their relationship to nature through such improvements is what distinguishes human beings from animals, which mainly do not “use tools” but which “are” tools (e.g. beavers, termites) in a fixed relationship to their environment.
Such improvements, once again, have occurred many times and in many places throughout human history. But history is also filled with examples of brilliant civilizations (such as Tang or particularly Sung China) where many such innovations were lost in blocked stagnation or terrible social retrogression. What was revolutionary about the bourgeois society which first appeared in Europe, initially in northern Italy and in Flanders ca. 1100, was that these innovations were institutionalized at the center of social life,54 as necessity. For the first time in history, a practical bridge was potentially established between the creative freedom, previously restricted to small elites, and society’s improvements in its relationship to nature.
It was this institutionalization which made possible the appearance of “actual infinity.” In the ancient (Greco-Roman) and medieval worlds, “infinity” was expressed in a limited way. The Greco-Roman elite had aristocratic values, and considered any relationship to material production55 to be utterly beneath itself, an attitude which meshed well with a “horror of the infinite” often expressed in their ideology. Medieval philosophy — largely shaped by Aristotle in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish thought — generally considered an “actual infinity” to be an abomination, often associated with blasphemy. It was exactly this “blasphemy” which was developed in the early modern period of capitalism by Nicholas of Cusa, Giordano Bruno, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
While these figures developed the concept of actual infinity in theological or philosophical terms, prior to the Enlightenment, its implications for the appearance of the concept of race can best be understood by looking ahead to its further development, in social terms, after the Enlightenment, from Kant via Hegel and Feuerbach to Marx. Hegel called Enlightenment (Newtonian) infinity “bad infinity.” The practical realization of pre-Enlightenment actual infinity by Marx retrospectively clarifies the impasse (and social relevance) of Enlightenment bad infinity, without an even longer philosophical detour.
Many people know Marx’s quip that communist man “will fish in the morning, hunt in the afternoon, and write criticism in the evening, without for all that being a fisherman, hunter or critic.” But the underlying theoretical meaning of that quip is not often grasped; it is usually understood merely to mean the overcoming of the division of labor, but it is rather more than that. It is the practical expression of what is meant here by “actual infinity.” It is the concrete expression of the overcoming of the state of animality, a reduction of human beings to their fixed life activity in the capitalist division of labor. Marx expressed the same idea more elaborately in the Grundrisse:
Capital’s ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labor beyond the limits of its natural paltriness, and thus creates the material elements for the development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labor therefore no longer appears as labor, but as the full development of activity itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared, because a historically created need has taken the place of the natural one.56
The “full development of activity itself” is the “practical” realization of actual infinity. It means that every specific activity is always the “external” expression of a more fundamental general activity, having an expanded version of itself as its own goal. In such a social condition, the immediate productive activity of freely-associated individuals would always be in reality self-(re)production aimed at the multiplication of human powers, including the innovation of new powers. Every activity relates back to the actor. “Actual infinity” in this sense is the practical presence of the general in every specific activity in the here and now. For the Enlightenment, an object was merely a thing; for Hegel and above all for Marx, an object is a relationship, mediated by a thing.
The link between the mechanist revolution of the seventeenth century and the attribution of animality to human beings is Newton’s theory of infinity. This — what Hegel called “bad infinity” — is the nub of the question. The infinity, or infinitesimal, of Newton’s calculus, which solved the problems of mathematically describing the motions of bodies in space and time, was an “asymptotic” procedure (with roots in Zeno’s paradox in Greek philosophy) involving the infinite division of space or time approaching a limit that was never reached. With Newton, infinity for the West became infinite repetition toward a goal that was never reached. (It was an appropriate conception for an era in which Man was an ideal to be approached but never attained). This infinity, as shall be seen, expressed the social reality of the new capitalist division of labor, as theorized by Adam Smith, who praised the social efficiency achieved by the relegation of the individual worker to the endless, lifelong repetition of one gesture.
Philosophical anthropology to race science, 1666-1853
With the emergence of this new social phenomenon of the relegation of the atomized individual to a single gesture, early capitalism transformed the human being into the wage worker who (as Marx put it in the quote used at the outset) was precisely identified with his/her life activity, that is into an animal. This was the degradation of the human, simultaneously with the subjugation of non-European peoples, into which the new concept of race could move, in the last decades of the seventeenth century, following the lead of Sir William Petty’s Scale of Creatures (1676).57 The Enlightenment could say that some (e.g. dark-skinned) people were animals and beasts of burden because the disappearance, under the blows of the new mechanistic science, of the earlier Greco-Roman or Judeo-Christian views of the human made it potentially possible, in the right circumstances, to see anyone as subhuman, starting with the laboring classes of Europe itself. (This potential would require 250 years to work itself out, from Malthus to the fascist paroxysm of Social Darwinist “living space” [Lebensraum] for the “master race”).
But it is necessary to be careful; not all Enlightenment theorists of the new idea of “race” were racists; some used the term in a descriptive anthropological sense without value judgment. What laid the foundation for the virulent nineteenth century theories of race was the taxonomic-classificatory “fixity of species” with which the Enlightenment replaced the older Christian view of the unity of man: “It is the assertion of biologically fixed, unchanging ‘races’ with different mental and moral value judgments (“higher,” “lower”) which became the decisive criterion for modern racism and a key argument for its propagation. Bernier, Buffon, Linnaeus, Kant, and Blumenbach develop their systems for the classification and hierarchy of humanity with extremely varied positions on slavery and on the humanity of “races” both outside Europe as well as among the “whites” who were increasingly dominant in world affairs.”58
The following is a chart of the major Enlightenment theories of race, with author, work and year of publication:
|Arca Noae (1666)||Japhetites (white), Semites (yellow) Hamites (black)
|Francois Bernier (1620-1688)||Nouvelle division de
la terre (1684)
|Europeans, Africans, Chinese, and Japanese, Lapps
|Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)||Systema naturae (1735)||Europaeus albus (white), Americanus rubesceus (red), Asiaticus luridus (yellow), Afer niger (black)
|François Buffon (1707-1788)||Histoire naturelle (1749)||Lapp Polar, Tartar, South Asian, European, Ethiopian, American
|Edward Long (1734-1813)||History of Jamaica||Genus homo: Europeans and related peoples; blacks; orangutans
|Johann Friedrich Blumenbach||De generis humanis varietate nativa (1775)||Caucasians; Mongolians; Ethiopians; Americans; Malays
|Immanuel Kant||Von den verschiedenen Rassen den Menschen (1775)||Whites, Negroes, Mongolian or Calmuckic race, the Hindu
|Christian Meiners (1747-1810)||Grundrisse der Geschichte der Menschheit (1775)||“light, beautiful” race, “dark, ugly” race
(The above chart, with small additions, is translated from I. Geiss, Geschichte des Rassismus, Frankfurt 1988, pp. 142-143)
The Enlightenment was, as such, neither racist nor an ideology of relevance only to “white European males.” Nevertheless, it presents the following conundrum. On one hand, the Western Enlightenment in its broad mainstream was indisputably universalist and egalitarian, and therefore created powerful weapons for the attack on any doctrine of racial supremacy; on the other hand, the Enlightenment, as the preceding chart shows, just as indisputably gave birth to the very concept of race, and some of its illustrious representatives believed that whites were superior to all others. This problem cannot be solved by lining up Enlightenment figures according to their views on slavery and white supremacy. Adam Smith, better known as the theoretician of the free market and apologist for the capitalist division of labor, attacked both, whereas Hobbes and Locke justified slavery, and such eminences as Thomas Jefferson, who favored abolition (however tepidly) and defended the French Revolution even in its Jacobin phase, firmly believed that blacks were biologically inferior to whites.
This kind of polling of Enlightenment figures for their views on slavery and race is, further, is an extremely limited first approach to the question, easily susceptible to the worst kind of anachronism. What was remarkable about the Enlightenment, seen in a world context, was not that some of its distinguished figures supported slavery and white supremacy but that significant numbers of them opposed both. As Part One showed, slavery as an institution flourished in the color-blind sixteenth century Mediterranean slave pool, and no participating society, Christian or Muslim, European, Turkish, Arab or African, questioned it. Well into the seventeenth century, Western attacks on New World slavery only attempted to curb its excesses. Radical Protestant sects in North America (the Mennonites, then the Quakers) were well ahead of secular Enlightenment figures in calling for outright abolition, between 1688 and 1740, and a political movement for abolition,59 again with religious groups more preponderant than secular Enlightenment figures, only emerged in the Anglo-American world in the final quarter of the eighteenth century, as the Enlightenment was culminating in the American and French Revolutions. There is no intrinsic relationship between Hume’s philosophical skepticism or Kant’s critique of it, and their common belief that whites were innately superior.60
Any critique of the limits of the Enlightenment, where the question of race is concerned, has to begin by acknowledging the radicalism of the best of the Enlightenment, for that side of the Enlightenment, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was radical in relation to the Western societies in which it appeared,61 and also radical relative to many non-Western societies it influenced. Readers of CLR James’ account of the Haitian Revolution will recall his description of the abolition of slavery in all colonies by the French National Assembly in February 1794, when the Jacobins and the even more radical Mountain were at the height of their power, under the pressure of the Parisian masses in the streets. Abolition in Haiti had been won by the black slaves led by Toussaint Louverture in August 1793, but, threatened by British and Spanish military intervention to seize the colony and restore slavery, the Haitian revolutionaries wished to remain allied to France, and wanted abolition confirmed by the Assembly. Neither Robespierre nor the Mountain wanted it, but the radicalization of the situation under mass pressure, in the most extreme year of the revolution, forced it on them:
…The workers and peasants of France could not have been expected to take any interest in the colonial question in normal times, any more than one can expect similar interest from British or French workers today [James was writing in 1938 — LG]. But now they were roused. They were striking at royalty, tyranny, reaction and oppression of all types, and with these they included slavery. The prejudice of race is superficially the most irrational of all prejudices, and by a perfectly comprehensible reaction the Paris workers, from indifference in 1789, had come by this time to detest no section of the aristocracy so much as those whom they called “the aristocracy of the skin”… Paris between March 1793 and July 1794 was one of the supreme epochs of political history. Never until 1917 were masses ever to have such powerful influence — for it was no more than influence — on any government. In these few months of their nearest approach to power they did not forget the blacks. They felt toward them as brothers, and the old slave-owners, whom they knew to be supporters of the counterrevolution, they hated as if Frenchmen themselves had suffered under the whip.62
Bellay, a former slave and deputy to the Convention from San Domingo (as Haiti was then called) presented his credentials and on the following day introduced a motion for the abolition of slavery. It was passed without debate and by acclamation, and was the radical high water mark of the revolution. As James said, it was “one of the most important legislative acts ever passed by any political assembly.”
It is certainly true that the proto-proletarian action of the Parisian masses in 1793-1794, and their link-up with the overthrow of slavery in San Domingo, went beyond any political ideas of the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth century.63 They were still too weak, and capitalist society too undeveloped, for them to be anything but brilliant precursors of later revolutions in which, for brief moments, revolts in the “center” fuse with revolts in the “periphery” and mark a turn in world history.64 It was not in France but in Germany, over the next two decades, that philosophers, above all GWF Hegel, would theorize the actions of the Parisian masses into a theory of politics that went beyond the Enlightenment and laid the foundations for the theory of the communist movement later articulated by Marx.65 Nevertheless, nowhere did the radical Enlightenment program of liberté, égalité, fraternité acquire such concreteness as a program for mass action as in Santo Domingo after 1791 and in Paris in 1793-1794; Toussaint Louverture had himself studied French Enlightenment thought. Thus the “best of the Enlightenment” is revealed precisely by the actions of people who, influenced by it, were already in the process of going beyond it, with practice (as always) well in advance of theory. This realization of the Enlightenment, as the revolution ebbed, was also the end of the Enlightenment, for reasons too complex to be treated here.66 The Enlightenment had foreseen neither the Jacobin Terror nor Napoleon, and could only be salvaged by figures such as Hegel and Marx, who subsumed the Enlightenment into a new historical rationality of the kind defended here.
One strand of the worst of the Enlightenment was realized in the work of Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), laying the basis for an ideology which is still rampant today, and completely entwined, in the US and many other countries, with racism.
Malthus’s basic idea, as many people know, was that human population increases geometrically while agricultural production increases only arithmetically, making periodic famine inevitable. Malthus therefore proposed measures for “grinding the faces of the poor” (as the saying goes), opposing a minimum wage and welfare because they encouraged profligate reproduction of the working classes, and welcoming periodic epidemic, famine and war as useful checks on excess population.67 (In contrast to today’s Malthusians, such as the World Bank and the IMF, who preach zero population growth to Third World countries, Malthus also opposed contraception for the poor because the “reserve army of the unemployed” kept wages down.) Even in Malthus’ own time, innovations in agriculture had doubled production in England, but Malthus was above all concerned with developing a “scientific” facade for policies aimed at maximizing accumulation and controlling the vast armies of poor people unleashed by the early, brutal phase of the Industrial Revolution.
It would be a travesty to call Parson Malthus an “Enlightenment thinker”; he was already denounced by liberals and radicals of his own time. But his linear view of agricultural production was a direct extrapolation, in political economy, of the linearity and “bad infinity” of Newtonian physics and the Enlightenment ontology. Malthusian man was Hobbesian man: an animal, performing a fixed function in the division of labor in a society with fixed resources. Malthus was not so opaque as to deny invention, but his linear view, which he shared with all political economy (as shall be shown momentarily) concealed the reality, demonstrated many times in history, that innovations in productivity (and not merely in agriculture) periodically move society forward in non-linear leaps, from apples to oranges, so to speak. (In the late sixteenth century, for example, end-of-the-world cults proliferated over the coming depletion of the forests in Europe’s wood-based economy; a century later, inventions in the use of iron had made coal, not wood, Europe’s major fuel, obviating the earlier hysteria). Resources, like human capabilities, are not “fixed,” but are periodically redefined by innovation, and major innovation ripples through a whole society, creating the non-linear “apples to oranges” effect.
The same linearity, however, pervaded even classical political economy, with direct Enlightenment sources (most importantly in Adam Smith), from which Malthus may be seen as an early, but significant, deviation. David Ricardo (1772-1823) was praised by Marx as the most advanced political economist, the theoretician of “production for production’s sake.” (For Marx, by contrast, “the multiplication of human powers,” not production per se, was “its own goal”). But although innovation was far more central to Ricardo’s economics, he too succumbed to the linearity of his premises. Malthus’s bourgeois “end of the world” scenario was overpopulation; for the productivist Ricardo, the unleashed productivity of capitalism would be strangled by ground rent as poorer and poorer soils were used for raw materials. Like Malthus, Ricardo failed to conceive of “quantum-leap” innovations that would supersede the need for specific, limited raw materials. Thus the two major “end of the world” scenarios produced by nineteenth century economics grew out of Enlightenment, bad-infinity premises that saw even innovation in terms of linear repetition. Ricardo culminated classical political economy’s theorization of labor, but the limitations of a bourgeois viewpoint prevented him from grasping the idea of human labor-power, out of which “apples to oranges” improvements in society’s relation to nature periodically occur.68
Marx’s concept of labor-power is the concrete realization, in social terms, of the “actual infinity” of pre-Enlightenment thought; it is the nucleus of a rationality beyond the Enlightenment, a rationality centered on the “fishing in the morning, hunting in the afternoon, and criticism in the evening” notion explained earlier, in which man goes beyond a fixed place in the division of labor, “fixed” natural resources determined by one phase of productivity, and the fixity of species in relation to their environment that characterizes animals. It thereby goes beyond the worst of the Enlightenment, the Hobbesian view of man which, in concrete historical circumstances, fuses with Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment race theory.
The preceding, then, was a “theoretical” exposition of the flaws of the Enlightenment world view, (the general world view of bourgeois-capitalist society in its progressive phase), which have disarmed it against race theory and racism, the association of physical features with cultural traits, and even, in their early phase, contributed to them. It has the advantage of going “beneath” the wide array of views for and against slavery and white supremacist race theory held by individual Enlightenment figures to the foundations of a world view they shared, but it has the great disadvantage of posing “theoretically” the evolution of ideas which are in fact the product of a shifting balance of forces in real history.
Marx’s realization of pre-Enlightenment actual infinity in his theory of labor power surpassed both the Christian idea of humanity and the Enlightenment view of Man in a concrete-practical view of real people in history. But, as stated earlier, if race were merely an idea, it could be overcome by another idea. The connection first made by some Enlightenment figures between biology and culture became socially effective in the seventeenth and eighteenth century not as a mere idea but as a legitimation of the Atlantic slave trade, of Western world domination, and in the US, the special race stratification of working people as it first emerged in seventeenth-century Virginia; it was deflated neither by Marx’s writings, still less by the real movements organized by many of Marx’s followers (whose relation to the overcoming of race was often ideologically rhetorical and practically ambiguous, at best.). The biological idea of race has been marginalized, but not made extinct, in official Western culture since the nineteenth century by anti-colonial struggles and the emergence of former colonies as industrial powers, by the culmination of Western race theory in Nazism, and by the successes of the black movement in the US in the 1960s, with both national and international repercussions. It was also marginalized, within the official culture, by a critique launched in the early twentieth century by figures such as Franz Boas and Robert Ezra Park, which began as a distinctly minority view among educated whites and which increasingly drew momentum from these events. Nevertheless, beginning in the late 1960s, and accelerating in the climate of world economic crisis since then, the biology-culture connection and its (usually explicit) racist edge began to make a comeback in the work of Konrad Lorenz, Banfield, Jensen, Schockley, Herrnstein, EO Wilson, and more recently in the controversy around Herrnstein and Murray’s The Bell Curve.69 Biological theories of culture (with no racist intent) are also reappearing in the utterances of figures with such liberal credentials as Camille Paglia and Carl Degler.70
The history of the idea of race as the biological determinant of culture after the Enlightenment is far beyond the scope of this article. After the French Revolution, the backlash against the Enlightenment took many forms, but the relevant one here was the intensification of the biology-culture theory of race first developed by some Enlightenment figures, and relative oblivion for the more neutral anthropological use of the term, not linked to judgmental color-coded race hierarchies, developed by others, even if still tainted with a “fixity of species” outlook. But the key point is that when deeply anti-Enlightenment figures such as Count Gobineau21 (1816-1882) began the intensification of race theory that pointed directly to fascism, they had already found the concept of race in the Enlightenment legacy. By the end of the nineteenth century it was common coin in both Europe and America to refer to the “Anglo-Saxon race,” the “Latin race,” the “Slavic race,” the “Oriental race,” the “Negro race” etc. with or without (and usually with) judgmental ranking,72 and usually assuming a biological basis for cultural differences. (Phrenology, which claimed to determine intelligence by skull shape and size, also remained a respectable science until the end of the nineteenth century.) The admixture of Social Darwinism after 1870 (for which Darwin is not to be blamed) and the massive land grab known as imperialism created an international climate in which, by 1900, it was the rare educated white European or American who questioned race theory root and branch. Forerunners of The Bell Curve routinely appeared in the U.S. up to the 1920s demonstrating “scientifically” the biological inferiority of the Irish, Italians, Poles, and Jews, and influenced the Immigration Act of 1924 sharply curtailing immigration and imposing quotas on such nationalities.73 Eugenics accelerated in popularity in the Anglo-American world from 1850 onward, and Hitler and the Nazis claimed that they took many ideas, such as forced sterilization, from the American eugenics movement. Margaret Sanger, the famous crusader for birth control, was a white supremacist, as were a number of early American suffragettes and feminists.74 Some sections of the pre-World War I Socialist Party made open appeals to white supremacy, and the SP right-wing leader Victor Berger was an unabashed racist.75
For many of these post-Enlightenment developments, the Enlightenment itself is of course not to be blamed. Many Social Darwinists, eugenicists, suffragettes, Progressives and socialists ca. 1900 undoubtedly identified with the Enlightenment and thought their ideas of “science,” including “scientific” demonstration of the innate inferiority of peoples of color, were an extension of the Enlightenment project, and the preceding discussion shows they in fact had their Enlightenment predecessors. Nevertheless, the early intellectual debunkers of this pseudo-science, such as Boas, were also heirs to the Enlightenment. When the Enlightenment is remembered today, it is not Bernier, Buffon and Blumenbach who first come to mind, but rather Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Kant (the philosopher, not the anthropologist), and Paine, and one could do worse than to summarize their legacy as the debunking of mystification. The Enlightenment contributed to the Western theory of race, and the real separation of culture from biology was the work of post-Enlightenment figures such as Marx, and above all the real historical movement of the past century. Nevertheless, when the Enlightenment is attacked today — by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu fundamentalists for separating religion and state, or by the new biologism of the New Right or the Afrocentrists for its universalism, or by the postmodernists as an ideology of and for “white European males” — it is the best of the Enlightenment, the liberté, égalité, fraternité of the Parisian and Haitian masses in 1794, and the best post-Enlightenment heirs such as Marx, which are the real targets. Such attacks remind us that, once critique is separated from the limitations of the Enlightenment outlined here, there is plenty of mystification still to be debunked.
1 This article will appear in two parts; part one will treat the first appearance of racial ideas, in the Spanish “blood purity” laws and the expulsion of Jews and Muslims after 1492, and the transition period up to the 1650s in which Europeans debated whether the New World peoples were descended from the “lost tribes of Israel”; part two will deal with the appearance of the new concept of race itself, beginning in the 1670s, in the first phase of the Anglo-French Enlightenment.
2 To take only one example, though the most important, along with the legend of Prester John (cf. below): the Black Magus/King in depictions of the Nativity scene. “That the African Magus should have been adopted in all German regions by 1470 is by itself remarkable. Still more extraordinary is the fact that the black King was then borrowed by every other significant school of artists in Western Europe, sometimes almost immediately, and by ca. 1510 at the latest.” P. Kaplan, The Rise of the Black Magus in Western Art (Ann Arbor, 1985), p. 112. The social basis for this view is suggested by the black presence at the thirteenth century court of the Frederick II (Hohenstaufen), the last important Holy Roman Emperor of the medieval period: “The proclivity for blacks at Frederick’s court was not merely a capricious idiosyncrasy, but a means of suggesting the Hohenstaufens’ claim to a universal imperial sovereignty that might include ‘the two Ethiopias, the country of the black Moors, the country of the Parthians, Syria, Persia, Arabia, Chaldea and even Egypt’.” (ibid. p. 10) These imperial pretensions may appear laughable, and are definitely part of a crusader ideology, but they indicate that the universal ism of the Holy Roman Empire was
for Christians, not for a non-existent category of “whites.”
3 To say this is not to imply that the inhabitants of “Western Christendom” (a concept more appropriate than Europe for the medieval period) did not periodically find all kinds of reasons to hate, kill and oppress Jews, Muslims and “heathens”; it is merely to say that the division of the world between Christians and non-Christians was religious and was not race-based. In medieval Spain, for example (one of the most significant cases, for centuries, of co-habitation between the three monotheisms and also the country in which proto-racism first appeared in the early modern period), Christians and Muslim often converted back and forth as the front lines fluctuated. Muslims enslaved by Christians in the wars of reconquest could, in a generation or two, become serfs. Cf. C. Verlinden, L’esclavage dans l’Europe médiévale (Ghent, 1955), pg. 139ff. Passage from slavery to serfdom varied widely around the Iberian peninsula, but it depended everywhere on the balance of forces between Christian masters and serfs, not on any race-based criterion.
4 Joachim’s ideas are briefly sketched in N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (Oxford, 1983), pp. 108-110. For a fuller treatment, cf. M. Reeves, Joachim di Fiore (New York, 1977). (Joachim’s thought also anticipated some of the unfortunate futuristic ideologues of the defunct Soviet bloc whose cybernetic visions of full communism got them into trouble because they failed to include the guiding role of the Party).
5 The story of the Prester John legend is told in R. Sanders, Lost Tribes and Promised Lands, (Boston, 1978) Ch. 3.
6 A. Milhou, Colon y su mentalidad mesiánica (Valladolid, 1983), p. 217 refers to this prophecy.
7 Columbus’ letter reporting the proximity of paradise is quoted in V. Flint, The Imaginative Landscape of Christopher Columbus (Princeton, 1992), pp. 149ff.
8 J. Abu Lughod, in Before European Hegemony: The World System, AD 1250-1350 (Oxford, 1989) sketches out this world oikoumene, whatever problems exist in her idea of what constitutes capitalism.
9 It is not widely recognized that the breakup of the medieval world in Europe, the Middle East, India, and China were relatively simultaneous phenomena, attended everywhere, from Japan to Poland, by the thirteenth and fourteenth century eruption of the Mongols, and by the Black Death. Of the four major Old World civilizations, western Europe suffered least from the Mongol invasions. Cf. Abu Lughod).
10 R. Hilton, ed. The Brenner Debate (London 1985), discusses the impact of fourteenth century agrarian revolts on the end of serfdom and the triumph of wage labor in the English countryside.
11 The many works of Christopher Hill, such as The World Turned Upside Down (London 1987) are the best introduction to these currents. An old classic, originally written in 1895, is Eduard Bernstein’s Cromwell and Communism (New York, 1963).
12 The radicals were repressed and ebbed away during Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the Stuart restoration after 1660; only in the 1688 “Glorious Revolution” was absolutism defeated and constitutional monarchy finally consolidated, after which “Locke drove out Habakkuk” (as Marx put in the Eighteenth Brumaire, referring to the shift away from religion in the ideology of the bourgeoisie). It is not often pointed out, in typical accounts of the Enlightenment, that the British slave trade to the New World also expanded exponentially after the 1688 “Glorious Revolution” in England, often cited as the beginning of the English phase of the Enlightenment. As late as the 1680s, the Royal African Company, the government slave-trading monopoly (of which John Locke was a board member), transported approximately 5,000 slaves per year, whereas in the first nine years after 1688, Bristol alone handled 161,000. Cf. E. Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (New York, 1980), p. 32)
13 It is an anachronistic mistake to see Greek, Roman, Muslim, or Chinese attitudes toward the “Other” in the ancient and medieval periods as “racist.” For the ancient Greeks, a “barbarian” was someone who did not participate in a polis; the Romans, also, throughout an enormous empire, thought of themselves as citizens of a city, and saw the “Other” in those who were not. See JA Armstrong, Nations Before Nationalism (UNC Pr. 1982), p. 134. FM Snowden’s Blacks in Antiquity (Cambridge 1970), Ch. VIII, documents the absence of “color prejudice” among Greeks and Romans. A more recent and powerful demonstration that the idea of race is a modern invention is I. Hannaford, Race: The History of an Idea in the West (Baltimore, 1996). “In Greece and Rome, the organizing idea of race was absent so long as the political idea flourished to reconcile the volatile blood relations (kinship)… with the wider demands of the community” (p. 14).
14 Significant conversion and intermarriage made the “blood purity” necessary to distinguish between “Old” and “New” Christians, the latter being converted Jews.
15 J. Greene, The Death of Adam (Ames, 1959), pp. 39-54, describes some of the scientific debates in geology and paleontology of the late seventeenth century that called into question Biblical chronologies; similarly, P. Rossi, The Dark Abyss of Time (Chicago, 1984), particularly Ch. 36.
16 The latter were the sons of Noah, from whom the different groups of humanity presumably descended after the flood.
17 We say “proto-racism” because, even when a specific notion of “blood purity” [limpieza de sangre], underwriting an idea of “purity of (Christian) caste [lo castizo]” began to be implemented in Spain ca. 1450, its aim was still to distinguish Christians and Jews, and therefore remained enmeshed in the older medieval communal conceptions. Nevertheless, the Inquisition, which recognized lo castizo only for those who could prove they had no Jewish ancestry for three generations, thereby anticipated the Nazi Nuremberg laws by nearly 500 years.
18 Spain also expelled many Muslims after the final conquest of the Arab kingdom of Granada. Those who remained, the so-called moriscos, were forcibly expelled between 1568 and 1609. Prior to the end of the fourteenth century and the end of convivencia, the Spanish kings referred to themselves as the “kings of the three religions.” Cf. S. Sharot, Messianism, Mysticism, and Magic (Chapel Hill, 1982), p. 72. For the classic statement of Spain as the product of the mingling of the “three castes” cf. A. Castro, The Spaniards (Berkeley, 1971), Ch. III.
19 This fifteenth century antisemitism was “new” in comparison to the antisemitism of the ancient world because it rested on a new biological definition of racial purity previously unknown.
20 According to Yves Renouard, “…the boundary lines that determine to this day the frontiers of France, England and Spain were more or less definitively settled in a series of battles which occurred between 1212 and 1214.” (cited in Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 1 (New York 1974), p. 32.
21 The first large-scale outbreaks of medieval (as opposed to modern) antisemitism in Europe occurred at the beginning of the Crusades, in 1096, therefore coinciding with a major acceleration of Europe’s expansionist recovery from the ebb point of the ninth and tenth centuries. Even worse outbreaks occurred in 1348-1349, when the Jews were blamed in many locales for the outbreak of the Black Death. A discussion of the evolution of antisemitism in the high Middle Ages is in K. Stow, Alienated Minority: The Jews of Medieval Latin Europe (Cambridge, 1992), Ch. 11. Stow contrasts this with the lower Middle Ages: “…the early medieval period has always been considered a politically favorable one for Jews…Jews had a clearly demarcated and stable political status, which only in later centuries began to erode” (ibid., p. 43).
Most observers date the beginning of economic slowdown in the high Middle Ages from the beginning of the fourteenth century (cf. for example G. Duby, L’économie rurale et la vie des campagnes dans l’Occident médiéval, Paris 1962, vol. 2, part 4).
22 The first major pogrom in Spain began in Seville in 1391, and then spread to many other cities. The first laws of racial purity were enacted in 1449 and approved by the king in 1451. The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, the same year as the completion of the reconquest. Jews who converted and remained were persecuted by the Inquisition; after 1555 proof of blood purity was required for holders of public office. Cf. J. Gerber, The Jews of Spain (New York, 1992), pp. 127-129. The early modern “prehistory” of racism in Spain is also covered in I. Geiss, Geschichte des Rassismus (Frankfurt, 1988), Ch. III.
23 Greco-Roman antiquity divided the world between those who were of the city and those who were not; the medieval world, as indicated, divided the world into believers (of one of the three monotheisms) and “heathen.”
24 As Hannaford puts it: “Between the expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain and the landing of the first Negro in the North American colonies in 1619, the word ‘race’ entered Western languages.” Op. cit., p. 147.
25 English resistance to the major Catholic powers, first Habsburg Spain and then the France of Louis XIV, was Protestantism’s first line of defense after 1558, when Protestant survival against the Counter-Reformation was anything but certain; this hostility to Catholicism went so deep into English popular culture that, three centuries later, it still survived in the American “Know Nothing” anti-immigrant (essentially, anti-Irish) movement of the 1850s.
26 The early (sixteenth-century) English and French intrusions into the Spanish empire, in search of a passage to Asia which would allow them to circumvent the Spanish domains, at a time when England and France were capable of little more than exploratory missions and transient, failed colonies, is told in P. Hoffman, A New Andalucía and a Way to the Orient (LSU Pr. 1990).
27 Figures on the New World slave trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, broken down by colonial power and by century, are in AM Pescatello, ed. The African in Latin America (New York 1975), pp. 47-48. These figures show Spain bringing 292,500 slaves to the New World in the seventeenth century, while Britain brought 263,000 to its (Caribbean) colonies; in the eighteenth century, i.e. after the Glorious Revolution (cf. footnote 2 above) and in the high tide of the Enlightenment, shipments of slaves into the British colonies in North America and the Caribbean increase nine times to almost 1.8 million, while Spain’s share only doubles. The greater economic significance of the Caribbean, as compared to North America, is shown in P. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census, (Madison 1969), p. 134; as late as the outbreak of the American Revolution, Jamaica and Barbados accounted for ca. 50% of all slaves sold in British colonies, while the southern colonies of North America accounted for only 20%.
28 France did continue to support attempts to restore the Stuarts well into the eighteenth century, and Britain still had to fight major wars, which increasingly took on the character of world wars, in which overseas rivalry with the Spanish and French empires was a major issue, As part of that rivalry, both France and Spain militarily supported the rebellion of the American colonies after 1776. Spain’s empire was still expanding in the Pacific Northwest as late as 1790, and Thomas Jefferson, after American independence, believed absorption of the new United States by Spain (which owned Florida until 1820) posed a greater threat than reabsorption by Britain.
29 Estimates of total Jews expelled from Spain range between 800,000 and 2 million. They were expelled in turn from Portugal in 1497. Combined with the expulsion of the Muslims after 1492, and the moriscos (Muslims who initially remained) by 1609, the loss to Spanish society was a major factor in Spain’s later economic decline.
30 Expelled Jews were known as marranos (swine).
……Officially, the only Jews who went to the New World colonies of Spain and Portugal were the so-called conversos, or New Christians; the Inquisition began tracking them there in 1522. Other Iberian (Sephardic) Jews went to the Netherlands and from there, two or three generations later, arrived in the New World colonies of Holland.
31 H. Kamen, in Inquisition and Society in Spain (Bloomington, 1985), p. 41, shows that in the initial decades after 1492 the overwhelming majority of victims of the Inquisition were formerly Jewish conversos, i.e. New Christians; ca. 1530 the net was widened to suspected “Lutherans”; and still later to Muslims (statistical table p. 185).
32 Serious evidence exists for the New Christian background of Vives, Vitoria, Luis de Leon, St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, Gongora, Gracian, Cervantes, and Las Casas. On the Jewish and Arab elements in the work of one of these figures, cf. L. Lopez Baralt, San Juan de la Cruz y el Islam, Mexico City, 1985.
33 The Spiritual Franciscans’ view of “apostolic poverty” prepared them to see in New World inhabitants people easily won to Christianity.
34 This story is told in JL Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World, Berkeley, 1970. The impact of Joachimite ideas in Mexico is also described in L. Weckmann, La herencia medieval de México, vol. 1, Mexico D.F. 1983, pp. 258-268.
35 The meshing of messianic ideas taken from Jesuits, including New Christians, with Incan resistance to Spanish rule is described in A. Flores Galindo, Buscando un Inca: Identidad y utopía en los Andes, Lima, 1988. The Jesuit Vieira (1608-1697), drawing on the apocalyptic scheme of history in the Old Testament prophecy of Daniel, foresaw a Portuguese-led “fifth empire” of “saints,” echoes the Fifth Monarchy Men of the English Revolution. In fact, Vieira was in both Paris and London in the 1640s.
36 Although not directly in the Joachimite millenarian tradition, Bartolome de las Casas (1474-1566) directly challenged the forced labor of Indians more directly than the millenarians themselves. Las Casas was a Spanish priest (possibly of New Christian background) in Cuba who, for over ten years, made his living off the encomienda, a system of Indian forced labor, but who in 1514 revolted against the Spanish New World system and devoted the rest of his life to agitation against it. He returned to Spain and attempted to win the Church hierarchy to his project of creating free labor associations of Spaniards and Indians. His perspective was flawed from the beginning by his proposal to substitute African slaves for the Indians, a proposal he ultimately repudiated, but only later. His first efforts failed, and he withdrew to a Dominican monastery where, for another ten years, he sharpened his polemical arguments. After the conquests of Mexico and Peru, Las Casas returned to the New World to further agitate against the encomienda, and to write major works on the colonial system and in defense of the Indians. In 1542 the Habsburg emperor Charles V issued a compromise in the “New Laws,” which would gradually abolish the encomienda, but even this compromise led to a rebellion of the colons, including armed revolt in Peru.
……As bishop of Chiapas, Las Casas confronted Spanish elites in the New World, trying to force the application of the “New Laws,” but Charles V withdrew them to stop the colon rebellion. Las Casas resigned his position and returned to Spain once and for all. He threw himself into writing, and in 1550-1551 confronted Giner de Sepulveda in Salamanca in a debate, in front of Charles V, over whether the New World Indians were “slaves by nature” in Aristotle’s sense, and whether evangelization by force was legitimate. Las Casas’ defense of the natural freedom of all human beings, and opposition to the use of force again influenced legislation, again unapplied. Las Casas, of the more sober and less apocalyptic Dominican order, echoed a version of the Franciscan belief in the regeneration of Christianity through the evangelization of the Indians, but by the end of his life limited himself to arguing that the Spanish crown had a right only to evangelize in the New World, but was obliged to respect Indian freedom and property.
37 There were important exceptions to this. Catholic syncretism, the ability to appropriate the gods and goddesses of another culture into the Christian pantheon of saints, has existed since the Church’s conversion of the Greco-Roman world. Some of the New Christian conversos in the Franciscan order found themselves fascinated with Aztec and Mayan culture — beyond the mere needs of evangelization. Their story is told in Sanders, op. cit., Ch. 16. The Jesuits also claimed to find evidence that the apostle Thomas, after evangelizing in India, had continued on to Mexico; this was crucial to them because it overcame the embarrassing sixteenth-century time lag in the arrival of the word of God in the New World. This is another demonstration of the religious belief in the unity of humanity which had to be overcome before any race theory was possible “(the Spaniards’)… world system, founded on revelation, and their very religion would collapse if the Bible had lied or simply omitted mention of America; ignorance, forgetfulness, and injustice on the part of God were all equally untenable. If there existed a positive truth independent of revealed truth, all European thought, from St. Augustine to Suarez, must go out the window.” J. Lafaye, Queztalcóatl and Guadalupe: The Formation of Mexican National Consciousness (Chicago, 1976), pg. 186 and ch. 10 generally.
38 Sixteenth and seventeenth century attacks on slavery focused on excesses of cruelty and violence, not on the practice as such. See DB Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Cornell UP, 1966), pp. 189-196). As late as the fifteenth century, the Palermo slave market sold Greeks, Arabs, Slavs, Tartars, Turks, Circassians, Russians, and Bulgarians (Verlinden, op. cit. p. 385); in the sixteenth century, the majority of the slaves in Spain and Portugal were what today would be called “white.”
39 Bernal Diaz, a companion of Cortes, describes the awe of the Spaniards upon first glimpsing Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, (which may have had as many as a million inhabitants in 1519), and how they instinctively reached for imagery of fantastic cities from the chivalric romance Amadis of Gaul (1505) to find parallels in their own culture. (cf. B. Diaz del Castillo, Historia de la Conquista de Nueva España, Mexico D.F., 1980, p. 159).
40 A vast literature exists on this subject. Probably the best book, outrageously never translated into English, is G. Gliozzi’s Adamo e il nuovo mondo (Florence, 1977), whose subtitle, “From Biblical Genealogies to Racial Theories (1500-1700),” could not more concisely summarize the thesis of this article. Gliozzi shows that the concept of race could not exist until scientific critique, beginning with Biblical criticism, had swept away all the legacy of explanation in the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian streams of Western culture. A comparable, but less comprehensive perspective is found in A. Grafton, New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (Cambridge, 1992). On the impact of New World biology and botany, cf. A. Gerbi, Nature in the New World, Pittsburgh 1985.
41 R. Sanders, op. cit. p. 187.
42 R. Wauchope, Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents: Myth and Method in the Study of the American Indians (Chicago, 1962), p. 53. Cf. pp. 53-59 for the history of the theory, which was still held in early nineteenth-century America, and had been supported by Roger Williams, John Eliot, William Penn, and the Mathers; it is still held today by the Mormons.
43 Sanders, op. cit. Ch. 30 tells the story of Menasseh’s book; the theory convinced John Eliot, in Massachusetts, to translate the Bible into Algonquin.
44 Ibid. p. 371. “It was an empire than the English were not inheriting from the Spaniards, by way of the Dutch, so why not inherit the services of their Jews as well?”
45 In fact, La Peyrere (1596-1676) knew Menasseh ben Israel personally.
La Peyrere was from a Bordeaux Protestant family and, according to one major study, was probably yet another Marrano. R. Popkin, Isaac la Peyrere (Leiden, 1987, pp. 22-23). His early work was right in the line of Joachimite prophecy, except that, of course, it was the French king (and not, as Vieira asserted, the Portuguese) who would convert the Jews and lead them back to the recaptured Holy Land. Even after his repudiation of Pre-Adamitae, he continued to defend its theses privately.
46 According to Popkin (op. cit., p. 14) both the Pope and the General of the Jesuit order, in private, had found La Peyrere’s book quite entertaining.
47 Ibid. p. 39. The complex fate of the theses of Pre-Adamitae, from the Enlightenment up to the present, is told on pp. 115-176, its immediate impact in England is described in Gliozzi, op. cit. pp. 565-621.
48 Here, indeed, is a predecessor that contemporary “difference” theorists have overlooked.
49 Quoted in M. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeen Centuries (Philadelphia, 1964), pp. 421-422.
50 A. Gerbi, The Dispute of the New World: The History of a Polemic, 1750-1900 (Pittsburgh, 1973) is a remarkable survey of Enlightenment thinkers such as Buffon and de Pauw and their belief that not only humans, but also plants and animals, degenerated in the climate of the New World.
51 One reader of part one criticized it for Eurocentrism, because it overlooked earlier color-coded racial systems in other cultures, citing in particular the case of the Indian caste system as it was imposed by the Indo-European (formerly called “Aryan”) invaders of the subcontinent ca. 1500 BC. Since my argument was that race as an idea could not appear until rationalist and scientific critique up to the mid-seventeenth century had overthrown mythical and religious views of man to arrive at a biological view, this objection seemed highly unlikely. The theoretical foundation of the Indian caste system does correlate the four “varnas” (which means, among other things, color) with the four castes. But the hierarchy of “varnas” in India is inseparable from a similar hierarchy of “purity/impurity” which descends from the Brahmins at the top to the Sudras at the bottom, not to mention the untouchables who are not even included in the system. And “purity” for a caste is connected to action (karma), in this life as in previous ones; thus the Hindu system conceives of someone’s birth in the Brahmin caste as the consequence of “pure” action, and their ability to stay there the result of ongoing “pure” action, (whereas the Sudra have committed “impure” action) something totally different from a race system, where no one acquires or loses skin color by action.
……As Oliver Cox puts it: “The writers who use modern ideas of race relations for the purpose of explaining the origin of caste make an uncritical transfer of modern thought to an age which did not know it. The early Indo-Aryans could no more have thought in modern terms of race prejudice than they could have invented the airplane. The social factors necessary for thinking in modern terms of race relations were not available. It took some two thousand more years to develop these ideas in Western society, and whatever there is of them in India today has been acquired by recent diffusion.” See Caste, Class, and Race (New York, 1959), p. 91.
52 Part one of this article, “From Antisemitism to White Supremacy, Pre-Enlightenment Phase: Spain, Jews, and Indians (1492-1676),” argued that the first known racist social practices were the “blood purity” laws created against Spanish Jewry in the mid-fifteenth century. As a result, many Jews converted to Christianity where, as so-called “New Christians,” they entered the Franciscan, Jesuit, and Dominican orders of the Catholic Church where their own messianism mixed with Christian heretical ideas in the evangelization of the peoples of the New World. One widespread view, among many theories taken from Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian sources, held that the New World peoples were descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel. These theories were debated for 150 years until the French Protestant Isaac La Peyrere published a book, The Pre Adamites (1655), in which he argued from internal inconsistencies in the Old Testament that there had been people before Adam. While La Peyrere himself was still completely in the messianic tradition and still believed in the theological assertion of the unity of mankind, others used his theory to argue that Africans and New World Indians were different species. Sir William Petty, in his Scale of Creatures (1676), made the link between skin color and culture, thereby theorizing for the first time what had begun in practice in Spain more than two centuries earlier. It is in this way that the idea of race and the Enlightenment came into existence simultaneously.)
……Part one defined “race” as the association of cultural attributes with biology, as it first appeared in early modern antisemitism in Spain’s historically unprecedented fifteenth-century “blood purity” laws. This association was then transferred to the Indian population of Spain’s New World empire, and then generalized through the North Atlantic world to legitimate the African slave trade, which greatly intensified in the late seventeenth century just as the Enlightenment was beginning. But this evolution did not just happen. For 150 years after 1492, Europeans sifted through all the myths and legends of their Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian past to find an explanation for previously unknown peoples in a previously unknown world. They saw in New World peoples the survivors of Plato’s Atlantis, descendants of a Phoenician voyage or King Arthur’s retreat to the Isle of Avalon, or finally as the Lost Tribes of Israel. By the mid-seventeenth century, rationalist critique of the Bible and of myth ripped away these fantastic projections, and inadvertently destroyed the idea of the common origin of humanity in the Garden of Eden. By 1676, simultaneous with the multiracial Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia and the Puritan extermination of the Indians of New England in King Philip’s War, Sir William Petty articulated a new view, relegating peoples of color to an intermediate “savage” status between human beings and animals.
53 Figures who articulated the previously heretical “actual infinity” in the 1450-1650 period, in theological and then philosophical form, were Nicholas of Cusa, Giordano Bruno, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
54 “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them whole relations of society” (Communist Manifesto).
55 Improvements, such as inventions, in the ancient world, were made haphazardly, and were often viewed as curiosities, not something to be socially applied in a systematic way, or were even shunned because of the threat they posed to existing social relations.
56 Karl Marx, Grundrisse (1973 ed.), p. 325.
57 Petty’s book is the first known Western source which both overthrows the Christian idea of the unity of man and also connects biological features to a color-coded race hierarchy. Quoted in M. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia, 1964), pgs. 421-422.
58 I. Geiss, Geschichte des Rassismus (Frankfurt, 1988), p. 142. Geiss sees Hume as the first Enlightenment figure (in 1753-54) who specifically theorizes a racist hierarchy of color (p. 149); he does not seem to be familiar with Petty’s text. I. Hannaford’s Race: The History of an Idea in the West (Johns Hopkins, 1996) surveys the same period, with somewhat different judgments (cf. Ch. 7), and sees the main break occurring with Hobbes.
59 In 1780, during the revolution, Pennsylvania, with its large Quaker presence, became the first North American colony to abolish slavery.
60 E. Chukwudi Eze’s Race and the Enlightenment (New York, 1996) is a useful compendium of little-known texts by Blumenbach, Hume, Kant, Hegel, and other figures, mainly expressing white supremacist disdain for Africans and African culture. In my opinion, these texts mainly demonstrate that Hume, Kant, and Hegel expressed the limitations of their time, and in no way shows any race-linked implications of the philosophical works we still read today.
61 Figures such as Hobbes, Locke, or Hume were all suspected of radical atheism by the conventional middle-class opinion of their time, still tied to official religion. They were in reality moderates, deeply hostile to radical popular forces, many of which still spoke a religious language. The “left to right” spectrum of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in no way, particularly in the Anglo-American world, aligns itself neatly with distinctions between the “secular” and the “religious,” as the examples such as the Digger Gerard Winstanley or William Blake clearly show. The mainstream Enlightenment always opposed the “antinomian” social radicalism associated with such figures. Cf. M. Jacobs, The Newtonians and the English Revolution (1976).
62 CLR James, The Black Jacobins (New York, 1963), pp. 120, 138-139.
63 The great majority of Enlightenment figures limited their political aims to a constitutional monarchy on the post-1688 English model or to a vision of benign top-down reform by Enlightened absolutist despots; the proclamation of a Republic in France in 1791 was the result of the practical radicalization of the political situation there and throughout Europe, not a preconceived application of Enlightenment ideas.
64 The radical wing of the French Revolution, the Parisian masses, was crushed in 1794; by the Jacobins, who were in turn overthrown by moderates; after Napoleon’s seizure of power in 1799, France restored slavery in all its possessions and lost 50,000 soldiers in a failed attempt to subdue Santo Domingo. In 1848, when capitalism and the proletariat were more advanced, a new French revolution (part of a European-wide uprising) occurred and finally succeeded in abolishing slavery in the colonies, after England had done so in 1834.
65 Hegel’s fundamental idea that “the real is rational” comes directly out of his analysis of the French Revolution. In contrast to even the best of the Enlightenment, Hegel (having the example of the revolution before him, as the Enlightenment did not) was the first to understand (even if he did not use this language) the “sociological” truth that a social class (e.g. the Parisian proletariat) is not a “category” but an act, and that the “truth” of any social class (i.e. the “real”) is not its own day-to-day humdrum self-understanding in “normal conditions” of oppression but the extremity of what it has the potential to become (“the rational”) at crucial turning points (generally called revolutions). Hegel’s own late conservatism and that of his followers turned the meaning of “the real is rational” into a simple apology for the existing status quo, cutting the radical heart out of Hegel’s original meaning of “the real.”
66 The Enlightenment (at the great risk of oversimplification) conceived abstractly of Man as “natural man,” endowed with reason, and endowed with “rights of man” by “natural law.” The counterpart of this was a conception of societies as initially formed by individuals who came together in some kind of “social contract”; Enlightenment theory thus assumed individuals who initially existed independently from society and history. Society was the “sum” of such individuals. It was a completely ahistorical view, which is one reason the Enlightenment was so preoccupied with utopias in distant places, in which Man could be portrayed in harmony with (static) “nature,” and with New World Indians or Tahitians, who supposedly revealed Man “in Nature,” or with the “wild child” raised outside all social institutions. “All men once lived as they live in America,” said John Locke, referring to the American Indian. The Enlightenment was also preoccupied with drawing up constitutions (as Locke did for the Carolina colony in North America, or Rousseau for Poland), as if social institutions were derived from, or could be derived from, “first principles,” and were not, as Vico first argued, a factum, the product of activity. Enlightenment social thought had an ideal to realize, a human nature that could be distilled and identified separate from society and history. Thus Rousseau could conceive this ideal of Man as something to approach but never be achieved, the social equivalent of Newton’s bad infinity.
67 Cf. the invaluable book of A. Chase, The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism, New York, 1980, particularly Ch. 4. Space does not permit a full discussion of the influence of Malthusian ideology today. I will limit myself to pointing out that John Maynard Keynes, the theoretician of the post-1945 welfare state, explicitly identified himself as a Malthusian. Keynes obviously was not opposed to a minimum wage, welfare measures or contraception; what he shared with Malthus was the idea that the buying power of unproductive classes should be increased to avoid periodic depressions. Malthus and Keynes had in common a “consumer’s” view of the economy, assuming that if demand were maintained, production would take care of itself. But the underlying world view of both Malthus and Keynes, as theoreticians of the unproductive middle classes, had the necessary corollary of “useless eaters,” which in the austerity conditions of the post-1973 period in the US have mixed with classical racism to produce a “conservative-liberal” consensus for the abolition of America’s (minimalist) welfare state. Bill Moyers’ reportage on teenage parenting among American welfare populations was classical Malthusian propaganda about the “promiscuous poor” from a “liberal” viewpoint.
68 One may readily understand the distinction between labor and labor power by the recent example of the “new industrial countries” (NICs) such as South Korea. Cases such as this are not merely a question of dropping some factories into a peasant economy. South Korea emerged over thirty-five years from an extremely poor, predominantly rural, Third World country to one which exports high-quality technological goods and even conducts its own research and development departments. This was made possible by many things, but among them were the creation of an infrastructure (transportation, communications, energy systems) and above all a skilled work force capable of operation modern factories. South Korea in 1960 had an abundance of in labor, but desperately short of labor power.
69 After being largely marginalized by official culture in the US, many of these authors were translated into French in the 1970s where they contributed to the rise of the anti-immigrant National Front, which openly proclaims white supremacy in its public utterances.
70 Paglia attacks fifties and sixties left culturalism for overlooking the “dark” biological side of sexuality; Degler announces his conversion to the “return of biology” in In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought (New York, 1991).
71 Gobineau’s book, The Inequality of the Races, which became the manifesto of late nineteenth-century Aryan supremacy, was first published in 1853.
72 T. Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (New York, 1963), Ch. XIII, tells the story of Anglo-Saxon race theory. Gossett also traces the history of the polygenetic theory of races, as discussed in Part One of this article, through the nineteenth century in Ch. IV.
73 A dense survey of this history is in A. Chase, The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism (New York, 1980).
74 Cf. Robert Allen, Reluctant Reformers: Racism and Social Reform Movements in the United States (New York, 1975), Ch. 5.
75 Ibid. p. 223-227.