Race and the Enlightenment

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.

Race and the Enlightenment

Loren Goldner
Race Traitor
August 1997

Part one
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.

Part two
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:

Geor­gi­us Horn­i­us
(ca. 1620-1670)
Arca Noae (1666) Japh­et­ites (white), Semites (yel­low) Ham­ites (black)
Fran­cois Berni­er (1620-1688) Nou­velle di­vi­sion de
la terre
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.

7 thoughts on “Race and the Enlightenment

  1. You don’t get my point. It is not just that Kant’s racist “analysis” was retrograde. It is that the “good” Enlightenment philosophy that was embodied in the American, British and French states made absolutely no difference on how colonial subjects were treated. Arguably, their policies left behind a mountain of skulls far higher than Hitler’s. Furthermore, the problem is seeing history as being determined by ideas rather than the class struggle. In any case, thanks for the put-down. It only confirms that I was on the right path.

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