Arthur de Gobineau’s

Essai Sur L’Inégalité des Races Humaines

“We (Wagner and Cosima) have done nothing but talk about you and your Essay since noon, when my husband came to tell me of the pleasure and interest he has found in reading chapter thirteen, which has absorbed him since he began it. Parsifal has been cornered into reading your books!! I am not able to express how much we love and admire this masterpiece…”

Letter of Cosima to Gobineau of March 27, 1881


The Essai Sur L’Inégalité des Races Humaines (Essay on the Inequality of Human Races), of which only the first volume is available in English, is a book published in 1853 and 1855 by the French philosopher Joseph Arthur de Gobineau. It is considered the initial work of racialist philosophy. Below I reproduce an abridged translation of the introduction by Adriano Romualdi.

There are books that act on the reality of many of the political events and, out of the narrow circle of the discussion, become a powerful idea, myth and blood supplying historical processes. The most typical is undoubtedly Marx’s Capital, a historical-economic study that has become religious dogma, battle gun and gospel. To these books belongs the Essay on the Inequality of Human Races of Count Gobineau, ignored during the time the author lived but released in Germany after his death.

Arthur de Gobineau was born in Ville d’Avray in 1816 to a family of ancient Norman origin. Shortly before his death, in his Histoire d’Ottar Jara he would relive the events of the Viking conqueror that reached the coast of France, giving rise to his family. Gobineau’s father was a captain in the Royal Guard of Charles X. After the revolution of 1830 he departed to live in Britain while the son went to study in Switzerland. There Gobineau learned German and peered into the vast prospects opened by Germanic philology in those years. Since Friedrich Schlegel in his Ueber die Sprache und Weisheit der Inder taught affinity between European languages and Sanskrit he assumed an Aryan migration from Asia to Europe. In 1816, Bopp, with his Greek grammar, compared Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin and founded Indo-European philology. Meanwhile, the Brothers Grimm rediscovered Edda and Germanic poetry, reviving the old heroism and primordial mythology while Kart O. Müller found in the Dorians (Die Dorier, 1824) the Nordic soul of ancient Greece. Thus Gobineau was familiar from his adolescence with a world that European culture was slowly assimilating.

In 1834 Gobineau went to Paris. He was not rich and tried to steer through as a writer and journalist. Of his literary works, many pages of Le Prisionnier Chancheux, Ternote, Mademoiselle Irnois, Les Aventures de Nicolas Belavoir and E’Abbaye of Thyphanes have withstood the erosion of time.

An article in the Revue de deux Mondes put him in touch with Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous author of Democracy in America, also of old Norman lineage. This friendship joined them through a lifetime despite their strong differences: Tocqueville, the aristocrat, resigned with melancholy by accepting democracy as a reality of the modern world while Gobineau, another aristocrat, rebelled and identified civilization with the work of a master race.

Tocqueville was appointed Foreign Minister and called his friend as his chief of staff. On the eve of the Napoleonic coup Tocqueville resigned but Gobineau put on a brave face to the Caesarism. He entered diplomacy and was the first secretary to take the delegation of Bern. It was in Berne where he wrote the Essai Sur L’Inégalité des Races Humaines. The first two volumes appeared in 1853, and more in 1855.

The book incorporates the movements of the great discovery of the Indo-European unity, i.e., a large extended Aryan family from Iceland to India. The Latin word pater, the Gothic fadar, the Greek patér and the Sanskrit derivations are revealed as originating from a single word. But if there has been a primary language of which several languages have branched, there must be a major lineage that existed, moving from its original home, and spread this language in the vast space between Scandinavia and the Ganges. It was the people that named themselves Aryans, a term with which the rulers are referred to themselves as opposed to the natives of the conquered lands (compare the Persian and the Sanskrit for arya = noble, pure; the Greek àristos = best , the Latin herus = owner, the soldierly Germanic Ehre = honor).

This is where Gobineau’s reasoning is channeled, mobilizing for his thesis ancient Indian texts revealing these prehistoric Aryans—tall, blond, with blue eyes—piercing into India, Persia, Greece, and Italy to make the great ancient civilizations flourish. Every civilization comes from an Aryan conquest, from the organization imposed by an elite of Nordic lords over a mass population.

Comparing each of the three great racial families the superiority of the Aryan appears to us evident. “If his [the black man’s] mental faculties are dull or even non-existent”—writes Gobineau—“he often has an intensity of desire, and so of will, which may be called terrible. Consequently, the black race is an intensely sensual, emotional radically race, but lacks of will and clarity of the organizer.” The yellow race stands before the black but it differs from the true creative will. Here we also have a race of second order, a kind infinitely less vulgar than the black but that lacks audacity, toughness and that sharp, heroic intelligence expressed in the gracile Aryan face. Civilization is thus a legacy of blood and is lost with the melting pot of blood. This is the explanation that Gobineau offers us about the tragedy of world history.

Gobineau’s key concept is degeneration, in the proper sense of the word, which is expressed in the growing apart from one’s own original type (the Germans would speak of ­­Entnordung or denordization). Ancient peoples have disappeared because they have lost their Nordic integrity, and this can occur to modern man as well. “If the empire of Darius had, at the battle of Arbela, been able to fill its ranks with Persians, that is to say with real Aryans; if the Romans of the later Empire had had a Senate and an army of the same stock as that which existed at the time of the Fabii, their dominion would never have come to an end.”

The fate that overwhelmed ancient cultures also threatens us. The democratization of Europe, which began with the French Revolution, represents the revolt of the servile masses with their hedonistic and pacifist values against the heroic ideals of Nordic aristocracies of Germanic origin. Equality, that for a time was just a myth, threatens to become reality in the infernal cauldron where the superior mixes with the inferior and what is noble is bogged down into the ignoble.

If today the Essai Sur L’Inégalité des Races Humaines appears aged in many features, it retains a substantial validity. Gobineau has the great merit of having first addressed the problem of the crisis of civilization in general and the West in particular. In a century stunned by the commoner myth of progress, he dared to proclaim the fatal decline of every culture and the senile and crepuscular nature of the citizens of a rationalist civilization. Without Gobineau’s work, without the serious, solemn chiming bumps in the prelude of his Essai, all of modern literature about crises by Spengler, Huizinga and Evola is unimaginable.

Gobineau’s great work on the inequality of the races was completed, but the French culture did not take notice. Tocqueville tried to comfort Gobineau prophesying that his book would be introduced into France from Germany.

Gobineau died suddenly in Turin in October 1882. Nobody seemed to notice his disappearance. It was the Germans who valorized him. Wagner opened its columns of the Bayreuther Blätter; Hans von Wolzogen, Ludwig Schemann and Houston Stewart Chamberlain announced his work. It was Ludwig Schemann who founded the cult of Gobineau by instituting an archive near the University of Strasbourg, then in Germany. In 1896 Schemann founded the Gobineau-Vereinigung, which would spread Gobineauism throughout Germany. In 1914 Schemann had an influential network of friends and protectors and the Kaiser himself subsidized it.

On the trail of the work of Gobineau, racialism was born: Vacher de Lapouge, Penka, Pösche, Wilser, Woltmann, H. S. Chamberlain and after the war Rosenberg, Hans Günther and Clauss retook Gobineaunian intuitions and amplified them with a vast doctrinal body. In 1933 National Socialism, assuming power in Germany, officially recognized the ideology of race. Thus what Wittgenstein had prophesied about Gobineau was fulfilled: “You say you are a man of the past, but in reality you are a man of the future.”

Will Durant on race

Chapter IV of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History is titled “Race and History.” Although one of my favorite books is Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy (1926), the Durants were already in the train on its way to political correctness when, after the ten first volumes of their monumental The Story of Civilization (1935-1967), they published The Lessons of History in 1968.

It is symptomatic that in the blogosphere people like to quote chapter passages where the Durants subscribed to political correctness in racial maters (search for “Chapter IV” here): blaming the environment, not blacks, for the poor cultures at Sub-Saharan Africa and concluding the chapter with the sentence that “racial antipathies” cannot be cured except by “a broadened education,” presumably an education that includes the Durants book.

Apparently the Durants were completely ignorant about IQ studies and HBD in general (see this splendid interview of Henry Harpending by Craig Bodeker). Also, when in the chapter on race in The Lessons of History they write about Mayan and Aztec cultures they completely ignore that both cultures were based on organized serial killing. (See for example my own book chapter on pre-Columbian cultures, a subject that I am far more knowledgeable than the Durants.)

If any “lesson of history” has been learnt is that you can write ten or eleven thick volumes about civilizations and, still, be totally immersed in the Matrix of your own age and culture.

Below, the complete Chapter IV, where the Durants try to rebutt the theory of Madison Grant:

There are some two billion colored people on the earth, and some nine hundred million whites. However, many palefaces were delighted when Comte Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau, in an Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines (1853-55), announced that the species man is composed of distinct races inherently different (like individuals) in physical structure, mental capacity, and qualities of character; and that one race, the “Aryan,” was by nature superior to all the rest:

Everything great, noble, or fruitful in the works of man on this planet, in science, art, and civilization, derives from a single starting point, is the development of a single germ; … it belongs to one family alone, the different branches of which have reigned in all the civilized countries of the universe… History shows that all civilization derives from the white race, that none can exist without its help, and that a society is great and brilliant only so far as it preserves the blood of the noble group that created it.

Environmental advantages (argued Gobineau) cannot explain the rise of civilization, for the same kind of environment (e.g., soil-fertilizing rivers) that watered the civilizations of Egypt and the Near East produced no civilization among the Indians of North America, though they lived on fertile soil along magnificent streams. Nor do institutions make a civilization, for this has risen under a diversity, even a contrariety, of institutions, as in monarchical Egypt and “democratic” Athens. The rise, success, decline, and fall of a civilization depend upon the inherent quality of the race. The degeneration of a civilization is what the word itself indicates—a falling away from the genus, stock, or race. “Peoples degenerate only in consequence of the various mixtures of blood which they undergo.” Usually this comes through intermarriage of the vigorous race with those whom it has conquered. Hence the superiority of the whites in the United States and Canada (who did not intermarry with the Indians) to the whites in Latin America (who did). Only those who are themselves the product of such enfeebling mixtures talk of the equality of races, or think that “all men are brothers.” All strong characters and peoples are race conscious, and are instinctively averse to marriage outside their own racial group.

In 1899 Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an Englishman who had made Germany his home, published Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century), which narrowed the creative race from Aryans to Teutons: “True history begins from the moment when the German with mighty hand seizes the inheritance of antiquity.” Dante’s face struck Chamberlain as characteristically German; he thought he heard unmistakably German accents in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians; and though he was not quite sure that Christ was a German, he was confident that “whoever maintains that Christ was a Jew is either ignorant or dishonest.” German writers were too polite to contradict their guest: Treitschke and Bernhardi admitted that the Germans were the greatest of modern peoples; Wagner put the theory to music; Alfred Rosenberg made German blood and soil the inspiring “myth of the twentieth century”; and Adolf Hitler, on this basis, roused the Germans to slaughter a people and to undertake the conquest of Europe.

An American, Madison Grant, in The Passing of the Great Race (1916), confined the achievements of civilization to that branch of the Aryans which he called “Nordics”—Scandinavians, Scythians, Baltic Germans, Englishmen, and Anglo-Saxon Americans. Cooled to hardness by northern winters, one or another tribe of these fairhaired, blue-eyed “blond beasts” swept down through Russia and the Balkans into the lazy and lethargic South in a series of conquests marking the dawn of recorded history. According to Grant the “Sacae” (Scythians?) invaded India, developed Sanskrit as an “IndoEuropean” language, and established the caste system to prevent their deterioration through intermarriage with dark native stocks. The Cimmerians poured over the Caucasus into Persia, the Phrygians into Asia Minor, the Achaeans and Dorians into Greece and Crete, the Umbrians and Oscans into Italy. Everywhere the Nordics were adventurers, warriors, disciplinarians; they made subjects or slaves of the temperamental, unstable, and indolent “Mediterranean” peoples of the South, and they intermarried with the intermediate quiet and acquiescent “Alpine” stocks to produce the Athenians of the Periclean apogee and the Romans of the Republic. The Dorians intermarried least, and became the Spartans, a martial Nordic caste ruling “Mediterranean” helots. Intermarriage weakened and softened the Nordic stock in Attica, and led to the defeat of Athens by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, and the subjugation of Greece by the purer Nordics of Macedonia and Republican Rome.

In another inundation of Nordics—from Scandinavia and northern Germany—Goths and Vandals conquered Imperial Rome; Angles and Saxons conquered England and gave it a new name; Franks conquered Gaul and gave it their name. Still later, the Nordic Normans conquered France, England, and Sicily. The Nordic Lombards followed their long beards into Italy, intermarried, and vitalized Milan and Florence into a Renaissance. Nordic Varangians conquered Russia, and ruled it till 1917. Nordic Englishmen colonized America and Australia, conquered India, and set their sentinels in every major Asiatic port.

In our time (Grant mourned) this Nordic race is abandoning its mastery. It lost its footing in France in 1789; as Camille Desmoulins told his cafe audience, the Revolution was a revolt of the indigenous Gauls (“Alpines”) against the Teutonic Franks who had subjugated them under Clovis and Charlemagne. The Crusades, the Thirty Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War depleted the Nordic stock and left it too thin to resist the higher birth rate of Alpine and Mediterranean peoples in Europe and America. By the year 2000, Grant predicted, the Nordics will have fallen from power, and with their fall Western civilization will disappear in a new barbarism welling up everywhere from within and from without. He wisely conceded that the Mediterranean “race,” while inferior in bodily stamina to both the Nordics and the Alpines, has proved superior in intellectual and artistic attainments; to it must go the credit for the classic flowering of Greece and Rome; however, it may have owed much to intermarriage with Nordic blood.

Some weaknesses in the race theory are obvious. A Chinese scholar would remind us that his people created the most enduring civilization in history—statesmen, inventors, artists, poets, scientists, philosophers, saints from 2000 b.c. to our own time. A Mexican scholar could point to the lordly structures of Mayan, Aztec, and Incan cultures in pre-Columbian America. A Hindu scholar, while acknowledging “Aryan” infiltration into north India some sixteen hundred years before Christ, would recall that the black Dravidic peoples of south India produced great builders and poets of their own; the temples of Madras, Madura, and Trichinopoly are among the most impressive structures on earth. Even more startling is the towering shrine of the Khmers at Angkor Wat. History is color-blind, and can develop a civilization (in any favorable environment) under almost any skin.

Difficulties remain even if the race theory is confined to the white man. The Semites would recall the civilizations of Babylonia, Assyria, Syria, Palestine, Phoenicia, Carthage, and Islam. The Jews gave the Bible and Christianity to Europe, and much of the Koran to Mohammed. The Mohammedans could list the rulers, artists, poets, scientists, and philosophers who conquered and adorned a substantial portion of the white man’s world from Baghdad to Cordova while Western Europe groped through the Dark Ages (c. 565-c. 1095).

The ancient cultures of Egypt, Greece, and Rome were evidently the product of geographical opportunity and economic and political development rather than of racial constitution, and much of their civilization had an Oriental source. Greece took its arts and letters from Asia Minor, Crete, Phoenicia, and Egypt. In the second millennium b.c. Greek culture was “Mycenaean,” partly derived from Crete, which had probably learned from Asia Minor. When the “Nordic” Dorians came down through the Balkans, toward 1100 b.c, they destroyed much of this proto-Greek culture; and only after an interval of several centuries did the historic Greek civilization emerge in the Sparta of “Lycurgus,” the Miletus of Thales, the Ephesus of Heracleitus, the Lesbos of Sappho, the Athens of Solon. From the sixth century b.c. onward the Greeks spread their culture along the Mediterranean at Durazzo, Taranto, Crotona, Reggio Calabria, Syracuse, Naples, Nice, Monaco, Marseilles, Malaga. From the Greek cities of south Italy, and from the probably Asiatic culture of Etruria, came the civilization of ancient Rome; from Rome came the civilization of Western Europe; from Western Europe came the civilization of North and South America. In the third and following centuries of our era various Celtic, Teutonic, or Asiatic tribes laid Italy waste and destroyed the classic cultures. The South creates the civilizations, the North conquers them, ruins them, borrows from them, spreads them: this is one summary of history.

Attempts to relate civilization to race by measuring the relation of brain to face or weight have shed little light on the problem. If the Negroes of Africa have produced no great civilization it is probably because climatic and geographical conditions frustrated them; would any of the white “races” have done better in those environments? It is remarkable how many American Negroes have risen to high places in the professions, arts, and letters in the last one hundred years despite a thousand social obstacles.

The role of race in history is rather preliminary than creative. Varied stocks, entering some locality from diverse directions at divers times, mingle their blood, traditions, and ways with one another or with the existing population, like two diverse pools of genes coming together in sexual reproduction. Such an ethnic mixture may in the course of centuries produce a new type, even a new people; so Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, and Normans fused to produce Englishmen. When the new type takes form its cultural expressions are unique, and constitute a new civilization—a new physiognomy, character, language, literature, religion, morality, and art. It is not the race that makes the civilization, it is the civilization that makes the people; circumstances geographical, economic, and political create a culture, and the culture creates a human type. The Englishman does not so much make English civilization as it makes him; if he carries it wherever he goes, and dresses for dinner in Timbuktu, it is not that he is creating his civilization there anew, but that he acknowledges even there its mastery over his soul. In the long run such differences of tradition or type yield to the influence of the environment. Northern peoples take on the characteristics of southern peoples after living for generations in the tropics, and the grandchildren of peoples coming up from the leisurely South fall into the quicker tempo of movement and mind which they find in the North.

Viewed from this point, American civilization is still in the stage of racial mixture. Between 1700 and 1848 white Americans north of Florida were mainly Anglo-Saxon, and their literature was a flowering of old England on New England’s soil. After 1848 the doors of America were opened to all white stocks; a fresh racial fusion began, which will hardly be complete for centuries to come. When, out of this mixture, a new homogeneous type is formed, America may have its own language (as different from English as Spanish is from Italian), its indigenous literature, its characteristic arts; already these are visibly or raucously on their way.

“Racial” antipathies have some roots in ethnic origin, but they are also generated, perhaps predominantly, by differences of acquired culture—of language, dress, habits, morals, or religion. There is no cure for such antipathies except a broadened education. A knowledge of history may teach us that civilization is a co-operative product, that nearly all peoples have contributed to it; it is our common heritage and debt; and the civilized soul will reveal itself in treating every man or woman, however lowly, as a representative of one of these creative and contributory groups.