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Arthur de Gobineau

Arthur de Gobineau
File:Arthur de Gobineau.jpg
Portrait of Gobineau, by the Comtesse de la Tour, 1876
Born (1816-07-14)14 July 1816
Ville-d'Avray, Hauts-de-Seine
Died 13 October 1882(1882-10-13) (aged 66)
Nationality French

Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau (14 July 1816 – 13 October 1882) was a French aristocrat, novelist and man of letters who became famous for developing the theory of the Aryan master race in his book An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races[1] (1853–1855). Gobineau is credited as being the father of modern racial demography. Since the late 20th century, his works are considered early examples of scientific racism.

Life and theories

Gobineau's father was a government official and staunch royalist, and his mother, Anne-Louise Magdeleine de Gercy, was the daughter of a royal tax official. Her father was not a nobleman, but he took the 'count' title to his name himself.[2]

In the later years of the July Monarchy, Gobineau made his living writing serialized fiction (romans-feuilletons) and contributing to reactionary periodicals. He struck up a friendship and had voluminous correspondence with Alexis de Tocqueville.[3][4][5][6] The latter man gave Gobineau an appointment in the foreign ministry while serving as foreign minister during the Second Republic of France.[7]

Gobineau was a successful diplomat for the Second French Empire. Initially he was posted to Persia, before working in Brazil and other countries. He came to believe that race created culture, arguing that distinctions among the three races - "black", "white", and "yellow" - were natural barriers, and that "race-mixing" breaks those barriers and leads to chaos. He classified Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa as racially mixed.[8]

Gobineau questioned the belief that the black and yellow races belong to the same human family as the white race and share a common ancestor. Trained neither as a theologian nor a naturalist, and writing before the popular spread of evolutionary theory, Gobineau took the Bible to be a true telling of human history. In his An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, he demonstrates belief in the day's prevailing Christian doctrine that all human beings shared the common ancestors Adam and Eve (monogenism as opposed to polygenism). But, he suggested that except for the Church's teaching, there was little evidence that the coloured races were born, like the white race, from Adam.[9][10] He said that "... nothing proves that at the first redaction of the Adamite genealogies the colored races were considered as forming part of the species".[8]

Gobineau believed the white race was superior to the other races in the creation of civilized culture and maintenance of ordered government. He thought that the development of civilization in other periods was different from his own and speculated that other races might have superior qualities in those civilizations. But, he believed European civilization represented the best of what remained of ancient civilizations and held the most superior attributes capable for continued survival. His primary thesis was that European civilization flowed from Greece to Rome, and Germanic to contemporary. He thought this corresponded to the ancient Indo-European culture, also known as "Aryan," which included groups classified by language, for example the Celts, Slavs and the Germans.[11][12] Gobineau later came to use and reserve the term Aryan only for the "German race" and described the Aryans as 'la race germanique'.[13] By doing so he presented a racist theory in which Aryans—that is Germans—were all that was positive [14] Gobineau originally wrote that, given the past trajectory of civilization in Europe, white race miscegenation was inevitable and would result in growing chaos. He attributed much of the economic turmoil in France to pollution of races. Later in his life, with the spread of British and American civilization and the growth of Germany, he altered his opinion to believe that the white race could be saved.

Paradoxically, although Gobineau saw hope in the expansion of European power, he did not support the creation of commercial empires with their attendant multicultural milieu. He concluded that the development of empires was ultimately destructive to the "superior races" that created them, since they led to the mixing of distinct races. Instead, he saw the later period of the 19th century imperialism as a degenerative process in European civilization. He continually referred to past empires in Europe and their attendant movement of non-white peoples into European homelands, in explaining the ethnography of the nations of Europe.

According to his theories, the mixed populations of Spain, most of France and Italy, most of Southern Germany, most of Switzerland and Austria, and parts of Britain derived from the historical development of the Roman, Greek, and Ottoman empires, which had brought the non-Aryan peoples of Africa and the Mediterranean cultures to western and northern Europe. He believed that the populations of southern and western Iran, southern Spain and Italy consisted of a degenerative race arising from miscegenation, and that the whole of north India consisted of a "yellow" (Asian) race.


Adolf Hitler and Nazism borrowed much of Gobineau's ideology. Gobineau was not antisemitic, and may be characterised as philosemitic.[15] Gobineau wrote positively about the Jews, including a long eulogy to them in his Essai sur l'inégalité des races, describing them as "a free, strong, and intelligent people" who succeeded despite the natural disadvantages of the Land of Israel.[16] When the Nazis adopted Gobineau's theories, they edited his work extensively to make it conform to their views,[17] much as they did in the case of Nietzsche.

In his late writings, Richard Wagner was positive about Gobineau and suggested that one could not exclude the correctness of his racial theory. At the same time, he also totally disagreed with Gobineau's conclusion that miscegenation unavoidably resulted in the decline of the human race and cultures. He thought that Christ died for everyone, irrespective of race, and from this he drew his hope for a fundamental regeneration. It was Cosima Wagner who maintained the close contact with Gobineau, not Wagner. Gobineau visited Bayreuth, the home of Wagner, shortly before his death.[18]


Though in no way espousing his beliefs, Bahá'ís know Gobineau as the person who obtained the only complete manuscript of the early history of the Bábí religious movement of Persia, written by Hajji Mirzâ Jân of Kashan, who was put to death by the Persian authorities in c.1852.[citation needed] The manuscript is held by the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris.[citation needed] He is also known to students of Babism for having written the first and most influential account of the movement, displaying a fairly accurate knowledge of its history in Religions et philosophies dans l'Asie centrale. An addendum to that work is a bad translation of the Bab's Bayan al-'Arabi, the first Babi text to be translated into a European language.[citation needed]

Gobineau wrote novels in addition to his works on race, notably Les Pléiades (1874). His study La Renaissance (1877) also was admired in his day. Both of these works strongly expressed his reactionary aristocratic politics, and his hatred of democratic mass culture.[19]

Works in English translation


  • The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races, J. B. Lippincott, 1856 (rep. by Garland Pub., 1984).
  • Method of Reading Cuneiform Texts, Educational Society's Press, 1865.
  • Gobineau: Selected Political Writing, Michael D. Biddiss (ed.), Jonathan Cape, 1970.
  • The World of the Persians, J. Gifford, 1971.
  • A Gentleman in the Outports: Gobineau and Newfoundland, Carleton University Press, 1993.
  • Comte de Gobineau and Orientalism: Selected Eastern Writings, Geoffrey Nash (ed.), Routledge, 2008.


  • Typhaines Abbey: A Tale of the Twelfth Century, Claxton, Remsen and Haffelfinger, 1869.
  • Romances of the East, D. Appleton and Company, 1878 [Rep. by Arno Press, 1973].
    • "The History of Gamber-Ali." In The Universal Anthology, Vol. XX, Merrill & Baker, 1899.
    • Five Oriental Tales, The Viking Press, 1925.
    • The Dancing Girl of Shamakha and other Asiatic Tales, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1926.
    • Tales of Asia, Geoffrey Bles, 1947.
    • Mademoiselle Irnois and Other Stories, University of California Press, 1988.
  • The Renaissance: Savonarola. Cesare Borgia. Julius II. Leo X. Michael Angelo, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913 [Rep. by George Allen & Unwin, 1927].
  • The Golden Flower, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1924 [Rep. by Books for Libraries Press, 1968].
  • The Lucky Prisoner, Doubleday, Page and Company, 1926 [Rep. by Bretano's, 1930].
  • The Crimson Handkerchief: and other Stories, Harper & Brothers, 1927 [Rep. by Jonathan Cape: London, 1929].
  • The Pleiads, A. A. Knopf, 1928.
    • Sons of Kings, Oxford University Press, 1966.
    • The Pleiads, Howard Fertig Pub., 1978

See also


  1. ^ Snyder, Louis L. (1939). "Gobinism: The 'Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races'," in Race: A History of Ethnic Theories. New York: Longmans, Green & Co., pp. 114-130.
  2. ^ Cohen, William B. (1980). The French Encounter with Africans. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 217
  3. ^ Richter, Melvin (1958). "The Study of Man. A Debate on Race: The Tocqueville-Gobineau Correspondence," Commentary 25 (2), pp. 151-160.
  4. ^ Alexis de Tocqueville, The European Revolution and Correspondence with Gobineau, John Lukacz (ed.), Doubleday Anchor Books, 1959.
  5. ^ Beloff, Max (1986). "Tocqueville & Gobineau," Encounter, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, pp. 29-31.
  6. ^ Tessitore, Aristide (2005). "Tocqueville and Gobineau on the Nature of Modern Politics," The Review of Politics, Vol. 67, No. 4, pp. 631-657.
  7. ^ D. J. Richards, "Arthur de Gobineau." In Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 123: Nineteenth-Century French Fiction Writers: Naturalism and Beyond, 1860-1900. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Catharine Savage Brosman, Tulane University. The Gale Group, 1992. pp. 101-117.
  8. ^ a b J.A. Gobineau: The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races. J.B. Lippincott & Co, Philadelphia (1856), p.337/338
  9. ^ Ernst Cassirer: The Myth of the State, Yale University Press (2009) p. 233/234
  10. ^ Léon Poliakov: "Der arische Mythos. Zu den Quellen von Rassismus und Nationalismus" Junius Verlag, (1993), ISBN 3-88506-220-8 S.265
  11. ^ Nevenko Bartulin (4 July 2013). Honorary Aryans: National-Racial Identity and Protected Jews in the Independent State of Croatia. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-137-33912-6. 
  12. ^ Among the groups which Gobineau classified as Aryan were the Hindus, Iranians, Hellenes, Celts, Slavs, and the Germans.
    Ian Wood (September 2013). The Modern Origins of the Early Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-19-965048-4. 
  13. ^ The Cambridge Companion to Tacitus, Page 294, A. J. Woodman - 2009. The white race was defined as beautiful, honourable and destined to rule; are 'cette illustre famille humaine, la plus noble'.74 Originally a linguistic term synonymous with Indo-European,7S 'Aryan' became, not least because of the Essai, the designation of a race, which Gobineau specified as 'la race germanique'
  14. ^ So that the reader not be left in ignorance as to who the Aryans are, Gobineau stated . La race germanique était pourvue de toute l'énergie de la variété ariane. We see, then, that Gobineau presents a racist theory in which the Aryans, or Germans, are all that is good. Comparative literature. by American Comparative Literature Association.; Modern Language Association of America. Comparative Literature Section.; University of Oregon. 1967, page 342
  15. ^ Fortier, Paul A. (1967). "Gobineau and German Racism," Comparative Literature, Vol. 19, No.4, pp. 341-350.
  16. ^ Gobineau, Arthur (1915). The Inequality of Human Races, translated by Adrian Collins. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, p. 59.
  17. ^ Sabine, George (1988). Historia de la Teoría Política. Madrid: FCE.
  18. ^ Bermbach, Udo, "Wagner und Gobineau: Zur Geschichte eines Missverständnisses", WagnerSpectrum 9/1 (2013), 243-258.
  19. ^ Beum, Robert (1997). "Ultra-Royalism Revisited," Modern Age, Vol. XXXIX, No. 3, pp. 290-322.

Further reading

  • Beasley, Edward (2010). The Victorian Reinvention of Race: New Racisms and the Problem of Grouping in the Human Sciences, Taylor & Francis.
  • Biddiss, Michael D. (1970). Father of Racist Ideology: The Social and Political Thought of Count Gobineau, Weybright & Talley.
  • Biddiss, Michael D. (1970). "Prophecy and Pragmatism: Gobineau's Confrontation with Tocqueville," The Historical Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4.
  • Biddiss, Michael D. (1997). "History as Destiny: Gobineau, H. S. Chamberlain and Spengler," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Sixth Series, Vol. VII.
  • Blue, Gregory (1999). "Gobineau on China: Race Theory, the 'Yellow Peril,' and the Critique of Modernity," Journal of World History, Vol. 10, No. 1.
  • Dreher, Robert Edward (1970). Arthur de Gobineau, an Intellectual Portrait, University of Wisconsin.
  • Fortier, Paul A. (1967). "Gobineau and German Racism," Comparative Literature, Vol. 19, No. 4.
  • Gillouin, Rene (1921). "Mystical Race Theories," The Living Age, No. 4015.
  • Grimes, Alan P. & Horwitz, Robert H. (1959). "Elitism: Racial Elitism." In Modern Political Ideologies, Vol. V, Oxford University Press.
  • Haskins, Frank H. (1924). "Race as a Factor in Political Theory." In A History of Political Theories, Chap. XIII, The Macmillan Company.
  • House, Roy Temple (1923). "Gobineau, Nietzsche, and Spiess," The Nation, April 11.
  • Jackson, Thomas (2007). "Who Was the 'Father of Racism'?," American Renaissance, Vol. XVIII, No. 7.
  • Kale, Steven (2010). "Gobineau, Racism, and Legitimism: A Royalist Heretic in Nineteenth-Century France," Modern Intellectual History, Volume 7, Issue 01.
  • Montagu, M. F. Ashley (1945). "Origin of the 'Race' Concept." In Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, Columbia University Press.
  • Rahilly, A. J. (1916). "Race and Super-Race," The Dublin Review, Vol. CLIX.
  • Rowbotham, Arnold H. (1929). The Literary Works of Count de Gobineau, H. Champion.
  • Schemann, Ludwig (1979). Gobineau, Arno Press.
  • Seillière, Ernest (1914). "The Life and Work of Count Arthur de Gobineau." In The German Doctrine of Conquest, Maunsel & Co.
  • Sorokin, Pitirim A. (1928). "Anthropo-Racial, Selectionist, and Hereditarist School." In Contemporary Sociological Theories, Harper & Bros., pp. 219–308.
  • Snyder, Louis L. (1939). "Count Arthur de Gobineau and the Crystallization of Nordicism." In Race: A History of Modern Ethnic Theories, Longmans, Green & Co.
  • Spring, Gerald Max (1932). The Vitalism of Count de Gobineau, New York, [s.n.].
  • Valette, Rebecca M. (1969). Arthur de Gobineau and the Short Story, University of North Carolina Press.
  • Voegelin, Eric (1940). "The Growth of the Race Idea," The Review of Politics, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 283–317.
  • Voegelin, Eric (1997). Race and State, University of Missouri Press.

In foreign languages

  • Boissel, Jean (1993). Gobineau: Biographie. Mythes et Réalité, Berg International.
  • Buenzod, Janine (1967). La Formation de le Pensée de Gobineau et l'Essai sur l'Inégalité des Races Humaines, Librairie A. G. Nizet.
  • Devaux, Philippe (1937–38). "L'Aristotélisme et le Vitalisme de Gobineau," Revue Franco-belge, December/Janvier .
  • Dreyfus, Robert (1905). La Vie et les Prophéties du Comte de Gobineau, Calmann-Lévy.
  • Faÿ, Bernard (1930). Le Comte Arthur de Gobineau et la Grèce, H. Champion.
  • Gahyva, Helga (2002). O Inimigo do Século - Um Estudo Sobre Arthur de Gobineau 1816-1882, IUPERJ.
  • Kleinecke, Paul (1902). Gobineau's Rassenphilosophie, Haack.
  • Lacretelle, Jacques de (1924). Quatre Études sur Gobineau, Á la Lampe d'Aladdin.
  • Lange, Maurice (1924). Le Comte Arthur de Gobineau, Étude Biographique et Critique, Faculté de Lettres de Strasbourg.
  • Raeders, George (1988). O Inimigo Cordial do Brasil: O Conde de Gobineau no Brasil, Paz & Terra.
  • Riffaterre, Michael (1957). Le Style des Pléiades de Gobineau, E. Droz.
  • Schemann, Ludwig (1913–16). Gobineau: eine Biographie, 2 Vol., K. J. Trübner.
  • Schemann, Ludwig (1934). Gobineau und die Deutsche Kultur, B.G. Teubner.
  • Smith, Annette (1984). Gobineau et l'Histoire Naturelle, E. Droz.
  • Spiess, Camille (1917). Impérialismes; la Conception Gobinienne de la Race, E. Figuière & Cie.
  • Thomas, Louis (1941). Arthur de Gobineau, Inventeur du Racisme (1816-1882), Mercure de France.

External links

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