Allan Kardec’s Views on Race Revisited. Part 4

3 – Conciliating racial differences and equality

Kardec’s concern with racial differences appears already in the initial chapters of The Spirit’s Book. This matter is first addressed in Chapter III, questions 52-54, where he questions the causes for the physical and cultural differences that exist among the human races, and then in Chapter IX, where he examines in more depth what he perceived to be a serious conflict between the acknowledged superiority of some races over the others (an indisputable scientific truth of his time, as described in the previous section), and the inalienable equality endowed by the Creator to all human beings. He conjectures [14]

Why are some groups of people in the world more progressive in their attitudes than others? If we took a Hottentot1 baby and bring her up in the most renowned school, could we make her a Laplace or Newton?

What philosophy can solve these questions? Either the souls of human beings are equal at birth, or they are not. But if they are equal, how come discrepancies exist?

To Kardec, the solution for these discrepancies resided in the concept of reincarnation. In his view, divine justice could only be fully manifested if everyone were created equal and were given the same opportunities, through many successive incarnated lives, to advance morally, spiritually, and intellectually. Such discrepancies arise when one tries to see divine justice through the distorted lens of a philosophy that awards humans with a single existence only.

Kardec proceeds arguing that [14]

…one may reply that the Hottentot is of an inferior race. In such case, we beg to inquire whether she is not a human being. This being the case, why God refused her and her whole race the privileges granted to Caucasians? The Spiritist Doctrine does not admit the existence of different classes of human beings. Instead, it argues that spirits living on Earth are in different stages of development, and they are all equally capable of attaining the same progress. Does not this view of the human race seem more compassionate and in agreement with a loving God?

Kardec’s argument evidently shows that he did believe in a natural ranking of capacities exhibited by individuals of different races, as the science of his time dictated, but, most importantly, he also believed unquestioningly in the innate equality among all human beings.

Five years later, Kardec revisited the theme of racial differences in the article “Spiritualist and spiritist phrenology. Perfectibility of the black race” [4]. Phrenology was a very popular scientific field in the 19th century that correlated the physical sizes and contours of a person’s skull with his/her tendencies for a given personality trait. This field of study was later abandoned due to the lack of a solid scientific foundation. But in Continue Reading—>


1 The hottentots, from southern Africa, were seen by Europeans as the most denigrated of all races both because their nomadic, nonagricultural way of life was considered highly uncivilized and because in physique and physiognomy they were perceived as deviating more from the European somatic norm than did other Africans.[12]