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Allan Kardec’s Views on Race Revisited. Part 5

the 19th century, phrenology had been used to justify the superiority of the white race and to explain the irremediable nature of the more inferior races [13].

In this article Kardec examined from the Spiritist’s point of view the alleged unfeasibility of perfecting the black race, as predicted by many phrenologists. He accepted phrenology’s claim that the brains of black individuals lacked the main physical elements that would prevent them from having the same level of intelligence exhibited by the whites, consequently rendering very difficult their intellectual progress as a race, but also contended that the ability to think and learn was an attribute of the Spirit and not the brain. Therefore, Spirits incarnated as black individuals were perfectly capable of achieving spiritual, moral and intellectual progress through successive incarnations. They were like the Spirits of children that have a lot to learn and advance and, therefore, needed to be nurtured with care in order to gradually change their more primitive tendencies until they reach a point in their spiritual path when they can start to reincarnate into more evolved bodies.

By today’s standards, Kardec’s views towards the black race (and other non-white races, for that matter) can be considered discriminatory and paternalist, to say the least, but taking into account the French scientific and cultural environments of the 19th century in which they were expressed, these views represented a progressive voice that rescued the concept of equality shared by every human being, which had already been lost at that time.

4 – Conclusions

Since Kardec discussed his views on racial differences, almost 150 years have passed and remarkable progress has been made in our understanding of the genetic variations that determine the various racial and ethnic groups that exist on Earth, giving no room for racial discrimination. But it has been a long and bumpy road. Many atrocities have been committed, many fundamental human rights have been violated and many injustices have been perpetrated. But we as a civilization are learning our lessons. Today the scientific community understands that there is no scientific basis for any hierarchical grouping of individuals by race, and it fully endorses the same rights to freedom, justice, respect and dignity for all individuals of the human species [15]. Slavery became unlawful and morally unacceptable, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been created, segregation laws have been abolished, and racial tolerance has been more practiced and disseminated.

Kardec’s views on race were undoubtedly influenced by the European ethnocentric biased scientific data of his time, and not by what he inferred from the teachings delivered by the many enlightened Spirits who guided his studies and his work and who never implied that different races are characterized by different levels of inherently immutable abilities or moral standards. He was able to, nevertheless, preserve in the discussion about race the Spiritist Doctrine’s message of equality, brotherhood and fraternal love among all human beings. This is brilliantly demonstrated in his statement [3]  Continue Reading—>

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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—>

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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]

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