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Allan Kardec’s Views on Race Revisited. Part 3

In the first half of the 19th century two main ethnological views dominated the debate about racial differences. Influenced by the New Testament, the monogenesis view asserted that all human beings were of one blood and the observed differences displayed by the various racial groups were due to their exposure to distinct climatic and environmental conditions. With a wider acceptance by French scientists and intellectuals, the polygenesis view proclaimed that different races were due to separately created species with different aptitudes and unalterable capacities. In fact, the polygenetic theory dominated French anthropology … and the proceedings of the Ethnological Society of Paris for 1841-1847 contain extreme racist statements that aroused little dissent.[11]

Aligned with the polygenetic discourse was the Swiss physician and naturalist Louis Agassiz, who believed that blacks were a separate and inferior species rather than just individuals who were part of a less developed culture. His academic credentials and prestige lead him to the United States and become a professor at Harvard University. In 1850 he expressed his views on racial differences in the paper entitled “The Diversity of Origin of the Human Races”, where he affirmed that scientists had “the obligation to settle the relative rank among … races,” because it would be “mock-philanthropy and mock-philosophy to assume that all races have the same abilities … and that in consequence …they are entitled to the same position in human society.” [6]

Another voice to join the chorus of the defenders of polygenesis was the French novelist and diplomat Arthur de Gobineau, who in 1855 wrote the essay “Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines”, translated into English in 1915 as “The Inequality of Races.” In this work Gobineau gave his scientific justification for the superiority of the white race and explained why the lower races could never achieve higher levels of civilization. Gobineau’s views had many supporters including the German composer Richard Wagner, who, in 1881, founded the Gobineau Society to disseminate this ideology to the world [13].

The above discussion illustrates very clearly the scientific views that shaped the understanding of the observed differences among various human races in the mid 19th century. In France, particularly, the superiority of the Europeans (or the white race) was an undeniable fact endorsed by the scientific community, consequently being the framework in which Kardec wrote his considerations in the mentioned texts [1] and [4]. However, an important distinction must be made. The scientific racism practiced in the 19th century, recognized today as an attempt to make nature herself an accomplice of political inequality [7], was used to justify and defend slavery and later became the basis for the oppression and atrocities committed in the 20th century in the name of ethnic purity and racial intolerance. On the other hand, without conflicting with the current scientific knowledge, Allan Kardec offered a plausible explanation where reincarnation was the mechanism that restored the concept of equality and brotherhood among individuals of different races. The next section discusses this point further. Continue Reading—>

Allan Kardec’s Views on Race Revisited. Part 2

innate interdependence between Spiritism, whose object is the study of the laws that govern spiritual principles, and conventional science, whose object is to study the laws of matter. According to him, the knowledge of one cannot be complete without the knowledge of the other [2], and his effort to re-examine some of the current scientific theories under the viewpoint of Spiritism is in complete alignment with this principle. Consequently, when Kardec attempted to explain the existence on Earth of the different human races and the reason for their differences, his rationale was based on the well established scientific fact of his time that there were races considered to be superior to others.

The primary goal of this article is to revisit Kardec’s writings about human races focusing on how they were influenced by the race theories then currently in vogue. A description of some of these theories is presented in the next section.

2 – The science of race in the 18th and 19th century

The first time the concept of race was examined from a scientific point of view was in 1735 by the Swedish biological taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus, who grouped human beings into the skin color varieties red, yellow, white and black, referring to the American Indians, Asians, Europeans and Africans, respectively. He also attributed a set of personal traits that were specific to each group: the whites, for example, were described as keen minded and innovative, the blacks as lazy and careless [5].

Linnaeus’ race classification was modified and expanded by the German physiologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, considered to be the father of physical anthropology, in the work published in 1776 entitled “On the Natural Varieties of Mankind”. His classification of human races consisted of Caucasians, Mongolians, Ethiopians, Americans, and Malays, reflecting the prevailing physical types found on the different regions of the known world. Contrary to Linnaeus’, Blumenbach’s classification was based solely on the general physical characteristics of the individuals of different races and it did not rank the races according to the intellectual abilities or moral standards displayed by those individuals. However, being a white European, his ethnocentric bias was revealed when he associated the white race with the region of Caucasus, due to the alleged beauty of its population. He actually stated that Caucasians were the original race from which the others have originated or degenerated. They were the most handsome and becoming, having the most beautiful form of the skull [8].

But at the end of the 18th century there were ethnological thinkers that insisted on the existence of a natural ranking of the various human races. The French naturalist GeorgesLouis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, assumed that Europeans were intellectually superior to Africans [9] and, in 1798, the German philosopher Christoph Meiners published the “Outline of the History of Humanity” establishing a racial correlation between physical beauty and intelligence, declaring that “fair” people were superior in both respects, while the “darker colored peoples,” he deemed both “ugly” and at best “semi-civilized.” [10]  Continue Reading —>