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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—>


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]

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—>