Occidental Origins of Race-Theory (I)

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(a) Origins & Development of Racial Thought in the Occident

(a.1) Purpose of the Inquiry

Racial identity is without question one of the single most important questions of any age for, to quote the historian Richard Carrier1, “All politics is identity politics2” and race is central to identity; indeed, the fountainhead thereof. The implications of this can scarcely be overstated, for it necessitates a wholesale revision of nearly every single facet of contemporary social thought. Since times immemorial race (whether explicitly stated or not) has played a essential role in the development, coherence, solidarity and purpose of human societies. Yet, despite the centrality of race, there are few words more dreadful to the ears of the modern man; especially the modern western man. He is not nearly modern enough! For it is something of a now aged heresy to speak freely and plainly about issues of collective distinction, despite how empirical the inquiry thereinto, whether that is between old and young, rich and poor or men and women; yet few issues draw more heaps of scorn, derision and outright madness than that of biological reality. Consider the following question and answer segment from a English Language Learners thread on ell.stackexchange.com:

Question:

I encountered this question on the Worldbuilding SE : If there are several races with very distinct appearances (e.g. Nordic-pale vs. Arabic-tan skin, red vs. black hair, etc.), how much space / natural barriers do I need between their homelands to justify these distinctions?” In this case, what is the best word to use in English? Is ethnicity best suited for his question?

Vincent, Nov. 3, 2014 at 20:42.

Answer:

Race has such a potentially negative connotation that I don’t want to touch this question with a ten foot pole. However, in cases such as ancient history or non-generic race (Nordic-pale instead of black / white) or race not defined primarily by color (color here is just a part of the race, hair color being another), race is often used without any negative connotations.

Millie Smith, Nov. 3, 2014 at 20:58.

Ms. Smith’s declaration of not wanting to “touch this question with a ten foot pole” is emblematic of the way many westerners, especially those who live in liberal democracies tend to behave in reaction to the issue of race; it is simply taboo (even via the safety of the internet) and if one wishes to speak of it at all one had best do it only in relation to “ancient history.”

Consider also the strong stance which groups such as the Catholic Church take upon the issue of race as demonstrated in the writings of Yves M.J. Congar,

What is racism? It is the dividing and grading of human beings into groups, and then the effecting of discrimination against some of them, on the ground that their human qualities or characteristics are genetically determined. Racism refuses to see man outside a system of classification based on genetic factors (real or supposed). In its view, it is these factors that radically and decisively qualify, unite or separate men. This standpoint is incompatible with the tenets of the Christian faith as regards (a) the unity and (b) the dignity of human nature, and also with Christian spirituality. Racism is a pseudo-religion; it has disastrous results which attack Christianity at its roots.”3

We contend that this is a wrongheaded approach and one which threatens not just the amiability of discourse or the cumulative gains of the scientific project, but indeed, the gains of the whole of the civilizational project itself, for, as Arthur Kemp wrote, “Those who occupy a territory determine the nature of the society in that territory. This is an immutable law of nature. It is the iron rule upon which all of human endeavor is built—that history is a function of race.”4

(a.2) Origins of Race

The word “race” is of relatively recent conception, however, racial conceptions can be traced back into the swirling mists of the ancient world. In Homer’s (1200-800 BCE) epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, he makes reference to human variability; distinguishing between the aethiopians (Africans) and the cubit-men5 (African pygmies). Furthermore, human beings in Homer’s tales are described as progressively degenerative in terms of their genealogical descent, all having come from another race or species of beings, such as giants who were believed to have, in primordial times, roamed the earth. Herodotus (484-425 BCE), in his Historiae, argues that the environment is a important factor in human variation which was then further modified by culture. He went to great lengths to test the differences between human groups; carrying out a empirical study wherein he’d line up a series of differing human skulls and chuck rocks at them to see which would first crack. Egyptian skulls, it turned out, were the most sturdy. Somewhat later, Hippocrates (460-377 BCE) in his treatises describes the body as a organ which could not be properly understood without factoring the effects of the environment, the behavior and the humors of the body itself. In Hippocrates’ Airs, Waters, Places, he compares the people of Asia Minor with those of Europe and Egypt. It is from this comparison which he derived his somatotypes, phthisic and apoplectic. The Greek naturalist Aristotle (384-322 BCE) in his Historia Animalium, prefiguring Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, compares the similarities between monkeys, apes and man. St. Augustine, in his De Civitate Dei Contra Paganos lays out a early theory of monogenism derived from the book of Genesis, reasoning that every man that is or will be, have a common ancestor in Adam, the first man, crafted by Jehovah6. Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) departed from many of the early racial theorists by questioning the centrality of environmental modulation upon the variety of man and instead advanced hereditarianism. Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), a Flemish anatomist, in his study of human skulls realized that the cranial shape and size varied slightly but noticeably with region of origin. Due to this finding, Vesalius argued that the differentials in skull size and shape were due to habit and environs; for instance, he argued that the Genoese, the Greeks and the Turks had more rounded heads in comparison to many other groups because of their proclivity for wearing turbans about their crowns; the Germans, he believed had flatter, broader heads because their babies laid so long upon their backs in the crib.

The etymological roots of the word race stem from the French word rasse which came into usage around 1512, shortly before Vesalius’ birth. The Latin word genus (meaning a group sharing similar qualities) – in common usage as early as 1550s – was deployed in a similar fashion as rasse. The English word “race”7 dates to a early 16th century Middle French word, similarly, race, which was influenced by the French rasse and possibly the earlier Italian razza.

1Richard Carrier: American historian and author who gained notoriety for proselytizing metaphysical naturalism and numerous texts concerning the historicity of Jesus.

2Mythicist Milwaukee: Interview with Richard Carrier (May 6, 2018).

3Yves Congar. The Catholic Church and the Race Question, p. 13

4Arthur Kemp, March of the Titans, p. 24

5A cubit is a measurement of length. 1 cubit is roughly equivalent to the distance between fingertip and elbow. 444 mm.

6Jehovah, also referred to as Yaweh was an Iron Age god associated with the kingdom of Samaria (Israel) and a primary protagonist of The Old Testament.

7Race (n.2). Etymonline.com.

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