It was born as a minor issue in comparative linguistics; it grew into a full-fledged racial theory of history, and ended by almost devouring European civilization. The Aryan myth…..
The most famous proponent of the Aryan myth was Count Arthur de Gobineau, a Frenchman of great charm and considerable but erratic learning. Though he came, in fact, from a prosperous bourgeois family of Bordeaux, he convinced himself and his contemporaries that his lineage was truly aristocratic. Thus identifying himself with the harassed and impoverished French nobility, he looked with distaste upon the “progress” of nineteenth-century civilization.
The revolutions of 1848, which particularly horrified him, reinforced his sense of alienation from the modern world. To challenge the rising currents of democracy and socialism, he adopted a racial interpretation of history that had a long pedigree in France. This was the theory that the Gauls and Romans defeated by the so-called barbarian invaders were the ancestors of the French lower classes and that the aristocracy was descended from the conquering Franks, whom commentators by Gobineau’s time considered to be part of the Aryan stock. His hymn of praise to these Aryans was, therefore, also a chorus of protest against the democratization of French politics.
Gobineau insisted that mankind was divided basically into three races- black, yellow and white arranged in descending order. He further argued that withing the white race itself, the Aryan branch, originating in central Asia, was the finest of all. The rise and fall of civilizations, together with other political and social phenomena, were controlled ultimately by the workings of blood mixture between these races. Gobineau was unusual in suggesting that civilizations could be created only when the Aryans were intermixed on a limited scale, with their colored inferiors. However, his description of the Aryans is typical of the myth: he said they were tall, blond, powerful, and alert, that they loved freedom but placed honor above all.
The similarities between the racist Gobineau and the communist Marx, between a conception of history dominated by Aryan destiny and one enslaved to the destiny of the proletariat, are evident. So, too are their shared intolerance and limitation of vision. But, though some of Marx’s myths have proved therapeutically useful in provoking helpful revisions of social attitudes, no such qualification applies to the disastrous results of Gobineau’s Aryanism. Ironically, Gobineau was drawn to the myth by considerations of class conflict. He identified the Aryans not only with the ancient French aristocracy but also with much of the European nobility, a caste whose overthrow by Slav and Latin was virtually complete.
Aryanism and communism were thus enlisted in the same conflict of interest, but on opposite sides. Since Gobineau believed that the Aryan race was exhausted after centuries of culture-creation and that nothing but degradation and decline lay ahead, he preached stoicism rather than racial messianism. But others, ignoring his comparatively harmless conclusions, were to steal his methods and use them to wreak havoc. Whatever changes of mind may have arisen, the damage had already been done through the declarations of philologist Max Muller and others. Myths tend to have a life of their own and like Frankenstein’s monster, they often end up terrorizing and enslaving their creators. The ideal of the ancestral Aryan hero was firmly established.
The myth continued to feast upon what scientific ideas it could. Having lost the general support of philologists, it relied upon some of the more convenient applications of Darwinism and, especially, upon the pseudo science of anthroposociology, of which the most infamous manifestation was crainiometry, or skull measurement. Its adherent were soon quarreling about whether the long heads or the broad heads were the real representatives of the Aryan heritage.
Alys Eve Weinbaum: Indeed, ever since the announcement of the completion of the map of the human genome in June 2000, the case against race more often than not is presented in genetic terms and as definitively closed. As a headline in the New York Times rhetorically queried as early as August 2000, “Do Races Differ? Not Really Genes Show.” By 2003, Scientific American saw fit to announce on its cover that “Science Has the Answer” to the age-old conundrum of racial difference: race has no genetic basis.
What concerns me in this article is that even as the hegemony of a colorblind racial project currently being expressed as a post-racial euphoria holds sway, the dominant understanding of race, newly energized by genomics, exists side by side with a culture that continues to renew its commitment to the idea of race through its practice of biotechnology. Most of the biotechnological, medical, and consumer practices currently available, routinely prescribed, and widely purchased depend on geneticized ideas of race and, paradoxically, on the same genomic science that has been invoked to prove the non-existence of genetically distinct races. Here, I refer to a range of practices, among them recreational genealogy, race-based medicine, and the new fertility medicine comprised of an arsenal of assisted reproductive technologies, or so-called ARTs.
In one clear-cut instance, race is resurrected in and through the expanding market in recreational genealogy that frequently claims to be able to identify the consumer’s “racial origins.” Such genealogical tests popularize and commercialize the work of population geneticists who have used DNA analysis of many of the world’s peoples to argue that individuals can be assigned to their continent of origin on the basis of their “DNA fingerprint” by adding to this research the claim that such geographic regions correspond to self-identified categories.5 Consumers mail off a swab of inner cheek cells and two to four hundred dollars and receive an analysis of their DNA that identifies their origins in terms of race and ethnicity, informing them whether they are African, East Asian, Jewish, Native American, or, perhaps, a bit of each. Read More: http://www.princeton.edu/~publicma/Weinbaum_article.pdf