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Arthur de Gobineau

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Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau (1815–1882) was a French aristocrat, writer and diplomat who invented the concept of the Aryan race, one of the main concepts of racism and especially white supremacy. As he had no formal education, nor any experience in anthropology, his claims were pseudoscience.[1]

Life and work[edit]

de Gobineau was born into an aristocratic French family on 14 July 1816. His father was a staunch royalist and supporter of the Bourbon royal family, which had gotten him in trouble during the reign of Napoleon.[2] His mother was a descendant of landed gentry and creoles from the Caribbean. She was also a fraudster, which meant that the young Arthur was often on the run with his mother. When he was reunited with his father, he received a formal education which destined him for the career of a public official.

Yet after failing to enter a military career, de Gobineau decided to become a writer and journalist in Paris. At first he lived off the money of a rich uncle, but when he was deprived of this income, he attempted to finance himself through articles for the ultra-royalist press and poetry. Success finally came when he joined an elitist art group and got to publish several articles on foreign policy. This additional income allowed him to publish his more ambitious literary projects.

When the revolution of 1848 took place around him, de Gobineau was deeply disgusted by the uprising and wrote his first racist poem by the name of "Manfredine",[3] which praised a fictional countess, a descendant of the Germanic god Odin, who saved the Italian city of Naples from its enemies.

Shortly thereafter de Gobineau got employment as a diplomat through his friend, the liberal Alexis de Tocqueville. Although the job meant that he had to work for what he believed to be the despicable republic that reigned after the revolution, de Gobineau accepted the position. He was sent on his first diplomatic mission to Switzerland, which was so dull that it allowed him to write his racist masterpiece, "An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races" (French: Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines).[4] Therein he postulated that there are three fundamentally different human races — "black", "yellow" and "white".

While he had disdain for the "black" race, his hatred is mostly directed towards the "yellow" race, which aligned with the anti-Chinese fashion of his time. Of course, he saw the "white" race as the purest and most noble race. Yet in order to distinguish himself and his aristocratic friends from the plebs, he hypothesized an "Aryan" race which was the purest expression of the "white" race, a noble Germanic warrior race which conquered Europe in prehistoric times and was thus destined to rule over all others. Of course, de Gobineau himself claimed to be a direct descendant of those "Aryans".[5]

Afterwards de Gobineau led the life of a diplomatic envoy, travelling to Greece, Persia and Brazil, and founding a family. He wrote extensively about his travels and thus found success as a writer, while his "Essay" was largely ignored at the time. He befriended local politicians, most notably Emperor Dom Pedro II. of Brazil, but his low position in the diplomatic service meant that he had little influence on his missions and their destinations.

Frustrated, he resigned and led an unstable life on the road, which led to an unexpected meeting with the German composer Richard Wagner in Rome. Wagner was deeply impressed with de Gobineau's "Essay" and de Gobineau was likewise impressed by Wagner's Germanic musical fantasies.[6] He became a part of Wagner's Bayreuth circle and Wagner arranged for a translation of the "Essay" which was published in the Bayreuther Blätter, official newspaper of Wagner's Bayreuth festival.

Yet he would be denied further success. Radicalized by the encounter with Wagner, de Gobineau started to refer to normal folk as boue (French for mud) and wrote an historic missive by the name of "Histoire d'Ottar-Jarl" which aimed to prove his own descendance from Odin.[7] When tension between de Gobineau and Wagner arose because de Gobineau did not share Wagner's radical antisemitism, de Gobineau broke off his connection.[8]

Alone, sick and almost blind, he travelled to Turin on a whim. He died there of a stroke on 13th October 1882 and was buried in the city. This allowed the Italian fascists under Benito Mussolini to mount a plaque on his grave which read: Il tempo e gli eventi ne esaltano la figura di presago pensatore ("Time and events exalt the guise of a prophetic thinker").

Relation with Nazism[edit]

Although de Gobineau did not live long enough to see the rise of Nazism, he had a notable influence. Though himself not a fervent racist, de Gobineau rejected democracy and was always a staunch royalist during all his life.[9]

Cosima Wagner, widow of Richard Wagner, was an avid promoter of de Gobineau's work. Due to her influence as unofficial editor for the Bayreuther Blätter, she ensured that his work was always present in the newspaper. During 1881 and 1937, more than sixty articles were published about de Gobineau. Cosima Wagner also wrote his eulogy in 1882. In 1894 members of the Bayreuth circle founded a "Gobineau Society" and its newsletters were enclosed in the Bayreuther Blätter.[10]

One of the members of the "Gobineau Society" was Houston Stewart Chamberlain, son-in-law of Richard Wagner, who build upon de Gobineau's ideas in his racist, pan-Germanic and "völkisch" key work "The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century". Chamberlain expanded on the concept of the Aryan race and aimed to establish that the "Teutons" or Germans were the greatest of the Aryans.[11]

When Chamberlain died in 1927, his funeral was attended by Alfred Rosenberg, chief ideologue of Nazism, and Adolf Hitler.

External links[edit]