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Arthur de Gobineau in 1864
Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (Ville-d'Avray, July 14, 1816 – October 13, 1882 in Turinmarker) was a Frenchmarker aristocrat, novelist and man of letters who became famous for developing the racialist theory of the Aryan master race in his book An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853–1855). De Gobineau is credited as being the father of modern racial demography.

Life and racialist theories

Portrait of de Gobineau by the Comtesse de la Tour, 1876
Gobineau had a strained family life. His father was a government official and staunch royalist. His mother, Anne-Louise Magdeleine de Gercy, was the daughter of a royal tax official and a Creole woman from Santo Domingo (Haitimarker), and a lady-in-waiting to Pauline Bonaparte, who subsequently published both a sentimental novel, Marguerite d'Alby (1821), and her own memoirs, Une Vie de Femme, Liée aux Événements de l'Époque (A Woman's Life, Tied to the Events of the Time, 1835). When he was fourteen his mother eloped with another man and brought Josef with her to Switzerland for a few years. It was in Switzerland that he began his interest in Oriental studies. Gobineau believed that he was the descendant of Nordic Vikings and Condottieri.

When Gobineau returned to France in the later years of the July Monarchy, he made his living writing serialized fiction (romans-feuilletons) and contributing to reactionary periodicals. He struck up a friendship, and had voluminous correspondence with, Alexis de Tocqueville, who brought him into the foreign ministry while he was foreign minister during the Second Republic.Gobineau was a successful diplomat for the French Second Empire. Initially he was posted to Persiamarker, before working in Brazilmarker and other countries.

He came to believe that race created culture, arguing that distinctions between the three races - "black", "white", and "yellow" - were natural barriers, and that "race-mixing" breaks those barriers and leads to chaos. He classified the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, North Africa and southern France as racially mixed.

Gobineau believed the white race was superior in the creation of civilized culture and maintaining ordered government to the other races. However, he also thought that civilization development in other periods were different than in his own and speculated that other races might have superior qualities in those civilization periods than his own. Nonetheless, he believed European civilization represented the best of what remained of ancient civilizations and held the most superior attributes capable for continued survival. His primary thesis in regards to this theory was that European civilizational flowering from Greece to Rome and Germanic to contemporary were sprung and corresponded to the ancient Indo-European culture, also known as "Aryan". Gobineau originally originally wrote that given the past trajectory of civilization in Europe white race miscegenation was inevitable and would result in growing chaos. He attributed much of the economic turmoils in France to pollution of races. Later on in his life, with the spread of British and American civilization and the growth of Germany, he altered his opinion to believe that the white race could be saved.

Paradoxically, although Gobineau saw hope in the expansion of European power, he did not support the creation of commercial empires with their attendant multicultural milieu, concluding that the development of empires was ultimately destructive to the "superior races" that created them, since they led to the mixing of distinct races. Instead, he saw the later period of the 19th century imperialism as a degenerative process in European civilization. To support his conclusion, he continually referred to past empires in Europe and their attendant movement of non-white peoples into European homelands in explaining the ethnography of the nations of Europe.

According to his theories, the mixed populations of Spain, most of France and Italy, most of Southern Germany, most of Switzerland and Austria, and parts of the Britain, derived from the historical development of Roman, Greek, and Ottoman Empires which had opened up Europe to non-Aryan peoples of Africa and the Mediterraneum cultures. Also according to him, southern and western Iran, Southern Spain and Italy, consisted of a degenerative race arising from miscegenation. Also according to him, the whole of north India consisted of a yellow race.

Hitler and Nazism borrowed much of Gobineau's ideology, though Gobineau himself was not particularly anti-Semitic. When the Nazis adopted Gobineau's theories, they were forced to edit his work extensively to make it conform to their views, much as they did in the case of Nietzsche. (Sabine, George (1988) Historia de la teoría política, Madrid: FCE)

Gobineau visited Bayreuthmarker, home of Richard Wagner shortly before his death. There he influenced the development of the anti-Semitic "Bayreuth circle".


To Bahá'í, Gobineau is known as the person who obtained the only complete manuscript of the early history of the Bábí religious movement of Persia, written by Hajji Mirzâ Jân of Kashanmarker, who was put to death by the Persian authorities in c.1852. The manuscript now is in the Bibliothèque Nationalemarker at Parismarker.

Gobineau wrote novels in addition to his works on race, notably Les Pléiades (1874). His study La Renaissance (1877) also was admired in his day. Both of these works strongly expressed his reactionary aristocrat politics, and his hatred of democratic mass culture. He was also a great philhellene. He wrote an important account of the original Greek State, the To the Kingdom of the Greeks in the end of the 19th century.


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