Joseph Arthur de Gobineau (14 July 1816 – 13 October 1882) was a French aristocrat who is best known today for helping to legitimise racism by use of scientific racist theory and "racial demography" and for his developing the theory of the Aryan master race. Known to his contemporaries as a novelist, diplomat and travel writer, Gobineau was an elitist, who in the immediate aftermath of the Revolutions of 1848 wrote a 1400-page book titled An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races in which he claimed that aristocrats were superior to commoners and that they possessed more Aryan genetic traits because of less interbreeding with inferior races (Alpines and Mediterraneans).

Arthur de Gobineau
Arthur de Gobineau.jpg
1876 portrait of Gobineau by the Comtesse de la Tour
Born(1816-07-14)14 July 1816
Died13 October 1882(1882-10-13) (aged 66)
OccupationNovelist, diplomat, travel writer

Gobineau's writings were quickly praised by white supremacist, pro-slavery Americans like Josiah C. Nott and Henry Hotze, who translated his book into English but omitted around 1,000 pages of the original book, including those parts that negatively described Americans as a racially mixed population. Inspiring a social movement in Germany named Gobinism,[1] his works were also influential on prominent antisemites such as Richard Wagner, Wagner's son-in-law Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the Romanian politician professor A. C. Cuza, and leaders of the Nazi Party, who later edited and re-published his work.

Life and theoriesEdit


Gobineau came from an old well-established aristocratic family.[2] His father, Louis de Gobineau (1784–1858), was a military officer and staunch royalist,[3] and his mother, Anne-Louise Magdeleine de Gercy, was the daughter of a non-noble royal tax official. The de Gercy family had lived in the French Crown colony of Saint-Domingue (modern Haiti) for a time in the 18th century, and Gobineau was always obsessed with the fear he might have had black ancestry on his mother's side.[4]

Reflecting his hatred of the French Revolution, Gobineau later wrote: "My birthday is July 14th, the date on which the Bastille was captured-which goes to prove how opposites may come together".[5] As a boy and young man, Gobineau loved the Middle Ages, which he saw as a golden age of chivalry and knighthood that was much preferable to his own time.[6] A person who knew Gobineau as a teenager described him as a romantic, "already an Amadis with chivalrous ideas and a heroic spirit, dreaming of what was most noble and most grand".[6]

Gobineau's father was very committed to restoring the House of Bourbon and helped the Polignac brothers escape from France.[7] As punishment, Louis de Gobineau was imprisoned by Napoleon's secret police and was freed when the Allies took Paris in 1814.[7] In the Hundred Days, the de Gobineau family fled France, and after Napoleon's final overthrow, following the Battle of Waterloo, Louis de Gobineau was rewarded for his loyalty to the House of Bourbon by being made a captain in the Royal Guard of King Louis XVIII.[7] Despite expectations, the pay for a Royal Guardsman was very low, and the de Gobineau family struggled on his salary.[7]

Magdeleine de Gobineau abandoned her husband for her children's tutor Charles de La Coindière and together with her lover took her son and two daughters on extended wanderings across eastern France, Switzerland and the Grand Duchy of Baden.[8] To support herself, she turned to fraud (for which she was imprisoned), making his mother into a severe embarrassment to Gobineau, who never spoke to her after he turned twenty.[9]

For the young Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, committed to upholding traditional aristocratic and Catholic values, the disintegration of his parents' marriage, his mother's open relationship with her lover Coindière together with her turn to fraud, and the turmoil imposed by constantly being on the run and living in poverty were all very traumatic.[9]


Gobineau spent the early part of his teenage years in the town of Inzligen where his mother and her lover were staying, during which time he became fluent in German.[8] As a staunch supporter of the House of Bourbon, Louis de Gobineau was forced to retire from the Royal Guard after the July Revolution of 1830 brought to power King Louis-Philippe, Le roi citoyen ("the "Citizen King") who promised to reconcile the heritage of the French Revolution with the monarchy.[10] Given his family's history of supporting the Bourbons, the young Gobineau regarded the July Revolution as a disaster for France.[11] As a young man, Gobineau's views were those of a Legitimist committed to a Catholic France ruled over by the House of Bourbon.[12] In 1831, de Gobineau's father took custody of his three children, and his son spent the rest of his adolescence in Lorient, in Brittany.[13]

Gobineau disliked his father, whom he dismissed as a boring and pedantic Army officer incapable of stimulating thought.[9] Lorient had been founded in 1675 as a base for the French East India Company as King Louis XIV had grand ambitions for making France into the dominant political and economic power in Asia.[13] As those ambitions were not realized, de Gobineau developed a sense of faded glory as he grew up in a city that had been built to be the dominant hub for Europe's trade with Asia, a dream that had not been realized, as India became part of the British Empire rather than the French empire.[13]

As a young man, Gobineau was fascinated with the Orient, as the Middle East was known in Europe in the 19th century (it was only with World War II that East Asia became the Orient and the term Middle East started to be used for the region).[14] While studying at the Collège de Bironne in Switzerland, a fellow student recalled: "All of his aspirations were towards the East. He dreamt only of mosques and minarets; he called himself a Muslim, ready to make the pilgrimage to Mecca".[14] Gobineau loved "Oriental" tales like those by the French translator Antoine Galland, often stated he wanted to become an Orientalist, and so read Arab, Turkish and Persian tales in translation, becoming what the French call "un orientaliste de pacotille (rubbish orientalist)".[15] In 1835, Gobineau failed the entrance exams to the St. Cyr military school.[13]

In September 1835, Gobineau left for Paris with just fifty francs in his pocket. with the aim of becoming a writer.[13] He moved in with an uncle, Thibaut-Joseph de Gobineau, a Legitimist with an "unlimited" hatred of Louis-Philippe.[16] Reflecting his tendency towards elitism, Gobineau founded a society of Legitimist intellectuals called Les Scelti ("the elect"), which included himself, the painter Guermann John (German von Bohn) and the writer Maxime du Camp.[17]

Early writingsEdit

In the later years of the July Monarchy, Gobineau made his living writing serialized fiction (romans-feuilletons) and contributing to reactionary periodicals.[18] Gobineau wrote for the Union Catholique, La Quotidienne, L'Unité, and Revue de Paris.[19] At one point in the early 1840s, Gobineau was writing an article every day for La Quotidienne to support himself.[19] As a writer and journalist, he struggled financially, and was forever looking for a wealthy patron willing to support him.[18] As a part-time employee of the Post Office and a full-time writer, Gobineau was desperately poor, which, for someone who liked to imagine himself as an aristocrat living in luxury in a château in the countryside was very humiliating.[17]

Gobineau's own family background made him a supporter of the House of Bourbon, but the nature of the Legitimist movement dominated by factious and inept leaders drove Gobineau to despair, leading him to write: "We are lost and had better resign ourselves to the fact".[20] In a letter to his father, Gobineau complained of "…the laxity, the weakness, the foolishness and—in a word—the pure folly of my cherished party".[19] Gobineau sent a copy of his poem Jean Chouan to Henri, comte de Chambord, the self-proclaimed "Henri V" as the Bourbon pretender to the throne styled himself, for which he was thanked by the comte as he wrote back expressing his gratitude for "your honorable sentiments, worthy of your father and your family, whose fidelity and devotion I know and appreciate".[21]

Privately, Gobineau was worried that if the House of Bourbon should be restored, that Henri and his followers were all so stupid that it was inevitable that the Bourbons would be toppled by a revolution for a third time.[22] At the same time, Gobineau regarded French society under the House of Orleans as corrupt and self-serving, dominated by the "oppressive feudalism of money" as opposed to the feudalism of "charity, courage, virtue and intelligence" held by the ancien-regime nobility.[11] Gobineau wrote about July Monarchy France: "Money has become the principle of power and honour. Money dominates business; money regulates the population; money governs; money salves consciences; money is the criterion for judging the esteem due to men".[23]

In this "age of national mediocrity" as Gobineau described it, with society going in a direction he disapproved of, the leaders of the cause to which he was committed being by his own admission foolish and incompetent and the would-be aristocrat struggling to make ends meet by writing hack journalism and novels, he became more and more pessimistic about the future.[23] Gobineau wrote in a letter to his father: "How I despair of a society which is no longer anything, except in spirit, and which has no heart left".[17] Gobineau complained that the Legitimists spent their time feuding with one another while the Catholic Church "is going over to the side of the revolution".[17] Gobineau wrote:

Our poor country lies in Roman decadence. Where there is no longer an aristocracy worthy of itself, a nation dies. Our Nobles are conceited fools and cowards. I no longer believe in anything nor have any views. From Louis-Philippe we shall proceed to the first trimmer who will take us up, but only in order to pass us on to another. For we are without fibre and moral energy. Money has killed everything (emphasis in the original).[17]

Breakthrough with the Kapodistrias articleEdit

In 1841, Gobineau scored his first major success when an article he submitted to Revue des deux Mondes was published on 15 April 1841.[18] Gobineau's article was about the Greek statesman Count Ioannis Kapodistrias. At the time, La Revue des Deux Mondes was one of the most prestigious journals in Paris, and being published in La Revue des Deux Mondes put Gobineau in the same company as George Sand, Théophile Gautier, Philarète Chasles, Alphonse de Lamartine, Edgar Quinet and Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve who were all regularly published in that journal.[18] Gobineau's article had been secretly commissioned by Ioannis Kolettis, the Greek minister in Paris and a political enemy of Kapodistrias; Kolettis was Gobineau's main source of information, which goes a long way towards explaining Gobineau's hostile picture of Kapodistrias.[18]

Kolettis, a schemer known as "half lion, half fox", had started out as a doctor to the warlord Ali Pasha of Ioannina, had been a leader in the Greek war of independence and in the Hellenic kingdom had emerged as one of the leaders of the "French Party" in Greek politics before becoming the Greek minister in Paris.[18] At the time, Kapodistrias was well regarded in France, and Gobineau's article, which was extremely derogatory towards him, caused in Sainte-Beuve's words "much anger" among French liberals.[24]

Kapodistrias, a Corfiot nobleman who had become the Russian Foreign Minister and finally the first president of Greece, was well remembered in France for the pro-French policies he advocated at the Congress of Vienna, as a liberal influence at the court of the Emperor Alexander I, and for his work establishing Greek independence.[24] For all these reasons many French liberals were upset at Gobineau's negative picture of Kapodistrias.[24]

Gobineau hated Russia, and he portrayed Kapodistrias as a ruthless intriguer who was working to have Russia conquer all of the Balkans, portraying the Greek war of independence as a part of a Russian plot to weaken the Ottoman Empire.[25] Finally, Gobineau argued that Kapodistrias, blinded by ambition, had attempted to use the cause of Greek independence to make himself master of the Balkans, becoming a tyrant who had been rightfully assassinated in 1831.[26]

On international politicsEdit

Gobineau's writings on international politics were as generally pessimistic as his writings on France. Gobineau depicted Britain as a nation motivated entirely by hatred and greed and the domination of the British Empire around the globe as a source of regret.[27] Gobineau often attacked King Louis-Phillipe for his pro-British foreign policy, writing that Louis-Phillipe had "humiliated" France by allowing the British empire to become the world's dominant power.[28] However, reports of the impoverishment of Ireland were a source of satisfaction for Gobineau as he asserted: "It is Ireland which is pushing England into the abyss of revolution".[27]

The growing power and aggressiveness of Russia, as Gobineau saw it, was a cause for concern for him as he regarded the disaster suffered by the British during the retreat from Kabul in the first war with Afghanistan in 1842 as sign that Russia would be the dominant power in Asia, writing: "England, an aging nation, is defending its livelihood and its existence. Russia, a youthful nation, is following its path towards the power that it must surely gain… The empire of the Tsars is today the power which seems to have the greatest future… The Russian people are marching steadfastly towards a goal that is indeed known but still not completely defined".[29] Gobineau regarded Russia as an Asian power, and viewed what he saw as the inevitable coming triumph of Russia as a triumph of Asia over Europe.[29]

Gobineau had mixed feelings about the German states, praising Prussia as a conservative society dominated by the Junkers while on the other hand worrying that increasing economic growth promoted by the Zollverein was making the Prussian middle class more powerful.[30] Gobineau was critical of the Austrian Empire, writing the House of Habsburg ruled over such a mixed population of ethnic Germans, Magyars, Italians, Slavic peoples, etc. that it was inevitable that such a multi-ethnic society would go into decline while the "purely German" Prussia was destined to unify Germany.[31] At the same time, Gobineau observed that millions of Germans were emigrating to the United States every year, which he described an attempt to escape from "… a homeland that is treacherously parcelled out and timidly oppressed" by a "bogus aristocracy" and the "cult of commerce", a place "devoid of patricians and full of courtesans".[32]

Gobineau was likewise pessimistic about the Italian states, writing about Italy: "Shortly after the condottieri disappeared everything that had lived and flourished with them went too; wealth, gallantry, art and liberty, there remained nothing but a fertile land and an incomparable sky".[33] About Spain, Gobineau denounced a nation which had rejected "a firm and natural authority, a power rooted in national liberty", predicting that without order imposed by an absolute monarchy, Spain was destined to sink into a state of perpetual revolution.[34] He was dismissive of Latin America, writing with references to the wars of independence: "The destruction of their agriculture, trade and finances, the inevitable consequence of long civil disorder, did not at all seem to them a price too high to pay for what they had in view. And yet who would want to claim that the half-barbarous inhabitants of Castile or the Algarve or the gauchos on the River Plate really deserve to sit as supreme legislators, in the places which they have contested against their masters with such pleasure and energy".[35]

About the United States, Gobineau wrote: "The only greatness is that of wealth, and as everyone can acquire this, its ownership is independent of any of the qualities reserved to superior natures".[36] Gobineau wrote the United States lacked an aristocracy with no sense of noblesse oblige as existed in Europe, the American poor suffered worse than the European poor, causing the United States to be a violent society, where greed and materialism were the only values that counted.[37] Writing about the economic collapse caused by the Panic of 1837, Gobineau wrote: "There real estate gives only chimerical guarantees, thanks to the frantic land speculation. One recollects the position of the banks, and the depreciation of the paper money; and one must dwell on the difficulties of the local authorities, the incurable weakness of law enforcement, the impudence of those who are subject to its administration, and the impotence of the law to create respect for goods and persons".[37] In an 1845 essay written as a public letter to an imaginary Bavarian farmer thinking of emigrating to the United States for a better life, Gobineau implored him not to go, predicting that he would be impoverished, robbed and exploited in America, and advised him to stay put in Bavaria, an orderly Catholic society ruled by the House of Wittelsbach.[38] Gobineau was in general hostile towards people in the Americas, writing that who in the Old World does not know "that the New World knows nothing of kings, princes and nobles?-that on those semi-virgin lands, in human societies born yesterday and scarcely yet consolidated, no one has the right or the power to call himself any greater than the very least of its citizens?"[36]


Gobineau struck up a friendship and had voluminous correspondence with Alexis de Tocqueville.[39][40][41][42] Tocqueville praised Gobineau in a letter: "You have wide knowledge, much intelligence, and the best of manners".[43] The latter man gave Gobineau an appointment in the Quai d'Orsay (the French foreign ministry) while serving as foreign minister during the Second Republic of France.[44]

Reflecting his lifelong interest in the Orient, in 1852, Gobineau joined the Société Asiatique, and got to know several French Orientalists like Julius von Mohl very well.[15] In 1846, Gobineau married Clémence Gabrielle Monnerot, who had pressed for a hasty marriage as she was pregnant by their mutual friend Pierre de Serre who had abandoned her and as a good Catholic she did not wish to give birth to an illegitimate child.[4] Monnerot had been born in Martinique, and Gobineau was never quite entirely certain if his wife, and hence his two daughters had black ancestors or not, as it was a common practice for French slave masters in the Caribbean to take a slave mistress.[4] Gobineau's opposition to slavery, which he held always resulted in harmful miscegenation to whites, stemmed from his own personal anxieties about the possibility that his mother or his wife might have had African ancestry.[4]

Embittered royalistEdit

Gobineau's novels and poems of the 1830s–40s were usually set in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance with aristocratic heroes who by their very existence uphold all of the values worth celebrating such as honor and creativity against a corrupt, soulless middle class.[45] Gobineau's 1847 novel Ternove was the first time that Gobineau linked class with race, writing "Monsieur de Marvejols would think of himself, and of all members of the nobility, as of a race apart, of a superior essence, and he believed it criminal to sully this by mixture with plebeian blood".[46]

The novel, set against the backdrop of the Hundred Days of 1815, concerns the disastrous results when the aristocrat Octave de Ternove unwisely marries the daughter of a miller.[47] Gobineau was horrified by the Revolution of 1848 and disgusted by what he saw as the supine reaction of the European upper classes to the revolutionary challenge, writing in the spring of 1848 about the news from Germany: "Things are going pretty badly… I do not mean the dismissal of the princes—that was deserved. Their cowardice and lack of political faith make them scarcely interesting. But the peasants, there they are nearly barbarous. There is pillage, and burning, and massacre—and we are only at the beginning".[48]

As a Legitimist, Gobineau disliked the House of Bonaparte, and was displeased when Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was elected president of the republic in 1848.[49] However, Gobineau came to support Bonaparte as the best man to preserve order, and in 1849, when Tocqueville became Foreign Minister, his friend Gobineau became his chef de cabinet.[50] Despite his frequent denunciations of the 19th century as an era of greed with no principles, Gobineau decided it was better to have a lucrative career in the Quai d'Orsay under Bonaparte than it was to hold fast to his Legitimist principles by writing for reactionary newspapers that paid poorly.[50] Gobineau served as a successful diplomat for the Second French Empire. Initially he was posted to Persia, before working in Brazil and other countries.

In his own lifetime, Gobineau was known as a novelist, as a poet and for the travel writing recounting his adventures in Iran and Brazil rather than for the racial theories for which he is now mostly remembered.[51] However, Gobineau always regarded his book Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines as his masterpiece and wanted to be remembered as the author of that work.[51] A firm reactionary who believed in the innate superiority of aristocrats over commoners—whom he held in utter contempt—Gobineau came to embrace scientific racism as a way of justifying aristocratic rule over racially inferior commoners.[52]

Under the shock of the Revolution of 1848, Gobineau had first expressed his racial theories in his 1848 epic poem Manfredine where he revealed his fear that the revolution of 1848 was the beginning of the end of aristocratic Europe, with the common folk descended from lesser breeds taking over.[52] Manfredine, which is set at the time of the revolt in Naples against Spanish rule in 1647 (an allegory for 1848), concerns the eponymous character, a noblewoman on whom Gobineau spends a good five hundred lines tracing her descent from Viking ancestors.[53] The poem features the lines:

Et les Germains, montrant leur chevelure blonde, Que portaient leurs aïeux, dans tous les coins du monde, Paraissent pour régner. Neptune et son trident, Servent l'Anglo-Saxon, leur dernier descendant, Et les déserts peuplés de la jeune Amérique, Connaissenet le pouvior de ce peuple héroïque, Mais Romains, Allemands, Gaulois, [...] Pour en finir, Ce qui n'est pas Germain est créé pour servir.

And the Germans, displaying the blond hair of their ancestors, emerged to rule in every corner of the world. Neptune and his trident serve the Anglo-Saxon, their last descendant, and the peopled deserts of young America know the strength of this heroic people. But as to the Romans, Alemanni, Gauls, [...] to put it briefly, those who are not German are created to serve.[54]

Theory on French aristocratsEdit

Reflecting his disdain for ordinary people, Gobineau claimed that French aristocrats like himself were the descendants of the Germanic Franks who conquered the Roman province of Gaul in the 5th century AD while common French people were the descendants of racially inferior Celtic and Mediterranean peoples. This was an old theory first promoted in a tract by Count Henri de Boulainvilliers who had argued that the Second Estate (the aristocracy) was of "Frankish" blood and the Third Estate (the commoners) were of "Gaulish" blood.[55] The Canadian theologian, Reverend Alan T. Davies wrote that in the Ancien Régime France was characterized by extremely rigid social distinctions and that, unlike Britain with its "open aristocracy", the French nobility had evolved into a "caste".[56] Again unlike Britain, where there was a certain sense of Britishness linking the different levels of society, the French Second Estate had literally come to view the Third Estate as biologically different from and inferior to themselves.[56] As someone born after the French Revolution had destroyed the idealized Ancien Régime of his imagination, Gobineau felt a deep sense of pessimism regarding the future.[57] Davies described Gobineau as someone who was extremely "alienated" from the society and age he was living in, and wrote that Gobineau's frequent prophecies about the coming destruction of European civilization, as there was not enough Aryan blood left to sustain Europe, reflected the fact that Gobineau, who was unable to embrace his age, instead wished for its destruction.[58]

For Gobineau, the French Revolution having destroyed the racial basis of French greatness by overthrowing and in many cases killing the aristocracy was the beginning of a long, irresistible progress of decline and degeneration which could only end with the utter collapse of European civilization.[55] For Gobineau, what the French Revolution had begun, the Industrial Revolution was finishing and, for him, industrialization and urbanization were a complete disaster for Europe.[59] Gobineau was no socialist, but he had an intense hatred of capitalism, which allowed for poor men to rise up and become rich by their own talents and skills, something that was an affront to everything that Gobineau believed in.[59] Davies wrote about Gobineau:

Having identified his own fortunes with a caste that had been overthrown in 1789, he detested an age that had turned against his aristocratic (racial) linage and values. In his estrangement, he consoled himself with sad reflections on the impending death of civilization, although there is sufficient narcissism in his pages to suggest that his own death was also the object—perhaps the true object—of his contemplation… To the jaded man-of-letters, the would-be aristocrat, these "deep stagnant waters" over which the fragile structure of civilization was suspended were steadily rising, and France—and Europe—would soon be submerged.[60]

Like many other European romantic conservatives, Gobineau looked back nostalgically at an idealized version of the Middle Ages as an idyllic agrarian society living harmoniously in a rigid social order.[59] Gobineau loathed modern Paris, a city he called a "giant cesspool" full of les déracinés; the criminal, impoverished, drifting men with no real home; whom Gobineau considered to be the monstrous products of centuries of miscegenation, who were always ready to explode in revolutionary violence at any moment.[60] Gobineau was an ardent opponent of democracy, which he claimed was mere "mobocracy"—a system that allowed the utterly stupid mob the final say on running the state.[58] Gobineau's daughter noted her father was socially isolated in Paris, writing: "Our family were not numerous. We were, in short, déracinés. Had the Gobineaus, Joseph and Louis, gone back to Bordeaux after the Revolution, they doubtless would have rediscovered all those cousins and so forth who had issued in the course of many centuries. But in Paris they were isolated, save for some families of distant cousins".[61] For someone who believed that the family was the basic unit holding society together, Gobineau believed French society was breaking down as too many young men without families were pouring into Paris to seek a better life, though he failed to note this description also applied to himself.[62]

Swiss and German interludesEdit

From November 1849 to January 1854 Gobineau was stationed at the French legation in Bern as the First Secretary.[63] It was during his time in Switzerland that Gobineau wrote the majority of the Essai.[63] Gobineau hated Swiss democracy, writing: "I am tempted to regard this country as the prototype, as the very ideal of democracy, if you like, but even more still of self-government".[64] About Swiss politicians, Gobineau complained of "the intrigues… of these big, fine and quite stupid democrats, who are very tame when they need your help and very violent when they do not".[65] Gobineau believed that Switzerland was destined for a violent revolution as "The profound apathy of the Swiss regarding everything, except issues of profit and its conservation, surrenders them to a very small number of daring radicals".[66]

More happily for Gobineau, he was stationed in Hanover in the fall of 1851 as acting Chargé d'Affaires, in which he was impressed with the "traces of real nobility" he stated he saw at the Hanoverian court.[67] Gobineau especially liked the blind King George V whom he saw as a "philosopher-king" and it was to George that the Essais were dedicated.[67] Gobineau praised the "remarkable character" of Hanoverian men and likewise commended Hanoverian society as having "an instinctive preference for hierarchy" with the commoners always deferring to the nobility, which he explained on racial grounds.[68]

Much to his displeasure, Gobineau was sent back to Switzerland, which he continued to disparage in his dispatches to Paris at every chance.[69] In 1853, Gobineau wrote about Switzerland that here existed "only suffering agriculture and mediocre industry, where governments without power or prestige, have no means of containing the passions of the masses, from whatever source the agitations may spring...It is quite evident that such a country is ruled by the poor, and there the poor will welcome with alacrity all the theories that appear to promise them relief in the present or the future".[69]

In January 1854, Gobineau was sent as First Secretary to the French legation at the Free City of Frankfurt.[70] About the Federal Convention of the German Confederation that sat in Frankfurt – also known as the "Confederation Diet" – Gobineau wrote: "The Diet is a business office for the German bureaucracy—it is very far from being a real political body".[70] Gobineau wrote that the interests of the smaller German states like Bavaria and Hanover counted for nothing at the Diet and everything was decided by Prussia and Austria.[71] Gobineau hated the Prussian representative at the Diet, Prince Otto von Bismarck because of Bismarck's advances towards Madame Gobineau.[72] By contrast, the Austrian representative, General Anton von Prokesch-Osten became one of Gobineau's best friends.[70] Prokesch-Osten was a reactionary Austrian soldier and diplomat who hated democracy and saw himself as a historian and orientalist, and for all these reasons Gobineau bonded with him.[72] It was during these periods that Gobineau began to write less and less to his old liberal friend Tocqueville and more and more to his new conservative friend Prokesch-Osten.[72]

Gobineau's racial theoriesEdit

Cover of the original edition of An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races

Gobineau came to believe that race created culture, arguing that distinctions among the three races—"black", "white", and "yellow"—were natural barriers, and that "race-mixing" breaks those barriers and leads to chaos. Of the three races, Gobineau argued that blacks were physically very strong, but incapable of intelligent thought.[73] Regarding the "yellows" as Gobineau called Asians, he claimed that they were physically and intellectually mediocre, but had an extremely strong materialism that allowed them to achieve certain results.[73] Finally, Gobineau wrote that whites were the best and greatest of the three races as whites and whites alone were the only ones capable of intelligent thought, were physically the most beautiful and were the only ones capable of creating beauty.[73] Gobineau wrote that "The white race originally possessed the monopoly of beauty, intelligence and strength" and that whatever of the positive qualities the Asians and blacks possessed was due to subsequent miscegenation.[74]

Within the white race, there was a further subdivision between the Aryans, who were the epitome of all that was great about the white race, and non-Aryans.[75] Gobineau took the term Aryan ("light one" or "noble one") from Hindu legend and mythology which describes how the Indian subcontinent was conquered at some time in the distant past by the Aryans. This is generally believed to have reflected folk memories of the arrival of the Indo-European peoples into the Indian subcontinent. In the 19th century, there had been much public interest in the discovery by Orientalists like William Jones of the Indo-European family of languages, and that apparently unrelated languages such as English, Irish, Albanian, Italian, Greek, Russian, Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Kurdish, Farsi and so forth were all part of the same family of languages spoken across a wide swath of Eurasia from Ireland to India.[citation needed] The ancient Hindu scriptures with their tales of Aryan heroes were of major interest to scholars attempting to trace the origins of the Indo-European peoples. Gobineau equated language with race, and mistakenly believed that the Indo-European peoples were a racial group rather than a linguistic group.[citation needed]

Gobineau wrote in the Essai: "Languages, being unequal among themselves, are completely linked to the relative merit of race".[76] As such, Gobineau argued on the basis of the Hindu scriptures, which stated that the highest castes are the descendants of the Aryans, that the Hindu caste system reflected an admirable determination of the Aryans to attempt to preserve their superior blood from being intermixed with the racially inferior, conquered peoples.[77] Gobineau wrote that it was the conversion of much of the Indian subcontinent to Buddhism, with its message of universal salvation before the Hindu revival recaptured the subcontinent for Hinduism that led to the higher Hindu castes having their blood "soiled" via sex with racial inferiors.[78] Gobineau regarded Buddhism, together with Islam, as religions of decay, and argued that any society that embraced Islam or Buddhism was clearly in a state of decline.[79]

Gobineau believed that the white race had originated somewhere in Siberia, the Asians in the Americas and the blacks in Africa.[74] Gobineau thought that the numerical superiority of the Asians had forced the whites into making a vast migration that led them into Europe, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent and that both the Bible and Hindu legends about the conquering Aryan heroes reflected folk memories of this migration.[80] In turn, the whites had broken into three sub-races, namely the Hamitic, Semitic and Japhetic peoples—the latter were the Aryans of Hindu legends and were the best and greatest of all the whites.[81]

Gobineau claimed that the Aryans had founded all ten of the great civilizations of the world, writing "In the ten civilizations no Negro race is seen an initiator. Only when it is mixed with some other can it even be initiated into a civilization. Similarly, no spontaneous civilization is be found among the yellow races; and when the Aryan blood is exhausted stagnation supervenes".[82] Gobineau, mindful of his own supposed noble and Frankish, descent classified the Germanic peoples as being the Aryans in Europe.[citation needed]

The Aryans had also moved into India and Persia. Gobineau used medieval Persian epic poetry, which he treated as completely historically accurate accounts, together with the beauty of Persian women (whom Gobineau saw as the most beautiful in the world) to argue that Persians were once great Aryans, but unfortunately the Persians had interbred with the Semitic Arabs too much for their own good.[83] At the same time, Gobineau argued that in Southeast Asia the blacks and Asians had intermixed to create the sub-race of the Malays.[81] He classified Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa as racially mixed.[84]

Despite his pride in being French, Gobineau often attacked many aspects of French life under the Third Republic as reflecting "democratic degeneration"—namely the chaos that he believed resulted when the mindless masses were allowed political power—which meant that critical reception of Gobineau in France was very mixed.[85] Gobineau's contempt for ordinary people emerges from his letters, where his preferred term for common folk was la boue ("the mud").[86]

Gobineau questioned the belief that the black and yellow races belong to the same human family as the white race and share a common ancestor. Trained neither as a theologian nor a naturalist, and writing before the popular spread of evolutionary theory, Gobineau took the Bible to be a true telling of human history. In his An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, he ultimately accepts the prevailing Christian doctrine that all human beings shared the common ancestors Adam and Eve (monogenism as opposed to polygenism). But, he suggested that "nothing proves that at the first redaction of the Adamite genealogies the colored races were considered as forming part of the species"; and "We may conclude that the power of producing fertile offspring is among the marks of a distinct species. As nothing leads us to believe that the human race is outside this rule, there is no answer to this argument."[84]

Gobineau believed that the white race was superior to the other races in the creation of civilized culture and maintenance of ordered government. The American historian Geoffrey Field summarized Gobineau's work as:

Written after the Revolutions of 1848–49, the Essai was a post-mortem of the old aristocratic order in Europe, characterized by reverence for hierarchy, social status and family lineage… Superior in beauty, intellect and creative vigor, the white race (and especially its illustrious Aryan branch) was the bearer of culture and civilization, responsible for the triumphs of the past. But the process of civilization inevitably involved miscegenation with inferior breeds, leading to a slow debilitation of the noble race over centuries. For Gobineau, history revealed the tragic "fall" of man from a presumed racial purity into a degenerate condition of racial corruption and mongrelization. Pockets of Aryan blood remained, especially among the nobility, but decline was inevitable and irreversible.

Contemporary society, argued Gobineau, offered abundant proof of his conclusions. Revolutionary convulsions, false egalitarian and democratic ideals, the selfish materialism of the bourgeoisie, and the phlegmatic response of the nobility to these challenges were inescapable symptoms of depravity. France was exhausted, Britain was being slowly corrupted by liberalism, while, as Michael Biddiss has shown, Gobineau was by no means sympathetic towards Prussia. If anything, in his last years he viewed the process of decay as accelerating: in a cold, objectivist and ironical tone he depicted a global crisis and a vision of racial doom.[87]

Gobineau thought that the development of civilization in other periods was different from his own, and speculated that other races might have superior qualities in those civilizations. But, he believed European civilization represented the best of what remained of ancient civilizations and held the most superior attributes capable for continued survival. Gobineau stated he was writing about races, not individuals: examples of talented black or Asian individuals did not disprove his thesis about the supposed inferiority of the black and Asian races.[citation needed] Gobineau wrote:

I will not wait for the friends of equality to show me such and such passages in books written by missionaries or sea captains, who declare some Wolof is a fine carpenter, some Hottentot a good servant, that a Kaffir dances and plays the violin, that some Bambara knows arithmetic… Let us leave aside these puerilities and compare together not men, but groups.[citation needed]

Gobineau argued that race was destiny, declaring rhetorically:

So the brain of a Huron Indian contains in undeveloped form an intellect which is absolutely that same as an Englishman or a Frenchman! Why then, in the course of the ages has he not then invented printing or steam power?[88]

Gobineau went on to write: "Nowhere is the soil more fertile, the climate more mild than in certain parts of America. There is an abundance of great rivers, the gulfs, the bays, the harbors are large, deep, magnificent and innumerable. Precious metals can be dug out almost at the surface of the ground."[citation needed] Gobineau argued the failure as he saw it of the American Indians of North America to create a civilization comparable to that of Europe proved his thesis of white supremacy as he maintained that the climate and geography of North America was better than Europe, yet no great cities, art, or inventions ever emerged from the Indians.[citation needed]

Gobineau's primary thesis was that European civilization flowed from Greece to Rome, and then to Germanic and contemporary civilization. He thought this corresponded to the ancient Indo-European culture, which earlier anthropologists had misconceived as "Aryan"—a term that only Indo-Iranians are known to have used in ancient times.[89] This included groups classified by language, for example the Celts, Slavs and the Germans.[90][91]

Gobineau later came to use and reserve the term Aryan only for the "German race" and described the Aryans as 'la race germanique'.[92] By doing so, he presented a racist theory in which Aryans—that is Germans—were all that was positive.[93]

After reading the Essai, de Tocqueville had told Gobineau that: "Alone in Europe, the Germans possess the talent for getting impassioned about what they see as abstract truth, without any regard for the practical consequences—and it is they who could provide you with a really favorable audience whose opinions would sooner or later have repercussions in France".[94] Tocqueville further asked Gobineau:

What advantage can there be in persuading base peoples living in barbarism, indolence or slavery that, such being their racial nature, they can do nothing to improve their situation or change their habits or government? Do you not see inherent in your doctrine all the evils engendered by permanent inequality—pride, violence, scorn of fellow men, tyranny and abjection in all their forms?[95]

Gobineau described the Aryans as physically extremely beautiful and very tall; of immense intelligence and strength, and endowed with incredible energy, great creativity in the arts and a love of war.[96] Like many other racists, Gobineau believed that one's looks determined what one did, or in other words, beautiful people created beautiful art while ugly people created ugly art.[96] Gobineau's theory had a major influence on National Socialist aesthetes. In 1970, the American historian Gerhard Weinberg summarized the Nazi view of the relationship between race and art as: "The cultural accomplishments of civilizations are the product of their racial composition—the great artists of Renaissance times were all Nordics whose works reflect their own appearance, while the monstrosities of modern art only mirror the appearances of their creators. Botticelli must have been as slim as his famous Venus, Rubens must have been as corpulent as the figures he painted and Picasso presumably has three eyes. Anyone who considers this summary as unfair is urged to examine Paul Schultze-Naumburg's Kunst und Rasse (Munich: Lehmann, 1928, 1935) , since the illustrations convey its message to anyone who does not read German".[97]

The British Sinologist Arnold Rowbotham wrote that for Gobineau the superiority of the Aryan was a totally "amoral superiority", as for Gobineau's Aryan heroes, "might was right".[98] Gobineau wrote that Aryans in their original, pure state did whatever they liked because they were superior to anyone else and had no external morality. Rowbotham wrote about Gobineau's Aryan theories that: "Stripped of its racial mysticism it makes force a virtue and even a necessity. Carried to its logical conclusion, it would mean a return to barbarism, for Gobineau at least implies that all the arts of civilization are non-Aryan or, at least the result of race-mixing."[98]

Gobineau originally wrote that, given the past trajectory of civilization in Europe, white race miscegenation was inevitable and would result in growing chaos. Despite his claims that whites were the most beautiful of his races, Gobineau believed that Asian and black women had immense powers of sexual attraction over white men, and that whenever whites were in close proximity to blacks and Asians, the result was always miscegenation as white men were seduced by Asian and black women, to the detriment of the whites.[81] Through not expressly obsessed with antisemitism, Gobineau saw the Jews as praiseworthy for their ability to avoid miscegenation while at the same time depicting the Jews as another alien force for the decay of Aryan Europe.[99]

Gobineau attributed much of the economic turmoil in France to pollution of races. Gobineau ended the Essai with the predication that the "Asian" Russian Empire would soon be the dominant power in Europe, which would then be superseded by China, once that state was modernized, and the Chinese would then conquer Europe.[100] Gobineau warned Tocqueville against "the great desire to open up China" as the French should "examine more carefully the consequences of such camaraderie".[101]

The Essai attracted mostly negative reviews from French critics, which Gobineau used as a proof of the correctness of his racial theories, writing "… the French, who are always ready to set anything afire—materially speaking—and who respect nothing, either in religion or politics, have always been the world's greatest cowards in matters of science".[94] Later 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. The German-born American historian George Mosse argued that Gobineau projected all of his fears and hatreds about the French middle class and working class onto the Asians and the blacks.[102]

Summarizing Mosse's argument, Davies argued that: "The self-serving, materialistic oriental of the Essai was really an anti-capitalist's portrait of the money-grubbing French middle class..." while "the sensual, unintelligent and violent negro" that Gobineau portrayed in the Essai was an aristocratic caricature of the French poor.[103] In his writings on the French peasantry, Gobineau characteristically insisted in numerous anecdotes that he claimed were based on personal experience that French farmers were coarse, crude people incapable of learning, indeed of any sort of thinking beyond the most rudimentary level of thought, and as the American critic Michelle Wright wrote, "the peasant may inhabit the land, but they are certainly not part of it…".[104] Wright further noted the very marked similarity between Gobineau's picture of the French peasantry and his view of blacks.[105]

Gobineau and warEdit

Despite having failed the entrance exams to St. Cyr, Gobineau had an intensely militaristic view of the world, believing that different races were born to hate each other and humans have an innate desire to kill one another.[106] Gobineau wrote war was a natural part of the human condition and for a nation: "It will either conquer or be conquered".[106] Gobineau dismissed pacifism, writing: "Even if the friends of universal peace succeeded in making Europe disgusted with war, they would still have to bring about a permanent change in the passions of mankind" and that peace was only possible "if all races were actually gifted, in the same degree, with the same powers".[95] Despite being a diplomat whose nominal job was achieve French policy goals without resort to war and despite his personal distaste for the House of Bonaparte, Gobineau very much welcomed the militarism of Napoleon III as bringing greatness back to France.[107] In 1854, Gobineau approved of the Crimean War, writing that France would gain much prestige by declaring war on Russia, a nation that Gobineau had always hated.[106] In a letter to his sister Caroline in October 1854, Gobineau wrote: "After twenty years of a peace that has promoted only corruption and revolution, we find ourselves in a military atmosphere which, from its very beginning, has encouraged many fine things. [...] I consider war, despite its evils, as a blessing".[106]

Persia: Gobineau's spiritual homeEdit

In 1855, Gobineau left Paris to become the first secretary at the French legation in Tehran, Persia (modern Iran), being promoted to chargé d'affaires the next year.[108] Gobineau served as a French diplomat in the Free City of Frankfurt, the Kingdom of Hanover, the Swiss Confederation, the British Crown colony of Newfoundland and the Empire of Brazil, all of which he hated, and Persia together with Greece were the only places that Gobineau was stationed in that he ever had an affection for.[108] The histories of Persia and Greece had played prominent roles in the Essai and Gobineau wanted to see both places for himself.[109] Gobineau's mission was to keep Persia out of the Russian sphere of influence, but he cynically wrote: "If the Persians… unite with the western powers, they will march against the Russians in the morning, be defeated by them at noon and become their allies by evening".[109] Gobineau's time was not taxed by his diplomatic duties, and he spent much time studying ancient cuneiform texts and learning Farsi, coming to speak a "kitchen Persian" that allowed him to talk to the Persians somewhat (Gobineau was never fluent in Farsi as he claimed to be).[108] Despite having some love for the Persians, Gobineau was shocked that the Persians lacked his racial prejudices and were willing to accept blacks as equals, and criticized Persian society for being too "democratic".[108] The British historian, novelist, and writer on Arabic literature Robert Irwin commented that "Only Gobineau could have classified Qajar Iran in the 1850s as too democratic" as Qajar Persia was an absolute monarchy with the Shah Naser al-Din having no limits on his powers whatever.[108]

Gobineau was dismissive of Persia's prospects, writing the Persians are "rascals who are near enough are our cousins...This is what we shall become tomorrow...Nothing great, nothing tragic has happened here since the time of Herodotus".[108] Gobineau wrote that the Persians had little sense of national interest and distrusted all governments, for instance trying to break the Shah's laws as much as they could get away with, leading to an anarchic individualism as everyone engaged in a free-for-all to advance their own interests, leading Gobineau to write: "They are an intelligent people, able to comprehend their own interests in the narrowest sense of the term, but they are also incurably decadent".[110] Gobineau appreciated Persian manners, writing: "The Asiatic rabble has immense advantages over its European counterpart. However base it may be, it is never vulgar".[111] Gobineau complained the Shah Naser al-Din was openly corrupt, selling off government offices to the highest bidder and the Peacock Throne did not care if the bidder was an aristocrat or not.[112] However, Gobineau appreciated the appeal of Shia Islam as a factor holding Persia together: "This whole country… is full of the idea of God. Decrepitude, old age, extreme corruption, in short, death is present everywhere in institutions, customs and character; but this constant absorbing preoccupation with what is holy singularly ennobles all this ruin".[112]

Gobineau saw Persia as a land without a future that was destined to be conquered by the West sooner or later, which for him was a tragedy for the West as he believed that Western men would all too easily be seduced by the beautiful Persian women, thus causing more miscegenation to further "corrupt" the West.[108] However, Gobineau was obsessed with ancient Persia, seeing in Achaemenid Persia a great and glorious Aryan civilization, now sadly gone, that was to preoccupy him for the rest of his life.[113] Gobineau loved to visit the ruins of Achaemenid period as his mind was fundamentally backward looking, preferring to contemplate past glories rather what he saw as a dismal present and even bleaker future.[113] Gobineau's time in Persia inspired two books, Mémoire sur l'etat social de la Perse actuelle (1858) and Trois ans en Asie (1859).[113] Through Gobineau was less than complimentary about modern Persia, writing to Prokesch-Osten that there was no "Persian race" as modern Persians were "a breed mixed from God knows what!", but he loved ancient Persia as the great Aryan civilization par excellence, noting that Iran means "the land of the Aryans" in Farsi.[114] Gobineau was less Euro-centric than one might expect in his writings on Persia, believing that the origins of European civilization could be traced to Persia and criticized western scholars for their "collective vanity" in being unable to admit to the West's "huge" debt to Persia.[114]

Modern studyEdit

Nordicist claims, such as those made by Gobineau, that the ancient Achaemenids were genetically Western European, were discredited by a 2016 analysis of the autosomal DNA and genome of an Iron Age Iranian sample taken from Teppe Hasanlu (F38_Hasanlu, dated to 971-832 BCE) that revealed it has close affinities to modern Iranians.[115] The sample's data exists on GEDMatch under the kit number M381564. This indicates strong genetic continuity between modern Iranians and their Iron Age ancestors.

Josiah C. Nott and Henry HotzeEdit

In 1856, the Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines was translated into English. The translators were two American "race scientists", Josiah C. Nott and Henry Hotze, both ardent white supremacists – Nott also described his work as "niggerogy" – and champions of slavery who found in Gobineau's anti-black writings a convenient justification for the "peculiar institution".[116] Nott and Hotz found much to approve of in the Essai such as passages like the following where Gobineau wrote: "The Negro is the most humble and lags at the bottom of the scale. The animal character imprinted upon his brow marks his destiny from the moment of his conception".[116] Much to Gobineau's intense annoyance, Nott and Hotze abridged the first volume of the Essai from 1,600 pages in the French original down to a mere 400 in English.[117] At least part of why Hotze and Nott cut out so much was because of Gobineau's hostile picture of Americans. About white American people, Gobineau declared in the Essai:

They are a very mixed assortment of the most degenerate races in olden-day Europe. They are the human flotsam of all ages: Irish, crossbreed Germans and French and Italians of even more doubtful stock. The intermixture of all these decadent ethnic varieties will inevitably give birth to further ethnic chaos. This chaos is no way unexpected or new: it will produce no further ethnic mixture which has not already been, or cannot be realized on our own continent. Absolutely nothing productive will result from it, and even when ethnic combinations resulting from infinite unions between Germans, Irish, Italians, French and Anglo-Saxons join us in the south with racial elements composed of Indian, Negro, Spanish and Portuguese essence, it is quite unimaginable that anything could result from such horrible confusions, but an incoherent juxtapositions of the most decadent kinds of people.[118]

Passages like the above which were highly critical of white Americans were removed by Nott and Hotze from The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races, as the Essai was titled in English; they retained only the parts relating to the alleged inherent inferiority of blacks.[119] Likewise, Nott and Hotze used Gobineau as a way of attempting to establish that white America was in fact in mortal peril as despite the fact that the vast majority of American blacks were slaves in 1856, as the two "race scientists" argued on the basis of the Essai that blacks were essentially a type of vicious animal rather human beings who would always pose a danger to whites.[120] The passages of the Essai where Gobineau declared that, though of low intelligence, blacks had certain artistic talents and that a few "exceptional" African tribal chiefs probably had a higher IQ than that of the stupidest whites were not included in the American edition, as Nott and Hotze wanted nothing that might even in the slightest give blacks admirable human qualities.[121] Beyond that, Nott and Hotz claimed that nation and race were one and the same, and that to be American was to be white.[122] As such, the American translators argued in their introduction that just as various European nations were torn apart by nationality conflicts caused by different "races" living together, likewise ending slavery and granting American citizenship to blacks would cause the same sort of conflicts, but only on a much vaster scale in the United States.[123]

Although Nott and Hotze saw themselves as "race scientists", according to Victor Klemperer, who studied Gobineau's works, Gobineau himself "was never by nature a scientist ... Science was always in the service of his own idée fixe, it was solely there to provide incontrovertible evidence in support of [his] obsession."[124]

A voyage to NewfoundlandEdit

In 1859, an Anglo-French dispute over the French fishing rights on the French Shore of Newfoundland led to an Anglo-French commission being sent to Newfoundland to find a resolution to the dispute. Gobineau was one of the two French commissioners dispatched to Newfoundland, an experience that he later recorded in his 1861 book Voyage à Terre-Neuve (Voyage to Newfoundland). In 1858, the Foreign Minister Count Alexandre Colonna-Walewski tried to send Gobineau to the French legation in Beijing, but Gobineau objected that as a "civilized European", he had no wish to go to an Asian country like China.[125] As punishment, Walewski sent Gobineau to Newfoundland, telling him he would be fired from the Quai d'Orsay if he refused the Newfoundland assignment.[126]

The Gassendi, the French Navy ship Gobineau was travelling on, on his way to Newfoundland, visited Halifax to pick up coal. Gobineau in his dispatches back to Paris from Halifax condemned the recruiting methods of the British Royal Navy based upon offering financial rewards to the sailors who enlisted as reflecting the vulgar crude, crass materialism of the British people both in Britain and even more so in British North America while he praised the recruiting methods of the French Imperial Navy based on appeals to French patriotism as reflecting the spiritual strength of the French people.[127] Gobineau was in particular struck by the way that newspapers in Halifax condemned the Royal Navy for offering generous signing up bonuses to sailors as a major problem as it forced the local ship-owners to offer higher wages to their sailors to prevent them from joining the Navy, which Gobineau used to argue that the Nova Scotians were utterly materialistic.[127] During a stop in Sydney to pick up coal, Gobineau encountered Mi'kmaq Indians who had come in from the interior of Cape Breton island, whom Gobineau reported that: "In this brown-skinned race, with their black hair, thick, oily and flat, their flattened noses, their half-open eyes, slightly slanted, one can see a marked resemblance with the Uzbeks, Hazarehs and Turkomans who inhabit Central Asia".[128] Gobineau concluded on seeing the Mi'kmaq Indians that the First Nations of North America were also Asians, and expressed amazement that "… now before my eyes, in the middle of this street in Sydney, in the form of this handful of poor wretches; I had previously met their relatives, the still victorious descendants of the Mongols and Tartars, the conquerors of Turkestan, India and Persia".[128] Gobineau had a low opinion of the Mi'kmaq, whom he called "savages" whose "democratic way of seeing and understanding work and harassing the forces of nature has nothing noble about it, and certainly nothing which is morally uplifting".[129] Gobineau however did note he was "not unmoved by the sadness of their expression, the absence of any smile, their look of complete resignation and humility" as he commented that the Mi'kmaq had been given a miserable section of the forest of Cape Breton island to live in.[130]

Gobineau hated Newfoundland, writing to a friend in Paris on 26 July 1859: "This is an awful country. It is very cold, there is almost constant fog, and one sails between pieces of floating ice of enormous size."[131] In his time in St. John's, a city largely inhabited by Irish immigrants, Gobineau deployed virtually every anti-Irish cliché in his reports to Paris, stating the Irish of St. John's were extremely poor, undisciplined, conniving, obstreperous, dishonest, loud, violent, and usually drunk.[132] While in Newfoundland, Gobineau described several of the remote fishing settlements he visited in Utopian terms, praising them as examples of how a few hardy, tough people could make a living under very inhospitable conditions.[133] Gobineau's praise for Newfoundland fishermen reflected his viewpoint that those who cut themselves off from society best preserve their racial purity.[134] Despite his normal contempt for ordinary people, Gobineau called the Newfoundland fishermen he met as "the best men that I have ever seen in the world".[135] Gobineau observed that in these remote coastal settlements, there were no policemen as there was no crime, going on to write:

I am not sorry to have seen once in my life a sort of Utopia. [...] A savage and hateful climate, a forbidding countryside, the choice between poverty and hard dangerous labour, no amusements, no pleasures, no money, fortune and ambition being equally impossible—and still, for all this, a cheerful outlook, a kind of domestic well-being of the most primitive kind. [...] But this is what succeeds in enabling men to make use of complete liberty and to be tolerant of one another.[135]

Gobineau remarked with disgust that women in Newfoundland were all coquettish and had far too much freedom.[136] Apart from touring Newfoundland, Gobineau paid a visit to Labrador to hunt caribou, an experience that provided the basis of his autobiographical 1871 short story La chasse au caribou ("The caribou hunt"). The chief theme of La chasse au caribou was Gobineau's horror as a "civilized European" at relations between the sexes in Newfoundland and even more so in Labrador.[136] During his time in Labrador, Gobineau encountered First Nations peoples, whom he called les sauvages ("the savages") a common term in his day.[137] Based upon his visits to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Gobineau reached the conclusion that all people in North America were hopelessly materialistic and Western civilization only existed in Europe.[138] Gobineau described the people of British North America as a "population worthy not of admiration".[139] Gobineau reported that it was probable that the colonies on the mainland of British North America would unite to form a new country called Canada, but stated that it was unlikely that Newfoundland would join anytime soon.[140] Gobineau was correct on both counts; Nova Scotia, Canada West, New Brunswick and Canada East united to form the Dominion of Canada in 1867, which Newfoundland did not join until 1949. Gobineau urged that the French strengthen their military presence in the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland, writing: "It is to be wished that the Emperor's gaze may fall on this corner of the world. Great things might result."[140]

Obsession with PersiaEdit

In 1861, Gobineau returned to Tehran as the French minister.[113] Gobineau lived a modest, ascetic lifestyle and became engulfed with an obsession with ancient Persia that soon got out of control as he sought to prove that ancient Persia was founded by his much admired Aryans, leading him to engage in what Irwin called "deranged" theories about Persia's history.[113] In 1865 Gobineau published Les religions et les philosophies dans l'Asie centrale, an account of his travels in Persia and encounters with the various esoteric Islamic sects he discovered being practiced out in the Persian countryside.[79] Gobineau's mystical frame of mind led him to feel in Persia what he called "un certain plaisir" ("a certain pleasure") as no else in the world did he feel the same sort of joy he felt when viewing the ruins of Persia.[113] Gobineau had a low opinion of Islam, a religion invented by the Arab Mohammed, who Gobineau viewed thus as part of the "Semitic race", unlike the Persians whose Indo-European language led Gobineau to see them as Aryans.[79] Gobineau believed that Shia Islam was part of a "revolt" by the Aryan Persians against the Semitic Arabs, seeing a close connection between Shia Islam and Persian nationalism.[79] Gobineau's understanding of Persia was distorted and confused as he mistakenly believed that Shi'ism was practiced only in Persia, that in Shi'ism the Imam Ali is much more venerated than Muhammad and he was unaware that Shia Islam only became the state religion of Persia under the Safavids.[79] Based on his own experiences, Gobineau believed that the Persians did not really believe in Islam with the faith of the Prophet just being a mere cover over a society that still preserved many pre-Islamic features.[79] Gobineau also described the savage persecution of the followers of Bábism and of the new religion of the Bahá'í Faith by the Persian state, which was determined to uphold Shia Islam as the state religion.[79] Gobineau approved of the persecution of the Babi, writing that they were "veritable communists" and "true and pure supporters of socialism", as every bit as dangerous as the French socialists, writing the Peacock Trone was right to stamp out Bábism.[141] Gobineau was one of the first Westerners to examine the esoteric sects of Persia, and though his work was idiosyncratic, he did spark scholarly interest in an aspect of Persia that had been ignored by Westerners until then.[142] Gobineau's command of Farsi was only average and his Arabic was even worse, but since there were few Western Orientalists who knew Farsi, Gobineau was able to pass himself off for decades as a leading Orientalist who knew Persia like no one else.[143]

Only with his studies in ancient Persia did Gobineau came under fire from scholars.[142] Gobineau published two books on ancient Persia, Lectures des textes cunéformes (1858) and Traité des écitures cunéformes (1864).[142] Irwin wrote: "The first treatise is wrong-headed, yet still on this side of sanity; the second later and much longer work shows many signs of the kind of derangement that is likely to infect those who interest themselves too closely in the study of occultism".[142] One of the principal problems with Gobineau's approach to translating the cuneiform texts of ancient Persia was that he failed to understand linguistic change and that Old Persian was not the same language as modern Persian.[144] Gobineau's books met with hostile reception from scholars who argued that Gobineau simply did not understand the texts that he was purporting to translate.[144] Gobineau's article attempting to rebut his critics in the Journal asiatique was not published, as the editors had to politely tell Gobineau that his article was "unpublishable" as it was full of "absurd" claims and vitriolic abuse of his critics.[144] During his second time in Persia, Gobineau spent much time working as an amateur archeologist and gathering material for what was to become Traité des écitures cunéformes, a book that Irwin called "a monument to learned madness".[144] Gobineau was always very proud of the latter book, seeing it as a magnum opus that rivaled the Essai.[144] Gobineau had often traveled from Tehran to the Ottoman Empire to visit the ruins of Dur-Sharrukin at Khorsabad, near Mosul in what is now northern Iraq.[144] The ruins of Khorsabad are Assyrian, built by King Sargon II in 717 BC, but Gobineau decided that the ruins were actually Persian and built by Darius the Great some two hundred years later.[145] Furthermore, Gobineau decided that language found on some of the cuneiform texts at Khorsabad was Arabic, as people in the Ottoman vilayet (province) of Mosul spoke Arabic, leading him to the conclusion that the people in the region had always spoken Arabic and there was no difference between ancient Arabic and modern Arabic.[145] Irwin wrote that as "wrong" as Gobineau was in all his conclusions so far, what he published was "even stranger", as Gobineau, who was caught up in his obsession with the occult, offered up various mistranslations of the cuneiform texts into a highly poetical French that said a great deal about the occult in modern Europe and nothing about the ancient Near East as Gobineau expounded on mystical theories based on the Arabic cabalistic traditions, magic alphabets and numerology.[146] The French archeologist Paul-Émile Botta published a scathing review of Traité des écitures cunéformes in the Journal asiatique saying the cuneiform texts at the Dur-Sharrukin were Akkadian, that Gobineau did not know what he was talking about, and that the only reason why he had even written this review was just to prove that he had wasted his time reading Traité des écitures cunéformes.[146] The leading French Orientalist, Julius von Mohl, of the Société asiatique, was forced to intervene in the dispute that was troubling the society, as Gobineau insistently pressed his thesis, to argue that Gobineau's theories, which were to a large extent based on numerology and other mystical theories, lacked "scientific rigor", and the most he could say in favor was that he admired the "artistry" of Gobineau's thesis.[147]

Continuing his Persian obsession, Gobineau published Histoire des Perses in 1869.[147] In this book, Gobineau did not attempt to distinguish between Persian history and legends treating the Shahnameh and the Kush Nama (a 12th-century poem presenting a legendary story of two Chinese emperors) as factual, reliable accounts of Persia's ancient history.[147] As such, Gobineau began his history by presenting the Persians as Aryans who arrived in Persia from Central Asia and conquered the race of giants known to the Persians as the Diws.[147] Gobineau also added his own racial theories to the Histoire des Perses, explaining how Cyrus the Great had planned the migration of the Aryans into Europe, and thus making him responsible for the "grandeur" of medieval Europe.[148] For Gobineau, Cyrus the Great was the greatest leader in history, writing: "Whatever we ourselves are, as Frenchmen, Englishmen, Germans, Europeans of the nineteenth century, it is to Cyrus that we owe it", going on to call Cyrus as "the greatest of the great men in all human history".[149] Gobineau also presented Darius the Great in very heroic terms, expressed much bitterness about the "accidental" victories of the Greeks over the Persians and argued that the wrong side had won the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC because the Athenian victory ensured the survival of democracy while a Persian victory would have snuffed out the flames of democracy at its very beginning.[150] Gobineau classified the Sasanians as a "Semitic" dynasty, and declared that Aryan Persia ended when Ardashir I took the Peacock Throne.[151] It was at this point Gobineau ended his history of Persia as he wrote: "I stop at the point when a close kinship between us and the dominators of Iran ceased to exist".[151]

Minister to GreeceEdit

In 1864, Gobineau became the French minister to Greece.[152] During his time in Athens, which together with Tehran were the only cities he was stationed in that he liked, Gobineau spent his time writing poetry and learning sculpture when not travelling with Ernest Renan out in the Greek countryside in search of ruins.[152] Gobineau seduced two sisters of Athens, Zoé and Marika Dragoumis, who both became his mistresses and the former remained a lifelong correspondent.[153] However great his enthusiasm for ancient Greece, Gobineau was less than complimentary about modern Greece, writing that due to miscegenation that the Greek people had lost the Aryan blood that was responsible for "the glory that was Greece" as now the Greeks had a mixture of Arab, Bulgarian, Turkish, Serbian and Albanian blood.[154]

Gobineau praised the Austrian foreign minister Prince Klemens von Metternich for opposing Greek independence at the time of the Greek war of independence as he wrote that modern Greece was all "chaos".[154] Gobineau wrote: "Morally Greece is more devastated, more debased and much more surrendered over to anarchy in 1867 than she was in 1817 [before the war of independence]."[154] Gobineau wrote that only differences between the Greeks and the Turks was that the former were Eastern Orthodox while the latter were Muslims, but otherwise the two warring nations were at the same level as they both part of the same racial group.[154] Greece was a country that was heavily indebted and forever on the verge of bankruptcy, which Gobineau explained was the result of democracy.[155] Gobineau complained that the Greeks had a Danish king, but no aristocracy, writing all of the Greek politicians were corrupt, incompetent and self-interested.[156] Gobineau described Greek elections as being like civil wars as Greek politicians hired thugs to intimidate supporters of their rivals, leading to much bloody street fighting as thugs loyal to different politicians fought it out.[156] In a dispatch to Paris, Gobineau wrote: "Someone must be paying the Greeks to present the most accurate caricature… of a representative regime".[156] Gobineau had little respect for King George I, calling him an inept monarch who was incapable of asserting himself in the face of the "chaos" that was Greek politics.[156] In summary, Gobineau described Greek politics: "Petty passions, petty interests, petty people, petty mischief, petty intrigues, everything petty, except the contempt which all this deserves".[156]

Technically, Greece did not achieve independence in 1832, instead being a joint Anglo-French-Russian protectorate and as such, the British, French and Russian ministers in Athens had the theoretical power to countermand any decision of the Greek cabinet, but Gobineau repeatedly advised against France exercising this power, writing Greece was "the sad and living evidence of European ineptness and presumptuousness", attacking the British attempt to bring Westminster democracy to Greece as bringing about "the complete decay of a barbarous land" while the French were guilty of introducing the Greeks to "the most inept Voltairianism".[157] About the "Eastern Question", Gobineau advised against French support for the Greek Megali Idea, writing the Greeks could not replace the Ottoman Empire, and if the Ottoman Empire should be replaced with a greater Greece, only Russia would benefit.[158] Gobineau advised Paris:

The Greeks will not control the Orient, neither will the Armenians nor the Slav nor any Christian population, and, at the same time, if others were to come—even the Russians, the most oriental of them all—they could only submit to the harmful influences of this anarchic situation. [...] For me [...] there is no Eastern Question and if I had the honour of being a great government I should concern myself no longer with developments in these areas."[153]

In the spring of 1866, the Christian Greeks rebelled against the Ottoman Empire on the island of Crete and three emissaries arrived in Athens to ask Gobineau for French support of the uprising, saying that it was well known that France was the champion of justice and of the rights of "small nations".[159] As France was heavily engaged in the war in Mexico, Gobineau speaking on behalf of Napoleon III informed the Cretans to expect no support from France and that they were on their own in taking on the might of the Ottoman Empire.[159] Gobineau had no sympathy with the Greek desire to liberate their compatriots living under Ottoman rule, writing to his friend Anton von Prokesch-Osten: "It is one rabble against another".[158] Gobineau called the Cretan uprising "the most perfect monument to lies, mischief and impudence that has been seen in thirty years".[156] During the uprising, a young French academic Gustave Flourens, noted for his fiery enthusiasm for liberal causes had joined the Cretean uprising and had gone to Athens to try to persuade the Greek government to support the uprising.[160] Gobineau had unwisely shown Flourens diplomatic dispatches from Paris showing that both the French and Greek governments were unwilling to offend the Ottomans by supporting the Cretan uprising, which Flourens then leaked to the press.[157] Gobineau received orders from Napoleon III to silence Flourens.[157] On 28 May 1868, while Flourens was heading for a meeting with King George I, he was intercepted by Gobineau who had him arrested by the legation guards, put into chains and loaded onto the first French ship heading for Marseille.[160] L'affaire Flourens became a cause célèbre in France with the novelist Victor Hugo condemning Gobineau in an opinion piece in Le Tribute on 19 July 1868 for the treacherous way he had treated a fellow Frenchman fighting for Greek freedom.[160] With French public opinion widely condemning the minister in Athens, Gobineau was recalled to Paris in disgrace.[160]

Minister to BrazilEdit

In 1869, Gobineau was appointed the French minister to Brazil.[161] In 1869 France and Brazil did not have diplomatic relations at an ambassadorial level, instead having legations headed by ministers. Gobineau was unhappy that the Quai d'Orsay had sent him to Brazil, which he viewed as an insufficiently grand posting for himself.[161] Gobineau landed in Rio de Janeiro during the riotously sensual Carnival, which disgusted him and from that moment onward Gobineau detested Brazil, which he saw as a culturally backward and unsanitary place of diseases, dreading that he might fall victim to the yellow fever that decimated the population of Brazil on a regular basis.[161] The only thing that pleased Gobineau as he landed in Rio was seeing the black slaves whose backs bore the scars of whippings unload his luggage.[161] Gobineau's major duties during his time in Brazil from March 1869 to April 1870 were helping to mediate the end of the Paraguayan War, successfully seeking compensation after Brazilian troops looted the French legation in Asuncíon, equally successfully negotiating an extradition treaty between the French Empire and the Empire of Brazil, and dropping hints to Emperor Pedro II that French public opinion favored the emancipation of Brazil's slaves.[139] As slavery was the basis of Brazil's economy and Brazil had the largest slave population in the Americas, Pedro II was not willing to abolish slavery at this time.

As most Brazilians have a mixture of Portuguese, African and Indian ancestry, Gobineau saw the Brazilian people whom he loathed as confirming his theories about the perils of miscegenation.[161] Gobineau wrote to Paris that Brazilians were "a population totally mulatto, vitiated in its blood and spirit, fearfully ugly… Not a single Brazilian has pure blood because of the pattern of marriages among whites, Indians and Negroes is so widespread that the nuances of color are infinite, causing a degeneration among the lower as well the upper classes".[161] Gobineau wrote that Brazilians are "neither hard-working, active nor fertile".[161] Based on all this, Gobineau reached the conclusion that all human life would cease in Brazil within the next 200 years under the grounds of "genetic degeneracy".[161] Gobineau argued that the only way the Brazilians could save themselves from themselves was for the few Brazilians with European blood to "fortify" themselves by only marrying immigrants from Europe while preventing the rest from breeding, though how was to be done was left unexplained.[161] Gobineau argued if this was done, then "the race would revive, public health would improve, the moral temperament would be reinvigorated and the best possible social changes would occur in this admirable country".[161] Gobineau was not popular in Brazil as his letters to Paris show his complete contempt for everybody in Brazil regardless of their nationality (except for the Emperor Pedro II) with his most damning words reserved for Brazilians.[161] Gobineau wrote about Brazil: "Everyone is ugly here, unbelievably ugly, like apes".[162] Gobineau's only friend during his time in Rio was the Emperor Pedro II, whom Gobineau praised as a wise and great leader, noting the Emperor's blue eyes and blond hair as proof that Pedro was an Aryan.[163] The fact Pedro was of the House of Braganza left Gobineau assured that he had no African or Indian blood. Gobineau wrote: "Except for the Emperor there is no one in this desert full of thieves" who was worthy of his friendship.[163]

There was always a contradiction in Gobineau's writings about Brazil between his general detestation of Brazilians and his profound admiration for Pedro II, whom he saw as one of his age's great leaders.[164] Gobineau reported with favor to Paris that the settlements established by German immigrants in the south of Brazil were all flourishing, writing "this region is extremely suitable and favorable for the development of the German race".[165] Gobineau often wrote essays urging Aryan Europeans to immigrate to Brazil.[166] At the same time, Gobineau often advised Europeans not to immigrate to the United States, which he depicted as a violent, vulgar society unfit for Europeans.[167] During the American Civil War, Gobineau had sympathized with the Confederacy and used the Union victory in 1865 as proof that the more democratic section of American life was now in ascendancy.[167] Gobineau's attitudes of contempt for the Brazilian people led him to spend much of his time feuding with the Brazilian elite and in 1870 Gobineau was involved in a bloody street brawl with the son-in-law of a Brazilian senator who did not appreciate having his nation being put down.[163] As a result of the brawl, Pedro II asked Paris to have his friend recalled as otherwise he would have to declare Gobineau persona non grata.[163] Rather than suffer the humiliation of having the French minister declared persona non grata for engaging in a fist-fight on the streets of Rio, the Quai d'Orsay promptly recalled Gobineau.[163]

Return to FranceEdit

In May 1870 Gobineau returned to France from Brazil.[168] In a letter to Tocqueville in 1859 Gobineau had written "When we come to the French people, I genuinely favor absolute power", and as long as Napoleon III ruled as an autocrat, he had Gobineau's support.[169] The liberal reforms in the later part of the Second Empire together with the fiasco of the attempt to conquer Mexico had caused Gobineau to express doubts about the regime of Napoleon III, which put him in a state of disfavor.[169] Gobineau had often predicated that France was so rotten that the French were bound to be defeated if they ever fought a major war, but at the outbreak of the war with Prussia in July 1870, Gobineau believed that the French would win within a few weeks.[170] After the German victory, Gobineau triumphantly used his own country's defeat as proof of his racial theories.[170] Gobineau spent the war as the Maire (mayor) of a little town of Trie in Oise department.[171] After Trie was occupied by the Prussians, Gobineau established good relations with the occupiers and was able to reduce the indemnity that had been imposed on Oise department.[172]

In 1871, Gobineau's old enemy Flourens fought for the Paris Commune and after surrendering on 3 April 1871, Captain Jean-Marc Démaret of the French Army used his sword to smash Flourens's head apart.[160] On 6 April 1871, Gobineau mentioned in a letter his great pleasure at the news of Flourens's death.[160] After the Paris Commune was put down, Gobineau in a letter to his Greek mistress Zoé Dragoumis wrote:

Everything will become calm for a time. We are left with a people profoundly corrupted and shaking with anger who will before long make of the abominations they have committed a subject for pride, who will regard as evidence of their strength the tottering ruins of the monuments that they have destroyed, who will lavish praise upon their dead as through these were martyrs, and who will be singularly encouraged in their wickedness by the platitudes, cowardice and idiocies of those whom we call conservatives—though why I never know, for they conserve nothing.[173]

Later, Gobineau wrote a book Ce qui est arrivé à la France en 1870 explaining the French defeat as due to racial degeneration, which no publisher chose to publish.[173] Gobineau argued that as the French bourgeoisie were "descended from Gallo-Roman slaves", which explained why they were no match for an army commanded by Junkers.[174] Gobineau attacked Napoleon III for his plans for rebuilding Paris, writing: "This city, pompously described as the capital of the universe, is in reality only the vast caravanserai for the idleness, greed and carousing of all Europe."[174] In 1871, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt who met Gobineau described him thus: "Gobineau is a man of about 55, with grey hair and moustache, dark rather prominent eyes, sallow complexion, and tall figure with brisk almost jerky gait. In temperament he is nervous, energetic in manner, observant, but distrait, passing rapidly from thought to thought, a good talker but a bad listener. He is a savant, novelist, poet, sculptor, archaeologist, a man of taste, a man of the world".[151] Despite his embittered view of the world and misanthropic attitudes towards humanity, Gobineau was capable of displaying much charm when he wanted to, and was described by Albert Sorel as "a man of grace and charm" who would have made a perfect diplomat in Ancien Régime France.[175]

Chinese civilizationEdit

Gobineau argued that Chinese civilization had been created by a group of Aryan conquerors from India who had brought under their heel the indigenous Malay people living there.[176] Though Gobineau had read virtually everything written in French about China, he believed that the origins of Chinese civilization were in southern China where he posited that the Aryans from India had first arrived rather than the Yellow River valley which all Chinese sources regard as the "cradle" of Chinese civilization.[177] Gobineau argued that the Aryans being a conquering elite had taken a "masculine rather than feminine" approach to establishing their rule.[177] This in turn had led to a "peaceful despotism" well suited to the "Malay disposition" based on servility to the state, the capacity "to grasp the advantages of a regular and co-ordinated state organization" and an obsession with an "exclusively material well-being".[178]Through Gobineau argued that the Chinese had been able to make some progress under the influence of their Aryan elite, ultimately miscegenation led to this elite being assimilated into the "yellow" majority, and thus the Chinese were not capable of making any further progress.[179] For Gobineau, the crucial moment occurred in 246 BC when Qin Shi Huang, the "First Emperor" unified all of the Chinese states into one.[179] He argued that Qin had destroyed the "feudal" system created by the ancient Aryan conquerors and replaced it with "imperial leveling" that ended the Aryan elite; Gobineau wrote "There was only this innovation, great nonetheless in itself, that this last trace of independence, of personal dignity as understood in the Aryan manner had disappeared forever before the definitive invasions of the Yellow Type [l'espèce jaune]".[179] As such, Gobineau argued that the Chinese were a static people incapable of change and that essentially that nothing significant had occurred in China since 246 BC and his time.[179] Furthermore, Gobineau argued that the Chinese were fundamentally a materialist people devoid of any sort of spirituality.[179] The contrast between the Chinese ideal of a "gentleman scholar" as the supreme example of what a Chinese man should and the low social prestige of soldiers within China reflected what Gobineau disparaging saw as the materialist ordination of the Chinese.[180] By contrast, he argued that Aryans were first and foremost warriors, which, he approvingly explained, was why soldiers had such high social prestige in Europe.[180] Gobineau wrote with contempt that because of their materialism, for the Chinese happiness was to be found in having sufficient food to keep oneself alive and sufficient clothing to avoid public nudity.[181] He did not believe in the freedom of the press as he believed that ordinary people needed to be monitored by the state, but he argued that freedom of the press was possible in China because the "exclusively utilitarian" nature of the Chinese meant unlike in the West, there was no-one in China willing to fight and die for their ideas.[181] Gobineau wrote that as long the Chinese population was well provided for, no Chinese "would bother to confront police truncheons for the greater glory of a political abstraction".[181]

Along the same lines, Gobineau argued that Chinese culture was "without beauty and dignity";[181] the Chinese were "lacking in sentiments beyond the humblest notion of physical utility", and Chinese Confucianism was a "resume of practices and maxims strongly reminiscent of what the moralists of Geneva and their educational books are pleased to recommend as the nec plus ultra of the good: economy, moderation, prudence, the art of making a profit and never a loss".[182] Gobineau had been stationed in Switzerland early in his diplomatic career, and during his time there had developed an intense, visceral hatred of the Swiss middle class, Calvinism, and of Swiss democracy, and his attempt to associate Confucian values with Calvinist values was definitely meant to be an insult to both.[183] Gobineau considered all Chinese literature was "puerile", as the Chinese lacked the powers of the imagination that allowed Westerners to write great novels, Chinese theater was considered "flat" and Chinese poetry "ridiculous".[184] The "great Chinese scientific works" were "verbose compilations" lacking in the analytic rigor, which according to Gobineau whites alone were capable of achieving.[184] He asserted that the Chinese were incapable of science because "the spirit of the yellow race is neither profound nor insightful to attain this quality [scientific excellence] reserved for the white race".[185] Gobineau believed that China was a warning to the West of the perils of "democracy"—by which he meant meritocracy.[186] Because the Chinese state had attempted to promote education for the masses, the rule by the mandarins was meritocratic, and the exams to become a mandarin were open to all literate men, this all for Gobineau reflected the racially "stagnant" character of the Chinese.[186] Gobineau believed that the best form of government had existed in the Ancien Régime France with rule by a hereditary aristocratic elite in an ordered, hierarchical society. As such, Gobineau was extremely opposed to classical liberalism with its celebration of meritocracy, and he used the example of China as a warning about where classical liberals were taking the West.[186] The supposed destruction of the Aryan elite by Qin in 246 BC was "a fact absolutely similar to what took place chez nous in 1789, when the innovating spirit saw as its first necessity the destruction of the ancient territorial subdivisions [of France]".[186] About the demands of classical liberals for universal education, Gobineau wrote:

Popular education everywhere promoted, emphasis on the well-being of subjects, complete liberty in the allotted sphere, the fullest industrial and agricultural development, production at the most modest prices, rendering all European competition difficult for the ordinary necessities of life like cotton, silk and pottery. These are the incontestable results of which the Chinese system can boast.[187]

Later on, in an essay criticizing the Third Republic, Gobineau wrote that to most people, "republic" meant the "chimera of liberty" via the "rule of merit", where all would be given the equal chances to rise through their abilities.[188] He contemptuously noted that the "principle of 1789" was no different from the rule by mandarins in China, and predicted that if the republic continued to exist long enough, the French would "degenerate" down to the same level as the Chinese.[188]


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. He concluded 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. 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 Britain derived from the historical development of the Roman, Greek, and Ottoman empires, which had brought the non-Aryan peoples of Africa and the Mediterranean cultures to western and northern Europe. He believed that the populations of southern and western Iran, southern Spain and Italy consisted of a degenerative race arising from miscegenation, and that the whole of north India consisted of a "yellow" (Asian) race. Gobineau was extremely hostile towards Slavic peoples, especially Russians who, he claimed, had become a semi-Asian people as a result of miscegenation under the Golden Horde.[86] He described the Slavs as "a stagnant marsh in which all superior ethnic strains after a few hours of triumph found themselves engulfed".[86]

Novels and essaysEdit

Besides promoting racism, Gobineau also wrote several well received novels. Writers such as Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau and André Gide have all praised Gobineau as one of France's greatest novelists.[189] In his native France, he has been and is still often praised by literary critics as a master of French style whose novels were written with elegant verve and a superb sense of irony.[190] The French critic Pierre-Louis Rey and the British historian Michael D. Biddiss have both decried the tendency of the part of French critics to sever Gobineau the racist from Gobineau the novelist, maintaining that Gobineau's novels just as much reflect his racial theories as does the Essai.[190] Gobineau's 1874 novel Les Pléiades is concerned with a few exceptionally talented people who are examples of "ethnic persistence" in Europe surrounded by vast masses of morons.[190] In his introduction to Les Pléiades, Gobineau stated that the purpose of the novel was to advance the theory "that there are no longer classes, that there are no longer peoples, but only—in the whole of Europe—certain individuals who float like the wreckage upon the flood".[190] In Les Pléiades, the selected few flee from modern France to the fictional country of Burbach, which is located somewhere in Central Europe in an attempt to maintain the purity of their blood while they half-sadly, half-contently watch the destruction of European civilization from the safety of Burbach.[191] In Les Pléiades, Gobineau has the hero Casimir Bullet say about France: "I have… this great misfortune of harboring the most absolute contempt and the most outspoken hatred for that part of Europe where I was born. It does not suit me to see a people once so great henceforth lying on the ground, decomposing".[192] Throughout Les Pléiades, ordinary people are described variously as "fools", "scoundrels" and "brutes" whom Gobineau likens to animals.[191] Another one of Gobineau's literacy works was his Nouvelles Asiatiques of 1876, which concerned the impact of miscegenation in modern Asia as reflected in the life stories of a diverse group of people.[148] Nouvelles Asiatiques is unique as the only one of Gobineau's novels to feature non-white protagonists, and through in common with his other novels is fundamentally pessimistic in its message, it also allowed Gobineau's intense Persophilia to shine through as Gobineau had a deep affection for Persia (modern Iran).[148] Despite its title, Nouvelles Asiatiques are a series of "Oriental" short stories set in Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia with a recurring theme being the character of the people there was determined by race with example an Uzbek noblewoman adopted by a Russian officer retaining the ferocity of her race by attempting to blind the biological daughter of the officer while an Afghan prince raises far above the rest due to his Aryan blood.[193] In his 1877 novel La Renaissance, Gobineau again highlights the theme of a few gifted "Aryan" heroes such as Cesare Borgia and Pope Julius II having the misfortune of being surrounded by an endless multitude of debased inferiors.[194] In La Renaissance, Gobineau attacked the entire idea of morality as the basis of action, arguing that a superior few should not be governed by any set of universal moral values.[194] As such, Pope Alexander VI is presented as a hero in La Renaissance, precisely because of the utterly ruthless way in which he advanced the interests of the Borgia family in defiance of morality.[194] In La Renaissance, Gobineau has Alexander tell Lucretia Borgia: "For the kind of person whom destiny calls to dominate others, the ordinary rules of life are reversed and duty becomes quite different. Good and evil are transferred to another and higher plane…".[194] Biddiss wrote that Gobineau's philosophy was one of "utter dehumanization" of the weak and a glorification of the strong, making Gobineau into an incipient fascist with his thesis that amoral violence was completely acceptable when committed by the Aryan elite.[194] Biddiss argued that it was impossible to sever Gobineau the racist from Gobineau the novelist as several French critics had attempted to do, and that everything that Gobineau wrote was the expression of the same racist philosophy that he expressed in the Essai.[194]

Minister to SwedenEdit

In May 1872, Gobineau was appointed the French minister to Sweden.[195] After arriving in Stockholm, Gobineau wrote to his sister Caroline: "This is the pure race of the North—that of the masters", calling the Swedes "the purest branch of the Germanic race".[195] In contrast to France, Gobineau was impressed with the lack of social conflict in Sweden, writing to Dragoumis: "There is no class hatred. The nobility lives on friendly terms with the middle class and with the people at large".[195] To Mary Elizabeth Mohl, Gobineau expressed his amazement: "Just imagine workers who agree with their employers without threatening strikes, and bosses who understand that their employees must eat and who increase wages without having to be begged—and both these parties lashing out at the International!".[196] Gobineau argued that because of Sweden's remote location in Scandinavia, that Aryan blood had been better preserved as compared to France, writing about the accession of Oscar II to the Swedish throne in 1872: "This country is unique… I have just seen one king die and another ascend the throne without anyone doubling the guard or alerting a soldier".[197] The essential conservatism of Swedish society also impressed Gobineau as he wrote to Pedro II: "The conservative feeling is amongst the most powerful in the national spirit and these people relinquish the past only step by step and with extreme caution".[197] Sweden presented a problem for Gobineau between reconciling his belief in an Aryan master race with his insistence that only the upper classes were Aryans, which he eventually resolved by denouncing the Swedes as debased Aryans after all.[198] Gobineau used the fact that King Oscar allowed Swedish democracy to exist and did not try to rule as an absolute monarch as evidence that the House of Bernadotte were all weak and cowardly kings.[198] By 1875, Gobineau was writing "Sweden horrifies me" and wrote with disgust about "Swedish vulgarity and contemptibility".[198] In a letter to Pedro II, Gobineau called British foreign policy nothing than a series of "wild adventures" and predicted with British politics dominated by the Liberal William Gladstone, whom Gobineau called empty-headed and inept and the Conservative Benjamin Disreali, whom Gobineau called a scheming Jew, the days of the British empire were numbered.[199]

In 1874, Gobineau met the homosexual German diplomat Prince Philip von Eulenburg in Stockholm and became very close to him.[200] Eulenburg was later to fondly recall how he and Gobineau had spent hours during their time in Sweden under the "Nordic sky, where the old world of the gods lived on in the customs and habits of the people as well in their hearts."[200] Gobineau in his turn was later to write that only two people in the entire world had ever properly understood his racist philosophy, namely Wagner and Eulenburg.[200] Gobineau encouraged Eulenburg to promote his theory of an Aryan master-race, telling him: "In this way you will help many people understand things sooner."[200] Later, Eulenburg was to complain that all of his letters to Gobineau had to be destroyed because "They contain too much of an intimately personal nature".[201] During his time in Sweden, Gobineau became obsessed with the Vikings and became intent on proving he was descended from the Norse.[199] When Gobineau and Eulenburg visited the coast, Gobineau stood upon the rocks at Djursholm and announced: "This is the seat of Ottar Jarl. From hence I sprang—I can feel it!".[199] Gobineau was so obsessed with Vikings and his supposed descent from them that he started writing a pseudo-family history showing his alleged descent from Ottar Jarl during his time in Sweden.[199] Gobineau's time in Stockholm was a very productive period for him from the literacy viewpoint as he wrote Les Pléiades, Les Nouvelles Asiatiques, La Renaissance, most of Histoire de Ottar Jarl and completed the first half of his epic poem Amadis while serving as minister to Sweden.[199]

During his time in Sweden, Gobineau, although remaining outwardly faithful to the Catholic Church, had privately abandoned his belief in Christianity and was very interested in the pagan religion of the Vikings, which seemed more authentically Aryan to him.[202] In a letter to his sister, Gobineau wrote that he longer believed in Catholicism, before writing: "I have never been included among the free-thinkers and I never shall be. On the contrary, I shall always be counted among the Catholics and, if need be, I should take Communion with great ceremony at the top of the towers of Notre-Dame so that people cold see this better. Do you know why? It is because I hate this age!"[202] For Gobineau, maintaining his Catholicism was a symbol of his reactionary politics and rejection of liberalism, and it was for these reasons that he continued to nominally observe Catholicism.[202] Gobineau told his friend the Comte de Basterot that he wanted a Catholic burial only because the de Gobineaus had always been buried in Catholic ceremonies, not because of any belief in Catholicism.[203] In 1879, Gobineau attempted to prove his own racial superiority over the rest of the French with his pseudo-family history Histoire de Ottar Jarl, pirate norvégien conquérant du pays de Bray en Normandie et de sa descendance (History of Ottar Jarl, Norwegian pirate and conqueror of Normandy and his descendants), which begins with the line "I descend from Odin", and traces Gobineau's supposed descent from the Viking Ottar Jarl, which for Gobineau triumphantly meant he was of Aryan descent.[204] As the de Gobineau family first appeared in history in late 15th century Bordeaux and Ottar Jarl—who may or may not have been a real person—is said to have lived in the 10th century, Gobineau had to resort to a great deal of invention to make his genealogy work.[204] In Histoire de Ottar Jarl, Gobineau attacked Christianity for its message of universal salvation, writing: "Nothing was more opposed to the exclusive principles of the Aryan race… Aryans have a natural tendency to find god in themselves and to believe that what is useful to them is in itself right and sacred".[205] Gobineau praised the Viking raids and conquests that terrified Europe in the Dark Ages as he maintained for Aryans "might was right", and because the Aryan Vikings were stronger, they were right to raid and conquer others weaker than themselves.[205] For Gobineau, the Essai, the Histoire des Perses and Histoire de Ottar Jarl comprised a trilogy, what the French critic Jean Caulmier called "a poetic vision of the human adventure", covering the universal history of all races in the Essai, to the history of the Aryan branch in Persia in Histoire des Perses and to his own family's history in Histoire de Ottar Jarl.[206]

Richard WagnerEdit

Though a proud Frenchman, Gobineau was fairly cosmopolitan, and regarded himself as a part of a cultured European elite that transcended national loyalties, a good Frenchman but even more so a "good European"; the aristocratic Gobineau felt more affinity for fellow aristocrats of other nationalities than he did for French commoners.[207] The Czech historian Ivo Budil called Gobineau "...a cosmopolitan thinker who did not feel wholly French" and who was obsessed with ancient Greece and Persia.[208] In 1876, he accompanied his close friend Emperor Pedro II of Brazil on his trip to Russia, Greece and the Ottoman Empire, and introduced Pedro II to both Emperor Alexander II of Russia and the Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire.[209] Gobineau took his friend on a guided tour of Athens, a city that Gobineau called "heaven on earth" due to its ruins.[210] Inspired by his last visit to Greece, Gobineau started writing what became his 1878 book Le Royaume des Hellènes arguing that the achievements of ancient Greece were all due to the Aryans, and that there existed no connection between the ancient Greeks and modern Greeks, as the Aryan blood was all gone.[211] After leaving Pedro II in Constantinople, Gobineau traveled to Rome, Italy, for a private audience with Pope Pius IX.[85] During his visit to Rome, Gobineau met and befriended the German composer Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima Wagner.[212] Wagner was greatly impressed with the Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines and he used his newspaper, the Bayreuther Blätter to popularize Gobineau's racial theories in Germany.[85] Gobineau in his turn was greatly impressed with Wagner's music and, unusually for a Frenchman, Gobineau became a member of the Bayreuth Circle.[85] Wagner was fascinated by Gobineau's racial theories, and much of his writings from 1876 onwards showed Gobineau's influence.[213] Field wrote that "Gobineau's chief work, Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines contained a far more detailed and closely argued explanation for cultural decadence than anything Wagner had written. Indeed, this synthesis of anthropology, theology, linguistics and history was unquestionably the most impressive and ideologically coherent racial analysis produced in the pre-Darwinian era.".[213]

After becoming associated with Wagner, many of Gobineau's ideas were incorporated into Wagner's later operas.[87] Cosima Wagner wrote to Gobineau in May 1881 to tell him: "My husband is quite at your service, always reading The Races when he is not at work with the staging."[214] Gobineau wrote back to say: "I assure you there is no Bayreuthian more faithful than I".[214] Wagner, while accepting the basic ideas of Gobineau into his philosophy, rejected Gobineau's pessimism about the fate of the Aryans.[214] Instead, Wagner created the concept of regeneration, where the Aryans would return to their former glory by embracing his theories of art and rejecting what Wagner called the corrupting influence of the Jews.[214]

For leaving his post in Stockholm, without permission, to join the Emperor Pedro II on his European visit, Gobineau was told in January 1877 to either resign from the Quai d'Orsay or be fired. Gobineau chose the former. Gobineau spent his last years living in Rome, a lonely and embittered man whose principal friends were the Wagners and Eulenburg.[210] Gobineau saw himself as a great sculptor, and attempted to support himself through selling his sculpture.[210]In 1881 and again in 1882, Gobineau went to the Wahnfried, where he was the guest of honor at Wagner's birthday parties.[215] In 1906, Eulenburg published the book Eine Erinneruung an Graf Arthur de Gobineau (A Memoir of Count Arthur de Gobineau) recollecting his friendship with his "unforgettable friend" that distorted Gobineau's theories to present him as a prophet who had shown that the coming 20th century was to be Germany's century.[200]

"Yellow Peril"Edit

Völker Europas, wahrt eure heiligsten Güter ("Peoples of Europe, guard your dearest goods," 1895) The Yellow Peril painting. Much of the imagery appears drawn from Gobineau's anti-Asian writings, via his friend Prince Philip von Eulenburg who helped with turning Wilhelm II's sketch into the painting.

In the last years of his life Gobineau was consumed with the fear of what was later to be known as the "Yellow Peril", believing that European civilization would soon be destroyed by a Chinese invasion.[216] Linked to his fear of China was Gobineau's fear of Russia. During his visit to Russia in 1876 Gobineau wrote to a friend: "It is undeniable that this country is well on the way to power and aggrandizement" and in 1879 wrote Russia was about to present "the spectacle of the creation of the greatest empire that the Universe will ever have seen".[217] Gobineau saw the growth of Russian power as opening the door for a Chinese invasion of Europe, writing to Pedro II in 1879: "What the Russians will have done within ten years will be to have opened towards the West the flood-gates to the vast human horde that we find so ill at east in China; and it is an avalanche of Chinese and Slavs, mottled with Tartars and Baltic Germans, that will put an end to the stupidities and indeed to the civilization of Europe. The United States, which a fears a yellow invasion from the direction of California, will gain little from all this. Europe will lose everything!"[218] In 1881, Gobineau published an article in Richard Wagner's newspaper the Bayreuther Blätter entitled "Ein Urteil über die jetzige Weltage" ("A Judgment on the Present World"), which was translated into German by Cosima Wagner and whose introduction was written by her husband, warning that the Chinese would soon "overwhelm" and destroy Western civilization.[219] Gobineau called his essay Ce qui se fait en Asie "the sequel and the present condition of the Essai".[217] Referring to the near-genocidal campaigns waged by the Chinese state to put down two Muslim rebellions, namely the Panthay Rebellion and the Dungan Revolt, Gobineau wrote of the "persistent Chinese efforts to exterminate and eradicate all Moslem peoples from their empire and from neighboring areas. This great undertaking is the prime preoccupation of the Peking government, now suddenly passionately aroused after centuries of total indifference. [...] China's actions are motivated neither by anger, nor by offended and uncompromising religious faith, nor by fanaticism. The blood-thirsty rage of the Chinese, obsessed with slaughtering and eradicating the Moslems, is explained simply by thoughts of commercial gain, and self-interest alone is the main motivating factor".[220] Gobineau argued that what had been done to the Muslims in the Chinese empire would soon be repeated as it was the nature of the Chinese to want to exterminate Westerners.[221] Gobineau argued that Russian railroad building operations in Siberia would easily allow the Chinese to rapidly reach Europe.[222] Gobineau praised racist laws meant to restrict Chinese immigration to the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Hawaii and Australia as a good first step, but warned that "European civilization" was so rotten by miscegenation that it was only a matter of time before the Chinese destroyed the West.[223]

Gobineau gave artistic expression to his vision in his 1881 epic poem Amadis where a small elite of Aryan aristocrats ruling Europe are threatened by a revolt of racially inferior commoners which allows the Chinese to invade Europe; despite the fact that the Aryan heroes are superior in every respect to the Chinese "horde", the Aryans are finally overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers and are exterminated.[223] In Amadis, the extermination of the Aryans marks the destruction of everything good in the world and is the beginning of a new dark age. In Amadis, Gobineau wrote about the masses: "Une âme en eux?...Certes, très bien ils savaient qu'ils n'en avaient rien" ("A soul for them?...To be sure, they knew very well that they had none").[224] In Amadis, Gobineau was at his most bitter, as he attacked Jesus Christ for preaching universal salvation, which Gobineau dismissed under the grounds that only the Aryan elite have souls.[224] Biddiss wrote: "In the Essai he had compromised with religious orthodoxy to the point where he had at least allowed all men some limited rights and qualities by virtue of their common humanity. Amadis negates even that. It is an assertion of the ego, of aristocratic morality, of liberty, love and honor for the few alone. The elite is deified while the rest of humanity is denied a soul or after-life. Naturally, since we cannot be sure that Gobineau himself really believed in the existence of a supernatural paradise, we should not take too literally any associated remarks about the soul or immortality".[224] The Chinese are presented in Amadis as subhuman creatures unworthy of respect or love, deserving only to be killed.[218] In this regard, Biddiss wrote that it was not the Jews whom Gobineau hated and feared the most, but rather the Slavs and the Asians, believing that Europe would be destroyed by a Slavic-Asian invasion sometime in the near future.[225] Gobineau had always believed in the superiority of elites who should not be guided by any sort of morality and for whom the masses were destined to be their slaves; Amadis was merely Gobineau's starkest declaration of this belief that all of this writings had at very least implied.[226] In 1868, Gobineau had written to Dragoumis: "You know that deep down my sole political belief is that any man of real blood is created and put into this world in order to take charge of lesser people", lamenting that his fate was to be being a member of the Aryan elite who sadly was born in the 19th century.[227]

In 1884, the French efforts to conquer Vietnam led to war breaking out between France and China. The Sino-French War led to immediate revival of interest in Gobineau's anti-Asian writings in France, and several French newspapers reprinted the French original of Gobineau's 1881 article in the Bayreuther Blätter, together with a translation of Wagner's introduction warning about the imminent Chinese threat to European civilization.[228] Likewise, the Franco-Chinese war led to the Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines becoming popular in France.[229] The book had been published in four volumes (each about 1, 000 pages long) in 1853–55, and remained out of print for decades. In 1884, just after the war with China began, the second edition and third editions of the Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines were published in Paris, which was a direct result of the war, as many French people suddenly became interested in a book that had such an unflattering picture of Asians.[229] The American historian Gregory Blue wrote that, for Gobineau, China was a "deadly, soulless menace" to the "white race", the merciless agent of impending destruction of everything good in the world.[230] Much of the imagery from Amadis appears in the infamous painting "The Yellow Peril" by Hermann Knackfuss, which was inspired by a nightmare Kaiser Wilhelm II had in April 1895, in which millions of Asians marched under a dark, stormy cloud in which was a dragon carrying a Buddha wreathed in flames, bringing death and destruction to Europe. As the first sketch of what was to become the painting done by the Kaiser, it differs from the finished product of September 1895, being considerably more nightmarish, disturbing and terrifying. Blue suggested that there was a "Eulenburg connection" at work here, arguing that Prince von Eulenburg, who was probably Gobineau's lover and who certainly was the best friend of Wilhelm II, had introduced themes from Gobineau's anti-Asian writings into The Yellow Peril, as Knackfuss turned the sketch provided by Wilhelm into a painting.[231] The striking similarities between Gobineau's anti-Asian writings and The Yellow Peril painting can be best explained as Eulenburg, who knew well the writings of his "unforgettable friend" Gobineau, being deeply involved in helping Knackfuss turn the sketch Wilhelm had given him into a painting that could be presented in public.[231]


Gobineau's theories were a major influence on the Romanian radical anti-Semitic politician Professor A. C. Cuza, who embraced Gobineau's biological racism as a way of "proving" that the Jews were a "plague" upon modern Romanian life.[232] Like most of Gobineau's followers, Cuza rejected his pessimism as too extreme, but Cuza argued that Romanian people formed out of a fusion between the ancient Dacians and Romans had best preserved the Aryan blood, and that the Jews as a biologically different people simply did not belong in Romania.[232] Cuza, who was deeply impressed with Gobineau, often used Gobineau's theories and rhetoric of racial degeneration to frame his anti-Semitic arguments about the "Jewish race".[233] Cuza frequently claimed that the Jews were a "plague" upon Romania as Cuza asserted that the Romanian people were in the midst of the sort of racial degeneration described by Gobineau, which for Cuza was naturally all caused by the Jews.[233] As Cuza at various times had been a mentor to various figures on the Romanian radical right such as the Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the poet-politician Octavian Goga, and Marshal Ion Antonescu, his influence was considerable in 1930s–40s Romania.

Ottoman EmpireEdit

Gobineau's theories had a profound influence on the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).[234] The Turks had originated from the land north of the Great Wall of China and migrated across Eurasia to Anatolia. The members of the Committee called the homeland of the Turks Turan and identified themselves with Gobineau's Aryans. Gobineau was often mentioned in CUP journals and in 1911 a journal dedicated to promoting the CUP's take on Gobineau was founded in Salonika.[234]


In his late writings, Richard Wagner was positive about Gobineau and suggested that one could not exclude the correctness of his racial theory. At the same time, he also totally disagreed with Gobineau's conclusion that miscegenation unavoidably resulted in the decline of the human race and cultures. In his 1881 article Heldentum und Christentum, Wagner praised the Essai, accepted its premise of an Aryan master race and its denunciation of miscegenation, but he denied that the Aryan race was in unstoppable decay.[235] He thought that Christ died for everyone, irrespective of race, and from this he drew his hope for a fundamental regeneration of the "Aryan race". Gobineau visited Bayreuth, the home of Wagner, shortly before his death.[236] In 1894, the Wagnerite and anti-Semitic journalist Ludwig Schemann founded the Gobineau Vereinigung (Gobineau Society) to promote Gobineau's theories in Germany, spawning the Gobinism movement.[1][237] Schemann was close to Cosima Wagner and was inspired by her to found the Gobineau Vereinigung. The Gobineau Vereinigung was a small group, but it exercised much intellectual influence, and in this way did much to popularize the theory of an Aryan master-race in Germany.[237] The Gobineauismus that Schemann and the Gobineau Vereinigung promoted owed as much to Wagner as it to Gobineau for the Gobineau Vereinigung rejected Gobineau's pessimism and claimed that the Aryan race could be saved.[238] Schemann, who was one of the most influential and best known race theorists in Imperial Germany, projected an optimistic message about the future of the Aryan race while accepting Gobineau's basic idea about an Aryan master race.[239] Schemann was the man who popularized Gobineau in Germany and it was largely through him rather than reading the Essai directly that Gobineauismus was promoted in the Reich.[239] In 1937, Schemann was personally awarded the Goethe Medal by Hitler for his "services to the nation and race".[239]

Adolf Hitler and Nazism borrowed much of Gobineau's ideology. However, although a central figure in the development of degeneration theory, Gobineau was not antisemitic, and may be characterised as philosemitic,[240] having written very positively about Jewish people, including a long eulogy to them in his Essai sur l'inégalité des races, describing them as "a free, strong, and intelligent people" who succeeded despite the natural disadvantages of the Land of Israel.[241] In his later years, however, he inclined, according to Paul Lawrence Rose, toward "a vague personal antisemitism."[242] When the Nazis adopted Gobineau's theories, they edited his work extensively to make it conform to their views,[243] much as they did in the case of Nietzsche. Extracts from the Essai were mandatory reading in German schools under the Third Reich.[244] Gobineau's fundamental pessimism with the best days of the Aryans long gone was of little use to völkisch thinkers, through several völkische writers such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain did borrow Gobineau's idea about an Aryan master race.[245] The American historian Paul Fortier observed it was striking the contrast between the fundamental optimism and triumphant tone expressed by Chamberlain in his 1899 book The Foundations of the 19th Century about the future of the Aryans vs. the relentlessly downbeat and gloomy message of Gobineau's Essai.[246] Writing in April 1939, Rowbotham declared:

So after nearly a hundred years, the fantastic pessimistic philosophy of the brilliant French diplomat is seized upon and twisted to the use of a mystic demagogue who finds in the idea of the pure Aryan an excuse for thrusting civilization dangerously near back to the Dark Ages.[247]

The pessimism of Gobineau's message did not lend itself to political action as Gobineau did not believe that humanity could be saved from racial degeneration.[248] Biddiss wrote: "His racist ideology, through rooted in social and political concerns and though claiming to explain the nature of society itself, could not on his own terms effect any transformation. But Gobineau unfortunately failed to realize the degree to which such a theory-whatever his own view of its impotence-might be capable of use and adaptation by others to affect society and history. His work would in time be plundered by racists with an interest in preaching explicitly reformatory doctrines".[249]


Despite his highly negative assessment of Brazilians, Gobineau became a hero to certain Brazilian intellectuals. In a 1906 essay, the intellectual Sílvio Romero cited Gobineau together with Otto Ammon, Georges Vacher de Lapouge and Houston Stewart Chamberlain as having proved that the blond "dolichocephalic" people of northern Europe were the best and greatest race in the entire world, and wrote that Brazil could become a great nation by having a huge influx of German immigrants who would achieve the embranquecimento (whitening) of Brazil.[250] In 1912, Romero praised Gobineau in an essay for "admirable, genius-like vision" and his "wise words that merit every consideration" before launching what the American historian Thomas Skidmore called a "violent polemic" against Brazil's mulatto population as a racially degenerate people who should disappear from Brazil.[250] Oliveira Viana in his 1920 book As populações meridionais do Brasil offered lavish praise of Gobineau for his denunciation of miscegenation and his disparaging remarks about black and Indian Brazilians.[251] Vianna's solution was a plan for the "Aryanise" Brazil by bringing in millions of fair-skinned European immigrants and thus achieve the "embranquecimento" of Brazil.[251] Vianna served as the education minister under the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas, where he was well known for his advocacy of the advantages of "Aryan" immigration to Brazil.[251] Right up until the Second World War, Gobineau's writings were cited in Brazil in support of the claim that miscegenation caused "physical degeneration" and there must be no interracial sex in Brazil if the Brazilian people were to have a positive future.[252] By contrast, in reaction to intellectuals like Vianna who cited Gobineau, the Brazilian writer Gilberto Freyre wrote a series of books in the 1920s–30s praising miscegenation and the black Brazilian culture, arguing that fusion of white, black and Indians had given Brazil a distinctive culture and the Brazilian people a distinctive appearance, creating the theory of Lusotropicalism.[253] Freyre argued that Gobineau was a snobbish Frenchman who looked down upon Brazilians as not measuring up to Europe, which led Freyre to reject the idea that Europe should be the standard for Brazil, arguing the Brazilians had created a new civilization based on an interaction of the descendants of Indians, African slaves and European immigrants that was superior to the Europeans with their obsession with racial purity.[253] Freyre dismissed the writings of Gobineau and Chamberlain as "diffuse, loquacious and wrong".[254]


Although in no way espousing his beliefs, the Bahá'í faith recognises Gobineau 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 Kashan, who was put to death by the Persian authorities in c.1852.[citation needed] The manuscript is held by the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris.[citation needed] He is also known to students of Babism for having written the first and most influential account of the movement, displaying a fairly accurate knowledge of its history in Religions et philosophies dans l'Asie centrale. An addendum to that work is a bad translation of the Bab's Bayan al-'Arabi, the first Babi text to be translated into a European language.[citation needed]

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 aristocratic politics, and his hatred of democratic mass culture.[255]

Works in English translationEdit


  • The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races, J. B. Lippincott, 1856 (rep. by Garland Pub., 1984).
  • Method of Reading Cuneiform Texts, Educational Society's Press, 1865.
  • Gobineau: Selected Political Writing, Michael D. Biddiss (ed.), Jonathan Cape, 1970.
  • The World of the Persians, J. Gifford, 1971.
  • The French Encounter with Africans, William B. Cohen, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.
  • A Gentleman in the Outports: Gobineau and Newfoundland, Carleton University Press, 1993.
  • Comte de Gobineau and Orientalism: Selected Eastern Writings, Geoffrey Nash (ed.), Routledge, 2008.


  • Typhaines Abbey: A Tale of the Twelfth Century, Claxton, Remsen and Haffelfinger, 1869.
  • Romances of the East, D. Appleton and Company, 1878 [Rep. by Arno Press, 1973].
    • "The History of Gamber-Ali." In The Universal Anthology, Vol. XX, Merrill & Baker, 1899.
    • Five Oriental Tales, The Viking Press, 1925.
    • The Dancing Girl of Shamakha and other Asiatic Tales, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1926.
    • Tales of Asia, Geoffrey Bles, 1947.
    • Mademoiselle Irnois and Other Stories, University of California Press, 1988.
  • The Renaissance: Savonarola. Cesare Borgia. Julius II. Leo X. Michael Angelo, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913 [Rep. by George Allen & Unwin, 1927].
  • The Golden Flower, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1924 [Rep. by Books for Libraries Press, 1968].
  • The Lucky Prisoner, Doubleday, Page and Company, 1926 [Rep. by Bretano's, 1930].
  • The Crimson Handkerchief: and other Stories, Harper & Brothers, 1927 [Rep. by Jonathan Cape: London, 1929].
  • The Pleiads, A. A. Knopf, 1928.
    • Sons of Kings, Oxford University Press, 1966.
    • The Pleiads, Howard Fertig Pub., 1978



  1. ^ a b Gould, Stephen Jay (1996). The Mismeasure of Man. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 359. ISBN 978-0393314250. Gobineau was undoubtedly the most influential academic racist of the nineteenth century. His writings strongly affected such intellectuals as Wanger and Nietzsche and inspired a social movement known as Gobinism.
  3. ^ "GOBINEAU, Joseph Arthur de". 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Biddiss 1970, p. 45.
  5. ^ Biddies 1970, p. 19.
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  93. ^ So that the reader not be left in ignorance as to who the Aryans are, Gobineau stated, La race germanique était pourvue de toute l'énergie de la variété ariane ("The Germanic race was provided with all the energy of the Aryan race"). We see, then, that Gobineau presents a racist theory in which the Aryans, or Germans, are all that is good. Comparative literature. by American Comparative Literature Association.; Modern Language Association of America. Comparative Literature Section.; University of Oregon. 1967, page 342
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  • Biddiss, Michael D. (1970). Father of Racist Ideology: The Social and Political Thought of Count Gobineau. Littlehampton Book Services Ltd. ISBN 978-0297000853.
  • Biddiss, Michael D. (1997). "History as Destiny: Gobineau, H. S. Chamberlain and Spengler". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 7: 73–100. doi:10.2307/3679271. JSTOR 3679271.
  • Blue, Gregory (1999). "Gobineau on China: Race Theory, the "Yellow Peril" and the Critique of Modernity"". Journal of World History. 10 (1): 93–139. doi:10.1353/jwh.2005.0003. JSTOR 20078751.
  • Budil, Ivo (2008). Arthur Gobineau and Greece. A view of a man of letters and diplomat. Prague Papers on the History of International Relations.
  • Davies, Alan (1988). Infected Christianity: A Study of Modern Racism. McGill-Queen's University Press. JSTOR j.ctt80fx5.
  • Drayton, Richard (2011). "Gilberto Freyre and the Twentieth-Century Rethinking of Race in Latin America". 27. Portuguese Studies. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Fortier, Paul (1967). "Gobineau and German Racism". 19. Comparative Literature. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Gobineau, Arthur de (1993). Michael Wilkshire (ed.). A Gentleman In The Outports: Gobineau and Newfoundland. Ottawa: Carleton University Press. JSTOR j.ctt1cd0m3n.
  • Gobineau, Arthur de (1970). "Events in Asia". In Michael Biddiss, London (ed.). Gobineau Selected Political Writings.
  • Irwin, Robert (2016). Gobineau the Would be Orientalist. 26. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.
  • Klemperer, Victor (2000) [1957]. The Language of the Third Reich. Translated by Martin Brady. Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-9130-5.
  • Rowbotham, Arnold (1939). "Gobineau and the Aryan Terror". The Sewanee Review. 47 (2): 152–165. JSTOR 27535529.
  • Wilkshire, Michael (1993). "Introduction: Gobineau and Newfoundland". In Michael Wilkshire (ed.). Gentleman In The Outports: Gobineau and Newfoundland. Carleton Library Series. McGill-Queen's University Press. JSTOR j.ctt1cd0m3n.
  • Wright, Michelle (1999). Nigger Peasants from France: Missing Translations of American Anxieties on Race and the Nation. 22.

Further reading

Works in English
  • Beasley, Edward (2010). The Victorian Reinvention of Race: New Racisms and the Problem of Grouping in the Human Sciences, Taylor & Francis.
  • Biddiss, Michael D. (1970). "Prophecy and Pragmatism: Gobineau's Confrontation with Tocqueville," The Historical Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4.
  • Biddiss, Michael D. (1997). "History as Destiny: Gobineau, H. S. Chamberlain and Spengler," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Sixth Series, Vol. VII.
  • Blue, Gregory (1999). "Gobineau on China: Race Theory, the 'Yellow Peril,' and the Critique of Modernity," Journal of World History, Vol. 10, No. 1.
  • Dreher, Robert Edward (1970). Arthur de Gobineau, an Intellectual Portrait, University of Wisconsin.
  • Gillouin, Rene (1921). "Mystical Race Theories," The Living Age, No. 4015.
  • Grimes, Alan P. & Horwitz, Robert H. (1959). "Elitism: Racial Elitism." In Modern Political Ideologies, Vol. V, Oxford University Press.
  • Haskins, Frank H. (1924). "Race as a Factor in Political Theory." In A History of Political Theories, Chap. XIII, The Macmillan Company.
  • House, Roy Temple (1923). "Gobineau, Nietzsche, and Spiess," The Nation, April 11.
  • Kale, Steven (2010). "Gobineau, Racism, and Legitimism: A Royalist Heretic in Nineteenth-Century France," Modern Intellectual History, Volume 7, Issue 01.
  • Rahilly, A. J. (1916). "Race and Super-Race," The Dublin Review, Vol. CLIX.
  • Richards, Robert J. (8 November 2013). Was Hitler a Darwinian?: Disputed Questions in the History of Evolutionary Theory. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-05893-1. Retrieved 13 August 2015. Lay summary (28 October 2013).
  • Rowbotham, Arnold H. (1929). The Literary Works of Count de Gobineau, H. Champion.
  • Schemann, Ludwig (1979). Gobineau, Arno Press.
  • Seillière, Ernest (1914). "The Life and Work of Count Arthur de Gobineau." In The German Doctrine of Conquest, Maunsel & Co.
  • Sorokin, Pitirim A. (1928). "Anthropo-Racial, Selectionist, and Hereditarist School." In Contemporary Sociological Theories, Harper & Bros., pp. 219–308.
  • Snyder, Louis L. (1939). "Count Arthur de Gobineau and the Crystallization of Nordicism." In Race: A History of Modern Ethnic Theories, Longmans, Green & Co.
  • Spring, Gerald Max (1932). The Vitalism of Count de Gobineau, New York, [s.n.].
  • Valette, Rebecca M. (1969). Arthur de Gobineau and the Short Story, University of North Carolina Press.
  • Voegelin, Eric (1940). "The Growth of the Race Idea," The Review of Politics, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 283–317.
  • Voegelin, Eric (1997). Race and State, University of Missouri Press.
Works in other languages
  • Boissel, Jean (1993). Gobineau: Biographie. Mythes et Réalité, Berg International.
  • Buenzod, Janine (1967). La Formation de le Pensée de Gobineau et l'Essai sur l'Inégalité des Races Humaines, Librairie A. G. Nizet.
  • Devaux, Philippe (1937–38). "L'Aristotélisme et le Vitalisme de Gobineau," Revue Franco-belge, December/Janvier .
  • Dreyfus, Robert (1905). La Vie et les Prophéties du Comte de Gobineau, Calmann-Lévy.
  • Faÿ, Bernard (1930). Le Comte Arthur de Gobineau et la Grèce, H. Champion.
  • Gahyva, Helga (2002). O Inimigo do Século – Um Estudo Sobre Arthur de Gobineau 1816–1882, IUPERJ.
  • Kleinecke, Paul (1902). Gobineau's Rassenphilosophie, Haack.
  • Lacretelle, Jacques de (1924). Quatre Études sur Gobineau, Á la Lampe d'Aladdin.
  • Lange, Maurice (1924). Le Comte Arthur de Gobineau, Étude Biographique et Critique, Faculté de Lettres de Strasbourg.
  • Raeders, George (1988). O Inimigo Cordial do Brasil: O Conde de Gobineau no Brasil, Paz & Terra.
  • Riffaterre, Michael (1957). Le Style des Pléiades de Gobineau, E. Droz.
  • Schemann, Ludwig (1913–16). Gobineau: eine Biographie, 2 Vol., K. J. Trübner.
  • Schemann, Ludwig (1934). Gobineau und die Deutsche Kultur, B.G. Teubner.
  • Smith, Annette (1984). Gobineau et l'Histoire Naturelle, E. Droz.
  • Spiess, Camille (1917). Impérialismes; la Conception Gobinienne de la Race, E. Figuière & Cie.
  • Thomas, Louis (1941). Arthur de Gobineau, Inventeur du Racisme (1816–1882), Mercure de France.

External linksEdit