Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (July 14, 1816 - October 13, 1882) was a French aristocrat, writer, diplomat, and social thinker. He became infamous for advocating developing the racist theory of the Aryan master race, in his book, An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-1855). Gobineau approached his work from a scholarly viewpoint, trying to understand the course of human history and the factors involved in the development of civilizations. He concluded that race was the single most important factor determining the nature of human society, with the white race being responsible for all the great advances in history. He saw the barriers between the races as natural, having existed from the beginning of human history, and that breaking them down through miscegenation would lead to the destruction of civilization. Unfortunately, his ideas were taken and abused by Nazism, leading to genocide against the Jews and World War II. While the issue of racism has indeed been identified as key to resolving problems in the world, breaking down the barriers through marriage between those of different races has come to be seen as an integral part of the solution, and a vital component in the establishment of a peaceful world.
Joseph Arthur de Gobineau was born on July 14, 1816, in Ville-d'Avray, near Paris, France, into an aristocratic royalist family that cherished loyalty to the House of Bourbon. His father, Louis Gobineau, was an officer in the French army, and his mother, Anne-Louise Madeleine de Gercy, was of a Creole origin. When he was seven, his mother left her husband and fled with her lover and children to Switzerland, where young Gobineau attended the local gymnasium in Bienne. His mother tried to give him a solid Germanic and Germanophile education, and the schools in Switzerland were the ideal place for that.
In 1834, Gobineau returned to France to his father, and enrolled into general studies of the classics, folklore, and oriental studies. He tried in 1835, to enroll into the military academy, but failed the entrance exam. Instead, he left for Paris and worked different manual jobs to make a living. Between 1840 and 1848, he published several works, including Mademoiselle Irnois. In 1846, he married Clémence Monnerot.
In February 1848, the revolution broke out, which ended the French monarchy. About the same time Alexis de Tocqueville, an aristocrat and a mentor of Gobineau, became French foreign minister. In 1849, de Tocqueville made Gobineau his private secretary, and later the main chief of the cabinet. Subsequently, Gobineau became the first secretary in the embassy at Bern, and later he held posts in Hanover and Frankfurt.
Gobineau wrote his famous Essay on the Inequality of Human Races between 1853 and 1855. The book did not receive immediate attention, and passed rather unnoticed. In 1854, Gobineau became the first secretary in the embassy in Tehran, and later in 1861, the minister to Persia. There, he wrote several works on Persian society.
In 1864, Gobineau served as French emissary to Athens, Greece, and in 1868, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to carry the same position. In Brazil he became a friend of the Brazilian emperor, Dom Pedro II. After Brazil, in 1872, Gobineau moved to Stockholm, Sweden, which was his last post. In 1876, he was forced to retire from the diplomatic corps.
Gobineau spent the rest of his career in Italy, writing novels and sculpting. Many of his works were published posthumously. In 1876, Gobineau met Richard Wagner in Rome, and visited him several times in his home in Bayreuth. Wagner was rather inspired by Gobineau's views and, together with his friends from the Bayreuth circle, helped him propagate those views. Gobineau's racial theories became popular in Germany after his death.
Gobineau spent his last days writing poetry and sculpting, two of the loves he always cherished. He died in Turin, Italy, on October 13, 1882.
Gobineau published his famous Essay on the Inequality of Human Races in the period between 1853 and 1855, and dedicated it to King George V of Hanover (1851-66). He expressed his views on the times he lived in and tried to explain the reasons behind revolutions. Gobineau was a royalist and despised democracy, holding that revolutions and wars were the result of the degeneration of society in general.
In the Inequality of Human Races Gobineau attempted to create a science of history, connecting the rise and fall of civilizations with race. He came to believe that race created culture, arguing that distinctions between the three "black," "white," and "yellow" races were natural barriers, and that "race-mixing" breaks those barriers and leads to chaos.
According to his definitions, the people of Spain, southern France, southern and western Iran, most of Italy, and a large part of Britain, consist of a degenerative race arising from miscegenation. Also he stated that the whole of north India consisted of a yellow race.
Gobineau believed that the "white" race was superior to the others. He thought it corresponded to the ancient Indo-European culture also known as "Aryan," with Germany having just enough of the Aryan strain to revive the white race. He believed himself to be a descendant of Nordic Vikings.
Gobineau claimed that ethnicity was the most important issue in history, and that ethnic differences existed permanently from the beginning of human history. Gobineau considered the Bible to be a reliable source of history. In the Inequality of Human Races he wrote that "Adam is the originator of our white species," and all other races were not part of the human species. The biblical division into Hamites, Semites, and Japhetites, according to Gobineau, is a division within the white race.
In the last chapter of the Inequality of Human Races, Gobineau claimed that throughout human history there have been ten great civilizations, all of them started by the white race:
Gobineau believed that civilization appeared as the result of conquest by a superior Aryan race over inferior races. He wrote that Aryans were brave, intelligent, and strong, but had a weakness in creativity. A small influx of blood of other races, especially Semitic, improved this weakness. However, Gobineau warned, too much race mixing would result in the ultimate destruction of civilization.
Gobineau also wrote novels, notably Les Pléiades (1874). His study, La Renaissance (1877), was also admired in his day. Both of these works strongly expressed his reactionary aristocratic politics, and his hatred of democratic mass culture.
Although his racial theories did not receive immediate attention in Europe, it was through the influence of the Bayreuth circle and Richard Wagner that his views became popular, and his anti-Semitic theories developed.
Josiah Clark Nott, a leader of the polygenist movement (that suggested that Whites and Blacks were two distinct species), translated Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines into English. Gobineau's work has been continuously republished, most recently by contemporary white nationalist groups.
Adolf Hitler and Nazism borrowed much of Gobineau's ideology, though Gobineau himself was not particularly anti-semitic. Gobineau saw Jews as strong, intelligent people who were very much a part of the superior race and who, if anything, stimulated industry and culture. As such, when the Nazis adopted Gobineau's theories, they were forced to extensively edit his work, much as they did in the case of Nietzsche's writings.
To Bahá'ís, Gobineau is known as the person who obtained the only complete manuscript of the early history of the Bábí religious movement of Persia, written by Hâjji Mirza Jân of Kashan, who was put to death by the Persian authorities in 1852. The manuscript is now in the Bibliothèque nationale at Paris.
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