The Varieties of Man: Racial Theory between Climate and Heredity

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History book series (CIH)


Numerous historians of racism in Western culture have argued that the eighteenth century marked a critical milestone in the construction of race, with George Mosse going so far as to declare that “eighteenth-century Europe was the cradle of modern racism.”1 The race concept was not an invention of the Enlightenment; recent studies have highlighted precedents such as ancient Greek representations of Persians and other “barbarians,” the growing preoccupation with “purity of blood” in late medieval Spain, which led to the racialization of religious identities, and the sixteenth-century debates over whether indigenous American peoples were “natural slaves” in the Aristotelian sense.2 Nevertheless, the taxonomic impulse of eighteenth-century thought led to a growing tendency to classify human beings into a precise number of biologically defined and allegedly invariable racial categories, while the secularization of European thought during the Enlightenment made possible new narratives of human origins that broke with the framework of the Book of Genesis to argue that different “races” of humankind did not share a common origin. For these reasons, it is often argued, as Emmanuel Eze has written, that “Enlightenment philosophy was instrumental in codifying and institutionalizing both the scientific and popular European perceptions on the human race,” thereby generating the strain of scientific racism that became predominant in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.3


Skin Color Racial Difference Eighteenth Century Human Race Racial Differentiation 
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© David Allen Harvey 2012

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