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Book Reviews The Aryan Myth: A History o/Racist and Nationalist Ideas in Europe. By IAon Poliakov. Translated by Edmund Howard. (New York: Basic Books, 1974. $12.00) From the time of the Spanish Inquisition through the slavery era and on to the Holocaust , racial concepts have become increasingly powerful within Western thought. Despite their pervasive influence, historians of philosophy have chosen to ignore the significant contributions philosophers have made to the growth and articulation of racist ideas. Poliakov does not permit such choices. The creation of the Aryan myth has been the work of many hands and Poliakov wants to give credit where credit is due. He wants to explain the motivation for the myth itself, and he wants to expose the relation of this myth to racism generally and to anti-Semitism in particular. In the beginning the numerous "myths of origin" lived more or less in harmony with the Biblical Adam and Eve account. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries new genealogies began to appear in partial answer to the complexities engendered by reflections on the discovery of the New World. Isaac La Peyr~re's work on the pre-Adamites provided an important first step towards a polygenetic theory of man's creation. Poliakov credits Francois Bernier, student of Gassendi and friend of Locke, with the first use (1684) of "race" in its modern sense. Multiple creation plus color classification theories enrich one another throughout the eighteenth century. Ham's curse, degeneration hypotheses, and separate creation doctrines thus contribute to the hierarchical coIor-ranked scheme of Linnaeus as well as to the scientifically defended models which emerge in post-Darwinian evolutionary thought. The Aryan myth proper has two stages. First, it develops as part of a general assault on the Jewish roots of the Biblical world. Those Enlightenment figures like Voltaire, who hoped to reduce the force of the Christian religion by extirpating its Jewish roots, prepared the ground for a new myth of origin. Thus Moses was seen as filching stories and doctrines from earlier Indian sources. William Jones' discovery (1788) of Sanskrit's affinities with Greek and Latin provides a measure of respectability to this new cultural genealogy. The German philosopher Friedrich Schlegel deduced a relationship between language and race and spoke of the Aryan race. With Schopenhauer, the myth became specifically antiJewish . And so it has remained. By the end of the nineteenth century, the myth had moved to a second stage the rejection of the Jewish roots of language, culture, and race, was supplemented by an ignoring of the Indian origins in favor of a purely Germanic genealogy . Among other things, Poliakov chronicles the roles of philosophers with respect to racism. From Locke and Hume to Voltaire, Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Marx and Comte, philosophers contributed in essential ways to the formulations of racist theories, to their philosophical and scientific justifications, to their intellectual respectability, and to the receptions accorded their ever-increasing dissemination. It is a fact that many of the most important Enlightenment and post-Englightenment philosophers sought to find a new origin for European man in the mountains of Asia so that their philosophies, which remained Christian, would be untainted by Judaism. Jung expressed a variation on this theme in our own century. And yet the reader of this important and profound study must remain dissatisfied with the theoretical explanation Poliakov provides. Indeed, part of the brilliance and attraction of this study derives from the emphasis Poliakov gives to the presentation and organization of a vast quantity of data.But why did Europeans, in particularGermans, feelso corn- [401] 402 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY pelled to articulate a new "myth of origin"? Poliakov suggests that psychoanalysis might explain the strange concepts and peculiar structure which make up the Aryan myth. Thus he sketches the talk of "virile" and "feminine" races in popular nineteenth-century texts, as well as the tension between "regressive maternal images" (p. 204) and paternal images --matters which are the very stuff of myths of origin and ideal subjects for psychoanalytic inquiry. "In psychoanalytical terms it could be said that the West generally identified itself with its ancient 'Fathers' while seeking to surpass them, whereas Germany, on the contrary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 401-402
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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