7. BLOODLINES: Pre-Adamism and the Politics of Racial Supremacy
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169 7 5 Bloodlines Pre-Adamism and the Politics of Racial Supremacy T hroughout the era when pre-adamism was undergoing its own evolution from polygenism to monogenism in response to Darwinian transformations, the theory’s potential to serve the politics of racial ideology was being fully exploited among advocates of white supremacy. Polygenism was eagerly harnessed in the cause of racial apologetic by those of a more or less secular outlook, while preadamism was embraced by some religious partisans intent on cultivating a racialized theology. On both sides of the Atlantic, pre- and post-Darwinian debates on human origins were permeated with the cultural politics of race relations. The question of human origins was not simply about science and species; it was about society and sex, cultural identity and racial purity. Bloodlines mattered—economically, politically, spiritually. Labor economics , voting rights, marriage laws, church membership—all were folded into the passion to determine just who was, and who was not, of Adam’s lineage. Connections between scientific questions of race and the institution of slavery were deep and lasting, as we saw in chapter 3. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries debates about slavery drew on scientific declarations about human origins. In the case of abolitionists arguments were often mounted to refute the idea of racial inferiority and to underscore the unity of humankind, while advocates of the slave trade, particularly in the United States, called on racial science to justify their policies and the hierarchical ranking of racial groups. Of course, there are no neat histori- 170 adam’s ancestors cal lines of causation to be drawn here. Many scientific proponents of racial inferiority rejected slavery, while champions of human consanguinity often defended it. As Peter Kitson shows, many slaveholders felt no need to call on polygenist anthropology to justify themselves. James Tobin, for example, writing in 1787, found the views of David Hume, Voltaire, and Lord Kames on the subject to be unconvincing and happily argued that the condition of his slaves was much superior to that of Britain’s laboring classes.1 Abolitionist writing, by contrast, often called on scientific claims about the unity and common origin of the human species in their crusades and wedded them to Christian universalism. Scientific questions about the beginnings of the human species, whether common or plural, along with the religious investment in origin narratives, were thus freighted with political cargo. The intensification of these preoccupations throughout the nineteenth century, and on into the early years of the twentieth, and the often contradictory inferences drawn from them are chief among the themes that will guide our scrutiny of Adam and his ancestors in the pages that follow. Science, Race, and Human Origins In both Britain and the United States a rather more secular polygenism was cultivated as a virulent strain of racialist politics during the Victorian period . And the citationary architecture of the anthropological writings of its devotees on both sides of the Atlantic reveals conspicuous bibliographical interweaving. To apprehend something of the ways in which theological preadamism of both monogenetic and polygenetic stripes was used to sponsor racial ideology at the time, a thumbnail sketch of its secular scientific counterpart in both locations will be useful. Polygeny in Britain In Britain the impetus behind the reinvigoration of anthropological polygenism sprang, at least in part, from the defense of a slave economy and its associated racial stereotyping, which manifested itself in critiques of Adam Smith’s classical market economics. If David Levy’s analysis is well founded, Thomas Carlyle—who dubbed economics the “dismal science” on account of its finding the secret of the universe in the all-too-banal relations of supply and demand—was critically implicated in these machinations through the way in which he “morphed racial slavery into an idealized feudalism.”2 Carlyle’s critique of classical economics revolved in part around “the early Bloodlines: Pre-Adamism and the Politics of Racial Supremacy 171 utilitarian presumption that all should count equally in the calculus of social good.”3 To Levy this assumption was manifestly false, as two groups—Irish andblackAfricans—borewitness.WhileBritishevangelicalswerecampaigning on the principle that black slaves were both “men and brothers,” Carlyle was lauding the virtues of social hierarchy and the idea of natural masters and declaring the fundamentally subhuman status of those races who refused to work. They were economic children, requiring careful tutelage—and serfdom was the answer. For Carlyle, we might say, Homo sapiens was Homo economicus . Thus, in his 1849...