Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau (14 July 1816 – 13 October 1882) was a French aristocrat who was best known by his contemporaries as a novelist, poet and travel writer but is today most remembered for developing the theory of the Aryan master race and helping to legitimise racism by scientific racist theory and racial demography. Gobineau was an elitist who, in the immediate aftermath of the Revolutions of 1848, wrote a 1400-page book, 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 inbreeding with inferior races (Alpines and Mediterraneans).
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 1000 pages of the original book, including those parts that negatively described Americans as a racially mixed population. Gobineau's writings were also influential on prominent anti-Semites such as Richard Wagner, the Romanian far-right politician professor A. C. Cuza and leaders of the Nazi Party, who later edited and re-published his work.
Life and theories
Gobineau's father was an impoverished government official and staunch royalist, and his mother, Anne-Louise Magdeleine de Gercy, was the daughter of a royal tax official. Her father was not a nobleman, but he took the 'count' title to his name himself.
In the later years of the July Monarchy, Gobineau made his living writing serialized fiction (romans-feuilletons) and contributing to reactionary periodicals. He struck up a friendship and had voluminous correspondence with Alexis de Tocqueville. 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.
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 the Middle East and Brazil rather than for the racial theories for which he is now mostly remembered. 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. A firm reactionary who believed in the innate superiority of aristocrats over commoners – who the snobbish Gobineau held in utter contempt – Gobineau came to embrace scientific racism as a way of justifying aristocratic rule over racially inferior commoners. Under the shock of the Revolution of 1848, Gobineau had first expressed his racial theories in his 1848 epic poem Manfredine where he expressed 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.
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 Latin peoples. This was an old theory first promoted in a tract by Count Henri de Boulainvilliers who had argued that Second Estate (the aristocracy) was of "Frankish" blood and the Third Estate (the commoners) were of "Gaulish" blood. The Canadian theologian, Reverend Alan T. Davies wrote that in 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". 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. 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. 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. 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 only end with the utter collapse of European civilization. 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. 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. 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 impeding 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."
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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 the physically the most beautiful and were the only ones capable of creating beauty. 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. 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. Gobineau took the term Aryan ("light one" or "noble one") from Hindu legend and mythology where he found recounts 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. 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. 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.
Gobineau believed that the white race had originated somewhere in Siberia, the Asians in the Americas and the blacks in Africa. He 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. In turn, the whites had broken into three sub-races, namely the Hamitic, Semitic and Japhetic peoples – the latter were the Aryans of Hindu legend and were the best and greatest of all the whites. At the same time, in southeast Asia the blacks and Asians had intermixed to create the sub-race of the Malays. He classified Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa as racially mixed. 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 snob Gobineau felt more affinity for fellow aristocrats of other nationalities than he did for French commoners. In 1876, he accompanied his close friend Emperor Pedro II of Brazil on his trip to Russia and the Ottoman Empire and introduced him to both Emperor Alexander II of Russia and the Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire. After leaving Pedro in Constantinople, Gobineau traveled to Rome for a private audience with Pope Pius IX. During his visit to Rome, Gobineau met and befriended the German composer Richard Wagner. 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. Gobineau in his turn was greatly impressed with Wagner's music and unusually for a Frenchman, Gobineau became a member of the Bayreuth Circle. Despite his pride in being French, Gobineau who did not approve of the French Revolution 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. Gobineau's contempt for ordinary people emerges from his letters where his preferred term for common folk was la boue ("the mud").
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."
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."
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. His 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, also known as "Aryan," which included groups classified by language, for example the Celts, Slavs and the Germans.Gobineau later came to use and reserve the term Aryan only for the "German race" and described the Aryans as 'la race germanique'. By doing so he presented a racist theory in which Aryans – that is Germans – were all that was positive 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. 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. Gobineau's theory had a major influence on National Socialist aesthetes. In 1970, the American historian Gerhard Weinberg summarized up 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". 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". 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." 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 somewhat contradictory that Asian and black women had immense powers of sexual attraction over white men (for reasons that he never explained Gobineau did not attribute Asian and black men with the same sexual powers he had attributed to black and Asian women), 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. 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 decay of Aryan Europe.
Gobineau attributed much of the economic turmoil in France to pollution of races. 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. Wagner was fascinated by Gobineau's racial theories and much of his writings from 1876 onwards showed Gobineau's influence. 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.". 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. 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. 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 that wrote "the peasant may inhabit the land, but they are certainly not part of it..." Wright further noted the very marked similarity between Gobineau's picture of the French peasantry and his view of blacks.
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". 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". 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. 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."
Passages like the above 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, who retained only the parts relating to the alleged inherent inferiority of blacks. 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 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. 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 want nothing that might even in the slightest give blacks admirable human qualities. Beyond that, Nott and Hotz claimed that nation and race were one and the same, and that to be American was to be white. 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.
In 1859 an Anglo-French dispute over the French fishing rights over 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. As punishment, Walewski sent Gobineau to Newfoundland, telling him he would be fired from the Quai d'Orsay if he refused the Newfoundland assignment. 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." 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. Gobineau's praise for Newfoundland fishermen reflected the fact that he viewed them as survivals of more or less pure Aryans triumphing over the harsh climate, but also his viewpoint that those who cut themselves off from society best preserve their purity. In contrast, Gobineau in his dispatches back to Paris 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 (Gobineau believed that les Anglo-Saxons were further down the road of racial decline than the French). 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. 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. Apart from touring Newfoundland, Gobineau paid a visit to Labourer to hunt caribou, an experience that provided the basis of his autobiographical 1871 short story La chasse au caribou ("The caribou hunt"). During his time in Labourer, Gobineau encountered First Nations peoples, whom he disparagingly called les sauvages ("the savages"). Based upon his visits to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia (the Gassendi, the French Navy ship Gobineau was travelling on visited Halifax to pick up coal), Gobineau reached the conclusion that almost all people in North America were hopelessly materialistic and Western civilization only existed in Europe.
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. 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. Gobineau argued that the Aryans being a conquering elite had taken a "masculine rather feminine" approach to establishing their rule. 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". 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. For Gobineau, the crucial moment occurred in 246 BC when Qin Shi Huang, the "First Emperor" unified all of the Chinese states into one. 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]". 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. Furthermore, Gobineau argued that the Chinese were fundamentally a materialist people devoid of any sort of spirituality. 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. 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.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. 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. 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".
Along the same lines, Gobineau argued that Chinese culture was "without beauty and dignity"; 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". Gobineau had been stationed in Geneva 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. 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". The "great Chinese scientific works" were "verbose compilations" lacking in the analytic rigor, which according to Gobineau whites alone were capable of achieving. 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". Gobineau believed that China was a warning to the West of the perils of "democracy" – by which he meant meritocracy. 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, thus reflecting the racially "stagnant" character of the Chinese. Gobineau believed that the best form of government had existed in the Ancien Régime France with rule by a hereditary aristocratic elite in 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 an warning about where classical liberals were taking the West. 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]". 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."
Later on, in an essay criticizing the Third Republic, Gobineau wrote that 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. 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.
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. He described the Slavs as "a stagnant marsh in which all superior ethnic strains after a few hours of triumph found themselves engulfed".
Besides promoting racism, Gobineau also wrote several well received novels. In his native France, he has been and is still is often praised by literary critics as a master of French style whose novels were written with elegant verve and a superb sense of irony. 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. 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. 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". 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. Throughout Les Pléiades, ordinary people are described variously as "fools", "scoundrels" and "brutes" whom Gobineau likens to animals. 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. In La Renaissance, Gobineau attacked the entire idea of morality as the basis of action, arguing that superior few should not be governed by any set of universal moral values. 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. 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...". 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. 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 was the expression of the same philosophy.
After reading the Essai, de Tocqueville had told Gobineau that: "alone in Europe, the Germans...could provide you with a really favorable audience". In 1874, Gobineau met the homosexual German diplomat Prince Philip von Eulenburg in Stockholm and become very close to him. 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." 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. 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." 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”. In 1879, Gobineau attempted to prove his own racial superiority over the rest of the French with his pseudo-family history Historie 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.
After becoming associated with Wagner after meeting in 1876 in Rome, many of his ideas were incorporated into Wagner's later operas. 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." Gobineau wrote back to say: "I assure you there is no Bayreuthian more faithful than I". Wagner while accepting the basic ideas of Gobineau's into his philosophy, rejected Gobineau's pessimism about the fate of the Aryans. 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. In 1894, the Wagnerite and anti-Semitic journalist Ludwig Schemann founded the Gobineau Vereinigung (Gobineau Society) to promote Gobineau's theories in Germany. 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.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.
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. In 1881, Gobineau published an article in Richard Wagner's newspaper the Bayreuther Blätter entitled "Ein Urteil über die jetzige Weltage" 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. 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. Gobineau gave artistic expression to his vision in his 1881 epic poem Amadis where the 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. 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 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. Likewise, the Franco-Chinese war led to the Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines becoming popular in France. 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 become interested in a book that had such an unflattering picture of Asians. The American historian Gregory Blue wrote that for Gobineau China was a "deadly, soulless menace" to the "white race", the merciless agent of impeding destruction of everything good in the world.
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,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. In his later years, however, he inclined, according to Paul Lawrence Rose, toward " a vague personal antisemitism." When the Nazis adopted Gobineau's theories, they edited his work extensively to make it conform to their views, much as they did in the case of Nietzsche. 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. 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. 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". 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.
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. He thought that Christ died for everyone, irrespective of race, and from this he drew his hope for a fundamental regeneration. It was Cosima Wagner who maintained the close contact with Gobineau, not Wagner himself. Gobineau visited Bayreuth, the home of Wagner, shortly before his death.
Though in no way espousing his beliefs, Bahá'ís know 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. The manuscript is held by the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. 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.
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.