Anténor Firmin

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Excerpts from Anténor Firmin’s Masterwork, De l’égalité des races humaines (1885; transl.  Asselin Charles, The Equality of the Human Races, 2000), chapter 16

European Solidarity 

No hay quien desconozca, no, coma la idea de raza completa la idea de patria. 

Everyone is aware that the notion of race and the concept of motherland are complementary. 

(Emilio Castelar)


As civilization progresses, men develop a feeling of solidarity which becomes increasingly stronger. People who are separated from one another by considerable distances feel a deep sense of connectedness which, only a short while ago, hardly existed among people of the same nation but of different regions. This feeling exists only when a people has achieved moral unity. It is only then that people flying the same flag are inspired by the same ideas, experience the same emotions, pleasures, and sufferings as others in society. This heightened sense of connectedness, which may be called patriotism, unites all in one ineffable bond and facilitates the workings of the social organism. This evolving altruism, the obvious proof of the moral improvement induced by civilization, has its counterweight in the collective and individual actions of humanity. There are indeed antinomies everywhere. The idea of country also fosters a transcending selfishness which leads a political community to seek for itself what it would be insane for the individual even to desire. In the pursuit of a patriotic goal, it seems that the end justifies the means. Thus, Scipio Africanus defended himself against accusations of corruption by addressing the crowd assembled at the forum in these words: “Romans, it was on a day like this that I defeated Hannibal at Zama; let’s go to the Capitol and give thanks to the gods!” Today, the politician guilty of the greatest offense against ethics and justice does the same thing. He responds to any accusation by protesting: “l behaved like a patriot; I can only be judged by my peers.” Such words never fail to rouse an impressionable crowd that is easily moved by rhetorical flights and emotional appeals. 

That the notion of country holds such sway over people’s minds, inspiring brilliant actions and great thoughts, can easily be explained. It entails an expanded understanding of the duties which each person morally has towards the land where he was born and raised, and to which he is beholden for everything —habits, education, mindset. But no matter how elevated and abstract this idea is, it could not have survived for so long had it not been given tangible forms which constitute its concrete representation, had it not been given a practical character and made recognizable by certain outward manifestations. Patriotism ultimately is defined as unequalled affection for our native land. But here we identify the land with those who have rejoiced and suffered with us, with those whose ancestors have rejoiced and suffered with ours, and with those who share with us common aspirations, identical customs, and a similar physiological profile and psychological temperament which are perceived as distinct from those of all other collectivities. And this is where the idea of race comes in, influencing the actions of a people to the same extent as patriotism does and often overlapping with and completing the latter. The influence of ethnic consciousness on the political actions of nations is undeniable; it plays a role even in their assessment of issues, affecting their very reasoning. Even when nothing is said about it, ethnic consciousness remains a strong, positive, and active force both in the unfolding of events and in the elaboration of theories. 

This is a fact of contemporary history. The international rivalries that have led nations to the battlefield in horrible wars of extermination are, for the most part, based on race. Certainly conflicts do not always arise between clearly distinct races. It is mostly among the sub-races of Europe that we observe these dreadful outbursts of the bellicose instinct, in which everyone can only think of the most deadly and expeditious way to render powerless and dominate an adversary, who has become an implacable enemy in the terrible melee. Men, who appear to have been born to get along with one another and progress together, feel uncomfortable walking side by side on the same continent. Some mysterious force seems to push them toward this art of periodic conflagration. A heightened love of country, transformed into narrow devotion, inspires them with concerns that allow them no rest until the nation to which they belong has achieved preeminence and hegemonic control over the destinies of other nations. So, the untrammeled ambition and mean selfishness which are considered shameful in the individual can approvingly be exercised in favor of his country or his race. Moreover, these concerns are not limited to the present; they are projected into the most distant future as well. Restlessly, nations challenge one another, always ready to fight to achieve grandeur and preeminence, yielding nothing to the other who, in turn, displays supremacist pretentions. Often stronger nations crush the weaker ones before the latter can achieve a degree of strength that could cast a shadow on their pride or challenge their supremacy. 

Now, if members of the Caucasian race can show such rivalry among themselves, what will they not do when they face a foreign people of a race distinct from their own by temperament, facial features, skin color, and intellectual culture, and accustomed to a different climate? Let everyone decide. 

We observed earlier that the feeling of human solidarity increases the more a nation becomes civilized in its mores and way of thinking. Initially limited to an intimate circle, as it were, the sense of solidarity expands gradually until it encompasses humanity as a whole. From the inner circle of the family the individual extends his solidarity to the clan, from the clan to the district, then to the province, to the country, and to the whole continent where he lives. Thus, the sense of being connected felt within the most tightly-knit group comes to be experienced within the largest collection of individuals sharing a common set of ideas. Thus one is a member of a particular family, then a person from Nantes, then an individual from the Loire province, then a Frenchman, and finally a European. Moreover, before thinking of himself as a European, the Frenchman remembers that he belongs first to the group of nations of Latin origin whenever they want to assert themselves before the Slavic or Germanic nations. This becomes particularly evident whenever, for whatever reason, some king or minister tries to break these natural alliances through diplomatic compromises which are clearly dictated by short-sighted policies. In these cases the people protest, and through sheer inertia ruin all those projects built on such anti-historic foundations. 

No matter how much Alfonso XII wants to hedge his way with the Germans, the Spanish people will lean towards the French. Even if the German government fights against Austria, the German people will rank Austrians before all other nations in their affection. This natural inclination to come together on the basis of more or less close ethnic affinities is not consistently acted upon. Thus, despite its membership in the Latin race and its debt of gratitude, Italy may stand against France and embrace Germany or England if doing so is to its advantage on the European international political arena. In a spontaneous gesture of solidarity, London workers demanded that the English government fly to the rescue of the French whose country had been invaded by the Prussian army. But these exceptional events in no way alter the laws of history. They did not keep England and Russia from turning a deaf ear to Thiers’ patriotic entreaties and leaving the Prussians free to do how they pleased. As for Italy, when that country understands the costly vanity of the dreams of Euro-Latin supremacy entertained by Mancini and King Umberto, it will peacefully return to its age-old traditions. 

There is an almost mathematical certainty to all this, and as far as one can see this is how things will continue to be for a long time. One general fact of particular interest ensues from this order of things, though. Specifically, all White European nations naturally tend to unite in order to dominate the rest of the world and the other human races. They may argue about who is to dominate in Europe and which of the Slavic, Germanic, or Latin civilizations is to set the tone for the common evolution of the Caucasian race, but they unanimously recognize the right of Europe to impose its laws on other parts of the world. So whenever one European power openly or secretly helps an Asian or African people, it is more in order to paralyze the progress of a feared or resented rival than to support that people, whom in any case it only intends to exploit itself. 

It is a characteristic of modern civilization that political and national actions, as well as individual and private actions, require moral and scientific justification, without which the actors are not at peace with their conscience. The reasoning on which they base their rules of conduct is often hypocritical, sometimes subtle. Nonetheless, one wonders whether even their paying lip service to eternal justice and truth might not be somehow a sign of respect for these values. To legitimize European claims it was necessary to put forward some justifying reason. Europeans could not imagine any better justification than the notion of the inequality of the human races. According to this doctrine, the White race, unanimously recognized as preeminently superior, has the mission of dominating all the other races, for it is the only one capable of promoting and maintaining civilization. Elected by the very laws of nature, the White race has become the standard bearer of civilization.

Is this doctrine of platonic inspiration? Certainly not. It is rooted in the worst form of egocentrism: Europeans usurp the concept of civilization and debase the most beautiful scientific ideas in order to support their greed and justify their reprehensible materialism. Happy to have been the first to reach a certain level of development and hence an indisputable superiority, outside their own continent Europeans see only countries and people to exploit. The land where they were born and where they have to live seems to them too small, so they eagerly and insatiably look for larger territories where they can fulfill their dreams and accumulate wealth without any hindrance. Everywhere in Europe, the colonizing lust has imperceptibly become the dominant political passion. There is something extremely brutal in this growing desire to take over foreign territories inhabited by natives who, from time immemorial, have owned the land on which their tents are pitched or their huts are built, land a thousand times sacred to them because it contains the bones of their ancestors. It is not very consistent with the moral temper of the century or with the principles of the rights of nations. Because it actually negates these, Europeans had no choice but to resort to casuistry and the arbitrary interpretation of the facts to justify their actions.

Natural rights, the rights of nations, prohibit political and social usurpation only because the equality of all human beings is theoretically understood to be an absolute principle, one that obliges every individual to respect his fellow human beings as religiously as he respects himself because every human being is endowed with the same innate dignity. Equal rights are not a pure abstraction, with no connection to reality. All the general laws of sociology, no matter how elevated their formulation, must necessarily connect with a biological law which gives them a concrete foundation and roots them in the order of material phenomena. As we have seen elsewhere, the idea of equal rights is based on the aprioristic belief in the natural equality of all human beings. To assuage their conscience as they went about encroaching the land of deprived races, Europeans only had to suppose that all these other races were inferior to those of Europe. Once this assumption was made, the principles of justice lost their importance and their application became a matter of convenience. Such is the shrewdness of Caucasians. Things, of course, are not talked about very openly. Those who deal with anthropological or philosophical issues do not seem to concern themselves with the legal implications of the theories or doctrines they propound. Yet everything is connected. Thus, it happens that the statesman who faces difficult and pressing questions sometimes falls back on scientific theories which appear quite foreign to his sphere of activity. 

Whenever Europeans discuss the scientific question of the equality or inequality of the human races, they do so as advocates in a case in which they are directly involved. They may appear to invoke the authority of science and to plead in favor of pure truth; they may even feel such passion for their thesis that they are able to forget why they originally embraced it. It remains, however, that their arguments are those of a lawyer pleading pro domo sua. In arguing in favor of the opposite thesis, perhaps I am yielding to the same impulse. This may well be true, but the fact still has to be proven. The intelligence of philosophers and anthropologists who uphold the thesis of the inequality of the races is most strongly affected by one particular source of error, namely, the pervasive influence of European aspirations and attending policies of invasion and usurpation, which are fueled mainly by the spirit of domination and arrogant faith in the superiority of Caucasian man. 

Most of those who pompously proclaim that the human races are unequal, that Blacks will never manage to achieve the most basic civilization except under the rule of the White man, do so in resounding rhetorical flights while thinking either of a colony which has escaped from their grasp or of another which they still possess but which calls out boldly for the political equality of Blacks and Whites. One does not easily renounce the age-old practice of exploiting one’s fellow human beings, which is the main objective of colonization, an enterprise fostered by the need of major industrialized nations for constantly expanding spheres of activity and markets. Thus economists, philosophers, and anthropologists become adept at constructing lies, misusing both nature and science for purposes of propaganda. In fact, in so doing they are merely pursuing in the intellectual and moral sphere the same abominable results achieved by the former colonizers who succeeded so well in rendering Yellow and Black slaves mindless through sheer physical exhaustion. It is the rare worker indeed who will not gloomily succumb to discouragement upon being apprised of the irrevocable opinions of the greatest minds regarding the Negro’s aptitudes. No one knows how many emerging intellects among the Ethiopian race will wilt under the deadly breath of such men as Renan, De Quatrefages, and Paul Leroy-Beaulieu as they pronounce their sacramental sentences. What an individual thinks deep down will forever remain a mystery to others. Nevertheless, it is clear that European policies of colonization inspire certain ideas, which necessarily crystallize around race and come to permeate the thinking of individuals. These ideas constantly reinforce the prejudices stemming from the absurd ranking of the races, prejudices which would normally have weakened and disappeared had they not been supported by actual interests. Those who embrace these prejudices, like most of their congeners, could free themselves of their erroneous thinking only if they were properly educated. But everything conspires against any effort  to change their thinking.     

The focus of European politics seems to be Asia and Africa. There ambitions clash, as every power rushes to carve itself new markets for its expanding trade. It is an insane and bizarre race, similar in many ways to Jérôme Paturot’s striving for social status. The peoples of Europe trip over one another in their greedy rush to grab their share of the spoils. Africa, the land of the Blacks, seems to be so conveniently open to European conquest: anyone who wishes to acquire a piece of land there, even to the detriment of the natives, fears no challenge. After all, are not Blacks an inferior race? Are they not destined to disappear from the face of the earth so as to make room for Caucasians, who have received the world as their God-given inheritance, just as the children of Israel did the Promised Land? So everything is for the best and to the greater glory of God. 

The ideas I sketch here are not the product of my imagination. They actually reflect a world view so pervasive in Europe that the most philosophical minds on the continent have not quite escaped its influence. It would have been perhaps surprising to see a man of the caliber of Herbert Spencer succumb to it like everyone else and thus compromise his reputation as a man of profound lucidity. Unfortunately, Spencer goes much further than everyone, as far as asserting the rights of Europeans to exterminate those who resist their conquest. In his treatise on moral evolution, the gem of his philosophical and scientific principles, we read the following statement: “The Hebrews, who believed they were entitled to the lands God had promised them, felt authorized, in some cases, to exterminate the original inhabitants. We too, bowing to the manifest intention of Providence, dispossess the inferior races every time we need their territories. But we, at least, massacre only those we feel we have to massacre, and we let live those who submit to us.” (1) It is curious to note the sort of conclusion the doctrine of the inequality of the races can inspire in the best of minds, in the most balanced of intellects. Such is the power of logic that whenever one strays away from it, in science as in any other endeavour, one falls into the grossest errors and embraces the most absurd theories.

Asia, a continent whose civilization is thousands of years old but, sadly, now rather decrepit and sadly stagnant, is also coveted by the Caucasian race. There, as well, Caucasians believe they have a mission to regenerate everything, not through trade, not through an exchange of ideas and techniques which might benefit the peoples of the Far East, but by imposing their will as masters and conquerors. What could be a more effective tool than the theory of the inequality of the races for persuading European public opinion to support those faraway and risky undertakings? After all, is it not the destiny of White peoples to govern the entire world? Has not Europe as a whole inherited Rome’s grand destinies?

Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento!” 

So European politics are propelled by the ambitions of all those powers who wish to seize Asia and Africa, ambitions elegantly dubbed, in parliamentary language, “the Oriental question.” It is western civilization at work, but all its efforts are focused on the Orient. Every incident which occurs in Asia or Africa has repercussions among the European nations that are, each for its own reasons, directly or indirectly interested. The Egyptian question, for example, involves the most complex interests and absorbs the attention of the Ottoman world, the Slavic world, the Germanic world, and the Latin world. 

“For the Turks,” says Emilio Castelar, “Egypt is but a part of their empire. For the Austrians, it is a line they respect because of their own possessions in the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea. For the Italians, concerned with the security of their beautiful Sicily and aspiring to claim Malta and colonize Tripoli and Tunis, it is a border to be protected. For the great and powerful Germany, whose pride could not withstand the loss of its hegemony in the European world, Egypt is both a continental and extra-continental question. For Russia, which dreams of a Greek Bizantium in Europe and of a land route to India through Asia, Egypt is a European question. For Spain, Portugal, and Holland, it is an important crossroads on the itinerary to the various islands and archipelagos still under their respective flags. For all of them, in this moment of horrible anxiety, Egypt is the preeminent question. All events pertaining to it can lead either to peace, which fosters work, trade, and freedom, or to implacable war, which spreads death, desolation, and sorrow in the world. But the Egyptian question is essentially an Anglo-French question.” (2) 

The Mahdi, with his religious propaganda which inspires such fanaticism among his Sudanese followers, cannot imagine the role he plays in the ins and outs of European politics. Thus, at the fall of Khartoum and the news of General Gordon’s death, European newspapers declared that, while they acknowledged the faults of the British government and attributed a rather larger share of responsibility to the honorable Mr. Gladstone, they thought it was necessary to act to protect the prestige of civilization by coming to the aid of selfish Albion. (3) Does not the question of race lie at the core of these outbursts of solidarity, even though it may be sugared over with the honey of parliamentary discourse and transformed into a European question, the cause of civilization? England had to withdraw from the Sudan because France is occupied elsewhere; Italy is more presumptuous than powerful; Germany is being clever: Russia is clashing on the borders of Afghanistan. They are all so annoyed, though, that each one threatens to come forward to complete the job which England has botched. Given these circumstances, one understands that Europeans should find in the theory of the inequality of the human races such reliable justification and support for their policies. 


Everything considered, it would be illogical to make it a crime for the Caucasian race, represented by the European nations, to aspire to supremacy over the rest of the world. In everything they do they show a deep belief in their own indisputable superiority. As the facts do corroborate their superiority, Europeans could hardly be expected to think any differently in their rapports with the rest of the world. 

‘‘A man is worth as much as he estimates himself to be worth,” says Rabelais, the joyous philosopher whose fine insight shines through his bawdiness as a diamond in the midst of the grains of beryl that hide it. Rabelais’s observation is true of a man as it is of a nation or a race. A high self-esteem makes for a dynamic character; it inspires self-confidence, which is the secret of domination. Thus, the White race, lacking neither in self-esteem nor in self-confidence, dominates everywhere and puts its imprint on every corner of the world. Proud of its unprecedented position, it must find it natural that all other races accept its laws and obey its will. Why should it be otherwise? After all, it controls science, that is, the highest source of power, the most respectable and least unchallenged authority. One by one, science has discovered, analyzed, discussed, and explained those secret forces of the universe which seemed to the ancients so many supernatural phenomena conjured up by the mere fiat of some invisible entity. Modern man has not the least doubt that he will eventually understand everything which can be seen and touched. He wants to make his way without any divine help, which for him lies in the domain of man’s dreams of the absolute. 

To its eternal glory, the White race has produced such men as Newton, Shakespeare, Humboldt, Schiller Voltaire, Arago, Littré, and Lamartine. I agree that ît has every right to be a thousand times prouder of these men than the Egyptians of all their pyramids and other Pharaonic constructions. But the achievements of the White race are not limited to this, for it has actively pursued its conquest of the material world. It has shortened distances, for example. Thus, Hannon’s famous voyage, which took a year, now can be completed in less than fifteen days. Thanks to steam power, this marvelous force that has quintupled man’s own power, the White man has subjected nature to every imaginable experiment. He pierces mountains to carve a passage for the smoke-plumed train transporting passengers and goods at dazzling speeds. The work of Gramme, the experiments the Siemens brothers of Berlin, the inventions of Trouve, and all the research being carried out in France, England, Germany, and the United States in particular, suggest that in the not too distant future electricity will be harnessed to run engines at phenomenal speeds. And the race continues its upward climb. Renard and Krebs seem to have solved the thorny problem of direction control in balloons. Proud aeronauts, audax Japeti genus, will fly in the sky more safely than did the son of Daedalus and navigate the air more surely than did the Argonauts the Aegean Sea. 

The successes achieved by the Caucasian race through intelligence and drive encompass more than these daring enterprises and impressive discoveries. True offspring of giants, the Caucasian race wrestles with the very earth. It transforms the world’s geography to accommodate the needs of its civilization. It digs isthmuses and changes them into straits with less efforts and in less time than it would take people in ancient times or in backward countries to bridge a large river. The Suez Canal has turned Africa into a giant island, and the Panama Canal, which is being dug now, will do the same for the two Americas. They will now become separated physically, just as they have been separated morally for centuries, each with a distinct civilization, one Anglo-Saxon and the other Latin. Mexico will remain for a while a buffer zone between these two blocs with different but not opposite intellectual orientations, but it will quickly evolve toward American Yankeeism

Just as in a very remote prehistoric period the original contours of the earth’s oceans and continents were transformed by sudden geological cataclysms and later modified more gradually by a series of natural forces still at work today, the earth is now undergoing a similarly massive transformation, but this time one planned and carried out scientifically by man. The authors of this transformation are such men as Papin, Fulton, Watt, Stephenson, Brunel, Sommeiller and, above all, Ferdinand de Lesseps, a dazzling legion of individuals of enormous genius and unshakable daring, all members of the Caucasian race. 

There is more. To these incomparable wonders we must add an accumulation of wealth unknown in any race until the emergence of the European group today. A single Paris neighborhood or district, say the area which includes the Palais-Royal and the great stores of the Louvre, contains more wealth than the whole African continent. I am not talking here about the natural wealth lying underground, from which the Ethiopian race may later draw incalculable resources to accelerate its regeneration. I am talking, rather, about wealth which has an exchange value and is immediately usable, to repeat the distinction made by economists, for the richest gold mine has no economic value unless it is exploited and used by man. But in addition to its wealth, the Caucasian race enjoys a thousand other advantages. 

To these justified claims to preeminence we must add the achievements of the likes of Homer, Haller, Aeschylus, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Goethe, Victor Hugo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Delacroix, Bartholdi, Mozart, Rossini, Meyerbeer, Gounod, and whole constellation of great minds and geniuses shining throughout European history. And then there are such men as Descartes and Kant, Pascal and Locke, John Stuart Mill and César Cantu, and Spallanzani, Claude Bernard, Koch, Pasteur, Helmholtz, Paul Bert, and a long list of the most impressive representatives of the achievements of the human mind. 

We understand the psychological impression this set of facts and circumstances can have on members of the White race every time they compare themselves to people of the Mongolian race or the Ethiopian race. Nothing could be more natural than the feeling of pride they draw from this exercise; it could not be otherwise given the present order of things. So it is really this sort of unconscious fascination with European achievements which explains that some men would come to believe in the organic superiority of their own race over all the other races. Fast spreading, this belief has now been adopted by the majority of scholars and scientists who accept it without testing it against the facts. Declining to submit what has become a doctrine to any systematic critique, they merely seek to justify it. 

But while it is possible to recognize the superiority of the Caucasian race at this juncture in human history, it is not scientifically possible to accept as a general law facts which are merely the result of a series of contingent events and an order of things established gradually by fits and staits. Science requires a more careful and methodical study of the facts. In studying the question, we need to look at the series of transformations undergone by this century’s most advanced peoples before reaching their current state of civilization. We need to establish whether, in the long sequence of historical and sociological phenomena which have marked the evolution of the human species, things have always been as they are today. Only through such a rational approach, such an application of true critical principles, can we best evaluate reality and avoid empirical and erroneous conclusions. 

As they admire the impressive material, intellectual, and moral achievements of European peoples, as they behold the riches, monuments, and Herculean works which are the wonders of a Western civilization more beautiful and majestic than any that has preceded it, Caucasians may be forgiven for believing themselves born to rule the world. But what can bring them back to reality? It suffices that they be reminded of how puny, ignorant, and vicious their ancestors had been on this very continent which is today a center of enlightenment. “Quam pater habuit sortem, eam tibi memoret!” we should keep telling them. Such should be the work of scientists and philosophers in particular, people who should know that for our species civilization does not evolve in a linear pattern. Each race contributes its stone to the construction of the edifice. Only, at one time or another in the centuries of the long history of human evolution, some races have surpassed others in genius and grandeur. This fact today’s European scientists and scholars have unfortunately overlooked. Sadly, arrogance and the hasty presumptions of an admirable but still imperfect science have induced them to echo some popular views, which they have unconsciously internalized. Turning their back to the truth, they declare that Blacks have no social history and so have never influenced the march of humanity. But the truth that is denied in the 19th century will burst out radiantly in the twentieth century. It may not be universally embraced, but it will slowly but surely make its way. The truth is patient, for it is eternal. 

In the meantime, one truth must already be acknowledged. The Black race, declared inferior and radically devoid of moral and intellectual worth, has to the contrary played a signal and defining role in the destiny of the human species, for it has pioneered the social evolution of the species and put it on the road to civilization. In a word, Blacks, like all the other races and more than most, have an eventful history which has influenced and still influences the march of humanity. This is a fact that can easily be proven. 

Chapter 17


1. Herbert Spencer, Les Bases de la morale évolutioniste, p. 206.

2. Emilio Castelar, Las guerras de America y Egypto (Madrid, 1883), pp. 120-121.

3. “Que l’Occident serre les rangs!” [The West must close ranks!], says John Lemoine in the Journal des débats of February 10, 1885. All the European press echoed these instructions.

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