Gobineau, Joseph Arthur, Comte de°

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GOBINEAU, JOSEPH ARTHUR, COMTE DE ° (1816–1882), French diplomat and essayist. Of his abundant literary efforts, only his Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (1853–55) is now remembered. In this essay Gobineau simplified to the extreme current opinions on the "racial factor" in history and the hierarchy of races, white, yellow, and black. According to him, only the white or "Aryan" race, the creator of civilization, possessed the supreme human virtues, such as honor, love of freedom, etc., qualities which could be perpetuated only if the race remained pure. Though he held the Jews in no particular aversion, Gobineau believed that the Latin and Semitic peoples had degenerated in the course of history through various racial intermixtures. Only the Germans had preserved their "Aryan purity," but the evolution of the modern world condemned them too to crossbreeding and degeneracy. Western civilization must be resigned to its fate. The success of the Essai was posthumous and, predictably, assured by Gobineau's German admirers. Chief of these was Richard *Wagner, who shared his cultural pessimism, and the literary society of Bayreuth, followed by a group of authors and anthropologists who founded the Gobineau-Vereinigung in 1894. Gobineau's influence on recent history, and especially on antisemitic ideology, was due less to his dilettante philosophy of history than to the construction given it by German and other fanatics.


L.I. Snyder, The Idea of Racialism… (1962); J. Buenzod, La formation de la pensée de Gobineau et l'Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (1967). add. bibliography: M.D. Biddiss, Father of Racist Ideology: The Social and Political Thought of Count Gobineau (1970); J. Bossel, Gobineau, 1816–1882, un Don Quichotte tragique (1981).

[Leon Poliakov]