Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 29, 2006

Enlightenment racism

Filed under: racism — louisproyect @ 3:08 pm

Selection from Kant's writings in Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, "Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader", pp. 58-64:

1. From Eze's preface to the selection:

While Kant himself edited for publication his lectures in anthropology (Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View), he wrote, concerning his lectures in geography, "it will not be possible, considering my age, to produce a compendium from my manuscript." The following excerpts are taken therefore from a posthumous edition of Kant's lectures, Political Geography, in volumes 2 and 8 of Kant's Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Reimer, 1900-66). In addition to insightful observations about Africa, Kant's opinions on the geographical distribution of peoples ("the tallest and most beautiful people…are on the parallel which runs through Germany") and his hierarchically arranged "innate" characteristics of the races ("The inhabitant of the temperate parts of the world, above all the central part, has a more beautiful body, works harder, is more jocular, more controlled in his passions, more intelligent than any other race of people in the world" or "Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites") remain the same as in the Observations.



Another object which interests the archeologists would be a more precise knowledge of Egypt. Besides, Africa deserves the most careful investigation, and it seems to have been better known by the ancients in its interior than by us, because they traveled more by land. Even many of the coastlines of this continent are still unknown today to the Europeans, and the center of the continent completely eludes our gaze. It is only Egypt that we know somewhat more exactly, but even here what we know is extremely little.

We have reason to assume the existence of a significant lake in Africa into which the eastern, and not as otherwise believed the western, branch of the Niger river flows. Incidentally, we also come across the largest and most beautiful animals on this continent as well as the best plants. According to some accounts, timid Portuguese believed the most beautiful interior parts of Africa to be peopled with [African] cannibals who even fattened humans up for slaughter. However, we should not attach credibility to such fables so easily because experience has taught us that these people only slaughter their prisoners of war whom they capture while still alive, and then with great ceremony. . . Whenever [Europeans] did not know much about the country, someone would say that it was inhabited by cannibals, despite the fact that there are very few of these kinds of people or even more correctly, none at all.

The number of names of countries and towns on the map of Africa is quite considerable; but one would be much mistaken if one were to believe that wherever there is a name there are inhabitants. . . The reason that the interior of Africa is so unknown to us, as if they were countries of the moon, lies far more with us Europeans than with the Africans, in that we have made ourselves suspects through slave trade. The coast of Africa is, in fact, visited by Europeans; but these journeys are very violent because Europeans carry away each year between 60,000 and 000 Negroes to America. Thus it has come to pass that even until modern times hardly 30 miles from the coast into the of this continent is known to Europeans…


If we begin with the inhabitants of the icy zones, we find that their color approaches that of the inhabitants of the hot zones. The Samoyeds, the Danish and Swedish Lapplanders, the Greenlanders, and those who live in the icy zone of America have a brown facial color and black hair. Here great cold appears have the same effect as great heat. Like the people in the hot his of the world they also have a very sparse beard. Their build like that of a tree-trunk. It is small, their legs are short, they have a broad and flat face and a large mouth.

Those who live closest to them in the temperate zones (except the Kalmucks and the peoples related to their tribe) have a blond or brownish hair and skin color and are greater in stature. The and most beautiful people on dry land are on the parallel the degrees which run through Germany. . . In the northern parts of Mongolia, Kashmir, Georgia, Mingrelien, and Circassien far as the British-American colonies, one finds people of blond color, well formed, with blue eyes. The further south one goes, there increases the brunette color, the thinness, and the small stature which degenerates into the Indian-yellow or Moorish figure.

One can say that the only true Negroes are in Africa and New Guinea. Not just the evenly smoked-black color but also the black woolly hair, the broad face, the flat nose, and the thick lips constitute the characteristics of these people, in addition to clumsy large bones. In Asia these blacks have neither the deep black color nor the woolly hair, unless they are descended from people who have been brought over from Africa. There is no native black person in America, where the facial color is copper and the hair is straight. However there are large groups of descendants of the African slaves.

In Africa one calls Moors those brown people who are descendants of the Mauren. The actual black people are the Negroes. The above-mentioned Moors stretch along the coast of Barbary to Senegal. In comparison, from there to Gambia are the blackest Moors, but also the most beautiful in the world, above all the Wolofs. The Fuli are black-brown. On the Gold Coast they are not so black and have very thick lips. Those from Congo and Angola to Cape Negro are a little less so. The Hottentots are only black-brown but they have an otherwise quite Moorish appearance. On the other side (of the Cape). namely the eastern side, the Caffers like the Abyssinians, are not true Negroes.


1) The Negroes are born white apart from their genitals and a ring around the navel, which are black. During the first months of life the black color spreads out from these parts over the whole body.

2) When a Negro burns himself the spot turns white. Long illnesses also turn the Negroes quite white; but a body that has become white through illness turns blacker in death than it ever was before.

3) The Europeans who live in this hot belt of the world do not become Negroes after many generations but rather retain their European figure and color. The Portuguese on Cape Verde, who should become Negroes in 200 years, are Mulattos.

4) The Negroes, if they do not mix with white people, remain over many generations Negroes, even in Virginia.

5) White and black mixed produces Mulattos. The children that the latter have with whites are called in Spanish America Terzerons; their children out of a marriage with a white person a Quarteron, their children with whites Quinteron, and their children with whites are then once again called white. However, when a Terzeron marries a Mulatto woman, the children are generated backwards along this color-chain.

6) The inhabitants of the Cordilleren resemble the Europeans; in Ethiopia, they look brown. Occasionally there are white Moors or Albinos who come from black parents. They are Moorish in figure, have curly, snow-white, woolly hair, are pale and can only see in moonlight.

7) The Moors, like all inhabitants of the hot zones have a thick skin; when one disciplines them, one cannot hit with sticks but rather whip with split canes, so that the blood finds a way out and does not suppurate under the skin.


Some people imagine that Ham is the father of the Moors and that God made him black as a punishment which now all his descendants have inherited. However, one can provide no proof of why the color black should be the mark of a curse in a more fitting fashion than the color white.

Many physicians believe that the color black comes from the epidermis and the black substance of which it is stained. Still others trace it to the reticular membrane. Because the color of mans goes through all the shades of yellow, brown and dark until it becomes black in the hot parts of the earth, it is clear that the reason for it is the hot climate. However, it is certain that a great number of generations has been needed for to become part of the species and hereditary.

It appears that the drying up [by the hot sun] of the vessels at carry the blood and serum under the skin brings about the tic of a beard and the short curly hair. Likewise, because the sunlight that falls through the surface skin into the dried up vessels eats up the reticular membrane, there arises the appearance of a black color.

How such a coincidental thing as color could, however, become part of a species cannot be explained so easily. But one sees from other examples that this is the situation in other parts of nature. The reason why some hens become quite white in color can be explained by the difference in food, air and the way in which they are raised; and if one chooses only the white chicks from the many chicks that come from one set of parents and puts them together, one finally achieves a white race — a result which does not easily turn out differently. Is this not the way that English and Arabian or Spanish horses raised on dry land generate themselves, so that they finally create foals of a quite different build? All dogs that are brought from Europe to Africa become dumb and bald and produce only similar offspring thereafter. Similar changes occur with sheep, cows and other species of animal. The fact that Moors occasionally have a white child happens for the same reason that, now and again, there appears a white raven, a white crow or blackbird.

The fact that it is the heat of the area — rather than a particular set of parents — that causes blackness can be seen by the fact that in the same country [Africa] those that live in the flat parts are far blacker than those who live in the high altitudes. That is why the blacker people live in Senegal than in Congo, and blacker people live in Angola than in Upper Ethiopia or in Abyssinia.


All oriental nations that lie towards the East on the meridian of Bengal have something of the Kalmucks or Tartars about them. They are made in the following way: a face that is wide on top and narrow and flat below, almost no protruding nose, very small eyes, very thick eyebrows, black hair, thin and sparse tufts of hair instead of a beard and short legs with fat calves. Shaped in this manner are the eastern Tartars, the Chinese, the Arak, the Siamese, the Japanese, etc., although they all make themselves more beautiful on occasion.

Without taking any notice of the superstitious opinions about the origins of certain forms [Bildungen] one can make only the following remark with certainty: namely, that in this area of Meliapur on the Coromandel coast, there are many people with very fat legs. A few sensible travelers trace the fat legs to the constitution of the water, in the same way as goiters in the Tyrol and Salzburg are similarly supposed to stem from the water, which contains sinter. The giants of Patagonia are, at least as a people of giants, fictitious. The same fictitious origin could be ascribed to the people with raw and huge lips that are supposed to live in Senegal, who hold a cloth in front of the mouth and communicate without speech. The people Plinius spoke of, the one-eyed, bumpy, one-footed people without a mouth, dwarves and the like, also belong to this category.

The inhabitants of the coast of New Holland have half-closed eyes and cannot see into the distance without tilting their heads right back. They accustom themselves to this because of the many mosquitoes that are always flying into their eyes. Some peoples, like the Moors of Sierra Leone and the Mongols who are within the area of China, spread an evil smell.

Among the Hottentots, as Kolbe reports, many women develop a piece of leather on their pubic bone which partially covers their reproductive organs, and which they are supposed to cut off from time to time. Ludolph reports the same of many Egyptian (Ethiopian) women. (See Le Vaillant's Travels.) The people on Formosa, in the interior of Borneo etc., who possess the beginnings of an ape's tail…seem to be not completely fictitious.

In the hot countries the human being matures in all aspects earlier, but does not, however, reach the perfection of those in the temperate zones. Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites. The yellow Indians do have a meagre talent. The Negroes are far below them and at the lowest point are a part of the American peoples.

The Moors and the other peoples between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn can run quite astonishingly. They as well as other savages have more strength than the other civilized Peoples, which stems from the free movement allowed them in their childhood. The Hottentots can perceive a ship with the naked eye at the same distance as a European can with a telescope. The women in the hottest parts of the world already produce children at the age of 9 or 10 and finish before they are 25 years old.

Don Ulloa remarks that in Cartagena in America and in the surrounding areas people become clever very early but they do not continue to grow in intelligence at the same rate. All inhabitants of the hottest zones are exceptionally lethargic. With some this laziness is somewhat mitigated by rule and force.

When an Indian sees a European going somewhere, he thinks that he has something to accomplish. When he comes back, he thinks that he has already taken care of his business, but if he sees him going out a third time he thinks that he has lost his mind, as the European is going for a walk for pleasure, which no Indian does; he is only capable of imagining it. Indians are also indecisive, and both traits belong to the nations that live very far north. The weakening of their limbs is supposedly caused by brandy, tobacco, opium and other strong things. From their timidity comes superstition, particularly in regard to magic, and the same with jealousy. Their timidity makes them into slavish underlings when they have kings and evokes an idolatrous reverence in them, just as their laziness moves them rather to run around in the forest and suffer need than to be held to their labors by the orders of their masters.

Montesquieu is correct in his judgment that the weakheartedness that makes death so terrifying to the Indian or the Negro also makes him fear many things other than death that the European can withstand. The Negro slave from Guinea drowns himself if he is to be forced into slavery. The Indian women burn themselves. The Carib commits suicide at the slightest provocation. The Peruvian trembles in the face of an enemy, and when he is led to death, he is ambivalent, as though it means nothing. His awakened imagination, however, also makes him dare to do something, but the heat of the moment is soon past and timidity resumes its old place again…

The inhabitant of the temperate parts of the world, above all the central part, has a more beautiful body, works harder, is more jocular, more controlled in his passions, more intelligent than any other race of people in the world. That is why at all points in time these peoples have educated the others and controlled them with weapons. The Romans, Greeks, the ancient Nordic peoples, Genghis Khan, the Turks, Tamurlaine, the Europeans after Columbus's discoveries, they have all amazed the southern lands with their arts and weapons.


  1. biggest pile of bullshit i’ve ever read!

    Comment by dd — April 13, 2006 @ 2:41 am

  2. credits for the attempt of making the bullshit sound more sophisticated and polychromatic.If this was meant to be an objective article,ego nego.take more classes in sociology and history.

    Comment by d saunters — May 8, 2006 @ 10:35 am

  3. The two previous comments are brilliant in their summation of the most psuedo intellectually presented racist bullshit I’ve ever come across.

    Comment by Kshaun — May 20, 2006 @ 4:39 am

  4. CheckOutEthiopia.com is a blog about Ethiopia and news from other african countries

    Comment by Check Out Ethiopia — September 20, 2006 @ 11:21 pm

  5. […] I am yet to find a copy of it in English (thus far only German and French). I cite here an as yet Unrepentant Marxist (what’s the hold-up, I wonder? Waiting for the Berlin Wall to fall?) who is in turn quoting […]

    Pingback by Kant and Racism : Philosophical Misadventures — March 22, 2007 @ 7:13 am

  6. Absolute nonsense… that was a complete negation of anything with true intellectual merit. It was just a diatribe of racist abuse and maligning other races. We now know that stupid ideas such as those expressed drove people like Hitler to justify the holocaust…poor deluded white race I think…

    Comment by Z Afzal — October 1, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

  7. […] –Immanuel Kant, Political Geography […]

    Pingback by N+1, Bruce Robbins, and Vivek Chibber | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — December 11, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

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