The Influence of Race in History

“Social Darwinism” is thus not only a brutal and merciless explanation or theory of social reality which is in turn all-pervasive and parsimonious in American political and social life, but it is also inherently and “innately” bigoted and racist, for it assumes that people of European origin are inherently or “innately” superior to all other races and peoples. This brings us to the issue of race in economic, political, and social life.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

“We have too little power of resistance against this ferocity which champs us up. What front can we make against these unavoidable, victorious, maleficent forces? What can I do against the influence of Race, in my history? What can I do against hereditary and constitutional habits; against scrofula, lymph, impotence? against climate, against barbarism, in my country? I can reason down or deny everything, except this perpetual Belly: feed he must and will, and I cannot make him respectable.”

The issue of whether culture and race shape economic, political, and social conditions, or whether it is the “perpetual belly” which in turn stokes the fear for self-preservation or survival that is at the heart of everything is a subject of debate and discussion. Nevertheless, and as Gustave Le Bon argued, the various races “are very distinct by character and the ideas they hold;” He added:

“consequently, it is difficult to find institutions which are able to suit them all. Our profound divergences of beliefs and sentiments, and the political upheavals that are the consequences, owe themselves mainly to existing differences in mental constitution that only the future will perhaps be able to erase.”

And in every civilization or race, there is the life of a very small number of highly intelligent persons on one hand, and everyone else who are under the “illusions” or “fallacies” of the civilization and race on the other hand. As Le Bon argued:

“The study of all civilizations proves that it is, in fact, a very small in number elite which is responsible for all progress accomplished. The masses only benefit from this progress; however, they are hardly fond of exceeding it, and the greatest thinkers and inventors have very often been its martyrs.”

And while a very small group of intelligent people in every civilization and race is guided by novel ideas and progress, the rest are under the spell of “illusions” and “fallacies.” As Le Bon wrote: “It has not been the pursuit of the truth, but rather the pursuit of fallacy, which mankind has expended the most effort on. The fantastical aims that he pursues, he will never be able to attain; but, it is by pursuing them that he has brought into being all the progress that he does not seek.”

Hence, it is the illusions and logical fallacies of the majority such as “Social Darwinism” and a number of others that a civilization or race seeks to perpetuate and pursue perennially at the expense of worthy ideas and social progress. It is in such circumstances or situations when ideas and social progress are impeded or even sacrificed in order to perpetuate and propagate concepts and ideas which accompanied a civilization’s rise to power and prominence, but no longer benefit or serve anyone. As Le Bon wrote: “Peoples perish as soon as the qualities of character which form the groundwork of their soul begin to decline, and these qualities decline as soon as the civilization and intelligence of a people reach a high level.”

And what thwarts degeneration and decline is not just economic growth and the accumulation of wealth. Rather, the thwarting of decline rests in what W.E.B. DuBois called “social power.” He argued: “wealth is not the only thing worth accumulating; experience and knowledge can be accumulated and handed down, and no people can be truly rich without them.” What is essential is “knowledge of the forces of civilization that make for survival, ability to organize and guide those forces, and realization of the true meaning of those broader ideals of human betterment which may in time bring heaven and earth a little nearer.” It is having these experiences and this kind of knowledge which in turn translates into “social power” and thus the power to overcome a general condition or state of degeneration and decline which is then exacerbated by the illusions and the logical fallacies to which many of us are clinging.

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