What I want to do is to explain why ["liberal" pluralism entails separationism] by looking at three things: first, at the development of the idea of race to show how the celebration of difference has always been at the heart of the racist agenda; second, I want to look at the development of the idea of pluralism, to show how it developed out of a skepticism about progress and an ambiguous attitude to immigration. Finally, I want to show that in a world that is profoundly unequal, the pursuit of difference inevitably leads to the accommodation to, and exacerbation of, such inequalities.
The idea of race has not been ever-present in human history. In historical terms it is a relatively new concept, and has only become to our thinking over the past two centuries. Before the modern concept of race could develop, the modern concepts of equality and humanity had to develop too. Racial difference and inequality can only have meaning in a world that has accepted the possibility of social equality and a common humanity. It was through the Enlightenment, the intellectual transformation of Europe in the eighteenth century, that such ideas became firmly established in the modern imagination...
The dilemma that a man like [mid-nineteenth-century French physician Philippe] Buchez faced was this. He, like most men of his class and generation, had a deep belief in equality, a belief that had descended from the Enlightenment philosophes. Like the philosophes, he trusted in progress and assumed that potentially progress could touch all men. In practice, however, his society was not like this at all. Social divisions seemed so deep and unforgiving that they seemed permanent, as if rooted in the very soil of the nation. France was a highly civilised nation, whose scientists, engineers, philosophers and novelists were the envy of the world. Yet sections of French society seemed trapped in their own barbarism, seemingly unwilling to, or incapable of, progress. How could one rationally explain this?
For many prominent thinkers, the only answer seemed to be that certain types of people were by nature incapable of progressing beyond barbarism. They were naturally inferior. Here were the origins of the nineteenth century idea of race. 'Race' developed as a way of explaining the persistence of social divisions in a society that had a deep-set belief in equality. From the racial viewpoint, inequality persisted because society was by nature unequal. The destiny of different social groups was shaped, at least in part, by their intrinsic properties.
It was the Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century which gave birth to the thought that the whole of humanity may not possess a common, innate nature. This shift in perception was encouraged by the Romantic view of human groups, not as static constructions, but as moulded by history. The idea that different groups had different histories gave rise to the view that every group had a unique history, and this in turn led to the belief that each had a unique nature...
For the Victorians race was as much a description of class differences within European societies as it was of ethnic differences between European and non-European peoples. Class division denoted the relation of 'perpetual superior to perpetual inferior', a distinction that to the Victorians was every bit as visible as that between black and white, or slave and master.
Not till the end of the nineteenth century did race become identified with skin colour in the contemporary sense.
« Older B'gawk!... | Explore your inner beauty.... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt