Human government is a form of origination

Right-wing extremism

Christian Koller

Christian Koller studied history, economics and political science. He is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Bangor University and Private Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Zurich.

People have been classifying other people into "races" since the 17th century. In the 19th century a pseudo-scientific race theory developed from this in Europe, which had terrible consequences in the 20th century. This historical overview traces the history of its origins and also introduces modern forms of the ideology of racism.

The term "racism" is much more recent than the facts it describes. The French adjective "raciste" first appeared in the 1890s as a self-term used by nationalists. The noun "racism" only emerged as an anti-racist battle term in the 1920s. However, there is no undisputed definition of what it means in the numerous social, cultural and historical disciplines that deal with the phenomenon. Basically, a distinction can be made between content-based attempts at a definition that is aimed at the biological substance of racism and more formal attempts at definition that focus on its socio-psychological functioning. The former understand racism to be the conviction that clearly demarcated human "races" exist, which supposedly determine the physical, intellectual and character traits of individuals - and whose mixing should be avoided. Formal attempts at definition, on the other hand, emphasize the mechanisms of demarcation and exclusion between the "own" community and the "strangers".

Both modes of definition have their problems. The former presupposes a biological theory. This theory does not explicitly exclude biologically motivated xenophobic behavior, even if this is violent. Even newer variants of racist ideology, such as cultural racism, which manage without the biological concept of race, are not covered by the biological approach. Conversely, the second definition includes a multitude of ideologies and practices of violence that are generally not considered to be racist, because what is "own" and "foreign" can ultimately be defined on the basis of many different characteristics. This lack of definition has far-reaching consequences for the subject area of ​​racism research. While part of the research, which is essentially followed here, analyzes racism as a specifically modern phenomenon limited to Europe and North America and the areas in which they are colonial dependent, others assume a phenomenon of world history.
Racism, what is it? Briefly and easily understood in the glossary of the right-wing extremism dossier at Text by Toralf Staud, Johannes Radke, Heike Kleffner and FLMH. Recorded by young actors. (& copy Federal Agency for Civic Education / bpb)

Origin and dissemination of the concept of "race"

The European 18th century plays an important role in the history of racism. In the previous centuries, Europe had started the large-scale colonial project that subjugated and subsequently exploited large parts of the world and the populations living there. In this context, knowledge of other parts of the world increased rapidly in Europe. To order it, scientific classifications of the animate and inanimate world were established. They also raised questions about the place of man in these systems: Where was man to be placed between God and the animal kingdom? What was the relationship between the people who differed in their outward appearance in different regions of the world? And who actually belonged to humanity?

In connection with these debates, the concept of "race", which the French doctor and explorer François Bernier had already used in the 17th century to classify humanity, quickly penetrated the anthropological (and parallel to this, zoological) literature in Europe in the 18th century . It appeared in the treatises of naturalists such as Carl von Linné, Comte de Buffon and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, as well as the philosopher Immanuel Kant. As a rule, these thinkers constructed four to five human "races", to whose designation the color designations "white", "yellow", "red", "brown" and "black" soon became naturalized and which were given specific physical, intellectual, character and ascribed collective aesthetic characteristics. Already at this early point in time, various authors derived ideas of a hierarchical order of human "races", which then became omnipresent in the discourses of European-North American imperialism in the following 150 years and were given a clearly purposeful rational thrust. Initially, it was disputed whether these "races" had existed since the dawn of mankind or only became differentiated in the course of time and how the race concept could generally be brought into harmony with the Bible.

The race concept soon spread outside of the emerging natural sciences and found use in historical-political journalism. For the philosopher and cultural historian Christoph Meiners, it was already a key concept in human history at the end of the 18th century. In the 19th century, for example, the French writer Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau followed with his "Essay on the inequality of the human races" (1853-1855) and the British-German writer Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose work "Basics" was widespread at the time des XIXth Century "(1899) presented human history as a history of" racial "opposites. Also social Darwinism, which was influential among the social elites of Europe and North America in the second half of the 19th century {link to text by Manuela Lenzen, SP13 | Groups of victims and images of the enemy} contained central racist traits. He transferred the evolutionary mechanisms described by Charles Darwin to human society and regarded struggles for survival between individuals, nations and "races" as necessary for any progress. Finally, esoteric teachings also emerged that fitted the concept of race into pseudo-religious interpretations of the world. Such as those Guido von Lists and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels ’, who both influenced Hitler's thinking.

The "Aryan race" played a central role in many of these theories. The idea of ​​this arose in the early 19th century after linguists demonstrated the kinship of the ancient Indian language, Sanskrit, to most modern European languages. The Sanskrit speakers, who called themselves "Aryans", now appeared as the result of a combination of anthropological and linguistic errors as the ancestors of modern Europeans and as the founders of a "master race". At the same time, racism approached another ideology that became more and more influential in the 19th century: nationalism. The terms "race", "nation" and "people" were increasingly mixed up. The "nation" was increasingly no longer seen, as it was in the French Revolution, as a political association formed by the will to belong, but as a community of descent supposedly dating back to ancient times. As a result, nationalism and racism, without being congruent, entered into a connection that would fatefully continue into the 20th century.

The spread of the racial concept soon had concrete social effects both in Western and Central Europe and in the non-European areas colonized by European states. Justifications for submission, exploitation, devaluation and enslavement were sought and found through racism. The religiously based hostility towards Jews (Christian anti-Judaism) was transformed in the 19th century into modern racial anti-Semitism, which was also directed against the equality that had just taken place. Old prejudices against "barbaric" and "pagan" non-Europeans were newly supported by the notion of "racial" hierarchies, which had already legitimized the imperialist expansion emanating from Europe and the oppressive practices in the colonies and should now be maintained. The discrimination against Sinti and Roma as well as negative perceptions in Central and Western Europe, for example by Poles, Russians and Southeast Europeans, were increasingly charged with racist charges in the course of the 19th century.


The almost ubiquitous presence of the racial concept had various consequences. First, it gave rise to a racist pseudo-science that sought to empirically prove the existence of human "races" and their inequality. The preferred method for this was the anatomical measurement and classification of people, especially the shape and volume of the skull. Test results that did not meet expectations were usually not used as an opportunity to question the breed concept, but led to the demand for even more sophisticated measurement methods.

Closely related to this was eugenics or, as it was called in Germany, "racial hygiene", which was based on the same biological assumptions as the racial concept and which also experienced an upswing from the late 19th century. Not only "racial" differences, but also a large number of social problems such as crime, alcoholism, prostitution and nomadism were traced back to genetic predisposition and should be combated together with various hereditary diseases through measures such as marriage bans and forced sterilization. These ideas were by no means only implemented in Nazi Germany, where about 400,000 people were forced to sterilize. In the United States, around 70,000 people were forcibly sterilized from the turn of the century to the 1970s, including many African American inmates. In Scandinavia and Switzerland, too, such eugenic practices continued for three to four decades after the Second World War.

Second, the notion of “racial” hierarchies and “struggles for survival” combined with nationalist notions of ethnically “pure” nation states led to a multitude of acts of violence ranging from displacement to genocide. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the settings were in particular the colonized areas outside of Europe and the southeastern European region. The expansion of the Anglo-Saxon settler colonies in North America and Oceania came about at the cost of the almost complete extermination of the indigenous populations through disease, but also massacres and the deprivation of economic livelihoods, followed by exclusion in reservations and attempts at violent assimilation. Another form of "cleansing" violence developed in the worldwide possessions of the colonial powers around 1900. In addition to the previously existing counterinsurgency practices, the Spaniards in Cuba, the British in South Africa, the Americans in the Philippines and the Germans in their African colonies now large parts of the population deported, imprisoned in concentration camps and murdered. The war of extermination against the Herero and Nama in German South West Africa (1904-1908), which the German side viewed as "racial struggle" and in which around 100,000 people were killed through acts of war, starvation and in forced labor camps, is supported by current research and has recently been carried out also considered genocide by the federal government. When the East African Maji Maji Rebellion (1905-1907) was put down, the German troops opted for a scorched earth strategy, which killed around 180,000 people. In Southeastern Europe, the national liberation movements of the Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians against the Ottomans in the 19th century as well as the two Balkan Wars in 1912/13 were always accompanied by extensive expulsions, which particularly, but by no means exclusively, affected Turks and other Muslims. During the First World War the Armenian, Greek, Jewish, Aramaic and Assyrian minorities were persecuted in the Ottoman Empire and, in the case of the Armenians, even resulted in genocide.

The various aims of racism and the associated violent practices reached their peak during National Socialism. The National Socialist ideology was based primarily on racial anti-Semitism, Aryan myth and ultra-nationalism, but also included racist anti-Slavism and antigypsyism, colonial racism and "racial hygiene". Millions of people fell victim to this ideological mixture: six million Jews and numerous other groups of victims, including between 220,000 and 500,000 murdered Sinti and Roma, 100,000 deaths from the eugenics and euthanasia programs and a number that is difficult to quantify but runs into the millions of victims of Nazi anti-Slavism in occupied Eastern Europe and the prisoner-of-war camps.

Racism without "races"

After the experience of Nazi crimes, racism was politically and scientifically discredited - even if systems of institutionalized "racial segregation" continued into the 1960s and 1990s in the southern states of the USA and South Africa. A few years after the end of the Second World War, the UN special organization for culture and science, UNESCO, launched an international campaign against racial prejudice. The fact that the vast majority of European colonies achieved their independence by the 1960s dealt another blow to feelings of racial superiority.

As a result, only right-wing extremist circles explicitly and openly adhered to the classic biological racial concept as a political ideology and justification for acts of violence. However, this did not mean that after 1945 a general universalism was introduced, which was based on a fundamental equality of all people. In the debates about groups of people viewed as different, the debiologization was accompanied by a culturalization: differences were no longer explained genetically, but attributed to cultural factors. This created a horizon of thought that the relevant research calls "cultural racism", "neo-racism" or "racism without races".

Theoretically, this set of ideas was conceived from the late 1960s by the so-called "New Right" around the French philosopher Alain de Benoist. In 1973 the German right-wing intellectual Henning Eichberg coined the term "ethnopluralism". Accordingly, the identity of an "ethnic group" can only develop and maintain in the context of a territory and a specific cultural imprint. From this, the demand is derived that different "ethnic groups" have to be spatially separated in order to maintain their cultural peculiarities. In this view of the world, xenophobia appears as a natural reaction to cultural influences from "outside", multiculturalism as an impossibility. "Culture" is viewed as a fixed quantity that does not change or only changes very slowly and to which individuals either completely or not at all belong. This not only ignores the rapid cultural change in the modern world, but also largely ignores phenomena of the individual or collective mixing of cultural practices and values ​​as well as cultural transfer, which are referred to in cultural studies as "hybridity" or "transculturality" .

In a popularized form, cultural racist ideas were propagated by numerous anti-immigration movements, which since the late 1960s have repeatedly achieved electoral successes in various countries in Western and Central Europe, such as the National Democratic Party in Germany, the Front National in France or the Freedom Party in Austria . In addition, set pieces of it also spread in the social and political mainstream. The book "The clash of civilizations" (1996) by Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, which formulated the thesis of conflicts between eight "cultures" in the world, caused a sensation. Huntington did not define exactly what he meant by "cultures", but emphasized "a significant correspondence between the culturally orientated classification of people into cultures and their physical classification into races". Critics saw the theory as a successor to the old ideas of global "race struggles".

Publications that attempt to demonstrate the connections between "culture", "ethnicity" and intelligence also gave us something to talk about. Such ideas had been part of the core of pseudoscientific racism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but after 1945 they were initially limited to right-wing extremist circles in North America. From the late 1960s, however, in response to the end of "racial segregation" and economic problems, such notions became socially acceptable again in broader conservative circles in North America and became the subject of a number of research projects. The two Harvard professors Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein claimed in their 1994 book "The Bell Curve" that the IQ of African Americans was lower than that of whites.The declining intelligence of the American population is responsible for increasing crime, impoverishment, unemployment, illegitimate births, dependence on welfare and the slumness of cities. Social programs are not only pointless, they are even counterproductive, since they contribute to the further spread of intellectually deficient lower classes. In 2010, the SPD politician Thilo Sarrazin advocated similar theses in his bestseller "Germany abolishes itself", which tried, among other things, to demonstrate a connection between immigration from Muslim countries and the allegedly falling average intelligence of the population in Germany. Both books have been criticized by experts, among other things, because of their unclean and selective handling of statistical data, partial distortion of causes and effects and a misunderstood concept of intelligence.

The history of racism did experience a major turning point in 1945, but it has by no means come to an end. Instead, it entered a new phase in the late 20th century. At the core of clearly racist ideas and acts by right-wing extremists, there is now a broad gray area, some of which extends right into the middle of society.


Christian Geulen: History of Racism. Munich 2007.
Wulf D. Hund: Racism. Bielefeld 2007.
Wulf D. Hund / Christian Koller / Moshe Zimmermann (eds.): Racisms made in Germany. Berlin 2011.
Christian Koller: Racism. Paderborn 2009.
Karin Priester: Racism: A Social History. Leipzig 2003.
Michael Schwartz: Ethnic "cleansing" in the modern age: Global interactions of nationalist and racist violence politics in the 19th and 20th centuries. Munich 2013.
Pierre-André Taguieff: The Power of Prejudice: Racism and its Double. Hamburg 2000.