One of the peculiarities of the modern European pursuit of empire, was the attention given to racial differences between the conqueror and the conquered. The Latin-speakers of ancient Italy were entirely indifferent to the racial background of the many peoples they subjugated. Very quickly, the Romans would incorporate the elites of the conquered into their own upper class as part of the "divide-and-rule" strategy. Many Roman emperors were descendants of those whom the Romans had conquered, decades or centuries earlier. The Greeks had little respect for anyone not Hellenic, dismissing them all as "barbarians." But this wasn't based upon racial hatred. They believed those not using the Greek tongue were culturally, not biologically, deficient. Alexander the Great quickly adopted the customs of the many cultures he conquered. Similarly, many Latin-speakers of the Roman empire incorporated many traditions of the eastern dominions (including the Christian God). Similarly, the Latins of Roman Britain were strongly influenced by the Celtic society that had existed there previously.
This pattern held for eastern civilizations as well. The Mughal empire, established upon the Indian subcontinent by Persianized Mongol-Turks in the sixteenth century, had imposed Islam upon there (with Hindus and other religious groups reduced to second-class status). However, by the time of the accession of the British raj in the 1850s, the Mughals themselves, and the Indian Muslim population generally, were indistinguishable racially from Hindu India. Chinese civilization, meanwhile, has been repeatedly overcome by barbarian invasions, since long before the birth of Christ (including a Mongol invasion). Again and again, however, the invaders adopted the Han culture that existed previously, and became "racially" Chinese as well.
This pattern held during the European Middle Ages, and afterward as well. The Franks were a Germanic tribe that conquered post-Roman Gaul in the seventh century, and which placed the ancestors of Charlemagne upon the throne of the land that came to be known as France. As with previous conquerors, though, it wasn't long before the Germanic Franks became Latinized, giving their name to the novel language that developed from the merger of their dialect with that of Latin-speakers of Gaul. A couple of centuries earlier, different Germanic tribes, led by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, had invaded post-Roman Britain. Unlike the Franks, the Anglo-Saxon-Jutes completely displaced the Romano-Celtic culture that had existed beforehand. But DNA analysis of the present-day British population has revealed that its genetic profile is more consistent not with Germans, French or Norse, but residents of the present-day Basque lands in Spain. Evidently, the Anglo-Saxons at least, displaced the culture of the Romano-Celts, but merged genetically with the native population.
The Nazis took much of their inspiration for the Aryan myth, from Norse legends, as they were retold in the operas of Richard Wagner. But the idea of the "purebred" Norseman is itself contradicted by the pagan religion known to the Scandinavians, before they converted to Christianity. According to Gwyn Jones, in his history of the Vikings, Norse creation tells of the mother-goddess giving birth to twins, whence all Norsewomen and men were descended. One twin had blonde hair and blue eyes; the other was swarthy, with dark hair and brown eyes. This indicates better than anything that the Norse, far from being pure anything, had their origins in at least two separate races.
The practice of conquerors merging racially with the conquered, continued well into modernity. The trans-Atlantic African slave-trade originated among the Portugese in the fifteenth century. The word "nigger" comes from the Portugese word for "black", but it doesn't appear as though African slavery at this time was justified on the grounds that black Africans were of a separate race or a kind of sub-human. Instead, it was acceptable to enslave Africans because they were heathens and not Christians. European involvement in the slave trade, beginning in the Middle Ages, was not originally race-specific at all. The term "slave" is, in fact, an eponym, named after the Slavs who, at first, consisted of the vast majority of the Mediterranean slave trade. It was considered acceptable, after the turn of the second millennium, to enslave Orthodox Christians (as most Slavic people were) because the Catholic Church had excommunicated all Orthodox believers. Only when Catholicism and Orthodoxy patched up their relations, following the Crusades, did European slave-traders turn elsewhere — to Africa — for slaves.
The Portugese and Spanish empires were accomplished, in Asia, Africa and in especially in South America, with great violence and cruelty directed at the native populations. Such was always the case, though. What was absent in the formation of these empires, was a sense that the native populations were in some way biologically inferior to the Hispanic Europeans. They were, to the conquerors, heathens who (like the Africans) deserved to be enslaved in order that they brought the light of Christianity to them. Yet, once subjugation had been completed, the Latin European overlords entered into the time-tested pattern of mixing with the conquered. Today, virtually all Latin American countries have a majority people from mixed-race — or mestizo — background (or at least, a significant minority thereof). One country
even named itself in honour of this race-mixing: Mexico [correction: see comment below]. The French empire in North America was, too, characterized by a high amount of race-mixing, creating the metis (French and Indians) and the creole (Africans and French).
As for the African slave-trade itself, there is a paradox in relation to this. The height of the trans-Atlantic trade, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, occurred before Africa was actually conquered by the European powers. During this period, slaves were acquired not through the conquest of native societies by Europeans. Instead, the losers of conflicts between rival African kingdoms, and between black Africans and (largely) Arab Muslims, would be sold to Europeans at trading outposts on the west coast of the continent. The beginning of the end of African slavery, came when Europe began to take formal control of the "dark continent." Thus, in 1804, the British empire banned the slave trade: it used the Royal Navy to enforce the ban, which was strenuously opposed by the African and Islamic potentates that profited so handsomely from it.
By 1834, as British colonization of Africa progressed even further, the British outlawed slavery entirely, in all of its territories. Later, when the Europeans had taken complete control of Africa, slavery had been eliminated there for the first time in centuries, if ever.
What's more, African slavery in the United States was accompanied by at least some degree of miscegenation. Genetic analysis of the descendants of Sally Hemmings, a slave to Thomas Jefferson, showed that they shared a family link with those of the legitimate Jefferson lineage. The conclusion drawn from this was that Hemmings and Jefferson had children together (although this is disputed; some believe instead that Hemmings was descended from an illicit union between her ancestor and a relative of Jefferson's — it is in fact irrelevant for our purposes what was actually the case). Julian Bond, the civil rights leader who, in spite of his dark complexion has very European facial features, recounted a story he'd been told about his grandfather, who was named James Bond. Years after the abolition of slavery in 1863, James Bond had travelled to visit the white plantation family that had owned him and his parents. There, he was greeted as an honoured guest, according to Julian Bond. After being given dinner and evening's company, James Bond was conducted by the former slaveholder to the train station for the journey home. As the older white man parted from his former slave at the station, James Bond turned to him and said, "Thank you, father."
The miscegenation between conquered and conqueror, continued with the early years of British rule in India. Until the Sepoy rebellion in 1857, the subcontinent was ruled by the East India company, under charter from the British Crown. Commencing in earnest during the eighteenth century, East India company officials, largely men, became increasingly comfortable with adopting the customs, traditions, even the dress, of the Indian native population — this included marrying women from the subcontinent. One such official, Sir William Jones, a philologist who was appointed a magistrate to oversee company business in Indian in the 1780s, studied the ancient linguistic ancestor of Hindi, called Sanskrit. Jones proposed that Sanskrit and all its derivates, were part of the same linguistic group that included all the European languages. Encompassing about one-third of humanity, this family of languages was later to be known as the Indo-European linguistic group.
After the British government took direct control of India, this race mixing came to an abrupt end. No longer were British officials to mate with Indians. Instead, the new raj governed as a class of race overlords, living and working completely separately from the Indian population, excepting those fortunate enough to be servants and minor administrators in the homes and businesses of the white rulers. Not coincidentally, this change occurred as racial ideas began to take serious hold on the European educated imagination. Thereafter, European empires dismissed the time-honoured practice of mixing racially with their conquered peoples in order to create a novel sort of civilization (as occurred in, for example, Latin American). Instead, the European imperial rulers were, by law and by custom, to keep aloof of the native population, who were officially considered of a race inferior to the whites.
The scholarly work of William Jones, uncovering the common roots of English and Hindi as Indo-European languages, also provided the foundation for a less helpful set of ideas that were, by the twentieth century, to prove disastrous to Europe and to much of the rest of humanity, too. Translations of Sanskrit writings revealed that, some time around 1700 before the Christian calendar, an Indo-European nomadic people known as the Aryans, had invaded the Indian subcontinent, subduing the Indus valley civilization that existed there. The term "Aryan" demonstrates, incidentally, how Sanskrit is part of the same language family as the European languages. The term means, "greater" or "noble", and is a cognate of "aristocracy."
There is no information as to how the Aryans appeared, whether they were light-skinned in contrast to the dark-skinned Indus valley peoples. Regardless, we know they conformed to the historical pattern of conquered mixing racially with the conquered. But a German pioneer in the field of archaeology, Gustaf Kossinna (1858-1931), argued that the Aryans were the predecessors of the Nordic race of Europe, which included the Germans, Scandinavians, Dutch, English and so on. The Aryan theory, so essential to Nazi ideology, was in fact widely believed among Germans from the late nineteenth century to the end of the Nazi regime in 1945 (and probably by many thereafter, too). Indeed, it seems that scientific-racist theories were the more popular in Germany than France or Britain, and in this, there is yet another paradox.
In contrast to both Britain and France, Germany never had much of a colonial overseas empire (they didn't have one at all until the late nineteenth century). There were no (to use an anachronistic term) "visible" minorities in Germany; Germans were not involved very much in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As for Germany's overseas colonies, they were restricted to windswept South West Africa (present-day Namibia) and a couple of other barren places here and there (the lack of an overseas empire was one of the beefs that the German empire had with France and Britain, and fuelled calls for an European-based lebensraum, or "living space", by Hitler and many other German politicians of the Weimar republic). The focus of pre-Nazi German racial obsession and hostility was not on skin colour, but ethnicity: that is, upon Jewish Europeans primarily, and secondarily upon Slavic peoples. Both of these were considered races different from the Aryan, although of course European Jews and Slavic nations were "Caucasian" in background (ie., they had white skin too).
German hostility toward Jews goes back a long way, centuries before Hitler, to one of the first truly pan-German figures, Martin Luther, who denounced Jews and directed his followers to aggress against them. But the term "anti-Semitism" is a misnomer when applied to Luther and other Jew-haters prior to the nineteenth century. For the Jew-hatred that was manifested by Luther and many other Germans of the time, as well other Christian Europeans during late-medieval and early-modern times, had its roots in the schism between Christianity and Judaism over the divinity of Jesus. Christians then weren't focussed on a biological disparity between themselves and Jews: if members of the latter group chose to convert to Christianity, then they would thereby be safe from the threat of pogrom. This was what was different from Jew-hatred of the old type, and that which emerged among Germans (and other Europeans) the nineteenth century: to that latter, there was nothing redeemable about the Jews.
Their badness wasn't due to disbelief in the divine status of Jesus; even if the Jew converted to Christianity, he was, to the modern anti-Semite, bad because he was racially inferior. It didn't matter, either, if the Jew gave up his religion and behaved like a "real" German: he was essentially, biologically a menace and thus shouldn't mix with Germans of the Aryan race at all.
When, during the Nazi era, the Germans invaded most of Europe, they behaved according to their racist beliefs. The Slavic countries to the east of Third Reich, were far more brutally subjugated than were the western European countries such as Holland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and so on, the people of which the Nazis believed were part of the same race as themselves. Poland, for example, suffered more than two million civilian deaths during the Nazi occupation. Denmark lost 1,000 civilians because of the Nazi invasion. In Scandinavia and the other Western European countries, the Nazis sought collaborators among the vanquished elite — and found very many who were willing to collaborate with them. There were collaborators in the Slavic countries as well. But the Nazis had no intention of sharing power with — or even allowing to survive — a vast mongrel population. On the other hand, if Nazi Germany had won the war, there is no reason to believe that the ruling elites of Western Europe would not have been wholly or partially Nazified or even Germanized.
The genocidal actions of the Nazis were the logical conclusion of the race-based policies pursued, with more moderate tools, in the empires of all the other European countries. Far from being a throwback to ancient or tribal passions, racism is an ultra-modern theory. Its defiance of time-honoured methods of subjugation (wherein the conquered and conqueror ultimately merge culturally and socially) occurred because of the progress of science, in particular because of the new understanding of mechanics of life itself. By the mid-nineteenth century, virtually all educated Europeans accepted that life came about because of natural, and not miraculous, processes. Life was, moreover, understood to have evolved, or changed from one state to another. This simply had to be the case, given the newly-emergent fossil record showed evidence of life that existed once, long ago, and no longer did (or no longer did so in a present form). Scientists remained uncertain as to how exactly this occurred (until the publication in 1859 of Darwin's theory of natural selection upon variation).
Long before the Origin of Species, however, systematic principles for animal and plant domestication and breeding had been established. And, decades prior to eugenics being formalized into a scientific discipline (by Charles Darwin's cousin, Sir Francis Galton) near the close of the nineteenth century, theories of plant and animal breeding were being applied to the social sciences. Two of the most popular nineteenth-century race theorists in Germany (ironically enough) were a Frenchman, Count de Gobineau, and an Englishman, Houston Stewart Chamberlain (the latter was ultimately Germanized, marrying the daughter of the late composer Richard Wagner). Both authors exalted the Aryans or German as the superior race to all others, and asserted that nothing great occurred without Aryan input.
As for eugenics, the Nazis also took its principles to their logical conclusion — the active culling of inferior humans to ensure the purebred vitality of the herd. The necessity of such culling was the consensus view of most educated adults decades before the Nazis came to power, though. Eugenics advocates such as Winston Churchill and Maynard Keynes had no intention to be so extreme; they would only countenance forced sterilization, if and when voluntary sterilization of defectives could not be achieved. In any case, eugenics in particular, and racism generally, were by-products of scientific knowledge. The fact that they are now widely discredited, makes them no less examples of scientific research, than other theories once widely accepted, but thereafter abandoned as empirically without foundation.
It was the Nazi commitment to racism which, above all, rendered German fascism so different in kind from the true reactionary views and politics of the Prussian elite. The Polish scholar on the Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman, observed (in Modernity and the Holocaust, Cornell University Press, 1989, p. 44), "Modern culture is a garden culture. It defines itself as the design for an ideal life and a perfect arrangement of human conditions. It constructs its own identity out of distrust of nature. In fact, it defines itself and nature, and the distinction between them, through its endemic distrust of spontaneity and its longing for a better, and necessarily artificial, order. Apart from the overall plan, the artificial order of the garden needs tools and raw materials. It also needs defence - against the unrelenting danger of what is obviously, a disorder