Racism And Racial Theories In The 18th, 19th, And Early 20th Century

Six million Jews were killed by a government that took time out from running the state to exterminate the Jews equally, efficiently, and indifferently. How was it possible for a country to attempt the deliberate extermination of a whole people? While it was the Nazis who actually performed the action, men and women everywhere believed in the separation of races, whether white, black, Aryan, or Jew. Racism was a big part of late 19th and early 20th century thinking.
But what was the cause for all this hate among races? Racism annexed most of the important ideas of the 19th and 20th century. It also gave people a feeling of protection against opposing nations. Ideals such as freedom and equality could only become reality if the specific race was preserved and its enemies defeated.
Not all views of racism were the same, however. There were many different opinions on what race a certain nation was. Some Europeans who believed in race classified Jews as whites or even Aryans and a few defended blacks as not necessarily inferior. Even the nazis eventually realized that racist ideas lacked clarity. Nobody knew for sure why there were different races. It could be, for example, a chance variation caused by the environment, or a hereditary factor that could be improved.
Despite all of these differences, there were vital areas of agreement. All racists believed in a certain concept of beauty, within the European cultural tradition; of middle class virtues, of moderation and honor, and thought that all of these things were shown through external beauty. Because of these concepts, most racists placed upon inferior races several identical properties such as lack of beauty and lack of middle class virtues.
Stereotypes provided the essence for racism and gave an appeal to the whole racist movement. Racism "dangled a utopia before the eyes of those who longed for a way out of the confusion of modernity and the rush of the time." Racism gave everyone a designated place in the world, defining him as either "good" or "evil"; and all evil was blamed upon the inferior races who lacked appreciation for a settled order of things.
Eighteenth century Europe was the basis for modern racism. The major cultural trends affected the foundations of racist thought. It was the age of the Enlightenment, and a time when man tried to substitute emphasis on man's reason and virtue for ancient superstition. It found a specific focus in the revolt against Christianity. Christianity was synonymous with superstition.
The eighteenth century was also a time of religious revival. Pietism and Evangelism spanned the eighteenth century running parallel to the Enlightenment . They stressed the need for an emotional Christian commitment and displayed the yearning for true community in the notion of fellowship and a "religion of the heart." The tension between the Enlightenment and Christianity characterized much of the century during which modern racism was born. European racism was fed by both trends, despite their conflict.
The Enlightenment was also characterized by a radical attempt to define man's place in nature. Natural science and the moral and aesthetic ideals of the ancients joined hands. The new science of anthropology was based upon the attempt to determine man's exact place in nature through observation, measurement and comparison between groups of men and animals. These observations, measurements, and comparisons were combined with value judgments following aesthetic criteria derived from ancient Greece. Resemblance to ancient beauty and proportions determined the value of man.
As it grew, racism made contact with Evangelism and Pietism. For all the Enlightenment's opposition to Christianity, it could not do without a G-d that pulled man, morality and the universe into one grand design. The health and rationality of the world had to be guaranteed by a higher being who stood apart from the everyday bustle and anxiety of everyday life. This unity existed because for many contemporaries man seemed in danger of being atomized.
This quest for unity also led to the belief that the "inner man" could be read through his outward appearance, a conviction that would prove to be fatal in encouraging racism.
The French Revolution shook the political structure of Europe. The very pace of time