Friday, August 5, 2016

The Use of Race, Folk, and 'Aryan' in National-Socialism

"Thus men without exception wander about in the garden of nature; they imagine that they know practically everything and yet with few exceptions pass blindly by one of the most patent principle's of nature's rule: the inner segregation of the species of all living beings on this Earth." 
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, chapter eleven
National-Socialism is a form of fascism that takes the reality of man as a biological entity as its starting point, focusing on his racial and ethnic constitution, evolutionary and ecological contexts, and embedding these in domestic and foreign policy. The concept of folk or people and that of race in general and 'Aryan' in particular, and the nation, are integral to its central ideological foundations. In this article, I address some misconceptions about these and place them in proper context.

For example, the word, 'Aryan,' was used well before National-Socialism: The Sanskrit ārya that it comes from originally meant "noble." Hindu scriptural context conceived of an "Aryan" as "someone that does noble deeds."[1] By the nineteenth century, the term was emptied of its religious and scriptural context. It was increasingly used to refer to ethnolinguistic and also racial groupings.

Karl W.F. Schlegel used 'Aryan' in 1819 to link Indo-Iranian languages with the Germanic tongues (e.g. German, English, Dutch, and so on) in a broader ethnolinguistic family. 'Aryan' therefore came to encompass the ethnolinguistic family of peoples and their associated languages that included all Indo-European languages and the people that spoke them: Iranians, Indians, and Europeans. In sum, use of 'Aryan' evolved from a religious context to a scientific one.

Arthur de Gobineau helped solidify the Indo-European connotation of 'Aryan' in the 1850s: His Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races argued that the human species is divided into three major races: A "white race," a Negro or "black race," and an Asian or a "yellow race." De Gobineau argued that an "Aryan race" also existed, encompassing a subset of a much broader white race, and was comprised principally of the various Northern European peoples: Britons, Germans, etc.

On this view, the "Aryan race" encompassed non-Semitic white Europeans but omitted all Mediterranean peoples. Throughout the later nineteenth century, the idea of such a narrow view of "Aryans" as a race was taken up by other naturalists, including those who sought to strengthen the relationship of, if not outright identify, "Aryan" and "Nordic": Either placing the later at the center or core of the former, as a binding element, or identifying "Aryans" with "Nordic" peoples.[2]

When 'Aryan' was used principally with linguistic groups, it was typically used to refer to all of the languages of the Indo-European family: extant, including Albanian, Armenian, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Italic, Iranian and Slavic languages, and extinct, including the Anatolian and Tocharian linguistic branches.

When 'Aryan' was used principally in context to racial groups, it was viewed simultaneously as both a subrace and a race with its own subraces. The "Aryan race" was viewed as a subrace of the Caucasoid or "white race," which was one of three principal races that also include the Negroid or "black race" and Mongoloid or "yellow race." H.S. Chamberlain held that the Aryan race's own subraces included the Nordic, Alpine, Dinaric, Atlantid, Iranid, and various other subraces.

Science writer H.G. Wells likewise held that the three major races - white, black, and yellow - existed and that the Aryan race was, along with the Hamitic, Iberian, and Semitic races, a subrace of the larger "white race." Wells, however, separated the Iberian, or Mediterranean, race from the "Aryan race," while H.S. Chamberlain included Mediterranean peoples in the "Aryan race." Other racial subdivisions were also made, and equally adept naturalists made their own subdivisions.


The biological thought of H.S. Chamberlain, Arthur de Gobineau and Hans F.K. Günther was formative for Hitler's views on race and later NSDAP racial policy. The context of the Darwinian Revolution, which irrupted into academic and scientific biology in the nineteenth century, solidified a naturalistic context of biological thought. It leveled the previous field of thought and undermined the prevailing view of species and subspecies (races, or nascent species) as static natural groups.

A race is what biologists call a subspecies or variety. A particular race has several different properties: Morphological, physiological, genetic, genealogical, behavioral, developmental and in the case of animals with advanced nervous systems, psychological attributes. A race is also geographically distinct. The white or Caucasoid race originates in Europe. The black or Negroid race originates more recently in Africa. The yellow or Mongoloid race originates in Asia.

A race is distinguished by manifestations of the above properties: Skin pigmentation, bone and skeletal structure, bone density, skull shape, maturation rate, brain size, susceptibility to disease, propensities to intelligence, sexual impulse, aggressiveness, and other behavioral, physical, and psychological properties. Contrary to popular belief, race is not a measure of "skin color" or pigmentation alone.

Race, or subspecies, is vital to the evolutionary process. When a species emerges in nature it does so by having originated as a subspecies, or race, in a previous species. Every race is a potential species in its own right. When those who attempt to argue against the reality of race emphasize species, claiming that species have a reality that races lack, they ignore the very origins to which every species owes its existence: Species start as subspecies, as races, in parent species.

National-Socialism identifies the necessity to safeguard racial elements as the most crucial dimension of domestic and foreign policy. This is clearly echoed by nature, itself. When a given subspecies, or race, emerges within a species, natural and social barriers to gene flow arise and are perpetuated so that the subspecies can maintain its distinctiveness. If a subspecies loses these natural barriers, then it cannot maintain its uniqueness and as such inevitably disappears.

Biologists refer to different barriers as either "pre-zygotic" or "post-zygotic": "Pre-zygotic" barriers include mating barriers, courting rituals, or even songs. However, "post-zygotic" (or, after birth) barriers also exist, and include such outcomes as infertility or sterility, as when an organism cannot yield offspring.

The concept of "racial purity" is often attacked by leftists, but they misunderstand the nature of the concept and the fact that it is readily echoed by lineages of organisms in nature. The concept refers to the natural integrity that every unique subspecies inherently possesses, an integrity that consists of the unique combination of traits that it possesses. Every lineage of organisms naturally aspires to maintain this unique combination of traits, and in doing so it resists its dissolution.

The policies of the NSDAP were simply a formal expression in human institutional terms of an impulse that is pervasive in the natural world. By politically enshrining this common and natural tendency, Hitler's government simply enacted a policy that is innately woven into the natural fabric of organismal lineages.

Put another way, the diversity of life on Earth exists because organisms naturally incline to segregation and discrimination. Segregation leads to the creation of boundaries between subspecies, the precondition of the formation of species. Discrimination is simply the natural insistence on exclusivity, that natural selective tendency among organisms to preserve the uniqueness of their lineage by sifting and sorting among potential mates and selecting the appropriate mate.

In affirming race, National-Socialism affirms life, and that is because race is central to life, to its diversity and its distinctiveness. The history of life on Earth is the history of many different biological lineages in conflict one with the other, over space within which to live, the natural precondition for flourishing and well-being.

The concept of an "Aryan race" came to acquire a practical significance in Hitler's thought and in NSDAP racial policy. It was understood in distinct terms, and in distinct phases, from the early period of 1933 to 1936, from 1936 through 1939, and as the practical necessities of war imposed on Germany realized themselves, the political, social, and especially legal exigencies of the scope of 'Aryan' retreated from the purely theoretical. It acquired a definite societal and moral utility.

A people, or "folk" (Volk, in German), is, however, distinct from a race [3]:
Folk and race are not the same. "Folk" is a political and cultural concept; "race" is a concept of biology and natural science. The folk is a bond of destiny; the race by contrast is not a political community but the eternal spring from which the people derives its strength.
A folk, or people, subsumes the racial and biological, in addition to other qualities:
Folk (Nation) is a community of human beings with the same descent, language, culture, history, and homeland, and the same political will. The folk is a community of blood and destiny. Shared ancestry is the most important characteristic. We Germans are all related to each other.
Therefore, a folk is both an historical and a biological entity; while human subspecies, or races, exhibit many of the qualities and traits that comprise subspecies, or races, of nonhuman species. That is, human and nonhuman subspecies are principally biological entities. However, a "folk" or people is a unique human configuration, woven together from the underlying fabric of species, but also knitted together by their varied historical, social, cultural, political and linguistic fibers.

A folk is a distinct people (e.g., the "German people," the "English people," or the "French people"), and it is composed of one or more races: The German people is a member of the "Aryan race," at a higher level, but also at a lower, constitutive level, it is comprised of racial elements from the Alpine, Phalian, Baltic, Mediterranean, East Baltic, Dinaric, and Nordic races. The Nordic race is the German people's binding racial element, though it is not the only one nor the most common.[4]

A nation, however, is the combination of a folk or people and the land and territory on which it conducts its life. A nation is the natural unity of the core of a people and its soil. Hitler saw the nation as equally engaged in evolutionary struggle as the individual; both, he believed, vied for resources and living space.

Hitler owed his biological conception of the Aryan race to Gobineau and Chamberlain, who saw in the Germanic peoples its core: Germans, Swedes, the Dutch, the English, and the Scandinavians, at least. The Aryan race was conceived of and understood in biological terms, but was ultimately given practical scope in legal and political contexts by the NSDAP: Various offices were established, and numerous laws put into effect, in order to secure its concrete interests.

An early period of National-Socialistic thought and legal policies followed Hitler's assumption of office from 1933, through the Roehmist insurgency of 1934 and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 to the pivotal 1936 reoccupation of the Rhineland. The realization of Hitler's fundamental goal of reuniting the German people transpired in the period from 1936 through early 1939, also integral to realizing geopolitical preparedness for confrontation with the U.S.S.R.


The formation of domestic racial policies under the NSDAP owed as much to Chamberlain, Gobineau, and Günther's theoretical formulations as the practical exigencies of German life and society. Hitler had read Günther's 1922 book, Racial Science of the German People, and even attended Günther's inaugural appointment in anthropology at Jena in 1932. His ideas were crucial to the development of NSDAP racial policy, which were based on a fluid and a dynamic view of race.

The concept of an "Aryan race" derived from the ideas of these naturalists was subsumed to a practical necessity of identifying potential members of a racial community: In other words, German society under National-Socialism developed a pragmatic definition of 'Aryan,' while keeping the term and concept anchored to what the NSDAP conceived of as sound biology. A legal and political context coalesced on an "Aryan" as someone that could assimilate into the German people.

That is to say, under Hitler's government, 'Aryan' came to be a practical term identifying a man or woman of European descent that had little, or no, Jewish ancestry and who could be ethnically integrated into German society without threatening the ethnic or racial fabric or integrity of the German people. The National-Socialist view of 'Aryan' encompassed neither the "Nordicist" view of the term nor a term connoting "nobility" in behavior, as some advocates today claim.

The practical use of 'Aryan' under National-Socialism becomes even clearer by extension to concrete examples: Instances of persons who immigrated to and were welcomed in Hitler's Germany: Irish radio personality William "Lord Haw Haw" Joyce, the Hungarian brunette and actress Marika Rökk, and of course, Hitler's "favorite actor," Johannes Heesters. These and other examples clearly show that Germany did not preclude those who lacked "Nordic" traits, propaganda aside.

To these examples could easily be added others, including leading members of the NSDAP itself, such as Himmler, who had distinctively Alpine features. This is not to say that Hitler's government did not recognize the importance of the vital Nordic strain in the German people only that the practical extension of "Aryan" included people of European descent who were not necessarily Nordic. The Nordic subrace was a core element of a German people with other racial components.

Many distortions of National-Socialist concepts abound, and these are certainly not limited to 'Aryan' and related terms. The term, herrenvolk, for example, is often mistranslated as "master race," even though 'volk' means "folk" or "people," and 'herron' means "gentleman." The literal translation of the term is "gentleman's people," and the proper contextual meaning of the term is "a higher people." But propagandists continue to claim that the term means "master race."
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[1] Wiktionary gives us the following: "Borrowed into English in the 19th century, at first as a term for the Indo-Iranian languages, and later partly extended to the Indo-European languages and peoples following a theory by Friedrich Schlegel that connected the Indo-Iranian words arya / ā́rya with German Ehre ‎(“honor”) and some older Germanic names, thus assuming that it was the original Indo-European autonym meaning "the honorable people"."
[2] As in The Aryan Race (1888) by Charles Morris and in The Aryan and His Social Role (1899, L'Aryen et son rôle social) by Georges Vacher de Lapouge.
[3] Political Primer of National-Socialism, "Folk and the Jewish Question," by Hansjoerg Maennel (1940), Trans. by Hadding Scott (2009).
[4] Political Primer of National-Socialism, "Race," by Hansjoerg Maennel (1940), Trans. by Hadding Scott (2009).