In the Bible genealogies are important. In the very beginning, in the book of Genesis we are given an Adamic genealogy, through which the nations of the world are generated; the most important of which being the line that the Messiah would ultimately come through. As we continue reading Scripture we have further genealogical lineage provided; and it only gets that more particular as it focuses on the line of David. Indeed, in my Bible reading I just read through I Chronicles 1–16; whenever I get to this section in my “read thrus” I kind of shrink back, genealogies aren’t the most exciting things to read. Nevertheless, genealogies have their place, and it is an important place; yet in the Bible genealogies are less about establishing racial connections (as implicit as those are), and more about pointing to the reality, and at that point in salvation-history, of Jesus Christ; the son of David.
I open this way, and say all this to segue into a discussion on race. The recent events in Charlottesville, Virgina are motivating me to delve deeper into this, once again. As such I am continuing to read J. Kameron Carter’s illuminating work: Race: A Theological Account. In his book, Carter engages with various thinkers in his development of a theology of race; one of those thinkers, and right at the beginning of his book (chptr. 2), is the famed Königsberg philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Kant offers a kind of genealogical taxonomy for what it means to be racial (or not) in the modern development of intellectual history. What we will do for the remainder of this post is read along with Carter (at some length) as he develops the intellectual rationales and seminal touchstones for later developments of “whiteness” and racism as that would progress (or digress, as it were) in Western Europe, and finally into North America. We will see, through Carter’s treatment, how the “seedlings” for racism and “whiteness” were all resident, at an intellectual level, within Kant’s own “racist” type of thinking. It is at this point that we might want to say: that whiteness truly is a ‘modern’ concept, and we will see that illustrated as we take a look at Kant’s thought on the matter—thinking of Kant as one of the founding fathers of modernity. Here is Carter (in extenso):
Kant’s 1770 explanation of the coherence of freedom and law is as follows: “The causes lying in the nature of an organic body (plant or animal) that account for specific development are called seeds …, [which] equip … [the organism] through hidden inner measures for all possible future circumstances.” So equipped, the species can maintain itself; despite whatever condition in which it finds itself, the species can flourish. Kant then ties these claims about “seeds” and “natural predispositions” back to the language of race:
Such migration and transplantation may even lead us to believe that new species of animals and plants have arisen, but these apparent new species are really nothing other than deviations and races of the same genus [Abartungen und Rassen von derselben Gattung] whose seeds and natural predispositions have only occasionally developed in different ways in the long course of time.
Now while it is true that the link Kant makes here between deviations and races on the one hand and seeds on the other occurs within the context of examples about animals and plants, it yet has to be recognized that he is setting up an explanation for how this business about seeds and natural predispositions can clarify the question of human racial diversity. But situating the Rassenfrage in the biological sciences, Kant naturalizes the very notion of race—“race has always been with us”—thus granting scientific legitimacy to the category of race.
But just before applying this basic framework to the situation of the human species and to the question of racial diversity, Kant brings in a notion that will occupy him, in many respects, to the end of his career. This is the notion of teleology, though the term itself is not explicitly invoked in “of the Different Human Races.” The notion of a teleological orientation of the species is the touchstone of Kant’s account of the implantation of natural predispositions or seeds within a given species or genus that makes possible the emergence of “deviations and races … in the long course of time.” It is clear to him at least than neither chance nor the mechanistic laws of causality can explain why a species diversifies itself or “occasionally [develops]” in this way and not that, in one way and not another. The inadequacy of mechanism to explain the phenomenon of racial diversification within a species becomes clearer, particularly when (to revert to his own specific examples) the original external stimulus for the development of an additional layer of feathers, say, or a thicker hull around a species of wheat or grain are no longer present, yet these “racial” traits are nevertheless passed on to the subsequent generations within the species. How is this possible? Kant resolves the conundrum of the reproduction of traits even when the external stimulus for its original appearance is gone by saying that the reproductive transmission of these traits points to inner “purposive causes,” a purposiveness that lies within the species itself, and is not attributable merely to external factors. It is this inner purposiveness linked as it is to “seeds” that allows the species to develop in a way “appropriate to the circumstances,” to new and changing circumstances, and that makes those changes fixed and permanent. Kant’s use, then, of examples from the animal kingdom and plant life are illustrations meant to establish a claim to the fixity or permanence of race.
With this organicist framework established, Kant is now prepared to read the situation of the human species in light of it and thus bring the weight of this framework to bear on the question of human racial difference. The human species has been outfitted with “numerous seeds and natural predispositions,” he says, some of which “[have] developed and others held back” so that “we might [be] fitted to [any] particular place in the world.” Thus, it is for the species’ need to occupy the entire globe and be able to survive anywhere on the planet that “solicitous nature” has equipped the species with the seeds of its flourishing. Under the right regional conditions, the various seeds would germinate to yield various races. Kant homes in on air quality and sunlight as the two most important external factors that can stimulate “the generative power” to activate certain seeds to affect the process of raciation. After a considerable period of time, certain seeds “become deeply rooted and [stifle] the other seeds.” The result is that a race emerges. Given the deep rootedness of certain seeds and the stifling of others in the formation of a given race, once a race actually forms, that race will “[resist] further transformation, because the character of the race has become predominate in the reproductive powers.” Hence, Kant says (choosing his words carefully), the external factors of air quality and sunlight “could be responsible for establishing race.”
It is important that Kant only claims that climate and sunlight could be responsible for raciation. For Kant, the climate is a mediate cause, but the immediate cause of raciation lies elsewhere. As Mark Larrimore has put it in his fine analysis of Kant’s theory of race and understanding of the races, for Kant “every race was already prefigured in potentia in the first human beings,” who are “the lineal root genus” of the species. In 1786, Kant published an essay that makes explicit the claim that Adam and Eve of the Genesis stories of creation are this lineal root genus, those in whom every race was figured in potential. What must be attended to is Kant’s understanding of this lineal root genus, in whom the four natural races were in potentia prefigured, as the actual or the immediate agent or cause of raciation. This stem genus is “the original human form” that has given rise to the other races.
Since, however, “we cannot hope to find anywhere in the world an unchanged example of the original human form,” the stem genus, what kinds of judgments then can be made about this now-lost prototype who is “the immediate cause of the origin of [the] different races”? The 1775 version of the race essay, which was the advertisement for a summer course at the University of Königsberg, offers the following answer,
If we ask with which of the present races [Rassen] the first human stock [Menschenstamm] might well have had the greatest similarity [die meiste Ähnlichkeit], we will presumably—although without any prejudice because of the presumptuously greater perfection of its color when compared with that of the others [emphasis added]—pronounce favor on whites. For human beings, whose offspring should be acclimated in all climatic zones, would be most adept for this if they were originally fitted for the temperate climate, because this climate lies within the middle of the most extreme boundaries of the conditions within which human beings should be advised to live. And this is also the region where we—from the most ancient time to the present—find the races of whites [die Rasse der Weißen].
Science can gain knowledge of the prototype only by reading back from its closest present-day approximation, the present-day inhabitants of the most climatically moderate zone of the globe. These people will most resemble the prototype. They will exhibit the least deviation from the original stem genus. This is because they have maintained a global position closest, as the preceding quotation indicates, to “the middle of the most extreme boundaries of the conditions within which human beings should be advised to live.”
By the time of the 1777 essay (“Of the Different Human Races”), Kant is explicit about the global position that lay in media res: it is the zone “between the 31st and 52nd degrees latitude in the old world (which also seems to deserve the name old world because of the peoples that inhabit it). The greatest riches of the earth’s creation are found in this region and this is also where human beings must diverge least from their original form.” Indeed, already in the 1775 course announcement, Kant’s claim is that the inhabitants of this region have a “greater perfection of skin color,” and this is precisely why they us the most about the original stem genus. Which race group occupies this geographical position? According to the course announcement of 1775, it is “the races of whites [die Rasse der Weißen].”
But in the short interim between the 1775 course advertisement and its modification into the 1777 essay, Kant modulated his language in an important way. It is not “die Rasse der Weißen” that occupy the geographical zone of climatic and therefore racial balance. Rather, “we … find [there],” Kant simply says, “white, indeed, brunette inhabitants [weiße, doch brunette Einwohner]. We want, therefore, to assume that this form [Gestalt] is that of the lineal root genus [Stammgattung].” What is important for my argument is that the specific term “race” (Rasse), which Kant consistently applied to the Negroes, Huns, and Hindustanis to explain their origins, has for whites now dropped out. It is not “the races of whites” that occupy this region; they now are only white, brunette inhabitants. Kant completes his argument by suggesting the following scheme of the races in relationship to the lineal root genus:
LINEAL ROOT GENUS:
White of brownish color
First race: Noble blond (northern Europe)
from humid cold
Second race: Copper red (America)
from dry cold
Third race: Black (Senegambia)
from humid heat
Fourth race: Olive-yellow (Asian-Indians)
from dry heat
In contrast to his lengthy account of the origins of Negroes, Huns, and Hindustanis in which he is clear that they are races, Kant refers to whites with terms ranging from Gestalt (form) to Abartung (deviation) to Schlag (kind). As he sees it, whites are a group apart. They are a “race” that is not quite a race, the race that transcends race precisely because of its “developmental progress” (Fortgang) toward perfection. That Kant’s chart refers to the “noble blond” of northern Europe as the first race (Erste Rasse) must not confuse this basic point, for we have already seen that, properly speaking, this group is really an Abartung from the stem genus (Stammgattung). At best they are a special kind of “race.” And even this stem genus of white brunettes, which itself is not a race, is properly speaking only the remnant, we might say, of the stem genus. They are a remnant moving toward raciation, progressing toward becoming a race.
Thus, whiteness is both “now and not yet.” It is a present reality, and yet it is also still moving toward and awaiting its perfection. The teleological end, which is the consummation of all things within the economic, political, and aesthetic—in short, within the structural—reality called “whiteness,” is on the one hand made present and available now in white people and in white “culture.” And on the other hand, it is through these white people and culture that the full reality of whiteness will globally expand to “eschatologically” encompass all things and so bring the world to perfection. As I show below, Christianity as rational religion and Christ as the “personified idea of the good principle” are the guarantee that whiteness, understood not merely and banally as pigment but as a structural-aesthetic order and as a sociopolitical arrangement, can and will be instantiated in the people who continue Christ’s work, the work of Western civilization. Rendering race invisible in all of this, Kant calls this not the work of whiteness but the task of the species as such.
Carter offers more on Kant, but I think (I hope after transcribing all of that!) that I’ve captured the gist of what he’s after in his development of Kant’s theory of race.
Essentially, as we have just seen, Kant works from a kind of linear evolutionary progressivism of what it means to be a human being. He attempts to tie his taxonomy into the prevailing “science” of his day, and so appeals to a kind of evolutionary chain; working from plants to animals to people. And by using the “natural order” as an analogy for how to classify people groups he abstracts the metaphor of ‘seed’ language, and as Carter details, uses that as the symbol by which he begins to talk about distinctions relative to people groups based upon teleology, geographic location, so on and so forth. Finally, as we can see, at least in Carter’s treatment of Kant, what it means to be white turns out to be based upon the determinacy of the teleology or trajectory of nature itself; allowing the ‘purposiveness’ of the seed in this people group to lead them to a physical location on earth (i.e. northern Europe) wherein they can flourish and carry forward the best expression of what it means to be ‘human.’ As Carter, notes: to be human then, is really to be White, at least in Kant’s world. To be White, for Kant, transcends racial classification, and sets Whites up as the standard for what humanity should be; every other class of people that is not White, for Kant, is sub-human, and thus are not as valuable, or not valuable at all relative to what it actually means to be human.
What we have seen in Charlottesville, Virgina, promoted by people like Altright founder, Richard Spencer et al., is really just an embracing and continuation of Kant’s vision of the world. Spencer is actually an “intellectual,” and has been trained in intellectual history; I would not be surprised if he hasn’t come across the type of “idealism” we find in Kant’s theory of race. When you listen to Spencer’s speeches (which I have), and interviews with him, his vision corresponds almost one-for-one with Kant’s. Spencer, also is no dummy, and so he operates in very pragmatic ways. He might not want to dress like a neo-Nazi, or wear a white hood, but he shares the same end goal as them. He appears to be willing to align his movement with the more “street-soldier” mind set of the neo-Nazis and KKK; and even if they are not as “intellectually-sophisticated” as Kant or Spencer their ability to align with each other simply shows how ass backward the whole thing is. It illustrates that intellectual coherence can be as sinister and downright evil as the unbridled and overt hatred and thuggery we see on display among neo-Nazis and the KKK.
In the end, Kant’s vision of Whiteness, I would suggest, has been taken to heart by the social engineers of the modern and industrialized world. His vision, as described by Carter, of seeking to transform economics, politics, and culture at large with the idea of the primacy of Whiteness has largely been concretized in the global world over. I think Kant would be happy to see where the world is at, and where Whiteness stands now in our globalized economy and culture. At the end of the day what Kant never realized, apparently, was just how demonic his ideas on this front actually were, and are, as they are given expression in real life outside the city walls of Königsberg.
 J Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), loc 1983, 1991, 1999, 2007, 2015, 2024, 2033, 2041, 2048, 2057, 2068, 2077 kindle.