Eli Siegel, founder of this important philosophy, opposed racism thoroughly, deeply, with greatest oneness of intellect and passion I have seen in any person now or historically, from the time of his earliest published writings.
Facebook LogoTwitter LogoYouTube Logo
Anthro Tech Site of the Month Award to Perey-Anthropology.net
Study Sphere award for Excellence for the Aesthetic Realism Point of View to Anthropology Website
 

Eli Siegel's great anti-racism essay "The Equality of Man"

"The Equality of Man" by Eli Siegel was published In The Modern Quarterly, vol 1, no.3, December, 1923. It was reprinted in The Modern Quarterly Beginnings of Aesthetic Realism, 1922-1923, edited by Ellen Reiss (Definition Press: New York, 1969, 1977).

 

Concerning Five Writers Referred to in “The Equality of Man” (1923): Galton, Terman, McDougall, Nietzsche, Mencken.

Today, these famous writers are mostly forgot, except Nietzsche and, to a degree, Mencken. When Eli Siegel—who was to found the philosophy Aesthetic Realism in 1941—criticized them in 1923 he was questioning the rightness of leading men of the English speaking world as he criticized their racist ideas..

I’m writing this to make it clear to people reading today that Mr. Siegel was anti-racist as long ago as 1923 and remained so all his life. It seems that it’s necessary to say so because some folks have said to me that the terms “race” and “racism” were not used in his “Equality of Man,” and so the essay can’t about racism! I regard that as willful because the logic of the essay is so thorough that it’s still ahead of what’s being written in opposition to racism today.

Here is some background. The word “racism” didn't exist in 1923 when the essay was written. "The term 'racism', according to the Oxford English Dictionary, emerged in the early 1930s as distinct from the 'theories of race' which had existed for at least a hundred years before that." [http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism]

In 1923, as the Oxford English Dictionary points out, the ideas we call "racism" today were called "theories of race" then. That's what Eli Siegel is referring to when he writes about " the theory...that to some men nature has seen fit to give so much more intelligence than to others, that these first are fit by birth to rule the second" (emphasis mine). Today this “theory” is called "scientific racism." The writers that Mr. Siegel refutes (Galton, Terman, McDougall, Nietzsche, Mencken) were notorious for this “theory” and everybody in 1923 knew it. Hitler took it up from them (and their predecessor, de Gobineau). In 1923 Mr. Siegel described it as "the aggressive belief, backed up by present-day science, or biology, that most men are born inferiors." And he hated it with a passion.

And so, it has been unmistakable to Black persons reading "The Equality of Man" that Mr. Siegel was against prejudice toward African-Americans; that is, he was anti-racist. He set forth the “theory of race” and named those five big authors of the day, as follows :

"The world has always been carried on as if men were unequal....the Galtons, Nietzsches, McDougalls, Termans, and Menckens are the present enunciators of the theory...that to some men nature has seen fit to give so much more intelligence than to others, that these first are fit by birth to rule the second....This writing will aim to show that Men Are Equal--in the clear and full meaning of the words." [The Modern Quarterly vol 1, no. 3, December 1923] (Emphasis mine.)

People reading "The Equality of Man" in 1923 would know that Galton, for example, wrote on "The Comparative Worth of Different Races" (a chapter of his book Hereditary Genius). They would perhaps appreciate that Mr. Siegel's title "The Equality of Man" contrasts diametrically with Galton’s title Hereditary Genius. To say these five writers used the term "hereditary" without including racial heredity is hardly supportable.

Of course the modern reader wouldn't necessarily be expected to know the background that was vivid in the 1923 reader's mind--the reader for whom Mr. Siegel was writing. Further, as an anthropologist I am aware now of something Eli Siegel was certainly aware of in 1923: that race is a word much misused and almost impossible to define. He always made sure his readers knew exactly what he meant by defining terms carefully, and in the essay he made his meaning clear without having to use the word race, which I believe was too much freighted with misconceptions to be useful even then.

So let's look at these writers one by one. Would the reader have been aware of their racist impulsions? I believe the answer is yes.

1. Galton. The readers of Siegel's article would know that Galton (Sir Francis Galton) was for racial INFERIORITY:

"One of the historical peaks of scientific racism was the establishment of eugenics. Francis Galton, who happened to be cousin to Darwin, is conventionally held responsible for the beginning of this scientific study of breeding and its improvement. In the chapter of his book Hereditary Genius - published in 1869 - entitled "The Comparative Worth of Different Races," Galton uses a sort of grading scale to point out [the place of] each race in the classification system he used....

"The works of these authors [Petty, Darwin, Galton] have been used to justify many atrocities, including slavery, colonization, and racial genocide during the period of the authors' lives to more recent violations of human rights and attempts to keep races 'pure' - i.e. Adolf Hitler's notion of the Final Solution and the master Aryan race." (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f00/web1/hossain.html)


2. Terman. The readers of Siegel's article would know Lewis M. Terman, psychology professor at Stanford University, was for racial INFERIORITY.

For example:

"Chorover credited Terman with 'injecting race into the IQ debate.' Terman claimed that mental deficiency is very common in Spanish-Indian and Mexican families...and also among Negros. He also warned that "if we would preserve our state for a class of people worthy to possess it, we must prevent, as far as possible, the propagation of mental degenerates." (Lenny Lapon, URL: http://www.truthseekers.freeserve.co.uk/truth/tr8murderers.html)

"The beginning of the IQ-testing movement overlapped with the eugenics movement — hugely popular in America and Europe among the "better sort" before Hitler gave it a bad name — which held that intelligence was mostly inherited and that people deficient in it should be discouraged from reproducing." (http://www.time.com/time/time100/scientist/other/iq.html)

3. McDougall. The readers of Siegel's article would know that William McDougall of Harvard University was a racist.

McDougall was given the William James Chair of Psychology at Harvard University. However,

"McDougall was not well-received at Harvard, due to the racist nature of his views on eugenics and his opposition to behaviorism." (Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. URL: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g2699/is_0005/ai_2699000543)

4. Nietzsche. The readers of Siegel's article would know that Friedrich Nietzsche was was for racial INFERIORITY.

Nietzsche wrote, for example,

1. "The negro represents an earlier phase of human development." [pp. 199-200](http://www.friesian.com/nietzsch.htm)

2. "...Let us face facts: the people have triumphed -- or the slaves, the mob, the herd, whatever you wish to call them -- and if the Jews brought it about, then no nation ever had a more universal mission on earth. The lords are a thing of the past, and the ethics of the common man is completely triumphant. I don't deny that this triumph might be looked upon as a kind of blood poisoning, since it has resulted in a mingling of the races, but there can be no doubt that the intoxication has succeeded. The 'redemption' of the human race (from the lords, that is) is well under way; everything is rapidly becoming Judaized, or Christianized, or mob-ized -- the word makes no difference...." [p.169-170]

[The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, translated by Francis Golffing, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956.]

5. Mencken. The readers of Siegel's article would know that H.L. Mencken was for racial INFERIORITY.

"Mencken considered everyone inferior to his 'superior men.' But, he believed Jews and blacks to be most inferior of all." [Commentary: Mencken and the inferior man

Posted by Mac Diva on April 03, 2004 11:49 AM (http://blogcritics.org/archives/2004/04/03/114957.php)]

And this is some of what Mac Diva quotes Mencken as writing--and this is what readers of Eli Siegel's refutation, "The Equality of Man," would have had in their minds in 1923:

The negro, no matter how much he is educated, must remain, as a race, in a condition of subservience; that he must remain the inferior of the stronger and more intelligent white man so long as he retains racial differentiation. Therefore, the effort to educate him has awakened in his mind ambitions and aspirations which, in the very nature of things, must go unrealized, and so, while gaining nothing whatever materially, he has lost all his old contentment, peace of mind and happiness.

And Mencken also wrote this:

The fact remains that the Southern whites have to deal with the actual Negroes before them, and not with a theoretical race of African kings. These actual Negroes show actual defects that are very real and very serious. The leaders of the race, engrossed by the almost unbearable injustices that it faces, are apt to forget them.

[Men versus the Man: A Correspondence between Robert Rives La Monte, Socialist, and H.L. Mencken, Individualist [1910] (http://www.io.com/gibbonsb/mencken/megaquotes.html)]

Eli Siegel was against this horrible, ugly way of thinking, writing, talking, feeling, and even legislating from the very beginning. The U.S. eugenists, including these 5, were used by Hitler as models for his goal. It was racism. Mr. Siegel hated it.

It would be unfair to say this crucial essay was not about it.

And so I quote some passages:

__________________________________________________________________

From Eli Siegel's "The Equality of Man" in The Modern Quarterly, vol 1, no.3, December, 1923.

The phrase The Equality of Man has been used a very great deal. By some it has been used favorably, but most often merely to show a feeling which it seemed well of them to hold; by others--and these by far the most--to say and show in their manner, that it was indeed a beautiful sentiment, but was obviously false. Yet there has never been an attempt made to see completely the meaning of the phrase Equality of Man, and to find out how true it is. And it is only by seeing a thing completely that we can get the truth in it....

Biologists and Nietzscheans and persons in general, who have come out strong for the inequality of man, have not seen clearly the terms they used, as I shall now go about showing.... [A discussion defining heredity and environment follows.]

....That part of Biology--the principal part--which is called the Study of Heredity--is used to show the inevitable inferiority of most men. The biologists holding this opinion say that since mind is inherited, and since most men today are unintelligent, their offspring, that is the people who will live in this world in later days, will be unintelligent too. A small number, those that come from intelligent stock, will be, as now, the born rulers of the world and those that will keep it alive.

[Note: This "biological superiority" would be what we call today white supremacy, and among the whites, the supremacy of the aristocracy--in the South, as in England, those "to the manor born."]

....Now man is of one species, that is a group of organisms, the males and females of which can reproduce among each other. Yet we find all sorts of big differences between them. We find some looked upon as "natural-born" criminals, while others are thought to be born "leaders of the community," we find some that do not know how to read, while others spend thousands of hours reading, we find some devoting a whole life to what others never heard of, and we find thousands of other differences we find among no other species. Some have said, "But look at the Oak and the Pine, and the Lion and the Rabbit, and the Peacock and the Crow."

[Note: I have read at least one racist tract that compares nature's superior animal, for example, the lion, to nature's inferior animal, the rabbit--and uses this as evidence that one race of humans, the "rabbit" race, ought to be the slave of the naturally superior "lion" race. -- AP]

The answer to this is, that is has been forgot that the Oak and the Pine are not of one species, neither are the Lion and the Rabbit nor the Peacock and the Crow; for they cannot reproduce among each other; the right thing to do is to compare Lions with Lions, Rabbits with Rabbits and so on.

Again, what's the cause of this big difference among men, not to be paralleled in other species?....The cause is this: ....Mind needs nourishment, care, and training all by itself....And the fact is plain enough that millions and millions of people from the beginning of the world, with man living in it, have not got this mind's nourishment, care and training. Their lives were forced to be led so, to get food enough for their stomachs, was all that they could do....And I say it is wrong, to say that any one's mind is inferior, until it has been completely seen that it has been given all the nourishment, care and training that it needs or could get. And we cannot say that one mind is, in the full sense of the word, better than another until both have been given conditions equally fitting to bring out their powers. Now this is a plain fact: Whatever the reason, no attempt has been made to bring out all the powers of mind that are in each man at birth, by giving it conditions that would fit it best. Worded differently, men have not had an equal chance to be as actively powerful as they might be. And if they had been given an equal chance to use all the powers they had a birth, they would be equal.

....Yes, men in the most important sense of the word, are Equal. There are many arguments yet to come, for it isn't well at all to come out plainly and rather boldly for the Equality of Man without having much--much, to be sure--to say for it. It is a pity that the argument has to be given in parts, in a magazine....

Well, if the belief in the Inequality of Man is a mistake....all mistakes in the world keep it company. There have been mistakes before honored considerably by hundreds of thousands of people, and some of them are now thought little of, as the Inequality of Man may be sometime. All falsities are brothers and all truths are. I wish very much to show the Equality of Man to be true. It is my business to go on showing it to be so. I feel its showing to be true so necessary that I have gone somewhat out of the ordinary literary way, to ask those who read this to be intellectually kind to it, so far as it is here given, and as it has yet to be.


Aesthetic Realism is THE Anti-Racism Education

Collected articles by writers whom I esteem, printed in newspapers across the country, are online. Writing by Ellen Reiss, and others, is in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known. It includes her "Difference and Sameness: The Human Question" and "Racism Can End." And see the page titled " How Aesthetic Realism Opposes Racism."

The practical and deeply thoughtful articles on the Web include, too, "On Racism & How to End It" by Nancy Huntting; Allan Michael's "It Is In Contempt That the Root of Racism Lies"; Alice Bernstein's "Poems by Eli Siegel about Martin Luther King and America" and the book she edited: Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism. Other articles include, "The Genome & Equality""Words, Truth, & the Confederate Flag"; "Fascism, Understood At Last!"; "Aesthetic Realism: The Solution to Racism""Contempt, the Cause of Racism""Queen's Visit to Amritsar" by Christopher Balchin. And articles by New York teachers who show how the standard curriculum, K-12, can be used to encourage kindness include: "Prejudice Changes to Respect" and "Students Learn, Prejudice Is Defeated!"

Home Page: Aesthetic Realism: A New Perspective for Anthropology & Sociology
Aesthetic Realism Online Library
Terrain Gallery Online
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method
Links to Aesthetic Realism Resources
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture,"Friends of Aesthetic Realism — Countering the Lies

Copyright © 2001-2016 by Arnold Perey. All rights reserved