The Enlightenment and the Birth of Racism

I have a new essay up at Liberal Currents in which I respond to the charge that the Enlightenment saw the birth of modern racial theorizing. Thanks go to Adam Gurri for getting me to write it and for him and others at Liberal Currents for giving plenty of comments along the way.

The piece was inspired by Jamel Bouie who on Twitter and in a longer piece claimed that

“Race as we understand it—a biological taxonomy that turns physical difference into relations of domination—is a product of the Enlightenment.

In the piece, I take issue with this claim and provide evidence both of racial theorizing predating the Enlightenment and that modern scientific racism did not fully emerge until the 19th century, when it drew less on Enlightenment ideas than on Counter-Enlightenment thought.

In their eagerness to damn the Enlightenment, modern progressives neglect the contribution to racial theorizing of numerous Counter-Enlightenment thinkers from Joseph de Maistre to Thomas Carlyle.

Of course, other pieces have responded to Bouie. Including Ben Domenech at the Federalist and Katie Kelaidis at Quillette (both excellent). Hopefully, my essay adds to this conversation.

The deadliest riots in American history

That’s the subject of my weekend column over at RealClearHistory. The riots are all, by far, due to racism and nativism, but for some strange reason labor’s riots in the late 19th century get the lion’s share of the spotlight in history textbooks.

An excerpt:

6. Memphis, May 1-3, 1866. Another post-Civil War riot, the Memphis unrest was more violent and more organized than the brawl in New Orleans. Like N’awlins, Memphis was a Southern city long under Union occupation, but unlike the port city, Memphis had a large immigrant population of Irishmen who were in direct economic, political, and social competition with recently freed blacks. The Irish had such a large population in Memphis that they were able to take control of many levers of local government once Union troops banned native whites from holding office (for being Confederates), and the new group on the block was none too kind to the recently freed black population. Forty-eight people lost their lives, but the burning of homes (often with black families still inside of them) and churches, the raping of black women, and the fact that no prosecutions were carried out meant that Memphis would remain a hotbed of white supremacy for another century. (The riot enraged much of the Union, however, and led to a sweeping victory for Republicans later that year. The GOP quickly passed the First Reconstruction Act in 1867.)

Please, read the whole thing.

I’ve never been to Memphis, but it’s a city with good hip-hop music and good BBQ. Someday I’ll get up there for a long weekend or something.

Lunchtime Links

  1. David Reich’s essay in the New York Times on genetics, race, and IQ
  2. Henry Farrell’s essay at Crooked Timber on genetics, race, and IQ
  3. Ezra Klein’s essay at Vox on genetics, race, and IQ
  4. Chris Dillow’s essay at Stumbling and Mumbling on genetics, race, and IQ
  5. Andrew Sullivan’s essay at Daily Intelligencer on genetics, race, and IQ

Andrew’s essay is a must read. It’s careful, well thought out, and bolder than the other ones. All are well-worth reading, though.

Reich’s essay has sparked an important dialogue in the Anglo-American world (props to the NY Times). Globally, I think conceptions of race, genetics, and IQ in the non-Anglo world are based on pseudoscience (at best), so it’s nice to see this debate unfold the way it has (so far).

I don’t think any of them have done a good job grappling with Charles Murray’s argument. (More on that later.)

Thanks to Uncle Terry for bringing this to light in the first place.