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Alain de Benoist-What is Racism

Alain de Benoist-What is Racism

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What is Racism?*
Alain de Benoist
Fighting racism requires knowing what it is — not an easy task.Today the word “racism” has so many contradictory meanings that it takeson the aura of a
and is, therefore, difficult to define. The followingwill attempt to define racist ideology, independently of any sociologicalconsiderations. The first difficulty arises from the fact that racism is a
: a term with pejorative connotations, whose very use inevita-bly tends to be more
than descriptive. Deploying the adjec-tive “racist” involves using a powerful epithet. It can be a smear designedto disqualify those at whom the term is addressed. To call someone a rac-ist, even if the charge is intellectually dishonest, can be a useful tactic,either in successfully paralyzing or in casting enough suspicion as to cur-tails credibility. Such an approach is commonplace in everyday controver-sies. On the international level, the term can acquire a significance andweight that does not hide its real nature and purpose.
Because of a certainaffinity, “racism” can be used as the correlate of a whole series of otherterms: fascism, the extreme Right, anti-Semitism, sexism, etc. Today, thealmost ritualistic recitation of these terms often implies that they are allsynonyms and that any one falling into one of these categories automati-cally belongs to all of them. The end result is to reinforce the vagueness of the term and to discourage meaningful analysis.
1.Translated by Francis J. Greene2.Thus, Resolution 3379, adopted by a 72-35 vote, with 22 abstentions on Novem-ber 10, 1975, by the UN General Assembly, according to which Zionism is “a form of rac-ism and racial discrimination,” sought to delegitimate the State of Israel by semantic meansSee Thomas Mayer,
The UN Resolution Equating Zionism and Racism, Genesis and Reper-cussions
, in
 Research Report 
(London: Institute of Jewish Affairs, April, 1981), pp.1-11.
Used in the most diverse senses, the terms “racism” and “racist”become prepackaged formulas, generating
. Antiracists tend toattack racists in much the same way as racists might go after anyone else.Paradoxically, while the signifier “racist” is vague, the signified is rigidly
The charge of having a “racist temperament” follows the same rea-soning for which racists are rightly reproached, i.e., vaguely attributing toan entire group traits found in some of its members which, as Pierre-André Taguieff has pointed out, generates another problem: “There is noeffective struggle against
once one creates a false image of it, forthen antiracism becomes a mirror image of the racist myth. To treat in aracist way those whom one is accusing of racist conduct is part and parcelof current antiracism, and one of its shortcomings. Above all, to fictional-ize ‘the Other,’ even if he be
, is to miss who ‘the Other’ really is,never coming to know him.”
Public opinion’s disapproval of racist theories and conduct itself con-tributes to obscuring the issue. In France, where racism is a crime andwhere, on the whole, it is severely sanctioned,
there is a tendency to deny itthe status of an
or of an
Furthermore, the law makes nodistinction between racist theory (“inciting racial hatred”) and racist behav-ior. Under these conditions, racism has less to do with ideas than with thepenal system.
As for the approach which tends to define racism as an intel-lectual disease — an approach frequently using biological metaphors —racism becomes a “leprosy” (Albert Jacquard) or “madness” (ChristianDelacampagne). This does not help matters either. Moreover, these twointerpretations — as “delirium” and as “crime” — are contradictory. If rac-ists are mad, they do not belong in court, but in asylums and, of course, a
3.See Pierre-André Taguieff, “Les Présuppositions Définitionelles d’un Indéfi-nissable: “Le Racisme’,” in
, No. 8 (1984), pp. 71-72.4.As Irène Kraut, a lawyer for LICRA, has stated: “I have never seen an accusedracist acquitted of the charge,” in
(August-September, 1985).5.Contrary to common belief, public opinion polls do not indicate a “resurgenceof racism,” but, rather, a decline. According to the IFOP poll, published in
 Le Point 
(April29, 1985), only 6% of the French have negative attitudes toward Blacks and Asians, while33% and 27% respectively claim to be positively disposed to both groups. The proportionof positive and negative feelings toward Arabs is the same: 20%. By contrast, a SOFRESpoll among Parisians, published in
Le Nouvel Observateur 
(November 1, 1967) registered65% hostile to Arabs and 52% to Blacks. Public opinion polls, however, are unreliableindicators of behavior. According to Michael Billig: “The fact that a person expressesprejudicial feelings toward a particular alien group does not necessarily mean that the indi-vidual will always react with hostility to a specific member of that group.” See his “Rac-isme, Préjugés et Discrimination,” in Serge Moscovici, ed.,
Psychologie Sociale
(Paris:PUF, 1984), pp. 450-451. The opposite is often the case.
biological dimension raises the question of contagion. When all is said anddone, the word “race” and its derivatives (racism, racist, etc.) appear soemotionally charged that it has been compared to the word “sex” in the 19thcentury. Both words invite evasion or semantic substitution. Any study of racism must take all of this into consideration, even if only to avoid fallinginto the same trap. This is why it is advisable to follow Pierre Fougeyrollas’advice: “The social sciences must study racism as an ensemble of observ-able phenomena among others and in relation to other phenomena.”
IThe word “racism” appeared in the
dictionary for the firsttime in 1932. A careful examination of dictionaries since then reveals thatthe definitions of the term overlap: “A system which affirms the superior-ity of one racial group over the others” (
); “A doctrine claimingthe existence of biological differences between various races and the supe-riority of one of them” (supplement to the
Grand Littré 
); “A theory of thehierarchy of races based on a belief that social conditions depend on racialcharacteristics” (
); “A theory of racial hierarchy which claims thenecessity of preserving the so-called superior race from miscegenationand the right to dominate other races” (
Petit Robert 
), etc. UNESCO’s1978 “Declaration on Race” defines racism as “any theory claiming theintrinsic superiority or inferiority of racial or ethnic groups which wouldgive to some the right to dominate or even eliminate others, presumedinferior, or basing value judgments on racial differences.” Ruth Benedictwrites: “Racism is a dogma according to which one ethnic group is con-demned by nature to congenital superiority.” More recently, Arthur Krie-gel has written: “Racism is an ideological-scientific system which dividesthe contemporary human species into sub-species, resulting from separatedevelopment and endowed with unequal average aptitudes. Miscegenationwith these inferior sub-species could only result in half-breeds inferior tothe favored race.”
None of these definitions deals with
. Rather,they all focus on
— a “system,” a “doctrine,” a “dogma.” Thesetheories share two major characteristics: belief in the
of variousraces, and that this inequality legitimates
of so-called “infe-rior” races by those deemed “superior.”More sophisticated definitions have been suggested, and the literature
6.See Pierre Fougeyrollas,
 Les Métamorphoses de la Crise: Racismes et Révolu-tion au XXème Siècle
(Paris: Hachette, 1985), p. 90.7.Arthur Kriegel,
 La Race Perdue. Science et Racism
e (Paris: PUF, 1983), p. 143.

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