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Racism & Nationalism in New Imperialism

Racism & Nationalism in New Imperialism

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Published by HeatherDelancett
Hannah Arendt proposes the phenomenon of High Imperialism’sconstructed racism as “an emergency explanation of human beings whom no European or civilized mancould understand and whose humanity so frightened and humiliated the immigrants that they no longercared to belong to the same human species.” Having read only excerpts of her far-ranging treatise “TheOrigins of Totalitarianism,” it appears to me that she is positing that racism was an extension andsubstitution for nationalism “as a principle of the body politic” which was “discovered” as a new device“for political organization and rule over foreign peoples” as late as the “first decades of imperialism”- by which she seems to mean the era of New or High Imperialism generally classified between the late 18th century through the early 20th century.
Hannah Arendt proposes the phenomenon of High Imperialism’sconstructed racism as “an emergency explanation of human beings whom no European or civilized mancould understand and whose humanity so frightened and humiliated the immigrants that they no longercared to belong to the same human species.” Having read only excerpts of her far-ranging treatise “TheOrigins of Totalitarianism,” it appears to me that she is positing that racism was an extension andsubstitution for nationalism “as a principle of the body politic” which was “discovered” as a new device“for political organization and rule over foreign peoples” as late as the “first decades of imperialism”- by which she seems to mean the era of New or High Imperialism generally classified between the late 18th century through the early 20th century.

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Published by: HeatherDelancett on May 07, 2012
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Heather DeLancettWI
 –
European ImperialismProf. Michael BitterShort Paper #5
 –
Spring 2011
Racism & Nationalism in New Imperialism
In our most recent readings, Hannah Arendt proposes the phenomenon of High Imperialism’sconstructed racism as “an
emergency explanation of human beings whom no European or civilized mancould understand and whose humanity so frightened and humiliated the immigrants that they no longercared to belong to the same human species
.”
1
Having read only excerpts of her far-r
anging treatise “TheOrigins of Totalitarianism,” it appears to me that she is positing that racism was an extension andsubstitution for nationalism “as a principle of the body politic” which was “discovered” as a new device“for political organization and rule over foreign peoples” as late as the “first decades of imperialism”
- bywhich she seems to mean the era of New or High Imperialism generally classified between the late 18
th
 century through the early 20
th
century.
2
While this possible argument as
a “new device”
is verydisturbing to me, especially coming from an author examining the history of 
Anti-Semitism - Part One
of The Origins of Totalitarianism,” there is merit to the idea that racist ideologies are an offshoot and
extension of nationalist ideologies when played out on a global stage.
When discussing “Continental Imperialism” in the subsequent chapter, Arendt takes a closer
look at what I would consider already historically well established political racial constructions that wereprevalent
and utilized to form “nationalism” notions in the first place. The author does not seem to
1
Hannah Arendt. Imperialism
 –
 
Part Two of The Origins of Totalitarianism
. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York& London, 1968) p. 65.
2
Ibid.
 
consider these under the label of racism and prefers to describe this as a different type of phenomenon,perhaps because these continental race difficulties were between peoples of more similar geneticcharacteristics. Specifically, the long-standing contempt of one another by the Christians, Jews, and
Muslims seems glossed in terms of “tribal nationalisms” instead of the much more pervasive racial
constructions allowing them to consider each other heathen savages despite religious conversions,education, or geographical location. I agree that the strictly contrasted black/white racism prevalent inthe High Imperialist politics of African exploits can correctly be seen as an extension and mutation of nationalistic ideologies. I would argue for the reverse also
 –
that nationalism during the rise of nationstates can also be seen in part as an extension and mutation of pre-existing racist ideologies.In her chapter on Continental Imperialism, Arendt makes a distinction between thepsychological elements of chauvinism and tribalism. She describes the chauvinistic impulse as pastoriented,
“extroverted, concerned with visible spiritual and material achievements of the nation” and
tribalism as mythical future oriented,
“introverted, concentrated on the individual’s own soul which isconsidered as the embodiment of general national qualities.”
3
Again, I think she puts the cart before thehorse in describing tribalism as a phenomenon of the nation, rather than vice versa, but she very aptlydescribes tribalism:
Politically speaking, tribal nationalism always insists that its own people is surrounded by “aworld of enemies,” “one against all,” that a fundamental differenc
e exists between this peopleand all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, anddenies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroythe humanity of man.
4
 The ways in
which each nation’s racism expressed itself 
during the High Imperialism era can be analyzed
between these two facets that she offers. From Baycroft’s article
5
, we could plot, (at least in
3
Ibid. p. 107.
4
Ibid.
5
Timothy Baycroft. Nationalism in Europe 1789-1945. (Cambridge Univ. Press: ?, 1998) p. 61-70.
 
generalizations), Britain to be on the extreme side of chauvinism derived from their cultural pastaccomplishments and displaying a higher willingness to tolerate differences - such as the initial notionsof the brown Englishmen in India. Germany, the fledgling nation still struggling with establishing anationalistic identity could be seen to have exhibited the extreme internalized tribalism of intenseconflict with differences, both racial and cultural. France, with its established cultural chauvinism, butfacing challenges to nationalistic prestige from the Franco-Prussian war embarrassments, could begeneralized to be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.Hannah Arendt echoes Emil Deckert
’s
sentiment that Continental Imperialism starts at home,and develops the thought that overseas imperialists had a certain basis of authentic experience, wherethose in the homeland formed race concepts which were completely ideological.
6
Both nationalism andracism seem to be ideological constructs binding groups by arbitrary commonalities to the exclusion of any differences from those shared characteristics and seem rooted in traditional notions of tribalism.Later in the reading, Arendt states that racism was used in the society of whites and blacks in SouthAfrica before imperialism exploited it as a major political idea.
7
From my perspective, racism is alwayspolitically constructed, and the intensity of hatred and dehumanization towards another group/race is,at the bottom line, based on how much profit stands to be gained from the practice. During HighImperialism, it seems that dark-skinned Africans became the most profitable for political exploitation tothe extent that racist ideologies of black/white superseded previous racial constructs.
6
Hannah Arendt. Imperialism
 –
 
Part Two of the Origins of Totalitarianism
. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York& London, 1968) p.104.
7
Ibid. p. 75.

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