Conclusion: A New Theory of Pre-Modern or Proto-Racism

  • Robert Hornback
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


The Conclusion elaborates on a new theory of pre-modern racism, demonstrating the metaphysical rather than biological underpinnings of Renaissance Europeans’ proto-racist ideology while underscoring how such logic, applied to Jews and Turks (as well as those defined as “black”), drew upon authorities that were uniformly theological, philosophical, or allegorical. Rather than privileging assumptions based in a so-called biological determinism, I show that proto-racism instead assumed a sort of metaphysical determinism. Spirit affected one’s nature and vice versa. Whether chosen or cursed by God, then, a race’s purported heritable predispositions in rational capacity and moral character were believed to be governed by metaphysical causes and a correlation between soul, body, and mind. As such, external bodily traits, including skin color, were believed to reveal one’s essential nature, particularly in intellectual and moral terms. Aristotelian and Galenic metaphysical discourse was subsumed and subordinated under religious logic, including biblical blessings and curses, which along with moral allegories prompted physiognomic interpretations of race. Meanwhile, because blood was conceived as vehicle for the soul, the blood of some races was assumed to be spiritually cursed. Nationalist impulses then prompted obsessions with purity of blood, religion, race, and nation in a period in which these were overlapping categories. This discussion concludes by arguing that such metaphysically determinist racism persisted, however later disguised or supplemented by pseudo-scientific quackery, particularly in Nazi anti-Semitism.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Hornback
    • 1
  1. 1.Oglethorpe UniversityAtlantaUSA

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