The cover design is sneakily but clumsily tendentious, isn't it: a weaving of the nazi swastika? Come on! Can we have some tolerance for different perspectives without pigeoholing?
A new humanity beyond the petty differences of color and race, forged out of respect and organic acceptance for what each race and culture has to offer to make humanity whole? Who could possibly argue with that? Indeed, if you think the world today has become a better place as a result of mixing of ideas, cultures, and values-in addition to peoples (blood and seeds)-then you should read this book. If you think disagree, then you should also read this book.
This is a dangerous book, but not because it is incendiary per se, but because it contains one man (an aristocrat)'s observation about the world. So where is the danger in that? It lies in the fact that we (post) moderns can no longer penetrate-today, we only know how to dissect-with empathy (not necessarily agreement!) the kind of worldview that would have been held by intellectual aristocrats of the old school..
Thus our inability to understand a particular perspective can only force us to denounce it as elitist rubbish, or worse: (mis)appropriate it to add to our personal arsenal to better defend our own pet peeves about, and still profit by, what is NOT right about the world today.
Regardless of your opinions about the issue of race, if you do not have the detachment and breadth of vision of a historian, then you might as well forget about reading this short but fascinating book. If you are a knee-jerk liberal or a closet-nazi, you will likely come off the worse for having read De Gobineau.
What if the book had been "On the Inequality of the Organs"? Really, if you were in a situation whereby you had to lose one of your organs, would you not pass judgment on your dearly lovable organs and sacrifice one and not another? Suffice to say, the eyes would not be on the top of the list. Even your organs are "unequal" in that sense.
First of all, this is not a "scientific" book, not any more than De Tocqueville's _Democracy in America_ is. It is a book of gentlemanly insights, recorded in a very gentlemanly language. This book and the author belong to the long tradition of true aristocraticism (of which pure scholarship / professorship is but a part) that confidently relied on the subjective power of experience and "reasonably convincing" argument rather than scientific proof. But this tradition is now something we no longer (want to) understand or tolerate as we are now so accustomed to striving to "win," in the most litigious manner, every trivial argument.
Second, De Gobineau wrote this largely in response to the then current opinions about the implications of the new discoveries in science. But, as far as I can see, there is no venom in his views, no petty-minded put-down of other races for the ignominious pleasure of it. Only the reader who has preemptive hatred for the very word "racism" can come away from this book thinking that De Gobineau was a narrow-minded, nasty racist in the narrow, nasty, politically-overcharged sense in which we use the word today.
For want of space, let me mention only the potentially most controversial issue: physical beauty. De Gobineau explains why he accepts the tri-partite division of humanity into three primary races: white, yellow and black; with various amalgamations thereof. The author believes that the white race is blessed with the most pleasing physical beauty and proportion of limbs. In other words, the greatest number of physically beautiful persons is found among the many branches of the white race. He says "the other races approach beauty but never quite attain it."
He also says that Italians are the most beautiful among the European branch of the white race. That is his observation. (And that of many people all over the world, whether expressed secretly, openly, with envy or a grudge.) Today, many consider Italian design to be superior to all others. Is there a connection?
It is not my intention to either defend or ridicule De Gobineau's observations-whether true or absurd. However, in the name of fairness, I must point out (without proper argumentation) that the white race has come to dominate the world today on scale hitherto unimaginable. And this domination is not just in the realms of economy, technology, and values, but more consequentially, in fashion: that is to say, the marketing of physical beauty based on the white ideal.
It remains a curious and undeniable fact that in every civilization throughout history, people preferred lighter skin and sharper facial features even among their own kind. Universally, the sky was the home of the gods, and gold was reserved for ceremonies and the highest offices. Then from over the horizon comes a race of men, with sky-blue eyes and golden hair. Indo-Europeans reveled in the pleasure of seeing the body naked in their art, whereas the Chinese decided it was better left covered with elegant flowing robes. Why?
Whatever biology may have to say about this phenomenon will not likely change what most people prefer innately-aesthetically, prior to any intervention by education and culture.
De Gobineau's claim is simple, if intolerable to some: the phenomenon of race is real, that is to say, observable on a physical level. Different races (and nations) have different attributes, abilities, and endowments, hence different fates. The French, he claims, are the most mixed people in Europe, possibly the world. Thus, they have the same but much attenuated attributes of the original strong races that conquered the weaker. But only in the mixing of races does humanity actually move forward in civilization. And because the French are such a mixed race, they are more capable than any other of producing brilliant ideas that are, however, divorced from the sustaining power of tradition, ideas that are in the long run, hazardous to its own survival. A real yin-yang way of looking at the operation and consequences of racial mixing.
If you have the ability to keep the baby as you throw out the bathwater, you will find that there is a lot to think about here. De Gobineau's straight thinking is a lot more complex, and fair-minded, than we have been conditioned to believe a "racist" to be capable of. Read it and be a more tolerant person.