According to Rousseau, there are ‘two sorts of inequality': one is ‘natural or physical'; the other is between social groups. In order to understand an historical specificity of the concept of race, we will study how the second type of inequality was reduced to the first. In other words, we are going to see how what were considered social inequalities started to be seen as natural inequalities. The concept of race is very complex. Most of the time, in today's world, it describes populations or groups of people distinguished by different sets of characteristics, and beliefs about common ancestry. These human racial characteristics are most widely based on visible traits like skin color or facial features, and self-identification. Whereas racism was first a belief in the inferiority of the lower orders at home, it became a belief in the inferiority of non-European peoples. We will see how racism evolved progressively, ceasing to be an elite ideology and becoming part of popular culture, establishing itself as a mass ideology and transforming the concept of race into an issue of colour dividing the world. In this paper, in order to explain the historical specificity and contemporary relevance of the concept of race, we will explain the making of a discourse of race from the eighteenth century to the age of democracy, having eventually a look at the contradictions of equality that emerged in modern society.
[...] In a conclusion, the historical specificity of the concept of race is due to the fact that first founded on social divisions, it was progressively reduced to physical differences. Moving away from the Universalist Enlightenment vision of mankind, the reintroduction of distinctions in society to maintain authority and to prevent from social change, the elites progressively reforged the idea of race and started soon to regard non-white races just as they had regarded their own labouring classes and considered them inferior. [...]
[...] By the end of the nineteenth century nationalism and racial thinking had ceased to be an elite ideology and became part of popular culture, transforming the concept of race into an issue of colour. The ‘colour line' now divided the world. The meaning of race has been transformed. Whereas in the past belief in the inferiority of non-European peoples was an extension of the already-existing belief in the inferiority of the lower orders at home, now it became a central part of racial discourse. [...]
[...] To do so, they wanted to resurrect the historical roots and evolution of different peoples. They argued for the necessity of permanent distinctions in society and for the return of some form of aristocratic elite, which could provide this social cohesion and order that was needed to thwart social change. Doing so, the Romantics reforged the old idea of race. Supporting for political democracy and individual rights, the Victorian age was predominantly liberal and forward-looking. People then trusted the law of progress, a positive spirit was created by industrial progress. [...]
[...] It was against this background that the discourse of race evolved, breaking down the Enlightenment optimism and illustrating the changing relationship between humanity, society, and nature. The vision of society trapped by natural regression and inevitable progress helped shape a racial outlook on the world. The notion of race expressed both the idea of superiority given by advance and progress and the sense of pessimism given by inescapable regression. At this time, progress appeared no more as a human product but simply as a working out of the laws of nature. [...]
[...] Today, the concept of race is linked to the idea of In the Victorian positivist notion of race, the conception was very different. The notion of race was based on social distinctions, not on color differences. Indeed, until the middle of the nineteenth century, Black people were treated according to their social status rather than the colour of their skin. The sense of racial superiority that European elite classes felt over non European society cannot be understood without knowing the sense of the inferiority imposed upon the masses at home. [...]
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