Modern scientific racism became wide spread during the age of enlightenment. Is there a single person that could be labeled as the 'father' of modern scientific racism?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 0:45
  • Could you specify precisely what meaning of "scientific racism" you intend?
    – Willem
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 8:39
  • @Willem basically using scientific arguments to justify calling other group of people inferior, e.g. the things polygenists were doing
    – user28033
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 8:51
  • @Tien Inferior in what sense? "On average, Kenyans are superior runners as compared to Koreans"?
    – Willem
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 9:00
  • 1
    @Tien, you're taking me in bad faith. Definitions matter a lot, without them language is worthless and devolves into a mere instrument of power, and not communication. Racism has many definitions, and is both morally and politically charged. That's why it's important to precisely define it.
    – Willem
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 9:29

1 Answer 1


There's no universally recognised "father of scientific racism", though a number of names could be suggested.

One example is the French noble Arthur de Gobineau, best remembered today for pioneering the concept of an Aryan master race. His infamous An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, published in 1853, inspired a host of other racial theories including those of the Nazis. This has led some to label Gobineau as "the earliest significant intellectual racist"[1] or the "father of racist ideologies"[2].

While credited to Gobineau today, precursors to the master race concept can be traced much further back to Henri de Boulainvilliers in the early 18th century. Also a French aristocrat, Boulainvilliers argued that the Germanic nobility of France are racially superior to the Gaulish underclass. He originated the concept of measuring skulls to determine race, claiming that Germanic aristocratic skulls were larger[3] - a practice later made infamous by the Nazis.

The Swedish biologist Carolus Linnæus, better known as the "father of modern taxonomy" today, provides another early example. His Systema Naturæ is reckoned today as one of the "foundational texts" of scientific racism[4], and defined the human race into five "varieties". Though not nearly as virulent as some of the others, and rather more scientific in his approach Linnæus nevertheless linked physical features to emotional, intellectual, and other psychological traits. This has led him to be regarded by some as "the original founding father of scientific racism"[5].

The Reverend Robert Malthus, more famous today for being the namesake of Malthusianism, refrained from more explicit forms of racism. Instead he railed against welfare, on the grounds that interfering with divinely ordained poverty perpetuates the "unfit" - a rhetoric we'll recognise today as social Darwinism. These concepts are credited with inspiring the classical definition of scientific racism[6] as formulated by Allan Chase, who in his 1980 work Legacy of Malthus calls him the founding father of scientific racism[7] - despite Malthus himself not emphasising race as a factor.

Lastly, there is the Jamaican planter Edward Long who in 1774 published a vicious tirade describing Africans to be innately inferior to whites. He argued enslavement of Africans to be a necessity since they were too mentally, physically, and morally deficient to govern themselves - all very convenient for a planter relying on slave labour. Titled History of Jamaica, Long's work was devoid in scientific merits but widely read and and accepted, and now considered a pivotal development in scientific racism.


[1] Nucci, Larry, ed. Conflict, Contradiction, and Contrarian Elements in Moral Development and Education. Psychology Press, 2005.
[2] Barkan, Elazar. The Retreat of Scientific Racism Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars. Cambridge University Press, 1992.
[3] van Galen Last, Rick, and Ralf Futselaar. Black Shame: African Soldiers in Europe, 1914-1922. Bloomsbury, 2015.
[4] Burton, Jonathan, and Ania Loomba. Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion. Springer, 2007.
[5] http://www.saobserver.com/single-post/2017/04/18/Scientific-Racism
[6] "The perversion of scientific and historical facts to create the myth of two distinct races of humankind." - Allan Chase
[7] Brantlinger, Patrick. Dark Vanishings: Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive Races, 1800-1930. Cornell University Press, 2003.

  • 3
    I fail to see how Robert Malthus belongs here?
    – user28033
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 11:36
  • 1
    @Tlen I suggest reading Chase's book for a detailed treatment of that perspective. In short he helped birthed the idea of superior and inferior types of peoples and, framing it as a competition for limited resources, endorsed the tacit elimination of the latter. This inspired a generation of racists.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 12:00
  • 6
    @Tlen - Perhaps, but that's neither racism (Downs Syndrome is not a race), nor scientific. I suppose you could call it "Sociological Ableism", but that isn't what this question was asking about.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 13:36
  • 1
    Re the reference to Edward Long's justification in this answer, I wonder if Long, in an age most educated people were familiar with Ancient Greek & Roman writers, was influenced by Aristotle's similar justification of slavery in his 'Politics'? Aristotle thought 'barbarians' which to the Ancient Greeks normally meant anyone not a Greek, were naturally suited to be slaves. To Greeks of that era, they were the only people who had established republican forms of government in which citizens participated, showing that Greeks alone were suited to freedom.
    – Timothy
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 18:18
  • 1
    'Instead he railed against welfare, on the grounds that intervening with divinely ordained poverty perpetuates the "unfit"' I suppose he was also apposed to medicine and other things that keep the "unfit" alive, then.
    – JAB
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 18:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.