I'm operating off of fuzzy memory for this question but I know I have encountered this bizarre (and offensive: fair warning) historical figure who I am inquiring about here before in my previous reading.

Background to question

Allow me to provide a bit of background and context first to explain this question. In order to fulfill a requirement for a minor in history I took a directed reading course one summer several years ago on the French Revolution and had to assess and summarize varying arguments for its causes in the decades and century (or two) leading up to it. I was assigned five books to read with differing perspectives on what precipitated the Revolution (economic, political, military, cultural, etc. causes) where I read about the person described in this inquiry in passing; however, I no longer have access to the books to consult them again and thought I could outsource my question, to help with recollection.

I'm fairly sure it was not from De Tocqueville's book (one of the assigned readings), but in one of the books I read – which described the personal background of several figures involved in the early Estates General meetings on the eve of the Revolution – I encountered the French thinker whose views I am about to describe to the best of my recollection.

Description of the individual & his ideas

I, of course, do not recall this individual's name else I would not be asking this question, and only recall that it was a man; but there was a French thinker and writer who was either current with the period of the Estates General meetings leading up to the Revolution or lived just prior to then (I lean towards the former - as I got the impression he was involved in the Revolutionary events) who had some crazy ideas about slavery and what I'll call "evolution" (interestingly, prior to Darwin).

He had written about a theory that he had to attempt to improve things for slaveholders by training apes to act as overseers for black slaves while working in the fields to spare slave owners having to hire people to do so. He theorized that the cognitive abilities of apes were greater than those of black people (perpetuating many stereotypes), and (if I am recalling specifics of his theory correctly) that apes could be trained to wield whips and other disciplinary implements, and he genuinely thought his ideas were credible, acceptable, and possible to implement.

I remember being entirely appalled upon reading that, and my history professor also pointed him out as a Frenchman with some extremely strange and wacky ideas. Does anyone know who it is that I am thinking of? If so can someone provide sources that discuss some examples of his stated beliefs?


If I can locate the research paper I wrote for the class I could provide a bibliography, but I just recalled that among the books I read was the following volume, which I think might have been the source of that information: - The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (Bicentennial Reflections on the French Revolution) (Duke University Press Books, 1991) by Roger Chartier.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.