Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Mircea Eliade on the myth of Aryans


I am finally reading Mircea Eliade's short but brilliant essay 'The Fate of Romanian Culture ' and - as whenever I dip into Eliade - I am lost in wonder at his genius. I do not know if he is a reactionary or a modernist or both but I think I can learn much from his ideas about tradition.

I was also fascinated to read this from Eliade's diary about the origins of the stupid idea of Aryans.

stig wikander told us some fascinating things on the history of “aryanism” in europe. he found the origin of the idea of the superiority of the aryans in the anti-clericalism of jules michelet and edgar quinet. it is because they wanted to disparage christianity (directly or indirectly) that michelet and quinet exalted the vedas and “aryan wisdom”. their anti-semitism and that of their admirers was only a reflection of their anticlericalism. their aryanophilia was of a religious nature. the brother of the celebrated sanskritist eugène burnouf, emile, who was a professor at nantes, wrote a history of religions in which he demonstrated the important and the antiquity of the vedas. the book had an enormous influence. even mallarmè read it and affirmed that homer had ruined epic poetry. but what came before homer? he was asked. the vedas, answered mallarmè.
The aryanising anticlericalism had no connection with the political anti-semitism that arose later. the origins of this anti-semitic current are located in austria-hungary and in the germany of the second half of the nineteenth century.

This is so interesting. I suppose it vaguely supports my assumption (I am very ignorant about them) that the nineteenth century racists like Gobineau, who was a philo-Semite and a freethinker, were not conservatives but progressives. 

Eliade I believe took Gobineau seriously as a thinker, at least in an essay he wrote in 1930 - in which he took seriously later anti-semites like H.S. Chamberlain and even Alfred Rosenberg. There is more about this here but, as always on the net, one does not know whether what one reads is true.

Chamberlain and the Social Darwinians were very different indeed from liberals like Michelet but they were progressives of a sort and, like Marx, they were pseudo-scientists. Isaiah Berlin claimed De Maistre as the forefather of the fascists but the arch-reactionary De Maistre (another philo-Semite) would have abominated all the Nazis stood for and all Chamberlains's theories about Aryan superiority over Jews.

The Nazis were certainly not conservative. They were certainly not left-wing either, at least not for the reasons American conservatives assert that they were, assuming as the latter foolishly do that conservatism is about freedom and free market economics. They were, however, so it has always seemed to me, progressives, believers in modernity and change, in eugenics and science. As nationalists, even though Goebbels said in 1933 that 
'This is the end of 1789'
they were, in fact, heirs to the French Revolution.


  1. i guees hitler was a good guy afterall.laur

  2. They drew on ancient symbols, held up a mythical shining past, and used them to power a utopian vision of the future. Their winner-take-all worldview and enthusiastic belief in slavery was something quite old and fundamental -- Old Testament even.

  3. Who were the Vedas? Any relation to Darth? Most Germans are still irritatingly tall, good looking, well educated and friendly bastards.

  4. Social Darwinism wasn't liberal or conservative simply common sense realism which the West abandoned in favour of egalitarian pseudoscience. The Chinese are under no such illusions though and are pressing ahead with their own eugenics programme.

    1. It all depends on what you mean by eugenics which, as a Romanian historian historian of the subject told me recently, simply means healthy living. Certainly sterilisation and birth control were very progressive. Nowadays progressives like abortion on demand and condoms but no longer approve of racial hygiene.

  5. there is conservative revolutionaries... they built an entire new symbolic world around new values. A nice world but nevertheless criminal in some respect. It is a world in which liberalism is the enemy, the bourgeoisie is the enemy, the cities are the enemy, individualism, rationalism, education &c. Everything was blurred, everything was deep in the primordial darckness... as society was thrown in folk. (better: völk)...

  6. A source which you may consider a bit more solid than the one you mention, on Eliade's anti-semitic views: the Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (2004):