Social Anthropology in Economic Literature at the End of the 19th Century: Eugenic and Racial Explanations of Inequality
Maccabelli, Terenzio, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology
Social anthropology is today considered a flourishing branch of human knowledge, promoted all over the world by specialist journals and scientific institutions. (1) However, the social anthropology dealt with in these pages has little to do with this reality. The object of this research is the thought of authors such as the Frenchman Georges Vacher de Lapouge and the German Otto Ammon, who, in the second half of the 19th century promoted a new discipline, with an explicitly racist and eugenic content that they initially called "social anthropology" and later named "anthro[po]-sociology." In the last decades of the 19th century, this discipline had vast resonance in European and American culture. Its fortunes were obscured with the beginning of the new century, but, however, were strongly rooted in Germany, where it became an incubator for the National Socialist eugenic projects (Mosse 1978). This work intends to demonstrate the wide resonance that this interpretation of social anthropology also had in the economic literature of the period.
One of the inducements to undertaking this research is the increasing interest shown by historians of economic thought in the relationship between eugenics, racism, and political economy. Numerous contributions on the question recently have been published, (2) nonetheless, neglecting the thought of the so-called school of social anthropologists. Much more studied instead is the reception given to the theories of Lapouge and Ammon in the sociological field, (3) where the parabola of the doctrine has been highlighted; after sudden popularity, sanctioned by the space dedicated to it in the major sociological reviews, social anthropology was progressively ousted from the scientific sociological panorama following its scientific delegitimization. In this paper we propose an analogous reconstruction from the economic standpoint. In analyzing the spread of anthroposociological theories in the economic field, major emphasis will be laid on the eugenic and racial explanations for social stratification, which constitute the heart of such a doctrine.
The paper is organized as follows. The first section is dedicated to a brief presentation of the social theories of Georges Vacher de Lapouge and Otto Ammon, the founders of the school of social anthropology. The second section comprises an overview of the articles that the most authoritative economic reviews of the period, principally the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Journal of Political Economy, dedicated to the school, chiefly through the agency of Carlos C. Closson, an indefatigable popularizer of the theories of Lapouge and Ammon in the English-speaking world. The third section of the paper enters into the principal question; that is, the explanation offered by the social anthropologists for economic and social inequality. The fourth section then discusses the influence of social anthropology on Vilfredo Pareto, one of the most authoritative scholars of social hierarchies, and shows how responsive he was to the topics discussed by Lapouge and Ammon. In the fifth part, the paper will illustrate the growth of criticisms of social anthropology and how it was ostracized with the coming of the new century, both by economists and by sociologists. In the last part will be discussed the role of Thorstein Veblen in the spreading of social anthropology in economic literature, before of its epilogue.
The School of Social Anthropology: Georges Vacher de Lapouge and Otto Ammon
AMMON AND Lapouge are authors who are seldom quoted in the history of social science. (4) At the turn of the century, however, their fame was notable and their writings were diffused by the journals of various scientific disciplines. The two scholars were, in truth, difficult to classify from a strictly disciplinary point of view, given that they operated in a grey area covering craniometry, anthropology, sociology, and economics. Their scientific aims were in fact intended to create of a new branch of knowledge, for which they coined the term "social anthropology" or "anthropo-sociology." (5)
Each declared himself to be the founder of the new discipline, stating a precise period for its inception. As Lapouge wrote (1897: 57), "the establishment of anthro-sociology as a distinct branch of investigation dates from my lectures at the University of Montpellier (1886-1892) and from the publication by Ammon of his research on the conscripts of Baden." Born in 1854, Lapouge became librarian at the University of Montpellier in 1886, after he failed to receive a university chair. His major works--Les selections sociales (1896), L'aryen, son role social (1899), and Race et milieu social (1909)--are based on his lectures at Montpellier, where "he taught a variety of courses, conducted population survey, compiling craniometric data and publishing a flurry of articles." During the late 1880s he wrote in the Revue d'anthropologie, but in 1895 the Revue "ceased to accepting his contributions." In 1893 he left Montpellier and became a librarian in Rennes. After 1900, his writings were published mainly in Germany, for the most part in the Politisch-anthropologische Revue, the racist journal founded and financed by Ludwig Woltmann. In his last years, he became the maitre a penser of the official race theorists of National Socialism. "He died in 1936, virtually ignored by French intellectual circles." (6)
There is scarce biographical information on Otto Ammon (1842-1916). An engineer and journalist, he became one of the most influential racial anthropologists of his day, greatly influencing the move toward National Socialism in Germany (Gasman 1971: 148). Like Lapouge, he never held an academic post (Drouard 2005: 15). "His first contribution came as an unexpected result of an investigation of the army recruits of Baden," which he carried out in 1890 as secretary to the anthropological commission of the archaeological society in Karlsruhe. Among many other things, "he found that there was a difference between rural and urban populations as regards hair-color, eye-color and head-form" (Hankins 1931: 110). The outcome of this research was his monographs (1890 and 1893) "that established his anthropometric credentials" (Llobera 2003: 105). His major work was Die Gesellschaftsordnung und ihre naturlichen Grundlagen (The Social Order and Its Natural Bases), published in 1895 and translated into French in 1900. Albeit Lapouge designated Ammon as co-founder of his school of anthroposociology, the German writer always regarded Lapouge "as a student regards his master." (7) Together with Lapouge, Ammon was one of the most fervent supporters of Social Darwinism, spreading the idea that society, like nature itself, is subject to universal laws of natural selection and that the social sciences could not disregard Darwin's recent discoveries in the biological field. (8)
Social Darwinism appears in fact to be the cultural context in which to set Ammon and Lapouge's anthroposociology, and it is therefore hardly surprising that almost all of those who interpret their work characterize them as "Social Darwinists." (9) This appellation, while undoubtedly true, nonetheless contains some snares. "Social Darwinism" is indeed one of the most abused terms in the history of social sciences and also one of the most ambiguous. As Hawkins (1997: 32) has pointed out, "'Darwinism' was not a fixed entity" and "there are a series of indeterminacies surrounding some of its elements." The question whether Darwin himself was a Social Darwinist is not a trivial one. Problems arise, for instance, in looking at the historical relation between Social Darwinism and eugenics, as "it was possible to support one and not the other" (Hawkins 1997: 6). This was not the case for the anthroposociological theories, which postulated a very close association between Social Darwinism and eugenics. Furthermore, not all Social Darwinists followed the racist path, while Lapouge's and Ammon's Social Darwinism was indeed a theory with an explicit racist content. This ambiguity makes it difficult to evaluate the real intellectual debt of Ammon and Lapouge to Darwin.
In order to understand the cultural matrices of social anthropology, it is necessary to begin with the radical changes that took place in the social sciences towards the middle of the 19th century, when the doctrine of social homogeneity was abandoned. Authors as diverse as Burke, Rousseau, or Smith, to cite but a few examples, held that the natural equality of human beings was an irrefutable principle. Inequality--both by those who condemned it and by those who legitimized it--was in fact considered by all as a socioeconomic fact, the product of historical evolution and of the social institutions. (10) Around the middle of the 19th century, instead, as the anthropology historian Marvin Harris has observed, there was no more "self evident truth" than the fact that all men were created unequal. (11) Inequality among individuals began to be held to be an objective and natural fact of a biological order as, indeed, was "the 'fact' that certain races were superior to others" (Hawkins 1997: 184). Toward the middle of the century, these ideas were widespread among the European intelligentsia, thanks above all to the literary fortune of the ideas vulgarized by Gobineau on the inequality and on the hierarchy of the human races (Battini 1995: 196). The theory of races formulated by Gobineau between 1853 and 1855 in his Essay sur l'inegalite des races humaines is without doubt an important juncture, as is recognized by the founders, for the birth of social anthropology. (12)
Ammon and Lapouge nonetheless make a leap in quality, in respect to Gobineau, in trying to give racism a scientific basis. (13) The distinction between races is in fact anchored on quantifiable empirical data, namely, the cephalic index. (14) Both Ammon and Lapouge used it to divide the European population into three fundamental racial types: the Homo Europaeus, the Homo Alpinus, and the Homo Meditteraneus. Homo Europaeus had a lower cephalic index--that is dolichocephalic, with a long narrow skull--and is normally tall, light-skinned, and blond-haired; Homo Alpinus is instead brachycephalic, dark, and shorter in stature; Homo Meditteraneus, finally, although dolichocephalic, is also darker and shorter in stature and is found exclusively in the Mediterranean basin. The principal innovation introduced by the anthroposociologists "lay in the qualitative characteristics [they] associated with these head shapes" (Hecht 1999: 4). Dolichocephalic and brachycephalic individuals would in fact have different aptitudes, predispositions, and intellects that underlay their different social and cultural performance. Homo Europaeus, called aryan by Lapouge and teutonic by Ammon, was supposed to be active, enterprising, and ambitious, with a marked tendency to migrate and a singular attraction toward urban life; Homo Alpinus was instead more static, mostly concentrated in the agricultural centers, and little inclined to change and innovation. (15) The correlation identified between the cephalic index and human capabilities, the outcome of a titanic effort in measuring and cataloguing by Ammon and Lapouge, (16) was the proof, in their opinion, of the "scientific" nature of their racism. The hierarchy of races guessed at by Gobineau would therefore have found confirmation in anthrosociological research intended to demonstrate that even the qualitative differences between individuals could be traced back to quantitative, measurable facts. (17) These ideas were then formulated into a theory of social stratification, to be dealt with later, based on the correlation between socioeconomic status and racial stock.
Besides being based on the idea "that human racial differences are real, significant and scientifically measurable" (Leonard 2003: 689), Ammon and Lapouge's anthropology also postulates that these differences can be inherited. In the wake of Galton, Ammon and Lapouge in fact maintain that "genius" and "intelligence," no less than physical features, have a biological foundation and are therefore transmittable through heredity. The concept frame for this biological determinism is that set out by Galton with the distinction between "nature" and "nurture." (18) The social context has no power to modify the individual and racial differences that derive from "innate characteristics" and from biology. The condemnation Ammon and Lapouge make of those currents of Social Darwinism that accept the Lamarckian theory of the capacity to inherit acquired characteristics springs from this. The two anthropologists believed that education and social context do not have a role in the evolution of the races, not being able to produce real effects that could be transmitted to descendants.
A further component of social anthropology is natural selection. (19) The elimination of the least fit is a fundamental process in nature, which, nonetheless, works in a flawed and more complex fashion in human societies. "Natural selection" is transformed in fact into "social selection," "in the measure in which social context exercises its influence on the natural environment." (20) Contrasts between natural selection and social selection can occur, above all, when social institutions favor the proliferation of the mediocre and hinder the reproduction of the superior individual. (21) In modern society, in particular, norms and social practices that are in contrast to the bettering of the race prevail. (22) The brachycephalic individuals, despite being intellectually and socially "inferior," have major reproductive powers and greater adaptability to social norms. From this derives the possibility that the brachycephalics will end by replacing the dolichocephalics through selection of a complex order, both biological and social. (23) Lapouge invoked in this context "an anthropological analogue to Gresham's law in economics, according to which good coin was driven out of circulation by bad coin: when two races were mixed, the inferior would eventually predominate over the superior" (Hawkins 1997: 192).
The only way to invert the tendency toward biological decadence was that of eugenics. (24) Both Ammon and Lapouge came to maintain the necessity of the physical elimination of the "inferior" subjects, a task that, if not carried out by natural selection, would have to be performed by the state. The two anthropologists believed in this case that by catering to the predisposition of the inferior individual, such an aim could be easily pursued. The establishment of places particularly attractive to him or her--where alcohol could be distributed free, where vice could be spread, and libertine behavior favored--would in fact have led to a concentration of degenerate individuals who could easily be eliminated. (25) Naturally, such a project could never be carried out under a liberal organization of society, which therefore had to give place to a centralized and state-controlled model of socialism (or National Socialism), aimed at bringing into being the real principles of the social hierarchy. "Substituting current humanity with a unique and perfect race" needs, Lapouge wrote, "almost of necessity, a socialist regime"; this requires, however, overcoming the traditional concept of socialism, which has "shown itself up to now to be prevalently leveling and detrimental." (26)
These are the principal traits of Ammon and Lapouge's social anthropology, a new racist theory that European and American culture at the end of the 19th century received as "scientific," "erudite," and "revolutionary." (27) The early diffusion is, in truth, circumscribed to France and Germany, where the two anthropologists worked. The first articles by Lapouge, appearing "in the major French anthropological publications from the mid 1880s to the mid 1890s" (Schneider 1990: 62), had scarce resonance outside France, as did the German-language publications by Ammon in the early 1890s. Things changed after 1895 for two reasons: first because anthroposociological theories began to cross the confines of the discipline of anthropology, finding acceptance even in the economic and sociological journals; (28) and second because the echo of the anthroposociological doctrines was amplified thanks to their diffusion through journals in the English language. Lapouge's and Ammon's theories had by then gained "an aura of scientific respectability" (Weiss 1987: 93-94) recognized at the international level. As pointed out by Poliakov, when leafing through the journals and the publications of the time, one is convinced that anthroposociology "was very much taken seriously. Certainly Lapouge led the way, above all in Germany, where Kaiser Wilhelm II championed him as 'the only great Frenchman'; but he had advocates in other European countries too" (1971: 306).
Carlos C. Closson and the Spread of Social Anthropology in Economic Journals
A SIGN OF THE incredible good fortune of social anthropology is the resonance this doctrine enjoyed in the major economic reviews, (29) fed by an incessant publicity campaign conducted by Carlos C. Closson. We know very little of the meteoric academic career of Closson. He received his A.B. from Harvard University in …
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Publication information: Article title: Social Anthropology in Economic Literature at the End of the 19th Century: Eugenic and Racial Explanations of Inequality. Contributors: Maccabelli, Terenzio - Author. Journal title: The American Journal of Economics and Sociology. Volume: 67. Issue: 3 Publication date: July 2008. Page number: 481+. © 1999 American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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