Assimilation and Association in French Colonial Theory, 1890-1914

By Raymond F. Betts | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
ASSIMILATION AND THE
SCIENTIFIC ATTITUDE

THE scientific attitude which became so widespread in the late nineteenth century gradually extended to colonial theory and altered it. In particular, the doctrine of evolution strongly influenced French colonial thought. Differences among races, the vast range of social and cultural attainments, and even the idea of the incompatibility of certain races with others were all emphasized, while these very issues became new and effective explanations for the difficulties of governing subject peoples and, moreover, the finest justifications for the rejection of the policy of assimilation.

French colonial theory of the period, permeated by evolutionary ideas, was slowly reformed. In place of the humanitarian notion of the basic equality of all peoples, colonial theorists now upheld the belief that certain important inequalities exist among races and peoples. Natural selection, as so interpreted, implied forward movement, social advancement. Affected by these thoughts, French theorists soon denied the possibility of assimilation and insisted on a policy in keeping with the discrepancies among human societies.

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