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The stand on the Enlightenment is the principal battleground in the war between those on the right and those in the wrong. And people fighting a war will search for friends wherever they can find them – just look at the wartime alliance of Britain and America with Stalin.
David Hume, famous white supremacist
In that spirit, I open my arms wide to the woke chiefs of Nottingham Trent University who have placed trigger warnings on the works of Enlightenment philosophers.
A bunch of racists, the lot of them, as it turns out. Students must be spared the trauma bound to result from their exposure to the “appalling views on race” promulgated by Locke (d. 1704), Hume (d. 1776), Kant (d. 1804) and Hegel (d. 1831).
I’m actually surprised the uni chiefs didn’t ban the offending works altogether. There’s still time: the trigger warnings have to be merely a first palliative step.
Now, those four philosophers, along with their French epigones, are the founders of liberalism, both in its classical form and its modern perversion. Far be it from me to claim that racism is a natural by-product of liberalism, and I’m sure those Nottingham chaps don’t think so.
Yet anyone scanning the works in question to support that view will be richly rewarded. In a moment you’ll be able to judge for yourself.
But first, a disclaimer is an order. It wasn’t the zeitgeist that spoke through those thinkers. They did their own talking.
The quotations I’m about to cite didn’t reflect the unchallenged received wisdom of the time. English Tories, to name one group, routinely mocked those liberal thinkers for their illiberal views.
Thus Dr Johnson, David Hume’s contemporary, sneered: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”
He meant American colonists, for whom John Locke was the principal inspiration. They must indeed have been inspired by Locke’s essay The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina.
It pains me to quote from it, but duty calls: “Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves.”
In the good tradition of selective quoting, we should disregard a conflicting sentiment expressed in Locke’s First Treatise on Government: “Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man … that ’tis hardly to be conceived.”
Let’s just say that at the time American colonists found the second sentiment less inspiring than the first. Still, scholarly integrity demands the acknowledgement that Locke repented his verbal crime.
That’s more than can be said for David Hume. If he lived today, he’d be imprisoned, not merely cancelled. Here, in no particular order, is a brief selection that would be cited in the indictment.
“I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites.”
“There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences… On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the whites, such as the ancient GERMANS, the present TARTARS, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular.”
“Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction betwixt these breeds of men.”
“Not to mention our colonies, there are NEGROE slaves dispersed all over EUROPE, of which none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity; tho’ low people, without education will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession.”
“In JAMAICA, indeed, they talk of one negroe as a man of parts and learning; but ’tis likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.”
Did I say cancelled and imprisoned? Lynched, more likely. However, hamstrung as he was by the dearth of mass media, Hume missed an interesting example closer to home.
There lived in Vienna at the time a black man named Angelo Soliman (original name Mmadi Make), who was born in what today is Nigeria, brought to Europe as a child and raised in princely Viennese households. Soliman grew up a cultured and cultivated man, whose academic attainment was much respected by his contemporaries.
He was a tutor to many young princes and a friend to Emperor Joseph II. Soliman also belonged to the same Masonic lodge, Zur Wahren Eintracht, as Mozart, and pushed it in a more scholarly direction. Mozart used Soliman as the prototype for the character of Bassa Selim in The Abduction from the Seraglio.
Nevertheless, when Soliman died in 1796, his body was stuffed and exhibited in a natural history museum. I don’t know how the exhibit was labelled taxonomically, but I bet it wasn’t Homo sapiens.
Lest you accuse me of prejudice against the Anglophone racists, the Germans were no better. For example, Hegel believed that Africans were a “race of children that remain immersed in a state of naiveté” and living in “a condition of savagery and unfreedom”.
I’m sure if he visited Africa today, he’d change his mind faster than you could say ‘necklacing’. Nor would he stick to his belief in the “right of heroes” to colonise and civilise those savages.
Hegel must have taken his cue from Kant in the previous generation, who wrote that: “Americans and Negroes cannot govern themselves. Thus, [they] serve only as slaves.” (I hasten to reassure my American readers that, by Americans, Kant meant American Indians, who, he wrote “are incapable of culture”.)
He graciously acknowledged that “the inhabitants of India can be educated”. Alas, “this does not extend to the use of abstract concepts, and hence they are incapable of being magistrates.”
Meanwhile, black people “have by nature no feeling that rises above the Ridiculous.” Actually, Kant didn’t limit himself to theoretical postulates. He also offered practical advice: “One gets the Negroes by having them catch each other, and one has to seize them with force.”
I could quote many such passages, but I’m sure you get the picture already. Those Nottingham academics certainly do, and I’m sure all our universities will soon follow in their footsteps.
My heart goes out to them though. They may have to burn gallons of environmentally unfriendly midnight oil, looking for quotations that would disqualify philosophers and writers of the past from holding academic positions at present.
Since most of them are culpable, our academics have their work cut out: Hercules with his Augean stables would look positively idle by comparison. But I propose a solution that will make their lives infinitely simpler, while sparing students the pain of having their innermost feelings offended.
All thinkers and writers (with a few individually stipulated exceptions) from the centuries before ours must be summarily cancelled, with their books expunged from the curricula and, ideally, burned in university quads. As a side benefit, this would provide a cheap, if not necessarily renewable, source of heat for the upcoming winter months.
Alas, our favourite philosopher, Karl Marx, will have to go too, what with his views being even more racist than those quoted above. But we must take the rough with the smooth – any real principle demands sacrifices.
This content was originally published here.