|Arthur de Gobineau
Among the thinkers influencing Richard Wagner was a failed dramatist and poet turned French diplomat, Arthur de Gobineau, whose writings underscored the cultural pessimism that characterized so much of nineteenth-century polemics. Already bitter about the loss of prestige of the nobility, the rise of the “philistine” bourgeoisie with its power of money and the influence of the “mob” since the French Revolution of 1789, Gobineau’s worst fears were confirmed by the Revolutions of 1848 that originated in France and spread their tentacles throughout Europe. These convulsive upheavals destroyed the old aristocratic order with its reverence for political elites, hierarchical social orders and family lineage. Doubts about his own aristocratic background drove Gobineau to idealize the Aryan nobility as a surrogate for his own origins.
Turning to history, he argued in his four-volume magnum opus Essay on the Inequality of Races, that race or blood was the decisive factor in determining the vitality of a civilization. He accepted the existing racial hierarchy of blacks at the bottom who possessed animal passion but had limited intellectual and moral faculties, yellows who sought material satisfactions but otherwise were mediocre, and whites with “an energetic intelligence” that sustained their love of freedom and order and honour. He further distinguished within the white category the super-elite of Aryans with superior blood. The Aryan, that originally poured down from the Hindu Kush, “by virtue of his intelligence and his energy” was superior to other men, and for a time was uncontaminated by other races and debased Whites. His survey of ten civilizations purportedly demonstrated that a white Aryan race, originating in Central Asia, was responsible for the creation of civilizations culminating in Charlemagne’s Europe with its Teutonic and Frankish warriors. History, he said, “shows us that all civilizations derive from the white race, which none can exist without its help,” and “a society is great and brilliant only so far as it preserves the blood of the noble group that created it.” But this Aryan race, too, found itself abutted to the conquered peoples and inevitably succumbed to miscegenation. Gobineau wrote that over the centuries, promiscuous interbreeding with inferior races led to the slow debilitation of the noble race, and Europe was in decline because “the blood of the civilizing race is gradually drained away.”