Nazi Race Theory and Belief in an “Aryan Race”: A Profound Failure of Interdisciplinary Communication

By Christopher Mark Hutton.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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In the popular and scientific imagination, Nazi science, in particular theories of race, loom large as a point of reference for discussion of moral issues within science. This paper argues that popular and academic discussion of Nazi race theory has been in general highly misleading, and vitiated by a failure to differentiate between: (1) popular, propagandistic and aesthetic stereotypes of race; (2) racial policies; (3) academic race theory as expounded within scholarly publications in the Third Reich. Since these have not been clearly distinguished, discussion of the relationships between them has of necessity been confused. The case of the “Aryan race” is clear evidence of this confusion, since academic race theorists consistently rejected the notion as unscientific, as did policy makers after 1935. This widespread preconception that Nazism promoted the idea of an Aryan race is based on the popular use of the “Arisch” in the public culture of Nazi Germany. Textbooks on race published in Nazi Germany however routinely rejected the use of “Aryan” as a racial term, pointing out that it derived from the discipline of linguistics. There has been an almost complete lack of communication between scientists, historians and linguists over these key questions, and this has produced a profoundly entrenched set of misunderstandings over such as issues as the relationship between Darwinism and Nazism, ideas about racial purity, hybridity, racial determinism and the ideological contribution of linguistics to Nazism. These misunderstandings echo through wider debates about the politics of science, to the detriment of public debate about the nature of human identity and human diversity.

Keywords: Race, Nazism, Aryan, Darwinism, Politics of Science

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.149-156. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.551MB).

Prof. Christopher Mark Hutton

Chair, Professor, School of English, Faculty of Arts, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China

Christopher Hutton is professor in the School of English at the University of Hong Kong. He holds a BA in Modern languages (1980) and a DPhil in General Linguistics from the University of Oxford (1988), an MA in Linguistics and Yiddish Studies from Columbia University, New York (1985), and an LLB (Manchester Metropolitan University, 2008). He held a research position at the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies from 1978-1989, and was Assistant Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages at the University of Texas at Austin from 1987-1989. His research is concerned with the politics of language and linguistics, the history of Western linguistics in its relationship with race theory, and within the context of European scholarship in Asia. His publications include Linguistics and the Third Reich (Routledge, 1999), Race and the Third Reich (Polity Press, 2005), Language, Law and Definition (with R. Harris, Continuum, 2007), Language, Meaning and the Law (Edinburgh, 2009).