TOWARD THE FINAL SOLUTION: A History of European Racism by George L. Mosse

TOWARD THE FINAL SOLUTION: A History of European Racism

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KIRKUS REVIEW

George L. Mosse, a Wisconsin historian and author of The Crisis of German Ideology among other works, has written a highly detailed survey of the intellectual roots and development of the racist ideology from the 18th century to the present. Professor Mosse sees the story of racism ""not as the history of an aberration. . . but as an integral part of the European experience,"" and the sheer number of interesting characters and events he discusses is convincing evidence that racism, if not readily visible in the mainstream of European thought, was a continuous and disconcerting element in it. But his books, admirable as a catalogue of the criminal irrationalities of many otherwise rational men, never becomes much more than a glorified list, for he lacks a talent for either synthesis or sustained argument. In the first place, there is no attempt to define racism itself as a frame of mind at once embedded in, and more general than, a particular historical situation. Professor Mosse's failure to equip himself with an analytical focus is reflected in the extreme weakness and confusion of his arguments. Repeatedly, for example, racism is pictured as an ahistorical concept--racial stereotypes do not change and therefore ""racism cannot be understood without the factor of timelessness""--and yet Mosse states just as surely that the ""revival of historical consciousness. . . was of fundamental importance for the growth of the racial ideal."" Although such a contradiction might be overcome, the author does not attempt it. And there is much that is superficial: e.g., while Gobineau did believe in the degeneration of the superior race through intermarriage, he also thought that civilization could only arise through the mixture of races. Finally, Mosse claims a certain uniqueness for his study that is belied not only by his own heavy reliance on secondary sources, but is patently untrue. He seems unaware of Jacques Barzun's masterful Race, A Study in Superstition (1937 and 1965), an older book which nonetheless amply covers most of the material that Mosse has reviewed, and supplies that breadth of conception and synthesis which his work so sadly lacks.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Howard Fertig