National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy

Daniel Trilling writes:

The word ‘Caucasian’ was first used as a term for white people in the late 18th century, by men who believed they were making objective scientific judgments about the world. In 1795, the naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a professor at Göttingen University who owned a prodigious collection of human skulls, proposed the existence of five ‘varieties’ of human, based partly on measurements of the head. The ‘Caucasian variety’, by which he meant Europeans, were ‘colour white, cheeks rosy; hair brown or chestnut-coloured; head subglobular; face oval, straight, its parts moderately defined, forehead smooth, nose narrow, slightly hooked, mouth small’. Like many of his scientific contemporaries (there were a dozen competing taxonomies in Blumenbach’s day, classifying humans into between two and seven types), he was also setting up a hierarchy. ‘The white colour holds the first place,’ he wrote. ‘I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighbourhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men.’

(LRB 18 April 2019)