Christoph Meiners on the varieties of Negroes (1790)

Christoph Meiners (1747-1810), a renowned philosopher at the University of Göttingen, was an unapologetic defender of slavery as a civilizing tool, even going so far as to endorse interbreeding between plantation owners and their slaves as a way to lift up Africans as a race. Meiners was foremost among scholars who drew broad conclusions based not on their own empirical observation but rather on travel reports, which allowed them to infuse their results with their own biases. The excerpt below, from a full-throated defense of the transatlantic slave trade, shows how far Meiners was from his contemporary Immanuel Kant’s efforts to grapple with racism. Rejecting calls for an expansion of freedom that had been used to challenge the aristocracy, promote Jewish emancipation, and demand the abolition of slavery, Meiners maintained a fierce commitment to the idea that certain races and classes were superior to others and that this was merely an expression of natural law. His ideas, expressed most thoroughly in multiple editions of Grundriß der Geschichte der Menschheit (1785, 1793) were later a particularly important influence on Gobineau, the father of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scientific racism.


(385) Die wachsende Aufklärung … (388) Erd-Theils hinaus hebt.

(391) Von keinem der … (392) unfehlbar veredelt werden. … (393) Der Mensch war, … Herzens mit. … (395) Der äussere Mensch … und umgekehrt.





(456) Bevor ich … beantwortet worden ist.

Source: Christoph Meiners, “Ueber die Natur der Afrikanischen Neger, und die davon abhängende Befreyung, oder Einschränkung der Schwarzen,” Göttingisches historisches Magazin 6:3 (1790): 387-456.