Amazingly, we can find a more objective comparison of the two in an Israeli university, more so than in European universities...


By Amos Morris-Reich
The Department of Jewish Thought, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel (2006)


Abstract - This article compares two radically opposed views concerning race in the first half of the 20th century: the one of Franz Boas (1858–1942), the founder of American cultural anthropology, and the
other of Hans F.K. Gu¨nther (1889–1968), the most widely read theoretician of race in Nazi Germany.

Opposite as their views were, both derived from a similar non-evolutionist German anthropological matrix. The article reconstructs their definitions of racial objects and studies their analyses of racial intermixture. Although both believed that contemporary peoples were racially deeply mixed, Boas moved towards an antiracist conception of race-as-population, whereas Günther moved towards a racist conception of homogenous races in mixed peoples.

The comparison shows that the major difference between them concerns their ideals or guiding principles. Their respective ideals seeped into their versions of science and transformed the nature and the significance of their respective ideas.



Race was arguably the major theoretical foundation of anthropology in the first half of the 20th century. Even within anthropology, however, it was far from being a uniform category. In this respect, it is difficult to think of two writers who are as distant from each other as Franz Boas (1858–1942), the founder of American cultural anthropology and one of the most influential anthropologists of the 20th century, and Hans F.K. Günther (1889–1968), the most widely read theoretician of race in Nazi Germany, an exponent of Nordic superiority and Heinrich Himmler’s mentor.

Günther disclaims Boas as ‘‘Jewish in terms of people, American in terms of citizenship.’’ Boas states about Günther that ‘‘I do not consider [him] a scientist.’’ However, a closer look shows that both shared several important epistemological presuppositions which derived from a similar conceptual matrix. These presuppositions distinguished them from mainstream American and British anthropology.

In the wake of social functionalism, race lost much of its significance in British anthropology. Race continued, nevertheless, to occupy a central place in American and German anthropology. American anthropology prior to Boas’
arrival, however, was generally evolutionist.

The majority of German anthropologists of their day, on the other hand, were embedded in a pluralist anthropological paradigm. It is important, in this respect, that the evolutionary and pluralist paradigms set different analytical priorities and generate different representations of human diversity. The evolutionary paradigm conceives differences as ‘‘lower’’ or ‘‘higher’’ on one single line of evolution. The pluralist paradigm conceives differences as expressions of distinct lifeforms.

Boas and Günther assess the modern racial situation similarly: peoples are mixed thoroughly. However, they differ sharply in their analyses. The reading of Boas and Günther is guided by the following questions: What is their definition of ‘‘race’’ and how does it apply to racial intermixture?

What are their ideas of race? How do these develop into antithetical paradigms? Boas argues that ideas of racial difference derive from the misguided comparisons at the ends of the spectrum. He develops the conception of race-as-population to undercut the idea of racial purity; Günther develops the differentiation between ‘‘race’’ and ‘‘people’’ to defend the idea of pure races and wishes to redirect human procreation towards racial purity.

I will show that many of the ‘‘ideas’’ found in their works are similar. I will argue that their conclusions are different because they are guided by different ‘‘ideals.’’ Since Kant, ideals in science differ from ideas. An ideal indicates how a scientific community imagines science as it ought to be if ever completed.

The same measurements, assumptions, or explanations (ideas) are judged in the name of an ideal. Ideas constitute science, Ideals, or regulative principles, chart its goals. Boas’ and Günther’s respective ideals are closely interwoven in their theories of race and racial intermixture.

However, I will show how their respective ideals gradually transform their ideas: Boas moved progressively from ‘‘race’’ to ‘‘culture’’ and subordinated his ideas of race to his ideals of science. Gu¨ nther grounded his science on a romanticized view of ‘race.’

I first place the comparison between Boas and Günther historically and structurally. I then reconstruct Boas’ and Gu¨ nther’s respective definitions of race and analyze how they apply to the study of racial intermixture. I end with analysis of their ideals. I will show that Boas’ paradigm is caught in paradoxes that Günther’s avoids.

1 See Peter Weingart, Ju¨ rgen Kroll and Kurt Bayertz. Rasse, Blut und Gene. Geschichte der Eugenik und Rassenhygiene in Deutschland. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1988) 452–454; Klaus Vondung in Eric Voegelin. Race and State. (Baton Rouge and London: University of Louisiana Press, 1997) xvi.

2 Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. (Mu¨nchen: Lehmann, 1937) 250.

3 Elazar Barkan. The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 310.



[...] Most significant in our context, however, is Christopher Hutton’s study of the sciences of race in the Third Reich.6 Hutton’s brilliant study refutes many of the stereotypes concerning race science in the Third Reich of which I will state here only two.

First, contrary to Robert Proctor’s influential study, he shows that these sciences enjoyed greater scientific independence than has previously been recognized.7 The connections between these sciences, National Socialist ideas, and the Nazi State were much more differentiated, complex, and multilayered than previously conceived. Second, he shows that some branches of these sciences increasingly distanced themselves from racial anthropology.

While in America, as we will see, Boas subordinated anthropological analyses of race to social categories, German racial science moved towards the study of populations in genetic terms. The following case study can be seen, in this respect, as a footnote to Hutton’s comprehensive account.

I focus on the postulates of Germany’s leading race theorist and compare them with those of his most prominent American opponent. Despite the recognition they both enjoyed at the time, Boas and Günther are not on a par in terms of their scientific stature, intellectual strength, and importance in the history of anthropology and the social sciences.

Rather, this comparison touches upon ‘‘race’’ in the German and the American anthropological discourses, thereby revealing a more complex network of conceptual interconnections between the two discourses than has previously been recognized.

The comparative perspective is also able to highlight points underemphasized in Hutton’s study: First, a specifically antisemitic strain of thought underlay virtually all branches of German race science, which was not present
in the same way in the United States.

Second, the comparative framework exposes the lack in Germany of a theoretical and institutional alternative to the deterministic understanding of race that Boas initiated in the United States.8

4 Woodruff Smith. Politics and the Sciences of Culture, 1840– 1920. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); and Paul Weindling. Health, Race, and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870– 1945. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

5 Andrew Zimmerman. Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany. (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001). On the role of museums, see, H. Glenn Penny, Objects of Culture: Ethnology and Ethnographic Museums in Imperial Germany. (Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press, 2002).

6 Christopher M. Hutton. Race and The Third Reich. (Cambridge: Polity, 2005).


7 Proctor concludes his study stating that ‘‘With the formation of a Nazi State government in 1933, however, anthropology became an instrument of state power that held drastic consequences.’’ Robert Proctor. ‘‘From Anthropologie to Rassenkunde’’. in Bones, Bodies, Behavior: Essays on Biological Anthropology. Ed. George W. Stocking Jr. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988) 175.

8 The differentiation between genetics and eugenics as corresponding to the differentiation between science and pseudo-science appeared only after the 1930s. The line separating social science from propagandistic racial
thought is not solid. In fact, most biologists and physical anthropologists in Germany and in North America were actually committed to the theory of fundamental race difference. See, Barkan. The Retreat of Scientific Racism.



In our context, it is important that Boas employed research methods from the German academy to contest virtually all the underlying premises of American evolutionist anthropology.

For instance, to undermine the view of African-Americans and Native Americans as fundamentally lower on the evolutionary scale, Boas introduced the differentiation between race, culture, and language, demonstrating that a mapping of the world according to one of the three variables would not coincide with its mapping according to the others.9 This differentiation was widely accepted in Germany at the end of the 19th century10 and was taken for granted by Günther.

In terms of ideas, rather than ideals, the difference between Boas and pre-1933 German racial science has grown fundamentally greater in retrospect. Boas’ relationship with German academia, anthropology, and racial thought was complex.

Boas praised Eugen Fischer’s work on racial intermixture and they were still corresponding in the early 1930s. In fact, Fischer was a major influence on Günther as well as a colleague with whom he cooperated closely on several occasions.

Until 1938, Boas was formally a member of the Berlin Gesellschaft fu¨r Anthropologie, Ethnologie, und Urgeschichte when he was made to resign.11 Günther repeatedly stated that German racial policies lag behind those of the United States. After 1945, Günther was chosen to be a corresponding member of the ‘‘American Society of Human Genetics.’’

The mutual relationship is made yet more complex by the asymmetrical structure of the anthropological discourses in Germany and in the United States. The division is closely related to the single most important dividing principle in physical anthropology of their time: the idea of ‘‘fundamental race difference.’’

While essentialism is one of the attributes entailed by the concept of race, biological determinism is not.12 Günther made a determinist understanding of race the cornerstone of his method. Boas operated within the category of race while rejecting biological determinism.

Our comparison, therefore, pits the leading supporter of ‘‘racial determinism’’ in Germany with its leading opponent in the United States. As noted, a structural asymmetry existed between anthropology in the two countries. In the United States, Boas introduced the liberal approach that dominated German anthropology until the turn of the 20th century.

In Germany, however, as Benoit Massin shows, by the beginning of the 20th century a younger generation of anthropologists propagating the idea of fundamental race difference had secured a ‘‘solid scientific position.’’13

Although proponents and opponents of the idea existed in both Germany and the United States, in the latter Boas and his students led a relatively organized opposition to it and anthropology was split between its supporters and opponents. In Germany, the opponents offered no unified institutional and theoretical alternative.

9Cf. Franz Boas. The Mind of Primitive Man. (New York: Free Press, 1916 [1911]).
10See Douglas Cole. Franz Boas: The Early Years, 1858– 1906. (Seattle: The University of Washington Press, 1999) 268.
11Proctor. ‘‘From Anthropologie to Rassenkunde.’’ 163.
12Rachel Caspari. ‘‘From types to populations: a century of race, physical anthropology, and the American anthropological association.’’ American Anthropologist 101:5 (2003) 67.
13Benoit Massin. ‘‘From Virchow to Fischer Physical Anthropology and ’Modern Race Theories’ in Wilhelmine Germany.’’ Volksgeist as Method and Ethic: Essays on Boasian Ethnography and the German Anthropological Tradition. Ed. George W. Stocking Jr. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996) 126.



Boas and Günther were ideological opponents. However, what makes the comparison interesting is the fact that their views were interwoven into their postulates in complex yet different ways. Julia Liss has shown that Boas’ version of science was intricately connected to his liberal social and political views.14

The alliance between Günther’s political views and his science was still more explicit. He joined the National Socialist party in 1932, supported eugenic programs even when they turned murderous, and was crucial in the interpretation of the racial laws of 1935.15 Their respective views are in the background of everything that follows.16 Focusing on their postulates, however, will expose the different relations between their ideas and their ideals, between their respective uses of science and versions of science with regard to race.


Boas on race, racial traits, and racial intermixture

Boas’ interest in physical anthropology dates to the early stages of his career. As Stocking notes, while Boas engaged in different empirical projects, in retrospect it is possible to see that all dealt from various perspectives with the problem of the historical continuity of physical type: the process of growth, the influences of environment, and the forces of heredity.17 This section relates briefly to Boas’ statements on half bloods, the equality of different races, and the possibility of change of type.

14Julia E. Liss. ‘‘Diasporic identities: the science and politics of race in the work of Franz Boas and W. E. B. Du Bois, 1894–1919.’’ Cultural Anthropology 13:2 (1998) 127–165.
15Hans F.K. Günther. Gattenwahl zu ehelichem Glu¨ck und erblicher Ertu¨ chtigung. (Mu¨ nchen: Lehmann, 1941) 164. Hans-Ju¨ rgen Lutzho¨ ft. Der nordische Gedanke in Deutschland 1920– 1940. (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1971) 45.
16Boas was the subject of much recent work. Bunzl and Liss provide detailed accounts of Boas’ humanistic education. Liss shows how he used scientific arguments to undermine assumptions about race. Matti Bunzl.‘‘Franz Boas and the Humboldtian Tradition: From Volksgeist and Nationalcharacter to an Anthropological Concept of Culture.’’ Volksgeist as Method and Ethic. 17–78. Julia Liss. ‘‘German Culture and German Science in the Bildung of Franz Boas.’’ Volksgeist as Method and Ethic. 155–184. Liss. ‘‘Diasporic Identities.’’ 128. See also Regna Darnell. And Along Came Boas: Continuity and Revolution in Americanist Anthropology. (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Johns Benjamins, 2000). Lutzho¨ ft focused primarily on his ideas as part of the ‘‘The Nordic Movement’’ in Germany between 1920 and 1940 in the only book-length account of Günther. Hans-Ju¨ rgen Lutzho¨ ft. Der nordische Gedanke in Deutschland 1920– 1940. (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1971).
On the social and institutional circumstances surrounding Günther’s call to Jena, see Uwe HoXfeld. ‘‘Menschliche Erblehre, Rassenpolitik und Rassenkunde (-biologie) an den Universita¨ ten Jena und Tu¨ bingen von 1934-45: Ein Vergleich.’’ Ethik der Biowissenschaften. Eds. E. Engels, T. Junker and M. Weingarten (Berlin: Vwb, 1998) 361–392. See also Volker Hasenauer. Rasse, Wahn und Wissenschaft: Hans F. K. Günthers Rassenkunde im eugenischen Diskurs der Jahre 1922– 1945. [unpublished M.A. Thesis submitted to the philosophical faculty of the Albert-Ludwig University in Freiburg, 2003].
17See George W. Stocking Jr. Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology. (New York: Free Press, 1968) 170.



Boas follows Rudolf Virchow’s quantitative methods for the study of physical anthropology. Likewise, he measures traits which were believed to be racial. However, modern statistical methods were only beginning to be developed in the work of Francis Galton in late 1880s England.18

Galton is remembered today mostly for his racism and his role in the development of the Eugenic movement, aspects which made him one of Günther's mentors. However, Galton also developed statistical means to represent racial characteristics.

Boas developed Galton’s statistical method towards his own different interests and used it to show that an apparent ‘‘normal’’ series of a certain trait can contain several distinct types.19 Boas was working towards a definition of the meaning of ‘‘type’’ in situations in which average distributions of a trait did not define the type. He formulated this negatively: when a curve shows two maxima, ‘‘we have no right to consider the average as a type representing the people under consideration.’’20

Furthermore: ‘‘The average in such a case would have no meaning whatever, while the two maxima would indicate the types composing the mixed race.’’21 There is some internal tension in Boas’ formulation.

As he deconstructs type as average, he is implying that the average is meaningless. However, he treats the different types as real. Only much later Boas submits racial types themselves to the kind of methodological critique of apperception he employed in ‘‘On Alternating Sounds.’’22 Only then he states that striking peculiarities (racial characteristics) depend ‘‘largely upon the previous experiences of the observer, not upon the morphological value of the observed traits.’’23

In ‘‘The Anthropology of the North American Indian,’’24 Boas explicitly refuses to presuppose an identity between present North American types and past ones. He claims that one can study the present types, but those of the past are inaccessible, and that peoples may have become so mixed that the ‘‘original types’’ may ‘‘have disappeared entirely.’’25

We will see that Günther concludes the exact opposite. Contrary to beliefs widely held in the second half of the 19th century that hybrid races show a decrease in fertility, Boas finds that the average half-breed Indian-white woman bears more progeny than that of the ‘‘pure stock’’ and that their progeny is taller.26 These findings are presumed to negate the belief that racial intermixture causes degeneration.

In fact, Boas views them as evidence that racial intermixture has a favorable effect upon the race.27 In this study, conducted before Mendel’s laws were rediscovered, Boas notices that there are two maxima in the distribution of face-breadth among half-breeds, each approximately that of one of the parent races.

He concludes that ‘‘the effect of intermixture is not to produce a middle type, but that there is a tendency to reproduce ancestral traits.’’28

18Stocking. Race, Culture, and Evolution. 167; Cole. Franz Boas. 134.
19See Stocking. Race, Culture, and Evolution. 168.
20Franz Boas. ‘‘The Anthropology of the North American Indian,’’ (1894). The Shaping of American Anthropology 1883– 1911: A Franz Boas Reader. Ed. George W. Stocking Jr. (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1974) 199.
21Boas. ‘‘The Anthropology of the North American.’’ 200.
22Franz Boas. ‘‘On Alternating Sounds.’’ The Shaping of American Anthropology. (1889) 72–77.
23Boas. ‘‘The Relations between Physical and Social Anthropology.’’ Race, Language and Culture. (1936) 173.
24See also Boas. ‘‘Statistical Study of Anthropometry.’’ Race, Language and Culture. (1902) 138–148.
25Boas. ‘‘The Anthropology of the North American.’’ 193. See also his ‘‘Some Recent Criticisms of Physical Anthropology.’’ Race, Language and Culture. (1899) 171.
26Boas. ‘‘The Anthropology of the North American.’’ 193, 195.
27Franz Boas. ‘‘The Half-Blood Indian.’’ Race, Language and Culture. (1894) 138–148. See also Stocking. Race, Culture, and Evolution. 172.
28Boas. ‘‘The Anthropology of the North American.’’ 195.



However, Boas also finds that the average regarding such traits is closer to the Indian parent. Following Galton’s ‘‘law of ancestral heredity,’’ Boas concludes that this may be because the Indian traits are ‘‘more primitive’’ or older characteristics of mankind.29 Building on his presupposition that intraracial differences are larger than interracial ones, he states that half-breeds differ among themselves more than the pure races do.30

Consequently, it is not possible to base the inequality of individuals on their race. Nonetheless, Boas concedes that different types exist for exceedingly long periods and that the present distribution of European types may be considered as a result of their intermixture.31

In ‘‘Human Faculty as Determined by Race,’’ Boas challenged the assumption that civilization was synonymous with the white race.32 This article suggested that historical events were much more important in leading races to civilization than faculty.

At least at this stage of his career, Boas did believe that just as physical differences existed between races, so did mental ones. However, he was not willing to grant superiority of one race over another until this fact was conclusively demonstrated.33 This statement was not an invitation to prove the superiority of one race, but Boas’ pattern of negative argumentation.

Boas’ most famous contribution to physical anthropology is probably his ‘‘Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants.’’34 This study, which was submitted to the US Immigration Commission in March 1908, tests the biological significance of the cephalic index (the relation between the breadth of the head and its length, seen from above).

Following Virchov’s famous study in Germany, Boas collected a series of anthropometric measurements on 17,821 immigrants and their children living in New York. Some measurements were ruled out because of methodological and technical reasons.35 The results were published in several forms with the same title.36 The focal point of the study was the effect of the US environment on new immigrants.

This was analyzed by comparison of the children with their parents. The results revealed significant differences in head form,37 far-reaching change in the type of each of the studied immigrant groups. The cephalic index, which has always been considered one of the most stable and permanent characteristics of human races, was shown to undergo far-reaching changes.

As a result, the ‘‘old idea of absolute stability of human types must, however, evidently be given up, and with it the belief of the hereditary superiority of certain types over others.’’38 The figures showed that the round-headed East European Jewish children turned long-headed in the United States, whereas the long-headed South Italians became more short-headed; both, therefore, approached a uniform type. Boas could not explain the causes of the change—he thought it was more important to document the changes than explain them39—although he considered them in some way ‘‘environmental.’’

29Boas. ‘‘The Anthropology of the North American.’’ 194.
30Boas. ‘‘The Anthropology of the North American.’’ 195.
31Boas. ‘‘Statistical Study of Anthropometry.’’ 132.
32In The Shaping of American Anthropology. (1894) 221–242.
33Boas. ‘‘Human Faculty.’’ 317, 323.
34In Boas. ‘‘Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants,’’ Race, Language, and Culture. (1912) 60–75.
35See Clarence C. Gravlee, Russel H. Bernard and William R. Leonard. ‘‘Heredity, environment, and cranial form: a reanalysis of Boas’s immigration data.’’ American Anthropologist 105:1 (2003) 126–127.
36See Franz Boas. Anthropology and Modern Life. (New York: Norton, 1928) 237, n. 1.
37Boas. ‘‘Changes in Bodily Form.’’ 60–75.
38Stocking. The Shaping of American Anthropology. 218.
39See Caspari. ‘‘From Types to Populations.’’ 69.



According to Boas, the results were ‘‘so definite that, while heretofore we had the right to assume that human types are stable, all the evidence is now in favor of a great plasticity of human types, and permanence of types in new surroundings appears rather as the exception than as the rule.’’40

Nonetheless, Boas cautiously stated that the plasticity of groups in new environment was ‘‘strictly limited.’’ To conclude the discussion of these three different projects, one should note a tension between two conflicting analytical values in Boas’ work concerning individuals and races as universals.

Boas’ definitions are sometimes nominalist and sometimes realist. For instance, in the short controversy between Boas and Paul Radosavljevich following the publication of the immigrants study, Radosavljevich claimed that the changes shown by Boas were not in the cephalic type but only in the cephalic index: the changes were too minor to show that descendents of immigrants crossed the line from one head-type (dolichocephalic) to another (brachycephlic).41

Boas replied that ‘‘all biological phenomena are variable phenomena.’’42 The terms ‘‘dolicocephalic,’’ ‘‘mesocephalic’’ are abstractions of the observer. In this nominalist conception of type, individuals (in this case, physical anthropological individual phenomena) hold primacy over universals.

On other occasions, as we saw, Boas was implying that types in themselves are not mere abstractions. Independently of the New Synthesis which was developed somewhat later in biology, Boas was moving towards but never arrived at explicit formulas of distribution of traits in populations rather than racial types.43

The measured racial traits are conceived in realist terms, that is, races are conceived as manifested in racial traits, they occur in individuals (individuals here being racial traits featured by individual human beings). Here primacy is accorded to universals over individuals.

Boas’ ‘‘type’’ is epistemologically ambiguous as it is never entirely clear whether it is an analytical concept of the observer or whether it exists in reality as such. Günther’s method, as we will see, does not suffer from this tension because it is based entirely on the realist view.

Boas does not discuss the epistemological status of statistics in his work on race. Nonetheless, I believe some of the epistemological ambiguities pointed to above can be traced to the very status of statistics of race in anthropology. Historians of science have pointed to the fact that by the end of the 19th century, statistics became an autonomous method of explanation.45

In other words, one did not transform statistical data on race to an underlying, different explanatory system: Statistics was the explanation itself. Not unlike the case with photography, which will be discussed below, Boas was therefore engaged in a courageous but epistemologically ‘‘impossible’’ endeavor, namely, he was trying to undermine certain conceptions of race in their very own medium.

40Franz Boas. Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants. Senate Document 208, 61st Congress, 2d Session, Washington, 1911, 1–7.
41Stocking. Race, Culture, and Evolution. 183.
42Quoted in Stocking. Race, Culture, and Evolution. 183.
43See Stocking. Race, Culture, and Evolution. 189. See also Herbert Lewis. ‘‘Boas, Darwin, Science, and Anthropology.’’ Current Anthropology 42:3 (2003) 382.
44See Boas. ‘‘Changes in Bodily Form.’’ 60, 63; The Mind of Primitive Man. 55; Franz Boas et al. General Anthropology. (New York: Heath, 1938) 99.
45Ian Hacking. The Taming of Chance. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990) 180–188; Theodore M. Porter. The Rise of Statistical Thinking 1820– 1920. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986) 110–150.



Social analyses of racial intermixture in Boas’ later work

One can discern a change in Boas’ analyses in the studies carried out after Mendel’s laws were established as the basis of modern genetics. Boas now increasingly bases his physicalanthropological analyses on Mendelian principles. However, he embeds these analyses in the particularities of specific social situations and shifts his attention from ‘‘race’’ to ‘‘racism.’’

In his 1917 ‘‘Modern Populations of America,’’ he states that biologically, in the case ofracial intermixture, ‘‘no permanent new type develops, but that the so-called ‘unit’ characters of the parents will be segregated in the mixed population.’’46

Boas believes that much remains to be learned about inheritance before making definitive arguments. Sufficient evidence may be available for a number of traits, but it is likely that there are different kinds of alternating types rather than true Mendelian forms.47

Mendelian terms are not always applicable.48 Nonetheless, if the tendency to alternating inheritance was found in mixed types, ‘‘it would follow that in a mixed type we may expect the occurrence of a great variety of combinations of parental types.’’49

To analyze traits that set off one large group from another, Boas develops his concept of ‘‘family lines.’’ A race ‘‘must be conceived as a biological unit, as a population derived from a common ancestry and by virtue of its descent endowed with definite biological characteristics.’’50

Racial traits that occur in a given group are explained in terms of the population’s family lines. Boas represents the population’s variability by the use of two terms; one refers to the differences between families (‘‘family variation’’), the other to the differences within families (‘‘fraternal variation’’).

The bodily form of each individual depends more on the characteristics of the family (genotype) than on those of the population as a whole.51 The variability of a population in a given trait is composed of the family variability, plus the fraternal variation. A race is thus a series of family lines.52

These family lines produce offspring who resemble each other because they are the product of similar genetic strains. Boas’ analyses of racial intermixture are subordinated to the appreciation of social realities. In Boas’ time, black–white marriage was legally banned in many states and black–white relationships were socially severely treated.

Boas discusses the fate of the mulatto population. His discussion is consequently of the physical-racial and social fate of the descendents of interracial relationships. As he states in ‘‘Race and Progress,’’ published in 1931, his analysis aims at the descendents of sexually exploited black women.53

46Boas. ‘‘Modern Populations of America.’’ Race, Language and Culture. (1915) 22.
47Boas. ‘‘Modern Populations of America.’’ 23.
48Boas.‘‘Report on an Anthropometric Investigation of the Population of the United States.’’ Race, Language and Culture. (1922) 34.
49Boas. ‘‘Modern Populations of America.’’ 23.
50Boas. The Mind of Primitive Man. 47.
51Boas. The Mind of Primitive Man. 100.
52Wittgenstein’s conception of ‘‘family resemblances’’ echoes Boas’ ‘‘family lines.’’ It is difficult to ascertain whether Wittgenstein, who developed this concept in the 1930s, knew Boas’ work. However, their subtexts were certainly close: refuting conceptions of racial types. See Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophische Untersuchungen– - Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G.E.M Anscombe. 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998 [1958]) 32. Carlo Ginzburg. ‘‘Family resemblances and family trees.’’ Critical Inquiry 30:3 (2004) 539 and 548–549.
53Boas. ‘‘Race and Progress.’’ 3.



Boas’ analysis of black–white intermixture in the United States relies on certain socially given gender constraints, attached to biological presuppositions. Boas maintains that what happens is, in fact, ‘‘one-sided race mixture.’’ The mulattoes are almost exclusively descended from white fathers and Negro mothers. Most quadroons are descended from white fathers and mulatto mothers.54 Boas highlights the fact that this tendency decreases the number of full-blood blacks, while there is no decrease in the number of white children born.55

This process, if it continues over a long period of time, will lead to the emergence of a new ‘‘fraternal variability.’’ Note that Boas’ analysis is concerned entirely with the phenotypical aspects of this process. His biological principle serves as a basis for a socialscientific analysis. Boas’ understanding of the social outcome of the process of intermixture is interlaced with the question of how far a new physical type emerges.56 Boas is careful not to claim that racial traits are ‘‘Mendelian units,’’ yet his basic direction of analysis is Mendelian.

Therefore, not entirely unlike Günther, Boas believes intermixture leads towards ‘‘alternating traits,’’ rather than middle types. Nevertheless, in an ongoing, one-sided process of intermixture, phenotypical characteristics diminish demographically speaking.Given the white population majority in the United States and the one-sided nature of the process, black (or other) minority-characteristics will diminish increasingly. One-sided intermixture is not the only possible pattern for racial intermixture.

In South America, for example, Boas says that the racial intermixture process is reciprocal.57 In both cases, a new, third, population (rather than type) will evolve. However, in the case of North America, this population will be associated with the black population, whereas in the case of South America, the new population will gradually take over the two original types.

During the 1920s, after considering his student Melville Herskovits’ work on the subject, Boas was forced to change his assessment concerning the success prospects of interracial assimilation in America.58 As a result of the abolition of slavery—a terrible irony for Boas—the one sided interracial assimilation, i.e., the whitening of the black population, had sharply decreased. Boas thus realizes that ‘‘there will come to be an increasing intensity of Negro characteristics and a sharper contrast between the two principal races of the country.’’59

I have focused on Boas’ positive model. However, Boas was famous for his negative argumentation, and I wish to end by showing that his formulations were aimed at undermining Günther’s definitions. He places Günther in a group of writers and then focuses his criticism on methodological shortcomings.60 Boas defines racial markers in a way that rules out virtually all of the traits Günther considers as racial.

54Boas. Race and Democratic Society. 77; Anthropology and Modern Life. 72.
55Boas. Race and Democratic Society. 77; on Mesitzo women, see Anthropology and Modern Life. 71.
56Boas. ‘‘Modern Populations of America.’’ 22.
57Boas. Race and Democratic Society. 77.
58See Melville J. Herskovits. The American Negro: A Study in Racial Crossing. (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1928) 65–66; The Anthropometry of the American Negro. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1930); Acculturation: The Study of Culture Contact. (New York: J. J. Augustin, 1938) 1–10; The Myth of the Negro Past. (New York: Harpers and Brothers, 1941).
59Boas. Anthropology and Modern Life. 73.
60He is careful to separate the writers from national traditions. Boas. Anthropology and Modern Life. 19–20.



Boas then targets Günther’s inductive procedure.61 While closer to a nominalist conception of type, as we saw, Boas employs radical realism to disqualify Günther’s realism. He concludes with direct criticism of the Nordic Idea. Günther on race, racial traits, and racial intermixture Günther starts from several pluralist differentiations fundamental to Boas, but he applies them to reach opposite conclusions. Like Boas, he states that there is no correlation between linguistic groups and races.63 He recognizes that contemporary peoples are racially heterogeneous. This leads him to claim that peoples are heterogeneous while races are in themselves homogeneous.64

Boas writes that ‘‘Aryan’’ pertains to languages: ‘‘an Aryan is anyone who speaks an Aryan language, Swede as well as American Negro or Hindu.’ ’s understanding is in direct opposition: an African-American can speak an ‘‘Aryan’’ language, but this has no relevance concerning his race. ‘‘Race’’ belongs to the comparative study of man (Anthropology), which in the first place inquires into the measurable and calculable details of the bodily structure.

Günther then proceeds to a definition of ‘‘race’’ which underlies much of his work: A race shows itself in a human group which is marked off from every other human group through its own proper combination of bodily and mental characteristics, and in turn produces only its like. These premises lead Günther to extract the pure race from mixed peoples.67 The Nordic Movement which Günther propagates sees ‘‘human beings not so much as individuals but as carriers of heredity.’’68 The belief that race formation was a process that had been completed in the distant past, only obscured by all racial intermixture that had occurred since, as well as the attempt to reduce the variety of contemporary populations to the smallest number of primordial types, Günther probably adopted from William Ripley.

It is also possible that Günther’s conception of race, or at least essential parts of it, was a simplified version of that developed by Harvard Professor of physical anthropology Earnest Hooton. Hooton thought that the complexity of human variation could be accounted for through interbreeding between once pure primary racial groups that relatively recently underwent a secondary race formation and then a tertiary one.69 In this

61Boas. Race and Democratic Society. 29, 44.
62Boas., Anthropology and Modern Life. 80.
63Hans F.K. Günther, The Racial Elements of European History. Trans. G.C. Wheeler. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1927) 1; Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. 6.
64Günther, The Racial Elements. 1; Hans F.K. Günther, Rassenkunde des ju¨dischen Volkes. (Mu¨ nchen: Lehmann, 1930) 11.
65Boas. Race and Democratic Society. 44.
66Günther. The Racial Elements. 3; Rassenkunde des ju¨ dischen Volkes. 12; Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. 6, 8, 14.
67As his formal education was in philology, it seems likely that Günther transferred 19th century linguistic theories of a primordial now lost Ursprache to the sphere of race.
68Hans F.K. Gu¨ nther. Kleine Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. (Mu¨ nchen: Lehmann, 1929) 146.
69See Caspari. ‘‘From Types to Populations.’’ 70.



way, as Günther believed as well, pure races persisted into the present. Many of the these assumptions could also be found in contemporary American anthropology. Günther presupposes an identity between racial markers and heredity units (‘‘genes’’). Such traits he analyzed in terms of Mendel’s alternating principle. The European peoples are composed from five different races, which are intermingled in different combinations and to different degrees. If racial markers only alternate, the five different races will be with us forever, no matter what degree of intermixture the different peoples undergo. Günther differentiates between physical traits and mental ones, which are no less racial. In certain situations, according to Gu¨ nther, the physical traits of one race are accompanied in the same individual with mental traits of another race.

I extricated Günther’s definitions of object from his lengthy ‘‘empirical’’ discussions. In so doing, I disregarded his aesthetic conception of race-questions: the ugliness of the Mischlinge and their being morally bad; the view that criminals feature characteristics of old, primitive races. In the concluding section of this article, I return to some of these issues and analyze Boas’ and Gu¨ nther’s respective pluralistic and relativistic views.


The concept of ‘‘racial layers’’ (Schichtung)

Gu¨ nther maintains that only the Nordic race is the purveyor of civilization. His solution to the production of high civilization in very different geographical areas is the concept of ‘‘racial layers.’’72 Peoples are layered hierarchically. The decline of a civilization is identical with the drying out of its Nordic element. Mixture brings about ‘‘degeneration’’—‘‘a heavy increase in inferior hereditary tendencies’’—and ‘‘denordization’’—‘‘disappearance of the Nordic blood’’73—thus ‘‘preparing the way for the fall.’’74 The Nordic racial element is inherently aristocratic75 and aristocracy is inherently Nordic. The Schichtung principle allows him to claim that the creating force of these peoples was Nordic without having to claim that those peoples were Nordic. Gu¨ nther applies this principle to ancient Greece,76 Rome,77 the ancient Middle East78 and Asia,79 to Indo-European religiosity,80 and to the contemporary world.

70See George W. Stocking, Jr. ‘‘The Turn-of-the-Century concept of race.’’ Modernism/Modernity 1:1 (1994) 4–16.
71Gu¨ nther. The Racial Elements. 83.
72Gu¨ nther follows Gobineau’s The Inequality of Human Races. Trans. A. Collins. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915 [1853–1855]). For analysis, see Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State. (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1955 [1946]) 284–286.
73Gu¨ nther. The Racial Elements. 191, 254.
74Gu¨ nther. The Racial Elements. 166.
75See particularly Gu¨ nther. Adel und Rasse. (Mu¨ nchen: Lehmann, 1926); and Gu¨ nther. Rasse und Stil. (Mu¨ nchen: Lehmann, 1927).
76Gu¨ nther. Rassengeschichte des hellenischen und des ro¨mischen Volkes. (Mu¨ nchen: Lehmann, 1927) 9–15.
77Gu¨ nther. Rassengeschichte des hellenischen. 69–79.
78Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des Ju¨ dischen Volkes. 46–47.
79Hans F.K. Gu¨ nther. Die nordische Rasse bei den Indogermanen Asiens zugleich ein Beitrag zur Frage der Urheimat und Rassenherkunft der Indogermanen. (Mu¨ nchen: Lehmann, 1934).
80Hans F.K. Gu¨ nther. The Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans. (Uckfield: Historical Review Press, 2001) 10, 15, 16, 45, 60.



Gu¨nther’s inductive and deductive method

Gu¨ nther employs deductive as well as inductive means to identify races.81 His overall theory, however, in formal logical terms is deductive—from typological definitions to specific examples. Gu¨ nther infers the presence of a race in a people from the existence of its traits.82 He spends a great amount of energy in retrieving Nordic racial markers in ancient Greece or Rome from sculptures, pottery, philosophy, myths, or any other cultural or archeological artifact, as he believes that this way he proved the existence of the Nordic race there. The existence of certain cultural customs, such as the burning of the dead rather than their burial, or particular mental characteristics testifies to the existence of the Nordic race as well.83

Note that in his works on ancient Greece and Rome, he retrieves the existence of types. However, as he believes that contemporary peoples are overwhelmingly mixed, here he identifies traits. He develops a method to see races in and through individuals.84 His use of images is particularly interesting in this context.85 Gu¨ nther uses extensively and systematically images in general and photographs in particular to support his arguments. He chooses the photographs very carefully with the purpose of amplifying a direct, unmediated, and intuitive impression. His aim is not only to exemplify or demonstrate textually the racial traits but to force the reader to experience racial differences.

His use varies from one single photograph to dozens covering several pages at a time. The photographs are normally black and white and of identical size. They are laid out in a row next to each other. Usually, each passport size photograph depicts the head and face of one individual. Such series can extend to several pages at a time. Under the photographs, there are identifications of the individuals according to the racial markers they feature, e.g.: ‘‘H, dark blonde; E, grey’’86 or ‘‘H. dark brown, E., brown. Dinaric’’87 (Figs. 1 and 2).

The arrangement of the photographs carefully creates interconnections between them, placing opposite to each other two individuals who share an additional aspect besides the captured marker, such as the shape of head, the kind of gaze or look towards the camera, the facial expression, the hairdo, etc. Thus, the organizing principle is not based on the individuals depicted by the photographs as whole persons, but on the racial markers exhibited by them; usually, one specific characteristic shared by different individuals serves as the coordinator.

81See Weingart, Kroll and Bayertz. Rasse, Blut und Gene. 363.
82Cf. Gu¨ nther. Rassengeschichte des hellenischen. 23–24.
83See Rassengeschichte des hellenischen. 20–24. While the photographs of individual humans are analyzed by Gu¨ nther according to the traits they manifest, the sculptures are presented as types. Gu¨ nther. Rassengeschichte des hellenischen. 76 (on the word ‘‘Iris’’ as an indicator of Nordic presence, 18 on ‘‘blue blood’’, see Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. 56).
84In the informal exam that Gu¨ nther’s publisher gave him before he invited him to write his first racial study of Germany, Gustav Lehmann was particularly impressed by Gu¨ nther’s ability to discern racial differences; see Lutzho¨ ft. Der nordische Gedanke. 30. For a superb analysis of Gu¨ nther in the context of physiognomic thought, see Richard T. Gray. About Face: German Physiognomic Thought From Lavater to Auschwitz. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004) 219–271.
85The most comprehensive study of photography and race is Elisabeth Edwards (Ed.). Anthropology and Photography, 1860– 1920. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). See also her Raw Histories: Photographs, Anthropology and Museums. (Oxford: Berg, 2001); Allan Sekula. ‘‘The Body and the Archive.’’ The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography. Ed. Richard Bolton. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989) 343–389. Zimmerman. Anthropology and Antihumanism. 94–107.
86Gu¨ nther. The Racial Elements. 47.
87On some occasions, Gu¨ nther places famous individuals (such as Stalin, Einstein, and Disraeli) in a series of anonymous examples manifesting the same racial trait. Cf. Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des ju¨ dischen Volkes. 109.



The combined effect of the photographs is to force the reader to turn into a viewer, to see and sharpen the vision, first towards sets of racial markers manifested in individuals, then to experience racial difference as absolute. Gu¨ nther enhances this effect by de-contextualizing the photographs. Most of the photographed persons remain anonymous. Gu¨ nther never states where, when, by whom, in what context, and for what purpose the photographs were taken. Racial markers are presented as constant. As such they transcend time, place, and environment.

Boas employs photography throughout his career. In early works, he also makes ‘‘racial type’’ photographs.88 Nonetheless, he increasingly moves towards using photographs for different aims and in a different way. Whereas Gu¨ nther’s conception of photography is entirely realistic, Boas’ use of photography in his later work is, in a way, antirealistic. For instance, in a famous photograph, he is seen impersonating a North American cultural trait. Contrary to his early use of photography, Boas, in contradistinction to Gu¨ nther, now refuses to reduce individuals to racial types; photographs represent cultural rather than racial traits. His use of photography, however, not entirely unlike that of statistics, as we saw, is caught in an epistemological paradox.

Boas nowhere discusses the epistemological status of photography. He is attempting to use a medium which is conceived as realistic in order to undermine the reality of representations of racial difference. While this is a heroic attempt, it is by definition caught in internal tension. Gu¨ nther avoids this tension by adopting a uniform realist interpretation. I return to the status of perception and racial difference from a different perspective in the concluding section of this article.

88See Ira Jenkins’ comprehensive, ‘‘Franz Boas and Photography.’’ Studies in Visual Communications 10:1 (1984) 2–60.


Gu¨ nther’s visualization of racial difference, however, is part of a more comprehensive attempt to (re) create a new, distinctly Nordic way of seeing racial difference. Gu¨ nther contrasts the destructive gaze of mathematical modern natural science with unmediated intuition, the creative force of the trained and experienced eye to see and to represent the smallest physical details of a face.89 Gu¨ nther considers peculiarly Nordic the ability to see in this particular non-modern scientific way;90 while dark eyes watch (beobachten), the light Nordic eyes observe, see (betrachten, schauen). The series of photographs educate the (Nordic) readers to perceive by way of vision and intuition the racial markers in, through, and beyond individuals.

89Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. 1–2.
90Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. 76.



Hence, practical and theoretical aspects of his project are tightly interlinked. This ‘‘practical’’ aim is connected to another fundamental aspect of race, according to Gu¨ nther: ‘‘racial consciousness.’’ While the racial character is genetically determined, racial consciousness can be cultivated. For Gu¨ nther, an individual’s or a group’s approach to race is itself an essential indication of its racial nature.91 Consequently, performance based on racial consciousness becomes itself a criterion of race. Following criticism, Gu¨ nther attempted to strengthen the scientificity of his publications. However, it is clear that the intuitive aspect, tied to a call for action, is quintessential to his method and his project as a whole.92


Gu¨nther on racial intermixture

Gu¨ nther agrees with Boas that existing peoples are racially mixed.93 Gu¨ nther applies his theory of selection and intermixture in a positive and negative way concerning the German people and the Jewish one, respectively. In 1937 (!), he states that most Germans are Mischlinge, racial bastards.94 Gu¨ nther’s depiction of peoples, the German in particular, as mixed is probably best understood in relation to two different contexts. Until the outbreak of WWI, German citizens identified themselves as Prussians, Bavarians, etc. This is reflected in Gu¨ nther’s representation of Germany as composed of various groups (Sta¨mme).95 Even more importantly, in our context, however, Germans only partially match the Nordic type. Gu¨ nther is compelled to differentiate between the two to defend the presupposition of race as pure.

Gu¨nther rejects the assumption that out of the intermixture of two races, a third ‘‘mixedrace’’ (‘‘Mischrasse’’) emerges.96 The square quotation marks denote the absurdity suggested in the very term. From the mixture emerge only new combinations.97 Gu¨ nther takes his authority from Mendel’s laws of inheritance and their application by Eugen Fischer’s influential study of racial bastards in south-west Africa. The variation indexes of specific markers, according to Gu¨ nther, remain those of the original races. Hence, individuals can never leave their race and the offspring of interracial relationship are truly and eternally hybrids. A ‘‘mixed-race’’ can only appear after eons and then only under very specific circumstances.

His analysis of the Jewish case is different. Due to long selective inbreeding processes, based on the Jews’ consciousness of blood, the Jews turned from a people to a ‘‘race of second order.’’ Analogously to the Nordic (positive) principle, the Jews underwent a negative selection process. Living parasitically as a guest-people (Gastvolk) among other peoples, the ‘‘Jewish’’ elements were preferred over the ‘‘non-Jewish’’ ones.98

91Lutzho¨ ft. Der nordische Gedanke. 82.
92Weingart, Kroll and Bayert. Rasse, Blut und Gene. 453.
93Gu¨ nther. Der nordische Gedanke unter den Deutschen. 2nd ed. (Mu¨ nchen: Lehmann, 1927) 38; Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. 3, 14.
94Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. 255; Der nordische Gedanke. 41. In terms of the debate in racial anthropology Gu¨ nther’s position is extreme: on the other extreme is Melville Herskovits, who believed mixture tends to improve the population in which it occurs. Boas, Herskovits, mentor, and Fischer, Gu¨ nther’s mentor, hold intermediate positions. See Hutton. Race and The Third Reich. 76.
95Cf. Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes; Der nordische Gedanke. 42.
96Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des ju¨ dischen Volkes. 198.
97Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des ju¨ dischen Volkes. 198–199.
98Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des ju¨ dischen Volkes. 202.



In a process of antiselection (Gegenauslese), the parasitical elements were selected, leading to an ‘‘antirace’’ (‘‘Gegenrasse’’).99 This is an important moment as here Gu¨ nther moves from a form of racialist antisemitism that characterizes his project as a whole to a form of antisemitic race theory of an altogether different kind. The first racial theory asserts that certain varieties (races) are inferior to other varieties (races). The second kind denies that all humans belong to the same species. The first is concerned with the superiority and inferiority of the different races. The second excludes the Jews from the human race and views them as the paradigmatic example of counter-evolution, which will lead eventually to the extinction of the Nordic race.100 I would like to note, however, that notions of negative selection and antiselection were not Nazi antisemitic inventions but existed already in turn of the 20th century biology.101

Gu¨ nther wishes to redirect human procreation towards racial purity. In a complex maneuver, which starts from ‘‘average’’ moves to ‘‘normal’’ then to ‘‘healthy’’ and then to ‘‘hero’’ (as ideal), Gu¨ nther tries to convince the (German) reader why only the Nordic race can serve as the ideal towards which Germany as a whole should strive.102 This maneuver is clumsy but crucial for his project as a whole. While analytically the national is subordinated to the racial, Gu¨ nther stresses that the Nordic Ideal can only be cultivated in a people.

With the exception of a short comment, Gu¨ nther avoids direct conversation with Boas. He reduces his theory to environmentalism and Lamarckism and says that if Boas were right, one would see in Europe a homogenous population.103


Concluding remarks

In my concluding remarks, I will, first, compare the status of racial difference in their paradigms. Second, I will compare their respective relationships between pluralism and relativism. I will end with an analysis of the relationship between their respective ideas and ideals. The comparison of the status of racial difference and the perception of racial difference, of the kind represented in photographs as discussed above, is in fact quite complex and multilayered. On the one hand, both Boas and Gu¨ nther agree that racial differences relate to perception.104 Perception pertains to humans as subjects and as objects. Both also locate such differences at the level of ‘‘specific difference,’’ that is, a collective level which is neither individual nor universal.

99Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des ju¨dischen Volkes. 206.
100See Avishai Margalit and Gabriel Motzkin. ‘‘The uniqueness of the holocaust.’’ Philosophy & Public Affairs 25:1 (1996) 70–71.
101On the notion of Kontraselektion (‘‘counter-selection’’), see Bernhard Kleeberg, Theophysis: Ernst Haeckels Philosophie des Naturganzen. (Ko¨ ln: Bo¨ hlau, 2005) 199–200. On Gegenauslese (‘‘anti-selection’’) and ru¨ ckschrtittliche Auslese (‘‘reverse selection’’), see also Hutton. Race and The Third Reich. 9.
102Gu¨ nther. Der nordische Gedanke. 49–55.
103Cf. Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes. 250, 246.
104Boas and Gu¨ nther should be viewed as part of a larger debate on perception in the social sciences. For a central and provocative account of perception, see Jonathan Crary. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001).



However, not unlike Helmholz and Peirce, from his earliest work on perception of the color of water, as a physicist, Boas conceives differences in perception to be culturally determined whereas Gu¨ nther conceives them to be racially determined. It is important in our context that both are embedded in a pluralist rather than evolutionist-universal perspective. Both imply, therefore, that humans do not really share one common perceptual world. However, here, we see the difference between them: as a Neo-Kantian Boas believes that the a priori faculties of perception are universal and identical. The differences are not inherent but culturally patterned and in this sense secondary. Gu¨ nther, on the other hand, views the faculties of perception themselves as racially determined. That is, not only perception is racially determined but so are the faculties of perception themselves.

Differences, however, are not only a matter of the perceiving subject. Following a nominalist interpretation, Boas subordinates racial difference to perception. That is, he concludes that the source of difference is epistemological rather than ontological; racial difference, consequently, is not real and if it is real it is insignificant. Gu¨ nther, on the other hand, believes that racial differences are real and important. However, what is more important is that his theory attempts to create a new ‘‘integrated (Nordic) subject.’’ In contradistinction to Boas, his theory attempts to transcend the very divide between perceiving subject and perceived object in one unified (Nordic) person. For this Nordic person, racial difference is intuitive and immediate. In the end, Boas and Gu¨ nther are diametrically opposed. However, en route several distinct epistemological and ontologicalconsiderations intersect in varied and complex ways.

Let me now turn to their respective relationships to pluralism and relativism. Here too the situation is complex: Boas’ work is torn between support of intermixture in specific social situations (The USA, Germany) for specific populations (African-Americans, Jews) and support of pluralism and survival of cultural forms in other situations (Native Americans). As he increasingly shifts towards according primacy to culture, the second tendency gains increasing importance. This also leads him towards cultural relativism, that is, to viewing cultures analytically as ‘‘wholes.’’ Gu¨ nther is a supporter of Nordic superiority.

However, he recognizes that if one regards races as radically different forms, one admits that there is no meta-racial vantage point, values and ideals of one race are regarded as superior by its own value scale alone.105 From the perspective of another race, the Nordics as well are viewed as inferior.106 Each member of a race can pass judgment from his position within a specific race. Consequently, the Nordic race’s ideals of beauty— slimness, height, light-skin, health, purity, and heroism—are only superior according to a particular value-system.107 On some occasions, however, he admits a meta-racial perspective.108

Both Gu¨ nther and Boas differentiate between science and values. Both state that the natural sciences recognize no values and are not motivated by values,109 though they agree that one cannot exclude values from human life. However, the difference between Boas and Gu¨ nther touches on the cornerstones of their versions of science. Boas concedes to cultural relativism, but this relativism does not include science, which remains for him universally valid. Thus, he would absolutely reject Gu¨ nther’s idea of a specific Nordic rationalism.

105Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des ju¨ dischen Volkes. 315.
106Gu¨ nther. Der nordische Gedanke. 77.
107Gu¨ nther. Herkunft und Rassengeschichte. 144, 146–151, 141, 142, 44.
108Gu¨ nther. Herkunft und Rassengeschichte. 139.
109Gu¨ nther. Der nordische Gedanke. 75.



In this sense, Gu¨ nther’s relativism is more radical than Boas’ as it includes science as well. As one cannot transcend or escape the (racial) perspective from which one views the world, Gu¨ nther makes use of it. In logical terms, Gu¨ nther is consistent in his deductive method. Boas’ version of science is on the whole inductive. However, there is a clash between his humanistic ideals and some of the findings reached by his studies. Boas’ relativism is caught in a paradox: the science that argues for cultural relativism claims to be universally valid, Gu¨ nther avoids this paradox. Because his method is entirely deductive, Gu¨ nther is logically more consistent than Boas.

One aspect of the pluralistic views of Boas and Gu¨ nther relates to the possible conflict between cultures (Boas) or races (Gu¨ nther). Boas establishes different cultures as distinct value-systems but does not view conflicts between them as necessary. Gu¨ nther does not develop the necessity of the conflict of races as value-systems in theoretical or formal terms. However, he opposes the value-systems of different races.110 He states that the two races which strive to dominate the world are the Jewish and the Nordic.111 Because of their competing forms, they are inevitably in conflict and only one will prevail.112

Boas’ and Gu¨nther’s projects are guided by different primacies between ideas and ideals. Boas believed strongly in certain liberal and humanistic ideals. However, as a scientist, he viewed himself as belonging to a tradition that strictly separated science from values. This does not mean that it is not possible to identify motivations in, behind, or under his arguments, but that he saw the differentiation between scientific ideals and values as necessary. His uses of science are checked by his version of science.

Gu¨ nther believed that science and Weltanschauung should be integrated in the particular form of Nordic rationalism.113 Thus, for example, the latter part of Gu¨ nther’s book on the Jews moves from a racialist analysis to a gross antisemitic assault. This assault does not flow automatically from the categories he was employing up to that point or in other books. This could have been experienced as a breach of his postulates. However, it is not. His use of science transcends his version of science.

In this context, Gu¨ nther’s differentiation between a people (‘‘racial mixture’’) and a (pure) race is of particular interest. ‘‘Racial mixture’’ conveys the essential attribute of race, which is a fundamental and unbridgeable difference. In this sense, ‘‘racial mixture’’ is a different name for ‘‘race.’’ However, Gu¨ nther concedes that the principle of analysis is ‘‘race’’ but the object of focus, the ‘‘thing’’ in reality, is always ‘‘peoples.’’ The object coincides with ‘‘racial mixture,’’ the principle coincides with ‘‘race.’’ Gu¨nther admits that the object and the principle do not, and will never coincide. ‘‘Race’’ is a regulative principle.

Boas and Gu¨ nther started from a similar conceptual matrix and shared several ideas that originate in the rich and diverse German anthropological tradition. However, they developed them into antithetical conceptions of race. These conceptions were now based on different configurations between their respective postulates and social and political views. In fundamental retrospect, could their paradigms be interpreted as different conceptual schemes? To reply to this question, one needs to differentiate between the technical terms they used and the grounds of their conceptions. To a great extent, both anchor their analyses of racial intermixtures on a pluralistic perspective and Mendelian principles.

110Gu¨ nther. Herkunft und Rassengeschichte. 151, 158–160.
111Gu¨ nther. Rassenkunde des ju¨ dischen Volkes. 134.
112Gu¨ nther. Der nordische Gedanke. 131.
113Gu¨ nther. The Religious Attitudes. 25.



However, they do this in opposite ways: Boas subordinates it to social categories of analysis. Gu¨ nther, in the opposite direction, subordinates social phenomena to biological ones, which he interprets in Mendelian terms. (Other branches in National Socialist Germany integrated Mendelian and Darwinist principles towards biological analyses of populations.) However, some interpretations could be shown to be false at the time.114 It was only later discovered that phenotype and genotype were not mutually exclusive—an assumption shared by Boas and Gu¨ nther—but hierarchically organized.

But in the 1930s, there was increased evidence that single traits could be coded for by more than one gene (polygenism) and that single genes could shape more than one trait (pleiotropy). We encounter applications and misapplications of one and the same principle. Boas recognized that racial markers and genes were connected but not identical. Consequently, the identity that Gu¨ nther posits between racial markers and genes is wrong. It is difficult to ascertain if Gu¨ nther’s misapplication was deliberate, and Gu¨ nther was merely aiming at utilizing the authority of modern biology or the result of conceptual weakness.

A similar matrix of ideas underlay the work of Boas and Gu¨ nther on ‘‘race.’’ Both operated in anthropological paradigms that were possessed by ‘‘race’’ and that integrated a pluralistic rather than evolutionary anthropological framework with Mendelian principles of analysis. The ethical and theoretical abyss that separates their interpretations of race is also the one that connects them, making them much more intimate and inseparable than our later perspective concedes. The difference between them is found in their respective ideals, the principles guiding their science. These were not superimposed or presupposed but developed in the course of their respective studies. Gradually, these ideals transformed the character and the significance of their respective ideas. In the end, their respective ideals seeped into Gu¨ nther’s and Boas’ very versions of science. If there is one aspect which could be viewed in fundamental retrospect as embedding their paradigms in different conceptual schemes, this is it.