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Primer: Arthur de Gobineau and the Orient January 8, 2009

Posted by Christopher Donohue in EWP Primer, History of the Human Sciences.
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Arthur de Gobineau (July 14, 1816 — October 13, 1882) was born into a family of lesser nobility and forced to make his living in Paris at nineteen years of age.  In 1843, having some minor successes as a novelist and as a serial author, de Gobineau met Alexis de Tocqueville.  In 1849, when de Tocqueville was named Minister of Foreign Affairs, de Gobineau was introduced to a diplomatic circuit from which he never departed. De Gobineau was successively posted to Persia from 1855-1858 and 1861-1863, Brazil, and finally Stockholm, from 1872-1877.  De Gobineau was well known for his rightist politics and considered it a great irony that he had been born on Bastille Day.  He styled himself the sole remaining descendant of an ancient Norman family.

It was fortuitous that de Gobineau traveled to Paris in the 1840s. As Arthur Herman in his fine The Idea of Decline in Western History notes, “Ever since scholars had accompanied Napoleon on his conquest of Egypt in 1798 and the linguist Jean-Francois Champollion had deciphered the Rosetta stone in (more…)