Finns in the shadow of the Aryans

Stéphane Thibault >_

It was widely known or supposed in the 19th century that Finno-Ugrians were Mongolians. Christoph Meiners (1747-1810) had classified humanity as beautiful or ugly peoples (“ schöne ”, “ hässliche ”). White people were beautiful, dark people were ugly. Of old, non-Europeans had been regarded as unattractive. Their character had also been considered with the ugliness of the body. According to Meiners they — the Mongol race for instance — were greedy, shameless, irritable and suffering from lack of compassion, while Caucasians were courageous and moderate. Both Blumenbach and Meiners thought that the climate had determined the quality of body and character but the ideal racial types of their age were in any case ready formulated. Mongols were in general considered in the first place as practical and less adapted for intellectual activities.

In the middle of the 19th century some men of letters and many anthropologists began to represent the viewpoint that the so-called Aryan race was the most highly advanced race of mankind. This race was thought to include the Caucasian race, or most Europeans. The concept of Aryan expanded when the criterion became the Indo-European linguistic family, which began to be called “ Aryan ” in memory of the tribes who about 4000 years ago conquered the northern part of present-day India. In this classification the position of Semites was obscure. Sometimes they were counted among Caucasians and could be regarded as Aryans.

In some early groupings of mankind Finns had been of Caucasian origin, but in general Indo-Europeans and Finno-Ugrians were divided in different racial classes. They belonged to different language families, and Finno-Ugrian languages were still more often associated with Turkish and Mongolian or with the assumed Ural-Altaic language family.

The concept of Aryan included both a language group and a race. Speakers of Aryan (Indo-European) languages were considered to form a race. Before long the Aryan theory came to mean race discrimination. […]

Kemiläinen, Aira (1998). Finns in the Shadow of the “ Aryans ”. Race Theories and Racism, Helsinki, Suomen Historiallinen Seura (SHS), coll. « Studia Historica », n° 59, p. 82-83.