Inspired both by debates about the origins of the modern ideology of race and also by controversy over the place of Ireland and the Irish in theories of empire in the early modern Atlantic world, Renaissance Humanism and Ethnicity before Race argues that ethnic discourse among the elite in early modern Ireland was grounded firmly in the Renaissance Humanism and Aristotelianism which dominated all the European universities before the Enlightenment. Irish and English, Catholic and Protestant, all employed theories of human society based on Aristotle’s Politics and the natural law of the medieval universities to construct or dismantle the categories of civility and barbarism. The elites operating in Ireland also shared common resources, taught in the universities, for arguing about the human body and its ability to transmit hereditary characteristics. Both in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, these theories of human society and the human body underwent violent changes in the late seventeenth century under the impact of the early Enlightenment. These changes were vital to the development of race as we know it.
This chapter explains how Ireland’s inhabitants encountered humanist theories about human society in their universities, focusing especially on those concepts which made up the theory of civility and barbarism This chapter also addresses the problem of how many peoples there were in seventeenth-century Ireland, arguing that there remained a meaningful distinction between Gaelic Irish and English Irish in the seventeenth century.
This chapter analyses the Christian humanist critique of Gaelic Ireland, and especially the particularly learned version of that critique advanced by Richard Stanihurst in the late 1570s and early 1580s. The arguments of Stanihurt’s English and Latin histories of Ireland matter because they demonstrate how an expertly educated humanist understood the workings of human societies. This chapter contrasts this Christian humanist mainstream with the Machiavellian arguments made by a small number of colonists, including Edmund Spenser, during the 1590s. Those colonists rejected those conventional arguments on virtue and law, and advanced quite a different theory of human societies.
Chapter three outlines a series of anti-English arguments made by a series of well-educated Gaelic Irish ideologues and politicians between the 1610s and 1660s. These Gaelic Irishmen not only argued that the Protestant Stuarts had lost the right to rule the Irish kingdom, and that only heretics could be truly barbarous. They also argued that the English Irish were so tainted by their Englishness that they would have to be excluded from the projected Catholic re-conquest of Ireland.
Chapter four begins the second part of the book, which asks how seventeenth century humanists understood the acquisition of those natural characteristics which marked both human societies and certain groups within those societies. It starts with a debate on the nature of true nobility. For Richard O’Ferrall, fine ancestry was the primary component of nobility (and Irishmen of English descent were incapable of it), whereas for John Lynch true nobility lay in virtue. In the course of this debate, O’Ferrall and Lynch also alluded to or avoided the problem of human heredity. The second part of this chapter explores the writings on nobility of a figure who, at first glance, proceeded from premises very different to those of his humanist contemporaries: the Gaelic Irish genealogist Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh. However, it seems that the genealogist shared a certain understanding of the relationship between the physical appearance of individuals and groups and their inherent moral qualities with the papal nuncio Gianbattista Rinuccini, a man who had received the most rigorous education in Aristotelian humanism.
Chapter five tackles the problem of the seventeenth century theory of heredity head on. The learned Irish physician Dermot O’Meara, who attended earls of Ormond and loudly proclaimed his adherence to the new chemical medicine of Paracelsus, nevertheless employed a fundamentally Aristotelian approach in his study of hereditary disease. O’Meara and his fellow physicians were in fact very cautious in their treatment of the problem of human heredity, and the reason for this was that it raised worrying questions about the origin and nature of the human soul. In fact, if the subject of heredity really belonged to any one early modern profession, it was to the divines. The human soul had to come from God, and it had to be immortal; but a strong theory of human heredity demanded that the soul, or parts of the soul, or subordinate souls, were inherited by the child from the parents, and that this soul be a material thing, and therefore probably mortal. Christian orthodoxy thus tended to block the development of a widely accepted theory of human heredity; and all this is as evident among Irish Thomist and Scotist theologians, as among their English Protestant counterparts.
Chapter six explains how orthodox and indeed actively conservative members of the Irish and English elites began to turn away from Aristotelianism in the later seventeenth century. In particular conservative Catholics like John Lynch and Protestants like William King were driven by circumstances to find systems of law which operated independently of God: the mark of the new Enlightened understanding of human societies. The Enlightenment saw the development of new ways of speaking not just about human societies, but also about human bodies. The victims of these ideological innovations in the Atlantic world were not primarily the Irish, but Africans. In contrast, the ideologies of domination which mattered in Ascendancy Ireland were not racist, but sectarian. Nevertheless, the papers of that determined anti-Aristotelian, Sir William Petty, do preserve a chain of thought he began before the Royal College of Physicians at Dublin in 1676, on the characteristics of the souls and bodies of Europeans and Africans.
Alexei Kuropatkin, the Central Asian Revolt, and the long shadow of
This chapter is based on a close study of the memoirs and diaries of Alexei
Nikolaevich Kuropatkin (1848–1925), appointed Governor-General of Turkestan
in August 1916 and tasked with suppressing the 1916 revolt. It shows that
Kuropatkin was heavily influenced by his memories of the Russian campaigns
of conquest in Central Asia, in which he had participated as a young man in
the 1860s–1880s, and by the imagined legacy of the first Turkestan
Governor-General, Konstantin Petrovich von Kaufman (1818–1882). This helps
to explain the disproportionate use of force and violence by Russian forces
in suppressing the revolt.