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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Even then, some countries were sending their worst; others were existential threats.

A Guardian review of the legendary 11th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica suggests part of its charm- it's the only reference set collectors will buy- is its confident assertion of a single worldview, good and bad:
Unabashed optimism – and unabashed racism – pervades many entries in the 11th, and provide its defining characteristics. The Edwardian world was finely ordered in the way an encyclopedia needs the world to be finely ordered: everything, and everyone, in their place. Interpreted for you by the rich, the white, and the expensively educated. 
The entry on antisemitism states that it is "a passing phase in the history of culture". This was written 30 years before the horrors of Nazi Germany. The Vietnamese are the "worst-built and ugliest of all the Indo-Chinese," while the Chinese are "inferior in character" to Europeans. Arabs are noted for a propensity to be "cruel" and "crafty," and Africans "appear to stand on a lower evolutionary plane than the white man".
What's remarkable, reading these excerpts a hundred years on, is how many are articles of faith among American conservatives.

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