Kuyper’s Racist Argument for the Superiority of Calvinist Society

Intellectual and scientific racism was at all-time highs around the progressive era (roughly, 1880s-1940s). As Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginningracism came more as an antecedent to economic profit/gain (i.e. capitalism from slave trade) than the other way around. Europeans generally didn’t say “oh hey, black folk are inferior in ways a, b, c…let’s go enslave them.” Rather, the economic profits presented themselves in the economic conditions of the time and place, and during and after this process of enslavement, racist ideas were created to justify the economic gain. (Theology itself, is often constructed after the fact in reflection of what is already happening, and functions to protect those in positions of power – “the Bible says” rhetoric and all). By the time of the late 1800s, science and the university furnished racist ideas with all the justification it needed, with detailed histories of “races” (a category that now most of academia has rejected entirely).

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a Dutch reformed theologian and at one point the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, gave a series of lectures at Princeton in the U.S., published as his renown “lectures on calvinism,” where we see all this in action, and in an interesting way.

In recently publishing my college notes of his Lectures on this blog, I stumbled across the famous racist passages regarding “the mingling of blood.” Everyone knows Kuyper was a flaming racist – just like most people and authors of that era (and of course, not limited to that era). What I did not realize – despite having a degree in theology from the foremost Kuyperian university (Dordt), where I was required to read these Lectures – was that this discussion was in the context of Calvinism’s (supposed) superiority.

In an almost shameless western, colonial and imperialist fashion (Dutch history unfortunately has a uniquely rich tradition of colonialism, slave trade, and slave ownership in America), Kuyper paints a sweeping history of the evolution of human beings (despite being a critic of evolution himself), and argues that co-mingling of blood strengthens and perfects the species. This mixing of blood makes the race more perfect, and Calvinist countries are where this perfection has been the most attained. Calvinist society, Kuyper argued, is superior to all other societies because the Dutch more successfully co-mingled (intermarried?) with other peoples, thereby raising the aggregate level of species improvement and diluting inferior “blood.” Its a weird one for sure, and it shows the inconsistency of racism once again: the Americans were forbidding interracial marriage and socializing at this time (and lynching people for any kind of alleged intermixing), while Kuyper was arguing at the same time that this was good and necessary…and accomplished most successfully in the USA! I haven’t looked into the history much, but I would be highly suspicious if those in the Dutch reformed tradition were taking Kuyper’s words seriously in the States about co-mingling blood.

But don’t take my word for it…

From Kuyper’s “Lectures on Calvinism”

“Thus notice I was not too bold when I claimed for Calvinism the honor of being neither an ecclesiastical, nor a theological, nor a sectarian conception, but one of the principal phases in the general development of our human race; and among these the youngest, whose high calling still is to influence the further course of human life. Just now, however, allow me to indicate another circumstance, which strengthens my principal statement, viz., the commingling of blood as, thus far, the physical basis of all higher human development.

From the high-lands of Asia our human race came down in groups, and these in turn have been divided into races and nations; and in entire conformity to the prophetic blessing of Noah the children of Shem and of Japheth have been the sole bearers of the development of the race. No impulse for any higher life has ever gone forth from the third group. With the two other groups a twofold phenomenon presents itself. There are tubal nations which have isolated themselves and others which have intermingled. Thus on the one hand there are groups which have dominated exclusively their own inherent forces, and on the other hand groups which by commingling have crossed their traits with those of other tribes, and thus have attained a higher perfection.

It is noteworthy that the process of human development steadily proceeds with those groups whose historic characteristic is not isolation but the commingling of blood. On the whole the Mongolian race has held itself apart, and in its isolation has bestowed no benefits upon our race at large. Behind the Himalayas a similar life secluded itself, and hence failed to impart any permanent impulse to the outside world. Even in Europe we find that with the Scandinavians and Slavs there was hardly any intermingling of blood, and, consequently having failed to develop a richer type, they have taken little part in the general development of human life. On the other hand, the tablets from Babylon in our great Museums by the two languages of their inscriptions still show that in Mesopotamia the Aryan12 element of the Accadians13 mingled itself at an early period with the Semitic-Babylonian; and Egyptology leads us to conclude that in the land of the Pharaohs we deal from the beginning with a population produced by the mingling of two very different tribes. No one believes any longer the pretended race-unity of the Greeks. In Greece as well as in Italy we deal with races of a later date who have intermingled with the earlier Pelasgians, Etruscians and others. Islam seems to be exclusively Arabic, but a study of the spread of Islamism among the Moors, Persians, Turks and other series of subjected tribes, with whom intermarriage was common, at once reveals the fact that especially with Mahometans the commingling of blood was even greater than with their predecessors.

When the leadership of the world passed into the hands of the Romanic nations, the same phenomenon presented itself in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France In these cases the Aborigines were generally Basques or Celts,14 the Celts in turn being overcome by the Germanic tribes, and even as in Italy the East Goths and Lombards, so in Spain the West Goths, in Portugal the Swabians, and in France the Franks instilled new blood into debilitated veins, and to this wonderful rejuvenescence the Roman nations owed their vigor until far into the 16th century. Thus in the life of nations the same phenomenon repeats itself which so often strikes the historian as a result of international marriages among princely families, as we see how the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons, the Oranges and the Hohenzollern, for instance, have been, century after century, productive of a host of most remarkable statesmen and heroes. The raiser of stock has aimed at the same effect in the crossing of different breeds, and botanists harvest large profits by obeying the same law of life with plants; and by itself it is not difficult to perceive that the union of natural powers, divided among different tribes, must be productive of a higher development.

To this it should be added that the history of our race does not aim at the improvement of any single tribe, but at the development of mankind taken as a whole, and therefore needs this commingling of blood in order to attain its end. Now in fact history shows that the nations among whom Calvinism flourished most widely exhibit in every way this same mingling of races. In Switzerland, the Germans, united with Italians and French; in France, the Gauls, with Franks and Burgundians; in the Lowlands, Celts and Welsh15 with Germans; also in England the old Celts and Anglo Saxons were afterwards raised to a still higher standard of national life by the invasion of the Normans. Indeed it may be said that the three principal tribes of Western Europe, the Celtic, Romanic and Germanic elements under the leadership of the Germanic, give us the genealogy of the Calvinistic nations. In America, where Calvinism has come to unfold itself in a still higher liberty, this commingling of blood is assuming a larger proportion than has ever yet been known. Here the blood flows together from all the tribes of the ancient world, and again we have the Celts from Ireland, the Germans from Germany and Scandinavia, united to the Slavs from Russia and Poland, who promote still further this already vigorous intermingling of the races. This latter process takes place under the higher exponent that it is not merely the union of tribe with tribe, but that the old historic nations are dissolving themselves in order to allow the re-union of their members in one higher unity, hitherto constantly assimilated by the American type. In this respect also Calvinism fully meets the conditions imposed on every new phase of development in the life of humanity. It spread itself in a domain where it found the commingling of blood stronger than under Romanism, and in America raised this to its highest conceivable realization.

Thus it is shown that Calvinism meets not only the necessary condition of the mingling of blood, but that in the process of human development it also represents, with respect to this, a further stadium. In Babylon this commingling of blood was of small significance; it gains in importance with the Greeks and Romans; it goes further under Islamism; is dominant under Romanism; but only among Calvinistic nations does it reach its highest perfection. Here in America it is achieving the intermingling of all the nations of the old world. A similar climax of this process of human development is also exhibited by Calvinism in the fact that only under the influence of Calvinism does the impulse of public activity proceed from the people themselves. In the life of the nations also there is development from the underage period to that of maturity. As in the family-life, during the years of childhood, the direction of affairs is in the hands of the parents, so also in the life of the nations it is but natural that during their under-age period first the Asiatic despot, then some eminent ruler, afterwards the priesthood, and finally both priest and magistrate together should stand at the head of every movement. The history of the nations in Babylon and under the Pharaohs, in Greece and Rome, under Islamism and under the papal system, fully confirms this course of development. But it is self-evident that this could not be a permanent state of things. Just because in their progressive development the nations finally came of age, they must at length reach that stadium in which the people itself awoke, stood up for their rights, and originated the movement that was to direct the course of future events; and in the rise of Calvinism this stadium appears to have been reached.”