Race and Victorian Science

Benjamin Kidd, from The Control of the Tropics (1898)

The Anglo-Irishman Benjamin Kidd (1858–1916) was a civil servant and amateur naturalist who became a best-selling author with his controversial Social Evolution (1894). The Control of the Tropics was published in 1898.


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[Click on image to enlarge] The next principle, which it seems must be no less clearly recognized, is one which carries us a great stride forward from the past as soon as we begin to perceived the nature of the consequences which follow from its admission. It is that, nevertheless, there never has been, and there never will be, within any time with which we are practically concerned, such a thing as good government, in the European sense, of the tropics by the natives of these regions. The ultimate fact underlying all the relations of the white man to the tropics is one which really goes to the root of the whole question of the evolution which the race itself has undergone. The human race reached its earliest development where the conditions of earliest development where the conditions of life were easiest; namely, in the tropics. But throughout the whole period of human history the development of the race has taken place outwards from the tropics. Slowly but surely we see the seat of empire and authority moving like the advancing tide northward. The evolution in character which the race has undergone has been northwards from the tropics. The first step to the solution of the problem before us is simply to acquire the principle that in dealing with the natural inhabitants of the tropics we are dealing with peoples who represent the same stage in the history of the development of the race that the child does in the history of the development of the individual. The tropics will not, therefore, be developed by the natives themselves. However we may be inclined to hesitate before reaching this view, it is hard to see how assent to it can be withheld in the face of the consistent verdict of history in the past, and the unvarying support given to it by facts in the present. If there is any one inclined to challenge it, let him reflect for a moment on the evidence on the one side and the difficulty that will present itself to him of producing any serious facts on the other side. If we look to the native social systems of the tropical East, to the primitive savagery of Central Africa, to the West Indian Islands in the past in process of being assisted into the position of modern States by Great Britain, to the Black Republic of Hayti in the present, or to the Black Republic Hayti in the present or to modern Liberia in the future, the lesson seems everywhere the same; it is that there will be no development of the resources of the tropics under native government.

We come, therefore, to a clearly defined position. If we have to meet the fact that by force of circumstances the tropics must by force of circumstances the tropics must be developed, and if the evidence is equally be developed, and if the evidence is equally emphatic that such a development can only take place under the influence of the white man, we are confronted with a larger issue than any mere question of commercial policy or of national selfishness. The tropics in such circumstances can only be governed as a trust for civilization, and with a full sense of the responsibility which such a trust involves. The first principle of success in undertaking such a duty seems to the writer to be a clear recognition of the cardinal fact that in the tropics the white man lives and works only as a diver lives and works under water. Alike in a moral, in an ethical, and in a political sense, the atmosphere he breathes must be that of another region, that which produced him, and to which he belongs. Neither physically, morally, nor politically, can he be acclimatized in the tropics. The people among whom he lives and works are often separated from him by thousands of years of development; he cannot, therefore, be allowed to administer government from any local and lower standard he may develop. If he has any right there at all, he is there in the name of civilization; if our civilization has any right there at all, it is because it represents higher ideals of humanity, a higher type of social order. This is the lesson which, slowly and painfully, and with many a temporary reversion to older ideas, the British peoples have been learning in India for the last fifty years, and which has recently been applied in other circumstances to the government of Egypt.

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