Theories of Race

Ernst Haeckel

  • Ernst Haeckel's portrait

    Ernst Haeckel



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A zoologist, anatomist, anthropologist, physician, philosopher, pacifist, and artist, Ernst Haeckel was one of the most original and variously gifted figures of his time. He was also a critical and controversial figure in the debates concerning race. The most influential champion of the concept of evolution on the European continent and the main source for many of Darwinism, Haeckel was not limited to a single perspective, a single doctrinal position, or a single discipline, gathering into his highly imaginative account of human origins and evolution the work of linguists, anthropologists, and evolutionary thinkers such as Darwin, Lamarck, and Huxley. Haeckel’s admittedly speculative “Theory of Descent” through adaptation was itself adaptable and served the non-scientific purposes of both “Social Darwinists” and “scientific racists.”

Haeckel’s two-volume History of Creation is a comprehensive theory-of-everything, a “Monism” that embraces the development of forms from the lowest organisms to human civilization. For Haeckel, all of life is governed by scientific laws, and all sciences including what are now known as the humanities are, properly understood, natural sciences. All forms of life, he argued, follow the dictates of “a physico-chemical process, depending upon the interaction of Adaptation and Inheritance in the struggle for life” (History of Creation, vol. 1, ch. 7, 170). Haeckel agreed with Lamarck that acquired traits could be transmitted since, once acquired, they too become part of the process. Presented as a general principle of unification, Haeckel’s Monism was also insistently hierarchical, premised on the fact that evolution had produced forms ranging from the primitive to the advanced. Haeckel represented these forms through “trees” that he drew with great skill and even a degree of impressionistic suggestiveness.

Haeckel also produced illustrations of embryos of various organisms that, he argued, demonstrated that in the earliest stages of development, animals resembled each other, with the higher forms continuing to advance to greater complexity after the point when the lower forms had ceased to develop. This discovery produced one of his most famous coinages: “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” the doctrine that the biological development of an organism—its “ontogeny”—parallels and summarizes or “recapitulates” the evolutionary development of its species, or “phylogeny.” Haeckel was a great coiner of terms, and contributed a number of words that have become indispensable to evolutionary theory, including, in addition to ontogeny and phylogeny, “phylum,” “gastraea theory,” and even “ecology.”

Haeckel applied the recapitulation model to the currently-existing forms of the human species, which he said represented stages of evolution ranging from the Australian aborigines, Hottentots, and Papuans to the Caucasians, which Haeckel preferred to called the Mediterranean, but who under any name have “from time immemorial been placed at the head of all races of men, as the most highly developed and perfect.” This view was immediately criticized as “aristocratic” to the point of brutality because the inevitable tendency of the process Haeckel postulated was toward the elimination of the lower or more ape-like forms and the inexorable ascent and increasing dominance of the higher. Haeckel’s teacher Rudolf Virchow condemned it as “Nordic Mysticism” lacking in any firm evidentiary basis (see also Deniker). Haeckel’s views have been understood as supporting the identification of certain peoples as rudimentary humans or evolutionary dead ends. The Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso, for example, applied Haeckel’s concept to the study of criminals (L’uomo deliquente [Criminal man], 1876), whom he regarded not as people with bad intentions, attitudes, or habits but as biological throwbacks, natural reprobates identifiable through physical stigmata, with thieves, murderers, sex offenders and others each displaying on their bodies the telltale features of their specialization.

Like Wallace and Vogt, Haeckel argued for a Darwinian monogenism at the origin but an effective polygenism later on, with groups acquiring such hardwired differences that they might be considered species rather than varieties. One of the means of acquisition he took seriously was language. Assuming a “single primeval home” for mankind, which he locates in southern Asia, he speculates that the specific form of the transition from ape to human was effected in part by the conceptual resources made available by the “primeval language” of each group (304). Haeckel counts twelve “races or species,” as he ambiguously put it, with thirty-six subdivisions distinguishable not by skin color or skull measurements but primarily by hair and speech, which constitute differences so substantial that, he argues, if the Negro and the Caucasian were snails they would unhesitatingly be classed as different species.

Whatever their names or categories, all humans had developed out of a single ancestor, a “man-like ape” of the Old World, probably on a now-lost island in the Indian Ocean to which he gave the name “Lemuria.” The progeny of this creature had processed through twenty-two stages, all of which could be described in great detail with the single exception of the twenty-first, in which man-like apes evolved into “ape-like men.” This twenty-first stage was the epoch of the missing link, a species of “Speechless Man” for which there was only speculative or inferential evidence. Deeply impressed by the theories of the linguist August Schleicher, Haeckel held that the appearance of language was a crucial factor in the transition to full humanity in the twenty-second stage. The languages developed by the various groups entered into the physico-chemical process of Adaptation and Inheritance and contributed to the cognitive and cultural habits of those groups, consolidating their racial or species identities.

The most controversial aspect of Haeckel’s project concerned not the deep past but the present, which he proposed to improve by adding to natural selection and sexual selection a principle of “artificial selection.” Citing the example of ancient Sparta, Haeckel suggested that people suffering from incurable illnesses or debilitating limitations should be euthanized, not only putting them out of their misery and relieving their relatives or caretakers of continuing responsibility but preventing the transmission of infirmities to subsequent generations (see vol. I, ch. 7). Haeckel was aware of the humane indignation provoked by this proposal but defended it by juxtaposing it to the periodic enthusiasm for war, which slaughtered vast numbers of healthy individuals and produced universal desolation. He expanded on these arguments in a late book, The Wonders of Life: A Popular Study of Biological Philosophy (1904).

Haeckel’s interest in eugenics, the term proposed by Francis Galton in 1869 to describe systematic efforts to improve the human stock in a given community, has caused him to be placed among the ideological antecedents of the policy of “state biology” oriented toward “Rassenhygiene,” or race hygiene that was pursued by Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Daniel Gasman makes this charge with considerable force in his 1998 book Haeckel’s Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology. And in 2019, the German Zoological Society organized an event on the subject of Haeckel’s legacy in the city of Jena, where he had been a professor at the university. This event resulted in the “Jena Declaration,” whose title was “The concept of race is the result of racism, not its prerequisite.” According to this document, Haeckel’s work supported the practice of race-ranking and thereby helped to legitimate Nazi policies of extermination.*

While Haeckel was a fervent German nationalist, and was admired by some scientists who contributed enthusiastically to the Nazi cause in the 1930s, he has in recent years been vigorously defended by Robert J. Richards, who has denied that Haeckel was an anti-Semite. Haeckel’s attitudes and rankings, Richards points out, were conventional for their time and place, and even progressive in that he invariably placed Jews and Berbers on the highest species level. This placement had outraged the conservative Christians who were the most virulent anti-Semites in Germany at the time, and in 1935 Nazi propaganda guidelines included Haeckel on an “expunged list” of proscribed authors.** The successors to Galton and Haeckel who took up the cause of “scientific racism,” including Vacher de Lapouge, William H. Campbell, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and Daniel Brinton, were significantly less distinguished than Haeckel as scientists and manifestly more invested than he in racial hierarchy as a component of state or social policy.

Like many other texts in which the subject of race is taken up, The History of Creation is a massive work, two volumes encompassing nearly eight hundred pages. The first volume rehearses previous theories of organic development before giving a comprehensive account of Darwin’s contribution, finishing with an extended application of the principles of selection and adaptation to the understanding of organisms and to the history of the earth. In the second volume, Haeckel focuses on the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Both volumes contain a number of Haeckel’s ingenious and beautiful drawings. In 1904, Haeckel published a series of lithographs under the title of Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms in nature) that were so striking and accomplished that they influenced and inspired the artists of the Art Nouveau movement.

*Jena Declaration, “The Concept of Race is the Result of Racism, Not its Prerequisite” (2019) at:  

**Alfred Kelly, The Descent of Darwin:  The Popularization of Darwinism in Germany, 1960-1914 (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1981), 121-22. 

The History of Creation: or the Development of the Earth and its Inhabitants by the Action of Natural Causes


Vol. II, Chapter XXIII


The numerous and interesting discoveries presented to us by these extensive investigations of late years on the primæval history of the human race [by “Charles Lyell, Carl Vogt, Friedrich Rolle, John Lubbock, L. Büchner, etc.”] place the important fact (long since probable for many other reasons) beyond a doubt, that the human race, as such, has existed for more than twenty thousand years. But it is also probable that more than a hundred thousand years, perhaps many hundred thousands of years, have elapsed since its first appearance; and, in contrast to this, it must seem very absurd that our calendars still represent the “Creation of the World, according to Calvisius,” to have taken place 5821 years ago. . . .

Those processes of development which led to the origin of the most Ape-like Men out of the most Man-like Apes must be looked for in the two adaptational changes which, above all others, are distinctive of Man, namely, upright walk and articulate speech. These two physiological functions necessarily originated together with two corresponding morphological transmutations, with which they stand in the closest correlation, namely, the differentiation of the two pairs of limbs and the differentiation of the larynx. The important perfecting of these organs and their functions must have necessarily and powerfully reacted upon the differentiation of the brain and the mental activities dependent upon it, and thus have paved the way for the endless career in which Man has since progressively developed, and in which he has far outstripped his animal ancestors.

The first and earliest of these three great processes in the development of the human organism probably was the higher differentiation and the perfecting of the extremities which was effected by the habit of an upright walk. By the fore feet more and more exclusively adopting and retaining the function of grasping and handling, and the hinder feet more and more exclusively the function of standing and walking, there was developed that contrast between the hand and foot which is indeed not exclusively characteristic of man, but which is much more strongly developed in him than in the apes most like men. This differentiation of the fore and hinder extremities was, however, not merely most advantageous for their own development and perfecting, but it was followed at the same time by a whole series of very important changes in other parts of the body. The whole vertebral column, and more especially the girdle of the pelvis and shoulders, as also the muscles belonging to them, thereby experienced those changes which distinguish the human body from that of the most man-like apes. These transmutations were probably accomplished long before the origin of articulate speech; and the human race thus existed for long, with an upright walk and the characteristic human form of body connected with it, before the actual development of human language, which would have completed the second and the more important part of human development. We may therefore distinguish a special (21st) stage in the series of our human ancestors, namely, Speechless Man (Alalus), or Ape-man (Pithecanthropus), whose body was indeed formed exactly like that of Man in all essential characteristics, but who did not as yet possess articulate speech.

The origin of articulate language, and the higher differentiation and perfecting of the larynx connected with it, must be looked upon as only a later, and the most important stage in the process of the development of Man. It was, doubtless, this process which above all others helped to create the deep chasm between man and animal, and which also first caused the most important progress in the mental activity and the perfecting of the brain connected with it. There indeed exists in very many animals a language for communicating sensations, desires, and thoughts, partly a language of gestures, partly a language of feeling or touch, partly a language of cries or sounds, but a real language of words or ideas, a so-called “articulate” language, which by abstraction changes sounds into words, and words into sentences, belongs, as far as we know, exclusively to Man.

The origin of human language must, more than anything else, have had an ennobling and transforming influence upon the mental life of Man, and consequently upon his brain. The higher differentiation and perfecting of the brain and mental life as its highest function developed in direct correlation with its expression by means of speech. Hence, the highest authorities in comparative philology justly see in the development of human speech the most important process which distinguishes Man from his animal ancestors. This has been especially set forth by August Schleicher, in his treatise “On the Importance of Speech for the Natural History of Man.” In this relation we see one of the closest connections between comparative zoology and comparative philology; and here the theory of development assigns to the latter the task of following the origin of language step by step. This task, as interesting as it is important, has of late years been successfully undertaken by many inquirers, but more especially by Wilhelm Bleek, who has been occupied for seventeen years in South Africa with the study of the languages of the lowest races of men, and hence has been enabled to solve the question. August Schleicher more especially discusses, in accordance with the theory of selection, how the various forms of speech, like all other organic forms and functions, have developed by the process of natural selection, and have divided into many species and dialects.

I have no space here to follow the process of the formation of language, and must refer in regard to this to the above-mentioned important work of Wilhelm Bleek, “On the Origin of Language.” But we have still to mention one of the most important results of comparative philology, which is of the highest importance to the genealogy of the human species, that is, that human language was probably of a multiple, or polyphyletic origin. Human speech, as such, did not develop probably until the genus of Speech-less or Primæval Man, or Ape Man, had separated into several kinds or species. In each of these human species, and perhaps even in the different sub-species and varieties of this species, language developed freely and independently of the others. . . .

In spite of these great and serious difficulties, we cannot here refrain from taking one more cursory glance at the ramification of the human pedigree, and at the same time considering, from the point of view of the theory of descent, the much discussed question of the monophyletic or polyphyletic origin of the human race, and its species or races. As is well known, two great parties have for a long time been at war with each other upon this question; the monophylists (or monogenists) maintain the unity of origin and the blood relationship of all races of men. The polyphylists (or polygenists), on the other hand, are of opinion that the different races of men are of independent origin. According to our previous genealogical investigations we cannot doubt that, at least in a wide sense, the monophyletic opinion is the right one. For even supposing that the transmutation of Man-like Apes into Men had taken place several times, yet those Apes themselves would again be allied by the one pedigree common to the whole order of Apes. The question therefore would always be merely about a nearer or remoter degree of blood relationship. In a narrower sense, on the other hand, the polyphylist’s opinion would probably be right, inasmuch as the different primæval languages have developed quite independently of one another. Hence, if the origin of an articulate language is considered as the real and principal act of humanification, and the species of the human race are distinguished according to the roots of their language, it might be said that the different races of men had originated, independently of one another, by different branches of primæval, speechless men directly springing from apes, and forming their own primæval language. Still they would of course be connected further up or lower down at their root, and thus all would finally be derived from a common primæval stock.

While we hold the latter of these convictions, and while we for many reasons believe that the different species of speechless primæval men were all derived from a common ape-like human form, we do not of course mean to say that all men are descended from one pair. This latter supposition, which our modern Indo-Germanic culture has taken from the Semitic myth of the Mosaic history of creation, is by no means tenable. . . .

The difficulties met with in classifying the different races or species of men are quite the same as those which we discover in classifying animal and vegetable species. In both cases forms apparently quite different are connected with one another by a chain of intermediate forms of transition. In both cases the dispute as to what is a kind or a species, what a race or a variety, can never be determined. Since Blumenbach’s time, as is well known, it has been thought that mankind may be divided into five races or varieties, namely: (1) the Ethiopian, or black race (African negro); (2) the Malayan, or brown race (Malays, Polynesians, and Australians); (3) the Mongolian, or yellow race (the principal inhabitants of Asia and the Esquimaux of North America); (4) the Americans, or red race (the aborigines of America); and (5) the Caucasian, or white race (Europeans, north Africans, and south-western Asiatics). All of these five races of men, according to the Jewish legend of creation, are said to have been descended from “a single pair”—Adam and Eve,—and in accordance with this are said to be varieties of one kind or species. If, however, we compare them without prejudice, there can be no doubt that the differences of these five races are as great and even greater than the “specific differences” by which zoologists and botanists distinguish recognised “good” animal and vegetable species (“bonæ species”). The excellent palæontologist Quenstedt is right in maintaining that, “if Negroes and Caucasians were snails, zoologists would universally agree that they represented two very excellent species, which could never have originated from one pair by gradual divergence.”

The characteristics by which the races of men are gradually distinguished are partly taken from the formation of the hair, partly from the colour of the skin, and partly from the formation of the skull. In regard to the last character, two extremes are distinguished, namely, long heads and short heads. In long-headed men (Dolichocephali), whose strongest development is found in Negroes and Australians, the skull is extended, narrow, and compressed on the right and left. In short-headed men (Brachycephali), on the other hand, the skull is compressed in an exactly opposite manner, from the front to the back, is short and broad, which is especially striking in the case of the Mongolians. Medium-headed men (Mesocephali), standing between the two extremes, predominate especially among Americans. In every one of these three groups we find men with slanting teeth (Prognathi), whose jaws, like those of the animal snout, strongly project, and whose front teeth therefore slope in front, and men with straight teeth (Orthognathi), whose jaws project but little, and whose front teeth stand perpendicularly. During the last ten years a great deal of time and trouble have been devoted to the careful examination and measurement of the forms of skulls, which have, however, not been rewarded by corresponding results. For within a single species, as for example within the Mediterranean species, the form of the skull may vary so much that both extremes are met with in the same species. Much better starting-points for the classification of the human species are furnished by the nature of the hair and speech, because they are much more strictly hereditary than the form of the skull.

Comparative philology seems especially to be becoming an authority in this matter. In the latest great work on the races of men, which Friederich Müller has published in his excellent “Ethnography,” he justly places language in the fore-ground. Next to it the nature of the hair of the head is of great importance; for although it is in itself of course only a subordinate morphological character, yet it seems to be strictly transmitted within the race. Of the twelve species of men distinguished on the following table, the four lower species are characterised by the woolly nature of the hair of their heads; every hair is flattened like a tape, and thus its section is oval. These four species of woolly-haired men (Ulotrichi) we may reduce into two groups—tuft-haired and fleecy-haired. The hair on the head of tuft-haired men (Lophocomi), Papuans and Hottentots, grows in unequally divided small tufts. The woolly hair of fleecy-haired men (Eriocomi), on the other hand, in Caffres and Negroes, grows equally all over the skin of the head. All Ulotrichi, or woolly-haired men, have slanting teeth and long heads, and the colour of their skin, hair, and eyes is always very dark. All are inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere; it is only in Africa that they come north of the equator. They are on the whole at a much lower stage of development, and more like apes, than most of the Lissotrichi, or straight-haired men. The Ulotrichi are incapable of a true inner culture and of a higher mental development, even under the favourable conditions of adaptation now offered to them in the United States of North America. No woolly-haired nation has ever had an important “history.”


. . . Now, before we venture upon the attempt hypothetically to explain the phyletic divergence of mankind, and the genealogical connection of its different species, we will premise a short description of the twelve named species and of their distribution. In order clearly to survey their geographical distribution, we must go back some three or four centuries, to the time when the Indian Islands and America were first discovered, and when the present great mingling of species, and more especially the influx of the Indo-Germanic race, had as yet not made great progress. We begin with the lowest stages, with the woolly-haired men (Ulotrichi), all of whom are prognathic Dolichocephali.

The Papuan (Homo Papua), of all the still living human species, is perhaps most closely related to the original primary form of woolly-haired men. This species now inhabits only the large island of New Guinea and the Archipelago of Melanesia lying to the east of it (Solomon’s Islands, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, etc.). But scattered remnants of it are also still found in the interior of the peninsula of Malacca, and likewise in many other islands of the large Pacific Archipelago; mostly in the inaccessible mountainous parts of the interior, and especially in the Philippine Islands. The but lately extinct Tasmanians, or the natives of Van Diemen’s Land, belonged to this group. From these and other circumstances it is clear that the Papuans in former times possessed a much larger area of distribution in south-eastern Asia. They were driven out by the Malays and forced eastwards. The skin of all Papuans is of a black colour, sometimes more inclining to brown, sometimes more to blue. Their woolly hair grows in tufts, is spirally twisted in screws, and often more than a foot in length, so that it forms a strong woolly wig, which stands far out from the head. Their face, below the narrow depressed forehead, has a large turned-up nose and thick protruding lips. The peculiar form of their hair and speech so essentially distinguishes the Papuans from their straight-haired neighbours, from the Malays as well as from the Australians, that they must be regarded as an entirely distinct species.

Closely related to the Papuans by the tufted growth of hair, but geographically widely separated from them, are the Hottentots (Homo Hottentottus). They inhabit exclusively the southernmost part of Africa, the Cape and the adjacent parts, and have immigrated there from the north-east. The Hottentots, like their original kinsmen the Papuans, occupied in former times a much larger area (probably the whole of Eastern Africa), and are now approaching their extinction. Besides the genuine Hottentots—of whom there now exist only the two tribes of the Coraca (in the eastern Cape districts) and the Namaca (in the western portion of the Cape)—this species also includes the Bushmen (in the mountainous interior of the Cape). The woolly hair of all Hottentots grows in tufts, like brushes, as in the case of Papuans. Both species also agree in the posterior part of the body, in the female sex being specially inclined to form a great accumulation of fat (Steatopygia). But the skin of Hottentots is much lighter, of a yellowish brown colour. Their very flat face is remarkable for its small forehead and nose, and large nostrils. The mouth is very broad with big lips, the chin small and pointed. Their speech is characterised by several quite peculiar guttural sounds.

The next neighbours and kinsmen of Hottentots are Kaffres (Homo Cafer). This woolly-haired human species is, however, distinguished, like the following one (the genuine Negro), from Hottentots and Papuans by the woolly hair not being divided into tufts, but covering the head as a thick fleece. The colour of their skin varies through all shades, from the yellowish black of the Hottentot to the brown black or pure black of the genuine Negro. While in former times the race of Kaffres was assigned to a very small area of distribution, and was generally looked upon only as a variety of the genuine Negro, this species is now considered to include almost the whole of the inhabitants of equatorial Africa, from the 20th degree south latitude to the 4th degree north; consequently, all South Africans, with the exception of the Hottentots. They include especially the inhabitants of the Zulu, Zambesi, and Mozambique districts on the east coast, the large human families of the Beschuans or Setschuans in the interior, and the Herrero and Congo tribes of the west coast. They too, like the Hottentots, have immigrated from the north-east. Kaffres, who were usually classed with Negroes, differ very essentially from them by the formation of their skull and by their speech. Their face is long and narrow, their forehead high, and their nose prominent and frequently curved, their lips not so protruding, and their chin pointed. The many languages of the different tribes of Kaffres can all be derived from an extinct primæval language, namely, from the Bantu language.

The genuine Negro (Homo Niger)—when Kaffres, Hottentots, and Nubians are separated from him—at present forms a much less comprehensive human species than was formerly supposed. They now only include the Tibus, in the eastern parts of the Sahara; the Sudan people, or Sudians, who inhabit the south of that large desert; also the inhabitants of the Western Coast of Africa, from the mouth of the Senegal in the north, to beyond the estuary of the Niger in the south (Senegambians and Nigritians). Genuine Negroes are accordingly confined between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, and only a small portion of the Tibu tribe in the east have gone beyond this boundary. The Negro species has spread within this zone, coming from the east. The colour of the skin of genuine negroes is always more or less of a pure black. Their skin is velvety to the touch, and characterised by a peculiar offensive exhalation. Although Negroes agree with Kaffres in the formation of the woolly hair of the head, yet they differ essentially in the formation of their face. Their forehead is flatter and lower, their nose broad and thick, not prominent, their lips large and protruding, and their chin very short. Genuine Negroes are moreover distinguished by very thin calves and very long arms. This species of men must have branched into many separate tribes at a very early period, for their numerous and entirely distinct languages can in no way be traced to one primæval language.

To the four woolly-haired species of men just discussed, straight-haired men (Homines Lissotrichi) stand in strong contrast, as another main branch of the genus. Five of the eight species of the latter, as we have seen, can be comprised as stiff-haired (Euthycomi) and three as curly-haired (Euplocomi). We shall in the first place consider the former, which includes the primæval inhabitants of the greater part of Asia and the whole of America.

The lowest stage of all straight-haired men, and on the whole perhaps of all the still living human species, is occupied by the Australian, or Austral-negro (Homo Australis). This species seems to be exclusively confined to the large island of Australia; it resembles the genuine African Negro by its black or brownish black hair, and the offensive smell of the skin, by its very slanting teeth and long-headed form of skull, the receding forehead, broad nose, protruding lips, and also by the entire absence of calves. On the other hand Australians differ from genuine Negroes as well as from their nearest neighbours the Papuans, by the much weaker and more delicate structure of their bones, and more especially by the formation of the hair of their heads, which is not woolly and frizzled, but either quite lank or only slightly curled. The very low stage of bodily and mental development of the Australian is perhaps not altogether original, but has arisen by degeneration, that is, by adaptation to the very unfavourable conditions of existence in Australia. They probably immigrated to their present home from the north or north-west, as a very early offshoot of the Euthycomi. They are probably more closely related to the Dravidas, and hence to the Euplocomi, than the other Euthycomi. The very peculiar language of the Australians is broken up into numerous small branches, which are grouped into a northern and a southern class.

The Malay (Homo Malayus), the brown race of ethnographers, although not a large species, is important in regard to its genealogy. An extinct south Asiatic human species, very closely related to the Malays of the present day, must probably be looked upon as the common primary form of this and the following higher human species. We will call this hypothetical primary species, Primæval Malays, or Promalays. The Malays of the present day are divided into two widely dispersed races, the Sundanesians, who inhabit Malacca, the Sunda Islands (Sumatra, Java, Borneo, etc.) and the Philippine Islands, and the Polynesians, who are dispersed over the greater portion of the Pacific Archipelago. The northern boundary of their wide tract of distribution is formed on the east by the Sandwich Islands (Hawai), and on the west by the Marian Islands (Ladrones); the southern boundary on the east is formed by the Mangareva Archipelago, and on the west by New Zealand. The inhabitants of Madagascar are an especial branch of Sundanesians who have been driven to the far west. This wide pelagic distribution of the Malays is explained by their partiality for nautical life. Their primæval home is the south-eastern portion of the Asiatic continent, from whence they spread to the east and south, and drove the Papuans before them. The Malays, in the formation of body, are nearest akin to the Mongols, but are also nearly allied to the curly-haired Mediterranese. . . . The near relationship between all Malays and Polynesians is proved by their language, which indeed broke up at an early period into many small branches, but still can always be traced to a common and quite peculiar primæval language.

The Mongol (Homo Mongolus) is, next to the Mediterranese, the richest in individuals. Among them are all the inhabitants of the Asiatic Continent, excepting the Hyperboreans in the north, the few Malays in the south-east (Malacca), the Dravidas in Western India, and the Mediterranese in the south-west. In Europe this species of men is represented by the Fins and Lapps in the north, by the Osmanlis in Turkey, and the Magyars in Hungary. The colour of the Mongol is always distinguished by a yellow tone, sometimes a light pea green, or even white, sometimes a darker brownish yellow. Their hair is always stiff and black. The form of their skull is, in the great majority of cases, decidedly short (especially in Kalmucks, Baschkirs, etc.) but frequently of medium length (Tartars, Chinese, etc.) But among them we never meet with genuine long-headed men. The narrow openings of their eyes, which are generally slanting, their prominent cheek bones, broad noses, and thick lips are very striking, as well as the round form of their faces. The language of the Mongols is probably traceable to a common primæval language; but the monosyllabic languages of the Indo-Chinese races, and the polysyllabic languages of the other Mongol races, stand in contrast as two main branches which separated at an early time. The monosyllabic tribes of the Indo-Chinese include the Tibetans, Birmans, Siamese, and Chinese. The other polysyllabic Mongols are divided into three races, namely: (1) the Coreo-Japanese (Coreans and Japanese); (2) the Altaians (Tartars, Kirgises, Kalmucks, Buriats, Tungusians); and (3) the Uralians (Samoiedes, Fins). The Magyars of Hungary are descended from the Fins.

The Polar men (Homo Arcticus) must be looked upon as a branch of the Mongolian human species. We comprise under this name the inhabitants of the Arctic Polar lands of both hemispheres, the Esquimaux (and Greenlanders) in North America, and the Hyperboreans in north-eastern Asia (Jukagirs, Tschuksches, Kuriaks, and Kamtschads). By adaptation to the Polar climate, this human race has become so peculiarly transformed that it may be considered as a distinct species. Their stature is low and of a square build; the formation of their skull of medium size or even long; their eyes narrow and slanting like the Mongols; their cheek-bones prominent, and their mouth wide. Their hair is stiff and black; the colour of their skin is of a light or dark brown tinge, sometimes more inclined to white or to yellow, like that of the Mongols, sometimes more to red, like that of the Americans. The languages of Polar men are as yet little known, but they differ both from the Mongolian and from the American. Polar men must probably be regarded as a remnant and a peculiarly adapted branch of that tribe of Mongols which emigrated from north-eastern Asia to North America, and populated that part of the earth.

At the time of the discovery of America, that part of the earth was peopled (setting aside the Esquimaux) only by a single human species, namely, by the Redskins, or Americans (Homo Americanus). Of all other human species they are most closely related to the two preceding. The form of their skull is generally a medium one, rarely short or long-headed. Their forehead broad and very low; their nose large, prominent, and frequently aquiline; their cheek-bones prominent; their lips rather thin than thick. The colour of their skin is characterised by a red fundamental tint, which is, however, sometimes pure copper-red, or light red, sometimes a deeper reddish brown, yellow brown or olive brown. The numerous languages of the various American races and tribes are extremely different, yet they agree in their original foundation. Probably America was first peopled from north-eastern Asia by the same tribe of Mongols from whom the Polar men (Hyperboreans and Esquimaux) have also branched. This tribe first spread in North America, and from thence migrated over the isthmus of Central America down to South America, at the extreme south of which the species degenerated very much by adaptation to the very unfavourable conditions of existence. But it is also possible that Mongols and Polynesians immigrated from the west and mixed with the former tribe. In any case the aborigines of America came over from the Old World, and did not, as some suppose, in any way originate out of American apes. Catarrhini, or Narrow-nosed Apes, never at any period existed in America.

The three human species still to be considered—the Dravidas, Nubians, and Mediterranese—agree in several characteristics which seem to establish a close relationship between them, and distinguish them from the preceding species. The chief of these characteristics is the strong development of the beard, which in all other species is either entirely wanting or but very scanty. The hair of their heads is generally not so lank and smooth as in the five preceding species, but in most cases more or less curly. Other characteristics also seem to favour our classing them in one main group of curly-haired men (Euplocomi).

The Dravida man (Homo Dravida) seems to stand very near the common primary form of the Euplocomi, and perhaps of Lissotrichi. At present this primæval species is only represented by the Deccan tribes in the southern part of Hindostan, and by the neighbouring inhabitants of the mountains on the north-east of Ceylon. But in earlier times this race seems to have occupied the whole of Hindostan, and to have spread even further. It shows, on the one hand, traits of relationship to the Australians and Malays; on the other, to the Mongols and Mediterranese. Their skin is either of a light or dark brown colour; in some tribes, of a yellowish brown, in others, almost black brown. The hair of their heads, as in Mediterranese, is more or less curled, neither quite smooth, like that of the Euthycomi, nor actually woolly, like that of the Ulotrichi. The strong development of the beard is also like that of the Mediterranese. The oval form of face seems partly to be akin to that of the Malays, partly to that of the Mediterranese. Their forehead is generally high, their nose prominent and narrow, their lips slightly protruding. Their language is now very much mixed with Indo-Germanic elements, but seems to have been originally derived from a very peculiar primæval language.

The Nubian (Homo Nuba) has caused ethnographers no fewer difficulties than the Dravida species. By this name we understand not merely the real Nubians (Schangallas, or Dongolese), but also their near kinsmen, the Fulas, or Fellatas. The real Nubians inhabit the countries of the Upper Nile (Dongola, Schangalla, Barabra, Cordofan); the Fulas, or Fellatas, on the other hand, have thence migrated far westward, and now inhabit a broad tract in the south of the western Sahara, hemmed in between the Soudanians in the north and the Nigritos in the south. The Nubian and Fula races are generally either classed with negroes or with the Hamitic races (thus with Mediterranese), but are so essentially different from both that they must be regarded as a distinct species. In former times they very probably occupied a large part of north-eastern Africa. The skin of the Nubian and Fula races is of a yellowish or reddish brown colour, more rarely dark brown or approaching to black. Their hair is not woolly but curled, frequently even quite smooth; its colour is dark brown or black. Their beard is much more strongly developed than in negroes. The oval formation of their faces approaches more to the Mediterranean than to the Negro type. Their forehead is high and broad, their nose prominent and not flat, their lips not so protruding as in the negro. The language of the Nubian races seems to possess no relationship to those of genuine negroes.

The Caucasian, or Mediterranean man (Homo Mediterraneus), has from time immemorial been placed at the head of all races of men, as the most highly developed and perfect. It is generally called the Caucasian race, but as among all the varieties of the species, the Caucasian branch is the least important, we prefer the much more suitable appellation proposed by Friedrich Müller, namely, that of Mediterranean, or Midland men. For the most important varieties of this species, which are moreover the most eminent actors in what is called “Universal History,” first rose to a flourishing condition on the shores of the Mediterranean. The former area of the distribution of this species is expressed by the name of “Indo-Atlantic” species, whereas at present it is spread over the whole earth, and is overcoming most of the other species in the struggle for existence. In bodily as well as in mental qualities, no other human species can equal the Mediterranean. This species alone (with the exception of the Mongolian) has had an actual history; it alone has attained to that degree of civilization which seems to raise man above the rest of nature.

The characteristics which distinguish the Mediterranean from the other species of the race are well known. The chief of the external features is the light colour of the skin, which however exhibits all shades, from pure white or reddish white, through yellow or yellowish brown to dark brown or even black brown. The growth of the hair is generally strong, the hair of the head more or less curly, the hair of the beard stronger than in any of the other species. The form of the skull shows a great development in breadth; medium heads predominate upon the whole, but long and short heads are also widely distributed. It is only in this one species of men that the body as a whole attains that symmetry in all parts, and that equal development, which we call the type of perfect human beauty. The languages of all the races of this species can by no means be traced to a single common primæval language; we must at least assume four radically different primæval languages. In accordance with this we must also assume within this one species four different races, which are only connected at their root. Two of these races, the Basques and Caucasians, now exist only as small remnants. The Basques, which in earlier times peopled the whole of Spain and the south of France, now inhabit but a narrow tract of land on the northern coast of Spain, on the Bay of Biscay. The remnant of the Caucasian race (the Daghestans, Tschercassians, Mingrelians, and Georgians) are now confined to the districts of Mount Caucasus. The language of the Caucasians as well as that of the Basques is entirely peculiar, and can be traced neither to the Semitic nor to the Indo-Germanic primæval languages.

Even the languages of the two principal races of the Mediterranean species—the Semitic and Indo-Germanic—cannot be traced to a common origin, and consequently these two races must have separated at a very early period. Semites and Indo-Germani are descended from different ape-like men. The Semitic race likewise separated at a very early period into two diverging branches, namely, into the Egyptian and Arabic branches. The Egyptian, or African branch, the Dyssemites—which sometimes under the name of Hamites are entirely separated from the Semites—embraces the large group of Berbers, who occupy the whole of north Africa, and in earlier times also peopled the Canary Islands, and, finally, also the group of the Ethiopians, the Bedsha, Galla, Danakil, Somali, and other tribes which occupy all the north-eastern shores of Africa as far as the equator. The Arabic, or Asiatic branch, that is, the Eusemites, also called Semites in a narrow sense, embrace the inhabitants of the large Arabian peninsula, the primæval family of genuine Arabians (“primæval type of the Semites”), and also the most highly developed Semitic groups, the Jews, or Hebrews, and the Aramæans—the Syrians and Chaldæans. A colony of the southern Arabs (the Himjarites), which crossed the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, has peopled Abyssinia.

Lastly, the Indo-Germanic race, which has far surpassed all the other races of men in mental development, separated at a very early period, like the Semitic, into two diverging branches, the Ario-Romaic and the Slavo-Germanic branches. Out of the former arose on the one hand the Arians (Indians and Iranians), on the other the Græco-Roman (Greeks and Albanians, Italians and Kelts). Out of the Slavo-Germanic branch were developed on the one hand the Slavonians (Russian, Bulgarian, Tchec, and Baltic tribes), on the other the Germani (Scandanavians and Germans, Netherlanders and Anglo-Saxons). August Schleicher has explained, in a very clear genealogical form, how the further ramifications of the Indo-Germanic race may be accurately traced in detail on the basis of comparative philology.

The total number of human individuals at present amounts to between 1,300 and 1,400 millions. In our Tabular Survey 1,350 millions has been assumed as the mean number. According to an approximate estimate, as far as such a thing is possible, 1,200 millions of these are straight-haired men, only about 150 millions woolly-haired. The most highly developed species, Mongols and Mediterranese, far surpass all the other human species in numbers of individuals, for each of them alone comprises about 550 millions. Of course the relative number of the twelve species fluctuates every year, and that too according to the law developed by Darwin, that in the struggle for life the more highly developed, the more favoured and larger groups of forms, possess the positive inclination and the certain tendency to spread more and more at the expense of the lower, more backward, and smaller groups. Thus the Mediterranean species, and within it the Indo-Germanic, have by means of the higher development of their brain surpassed all the other races and species in the struggle for life, and have already spread the net of their dominion over the whole globe. It is only the Mongolian species which can at all successfully, at least in certain respects, compete with the Mediterranean. Within the tropical regions, Negroes, Kaffres, and Nubians, as also the Malays and Dravidas, are in some measure protected against the encroachments of the Indo-Germanic tribes by their being better adapted for a hot climate; the case of the arctic tribes of the polar regions is similar. But the other races, which as it is are very much diminished in number, will sooner or later completely succumb in the struggle for existence to the superiority of the Mediterranean races. The American and Australian tribes are even now fast approaching their complete extinction, and the same may be said of the Papuans and Hottentots.

In now turning to the equally interesting and difficult question of the relative connection, migration, and primæval home of the twelve species of men, I must premise the remark that, in the present state of our anthropological knowledge, any answer to this question must be regarded only as a provisional hypothesis. This is much the same as with any genealogical hypothesis which we may form of the origin of kindred animal and vegetable species, on the basis of the “Natural System.” But the necessary uncertainty of these special hypotheses of descent, in no way shakes the absolute certainty of the general theory of descent. Man, we may feel certain, is descended from Catarrhini, or narrow-nosed apes, whether we agree with the polyphylites, and suppose each human species, in its primæval home, to have originated out of a special kind of ape; or whether, agreeing with the monophylites, we suppose that all the human species arose only by differentiation from a single species of primæval man (Homo primigenius).

For many and weighty reasons we hold the monophyletic hypothesis to be the more correct, and we therefore assume a single primæval home for mankind, where he developed out of a long since extinct anthropoid species of ape. Of the five now existing continents, neither Australia, nor America, nor Europe can have been this primæval home, or the so-called “Paradise,” the “cradle of the human race.” Most circumstances indicate southern Asia as the locality in question. Besides southern Asia, the only other of the now existing continents which might be viewed in this light is Africa. But there are a number of circumstances (especially chorological facts) which suggest that the primæval home of man was a continent now sunk below the surface of the Indian Ocean, which extended along the south of Asia, as it is at present (and probably in direct connection with it), towards the east, as far as further India and the Sunda Islands; towards the west, as far as Madagascar and the south-eastern shores of Africa. We have already mentioned that many facts in animal and vegetable geography render the former existence of such a south Indian continent very probable. Sclater has given this continent the name of Lemuria, from the Semi-apes which were characteristic of it. By assuming this Lemuria to have been man’s primæval home, we greatly facilitate the explanation of the geographical distribution of the human species by migration. . . .

Out of speechless primæval man, whom we consider as the common primary species of all the others, there developed in the first place—probably by natural selection—various species of men unknown to us, and now long since extinct, and who still remained at the stage of speechless ape-men (Alalus, or Pithecanthropus). Two of these species, a woolly-haired and a straight-haired, which were most strongly divergent, and consequently overpowered the others in the struggle for life, became the primary forms of the other remaining human species. (298-328)


Now, if instituting comparisons in both directions, we place the lowest and most ape-like men (the Austral Negroes, Bushmen, and Andamans, etc.), on the one hand, together with the most highly developed animals, for instance, with apes, dogs, and elephants, and on the other hand, with the most highly developed men—Aristotle, Newton, Spinoza, Kant, Lamarck, or Goethe—we can then no longer consider the assertion, that the mental life of the higher mammals has gradually developed up to that of man, as in any way exaggerated. If one must draw a sharp boundary between them, it has to be drawn between the most highly developed and civilized man on the one hand, and the rudest savages on the other, and the latter have to be classed with the animals. This is, in fact, the opinion of many travellers, who have long watched the lowest human races in their native countries. Thus, for example, a great English traveller, who lived for a considerable time on the west coast of Africa, says: “I consider the negro to be a lower species of man, and cannot make up my mind to look upon him as ‘a man and a brother,’ for the gorilla would then also have to be admitted into the family.” Even many Christian missionaries, who, after long years of fruitless endeavours to civilize these lowest races, have abandoned the attempt, express the same harsh judgment, and maintain that it would be easier to train the most intelligent domestic animals to a moral and civilized life, than these unreasoning brute-like men. For instance, the able Austrian missionary Morlang, who tried for many years without the slightest success to civilize the ape-like negro tribes on the Upper Nile, expressly says: “that any mission to such savages is absolutely useless. They stand far below unreasoning animals; the latter at least show signs of affection towards those who are kind towards them, whereas these brutal natives are utterly incapable of any feeling of gratitude.”

Now, it clearly follows from these and other testimonies, that the mental differences between the lowest men and the animals are less than those between the lowest and the highest men; and if, together with this, we take into consideration the fact that in every single human child mental life develops slowly, gradually, and step by step, from the lowest condition of animal unconsciousness, need we still feel offended when told that the mind of the whole human race has in like manner gone through a process of slow, gradual, and historical development? Can we find it “degrading” to the human soul that, by a long and slow process of differentiation and perfecting, it has very gradually developed out of the soul of vertebrate animals? I freely acknowledge that this objection, which is at present raised by many against the pithecoid theory, is quite incomprehensible to me. On this point Bernhard Cotta, in his excellent “Geologie der Gegenwart,” very justly remarks: “Our ancestors may be a great honour to us; but it is much better if we are an honour to them!”

Our Theory of Development explains the origin of man and the course of his historical development in the only natural manner. We see in his gradually ascensive development out of the lower vertebrata, the greatest triumph of humanity over the whole of the rest of Nature. We are proud of having so immensely outstripped our lower animal ancestors, and derive from it the consoling assurance that in future also, mankind, as a whole, will follow the glorious career of progressive development, and attain a still higher degree of mental perfection. When viewed in this light, the Theory of Descent as applied to man opens up the most encouraging prospects for the future, and frees us from all those anxious fears which have been the scarecrows of our opponents. (365-67)

Hypothetical Sketch of the Monophyletic Origin of Man, from The History of Creation, vol. II, after 369.

Daniel Gasman, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism: Social Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the German Monist League (London and New York: Macdonald and American Elsevier, 1971).

Daniel Gasman, Haeckel’s Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology (New York:  Peter Lang, 1998).  

Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977).  

Herbert H. Odom, “Generalizations on Race in Nineteenth-Century Physical Anthropology,” Isis 58 (Spring, 1967) 1: 4-18.  

Robert J. Richards, “The Linguistic Creation of Man:  Charles Darwin, August Schleicher, Ernst Haeckel, and the Missing Link in Nineteenth-Century Evolutionary Theory,” in Matthias Dörries, ed., Experimenting in Tongues (Stanford CA:  Stanford University Press, 2002), 21-48. 

Robert J. Richards, The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). 

Richard Weikart, “The Role of Darwinism in Nazi Racial Thought,” German Studies Review, 36 (October 2013) 3: 537-56.