Patrick Brantlinger here examines the commonly held nineteenth-century view that all primitive or savage races around the world were doomed sooner or later to extinction. Warlike propensities and presumed cannibalism were regarded as simultaneously noble and suicidal, accelerants of the downfall of other races after contact with white civilization. Brantlinger finds at the heart of this belief the stereotype of the self-exterminating savage, or the view that savagery is a sufficient explanation for the ultimate disappearance of savages from the grand theater of world history.Humanitarians, according to Brantlinger, saw the problem in the same terms of inevitability (or doom) as did scientists such as Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley as well as propagandists for empire such as Charles Wentworth Dilke and James Anthony Froude. Brantlinger analyzes the Irish Famine in the context of ideas and theories about primitive races in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. He shows that by the end of the nineteenth century, especially through the influence of the eugenics movement, extinction discourse was ironically applied to the great white race in various apocalyptic formulations. With the rise of fascism and Nazism, and with the gradual renewal of aboriginal populations in some parts of the world, by the 1930s the stereotypic idea of fatal impact began to unravel, as did also various more general forms of race-based thinking and of social Darwinism.
About the Author:
Patrick Brantlinger is James Rudy and College Alumni Distinguished Professor (Emeritus) of English and Victorian Studies at Indiana University. He is the author of many books, including Fictions of State, Rule of Darkness, and Bread and Circuses, also from Cornell.