The Reasoned Review

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Quote of the Day

with 2 comments

The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean Algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, and Balanchine ballets don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history.

– Susan Sontag


Written by pavanvan

March 14, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. The idea of a “white race” was invented within the last 100 years. In 1850, to suggest that an Englishman, a German, an Italian, and a Pole were all “whites” would have gotten you laughed at.

    I guess she thinks she sounds edgy and countercultural saying “white race,” the favorite scapegoat of every academic poser, but I guess what she means is “Europeans.” If you think she doesn’t mean Europeans, I’d be curious to hear who you think she’s talking about.

    Finally, it’s easy to critique, of course, and to the extent that Europeans and their ancestors have shaped human history – which she seems to be asserting that they are – they haven’t done a great job all the time. But what culture, what “race” does she think should be making the decisions, since that’s how she’s chosen to compartmentalize humanity? And what gives her the impression that the cultural success of a different “race” would have led to a better outcome?

    These aren’t rhetorical questions – I’d really like to hear what you know about Sontag’s thoughts are on these questions (I’m not familiar with her writing), as it would definitely bring some context to this statement which, out of context, seems to aspire to be provocative without really saying much.


    March 15, 2010 at 7:14 am

  2. Well, I would think she’s referring to the European strain of colonialism, specifically beginning after Columbus’s famous 1492 expedition. I guess this would mostly include Western Europeans (Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, maybe Germany – with the Eastern Europeans, who, I admit, are also “white”, not included.)

    I’m sure you’re aware of the litany of horrors wrought upon the indigenous peoples of North America, South America, Africa, Oceania, and Asia by European slavers, so I doubt I need to repeat them here. I think what Sontag is trying to say in this quote is that the “white man’s burden” view of world history – that, for instance, the history of most of the world began when Europeans “discovered” the rest of it, a worldview which unfortunately is still quite prevalent, is barbaric and inhumane.

    I’ve heard this argument of “well name me someone who does it better” or “who would you rather have in power” from you before, and I think it misses the point. We should be able, I think, to point at something and conclude it’s evil without having to bring in all these hypothetical scenarios in which it wouldn’t be “that bad”. And I don’t think she necessarily thinks any culture should be “making the decisions”, as you say.


    March 15, 2010 at 10:28 am

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