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Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Prophet of Teutonism

Michael D. Biddiss profiles a British theorists's claims that all the greatest triumphs of civilization and culture were the products of race—and of a single race at that.

In the history of European racism, the year 1855 is particularly notable for two events. In Paris there appeared the final two volumes of Count Arthur de Gobineau’s Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, the work that, more than any other, represents the culmination of the first half-century in the history of the great delusion of Aryan supremacy.1

In the same year, in humbler Southsea, there was born Houston Stewart Chamberlain who, nearly fifty years later, was to publish The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, the study that not only summarized the work of racist philosophy in the intervening period, but also provided one of the most famous bases for its regrettable twentieth-century career.

Chamberlain, as the son of an English Rear-Admiral and the nephew of a Field-Marshal, seemed destined for entry into one of the services, but his continual ill-health and neurotic disposition dictated otherwise. Early studies at Cheltenham College were followed by instruction at the Lycee Imperial at Versailles where, after his mother’s death, Chamberlain resided with his grandmother.

In 1870, at the time of the Franco-Prussian War, he was sent to a private tutor, Otto Kuntze, who for four years instilled into his youthful pupil the virtues of Prussianism. In 1874 he became infatuated with a Prussian girl and fellow neurotic, Anna Horst, whom he married in 1878. The following year he began studies in Geneva upon natural history, chemistry, physics and medicine; but the formal pursuit of these was halted by a major nervous breakdown which he suffered in 1884.

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