In chapter 2, Carter furthers his claim that “the story of the modern invention of race could not be adequately told apart from the story of how Christianity came to be mythologized, reimagined as the paradigmatic modern “religion”…[which] could not be adequately told apart from the story of the politics of that transformation” (80). This politics is one that marks the identity of “the people” over and against the people that it is not, and here Carter examines how this plays out over an “anxiety over Jewish existence” in modernity, using the work of Immanuel Kant as a paradigmatic example.
The Rassenfrage and the Judenfrage converge in Kant’s work, in “the hoped for modern cosmopolis, the perfect world order in which the ideal of the unity of the human species actualizes itself in the perfection of a race type, the white race” (81). In this chapter, Carter shows how this vision of the perfected white race is “based on a new conception of homo religiosus as it is articulated within his vision of modernity as a great drama of religion” (81). Carter articulates this claim through three sections.
In the first section, Kant and the Drama of Race, Carter explores Kant’s anthropology, looking at Kant’s 1775/1777 essay “Of the Different Human Races.” Kant’s theory of race, Carter shows, develops concomitantly with a teleological philosophy of history, whereby the destiny of humanity of global perfection occurs via the spread of whiteness.
Of particular significance to Carter is the shift between the course advertisement in 1775 and the subsequent 1777 essay. Whereas both elevate whiteness as both the prototype and telos of humanity, in the latter essay, the term race, when referring to whiteness, drops out—now it is simply the ‘white inhabitants.’ “Rendering race invisible in all of this,” Carter explains, “Kant calls this not the work of whiteness but the task of the species as such” (89). Because “the white race exemplifies humanity on its way to perfection, the black race embodies the departure and failure to attain this perfection” (90). How does one account for these anthropological differences? For Kant, other races are held hostage to their own particularity (evidenced in their inability to achieve equilibrium between bodily passions and educative talents)—black flesh lacks universal gravitas, due to its excesses and imbalances.
While the white race marks the teleos of the perfection of humanity, the movement towards the perfect race is not complete, which thus calls for the “sociopolitical process by which the project of whiteness is to be completed as the project of reason. The reconstituted and enlightened body politic completes the task of the (perfect) “race-ing” of the body” (90). Or, as Carter suggests upon an examination of Kant’s private reflections, this
reveals the thought process of one for whom the destruction of “all races” is occurring through the same sociocultural and political mechanisms that are establishing and bringing to maturity another, not-yet-fully raced group. This is the race of whites. The destruction of all races on the one hand and the nondestruction of whites on the other are imagined as a singular, intertwined sociocultural and political process of the advance of Western civilization…. White enslavement of the Negro race and the colonialist expansion of western Europe into the hemispheric south and west are vehicles by which the racial development, the maturing of whites, is in fact furthered(93).
Kant’s public and private reflections reflect two key anxieties in his concern with the success of the universalist project of modernity (the advancement of the perfect race of humans—of whiteness): the fear of the alien within (the domestically political) and anxiety over the alien without (the pole of the cosmopolitical—how to export whiteness so that it does not get tainted with inferior blood). Carter notes that a shift occurs for Kant from a focus on the exportation of whiteness to a fear of the alien within. This shift, marked by attention to the domestically political, from 1770’s (race in the foreground and politics in the background) to 1780’s (politics to the foreground, race camouflaged but still determinative) is examined in the next section, “Kant and the Drama of Politics.”
In this second section, Carter turns to Kant’s Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, outlining how this shift to the political is undergirded by a racial pragmatics, how Kant develops a political anthropology in which whiteness “realizes itself in a reconstituted sociopolitical order, a moral and autonomous order rooted in the conceptual world of reason rather than a heteronomous order driven by the intuitions of the world of the senses” (96). The “Enlightenment” names the process that will bring about this reconstituted social order where the latter is transformed into the former.
Here, Carter navigates deftly through Kant’s Anthropology text, demonstrating how Kant narrates the relationship between mind and body, between reason and materiality, and how this functions as a political logic with underlying racial assumptions and implications. Carter explains that, for Kant, “the pragmatic process of self-cultivation leads to the formation of the human as a political actor. But it only leads there, paradoxically, by suspending one’s relationship to the external world, by having a relationship of “disinterest” to it…by being autonomously, and not heteronymously, related to it” (99).This disinterested, autonomous relation to the external world coincides with the rhetoric of the Enlightenment, the species’ emergence from self-incurred immaturity. The German nation is what embodies this ideal, their autonomy being the key factor in their superiority in this regard—they are the most free.
So, Carter points out, we are faced with a paradox in Kant’s work in the relation of autonomy to the external, material world of politics. “How does one reconcile an anthropology that envisions the human being as free with respect to itself but bound with regard to the state” (103)? It is in his reconciliation of these two things, Carter suggests, that Kant imagines the self-realization of the species. Carter cites Michael Mack, who explains that “the autonomy of the individual paradoxically presupposes a political system that enforces the idea of holding objects ‘intelligibly’ rather than being determined by their sensible conditions” (103, fn74). The material order, then, is owned by the state, whereas the immaterial, the mind, is owned by public culture. Culture becomes the domain of autonomy, marked by movement away from materiality, and it is pragmatic anthropology that “guides the human being into detachment from worldly goods in order to be a world citizen (Weltbürger) or one suited to occupy and thus own the entire world” (104). A logic of race underlies this thought, with nonwhites serving as negative examples—the racial aliens ““cannot abstract themselves from their own bodies and enter into an autonomous way of existence. In short, they do not know how to be in the world for the sake of being itself.” (104).
It is here that a discourse on the Jews enters into the conversation—the Jews function as the paradigmatic negative example for Kant, with their consuming interest in material life, which leads them to refuse submission to the rules of modern society. Here is also where we begin to see the linkages between the nation state, race, and religion. For Kant, “the religion of the Jews enslave them to the material, empirical world”—“their heteronymous and sensuous nature arises from their religion…” (105).It is the Jews that are of particular concern to Kant because they live among us—here is where we see Kant’s anxiety surrounding the racial alien within. The Jews, Kant writes, are racial aliens, the “Palestinians living among us” (104, fn 77). Kant’s concern here is ““to find a way to reconceive civil society in such a way as to police oriental contagion residing within the Occident…” so as to protect the occident from the risk of mulattic contamination.
Kant therefore sought “to rationally reconstitute Christianity, transforming it into a religion on whose basis a vision of Western civilization and culture rooted in the precepts of reason could be established” (106). Rationalizing Christianity for Kant was synonymous with dejudaizing Christianity. This, Carter explains “is the ideological use of Christianity…the genealogical moment… in which whiteness reveals itself as a “Christian” theological articulation of modern civil society as tied to “bios” or life ethnographically or racially conceived” (107). Kant’s narration of Christianity functions to sanctify the universalizing (racially conceived) strivings of Western civilization—this is precisely what Carter names as the pseudotheological, Christianity reconstituted as the rational, moral religion that affirms what humanity can and should make of itself (rather than disclosing the God of Israel as the redemption for Jews and Gentiles alike).
In the final section of this chapter, Kant and the Great Drama of Religion, Carter turns to Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason to explore the theological exegesis Kant employs to support this vision of Christianity—to show how “Kant’s account of law and the Christology sustaining it is in how the racial and the political converge on and are held together by a religious vision of the species, indeed a religious vision of whiteness” (108). Paul functions as a key figure in bolstering Kant’s vision of Christianity. For Kant, Paul’s emphasis on the inner spirit of the law coincides with his own claims regarding the transcendence of human reason. “Kant’s reading of Paul,” Carter explains, “presents a rationally triumphalist account of Christianity as a moral religion over the antirational, which is to say, the nonreligious “religion” of the Jews” (113). Jesus, too, fits within paradigmatically within this logic—as “the “personified idea of the good principle” that has “come down to us” so that human being, in fulfillment of their “universal…duty,” may “elevate [themselves] to this ideal of moral perfection”” (114, fn105). Christ, for Kant, is the radical affirmation of the purely spiritual—his atoning death signaling a death to the material world and an overthrowing of Judaism.
Carter ends by summarizing the argument that he so carefully and adeptly unfolded throughout this chapter. He writes :
What the Kantian vision discloses, then, is that the drama of race and politics in modernity are, in fact, a great drama of religion. Yet behind the veil of this great religious drama is a less easily detected but controlling story, the story of how whiteness came of age as a theological problem that camouflages itself as just such a problem” (120).
I found Carter’s analysis in this chapter quite persuasive, especially in light of the rigor, depth, and scope of his engagement with Kant’s texts. In discussion over the first chapter of this text, a recurring concern/question centered around Carter’s locating this (pseudotheological) Christian supersessionism in modernity. This chapter seemed to offer further clarification in this regard, explicating how severing Christianity from its Jewish roots functioned in enlightenment intellectual discourse (embodied in this instance by Kant) as the narrative that determined/justified/undergirded a (racist) modern political vision where whiteness functions as the “now and not yet” of global perfection. This chapter offered an account, through the examination of Kant’s texts, of a specific “genealogical moment” where whiteness, Christianity, and the political became co-constitutive—of how Christianity was deployed, over and against Jewish identity, in tandem with/service to a vision of the nation state set about achieving a global perfection, a global perfection constituted by reason embodied by white flesh over and against the excesses and imbalances of “racial” bodies who threaten this movement towards perfection and whose presence must be defended against and policed.