The idea of a fantastic and mysterious Aryan homeland hidden somewhere in the far north was not made up by the Nazis. It had deep roots not only in the history of Western occultism but also in the growing field of anthropology. (In fact, the idea of a “Aryan Race” owes as much to philology as it does to any other field of study.)
Before the Enlightenment, the Bible was thought to be the final word on where people came from and how they got here. Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark landed after the Flood, was seen as the starting point. Even scientists of the Enlightenment who didn’t believe in the Bible agreed with this idea, because mountainous areas would have been the only way to avoid natural disasters like the supposed prehistoric flood.
The German Romantics were very interested in Eastern philosophy and mysticism, especially the ancient Persians’ holy book, the Zend-Avesta. Thinkers like Goethe, Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Richard Wagner found in the Orient a system of philosophy and history that helped them leave behind the unsatisfying worldview of Judeo-Christianity. Joscelyn Godwin says that this love of the Orient went hand in hand with a rediscovery of the German Volk, which were the pre-Christian Teutonic tribes whose descendants, the Goths, had destroyed the last remnants of the decaying Roman Empire. The German Romantics had to figure out how to connect their history to that of the Orient, which they saw as the birthplace of humanity and the place where the highest human ideals came from.
Godwin asks, “But where did these noble and talented tribes come from?” He is talking about the early Teutons. Were they, too, sons of Noah, or could they be left out of the Bible’s family tree? It was the right time to do it. The French Encyclopedists had set a bad example by not believing that the Hebrew Scriptures were reliable sources of information. With their Asiatic Researches, the British School of Calcutta had shown them another world that was probably smarter and, to many people’s minds, morally and philosophically better than Moses’s. If the Germans could prove that they came from India, they would be free from their ties to the Middle East and the Middle East.
In order to establish and strengthen the link between the Germans and the Orient, Hebrew had to be replaced as the original language of humanity by Sanskrit, which is the language of classical Hinduism. Friedrich von Schlegel, a classical scholar who lived from 1772 to 1829, was a big part of making this link. He tried to find historical and cultural connections between the Indians and the Scandinavians that would show how the Indian language could have influenced the Scandinavian language. Schlegel solved this problem by assuming that the ancient Indians went to the far north because they revered Meru, which they thought was the spiritual center of the world, and wanted to visit it.
Schlegel came up with the word “Aryan” in 1819 to describe a group of people of the same race, not a group of people who spoke the Proto-Indo-European language, which is what the word should mean. Schlegel took the word “Aryan,” which he had already taken from Herodotus (who had used the word “Arioi” to describe the people of Media, an ancient country in what is now northern Iran) and used it to describe the ancient Persians, and made a false connection between it and the German word “Ehre,” which means “honor.” At that time, the word “Aryan” came to mean the best, most pure, and most respected race. Other people, like the anti-Semitic Christian Lassen, added to this idea about history. Lassen said that the Indo-Germans were biologically better than the Semites.
Later, the linguist Max Muller pushed for the term “Aryan” to be used instead of “Indo-Germanic,” because the latter did not include other European people whose languages, like those of the Indians and Germans, can be traced back to Sanskrit. By 1860, historian Leon Poliakov says, educated Europeans had come to accept that Aryans and Semites were fundamentally different. Godwin says this dogma in simple terms: “Europeans were of the Aryan Race,” and “This race came from the high plateaus of Asia.” Before they moved to Europe and Asia, the ancestors of the Indians, Persians, Greeks, Italians, Slavonians, Germans, and Celts lived together.
The supporters of Aryan racial superiority took Charles Darwin’s ideas and ran with them. The idea of “survival of the fittest” was easily applied to the interactions between different racial groups, no matter how silly or wrong this way of grouping might have been. Darwin thought that evolution by natural selection would always lead to gradual improvements in each species. Aryan racism, on the other hand, said that the White Race had reached perfection a long time ago and was being ruined by mixing with lower-quality races.
Godwin tells us that, back in the late 1800s, some people were making plans for the “improvement” of the human race’s biology. Ernest Renan, a French writer, thought that in the future, selective breeding would lead to the creation of “gods” and “devas.” He thought that a factory of “Scandinavian heroes,” called a “Asgaard,” could be built in the middle of Asia. If you don’t like these kinds of myths, think about how bees and ants breed individuals for specific jobs or how botanists make hybrids. One could focus all the nervous energy in the brain… If such a solution is ever possible on Earth, it seems like it will come from Germany.