Dora Marsden on Race and the Individual

Dora Marsden / Monday, December 5th, 2016

Excerpt from ‘Against Words – Against Thoughts’, part of the compilation Dora Marsden: The Freewoman and the Egoist Volume One (out of print ebook). Seeing as many old-time writers used “(the) race” as a synonym for “species”, much like “the human race” is used today, I’m unsure if she’s referring to humanity, or the bio-geographic subgroups that compose it. In either case, her words work for me (for the most part).



Our reference to the Race and the Individual has raised an old controversy which could, in our opinion be laid at one stroke, by denying the validity of the concept: “Race.” It can be effectually maintained that the “Race” concept is made up as we make up the concept Eternity for instance, by adding together chunks of time-lengths placed end by end, until we are tired; then making pretense of totaling the  additions, calling the total Eternity and placing this over against Time as an opposition. The Race is the concept formed by adding one individual to another, carrying on the process to boredom, slurring the finish, and dabbing on a label. Thus is the Race formed and placed in opposition to that which composes it: i.e., Individuals, as Eternity opposes its sole substance – Time. Our answer then is that the “Race” is empty when that which it opposes is taken from it. It is Nothing apart from the individual. The word should be abolished and a periphrasis put in its place. But granting to the opposition for the moment, that “Race” may have a reason for existing – that what it connotes is a reality as yet uncovered by other and concrete labels, we can still state our attitude towards pretensions advanced in its name. If it is a reality, and has anything to give, we will accept it, but without any corresponding reciprocity. We have nothing to give to it. It is welcome however to our leavings when we are dead; old thoughts for instance, old systems, and any other cramping vestments made only to our measure we may leave behind. (Such things as these are we believe the only bequests of the race which the race-cultists have to show.) While we are alive however, we are too much engrossed with our own performance to be prepared to sacrifice to the Future. Moreover we believe that the individuals of the future, if they are worth anything at all, will be as well able to look after themselves, as we are to look after ourselves. In short there may be glorious and radiant individuals in the dim future as there have been in the past: but they are no concern of ours. Our joy is not in them: their beauty is not ours. We can adapt George Wither’s lines and say of the future with truth,

If it be not such for me,

What care I how good it be?

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