Thursday, February 22, 2007


While [Langston] Hughes was in his prime as a writer, in the 1930s, historian Jacques Barzun wrote Race: A Study in a Modern Superstition. In this timely book, Barzun looked across the Atlantic at the looming blitzkriegs and the early rumblings of a Final Solution and south across the Mason-Dixon line, where lynchings were still impromptu festive holidays in hundreds of towns and where the Klan was the most influential political machine in several states. In exposing — unsuccessfully, it now seems — race as an “intellectually revolting” superstition that “denies individual diversity,” Barzun warned that talking about race is “always charged with hatred and hypocrisy.”

No matter who wins the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — no matter who becomes our next president — let’s hope that the emerging conversation about the junior Illinois senator’s “race” will inspire Americans take up the task Hughes, [Charles W.] Chesnutt, Barzun and others have left for us to finish.

— James D. Bloom, Obama’s candidacy reopens debate on race

Race: A Study in Modern Superstition (1937) was revised as Race: A Study in Superstition (1965). Mr. Barzun’s first published work of history was The French “Race”: Theories of Its Origins and Their Social Political Implications prior to the Revolution (1932).