The Aryan race is a concept historically influential in European culture in the period of the late 19th century and early 20th century. It derives from the idea that the original speakers of the Indo-European languages and their descendants up to the present day constitute a distinctive race or subrace of the larger Caucasian race.
While originally meant simply as a neutral ethnic classification, it was later used for political racism in Nazi and neo-Nazi ideological form. It became a concept of scientific racism, and hence also in other currents such as occultism and white supremacism.
Belief in the existence of an Aryan race is sometimes referred to as Aryanism.
The term Aryan originates from the Sanskrit word arya, attested in the ancient texts of Hinduism such as the Rigveda. Arya in Sanskrit holds the meaning civilized or simply referring to an individual of higher consciousness.
In the 18th century, the most ancient known Indo-European languages were those of the Indo-Iranians' ancestors. The word Aryan was adopted to refer not only to the Indo-Iranian people, but also to native Indo-European speakers as a whole, including the Albanians, Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, Latins, and Germans. It was soon recognised that Balts, Celts, and Slavs also belonged to the same group. It was argued that all of these languages originated from a common root—now known as Proto-Indo-European—spoken by an ancient people who must have been the original ancestors of the European, Iranian, and Indo-Aryan peoples. The ethnic group composed of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and their modern descendants was termed the Aryans.
This usage was common in the late 19th and early 20th century. An example of an influential best-selling book that reflects this usage is the 1920 book The Outline of History by H. G. Wells. In it he wrote of the accomplishments of the Aryan people, stating how they "learned methods of civilization" while "Sargon II and Sardanapalus were ruling in Assyria and fighting with Babylonia and Syria and Egypt". As such, Wells suggested that the Aryans had eventually "subjugated the whole ancient world, Semitic, Aegean and Egyptian alike". In the 1944 edition of Rand McNally’s World Atlas, the Aryan race is depicted as being one of the ten major racial groupings of mankind. The science fiction author Poul Anderson (1926–2001), an anti-racist Libertarian of Scandinavian ancestry, in his many novels, novellas, and short stories, consistently used the term Aryan as a synonym for Indo-Europeans. He spoke of the Aryan bird of prey which impelled those of the Aryan race to take the lead in developing interstellar travel, colonize habitable planets in other planetary systems and become leading business entrepreneurs on the newly colonized planets.
The use of "Aryan" as a synonym for "Indo-European" or to a lesser extent for "Indo-Iranian", is regarded today by many as obsolete and politically incorrect, but may still occasionally appear in material based on older scholarship, or written by persons accustomed to older usage, such as in a 1989 article in Scientific American by Colin Renfrew in which he uses the word "Aryan" in its traditional meaning as a synonym for "Indo-European".
In 19th century physical anthropology, represented by some as being scientific racism, the "Aryan race" was considered a subgroup of the Caucasian (or Europid) race, essentially corresponding to the speakers of Indo-European languages native to Europe, Persia and the Indo-Gangetic plain in South Asia.
The original 19th-century and early 20th-century use of the term Aryan referred to "the early speakers of Proto-Indo European and their descendents". Max Müller is often identified as the first writer to speak of an Aryan "race" in English. In his Lectures on the Science of Language in 1861 he referred to Aryans as a "race of people". At the time, the term race had the meaning of "a group of tribes or peoples, an ethnic group".
When Müller's statement was interpreted to imply a biologically distinct sub-group of humanity, he soon clarified that he simply meant a line of descent, insisting that it was very dangerous to mix linguistics and anthropology. "The Science of Language and the Science of Man cannot be kept too much asunder ... I must repeat what I have said many times before, it would be wrong to speak of Aryan blood as of dolichocephalic grammar". He restated his opposition to this method in 1888 in his essay Biographies of words and the home of the Aryas.
Müller was responding to the development of racial anthropology, and the influence of the work of Arthur de Gobineau who argued that the Indo-Europeans represented a superior branch of humanity. A number of later writers, such as the French anthropologist Vacher de Lapouge in his book L'Aryen, argued that this superior branch could be identified biologically by using the cephalic index (a measure of head shape) and other indicators. He argued that the long-headed "dolichocephalic-blond" Europeans, characteristically found in northern Europe, were natural leaders, destined to rule over more "brachiocephalic" (short headed) peoples..
The division of the Caucasian race into Aryans, Semites and Hamites is in origin linguistic, not based on physical anthropology, the division in physical anthropology being that into Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean. However, the linguistic classification of "Aryan" became closely associated, and conflated, with the classification of "Nordic".
This claim became increasingly important during the 19th century. In the mid-19th century, it was commonly believed that the Aryans originated in the southwestern steppes of present-day Russia. However, by the late 19th century the steppe theory of Aryan origins was challenged by the view that the Aryans originated in ancient Germany or Scandinavia, or at least that in those countries the original Aryan ethnicity had been preserved. The German origin of the Aryans was especially promoted by the archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna, who claimed that the Proto-Indo-European peoples were identical to the Corded Ware culture of Neolithic Germany. This idea was widely circulated in both intellectual and popular culture by the early twentieth century, and is reflected in the concept of "Corded-Nordics" in Carleton S. Coon's 1939 The Races of Europe.
Other anthropologists contested such claims. In Germany, Rudolf Virchow launched a study of craniometry, which prompted him to denounce "Nordic mysticism" in the 1885 Anthropology Congress in Karlsruhe, while Josef Kollmann, a collaborator of Virchow, stated in the same congress that the people of Europe, be they English, German, French, and Spaniard belonged to a "mixture of various races," furthermore declaring that the "results of craniology...[are] against any theory concerning the superiority of this or that European race" to others.
Virchow's contribution to the debate sparked a controversy. Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a strong supporter of the theory of a superior Aryan race, attacked Josef Kollmann arguments in detail. While the "Aryan race" theory remained popular, particularly in Germany, some authors defended Virchow's perspective, in particular Otto Schrader, Rudolph von Jhering and the ethnologist Robert Hartmann (1831–1893), who proposed to ban the notion of "Aryan" from anthropology.
Models of the Indo-Aryan migration discuss scenarios of prehistoric migrations of the early Indo-Aryans to their historically attested areas of settlement in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent and from there further across all of North India. Claims of Indo-Aryan migration are primarily drawn from linguistic evidence but also from a multitude of data stemming from genetics, Vedic religion, rituals, poetics as well as some aspects of social organization and chariot technology.
All discussion of historical Indo-Aryan migrations or Aryan and Dravidian races remains highly controversial in India to this day, and continues to affect political and religious debate. Some Dravidians, and supporters of the Dalit movement, most commonly Tamils, claim that the worship of Shiva is a distinct Dravidian religion going back to the Indus Civilization, to be distinguished from Brahminical "Aryan" Hinduism. In contrast, the Indian nationalist Hindutva movement argues that no Aryan invasion or migration ever occurred, asserting that Vedic beliefs emerged from the Indus Valley Civilisation, which pre-dated the supposed advent of the Indo-Aryans in India, and is identified as a likely candidate for a Proto-Dravidian culture.
Some Indians were also influenced by the debate about the Aryan race during the British Raj. The Indian nationalist V. D. Savarkar believed in the theory that an "Aryan race" migrated to India, but he didn't find much value in a racialized interpretation of the "Aryan race". Some Indian nationalists supported the British version of the theory because it gave them the prestige of common descent with the ruling British class.
A genetic study in the year 2000 in Andhra Pradesh state of India found that the upper caste Hindus were closer relatives to Eastern-Europeans than to Hindus from lower castes. However, a study conducted by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in 2009 (in collaboration with Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT) analyzed half a million genetic markers across the genomes of 132 individuals from 25 ethnic groups from 13 states in India across multiple caste groups. The study asserts, based on the impossibility of identifying any genetic indicators across caste lines, that castes in South Asia grew out of traditional tribal organizations during the formation of Indian society, and was not the product of any Aryan invasion and "subjugation" of Dravidian people.
These debates were addressed within the Theosophical movement founded by Helena Blavatsky and Henry Olcott at the end of the nineteenth century. This philosophy took inspiration from Indian culture, in this case, perhaps, from the Hindu reform movement the Arya Samaj founded by Swami Dayananda.
Blavatsky argued that humanity had descended from a series of "Root Races", naming the fifth root race (out of seven) the Aryan Race. She thought that the Aryans originally came from Atlantis and described the Aryan races with the following words:
Blavatsky used "Root Race" as a technical term to describe human evolution over the large time periods in her cosmology. However, she also claimed that there were modern non-Aryan peoples who were inferior to Aryans. She regularly contrasts "Aryan" with "Semitic" culture, to the detriment of the latter, asserting that Semitic peoples are an offshoot of Aryans who have become "degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality." She also states that some peoples are "semi-animal creatures". These latter include "the Tasmanians, a portion of the Australians and a mountain tribe in China." There are also "considerable numbers of the mixed Lemuro-Atlantean peoples produced by various crossings with such semi-human stocks -- e.g., the wild men of Borneo, the Veddhas of Ceylon, classed by Prof. Flower among Aryans (!), most of the remaining Australians, Bushmen, Negritos, Andaman Islanders, etc."
Despite this, Blavatsky's admirers claim that her thinking was not connected to fascist or racialist ideas, asserting that she believed in a Universal Brotherhood of humanity and wrote that "all men have spiritually and physically the same origin" and that "mankind is essentially of one and the same essence". On the other hand, in The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky states: "Verily mankind is 'of one blood,' but not of the same essence."
Blavatsky connects physical race with spiritual attributes constantly throughout her works:
According to Blavatsky, "the MONADS of the lowest specimens of humanity (the "narrow-brained" savage South-Sea Islander, the African, the Australian) had no Karma to work out when first born as men, as their more favoured brethren in intelligence had".
She also prophecies of the destruction of the racial "failures of nature" as the future "higher race" ascends:
It is interesting to note that the second subrace of the Fifth or Aryan root race, the Arabian, is regarded by Theosophists as one of the Aryan subraces. It is believed by Theosophists that the Arabians, although asserted in traditional Theosophy to be of Aryan (i.e., Indo-European) ancestry, adopted the Semitic language of the people around them who had migrated earlier from Atlantis (the fifth or (original) Semite subrace of the Atlantean root race). Theosophists assert that the Jews originated as an offshoot of the Arabian subrace in what is now Yemen about 30,000 BC. They migrated first to Somalia and then later to Egypt where they lived until the time of Moses. Thus, according to the teachings of Theosophy, the Jews are part of the Aryan race.
Guido von List (and his followers such as Lanz von Liebenfels) later took up some of Blavatsky's ideas, mixing her ideology with nationalistic and fascist ideas; this system of thought became known as Ariosophy. It was believed in Ariosophy that the Teutonics were superior to all other peoples because according to Theosophy the Teutonics or Nordics were the most recent subrace of the Aryan root race to have evolved. Such views also fed into the development of Nazi ideology. Theosophical publications such as The Aryan Path were strongly opposed to the Nazi usage, attacking racialism.
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The idea of the Northern origins of the Aryans was particularly influential in Germany. It was widely believed that the "Vedic Aryans" were ethnically identical to the Goths, Vandals and other ancient Germanic peoples of the Völkerwanderung. This idea was often intertwined with anti-Semitic ideas. The distinctions between the "Aryan" and "Semitic" peoples were based on the aforementioned linguistic and ethnic history.
Semitic peoples came to be seen as a foreign presence within Aryan societies, and the Semitic peoples were often pointed to as the cause of conversion and destruction of social order and values leading to culture and civilization's downfall by proto-Nazi and Nazi theorists such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Alfred Rosenberg.
According to the adherents to Ariosophy, the Aryan was a "master race" that built a civilization that dominated the world from Atlantis about ten thousand years ago. This alleged civilization declined when other parts of the world were colonized after the 8,000 BC destruction of Atlantis because the inferior races mixed with the Aryans but it left traces of their civilization in Tibet (via Buddhism), and even in Central America, South America, and Ancient Egypt. (The date of 8,000 BC for the destruction of Atlantis in Ariosophy is 2,000 years later than the date of 10,000 BC given for this event in Theosophy.) These theories affected the more esotericist strand of Nazism.
A complete, highly speculative theory of Aryan and anti-Semitic history can be found in Alfred Rosenberg's major work, The Myth of the Twentieth Century. Rosenberg's well-researched account of ancient history, melded with his racial speculations, proved to be very effective in spreading racialism among German intellectuals in the early twentieth century, especially after the First World War.
These and other ideas evolved into the Nazi use of the term "Aryan race" to refer to what they saw as being a master race of people of northern European descent. They worked to maintain the purity of this race through eugenics programs (including anti-miscegenation legislation, compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill and the mentally deficient, the execution of the institutionalized mentally ill as part of a euthanasia program).
Heinrich Himmler (the Reichsführer of the SS), the person ordered by Adolf Hitler to implement the final solution (Holocaust), told his personal masseur Felix Kersten that he always carried with him a copy of the ancient Aryan scripture, the Bhagavad Gita because it relieved him of guilt about what he was doing — he felt that like the warrior Arjuna, he was simply doing his duty without attachment to his actions.
Himmler was also interested in Buddhism and his institute Ahnenerbe sought to mix some traditions from Hinduism and Buddhism. Himmler sent a 1939 German expedition to Tibet as part of his research into Aryan origins.
Since the military defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allies in 1945, some neo-Nazis have expanded their concept of the Aryan race, moving from the Nazi concept that the purest Aryans were the Teutonics or Nordics of Northern Europe to the idea that the true Aryans are everyone descended from the Western or European branch of the Indo-European peoples. "Moderate" "white nationalists" who embrace what is called pan-Aryanism want to establish a democratically governed Aryan Federation. On the other hand, according to Nicholas Goodrick-Clark, many neo-Nazis want to establish an autocratic state modeled after Nazi Germany to be called the Western Imperium.
This proposed state would be led by a Führer-like figure called the Vindex, and would include all areas inhabited by the Aryan race (defined as non-Jews of European ancestry), i.e. Europe (includes all of Russia), Anglo-America, South Africa (may include Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe)) with its white minority, Australia, New Zealand, and southern South America (that is Chile, Argentina, eastern Bolivia, southern Brazil, Uruguay, and possibly Paraguay.) Only those of the Aryan race would be full citizens of the state. The Western Imperium would embark on a vigorous and dynamic program of space exploration. The concept of the Western Imperium as outlined in the previous three sentences is based on the original concept of the Imperium as outlined in the 1947 book Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics by Francis Parker Yockey as further updated, extended and refined in the early 1990s in pamphlets published by David Myatt. 
Various concepts of Aryanism and how they should be implemented are debated on the Stormfront website.
A neo-Nazi esoteric Nazi Gnostic sect headquartered in Vienna, Austria called the Tempelhofgesellschaft, founded in the early 1990s, teaches a form of what it calls Marcionism. They distribute pamphlets claiming that the Aryan race originally came to Atlantis from the star Aldebaran.
Third Reich specific:
Contemporaneous concepts of race:
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The Aryan race is the idea that the original speakers of the Indo-European languages and their descendants come from the same ancestors.
(Leipzig, 1885-1890) shows the Caucasian race (in blue) as is made up of Aryans, Semites and Hamites. Aryans are further subdivided into European Aryans and Indo-Aryans. Indo Aryans were known as Indo-Iranians).]]