Anthony Burgess once said, (through the narrator of one of his books…)

“The term Aryan has a purely philological significance. It can be applied only to languages.

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-Earthly Powers pg 371

The setting is in 1930s Germany, when the Third Reich was struggling to revise history and define its place on the world stage.


Philologist J.P. Mallory argues that "As an ethnic designation, the word [Aryan] is most properly limited to the Indo-Iranians, and most justly to the latter where it still gives its name to the country Iran


…and the Encyclopedia Britannica says…

Aryan, name originally given to a people who were said to speak an archaic Indo-European language and who were thought to have settled in prehistoric times in ancient Iran and the northern Indian subcontinent.

The theory of an “Aryan race” appeared in the mid-19th century and remained prevalent until the mid-20th century.

According to the hypothesis, those probably light-skinned Aryans were the group who invaded and conquered ancient India from the north and whose literature, religion, and modes of social organization subsequently shaped the course of Indian culture, particularly the Vedic religion that informed and was eventually superseded by Hinduism.

Apparently, the first attempt at the use of Aryan as a term to identify races began with the racist “theoretician” Joseph Arthur de Gobineau approximately 1848 (yeah, him again).


Apart from the usage of “Aryan” coupled with “race” currently in use by revanchist Hitler worshippers, and its co-option by the original theoreticians of the Third Reich, is there any basis to the usage of Aryan to define race in the first part of the 20 century?

In other words, was Burgess right for the time, just not now?

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    I understand that some academicians now hesitate to use the word out of concern they may be mis-interpreted. Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 20:06
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    Any term has whatever currency it can muster from whatever group puts it forth and the public's reaction to that. Asking whether the name "Aryan Nation" is legitimate is not really the right question. It is as "legitimate" as naming a small-town bank the "First National Bank of Podunk." This whole idea of naming a thing for public consumption is about branding, not philological legitimacy.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 20:12
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    Did you just tell me to focus? Because I responded to a part of the question you just deleted? Maybe you're the one who should have organized your thoughts so as not to mislead.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 20:46
  • Sorry if I offended you. I just thought you were nit-picking. I have adjusted the question, so possibly you could focus on the main idea of the question. Thank you for your input. @Robusto It is kinda incredible to me that so many high-rep users come out to criticize a well-researched question, but are ner to found when the queue is full of crap... Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 20:49
  • If it was nit-picking, it was about a nit you introduced. Again, the remedy is to organize your thoughts so as not to mislead. We are all at least somewhat responsible for the communications we put forth.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 21:02

1 Answer 1


There is actually some rather significant usage of the term to describe race in theosopical works, but my familiarity with these works is secondhand at best. The term was used as a name for what Madame Hellena Petrovena Blavatsky called the fifth root race. From what I gather, Blavatsky may have been using the word race along the lines of its meaning as describing a species, similar to the human race rather than any national race, since the first root race was ethereal in nature. However, I am not familiar enough with her work to tell you the exact sense of the word being used. Here is an example of Madame Blavatskey's usage as seen in From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan (1892 ):

Rajputs are called Hindus and are said to belong to the Aryan race; but they call themselves Surya-vansa, that is to say descendents of Surya or the sun.

Moreover, Madame Blavatsky's work dates back to the late 19th century and it was was not without influence. There are works written about her such as Some Account of My Intercourse with Madame Blavatsky from 1872 to 1884 written by Emma Coulomb, which contains the following excerpt:

The conversation related to the sad ignorance of the Aryan philosophies which prevailed among the people of India.

Perhaps more importantly her work was proliferated and spread around, Alice A. Bailey's works, which were written from 1919 through to 1949 is notably related. It is not implausible that she was using the word similarly to Blavatsky in the 1930s, but I can't confirm it at the moment since the earliest example of the word being used In Bailey's works shown is Discipleship of the New Age II, dated by google as being published in 1955.

Blavatsky's work is clearly too old to be Nazi in nature, so it is precedented, but I am not sure as to what degree. While Blavatsky was influential, I am not entirely sure how influential it was, and it is entirely possible that this is naught more than a niche usage.

  • Crap...I basically remember Blavatsky and Bailey from like 50 years ago. Gotta go back to research. Is this "Theosophism"? Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 21:48
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    @Cascabel I must admit that I took the word theosopy from Wikipedia while researching confirmation. Note that the article is entitled Theosopy (Blavatskian). Before I saw that I was going to write theological. >_>...
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 21:53
  • While I sat in on some theosophist "meditations" during the 70s, I would not normally connect that with the racist theories of the NAZIs of the 1930s. Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 21:59
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    Blavatsky was a parlor spiritist. Oh right, I guess everyone says "occult". Well, bosh, nevertheless. She seems to use the word, but can one consider that a " [legitimate] basis to the usage of Aryan to define race in the first part of the 20 century?"
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 22:36
  • @Lambie Agreed. After all "occult" only means hidden supposedly. Hidden from sight were the wires and fabric of the parlor spiritists of the time. Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 23:00

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