Republican universalism and racial inferiority : Paul Bonnetain and the French mission to civilize in Tonkin
Paul Bonnetain (1858-1899) is a French author whose work has been largely forgotten. While the literary merit of much of his output is another matter, this thesis will show that the value of Bonnetain’s work is of considerable historical significance as a record of the ways in which the apparently contradictory notions of republican universalism and racial hierarchy were combined to form the French mission civilisatrice. The focus will be on Bonnetain’s two books gleaned from his time spent in Indochina as a correspondent for Le Figaro during 1884-1885, the compiled journalism of Au Tonkin (1884) and the Naturalist colonial novel L’Opium. Both books exemplify the historical interest of Bonnetain’s work, which lies in its Naturalist quest for scientifically accurate literature and in its belief in the phenomenon of racial degeneration. This belief is coupled with a strongly implied materialist adherence to polygenism – the belief that human races represent different species with distinct origins. However, these aspects of his work are brought into even greater relief by their juxtaposition with Bonnetain’s strongly leftist, anti-clerical, and materialist republican universalism. This thesis describes how his enthusiasm for miscegenation and métissage, as expressed in Au Tonkin and L’Opium, allowed him to maintain a belief in racial hierarchy while also enthusiastically subscribing to republican universalism. In this way, métissage served as a framework in which these two seemingly contradictory positions could be held together.
Republicanism, Race, Indochina, French Imperialism, 19th Century
Master of Arts (M.A.)