Jan Smuts was a prominent and respected Afrikaner and British Commonwealth military leader and statesman in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He served two terms as Prime Minister of South Africa under British rule, between 1919 and 1924 and again between 1939 and 1948. He fought for the Boers in the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902), as well as for the British Empire in WWI. He was also the only man to sign both peace treaties ending WWI and WWII. The respect Smuts had in the British Commonwealth is evidenced by the statue of him erected on London’s Parliament Square in front of Westminster Palace in London (pictured above).
Smuts played a major role in shaping the policy of racial segregation in twentieth-century South Africa, being a leading early philosopher behind the practice. In 1929 he delivered a lecture at Oxford University as part of a series of “Rhodes Memorial Lectures” delivered during November of that year. In it he wonderfully outlines the basic principles and practical necessities that underlie the policy of apartheid, or separate development:
[For the African] there is no inward incentive to improvement, there is no persistent effort in construction, and there is complete absorption in the present, its joys and sorrows. Wine, women, and song in their African forms remain the great consolations of life.
These children of nature have not the inner toughness of the European, nor those social and moral incentives to progress which have built up European civilization in a comparatively short period. But they have a temperament which suits mother Africa, and which brings out the simple joys of life and deadens its pain, such as no other race possesses.
The boldness with which Smuts could proclaim race realism at a university such as Oxford in the late 1920s is fascinating. One cannot imagine presenting one’s case with such sobriety and valor if invited to speak at such a prominent academic institution on such a sensitive topic today. This lecture indeed serves as a fine piece of evidence of how, since the interwar period, the university system in the West has degraded from a nucleus of free ideas and thought to the Cultural Marxist propaganda machine it is today.
It is clear that a race so unique, and so different in its mentality and its cultures from those of Europe, requires a policy very unlike that which would suit Europeans. Nothing could be worse for Africa than the application of a policy, the object or tendency of which would be to destroy the basis of this African type, to de-Africanize the African and turn him either into a beast of the field or into a pseudo-European.
In a previous piece of mine, I outlined how the Westernization of non-white races, as rebellion against the created order, inevitably leads to catastrophic consequences. The content of Smuts’ lecture seems to suggest that this wisdom was more well-known in the days prior to the rise and eventual dominance of the Frankfurt School.
The principle of equal rights [has been] applied in its crudest form, and while it gave the native a semblance of equality with whites, which was little good for him, it destroyed the basis of his African system which was his highest good.[T]he British Empire does not stand for assimilation of its peoples into a common type, it does not stand for standardisation, but for the fullest, freest development of its peoples along their own specific lines.
The tribal and imperial character of social orders were traditionally not conceived as conflicting. This idea of the one and the many, theologically rooted in trinitarianism, remained prevalent in Smuts’ day.
Already the African system is disintegrating everywhere over the whole African continent. Missionaries share the blame with governments; the fight against the native social ideas has been no less destructive than the deposition of native chiefs and the institution of European organs of government. Unfortunately the earlier efforts of missionary enterprise were made without reference to, or knowledge of, the peculiar native psychology, or the light which anthropology has thrown on the past of human cultures. For the natives, religion, law, natural science, social customs and institutions all form one blended whole, which enshrines their view of the world and of the forces governing it.
While Smuts’ statement is true, it should not be misunderstood as implying that Christianity traditionally propagated a hard universalism, and only learned about racial peculiarities in the twentieth century from the social sciences. Indeed, Christian social doctrine has always recognized both unity and diversity as integral to the social order, a traditionally prevalent view interrupted only by the Enlightenment, which unfortunately influenced many missionaries in the nineteenth century.
If the bonds of native tribal cohesion and authority are dissolved, the African governments will everywhere sit with vast hordes of detribalised natives on their hands, for whom the traditional restraints and the discipline of the chiefs and the elders will have no force or effect. … Such a situation would be unprecedented in the history of the world and the results may well be general chaos.
This authority and discipline need not be exercised in a barbarous way, and should be shorn of old-time cruelty and other undesirable features. But in essence it should be maintained, and under the general supervision and check of the European magistrate it should continue to be exercised.
It is not only the training in self-government that will benefit [black peoples]. They will develop a sense of responsibility which goes with it, and which is in itself one of the most valuable lessons of life.
Smuts has been vindicated in so many ways post-mortem. One can only think of the failures of black socialism in South Africa and the never-ending revolutionary demands of the Civil Rights Movement, perpetuated in movements like Black Lives Matter and the NAACP.
[Racial] Separation is imperative, not only in the interest of a native culture, and to prevent native traditions and institutions from being swamped by the more powerful organisation of the whites, but also for other important purposes, such as public health, racial purity, and public good order. The mixing up of two such alien elements as white and black leads to unhappy social results – racial miscegenation, moral deterioration of both, racial antipathy and clashes, and to many other forms of social evil.
I would love to see a neo-Marxist interpretation of Smuts here. With their Foucauldian reduction of history to a cyclical manifestation of power-struggles – the white man featured as exclusive antagonist more often than not – Smuts would have to be presented here as having ulterior motives when speaking of the interest of black people. Yet, this primary source reveals Smuts’s genuine concern for the black people of Africa, and racial diversity in general, something he and other Afrikaners before and after him have furthered at great cost to themselves.
Smuts concludes his lecture by noting that the difficulties of race relations in Africa “will provide a fruitful theme for the statesmen of the future.” And yes, we can certainly pray that these truths delineated by Smuts will be kept in mind in our continual progression to the coming Kinistic Postmillennial Kingdom we expect.