Frantz Fanon, also known as Ibrahim Frantz Fanon wrote in his book, The Wretched of the Earth:

Not long ago Nazism transformed the whole of Europe into a veritable colony

meaning that the techniques pioneered in the colonies of Europe were turned upon Europe itself, culminating in the horrors of the holocaust, mirroring that, of say the Belgian Congo.

[I've asked this question in History.stackExchange but also asked this here as I wan't sure whether this is really a question of History or of Political Philosophy. I err towards the latter. Fanon is classed as a Philosopher on Wikipedia.]

As further evidence, I've read somewhere the philosophers Simone Weil & Hannah Arendt made similar claims.


It turns out that Aime Cesaire, who taught Frantz Fanon in Martinique at the Lycee Schoelcher in Fort-de-France, published in 1955, when Fanon would have been thirty, Les Discours sur le Colonialism (Discourse on Colonialism) in the French review magazine La Presence Africaine. based in Paris. Fanon published The Wretched of the Earth in 1961. It’s also worth mentioning, given some of the comments I received about both the philosophical content and justification of this question, that this journal was set up by the Senagalese professor of philosophy, Aliune Diop more or less a decade earlier. Cesaire wrote:

Colonisation or civilisation? In dealing with this subject, the commonest curse is to be the dupe in good faith of a collective hypocrisy that cleverly misrepresents problems, the better to legitimise the hateful solutions provided for them ..

To admit once and for all, without flinching at the consequences that the decisive actors here ... [is] the baleful projected shadow of a civilisation which at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the competition of its antagonistic economies...

Pursuing my analysis, I find that hypocrisy is of a recent date: That ... Cortes discovering Mexico from the top of the great teocalli ... did not claim to be a harbinger of a superior order. The slavering apologists came later. that the chief culprit in this domain is Christian pedantry which laid down the dishonest equation: Christianity=civilisation, paganism=savagery; from which could not ensue abominable colonialist and racist consequences, whose victims were to be the Indians, the yellow people and the Negroes.

... each time a Madagascan is tortured, and in France they accept the fact, civilisation acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a centre of infection begins to spread, and at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners that have been tied up and interrogated, all these patriots that have been tortured, all this racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been instilled into the veins of Europe and slowly, but surely, the continent proceeds towards savagery. [emphasis added].

And then one fine day, the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific reverse shock: the Gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers around the rack invent, refine, discuss.

People are surprised, they are indignant ... and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, but the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism. That it is Nazism, yes, but before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated Nazism before it was inflicted upon them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimised it, because, until then, it had only been applied to non-European peoples, that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian civilisation in its reddened waters, it oozes, trickles and seeps from every crack.

Yes, it would be worthwhile to study it clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler inhabits him, Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent, and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India and the blacks of Africa ...

I have talked a great deal about Hitler. Because he deserves it. He makes it possible to see things on a large scale and to grasp the fact that capitalist society, at its present stage, is incapable of establishing a concept of the rights of man, just as it has proven incapable of establishing a system of individual ethics. Whether one like it or not, at the end of the blind alley that is Europe. I mean the Europe of Adenauer, Schuman, Bidault and a few others, there is Hitler. At the end of Capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler. At the end of all formal humanism and philosophical renunciation lies Hitler.

I’ve quoted at length, given, at least in my mind, the importance of the question, and also because he makes the argument that Frantz didn't.

  • I regard this as a question for the history site. Because Fanon was a philosopher it does not follow that all he wrote, and this matter in particular, falls within philosophy. I merely express my view. Given the considerable body of answers and comments, philosophers are clearly interested to answer it. I leave them to it. – Geoffrey Thomas Feb 19 '19 at 9:03
  • @Geoffrey Thomas: We clearly differ on this. Given that the notion of history has been of interest to philosophers as different as Hegel and Nietzsche, I think Fanons and Cesaire interest in this is apposite. Also, questions of authority, power, violence and ofvgood and evil are questions that have perennially engaged philosophers. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 28 '19 at 3:47
  • The scope of philosophy is disputable. I agree that all the topics you list have been and are studied by philosophers. That's why I only offered a view and did not attempt to block the question. I like your many contributions to the site. The occasional disagreement is natural. All the best - Geoffrey – Geoffrey Thomas Feb 28 '19 at 9:47

It has been about 30 years since I have read Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, but I don't recall him as arguing that Nazism was the culminating point of the project of European colonialism. Could you provide a bit more of the argument?

The passage that you quote makes a somewhat different argument: that the Nazi occupation of Europe possessed such strong similarities to the colonial occupation of the Third World, that the Third World countries should be entitled to the same reparations and restitution that were demanded by the countries occupied by the Nazis. In other words, if France is permitted to put the Nazi leaders on trial, and demand reparations and restitution, why can't Algeria make the same demands of France?

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  • 1
    I had a look at that paragraph itself and you are right - that is my gloss/rhetoric. (Still I think its important to note that the Colonialism began to be dismantled after Nazism). I don't think he's interested in examining this question at all. He's more interested in the Native and the means of resistance at his disposal and analysing the conditions of resistance. I didn't know that this was only the first chapter of his book the Wretched of the Earth, I'll read the rest of it when I find some time. – Mozibur Ullah Jun 23 '12 at 11:42
  • I think, given that Fanon was taught by Cesaire, and his interest in this subject that it’s very plausible he would have been aware of Cesaires essay. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 19 '19 at 7:41

You could argue that the Lebensraum policy pursued by Germany was an attempt to have colonies when oversea colonisation is not feasibble. This included the expulsion and murder of population where the Nazis planners deemed this neccessary. The discussion of the Hunger plan goes into this.

Ideologically, the way the Nazis described Slavs and other ethincities mirrored racist colonialist discourse (people without history etc.). Also remeber thatthe first attempt at Genocide in the 20th century was the mass murder of Nama and Herero at the hands of German Colonial troops around 1905. A key ideological difference to colonialism would be the role of anticommunism - this is very much a defining and motivating feature of Nazis and other fascists.

However, the Nazis also committed the Holocaust. This type of industrialized mass murder was absent from colonialism. I think researching debates about the singularity of the Holocaust would be helpful here.

I'm not sure I agree with Fanon that Nazism was the culminating point of colonialism, but I do think that for a long time, maybe still today, the crimes of colonialism get ignored or an easy pass. To me, Fanon's statement aksk why we treat colonialsm so different, and this is a valid question.

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  • I've read debartes about this topic in the last years, if only I knew were ... Also I'd need to read this article, it's been a long while since I read Fanon. – mart Sep 21 '15 at 7:21

The claim that Nazism was the culmination of European colonialism has its elements of truth and its elements of overly-enthusiastic Marxism, I think. It's a conception of history in the same vein as Lenin's belief that Imperialism is "the highest stage of capitalism". Some Marxist thinking oversimplifies history as inevitability (e.g. capitalism must collapse, or must develop into nazism). Nevertheless, I think it's fair to say that Nazism took its foundations from the European experience of colonialism. Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism is a pretty thorough treatment of the topic, and I'll basically talk about her arguments here.

In Arendt's telling, totalitarianism was a response to the failures of liberal democracy. It was colonialism that provided totalitarianism with the framework on which to build its alternative to the nation-state and party politics that were the norm in Europe at the turn of the 20th century.

Liberal democracy was based on class society. The interests of the various classes (workers, financiers, factory owners, etc.) were represented by political parties, and social conflicts were supposed to be mediated in parliament by politicians that people elected.

In the colonies, there was no public participation in government. Instead, the native people were ruled by bureacracy, a top-down and authoritarian structure. The way "democratic" Europeans rationalised ruling over non-European people in a non-democratic way was racism - rights were nice at home in Europe, but, it was reasoned, they only applied to "civilized races".

It was these two factors ("discoveries" as Arendt calls them), (1) bureaucracy as an organizational structure and (2) racism as an ideological basis for authoritarianism and inhumanity, that gave Nazism the tools it needed to build its alternative to Liberal Democracy.

Remember that parliamentary democracy was a decision making mechanism for balancing the interests of different classes. Arendt talks of an increasing "mass" of people that didn't fit in to class society before, during and after WWI. Racism provided a means of weaponizing this mass. Instead of being a factory worker, a manager, an owner, an intellectual, you could now just be an Aryan, in contradistinction to the other "races" of Europe and the world. This led to a flattening of class society into mass society. Without classes, there was no need for party politics - one party was enough.

In a last twist of irony, the Nazis were pushed to power by the "masses" through democracy, which they immediately proceeded to eliminate. They implemented a system of government based on bureaucracy that had no need to poll public opinion, since they basically considered themselves a sort of pseudo-Hegelian representation of the spirit of the (aryan) people. The entirety of their political project was based on the idea of racial superiority and the domination of non-Aryans.

In summary, racism allowed human beings to justify treating other humans inhumanely. Bureaucracy provided the actual infraestructure to build a government based on inhuman exploitation and murder. According to Arendt, both racism as ideology and bureaucracy as government grew out of European colonialism. In a sense, the logic of Nazism was "if we can do it in Africa, why not in Europe?"

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it's an interesting question, but if you're asking whether European countries continued to engage in colonialist activities after the era of Nazism, i think this is a history question. If what you mean to ask is whether the project(s?) of European colonialism followed a kind of trajectory whose ultimate end was the use of colonialist strategies to dominate European citizens, then i think it's also a history question. The reason being that the only way to assess the validity of Fannon's claim is to find historical data that shows some kind of contunuity between European colonialism and Nazi strategies of domination, showing through historical evidence based reasoning whether 'the project of European colonialism' was a singular project whose end was Nazism

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  • I think its borderline which is why I've asked it in both Q&As. Ideas of racial essentialism & social darwinism are philosophically conditioned and important for the purposes of propaganda & manufacturing consent. Obviously matters of fact can be established with historical research & data (when available) but matters of interpretation is a much more delicate affair. – Mozibur Ullah Jun 23 '12 at 12:07
  • true, these are 2 good points .. i would maintain though that history is not solely historical research and data, - the question of interpretation is a central part of its domain aswell – Dr Sister Jun 24 '12 at 9:01
  • :Of course, but that is where it intersects with Philosophy. – Mozibur Ullah Jun 25 '12 at 21:26
  • and thus part of both. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 27 '12 at 20:12
  • i disagree, for reasons stated above ;) you can have historical interpretation without philosophy, and philosophy without historical interpretation. There is history of philosophical interpretation, and philosophical interpretation of history, but the two are still legitimately distinct. For eg. is interpretation of observations where science intersects philosophy? the boundaries for making legitimate inferences are part of the scientific method, and not a 'part' of philosophy. My position would be that this is also the case with history. – Dr Sister Oct 3 '12 at 17:46

I think it's a flawed conjecture. This infers that before European colonialism there was no imperialism and no expansion through invasion. Genghis Khan had the biggest connecting empire the world has ever seen. Nazism was a culmination of flawed politics following WWI, the great depression and several other issues relating to losing a war and feeling oppressed. As often is the case, extremism grows in such fertile lands - and Nazism was just another form a extremism (the need to take revenge against the monster under the bed - and the need to invent/promote some group(s) to fit the description).

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  • I don't think all imperialisms are the same. Expansion through invasion are a feature of history, but there are for the want of a better term, rules of engagement, which are historically & culturally conditioned. – Mozibur Ullah Jun 23 '12 at 11:59

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