The Nordicism or Nordic theory was a thesis racial in vogue in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century . He took advantage of the model of classical anthropology common to his time, according to which the European peoples were divided into three subramas of the Caucasian race : the Nordic , the Alpine and the Mediterranean . He taught that the Nordic race was spread throughout northern Europe , especially among the Germanic language speakers , and was characterized by tall individuals, elongated faces and heads, blond or brown hair, and light eyes (blue, green, or gray) . For its part, the Alpine race would predominate in central Europe and would be characterized by a short stature and relatively round head. The Mediterranean race would be common in southern Europe and specifically in parts of North Africa and would be characterized by dark hair and brown skin (according to some theorists of the time this would be due to racial mixing with North African peoples) .

Origins of Norse theory

The term “Nordic” was first proposed as a racial group by the French anthropologist Joseph Deniker . However, it was the work of the sociologist / economist William Z. Ripley who popularized the idea of ​​the three European races by using the terminology coined by Deniker (formerly Ripley had used ” Teuton ” as designation) in his reference work Las Razas Of Europe , in which it distinguished the European races based on diverse anthropometric measurements and taking into account mainly the height and the cephalic index . The Anglo-German racialist theoretician Houston Stewart Chamberlain , who would be a role model for Adolf Hitler , conceived the Norse as the original Celtic and Germanic peoples, as well as some Slavic peoples . All of them were, namely, Balts, Belgians, Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Polish, Scandinavian, Scots and Welsh. Chamberlain would call Celtogermanic to these peoples.

Nordicism and racial supremacy

Meyers Blitz-Lexikon ( Leipzig, 1932 ) shows famous German war hero ( Karl von Müller ) as an example of the Nordic type.

Among many white supremacists Europeans and Americans, the Nordic race came to be regarded as the most advanced of human populations, hence the ideology Nazi ‘s equated with the ” master race ” aria . In the United States , the main diffuser of “nordicism” was the pro-eugenics author Madison Grant . Based on these theories, he advocated the adoption of anti-immigration policies in the 1920s in the United States, arguing that immigrants from southern and eastern Europe represented an “inferior” type of Europeans and therefore their entry should be restricted . Grant was stricter than his predecessors, like Chamberlain, in attributing the category of Nordic and argued that towns with the least trace of non-Nordic descent were inferior. His book on Nordicism The Passing of the Great Race, or the Racial Basis of European History ( 1916 ), had a great influence on government, ideas and racial politics. Even in popular culture F. Scott Fitzgerald invokes Grant’s ideas through a character from The Great Gatsby . Grant contended that the Nordic race had been responsible for most of the progress of mankind and that “mestizaje” constituted “racial suicide.” According to Grant, if no policies of eugenics were introduced , the Nordic race would be replaced by the “inferior” races. Nordicism is a variety of white supremacism that does not admit the equality of all branches of the “white race.” The Italians, the Greeks, the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the Slavs are among those whites of the second category, while the Jews were among those considered inferior.

The fact that European Mediterranean peoples could identify with most of the great civilizations of antiquity constituted a problem for those who advocated the merits of the Nordic race. Giuseppe Sergi’s influential book The Mediterranean Race (1901) held that the mixture of the Mediterranean race was what gave him his creative advantage. Grant’s speculative explanation for this problem was to claim that many of the achievements of the Mediterranean culture were actually the result of Nordic genes that had entered the Mediterranean gene pool as a result of ancient invasions of northern peoples.


In the United States, however, the conception of race in such terms lost ground in the convulsive political theater that emerged after the First World War , as a result of the great African-American emigration to the industrial centers of the north of the country and later with the Great Depression of the 1930s . The influx of the black population into the northern states resulted in a merging of the different racial strata into a new conception, which the racialist theoretician and pro-eugenics author Lothrop Stoddard called “bi-racialism”, with which all System of gradations of the “white race” defended by Grant. This new thought, which established a bipartite distinction between blacks and whites, was embraced with equal intensity by both white supremacists and black nationalists. Among the latter is Marcus Garvey and, in part, a late WEB Du Bois .

Nordicism and Nazism

But while Nordic theory lost support in the United States, it was in turn influential in Germany under the heyday of Adolf Hitler , who was inclined to use the terms “Nordic” and ” Aryan ” interchangeably . The book of Grant was the first work not written by a German that the Nazi State translated and published. Grant often prided himself on teaching a letter from Alfred Rosenberg [editor of the German Völkischer Beobachter ] in which he claimed that Grant’s book was “his bible.” Paradoxically, in the first edition of his popular book, Grant classified the Germans as mostly Nordic, while in his second edition, published after the United States entered World War II , recalled the then enemy power as dominated by “Lower” alpines. Because of this, Hitler himself would later lessen the importance of nordicism. The conventional tripartite model attributed the alpine category to most of Hitler’s German population, especially after the annexation of Austria . As early as 1939 , Hitler had abandoned the Nordic rhetoric in favor of the idea that the German people, as a unit, were distinguished by ‘spiritual’ qualities.

Decline of theory

After World War II , the division of peoples into “superior” and “inferior” lost all political and scientific support. The tripartite subdivision of the “Caucasians” in Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean still remained among some scientists until the 1960s, mainly with the book by Carleton S. Coon The Origins of Race (1962), although it would end up being obsolete before the Current consensus of biologists, who maintain the inapplicability of the concept of subspecies within Homo Sapiens Sapiens , although current racialism struggles to re-actualize the old theory of human races . Nordicism would never again be adopted by white supremacism , since Lothrop Stoddard’s biracracy, Nazi Aryanism, and modern white nationalism would overrule it.


  • Madison Grant , The Passing of the Great Race (1916 )
  • Matthew Pratt Guterl, The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).