Revisiting Hrdlička and Boas: Asymmetries of Race and Anti-Imperialism in Interwar Anthropology



ABSTRACT  Physical anthropologist Aleš Hrdlička is often remembered as an institutional and political opponent of Franz Boas and as an advocate of racial typology against which the Boasian antiracialist position in American anthropology developed. I argue that Hrdlička nonetheless also has more subtle lessons to offer about the political limits of Boasian antiracism. Examining Hrdlička's engagement with the politics of Europe and East Asia from the 1920s to the 1940s, particularly with the intellectual grounding of Japanese imperialism, I suggest that he was perhaps uniquely cognizant of a “second problem of race in the world”—the racist assimilationism of the Japanese empire—vis-à-vis the Boasian grasp of race, rooted in a response to U.S. and Nazi racisms, as a category of invidious difference. Moreover, I contend that the lacuna that Hrdlička helps us identify has continued to haunt the discipline at certain key moments of Boasian critique of other ideological forces.