The Arizona Desert Lamp

Subverting Rhodes

Posted in Culture by Evan Lisull on 24 November 2008

Cecil RhodesOne of the genuinely inspiring sports stories this year (i.e. not the usual pabulum about hardship, adjusting to campus celebrity, etc.) is the awarding of a Rhodes Scholarship to Myron Rolle, a black football player at Florida State University.

Why does race matter here? From Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence:

Scholars who called themselves anthropo-sociologists did not hesitate to assert that the “Mediterranean race,” with its brown eyes and round skull, was not disposed toward individual self-reliance and risk-taking. Its nature was to favor socialism — protection by the state; whereas the Nordic type was the pioneer, the individual endowed with courage and originality, who singled-handed achieves great things. On him alone all progress depends. The political implications of this pseudo science were that England, Germany, Scandinavia, and the United States were bound to prosper and lead the world, while the Mediterranean countries (“the Latin nations” would be left trailing farther and farther behind.

That fortunate adventurer in South Africa, Cecil Rhodes, believed this prediction so literally that to help prepare the future rulers of the world he endowed by his will of 1903 the scholarships that bear his name. They were intended for English, German, and American students of high character and ability, who would acquire at Oxford the attitudes and traditions that made Englishmen movers and shakers.

Rhodes was also an ardent colonialist, who once proclaimed that, “If I could, I would annex other planets.” Suffice to say, giving Rolle a scholarship isn’t exactly what Rhodes envisioned, and we can all be grateful in this case that his vision was subverted.


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