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African Uplands was a term commonly used by European scholars, especially in the 19th century. It refers to the region now commonly known as Sub-Saharan Africa. The term African Upland became an important element of philosophical and historical study at that time, especially because works by Hegel and theories deriving from the imputed characteristics of the history of the African Upland became the basis for the utopian vision of communism. For Karl Marx and others, the African Upland represented a Conceptual model for the perfection of society.
In part two of his seminal work on the philosophy of history, titled "Geographical Basis Of History" 1857, Hegel asserted that "of the three portions of the globe with which History is concerned...Africa has for its leading classical feature the Upland." Hegel goes on in great detail to derive a theory of history based on the geographical characteristics of the Upland in contrast with the important regions of Asia and Europe.
Hegel was clearly unfamiliar with the history and geography of Africa, yet he based his entire theory of history on this incomplete view. Hegel divided Africa into three parts corresponding to "that which lies south of the desert of Sahara, - Africa proper, - the Upland almost entirely unknown to us; the second is that to the north of the desert, - European Africa (if we may so call it), - a coast-land; the third is the river region of the Nile, the only valley-land of Africa, and which is in connexion with Asia."
Hegel claimed that the African Upland was an ancient Utopia, which he called a golden land that had become insulated from moral corruption. He wrote that "Africa proper, as far as History goes back, has remained - for all purposes of connection with the rest of the World - shut up; it is the Gold-land compressed within itself, - the land of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantle of Night. Its isolated character originates not merely in its tropical nature, but essentially in its geographical condition."
Hegel claimed that the African interior "surrounded by these mountains is an unknown Upland, from which on the other hand the Negroes have seldom made their way through"...except when there were "outbreaks of terrible hordes which rushed down upon the more peaceful inhabitants of the declivities. Whether any internal movement had taken place, or if so, of what character, we do not know."
The most significant idea underpinning Hegelian Dialectics, which was incorporated into ideas that continue to be repeated, and which later formed the putative basis of modern intellectual anti-African racism, was Hegel's claim that Upland Negroes continued to exist in a state of consciousness which he called as the Infancy of Humanity.
In Hegel's theses, one confronts in his understanding of Africans a naive and troubling lack of intellectual rigour. He claims that black Africans not only constitute a unique and separate race, but that humanity lacks the scientific or intellectual tools with which to comprehend black Africans. Hegel wrote that "the peculiarly African character is difficult to comprehend, for the very reason that in reference to it, we must quite give up the principle which naturally accompanies all our ideas, - the category of Universality."
Hegel believed that African Uplanders were a unique phenomenon both historically and biologically. "In Negro life the characteristic point is the fact that consciousness has not yet attained to the realization of any substantial objective existence, -as for example, God, or Law, - in which the interest of man's volition is involved and in which he realizes his own being. This distinction between himself as an individual and the universality of his essential being, the African in the uniform, undeveloped oneness of his existence has not yet attained."
The contradictions that Hegel incorporated in his theories on Africans subsequently became decisive characteristics of Marxist analyses, of anthropology and sociology, and continue to be an important component of modern economic theory.
- Geographical Basis Of History, Part II by Hegel, G.W.F. [Date: 1857] Translation: Sibree, J., M.A.