Clash of Continents

Ross sees the world structured by continents in struggle for space, resources, and power.

Colin Ross’s guiding concern, both in his travels and in his writings, is a tectonic shift he detects in the sphere of global power relations. A new ordering of the world is underway, and it involves the consolidation of the world’s populations into continentally divided groups who will ultimately enter into a global struggle over Lebensraum (living space). Most pressing for Ross is the threat this poses to the white race: will it be able to compete with the tides of colored people he sees rising up  in Asia and Africa?

Although Ross never questions the inevitability of this impending struggle, he is entirely aware of its constructed nature. This begins with his continual questioning of Europe’s actual location: how far east does it extend? (Might it even include Central Asia and the Middle East?) How far south? (Perhaps into northern Africa—the “southern shore of the Mediterranean”?) And then there are the attending questions of membership in the white race, and whether other land masses will be aligned with Europe. Will Australia remain a white space? Will North America align itself with its European motherland?  Most pressing, however, is the question of internal European unity. Will the German and the French be able to find common ground? Can Britain be brought home to the continent?

Ross shared this continental imaginary and its pressing questions with geopolitically aligned authors of both fiction and nonfiction during the interwar period. Despite lingering postwar animosities towards France and England, there was a reason why it was attractive to conceptually structure conflict as taking place at the continental level. Germany had lost its overseas colonies, and with them its sense of global agency. Located in the middle of Europe, however, conflict conceptualized at the continental scale would integrate Germany into a larger entity continuing to exert its influence across the globe. Indeed, it even introduces the possibility for a new wave of German global leadership, which Ross ultimately identified in the world view of Adolf Hitler, whom he thought would consolidate a united Europe and deploy its forces against its continental opponents.

Kristin Kopp

Ross claims that his travels have allowed him to perceive an impending crisis characterized by a restructuring of large-scale power relations on the world’s continents. Previously, the globe had been organized according to a set of interrelated center-periphery networks in which individual European powers controlled various overseas regions through the mechanisms of colonization. Now, however, Ross sees the colonized peoples coalescing into power groups organized roughly according to racial-continental alignments, most notably in the rise of a “black Africa” and a “yellow Asia”. Europe’s only hope is to unify, perhaps into a Pan-Europe, in order to maintain its global power.

The clash of continents thus orders its own discourses of external otherness—the “colored front” (die farbige Front), the “yellow peril” (die gelbe Gefahr)—as well as its own discourses of internal threat—the “decline of the West” (der Untergang des Abendlandes), and the “colonization of Europe” (Europa als Kolonie der farbigen Völker).

Most fascinating is the pliability of the model’s organizing structures. Ross adjusts the identity of continents to match his shifting geopolitical agendas. For example, the Eurasian continent, conventionally divided arbitrarily into two separate continents, is sometimes divided by Ross into three: Europe, Asia, and “the steppe-continent” that separates them. Of course, the same plasticity applies to race: how far does “whiteness” extend? Does it include central Asia? North Africa? North America?

Kristin Kopp

In his reports on trips through Indian and Chinese cities Ross gets anxious, because he sees something that is fundamentally alien to his European sensibilities (see: Afraid of Asia’s maw), or because he witnesses European influence taking hold (see: Demeaning cultural hybridization). This presents us not so much with a contradiction, but with the precise contours of Ross’s ethnopluralism, which treasures Chinese scholarship and Australian Aborigine weaponry, while still being partial to upholding European supremacy out of racial affiliation. India and China’s developing industries provide Ross with his clearest example of an Asia rising against Europe’s political and economic interests. (See: The perils of international trade)

Ross’s writing and lecturing on the impasses of European universalist liberalism were ambivalent enough to be taken in different directions by commentators, even translated into an appeal to international solidarity with the rising Asian and Afrian workforces. (See: The challenge of international solidarity) For Ross himself, though, the only solidarity to advocate was that among the white race in Europe and America.

Joachim Schätz

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