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March 10, 2003 issue
Copyright © 2003 The American Conservative

The Marx of the Anti-Semites

[The Culture of Critique, Kevin MacDonald, 1stBooks, 466 pages]

By John Derbyshire

One evening early on in my career as an opinion journalist in the USA, I found myself in a roomful of mainstream conservative types standing around in groups and gossiping. Because I was new to the scene, many of the names they were tossing about were unknown to me, so I could not take much part in the conversation. Then I caught one name that I recognized. I had just recently read and admired a piece published in Chronicles under that name. I gathered from the conversation that the owner of the name had once been a regular contributor to much more widely read conservative publications, the kind that have salaried congressional correspondents and full-service LexisNexis accounts, but that he was welcome at those august portals no longer. In all innocence, I asked why this was so. “Oh,” explained one of my companions, “he got the Jew thing.” The others in our group all nodded their understanding. Apparently no further explanation was required. The Jew thing. It was said in the kind of tone you might use of an automobile with a cracked engine block, or a house with subsiding foundations. Nothing to be done with him, poor fellow. No use to anybody now. Got the Jew thing. They shoot horses, don’t they?

Plainly, getting the Jew thing was a sort of occupational hazard of conservative journalism in the United States, an exceptionally lethal one, which the career-wise writer should strive to avoid. I resolved that I would do my best, so far as personal integrity allowed, not to get the Jew thing. I had better make it clear to the reader that at the time of writing, I have not yet got the Jew thing—that I am in fact a philoSemite and a well-wisher of Israel, for reasons I have explained in various places, none of them difficult for the nimble web surfer to find.

If, however, you have got the Jew thing, or if, for reasons unfathomable to me, you would like to get it, Kevin MacDonald is your man. MacDonald is a tenured professor of psychology at California State University in Long Beach. He is best known for his three books about the Jews, developing the idea that Judaism has for 2,000 years or so been a “group evolutionary strategy.” The subject of this review is a re-issue, in soft cover, of the third and most controversial of these books, The Culture of Critique, first published in 1998. Its subtitle is, “An evolutionary analysis of Jewish involvement in twentieth-century intellectual and political movements.” The re-issue differs from the original mainly by the addition of a 66-page preface, which covers some more recent developments in the field and offers responses to some of the criticisms that appeared when the book was first published. The number of footnotes has also been increased from 135 to 181, and they have all been moved from the chapter-ends to the back of the book. A small amount of extra material has been added to the text. So far as I could tell from a cursory comparison of the two editions, nothing has been subtracted.

The main thrust of this book’s argument is that Jewish or Jewish-dominated organizations and movements engaged in a deliberate campaign to delegitimize the Gentile culture of their host nations —most particularly the USA—through the twentieth century and that this campaign is one aspect of a long-term survival strategy for the Jews as an ethnicity. In MacDonald’s own words, “[T]he rise of Jewish power and the disestablishment of the specifically European nature of the U.S. are the real topics of CofC.” He illustrates his thesis by a close analysis of six distinct intellectual and political phenomena: the anti-Darwinian movement in the social sciences (most particularly the no-such-thing-as-race school of anthropology associated with Franz Boas), the prominence of Jews in left-wing politics, the psychoanalytic movement, the Frankfurt School of social science (which sought to explain social problems in terms of individual psychopathology), the “New York intellectuals” centered on Partisan Review during the 1940s and 1950s, and Jewish involvement in shaping U.S. immigration policy.

MacDonald writes from the point of view of evolutionary psychology—a term that many writers would put in quotes, as the epistemological status of this field is still a subject of debate. I have a few doubts of my own on this score and sometimes wonder whether evolutionary psychology may eventually turn out to be one of those odd fads that the human sciences, especially in the USA, are susceptible to. The twentieth century saw quite a menagerie of these fads: Behaviorism, Sheldonian personality-typing by body shape (ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph), the parapsychological reseaches of Dr. J.B. Rhine, the sexology of Alfred Kinsey, and so on. I think that the evolutionary psychologists are probably on to something, but some of their more extreme claims seem to me to be improbable and unpleasantly nihilistic. Here, for example, is Kevin MacDonald in a previous book: “The human mind was not designed to seek truth but rather to attain evolutionary goals.” This trembles on the edge of deconstructionist words-have-no-meaning relativism, of the kind that philosopher David Stove called “puppetry theory,” and that MacDonald himself debunks very forcefully in Chapter 5 of The Culture of Critique. After all, if it is so, should we not suppose that evolutionary psychologists are pursuing their own “group evolutionary strategy”? And that, in criticizing them, I am pursuing mine? And that there is, therefore, no point at all in my writing, or your reading, any further?

To be fair to Kevin MacDonald, not all of his writing is as silly as that. The Culture of Critique includes many good things. There is a spirited defense of the scientific method, for example. One of the sub-themes of the book is that Jews are awfully good at creating pseudosciences—elaborate, plausible, and intellectually very challenging systems that do not, in fact, have any truth content—and that this peculiar talent must be connected somehow with the custom, persisted in through long pre-Enlightenment centuries, of immersing young men in the study of a vast body of argumentative writing, with status in the community—and marriage options, and breeding opportunities—awarded to those who have best mastered this mass of meaningless esoterica. (This is not an original observation, and the author does not claim it as such. In fact he quotes historian Paul Johnson to the same effect, and earlier comments along these lines were made by Arthur Koestler and Karl Popper.) MacDonald is very scathing about these circular and self-referential thought-systems, especially in the case of psychoanalysis and the “pathologization of Gentile culture” promoted by the Frankfurt School. Here he was precisely on my wavelength, and I found myself cheering him on. Whatever you may think of MacDonald and his theories, there is no doubt he believes himself to be doing careful objective science. The same could, of course, be said of Sheldon, Rhine, Kinsey, et al.

It is good to be reminded, too, with forceful supporting data, that the 1924 restrictions on immigration to the U.S. were not driven by any belief on the part of the restrictionists in their own racial superiority but by a desire to stabilize the nation’s ethnic balance, which is by no means the same thing. (In fact, as MacDonald points out, one of the worries of the restrictionists was that more clever and energetic races like the Japanese would, if allowed to enter, have negative effects on social harmony.) MacDonald’s chapter on “Jewish involvement in shaping U.S. immigration policy” is a detailed survey of a topic I have not seen discussed elsewhere. If the Jews learned anything from the 20th century, it was surely the peril inherent in being the only identifiable minority in a society that is otherwise ethnically homogeneous. That thoughtful Jewish-Americans should seek to avoid this fate is understandable. That their agitation was the main determinant of postwar U.S. immigration policy seems to me more doubtful. And if it is true, we must believe that 97 percent of the U.S. population ended up dancing to the tune of the other three percent. If that is true, the only thing to say is the one Shakespeare’s Bianca would have said: “The more fool they.”

Similarly with MacDonald’s discussion of Jewish involvement in the

Bolshevik takeover of the Russian Empire and the many horrors that ensued. This was until recently another taboo topic, though the aged Alexander Solzhenitsyn, presumably feeling he has nothing much to lose, has recently taken a crack at it. I believe MacDonald was driven by necessity here. Having posited that Jews are out to “destroy” (this is his own word) Gentile society, he was open to the riposte that if, after 2,000 years of trying, the Jews had failed to accomplish this objective in even one instance, Gentiles don’t actually have much to worry about. So: the Jews destroyed Russia. Though MacDonald’s discussion of this topic is interesting and illuminating, it left me unconvinced. As he says, “The issue of the Jewish identification of Bolsheviks who were Jews by birth is complex.” Paul Johnson gives only 15-20 percent of the delegates at early Party congresses as Jewish. If the other 80-85 percent were permitting themselves to be manipulated by such a small minority, then we are back with Bianca.

Since the notion of “group evolutionary strategy” is central to MacDonald’s case, I wish he had been better able to convince me of its validity. For instance, I happen to be fairly well acquainted with the culture and history of China, a nation that, like the diaspora Jews, awarded high social status and enhanced mating opportunities to young men who had shown mastery of great masses of content-free written material. Anyone who has read stories from the premodern period of China’s history knows that the guy who gets the girl—who ends up, in fact, with a bevy of “secondary wives” who are thereby denied to less intellectual males—is the one who has aced the Imperial examinations and been rewarded with a District Magistrate position. This went on for two thousand years. Today’s Chinese even, like Ashkenazi Jews, display an average intelligence higher by several points than the white-Gentile mean. So: was Confucianism a “group evolutionary strategy”? If so, then plainly the Chinese of China were, in MacDonald’s jargon, the “ingroup”. But then … what was the “outgroup”?

The more I think about the term “group evolutionary strategy,” in fact, the more I wonder if it is not complete nonsense. From an evolutionary point of view, would not the optimum strategy for almost any European Jew at almost any point from AD 79 to AD 1800 or so have been conversion to Christianity? Rather than learning to argue fine points of theology, would not a better strategy have been to learn, say, fencing or Latin? Sure, the Jews held together as a group across 2,000 years. The gypsies held together pretty well, too, across many centuries, yet their “group evolutionary strategy” was the opposite of the Jews’ at almost every point. And the Jewish over-representation in important power centers of Gentile host societies became possible only after Jewish emancipation—which, like abolition of the slave trade, was an entirely white-Gentile project! Did the genes of 12th-century Jews “know” emancipation was going to happen 700 years on? How? If they did not, what was the point of their “evolutionary strategy”? There is a whiff of teleology about this whole business.

Kevin MacDonald is working in an important field. There is no disputing that we need to understand much more than we now do about how common-ancestry groups react with each other. Group conflicts are a key problem for multiracial and multicultural societies. Up till about 1960, the U.S. coped with these problems by a frank assertion of white-Gentile ethnic dominance, very much as Israel copes with them today by asserting Jewish ethnic dominance. This proved to be quite a stable arrangement, as social arrangements go. It was obviously objectionable to some American Jews, and it is not surprising that they played an enthusiastic part in undermining it; but they were not the sole, nor even the prime, movers in its downfall. It was replaced, from the 1960s on, by a different arrangement, characterized by racial guilt, shame, apology, and recompense, accompanied by heroic efforts at social engineering (“affirmative action”). This system, I think it is becoming clear, has proved less stable than what went before and has probably now reached the point where it cannot be sustained much longer. What will replace it? What will the new arrangement be?

At times of flux like this, there are naturally people whose preference is for a return to the older dispensation. It is obvious that Kevin MacDonald is one of these people. If this is not so, he has some heavy explaining to do about phrases like “the ethnic interests of white Americans to develop an ethnically and culturally homogeneous society.” Personally, I think he’s dreaming. The older dispensation was not as bad as liberal commentators and story-tellers would have us believe, but it is gone forever and will not return. For America, the toothpaste is out of the tube.

And on the point of Israel having something very much like the old American dispensation, I am unimpressed by MacDonald’s oft-repeated argument—it is a favorite with both Israelophobes and anti-Semites—that it is hypocritical for Jews to promote multiculturalism in the U.S. while wishing to maintain Jewish ethnic dominance in Israel. Unless you think that ethnic dominance, under appropriate restraining laws, is immoral per se—and I don’t, and Kevin MacDonald plainly doesn’t either—it can be the foundation of a stable and successful nation. A nation that can establish it and maintain it would be wise to do so. The USA was not able to maintain it because too many Americans—far more than three percent—came to think it violated Constitutional principles. Israel, however, was founded on different principles, and there seems to be no large popular feeling in that country for dismantling Jewish-ethnic dominance, as there was in Lyndon Johnson’s America for dismantling European dominance. The Israelis, most of them, are happy with Jewish-ethnic dominance and intend to keep it going. Good luck to them.

The aspect of Macdonald’s thesis that I find least digestible is his underlying assumption that group conflict is a zero-sum game rooted in an evolutionary tussle over finite resources. This is not even true on an international scale, as the growing wealth of the whole world during this past few decades has shown. On the scale of a single nation, it is absurd. These Jewish-inspired pseudoscientific phenomena that The Culture of Critique is concerned with—Boasian anthropology, psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt School, and so on—were they a net negative for America? Yes, I agree with MacDonald, they were. Now conduct the following thought experiment. Suppose the great post-1881 immigration of Ashkenazi Jews had never occurred. Suppose the Jewish population of the U.S. in 2003 were not the two to four percent (depending on your definitions) that it is, but the 0.3 percent it was at the start of the Civil War. Would anything have been lost? Would America be richer or poorer? Would our cultural and intellectual life be busier or duller?

It seems incontrovertible to me that a great deal would have been lost: entrepreneurs, jurists, philanthropists, entertainers, publishers, and legions upon legions of scholars: not mere psychoanalysts and “critical theorists,” but physicists, mathematicians, medical research- ers, historians, economists—even, as MacDonald notes honestly in his new preface, evolutionary psychologists! The first American song whose words I knew was “White Christmas,” written by a first-generation Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant. The first boss I ever had in this country was a Jew who had served honorably in the U.S. Marine Corps. Perhaps it is true, as MacDonald claims, that “most of those prosecuted for spying for the Soviet Union [i.e., in the 1940s and 1950s] were Jews.” It is also true, however, that much of the secret research they betrayed to their country’s enemies was the work of Jewish scientists. The Rosenbergs sold the Bomb to the Soviets; but without Jewish physicists, there would have been no Bomb to sell. Last spring I attended a conference of mathematicians attempting to crack a particularly intractable problem in analytic number theory. A high proportion of the 200-some attendees were Jews, including at least two from Israel. Sowers of discord there have certainly been, but on balance I cannot see how anyone could deny that this country is enormously better off for the contributions of Jews. Similarly for every other nation that has liberated the energies and intelligence of Jewish citizens. Was Hungary better off, or worse off, after the 1867 Ausgleich? Was Spain better off, or worse off, before the 1492 expulsions? “To ask the question is to answer it.”

Now, Kevin MacDonald might argue that he, as a social scientist, is not obliged to provide any such balance in his works, any more than a clinical pathologist writing about disease should be expected to include an acknowledgment that most of his readers will be healthy for most of their lives. I agree. A scientist, even a social scientist, need not present any facts other than those he has uncovered by diligent inquiry in his particular narrow field. He is under no obligation, as a scientist, to soothe the feelings of those whose sensibilities might be offended by his discoveries. Given the highly combustible nature of MacDonald’s material, however, it wouldn’t have hurt to point out the huge, indisputably net-positive, contributions of Jews to America, right at the beginning of his book and again at the end. MacDonald has in any case been fairly free in CofC with his own opinions on such matters as U.S. support for Israel, immigration policy, and so on. He is entitled to those opinions, but having included them in this book, his claim to dwell only in the aery realm of cold scientific objectivity does not sound very convincing.

This is, after all, in the dictionary definition of the term, an anti-Semitic book. Its entire argument is that the Jews, collectively, are up to no good. This may of course be true, and MacDonald is entitled to say that the issue of whether his results are anti-Semitic is nugatory, from a social-science point of view, by comparison with the issue of their truth content. I agree with that, too: but given the well-known history of this topic, it seems singularly obtuse of MacDonald not to try to calm the troubled waters his work is bound to stir up. From my own indirect, and rather scanty, knowledge of the man, I would put this down to a personality combination of prickliness and unworldliness, but I am not sure I could persuade less charitable souls that my interpretation is the correct one, and that there is not malice lurking behind MacDonald’s elaborate sociological jargon. 


John Derbyshire (http://www.olimu. com) is a Contributing Editor of National Review and a twice-weekly columnist for National Review Online. His book Prime Obsession, an account of the Riemann Hypothesis, will be published April 18 by National Academies Press.

March 10, 2003 issue
Copyright © 2003 The American Conservative