Kevin MacDonald, Ph.D.
Is Kevin MacDonald a Scholar?
Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements
Reviewed by Frank Salter, Max Planck Institute, Andechs, Germany
Human Ethology Bulletin, September 2000, Vol. 15(3), pp. 16-22.
Most readers of this Bulletin will be aware of the controversy that embroiled ISHE member Kevin MacDonald at the recent annual meeting of our kindred organization, the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES). At a special session MacDonald was charged with anti-Semitism and his scientific standing questioned. Any review must now be counted as contributing to that controversy since it bears on MacDonald's status as a scholar and evolutionary psychologist. With this in mind I decided to combine the book review with a description of the recent controversy concerning The Culture of Critique among human evolutionists. I shall be arguing that much of the criticism of MacDonald is founded on ignorance of his scholarship and a confounding of political and scientific issues.
Charges of anti-Semitism, political motivation, and shoddy scholarship are clearly plausible to many colleagues. The broad political Left, which constitutes the academic establishment since at least the 1960s, views interest in evolutionary accounts of human nature, and even claiming that such a thing exists, as tantamount to fascism (Singer 1998). This prejudice was directed at the pioneers of the evolutionary approach both in the U.S. and overseas, such as the late Bill Hamilton, Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Napoleon Chagnon, and many others. The new leaders of America's evolutionary scene have been at pains to dispell this image. The name of a leading journal, Ethology & Sociobiology, was changed to an anodyne substitute, and an emphasis was maintained on cross-cultural universals at the expense of human biodiversity. Individual and group differences apart from age and sex are still largely ignored, with race and ethnicity conspicuous by their near absence from America's leading evolutionary academic journals'Evolution and Human Behavior (the HBES home journal), Human Nature, and Politics and the Life Sciences.
Given such a defensive posture it is little wonder that a long, cold inspection of Judaism should raise a storm. What is one to make of a scholar who: (1) like so many anti-Semites takes pains to show the great overrepresentation of Jews in radical political movements such as post-WWI Bolshevism in Russia and Central Europe, the Communist Party of America, and the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s (including the claim that in 1928 Jews were 1000% overrepresented among socialist Reichstag deputies); (2) who revives the old Nazi canard about Freud by alleging that he was a Jewish activist nurturing hatred of 'Aryan' Europe, leading an essentially Jewish cabal of psychoanalysts intent on subverting Christian sexual standards; (3) who portrays Jensen's hereditarian theory of IQ as mainstream; (4) who maintains that on average Jews constitute a quarter of America's elites and draws attention to 58% representations in the senior ranks of Hollywood (which it 'dominates'), 50% of network television producers, and 40% of elite university law faculty; (5) who maintains that since the mid 1960s the media elite has pursued a leftist agenda that includes promoting racial integration through school busing; (6) who goes so far as to question the appropriateness of large Jewish over-representation in a democratic elite (7) who suggests that European-Jewish intellectual prominence is genetically based and the result of eugenic processes within traditional Jewish communities; (8) who argues that Jewish intellectuals such as Franz Boas, Felix Frankfurter, Harold Laski, Max Lerner, Morris Cohen, and Robert Merton, accelerated the 'deChristianization' of America's public life by selectively promoting as cultural heroes Gentiles who advanced their goals, such as Margaret Mead, John Dewey, and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; (9) who agrees with T. S. Eliot's most famous anti-Semitic statement, that any large number of free-thinking Jews is undesirable if one wants to maintain or develop a society in which a Christian, ethnically homogeneous tradition can flourish.
Surely it is reasonable to be outraged at such a person being associated with a respectable academic association? Well, not if that person is Stanley Rothman, Mary Huiggins Gamble Professor of Government at Smith College, New York, who makes the first six of these points and is a member of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences (1974; 1978; Rothman & Lichter 1996/1982; Rothman & Snyderman 1988; Lerner et al. 1996; Lichter et al. 1986); or Prof. Arno Motulsky, Professor emeritus at the University of Washington, Seattle, who makes the seventh point (1995); or David Hollinger, Professor of History at UC Berkeley who makes points eight and nine and whose 1996 book was favourably reviewed in the Jewish press; but certainly if that person cites Rothman's, Motulsky's, and Hollinger's sources and becomes the centre of attention.
The fact is that most of the above descriptions (but not the speculations) are uncontroversial in the specialist historical and sociological fields on which MacDonald draws. These and most other assertions that have elicited the wrath of some colleagues are not only true but truisms, to those aquainted with the diverse literatures involved. Apart from the political sensitivity of the subject, much of the problem facing MacDonald is that his knowledge is often too far ahead of his detractors to allow easy communication; there are not enough shared premises for constructive dialog. Unfortunately the knowledge gap is closing slowly because some of his most hostile critics, including colleagues who make serious ad hominem accusations, have not bothered to read MacDonald's books. If this sounds incredible, please read on.
1. MacDonald agrees to testify as an expert witness for historian David Irving, the plaintiff in a defamation lawsuit against historian Deborah Lipstadt who had accused Irving of denying the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. MacDonald neither denies or minimizes the Holocaust but seeks to defend Irving's freedom of expression. His testimony concerns certain Jewish organizations' techniques for silencing opponents. His testimony is published as a court record available at MacDonald's webpage along with his correspondence with Irving before the trial (http://www.csulb.edu/~kmacd). After much of the controversy reported below, Irving loses his case, and is found to be a Holocaust denier.
2. Journalist Judith Shulevitz writes a critical article in her Culturbox segment of Slate, an online magazine (24 Jan. 2000), criticizing MacDonald for giving evidence in the Irving-Lipstadt trial. Ad hominems are preceded by a confused summary of MacDonald's three books. Shock is expressed at MacDonald's statements on Freud, Jewish eugenics, and many more. Shulevitz makes several disparaging remarks about MacDonald's alleged prejudices, such as that his ideas about Jews 'represent the broadest, ugliest, and most vicious anti-Semitism passing for scholarship in this country today.' This is the beginning of an attack on MacDonald's academic standing. 'A man in his 50s, MacDonald is still an associate professor of psychology at a third-rate school ...' She expresses surprise that MacDonald has been allowed to hold his office of secretary-archivist in HBES and to be active within the organization. Why have evolutionary psychologists not 'policed' their discipline? All of the leading HBES members interviewed by Shulevitz claim not to have read his books on Judaism. Nevertheless 'they expressed extreme shock and said he contradicted the basic principles of contemporary evolutionary psychology' based on Shulevitz's verbal summary of MacDonald's ideas. MacDonald replies in Slate's letters column (25 Jan. 2000) by describing Shulevitz's article as 'yellow journalism.' 'Some of her statements are simply overly general, others simply false, while others are incomplete or take my thoughts entirely out of context.' Regarding the personal attacks, he writes: 'Actually I have been a full professor for about five years now. (I got a late start because of my involvement in 60's radicalism.) I like to think of [California State University Long Beach] as a second rate institution. It's not quite UC-Berkeley, but it's pretty good. Whatever Shulevitz may think, there are many fine professors and students here.'
3. Answering Shulevitz's call for HBES members to take a stand on MacDonald, and on the basis of her summary of MacDonald's book, John Tooby, HBES president, criticizes an aspect of MacDonald's thesis (Jewish genetic segregation), as well as an idea that is not part of MacDonald's theory (genetic group selection). Tooby agrees to a Slate discussion with Shulevitz, with MacDonald relegated to observer status and limited to defending himself in the letters section. In this discussion, Tooby claims: that MacDonald is a 'fringe' academic because of the low number of citations for his Judaism trilogy (not mentioning the substantial citation rate for MacDonald's other publications); that he does not qualify as an evolutionary psychologist because his ideas conflict with certain precepts set forth in Tooby's own writings; that his claim to be an evolutionary psychologist is quackery; and that his writings constitute a 'crime' (Slate 3 Feb. 2000). In his last Slate posting (15 Feb 2000), Tooby refers to 'the netherworld of marginal scholarship (of which MacDonald is a typical example).' In a subsequent article in the tabloid Newtimes L.A., Tony Ortega, 'In the hotseat', 24 May 2000) Tooby compares MacDonald to the death-camp doctor Josef Mengele.
In MacDonald's 3 Feb. 2000 Slate response (see Tooby.htm) he suggests that Tooby has not read his extensive review of population-genetic literature indicating that there are genetic frequency differences between Jews and Gentiles and that these differences have been maintained by endogamous Jewish marriage practices. There are, MacDonald notes, profound scientific differences between himself and Tooby: 'While Tooby and [coauthor] Cosmides focus exclusively on domain-specific psychological adaptations designed to solve recurrent problems in our evolutionary past, I emphasize in addition the importance of domain-general mechanisms, especially the g-factor of IQ tests, that facilitate the achievement of biological goals in complex, non-recurrent environments.... My views have much more in common with those of David S. Wilson ... and the cultural selection models of Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson.'
Another HBES member who takes up Shulevitz's call is Steven Pinker (Slate 27 Jan. 2000), who states (1) that MacDonald would never have been able to present papers at HBES conferences if the latter were peer reviewed, (2) that HBES's official journal has never published an article by MacDonald, (3) that MacDonald's ideas are 'preposterous' and do not warrant the attention of peers, (4) that MacDonald posits genetic group selection for humans, and (5) that his theories are consistently 'value-laden'. Assertions (2) and (4) are simply false. Pinker adds one criticism of merit, that MacDonald should have studied at least one control group to allow comparison with Judaism. In his books MacDonald does in fact compare Judaism with ancient Sparta, Roman society, and Medieval Catholicism, but by undertaking a new project on 'diaspora peoples' MacDonald implicitly concedes that more work is needed in this direction. Pinker admits that because he has not read MacDonald's books it is possible he is being unfair, while indicating that Shulevitz's summary has saved him the trouble of such reading.
On a personal note, it is overdue that John Tooby and Steven Pinker applied their professional skills seriously to critique MacDonald's work in the appropriate scientific forums. This now seems obligatory as a matter of professional duty given the severity of their attack on a colleague who has refrained from ad hominems throughout this sorry event. Still, it is now too late to reverse the harm done to both MacDonald's and probably HBES's reputation by what can only be judged reckless, unscholarly, and plain uncivil slurs. For these they should apologize.
4. In response to Shulevitz, David S. Wilson (Slate 25 Jan. 2000) supports MacDonald based on a reading of his first volume, noting that he is engaged in developing a general theory of groups taking Judaism as an example. In what must be the understatement of the new millennium, Wilson attributes unscientific motives to MacDonald's HBES critics: '[I]t is shameful how quickly those who are sensitive to being demonized are willing to demonize others. Even evolutionary psychologists, who have experienced their share of persecution in academic circles, seem more concerned to protect their own reputations than to defend the work of their colleague.'
5. At the June 2000 HBES, a session organized by Daniel Kriegman discusses MacDonald's theory of Judaism, with MacDonald responding. Scientific questions are raised by Kriegman and John Tooby, but political concerns take centre stage, and no point of scholarship is raised in the discussion period. Richard Wrangham states that MacDonald's books are approved by neo-Nazi organizations, and invites him to disown this connection, an invitation MacDonald implicitly refuses in his insistence on keeping to scientific issues. Fists are shaken at MacDonald from the floor. MacDonald had his supporters. At one point during proceedings, James Fetzer objects with a call for academic free speech and receives loud applause.
Clearly this reaction to Culture of Critique by a journalist and some HBES colleagues constitutes an attempt to dismiss the author's standing as an evolutionary psychologist. It is one thing to question a scientist's political judgment, another to downgrade his status as a scientist and scholar. In the following synopsis of The Culture of Critique I sample each chapter's main sources. Are they credible? Are MacDonald's empirical claims well documented? As will become apparent, the sources for many of the claims for which MacDonald has been criticized are mainstream? This raises a certain matter of consistency. If MacDonald but not his sources is to be condemned, logic requires that critics pick on aspects of his analysis that are distinctive to him. Following the synopsis I identify some of these distinctive aspects.
The Culture of Critique is the third and final volume in MacDonald's trilogy on Judaism and anti-Semitism. His central thesis, stated in the first volume (A People that Shall Dwell Alone, 1994) is that Judaism is a group evolutionary strategy. This type of strategy is an experiment in living, one that can work or fail, that can raise or lower group members' reproductive fitness. An adaptive group evolutionary strategy protects inclusive fitness by achieving subsidiary goals such as resource acquisition, group defence and conquest. Group strategies are usually traditions, but can be invented using domain-general intelligence. They culturally manipulate evolved domain-specific psychological predispositions, such as dominance and ethnocentrism. The second volume (Separation and its Discontents, 1998a) applies the same approach to major cases of anti-Semitism, especially Medieval Spain, early modern Poland, and Nazi Germany, positing a reactive dialectic between Jewish and Gentile group evolutionary strategies.
The third volume brings the analysis up to the present, looking beyond traditional Judaism to examine the ethnic strategies of secular, assimilating Jewish intellectuals. Common to such strategies has been intellectual criticism of Gentile society, religion, and institutions, which MacDonald maintains have been aimed at neutalizing actual and potential threats to Jewish security and status.
Chapter 1. 'Jews and the radical critique of gentile culture: Introduction and theory.' This is a brief review of historical sources on the radicalism of assimilated Jews, beginning in the Middle Ages, and sets out MacDonald's theoretical frame based on his first two volumes.
Chapter 2. 'Boasian school of anthropology and the decline of Darwinism in the social sciences.' It is argued that cultural anthropology in the United States was founded by a largely Jewish circle of academics led by Franz Boas, who had a strong ethnic identification, promoted universalist ideology, and opposed Darwinian thinking. MacDonald relies on such scholars as Frank (1997), Degler (1991), Hollinger (1996), Stocking (1968), and White (1966), all mainstream sources.
Chapter 3. 'Jews and the left.' MacDonald argues that radical ideology has been attractive to Jewish intellectuals because universalism blurs ethnic distinctions, defusing anti-Semitism and ameliorating marginality. The marginality thesis is not original, advanced by R. Michels before WWI and by C. Liebman (1979; quoted in Rothman & Lichter 1996/1982, 110-11, 118-19). Sources for Jewish overrepresentation on the Left include Rothman and Lichter and S. J. Gould, who thinks that most American Marxists are Jewish (Ruse 1989, 203).
Chapter 4. 'Jewish involvement in the psychoanalytic movement.' MacDonald portrays the early psychoanalytic movement as resembling the Boasian school in being a predominantly Jewish group idolizing an authoritarian leader. The robust Jewish identity of Freud and of the psychoanalytic vanguard, and Freud's racial chauvinism and hostility towards what he described as 'Christian-Aryan' society are claims drawn by MacDonald from mainstream sources (see Rothman 1974; 1978; Yerushalmi 1991).
Chapter 5. 'The Frankfurt School of Social Research and the pathologization of Gentile group allegiances.' MacDonald draws on a vast literature examining the ideas and social relations of the group of largely Jewish intellectuals gathered around Max Horkheimer and Theodore H. Adorno which, before and after WWII fused Marxism and psychoanalysis to produce a radical theory of psychosocial development and prejudice. Many leading members possessed a strong Jewish identity (Marcus & Tar 1986).
Chapter 6. 'The Jewish criticism of Gentile culture: A reprise.' Here MacDonald draws together the lines of analysis developed in the previous case studies, finding unifying threads of collectivism and valuing of consensus over individualistic disputation. He raises theoretical questions about the interface between evolved psychology and cultural messages: 'What evolved features of the human mind make people likely to adopt memes that are inimical to their own interests?' (241).
Chapter 7. 'Jewish involvement in shaping U.S. immigration policy.' MacDonald documents Jewish leadership of the effort to eliminate ethnic criteria for U.S. immigration. 'Jewish activism on immigration is merely one strand of a multi-pronged movement directed at preventing the development of a mass movement of anti-Semitism in Western societies' (245). MacDonald reviews Congressional debates from the early 20th century and the (largely Jewish) scholarship on the Jewish defence agencies to conclude that Jews took a leading role in delaying the 1924 quota system and finally having it repealed in 1965. This assessment might be wrong, but can MacDonald be condemned for accepting what analysts report, and, in the case of some Jewish analysts, report with pride? (eg. Cohen 1972, 49; Goldberg 1996, 127; Johnson 1988, 459; Neuringer 1971, 392-3; Raab 1993).
Chapter 8. 'Conclusion: Whither Judaism and the West?' Here MacDonald applies the theories developed in his three volumes to speculate about the stability of multi-ethnicity in Western societies, discuss the rapid demographic decline of European-derived peoples in the United States, and evaluate the risk of communal conflict in that country, including anti-Semitism.
CONCLUSION: WHAT IS DISTINCTIVE ABOUT MacDonald's THEORY?
As I hope has been made clear, MacDonald presents his readers with a broad and detailed scholarship that can usually be challenged only through matching his assiduous attention to many specialist literatures. I have made no attempt here to critique his theories beyond noting their mainstream documentation, but some of his most visible opponents have done even less, while adding personal and very public attacks to their criticisms. Unfortunately for those who rebel at his empirical claims, these are mostly not MacDonald's assertions but the expert opinions of leaders in various scholarly and scientific fields. Certainly, whether his theories are ultimately viable or not, MacDonald is a scholar of considerable analytical power and scope.
Several major aspects are distinctive to MacDonald's analysis. His is the first historical-sociological application of Boyd and Richerson's (1985) theory of cultural group strategy, which he elaborates into evolutionary group strategy theory (1st volume). He offers an evolutionary interpretation of Social Identity Theory (2nd volume). I suspect both are destined to become influential. But for me what is most impressive, and this is the achievement of Culture of Critique, MacDonald has shown theoretical and methodological pathways linking the micro-level analysis of human behaviour with the macro-level dynamics of contemporary culture. He has done so on a narrow front, in a monumental case study of social relations affecting one people's struggle to survive and prosper, but that is a big start.
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