“A people still, whose common ties are gone; Who, mixed with every race, are lost in none.”—George Crabbe
Kevin MacDonald’s study of the Jewish people in sociobiological perspective will not likely help his career, for reasons having nothing to do with the author’s scholarship or his accumulation of pertinent evidence. While treating his subjects respectfully, attributing to Ashkenazic Jews a mean I.Q. one standard deviation higher than that of white gentiles, he commits the indiscretion of describing Jewish behavioral characteristics noted as well by antisemites: for example, an aggressive demeanor toward the core cultures of host peoples in combination with the practice of ritually and socially prescribed separation from gentiles, which he ascribes to a form of collective consciousness that may be inborn as well as culturally acquired. MacDonald presents this consciousness as endemic to a group that has worked strenuously to preserve its genotypal identity.
MacDonald’s argument is based on ho presuppositions. One, MacDonald regards the Jews not as a succession of self-identified peoples revealing genetic and cultural overlap, but as a single nation existing from antiquity to the present. Since Jews view themselves in this fashion and because they have been at pains, until recently, to refrain from intermarriage, his assumption may be defensible. Two, MacDonald maintains that contemporary Jews, particularly in the United States, oppose and protest even the remnants of the Christian host culture not because of any threat they face but simply in order to displace what they view as alien. Their distinctive culture, group dynamics, and jealously guarded genetic inheritance explain why organized Jewry resists any public manifestation of a non-Jewish American identity. Related to this stance of relentless opposition, which finds academic expression in the “culture of critique,” is a Jewish characteristic that MacDonald views as invariably present: a drive to compete for social and material resources with those perceived as outsiders.
Since Jews supposedly have acquired a cognitive advantage over most other groups through careful eugenic practices, competition yields them remarkable success. In the past, their group performance was hindered by the host peoples’ possession of a degree of ethnic consciousness comparable to their own. In these circumstances—medieval Europe, say, or 20th-century Russia—Jews have been limited in their collective and individual ambitions. As MacDonald explains in the second two volumes of his trilogy, such obstacles forced them to adopt daring strategies, most fatefully the embrace of revolutionary ideologies and programs. As an embattled out-group, Jews supported and led revolutionary movements in vast disproportion to their numbers. And while tensions have existed over the last 200 years between Rabbinic and revolutionary Jews, MacDonald is correct in suggesting that the conflict has not been as sharp as is commonly believed. Many observant Jews have been on the political left, and today Orthodox Jews feel no compunction about voting for left-liberal politicians such as Barbara Boxer and Charles Schumer. (The same observation would apply to Catholic minorities in England and Canada.)
Like most speculative studies, MacDonald’s work is open to question. Its emphasis on the continuities between ancient and modern Jews assumes more sameness than may exist, while exaggerating the degree to which Jewish theism was an invention intended to intensify ethnic solidarity. A huge historiographic literature presents the opposite view: namely, that Jewish national consciousness began as a by-product of Jewish monotheism. And in pre-Rabbinic Judaism, intermarriage did occur frequently between Jewish and non-Jewish elites—Moses, Solomon, and the rulers of the two post-Solomonic Jewish kingdoms and of the Hasmoneans at the end of the Second Commonwealth all were married to gentile wives.
Generalizations about prohibitions against intermarriage derived from the restrictions imposed on the Kohanim (the Jewish priestly class) can be dangerous. As explained in Leviticus and by the priestly historian Josephus, the priesthood represented a “pure race” by virtue of having kept itself from certain forms of intermarriage. Among the forbidden unions in question, however, were those between priests and widows or divorcees, while priestly families were expected (and continue to be expected, especially among Sephardim) to marry within their caste. Exogamy for nonpriestly Jews is an overstepping of social boundaries. Moreover, the most outspoken of the Jewish separatists at the time of Jesus were the Essenes. According to Josephus’s History of the Jews, no other Jewish sect, including the eventually triumphant Pharisees, went so far to avoid contact with alien peoples. But Essenes were also self-isolated monks, whose members shunned contact with women as much as they did with gentiles.
MacDonald also infers too much from current Jewish social behavior. Granting that present-day Jews and Jewish organizations deny to host nations the ethnic solidarity they claim for themselves, what historical generalizations can be drawn from that fact? MacDonald leaves the impression that Jews in exile have always operated in this fashion, but the gaps in historical evidence are too large to justify the inference. As he himself acknowledges, Jews a thousand years ago viewed life among gentiles as a penalty for their sins, a penalty which they would continue to suffer until a national savior returned them to their ancestral land. Before the last two centuries, Jews were in no position to dispossess gentiles, but coexisted with them in a situation of disparity. Even had they wanted to take over a Christian society, such a goal would have seemed beyond reach. And given their exclusion from professional and many commercial activities, premodern Jews could not successfully compete for resources. But is the Jews’ present attempt at reconstructing gentile societies a recurrent aspect of Jewish-gentile relations? Or is MacDonald dealing with a unique cultural context, in which Jews and gentiles play historically conditioned roles?
Over the last hundred years or so, Jews have moved out of a traditional Talmudic society to assume commanding positions in an increasingly secularized and morally confused Christian world; they have done so most dramatically in anglophone societies, whose Protestantism represents Christianity in its least antisemitic form and whose prevalent political traditions are the most individualistic. From these favorable circumstances, according to MacDonald, two developments have emerged: Jews have made disproportionate contributions to science, the professions, and commerce; they have also contributed to the breakdown of traditional gentile culture.
MacDonald has devoted an entire volume to the latter activity, treating it as illustrating a Jewish double standard. While celebrating internationalism, socially critical individualism, and antiseptically secular public squares, Jews are forever making exceptions for themselves. Those who fail to recognize and exalt this exception earn the censure of Jewish spokesmen, who condemn them either as antisemites or as Jewish self-haters. MacDonald offers so many instances of this double standard that he belabors the obvious as he reaches back to the late 19th century for examples of Jewish civic leaders taking stands simultaneously on behalf of a supposed Jewish right to ethnic cohesion and a heterogeneous American nation. According to MacDonald, this inconsistency was typical of the relatively assimilated German Jews in the United States, even before the arrival of their Eastern European coreligionists.
The Jews’ current view of the United States as a culturally evolving “global democracy” goes back a long way in the history of American Jewish organizations. Their preachments, far from having been inspired by the holocaust, were being propagated even before the Eastern European Jewish immigration of the early 20th century. And the wedding of these views to the justification of Jewish ethnic particularity, MacDonald convincingly demonstrates, contributed to pluralist agendas drawn up in the early part of the century. German Jewish humanist and socialist Horace Kallen expressed both a call for political internationalism and the hope that the United States would be filled with ethnic enclaves; MacDonald speculates that Kallen’s Jewish identity and his sense of marginality in a gentile society contributed to his pluralist politics.
MacDonald notes the overlap between contemporary Jewish polemics against immigration restrictionists and those produced by Jewish organizations in the 1920’s. Well before mid-century, Jews were savaging critics of liberal immigration policies as “un-American” and “Nordic supremacists.” These invectives, coming from the opponents of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, had also been directed against supporters of the naturalization acts of the 1920’s. In both cases, public advocates for restriction emphasized cultural and economic, not biological, considerations in suggesting immigration policy for the United States. MacDonald shows how persistent the issue of open borders has been for his subjects. Jews have combined intervention on behalf of immigration and the demonization of immigration restrictionists with the promotion of “diversify education.” The Anti-Defamation League has introduced and sponsored “A World of Difference Together,” a program for public education which it is now exporting to Germany, Russia, and South Africa.
MacDonald does not present such advocacy as the misguided humanitarian design of those whose ancestors suffered dispersion and who are therefore receptive to later strangers. Instead, he locates Jewish support for multiculturalism in the context of an already venerable strategy: “de-ethnicizing” the once majority population while insisting on the right of Jews as righteous victims to persist as an ethnic cluster. Although the interpretive perspective seems correct, at least for the United States, two questions nevertheless go begging. Was Jewish intervention decisive for the immigration revolution of the mid-60’s? If not, were other factors and circumstances critical to the success of that revolution—in which Jewish bullying and complaining played a secondary role? My guess from reading Chilton Williamson, Peter Brimelow, and Lawrence Auster is that the reassessment of immigration, especially from the Third World, was part of a general cultural change that beset Western societies and was pushed by the managerial state. While Jews contributed to cultural change and immigrationism energetically and disproportionately, they were far from constituting a sufficient cause. In countries without a conspicuous Jewish presence (say, Scandinavia and Germany), tire same general cultural-political trends can be observed.
Two observations are in order regarding Jewish-American tendencies highlighted in MacDonald’s third volume. First, assaults by American Jewish leaders against a Judeo-Christian core culture do not advance any rational Jewish interest. It is hard to see how Jews benefit from awarding preferential treatment to blacks and Hispanics, insisting that the Ten Commandments be removed from public schools, or denigrating the heritage of America’s white majority; they would seem to have a greater interest in supporting a Western Christian society in the United States than in helping to subvert the remnants of one. Why should they wish to replace a world that amply rewards their talents with one that will likely be less tolerant of them? Or in the words of my friend Rabbi Meyer Schiller, “Do American Jews honestly believe that multicultural majorities will give them bigger Holocaust monuments?”
The second observation concerns the present state of Western Protestant societies. The “culture of critique” has done best among those whom James Kurth (himself a Presbyterian) calls “progressively deformed” Protestant peoples. Starting with the theologically based individualistic and anti-hierarchical bias of classical Protestantism, this deformation of Reformationist thought has expressed itself in various late-modernist obsessions, most of them linked to Protestant sources but without the sobering notions of Original Sin and divine redemption, these Protestant variants emphasize moral subjectivity and self-esteem, while replacing the concept of sin with that of social guilt.
Fits of self-rejection are also characteristic of deformed Protestants, and in the United States, Canada, Germany, and England, Protestant clergy have been in the forefront of those demanding atonement for racism, antisemitism, sexism, and homophobia. Ray Honeyford and Claus Nordbruch have documented the growing role of the English and German governments in pushing victimological agendas, and that of Protestant churches in conspicuously goading them on: In the United States, even the Religious Right is not immune to this mentality. For neoconservative philosopher Sidney Hook, MacDonald observes, “ethnic diversity,” was a code word for democracy. He sees Hook’s sleight of hand as vet another example of the Jewish attempt to destabilize outgroups, but in fact it represents something more significant: This is the way gentile conservatives, almost all professing Christians, wish to see their national and religious heritage. Hook took his place within the American conservative movement as a spokesman for American values.
No assessment of this multivolume work would be complete without commenting on MacDonald’s assertions concerning Jewish cognitive superiority. His assumptions on the subject coincide with those of respected scholars, among them Hans Eysenck, who (shortly before his death in 1995) approved the presuppositions upon which MacDonald’s first volume rests. Noting Jewish ascendancy in the financial and professional worlds, Ashkenazic Jewish overrepresentation among chess champions and Nobel Prize recipients, and the continuing standard deviation between Ashkenazic Jewish and white gentile I.Q. scores, MacDonald and Eysenck attribute Jewish accomplishments to successful reproductive strategy. Other explanations, however, are available. According to researcher J.R. Flynn, mean I.Q. across ethnic groups has risen by approximately 0.2 percent each year. This steady rise can be linked to environmental factors, particularly the frequency of test-taking and exposure to test materials among the young. The Flynn effect may also point to environmental reasons for displays of Jewish intelligence during the last several generations. Jewish urbanization, professional aggressiveness, and the repeated exposure of Jewish children to test-taking may all be leading to the prize-gathering coups noted by Eysenck and MacDonald. Those who push themselves forward, whether on research teams, in business organizations, or as applicants for professional schools, will do better, de paribus ceteris, than those who (like my Pennsylvania Dutch neighbors) have been taught not to stand out in a crowd.
Within the same civilization, moreover, ethnic groups and subgroups have been culturally productive for a time, and then declined. Lowland Scots, Northern Italians, Swabian Germans, and American WASPs have all waned culturally, and in other ways, after making remarkable contributions to learning and the arts. The theory put forth by Arnold Toynbee—that peoples rise to greatness by responding to particular challenges—may shed light here. Furthermore, Jewish cooperation and Jewish competitive strategies as explained by MacDonald obviously account, at least in part, for present Jewish successes.
For me, the most engrossing part of MacDonald’s trilogy is a long, learned section in the third volume entitled, “The Frankfurt School and Pathologization.” The Authoritarian Personality, published in 1950 by the American Jewish Committee, bore the marks of the Frankfurt School. Its editors and contributors, particularly Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, were the fathers of the school’s Critical Theory, and it is hard to study that turgid exploration of “fascist” and “pseudo-democratic” personality types without noticing its social point of reference: Adorno, Horkheimer, Use Frenkel, and Paul Lazarsfeld were all Frankfurt groupies before they contributed to this collective enterprise. So were Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse, who wrote supporting puff pieces. The pivotal themes in The Authoritarian Personality, as emphasized by MacDonald, were nothing new to those who assisted in the project: Rather, they represented the same complaints directed against Western—not only German—society by the youthful radicals grouped around Adorno at the University of Frankfurt in the early 30’s. From Frankfurt, these “anti- Nazis” emigrated to the United States; later, they reestablished their ideas in postwar Germany in the context of Allied denazification. Little attention was paid to the fact that the proposed antidotes for Nazism were not exactly disease-specific: They targeted anything that gave cohesion to middle-class families and societies.
MacDonald argues that the “pathologization” of normal gentile society in The Authoritarian Personality foreshadows today’s coerced political correctness. The social criticism of the Frankfurt School implies the need for a powerful regime of socialist administrators to level inequalities and resocialize reactionary personalities. MacDonald links this call for massive social engineering to characteristically Jewish concerns and anxieties shared by its overwhelmingly Jewish formulators: The gentile Other would remain—or so it was assumed—a prowling presence absent reconstruction of the surrounding society. The plea for resocialization in 1950 continued to resonate among Jewish “social scientists” who shared Adorno’s fears; both it and the rhetoric in which it was couched live on in the efforts of Jewish organizations to identify traditional Christian values with incipient “fascism.”
[The Culture of Critique, by Kevin MacDonald (Westport, CT: Praeger) 379 pp., $65.00]