At least since the unthinking attacks on Harvard’s E.O. Wilson in the 1970s, the self-appointed enforcers of political correctness have leveled charges of “racism” at scholars of evolutionary psychology. For the most part, the object of scorn has done little more than challenge unscientific presumptions about the inherent goodness and equality of mankind. Every once in a while, however, even the braying PC brigades get it right.
A case in point is Kevin MacDonald, a tenured professor of psychology at the California State University at Long Beach, who has been denounced as an anti-Semite by, among others, the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization notoriously keen to pronounce anything inconsistent with its far-Left assumptions as “hate” speech. But MacDonald is indeed an anti-Semite -- even if the SPLC says so.
For an academic, MacDonald has trod an usual path. An anti-war student radical at the University of Wisconsin in the sixties, MacDonald has since migrated to the opposite end of the political spectrum becoming a passionate spokesman for his pseudo-scholarly thesis that Judaism must be regarded as a self-interested “evolutionary strategy” created and used by Jews to deprive non-Jews of resources in an ongoing, zero-sum Kulturkampf. (Although MacDonald identifies himself as a “conservative,” one can’t help but note the similarities between his writings on Jews and Karl Marx’s “On the Jewish Question.”) That the thesis owes no debt to serious scholarship has not deterred a gallery of anti-Semites from David Duke to Israel Shamir from applauding it as an empirical confirmation of the innate wickedness of the Jews.
The source of their enthusiasm is not far to seek. MacDonald’s writings are distinguished by their scarcely disguised subtext that Jews are the enemies of Western civilization. Reading through MacDonald’s books and articles one finds that they bristle with indignation at what he sees as a calibrated Jewish strategy for “destroying Europeans,” part and parcel of “the deep-seated Jewish hostility toward traditional Western culture.” Indeed, the “Western intellectual world has become Judaized,” merely one instance of Jewish “cultural imperium in the West.” But the West is merely the latest target of the Jewish cultural onslaught. Historically, MacDonald argues, Jews have been a “hostile elite--hostile to the traditional people and cultures…they came to dominate.” Far from assimilated, they nurse “historically conditioned hatreds.”
MacDonald’s conspiratorial claims about the dangers of Jews, especially Jewish intellectuals, find their most febrile exposition in his 1998 book, The Culture of Critique, where he asserts that Jewish cognitive elites have worked in an “overt and semi-cryptic manner” throughout the twentieth century to achieve “cultural dominance” over “the European peoples.” As in Europe, so in America, MacDonald avers: “Jews were unique as an American immigrant group in their hostility toward American Christian culture and in their energetic, aggressive efforts to change that culture.”
In line with these views, MacDonald is determined to portray anti-Semitism as a rational defense mechanism against the all-too-real threat of Jewish domination. “Western anti-Jewish movements have tended to be in response to intense competition from Jews,” he assures readers in his 1994 book on Jews, tellingly titled A People That Shall Dwell Alone. MacDonald also sees much of value in anti-Semitic propaganda. In Separation and its Discontents (1998), MacDonald states that “[w]hile anti-Semitic attitudes and behaviors have undoubtedly often been influenced by myths and fantasies about Jews, there is a great deal of anti-Jewish writing that reflects the reality of between-group completion.” In other words, anti-Semites are right to see Jews as an existential threat.
It is on the basis of that conviction that MacDonald takes an understanding view of the Nazi Holocaust. Nazism, he explains, was only a “mirror image of Judaism, with its emphasis on creating a master race.” As for Hitler, the worst MacDonald can bring himself to say is that the Führer’s murderous hatred of Jews, “although clearly having a basis in reality, may well have been exaggerated.” Bearing in mind MacDonald’s relentless depiction of Jews agents of cultural subversion, one can’t help but marvel at his restraint.
MacDonald’s empathy for the Nazi genocide has led him into natural alliances with those who deny its occurrence. Although he does not question that the Holocaust took place, MacDonald was happy to testify, in January of 2000, on behalf of David Irving, when the disgraced historian sued author Deborah Lipstadt on libel charges for naming him in her 1993 history of Holocaust denial as one of its leading exponents. (Irving lost.) MacDonald allows that Irving is “not an ideal person.” As always, however, MacDonald is eager to shift the blame onto the real culprits: the Jews. Thus he maintains that Irving’s attraction to Holocaust denial can be seen in part as “a reaction to his demonization by Jewish activist organizations.”
Portrait of a Pseudo-Scholar
With its unambiguous animus against Jews and Judaism, MacDonald’s work has unsurprisingly drawn charges of anti-Semitism. MacDonald replies that he is a serious scholar. “For me the only issue is whether I have been honest in my treatment of sources and whether my conclusions meet the usual standards of scholarly research in the social sciences,” MacDonald has written. By his own standards, however, MacDonald’s writings on Jews and Judaism are a spectacular failure.
Not the least of the problems is his thesis. Stripped of its serious-sounding academese, MacDonald’s claim boils down to this: Highly intelligent Jewish leaders have continuously sought to advance Jewish ethnic interest at the expense of, and indeed to the detriment of, non-Jewish Europeans and Americans. But as MacDonald himself acknowledges, “Jewish intellectuals led the battle against the idea that races even exist and against the idea that there are differences in intelligence or cultural level between the races that are rooted in biology.” To account for this contradiction, which makes a mockery of his work, MacDonald has had to invent a decidedly conspiratorial account of Jewish motives. Jews, he explains, are in “denial” about their aims, or else have succumbed to “self-deception.” Elsewhere MacDonald laments that Jews “can’t see their ethnic commitments even when they are obvious to everyone else.” Or, more accurately, to Kevin MacDonald.
It hardly helps MacDonald’s case that his modus operandi is essentially polemical rather than scholarly. He deliberately strives to paint a negative picture of Jews, a fact he does not deny. “In the end, does it really matter if my motivation at this point is less than pristine?” MacDonald asks. Similarly, in explaining why he penned a new introduction to The Culture of Critique, his assault on Jewish intellectuals, MacDonald notes that the new introduction “tilts the balance in my writing even more on the side of the negative.” That this has led him to exclude all evidence that may reflect positively on Jews is something MacDonald readily admits. There may be good Jews, he allows, but “my book has no interest in recording fond memories of individual Jews.” A scholar of integrity might have considered evidence at odds with his thesis. MacDonald’s only concern is to disparage Jews.
Even the most elemental scholarly task -- faithfully quoting one’s sources -- is beyond him. On the academic website H-Net.org, David Lieberman has extensively demonstrated how MacDonald has misrepresented the work of author Jaff Schatz in order to portray Jewish communists as the “core” members of Communist Poland’s brutal security service. For MacDonald, the supposed prevalence of Jews “reinforced the popular image of Jews as servants of foreign interests and enemies of ethnic Poles” and therefore anti-Semitism was in some measure a logical reaction to Jewish sins against Polish culture. But in fact Schatz noted that Jews made up only a small share of the security service and moreover there was a malicious campaign to inflate the number of Jews in the security service. MacDonald, typically, was willing to fudge facts to cast Jews in an unflattering light. More recently, he has taken to distorting the work of historian Yuri Slezkine, author of The Jewish Century. Asked about MacDonald’s use of his work to further his anti-Jewish theories, Slezkine told FrontPageMag.com that he had “much to disagree with” in MacDonald’s interpretation.
On other occasions, he has invented evidence out of whole cloth. MacDonald has claimed, for example, that Jews are exceptionally “aggressive” people, though he concedes that there is a “dearth of scientific studies on this aspect of Jewish personality.” But the absence of anything so banal as evidence has not prevented MacDonald from putting forth his own theory about Jewish aggressiveness as the basis for everything from “Jewish economic domination” to the “personal aggressiveness of Israeli society,” and affixing them with footnotes to lend them an air of respectability. This is another tactic that MacDonald favors, apparently believing that an excess of footnotes will compensate for a conspicuous deficit of facts.
Seen against this background it is little wonder that scholars worthy of the distinction dismiss MacDonald as an anti-Semitic crank and an academic pretender. John Tooby, the director of the Center of Evolutionary Biology at the University of California has said that “MacDonald’s ideas--not just on Jews--violate fundamental principles of the field.” The eminent MIT cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has pointed out that MacDonald’s work lacks the basic components of scholarship, such as a control group and a comparison with alternative hypotheses. Pinker has further noted that MacDonald’s theory about the genetic cohesiveness of ethnic groups -- in this case Jews -- are refuted by a wealth of data while his theses “collectively add up to a consistently invidious portrayal of Jews, couched in value-laden, disparaging language.” To these criticisms it might be added that the supposed authorities that are frequently referenced in his work -- like DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein, columnist Joseph Sobran, and former Republican Congressman Paul Findley -- are mere polemicists and anti-Israel activists with no special expertise about Jews or Judaism and a history of disdain for both.
At Home in Modern Academia
Curiously for someone passionately convinced of the dangers of all things Jewish, MacDonald is reluctant to defend his views in public. In 2000, when MacDonald’s colleagues called on him to publicly do just that, the professor begged off, assenting instead to a private e-mail exchange among faculty members. The whole experience left MacDonald embittered. “I'm done with Jews. I don't think I have any more to say about them,” he sniffed to the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2000.
But it turned out that he did. Having previously endorsed Charles Lindbergh’s position that “leaders of both the British and Jewish races” were responsible for driving America to war against Nazi Germany, MacDonald has become an avid publicist of the claim that the “neoconservatives,” who supposedly plotted the war against Iraq, were motivated by a “Jewish commitment.” In the distinctly conspiratorial manner that pervades his work, MacDonald dismisses the inconvenient fact that the senior figures in the Bush administration are not Jewish, explaining that it “makes excellent psychological sense to have the spokespeople for any movement resemble the people they are trying to convince.” Such is MacDonald’s idea of scholarship.
That seems to suit the administration at California State just fine. Although the university has had little to say about his work on Jews, it has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to MacDonald’s First Amendment rights, ignoring altogether the question of why it considers the manufacture of stylized bigotry an appropriate avocation for a tenured scholar. MacDonald has not exactly returned the compliment, inveighing against modern universities for their hostility to “traditional institutions of European-American culture.” For this, as for most social phenomena he finds disagreeable, MacDonald faults the Jews.
MacDonald’s unabashed anti-Semitism may set him apart from most of the extremists in modern academia, but he fully shares in their delusions about being a persecuted truth-teller. In The Culture of Critique, he bemoaned the plight of those who focused on the “critical Jewish role” in destroying the traditional foundations of Western countries, observing with dismay that they “have been relegated to the fringe of intellectual and political discourse.” Unfortunately, in MacDonald’s case, that fringe is a university, where his presence continues to sully the reputations of genuine scholars who must suffer an association with a common anti-Semite. Then again, there is no shortage of anti-Semitic activists posing as scholars in Middle Eastern Studies Departments, who would probably make him feel at home.
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