“The Jewish problem is one of the greatest problems in the world, and no man, be he writer, politician or diplomatist, can be considered mature until he has striven to face it squarely on its merits.”
…......................—Henry Wickham Steed
Here I present the ninth part of Prof. MacDonald’s 2002 Preface to The Culture of Critique. The inclusion of images is entirely my own initiative. No images appear in the printed text of MacDonald’s Preface. For the Contents Page and my introduction, click here.
The Question of Bias
I have several times been called an “anti-Semite” for the tone of some of my writings, both in CofC and my comments on various Internet discussion lists. To be perfectly frank, I did not have a general animus for organized Jewry when I got into this project. I was a sort of ex-radical turned moderate Republican fan of George Will. Before even looking at Judaism I applied the same evolutionary perspective to the ancient Spartans and then to the imposition of monogamy by the Catholic Church during the middle ages (see MacDonald 1988a, 1995b). There are quite a few statements in my books that attempt to soften the tone and deflect charges of anti-Jewish bias. The first page of my first book on Judaism, A People that Shall Dwell Alone (MacDonald 1994), clearly states that the traits I ascribe to Judaism (self-interest, ethnocentrism, and competition for resources and reproductive success) are by no means restricted to Jews. I also write about the extraordinary Jewish IQ and about Jewish accomplishments (e.g., Nobel prizes) in that book. In the second book, Separation and Its Discontents (MacDonald 1998a), I discuss the tendency for anti-Semites to exaggerate their complaints, to develop fantastic and unverifiable theories of Jewish behavior, to exaggerate the extent of Jewish cohesion and unanimity, to claim that all Jews share stereotypically Jewish traits or attitudes, especially in cases where in fact Jews are over-represented among people having certain attitudes (e.g., political radicalism during most of the 20th century). And I describe the tendency of some anti-Semites to develop grand conspiracy theories in which all historical events of major or imagined importance, from the French Revolution to the Tri-lateral Commission are linked together in one grand plot and blamed on the Jews. All of this is hardly surprising on the basis of what we know about the psychology of ethnic conflict. But that doesn’t detract in the least from supposing that real conflicts of interest are at the heart of all of the important historical examples of anti-Semitism. Most of this is in the first chapter of Separation and Its Discontents—front and center as it were, just as my other disclaimers are in the first chapter of A People that Shall Dwell Alone.
It must be kept in mind that group evolutionary strategies are not benign, at least in general and especially in the case of Judaism, which has often been very powerful and has had such extraordinary effects on the history of the West. I think there is a noticeable shift in my tone from the first book to the third simply because (I’d like to think) I knew a lot more and had read a lot more. People often say after reading the first book that they think I really admire Jews, but they are unlikely to say that about the last two and especially about CofC. That is because by the time I wrote CofC I had changed greatly from the person who wrote the first book. The first book is really only a documentation of theoretically interesting aspects of group evolutionary strategies using Judaism as a case study (how Jews solved the free-rider problem, how they managed to erect and enforce barriers between themselves and other peoples, the genetic cohesion of Judaism, how some groups of Jews came to have such high IQ’s, how Judaism developed in antiquity). Resource competition and other conflicts of interest with other groups are more or less an afterthought, but these issues move to the foreground in Separation and Its Discontents, and in CofC I look exclusively at the 20th century in the West. Jews have indeed made positive contributions to Western culture in the last 200 years. But whatever one might think are the unique and irreplaceable Jewish contributions to the post-Enlightenment world, it is naïve to suppose they were intended for the purpose of benefiting humanity solely or even primarily. In any case I am hard pressed to think of any area of modern Western government and social organization (certainly) and business, science, and technology (very probably) that would not have developed without Jewish input, although in some cases perhaps not quite as quickly. In general, positive impacts of Jews have been quantitative rather than qualitative. They have accelerated some developments, for example in finance and some areas of science, rather than made them possible.
On the other hand, I am persuaded that Jews have also had some important negative influences. I am morally certain that Jewish involvement in the radical left in the early to middle part of the last century was a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for many of the horrific events in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. (About this, of course, one can disagree. I am simply saying that I find the evidence compelling.) But the main point is that I came to see Jewish groups as competitors with the European majority of the U.S., as powerful facilitators of the enormous changes that have been unleashed in this country, particularly via the successful advocacy of massive non-European immigration into the U.S. I found that I was being transformed in this process from a semi-conservative academic who had little or no identification with his own people into an ethnically conscious person—exactly as predicted by the theory of social identity processes that forms the basis of my theory of anti-Semitism (see MacDonald 1998a). In fact, if one wants to date when I dared cross the line into what some see as proof that I am an “anti-Semite,” the best guess would probably be when I started reading on the involvement of all the powerful Jewish organizations in advocating massive non-European immigration. My awareness began with my reading a short section in a standard history of American Jews well after the first book was published. The other influences that I attributed to Jewish activities were either benign (psychoanalysis?) or reversible—even radical leftism, so they didn’t much bother me. I could perhaps even ignore the towering hypocrisy of Jewish ethnocentrism coinciding as it does with Jewish activism against the ethnocentrism of non-Jewish Europeans. But the long-term effects of immigration will be essentially irreversible barring some enormous cataclysm.
I started to realize that my interests are quite different from prototypical Jewish interests. There need to be legitimate ways of talking about people who oppose policies recommended by the various Jewish establishments without simply being tarred as “anti-Semites”. Immigration is only one example where there are legitimate conflicts of interest. As I write this (November, 2001), we are bogged down in a war with no realizable endgame largely because of influence of the Jewish community over one area of our foreign policy and because of how effectively any mention of the role of Israel in creating friction between the U.S. and the Arab world—indeed the entire Muslim world—is muzzled simply by the cry of anti-Semitism. And at home we have entered into an incalculably dangerous experiment in creating a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society in which the intellectual elite has developed the idea that the formerly dominant European majority has a moral obligation to allow itself to be eclipsed demographically and culturally—the result, at least at its inception and to a considerable degree thereafter, of the influence of Jewish interest groups on immigration policy and the influence of Jewish intellectual movements on our intellectual and cultural life generally. As noted above, the rise of Jewish power and the disestablishment of the specifically European nature of the U.S. are the real topics of CofC.
I agree that there is bias in the social sciences and I certainly don’t exempt myself from this tendency. It is perhaps true that by the time I finished CofC I should have stated my attitudes in the first chapter. Instead, they are placed in the last chapter of CofC—rather forthrightly I think. In a sense putting them at the end was appropriate because my attitudes about Jewish issues marked a cumulative, gradual change from a very different world view.
It is annoying that such disclaimers rarely appear in writing by strongly identified Jews even when they see their work as advancing Jewish interests. A major theme of the CofC is that Jewish social scientists with a strong Jewish identity have seen their work as advancing Jewish interests. It is always amazing to me that media figures like the Kristols and Podhoretzes and foreign policy experts like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle do not feel an obligation to precede their remarks on issues affected by their solicitude for Israel by saying, “you should be wary of what I say because I have a vested ethnic interest in advancing the interests of Israel.” But the same thing goes for vast areas of anthropology (the Boasian school and racial differences research), history (e.g., obviously apologetic accounts of the history and causes of anti-Semitism or the role of Jews in the establishment of Bolshevism), psychology (the Frankfurt School, psychoanalysis), and contemporary issues (immigration, church-state relations). The point of CofC that really galls people is the idea that we should simply acknowledge this bias in (some) Jewish researchers as we do in others. There are a great many books on how Darwin and Galton were influenced by the general atmosphere of Victorian England, but writing of a Jewish bias immediately results in charges of “anti-Semitism.”
But the deeper point is that, whatever my motivations and biases, I would like to suppose that my work on Judaism at least meets the criteria of good social science, even if I have come to the point of seeing my subjects in a less than flattering light. In the end, does it really matter if my motivation at this point is less than pristine? Isn’t the only question whether I am right?
The Bibliography will appear in the next entry
Saturday, May 08, 2010