The Sensible Realism of a Bygone Generation: George Kennan’s Attitudes on Race, Eugenics, and Multiculturalism, Part 1

Cooper Sterling


The Kennan Diaries
by George Kennan, edited by Frank Costigliola
New York: Norton, 2014, 768pp

kennan diariesThe newly published diaries of George Kennan contain numerous passages that indicate the distinguished diplomat, scholar, Russian authority, and foreign policy sage also had a firm grasp of adverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and domestic political trends, which he clearly viewed as detrimental to the national interest. If any public figure in this day and age was as outspoken as Kennan, their career would be finished!

The diaries provide an exceptional snapshot of the author’s mindset over the span of nearly nine decades. Editor Frank Costigliola points out that Kennan left behind a private diary that takes up five linear feet of archival space. Researchers have had access to this material, but much of this work until now remained unpublished.

Reviewing the edited volume in the Washington Post, historian Douglas Brinkley notes that The Kennan Diaries “should come with a warning label.” He describes Kennan as a “gold-plated Cassandra” (referring to the goddess who had the gift of prophecy but the curse of never being believed). Brinkley counsels his fellow “Henry Wallace-George McGovern liberals” that his otherwise appealing foreign policy views are eclipsed by his unacceptable statements on apartheid and “his antiquated opinions on women’s rights,” not to mention “homophobic” and “pro-eugenic” beliefs, which “make it impossible for him to be a true hero of the left.”


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In reality, Brinkley is partially correct. Kennan’s outlook would fit right in with progressive-era liberals of the early twentieth century, but it is an alien presence in today’s anti-White milieu that rejoices at the eclipse of the historic American nation.

If “progressives” like Brinkley have a problem with Kennan’s views, what about “conservatives?” Kennan’s Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy, published in 1993, contained forthright views on a range of subjects, including egalitarianism, diversity, multiculturalism, ideology, religion, governmental reforms, forced desegregation, American culture, foreign policy, and the contribution of genetics to human qualities. In terms of its shock value, Around the Cragged Hill should be viewed as the appetizer before the main dish (The Kennan Diaries). Both volumes contain sentiments anathema to the political establishment—left and right.

In January 1993, the first published review of Around the Cragged Hill appeared in the New York Times. The reviewer, syndicated columnist George Will — the epitome of braindead mainstream conservatism — dismissed the book for lacking “analytic rigor” and viewed it as the amusing rants of a “curmudgeon.” In Kennan’s view, Will seemed to nibble around the edges of the book, highlighting the more vulnerable passages without addressing the core of his ideas as a mature writer. Kennan’s writes in his diary:

The first review of the new book appeared today in the New York Times ….  It was not a serious review. If the author (George Will) had read the entire book, the review does not suggest it. It was a kindly piece, but not serious, reflecting, as it seemed to me, the view: “Kennan is not a bad old chap. Let us be indulgent of him. Every old man is entitled, after all, to a few intellectual oddities, and some of his are even here or there amusing.”

I was pleased, of course, that the review was not nasty. But I came away from the reading of it with the idea that I would rather be severely criticized by someone who took the book seriously than be treated with such benevolent condescension by some one who did not.

In his introduction to the Diaries, Costigliola explains how Kennan viewed the genetic potential of the Kennan family stock, “An elitist educated in early twentieth-century America and Germany, Kennan, not surprisingly, embraced aspects of eugenics, a supposed science that was widely accepted in both countries. ‘For generations,’ he wrote his sister in 1935, the Kennans have been ‘breed[ing] an excellent stock. I am sure we are all leading up to someone quite wonderful.’”

The first entry as a precocious 11-year-old child growing up in Milwaukee, dated January 1, 1916, illustrates a young, sharp-minded Kennan with a sense of purpose:

In this simple, little book,
A record of the day, I cast;
So, I afterwards may look
Back upon my happy past.

From an early age, Kennan developed a Darwinian, if not Social Darwinian, outlook. Several entries in the edited Diaries reveal Kennan’s candid nature, which some critics consider too blunt. Fareed Zakaria writes in the New York Times, “The Kennan Diaries is an illuminating, fascinating, and sometimes disturbing book.” The candor of the Pulitzer Prize winning author seems too frank and perhaps too honest for Zakaria, whose lack of honesty can be inferred by his admission in August 2012 that he plagiarized passages from a New Yorker article for which CNN and Time briefly suspended him.

Kennan’s views on eugenics and race relations seem to have formed at an early age. The 1920s was a robust period for the eugenics movement. Leading scholars of the day were actively promoting eugenics. Scribner’s, Little, Brown, and Company, the MacMillan Company, Harcourt, Brace and Company, D. Appleton and Company, and other major publishers were releasing numerous titles on race and eugenics, including books by Yale’s Ellsworth Huntington (The Character of Races, 1925), Harvard’s Edward Murray East (Heredity and Human Affairs, 1927), Harvard’s William E. Castle (Genetics and Eugenics, 1927), Duke University’s William McDougall (Is America Safe For Democracy, 1921), the University of California’s S. J. Holmes (Studies in Evolution and Eugenics, 1923), Henry Pratt Fairchild (The Melting-Pot Mistake, 1926), R. Ruggles Gates (Heredity and Eugenics, 1923), Leonard Darwin (The Need for Eugenic Reform, 1926) among others. It was a time when Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant reached the zenith of their popularity with their warnings of racial and national decline. President Calvin Coolidge signed the Immigration Act of 1924 into law, establishing national quotas and restricting legal immigration into the U.S., and the Supreme Court ruled in Buck v. Bell (1927) that state-based compulsory sterilization of the “unfit” did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Given the climate of opinion in the 1920s, it would be rather unusual for Kennan to avoid weighing in on topics that today are considered beyond the pale. Near the end of his junior year as an undergraduate at Princeton, Kennan reflects on an evening he spent with a friend discussing “race problems”:

This evening I studied until 8:30 & then went over to see Army [a friend], who argued race problems with me and showed he knew considerably more about it than I did. He half-converted me to his “extermination of the lower races” idea. I cannot see why it is wrong in principle, although, like most sound theories, it seems impossible when one thinks of the practical difficulties. I’m a theorist as long as I’m in college, and as long as possible afterwards. On with free trade and birth-control!

One month later, Kennan and another friend decided to embark on a voyage to Europe on the S.S. Berengaria. Before their departure, the two meet up with another friend. Kennan records their visit at the Ridgewood Country Club:

A college friend came over in a Packard & took Nick & I [sic] up to the Ridgewood Country Club, which is so located that it has a wonderful view over to the ridge along the Hudson. He says there are no Jews in Ridgewood; we have probably discovered already a place far more remarkable than any we’ll find in Europe.

The entry of June 26, 1924 [on board S.S. Berengaria headed for Europe] offers a descriptive account of the deportees that 19-year-old Kennan and his friend encountered on the voyage:

My God! We are with a bunch of deportees! Of all the scurvy, seedy, filthy, low-down, diseased, wrecked, ignorant, miserable human beings that God ever made a bad job on, these wretches hold down first place. There is a one-eyed man; there is some dark-skinned devil in a turban who grins unceasingly; there is a negro-woman; there is a bearded, consumptive old devil who looks like Santa Claus out of a job in Constantinople. … There is a huge Teutonic-looking man who seems to be afflicted with a combination of epileptics & St. Vitus Dance. … And finally there are two respectable, civilized, American female school teachers, who don’t associate with the rest of the vulgars, & to whom Nick & I hope to address ourselves if we can summon the courage.

Nearly 100 years later and well advanced in an age of radical egalitarianism, such people would doubtless be allowed to stay in the U.S. because they would contribute to diversity. After all, diversity is our greatest strength.

In his mid-20s as a State Department diplomat, Kennan was transferred to Riga, Latvia, after finishing his Russian Language studies in Berlin. He reflects on prior notebook entries: “Golf is a game for people who like walking but are afraid of being left to their own thoughts …. Bridge is a game for people who don’t even like to walk.” On July 13, 1932, in a passage that exercised several reviewers, Kennan notes,

Nothing good can come out of modern civilization, in the broad sense. We have only a group of more or less inferior races, incapable of coping adequately with the environment which technical progress has created. … This situation is essentially a biological one. No amount of education and discipline can effectively improve conditions as long as we allow the unfit to breed copiously and to preserve their young. Yet there is no political faction in the world which has any thought of approaching the problem from the biological angle. Consequently there is really nothing positive to be expected from any political movement now in existence. There is nothing which any of them can do except to give the present generation of inferior beings a training and discipline which will in no way alter their offspring …. These political factions may profoundly influence environment; they will not alter heredity!

Some reviewers, such as Brinkley and Matthew Walther (“I used to like George Kennan” in the Spectator) mention the first part of the above entry in order to condemn him. The last three sentences, which neither reviewer bother to cite, indicate that Kennan had a firm grasp at an intellectually young age of what would become a perplexing problem for Western nations with hostile elites dedicated to cultural Marxism, namely the avoidance of policy recommendations that properly take into account the factor of heredity. This was more than six decades before the publication of The Bell Curve, which in 1994 sent our political establishment into cardiac arrest. The full passage shows that Kennan had a realistic understanding of the limitations of environmental interventions as a catchall cure for social ills (poverty, illiteracy, etc.) — a view that our elites have relegated to the political and intellectual wilderness.

As early as 1933, Kennan becomes disenchanted with the public realm of a government official—the thankless duties and responsibilities of a low-level functionary:

The sad fact that government is a conspiracy is largely the result of democracy. Democracy for people to accomplish by means of deceit what formerly was accomplished by means of force.

The great statesman, the public figure, has the advantage of being able to forget himself and his private fortunes for a time and to subordinate his petty personal interests to the glory of the game he is playing.

The little man, the honest independent farmer for example, can call his home his castle and live the dignity of his personal life.

The petty official can do neither. He sacrifices his private life without even the reward of public accomplishment….

Also from the same period, he writes on the fate of the “decent, intelligent, courageous people” in the dysgenic future:

But what difference did it make, after all, if he [i.e., Kennan] had talent. Was not all life a story of undeveloped talents? How many talented men had there been among those millions who died during the war? No, no. God  alone knew why talents were born into the world, but it was quite evidently not for the enrichment of humanity. Nature was generous. He [referring to himself] was thoroughly pessimistic in his outlook on his contemporaries. He believed that the race was definitely declining. The decline of the race did not, in his  opinion, mean there would be no decent, intelligent, courageous people. It meant that such people would become fewer and fewer, that they would be comparatively powerless and mistreated and would live in the consciousness of being doomed to failure, ineffectiveness, and early elimination. In general, their position would be like that of the Russian émigrés in Western European cities.

On America having no coherent sense of national identity:

[Kennan rhetorically ponders to himself] … “Why?” he used to ask, “should I love my country? It deceived me repeatedly and taught me nothing. My birthplace was completely indifferent to me. Why should I not be indifferent to it?

“America, after all, is too broad and confusing a conception to warrant any genuine loyalty. What have I in common with the average southerner, or the New York Jew, or any one of a hundred types? America is hardly a national conception anymore. It is a sort of international entity. The overflow from the entire world has seeped into a great territory and has drowned out the heritage of my fathers. There it lies now, this human overflow, sprawling out over the continent in all of its ignorance and all its sordidness, a society conceived in selfishness and dedicated to the proposition that one man’s suffering is no other man’s business, incapable of regulating its own public life, waiting stupidly for the advent of catastrophe.”

Given that these passages reflect Kennan’s views in 1933, he must be spinning in his grave over present-day demographic trends and political developments inaugurated by the sea change in immigration policy in 1965. If he failed to recognize the country of his forefathers in 1933, imagine how Kennan would view his native homeland today and what he would think of elected officials from both parties, including “conservatives” like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who eagerly seek to dismantle our borders and dissolve U.S. citizenship into a meaningless polyglot of incompatible nationalities and cultures. Kennan, were he alive today, would probably put a gun to his head and pull the trigger!

Clearly Kennan viewed the importation of diverse cultures, religions, and races into American society as resulting in division and compromising the interests of the historic American nation. Wikipedia:

Kennan deplored the Hispanicization of the United States. Noting the large-scale Mexican immigration in the Southwest, Kennan in 2002 saw “unmistakable evidences of a growing differentiation between the cultures, respectively, of large southern and southwestern regions of this country, on the one hand”, and those of “some northern regions”. In the former, “the very culture of the bulk of the population of these regions will tend to be primarily Latin-American in nature rather than what is inherited from earlier American traditions…Could it really be that there was so little of merit [in America] that it deserves to be recklessly trashed in favor of a polyglot mix-mash?”

This concern about importing diversity and the decline of the historic American nation can also be seen in an entry from 1980. While suffering from a painful kidney stone, Kennan began to see the futility of his accomplishments and warnings:

I had been right in my distrust of a wholly motorized society, in my insistence even 25 years ago, that we should not permit ourselves to become dependent on … Middle Eastern oil….

I had been right, finally, in my warnings against the reckless importation into our society or any other highly-developed society, and particularly into our great cities, of masses of people of wholly different cultural habits, traditions, and outlooks, incompatible with our own.

In all of the causes, I have failed, and the result of these failures was the present march of Western civilization, along several paths, into the very jaws of catastrophe.

Cassandra indeed.

Go to Part 2.

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