Žižek, Group Selection, and the Western Culture of Guilt

Kevin MacDonald

I am not going to try to figure out why academic left superstar Slavoj Žižek would want to review The Culture of Critique but he did (Steve Sailer: “Slavoj Žižek on Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique“). Perhaps it’s part of his persona where he writes things that are jarring and paradoxical — which is what I get from this review of one of his books. Anyway, as everyone knows, he plagiarized his review from Stanley Hornbeck’s review in American Renaissance. (He now says that a friend sent him the review and said he could use it under his name.)

The horrors! The giveaway, as Sailer notes, was that his review was far more lucid than his usual writing, prompting an alert blogger to actually make a side-by-side comparison, on the basis of which it is only reasonable to say that he stands convicted.

All that is amusing but of no real consequence, although one could hope for a bump in book sales. But Sailer’s blog has attracted ~250 comments at this writing, mainly expressing opinions on my work in general. After reading quite a few, it seemed to me that there were quite a few very articulate defenders of the basic ideas expressed in Culture of Critique, etc.

This is a link to all the reviews of Culture of Critique I am aware of (excluding Žižek , but who needs Žižek  when you have the original?). This includes John Derbyshire’s review in The American Conservative as well as my reply. The only review to appear in an academic publication is Frank Salter’s which is excellent; Paul Gottfried also reviewed it in Chronicles

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I think there are two basic problems that prevent a lot of people from accepting my work on Jews and particularly The Culture of Critique. One is that since most people are not professionals in the area of evolutionary psychology, they look to people they admire and trust to provide them guidance. One of the first comments asks, “Was there any serious critique of MacDonald’s thesis by any serious author?” 

Usually, when a controversial book comes out there are a lot of reviews, as with Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance or The Bell Curve. Interested people can easily read a variety of reviews and get a pretty good idea of of the pros and cons. But that’s not possible with The Culture of Critique. 

I think what is missing is a detailed negative review. Negative comments by John Tooby and Steven Pinker on my work in general don’t count, because neither shows any evidence of having read the books. In any case, I respond to them here, and critics should be aware of what Frank Salter noted in his review published in the Human Ethology Bulletin:

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….

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…. (see here)

Derbyshire’s review is by no means  entirely negative; he doesn’t dispute some of the main threads (the chapters on Boas, psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt School, New York Intellectuals) or even the main point that Jewish intellectual movements were “a net negative for America.” In any case, a serious person would also read my reply (linked above) to get a balanced perspective.

The other serious impediment is that critiquing, analyzing, or even discussing Jewish influence is the greatest taboo in the modern world. One can see this in Derbyshire’s review, where one gets the impression that that such activities are vaguely distasteful and perhaps a sign of some kind of personality disorder (do you have “the Jew thing”?). It is interesting to look at the comments on the recent New York Times op-ed on the demographic characteristics of visitors to Stormfront (young, educated, news junkies, readers of the New York Times, etc.). While the author, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, has “no idea” how Stormfront frequenters could possibly have that profile, many of the commentators weighed in with their own pet theories in which actual behavior of Jews had nothing to do with attitudes.


A Jewish writer comments: “My father, who survived Hitler, taught us that Germans had legitimate complaints and that losing our family’s wealth in the Communist revolution earlier had been a good thing: our people couldn’t see how we were building resentments. Dismissing expression of these resentments as hate speech didn’t prevent the Holocaust or the death of my father’s relatives. Behind their anger, there are real economic issues we ignore at our collective peril.”

Another comment: “SF members don’t wish to exercise white supremacy over others, but instead, they seek to separate themselves from the failure that is multiculturalism in the earnest desire to preserve their identity as Whites. Regardless of whether you believe White people exist or whether it’s a social construct (Tell any other racial or ethnic group that, and they won’t react nicely!), Stormfront members are by the vast majority law-abiding citizens whose views are simply heretical to the mass media in this country that demonizes anyone with an opposing view on the topic of race.”

A major theme of Culture of Critique is that Jewish intellectual movements developed theories which had a patina of science and according to which anti-Semitism had nothing to do with the behavior of Jews but was entirely an issue of the psychopathology of non-Jews. These theories were then promulgated by the elite media and Jewish activist organizations, and they came to pervade the academic world, with the results we see in these comments. My favorite here is “I … suspect these individuals of projecting the hatred they actually feel towards themselves onto others in an attempt to protect themselves from psychic damage” — a classic psychoanalytic move.

Indeed, the ADL doesn’t even like people saying good things about Jewish influence — so they would presumably have a problem with Derbyshire’s review or Joe Biden’s comments. A recent interview of Abe Foxman in the Times of Israel was notable for bringing up stereotypical aspects of Jewish influence, including Jews controlling Hollywood where, as usual, he claims that Hollywood Jews are not acting as Jews. And:

Finance: Interviewer: “During the Global Financial Crisis, every time the head of a bank turned out to be Jewish I cringed. And I wished that there were fewer Jews at the heart of the American financial system.”
Pro-Israel activity and loyalty: Interviewer: “If you were to ask American Jews ‘Where does your heart lie most?’, a lot of them would say ‘Israel’.

Foxman commented, “I remember when the Foreign Minister of Spain said to me, ‘When we say Jews are successful we mean it as a compliment.’ I replied by saying, That’s the compliment that paved the way to Auschwitz.”

The ADL’s strategy is therefore to do their best to squelch any discussion of Jewish influence. And I think they have largely succeeded. (A good example is the dearth of reviews of Culture of Critique.) People confronting work that discusses Jewish influence and how it may conflict with the interests of others immediately go into protective mode. They reflexively place such people in the category of haters and, like the commenters on the NYTimes Stormfront article, dial into whatever psychiatric explanation seems most plausible to them — a very adaptive strategy since anything else may well endanger their job.

Getting back to the comments on Sailer’s blog, another issue that always comes up is group selection. I want to make clear once again, as several commentators noted, that my work develops a perspective on cultural group selection which is entirely mainstream these days.

Unfortunately, the group selection charge is often used as a way of saying, “he’s obviously wrong about that, so we can safely ignore everything else he says.” But obviously, the vast majority of the ideas in the trilogy, and particularly in The Culture of Critique which is the book that critics are most eager to discredit, do not depend on group selection.

Nevertheless, for the record, once again, I take no position on the importance of group selection for animals (although I think it’s unlikely). But humans, because of their greater cognitive abilities are able to structure groups in such a way as to avoid the typical problems associated with group selection for animals (e.g., free riders) (see here for a brief summary of my view). Group selection is a good example where an orthodoxy developed within evolutionary science has trickled down to pretty much everyone so that eyes glaze over when you say that humans are different.

Finally, I want to address the issue of a biological basis for moral universalism for Westerners. One commenter said that the views I expressed in my VDARE.com article on racial science were “extreme.” What is truly extreme is that racial science has been more or less expunged from the academic world. The result is that we have to start all over trying to solve what I think is the most challenging intellectual problem in the social sciences: What are the biological proclivities of European peoples stemming from their evolutionary history? And we are doing it in the absence of any institutional or organizational support; indeed, the multicultural left that dominates the university is prone to “explaining” the success of the West as due to unique evil or dumb luck.

I am not entirely satisfied with the theories to date. Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear that Western peoples are prone to individualism, have unique family patterns (delineated by the Hajnal line), de-emphasize extended kinship, are prone to monogamy, are relatively egalitarian, and prone to moral universalism, altruistic punishment, and creating moral ingroups based on reputation, not kinship— all features of hunter-gatherer societies.

Fundamentally, we need an explanation of the current situation in which Western peoples have uniquely signed on to a suicidal zeitgeist based on empathy and guilt. To dissent from displacement-level immigration is to remove oneself from the moral universe created by our hostile elites, and the great majority of Whites are horrified at the thought of transgressing these moral boundaries.

Recently I noticed that evolutionary anthropologist Peter Frost blogged about empathy and guilt being predominantly found among the cultures of Northwestern Europe. Frost noted that “empathy and guilt are brutally effective ways to enforce social rules,” and he suggests that this may have begun as large groups of Europeans — well beyond close kin — congregated in resource-rich areas, necessitating non-kinship forms of social organization.

In any case, it’s good to see some convergence in thinking about the biological proclivities of Europeans. And it’s very hard not to see the culture of empathy and guilt as causally related to the current situation where Whites are meekly accepting their own displacement as a moral imperative. Empathy and the creation of moral communities seem central to Western history since the 17th century— prime examples being the movement to end slavery beginning in the late 18th century and the culture of guilt and empathy that pervaded elite circles in England in the 19th century (the latter also a theme of David Hackett Fischer’s Fairness and Freedom). Beginning with the Civil Rights Movement, all of the cultural changes in America since the 1960s have been phrased in moral terms. This strategy simply doesn’t work in other cultures, and we have to understand why this is. 

While this strand is dominant now, there appear to be other strands as well, greatly complicating the picture. Particularly important is the culture of aristocratic individualism resulting in elitist, hierarchical societies that were hostile to social change (e.g., the South prior to the Civil War) but whose roots can be traced back to the period of Saxon domination in England and likely represent another ethnic strand (see here, p. 14ff and particularly pp. 18-19).

As noted above, developing good theories of European biological proclivities is a daunting problem. It’s a sad commentary on the current age that it’s not a question that can even be discussed in polite academic circles.

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