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Ben Stein's Expelled: Was Darwinism a Necessary Condition for the Holocaust?

Kevin MacDonald

December 1, 2008 

In my previous column, I noted the Stalinist tendencies of the leftists that are so entrenched in the academic world. The fact is that the academic left has never been concerned about truth when truth is incompatible with their political objectives. This is the fundamental message of my book, The Culture of Critique where I trace the involvement of Jewish intellectual activists in producing a leftist academic culture that promoted specifically Jewish goals, including lessening the political power and cultural influence of European-derived peoples and the eradication of anti-Semitism.

Chief among the bogeymen of these Jewish intellectuals is Darwinism. The war against Darwinism is a major theme of The Culture of Critique, and it persists as a constant drumbeat in our culture—from the cultural Marxists who are in charge of socializing our college students to a great many examples in popular culture.

Consider Ben Stein's film Expelled. Stein depicts Darwinism as a stifling orthodoxy that suppresses free inquiry into how things got this way. And in particular, the triumph of Darwinism has meant that the theory of intelligent design has been banished from the realm of reasonable discourse in the academic world.  

Of course, intelligent design is not a reasonable alternative at all, but a highly motivated effort to legitimize a religious world view in the sciences. But why would Ben Stein produce a movie that panders to religious conservatives? It would doubtless be pretty hard to find anyone in the Jewish intelligentsia who in the privacy of their innermost thoughts believes in God.

Indeed, it's fair to say that the mainstream Jewish community regards Christian religious sentiment with fear and loathing. For example, Elliott Abrams, whose title in the Bush Administration (Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy) sounds like a neocon wet dream, acknowledges that the mainstream Jewish community “clings to what is at bottom a dark vision of America, as a land permeated with anti-Semitism and always on the verge of anti-Semitic outbursts.” According to Abrams, because of this vision, Jews have taken the lead in secularizing America.  In fact, the key role of Jewish organizations in shaping the Constitutional law on Church/State relations is well known.

The deep structure of Expelled can be inferred from another comment by Elliott Abrams. Abrams thinks that a strong role for Christianity in America is good for Jews:

In this century we have seen two gigantic experiments at postreligious societies where the traditional restraints of religion and morality were entirely removed: Communism and Nazism. In both cases Jews became the special targets, but there was evil enough even without the scourge of anti-Semitism. For when the transcendental inhibition against evil is removed, when society becomes so purely secular that the restraints imposed by God on man are truly eradicated, minorities are but the earliest victims.

I think Abrams and Stein are on the same page. I make this inference because in his film promoting intelligent design Stein argues that Darwinism was a necessary condition for the Holocaust. In making a movie that attempts to legitimize “Creation Science” in the academic world, Stein is thinking not so much about intellectual honesty or the relative adequacy of Darwinism and Creation Science in producing testable hypotheses and mountains of supporting evidence. He is asking an age-old question: “Is it good for the Jews?” If Darwinism is not good for the Jews, then so much the worse for Darwinism.

In mounting a war on Darwinism or at least attempting to control it, Stein is entirely within the mainstream of Jewish opinion, at least for the last 100 years or so. The triumph of the Boasian school of anthropology over Darwinism in the early years of the 20th century was a watershed event in intellectual history of the West — in effect more or less obliterating what had been a thriving Darwinian intellectual milieu. This era of Darwinian domination of the social sciences included several well-known Jewish racial Zionists, such as Arthur Ruppin, who were motivated by the fear that Diaspora Judaism would lose its biological uniqueness as a result of pressures for intermarriage and assimilation.

Among the Zionists, the racialists won the day. Ruppin’s ideas on the necessity of preserving Jewish racial purity have had a prominent place in the Jabotinsky wing of Zionism, including especially the Likud party in Israel and its leaders—people like Ariel Sharon, Menachem Begin, and Yitzhak Shamir. (Here’s a photo of Sharon speaking to a Likud Party convention in 2004 under a looming photo of Jabotinsky.) Jabotinsky believed that Jews were shaped by their long history as a desert people and that the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state would allow the natural genius of the Jewish race to flourish, stating, for example: “These natural and fundamental distinctions embedded in the race are impossible to eradicate, and are continually being nurtured by the differences in soil and climate.”  As Geoffrey Wheatcroft recently pointed out, at the present time Israel “is governed by [Jabotinsky’s] conscious heirs.” 

But it was the Boasians who won the day in the academic establishment of the West. Whereas Jewish intellectuals played a bit part in the wider movement of racial Darwinism, the Boasian revolution which triumphed in academic anthropology in the West was overwhelmingly a Jewish intellectual movement.

And besides the Boasians, a great many Jewish social scientists of the period were also attracted to a thriving cult of Lamarckism — the view that evolution works via the inheritance of acquired characteristics rather than Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Indeed, Lamarckism became official ideology in the Soviet Union because of its easy compatibility with Marxist visions of utopia: Creating the socialist society would biologically alter its citizens.  

Both theories combated racialist theories of Judaism that depicted it as having a biological uniqueness. (Actually, Boas’s approach is more an anti-theory because it cast doubt on general theories of human culture common among Darwinian anthropologists of the period, emphasizing instead the vast diversity and chaotic minutiae of human cultures, as well as the relativism of standards of cultural evaluation.) For example, based on skull measurements and IQ testing, racial scientists, including some racial Zionists, concluded that Jews had evolved to have higher IQ, but this was often linked with a tendency toward psychopathology—the “nervous Jew.”

The Boasians and the Lamarckians countered with the view that Jewish traits had resulted from historical conditions. As historian Mitchell B. Hart notes, “the positions taken by Jewish researchers [i.e., the Zionist racialists, the Lamarckians, and the Boasians] were driven in large measure by ideological commitments and political goals.” Three different groups of Jewish social scientists, three different ideological agendas stemming from their different views on how social science can best serve Jewish interests.

Boas’s famous study purporting to show that skull shape changed as a result of immigration from Europe to America was a very effective propaganda weapon in this cause of the anti-racialists. Indeed, it was intended as propaganda. Based on their reanalysis of Boas’s data, physical anthropologists Corey Sparks and Richard Jantz do not accuse Boas of scientific fraud, but they do find (pdf) that his data do not show any significant environmental effects on cranial form as a result of immigration. They also claim that Boas may well have been motivated by a desire to end racialist views in anthropology:

While Boas never stated explicitly that he had based any conclusions on anything but the data themselves, it is obvious that he had a personal agenda in the displacement of the eugenics movement in the United States. In order to do this, any differences observed between European- and U.S.-born individuals will be used to its fullest extent to prove his point. 

This view certainly dovetails with my research. Boas can now be officially grouped with his student and protégé Margaret Mead as using social science to further a leftist, anti-Darwinian political agenda.  

Concerns about scientific fraud have also dogged Larmarckism. Lamarckism was a pillar of the intellectual left in the West during the 1920s but declined rapidly after its major scientific proponent, Paul Kammerer, committed suicide shortly after an article appearing in the prestigious British journal Nature accused him of scientific fraud. Kammerer, who was half Jewish on his mother’s side, was a staunch socialist. He wrote that Lamarckian inheritance offered hope for humanity through education, and he became a hero among committed Socialists and Communists. Despite Kammerer’s disgrace, Lamarckism lived on in the Soviet Union under Trofim Lysenko, with disastrous results on agricultural policy. 

Interestingly, Boas, who was also a political radical, continued to accept Lamarckism up until his death in 1942 — long after it had been discredited by accusations of scientific fraud. The moral seems to be that people who use science to advance their political agendas are unlikely to reject politically attractive theories for trivial reasons like lack of evidence and a history of cooked data. Isn’t that how science is supposed to operate? Not surprisingly, that other pseudoscientific charlatan, Sigmund Freud, also continued believing in Lamarckism long after it had been scientifically discredited.  

Ben Stein’s brief for intelligent design is therefore in the long line of movements, beginning with Boas and Lamarck, that have attempted to undercut Darwin as a pillar of Western science. Each of them is mistaken (to be generous) and each was highly motivated. Among Jewish participants, the motives can be quite straightforwardly related to their Jewish identity.  

But we still must ask what to make of Ben Stein’s claim that Darwinism was a necessary condition for the Holocaust. John Derbyshire characterizes the charge as a “blood libel on our civilization” which indeed it is.  Nevertheless, such a claim should not be taken lightly. For example, it is common among historians to hold views similar to Michael Hart’s statement that “it is impossible to understand the Holocaust without comprehending the degree to which racial science and a medicalized racial ideology occupied central positions in Nazi thought and policy.”  

By the same token, I suppose, one could argue that the Palestinian catastrophe is the result of the triumph of the racial Zionists and their Likudnik descendents in Israel. Or one could argue that Darwinism does not necessarily lead to the specific views attributed to the National Socialists. 

And one could certainly note that genocides occurred long before World War II and they have continued to occur without any specific Darwinian ideology. Indeed, as noted above, Elliott Abrams places Communism in the same category as Nazism when it comes to the ill effects of removing a religious world view. In April, 2008, the Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko petitioned the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to recognize the 1932–1933 Ukrainian famine as an act of genocide—a genocide carried out by an avowedly Marxist government at a time when Jews formed an elite within the Soviet Union. (See also Charles Dodgson's lucid comments in TOO on Jewish involvement in the Ukrainian genocide as a blind spot in Jewish memory. Abrams is an example of a Jewish writer who deplores the discrimination against Jews that occurred after World War II in the USSR, but is silent on the pre-World War II period when Jews formed a hostile elite in the Soviet Union and served as Stalin's willing executioners.) Indeed, it has been estimated that Communist governments murdered over 90,000,000 people in the 20th century, including 25,000,000 in the USSR. These murders were certainly not carried out under a Darwinian ideology.  

And genocides have been carried out under religious ideologies as well. Christiane Amanpour’s God’s Warriors series certainly shows that religious ideology can motivate the most extreme of fanaticisms, from Jihad to much of the West Bank settler movement (including both its Christian and Jewish supporters). (The Christian and Muslim segments are still on You Tube. But the Jewish segment has been removed, presumably by the same Jewish fanatics featured in the segment. But you can still see two rebuttals put out by the pro-Zionists: Part I and Part II.  My description and commentary on the Jewish segment is here.)

Ben Stein is wrong. There is no reason at all to suppose that adopting a religious world view immunizes against genocide. Perhaps he and Elliott Abrams are simply expressing their belief that present forms of Christianity would not lead to a Holocaust even if they achieved a great deal more power over public policy. This was the view of neocon guru Leo Strauss  who is quite possibly the inspiration for both Abrams and Stein. They could be right about that, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.  

But let’s not be naïve. Darwin did indeed have a dangerous idea. In the same way that the evolutionary theory of sex has illuminated the deep structure of the human mating game, evolutionary theory points to the deep structure of genocide as a particularly violent form of ethnic competition. But ethnic competition is ethnic competition whether its carried out in an orgy of violence, or by forcible removal of people from land on the West Bank by Jewish settlers or by forcible removal of Native Americans during the 19th century by white settlers, or by peaceful displacement of whites via current levels of immigration into Western societies.

From a Darwinian perspective, the end result is no different. The genetic structure of the population has changed. Darwin, of course, understood this. Notice, for example, the subtitle of his masterpiece: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

We all have an implicit understanding of human sexual politics. What Darwin did (with the help of Robert Trivers) is to produce an explicit theory which explains sexual politics. But sexual politics and genocide existed long before Darwin came along. And it is at least questionable whether the occurrence of future genocide would be more or less likely if most people had an explicitly Darwinian theory. Humans seem to be able to commit mass murder under multiple ideological umbrellas.

And it could be argued that adopting an explicitly Darwinian perspective would actually lead to less genocide. For example, by understanding that ethnonational aspirations are a normal consequence of our evolutionary psychology, we could at least build societies that, unlike the Soviet Union, are not likely to commit genocide on their own people. Nor would we be saddled with a multicultural cauldron of competing and distrustful ethnic groups. And, as noted in a previous article, societies based on ethnonationalism would have other benefits as well: Greater openness to redistributive policies; greater trust and political participation; and a greater likelihood of adopting democratic political systems based on the rule of law.

So three cheers for Darwin and for science. Long may they live. And please, no more Ben Steins trying to send us back to the Dark Ages.

Kevin MacDonald is a professor of psychology at California State University–Long Beach.

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