Pat Buchanan on Darwin

Pat Buchanan is without doubt the most incisive political commentator that we have. His writings on the death of the Westimmigration, the neocon influence in the Republican Party, and the Israel Lobby are brilliant and courageous, and they certainly have won him no friends among the most powerful forces in the Republican Party or among the watchdogs of political correctness.

So it is with a great deal of ambivalence that I must disagree with his recent op-ed “Making a monkey out of Darwin.” The article and the book it relies on, by Eugene G. Windchy, are a compendium of Creationist ideas claiming that Darwinism has no scientific basis and that it has led to great evil. I have discussed some of these issues in a previous article on Ben Stein’s movieExpelled which links Darwinism to the Holocaust and represents the scientific community of evolutionists as an oppressive Inquisition-like establishment bent on squelching heresy (obviously far more true of the $PLC and the ADL).

One particularly objectionable claim is that Karl Marx was inspired by Darwin. Marxism is far more associated with Lamarck’s idea that people can inherit the characteristics that their ancestors acquired during their lives. The inheritance of acquired characteristics is the exact opposite of Darwin’s view that the basic mechanism of evolution is natural selection — the selective retention of genetic variants because they result in increased survival and reproductive success.

Lamarckism, not Darwinism, became official ideology in the Soviet Union — the idea being that it would be easy to reshape human nature and produce the new Soviet Man. Famously, Trofim Lysenko applied this to agriculture, hoping to get plants to change their genetic characteristics by exposing them to harsh arctic climates.

This set back Soviet agriculture for decades, but the results were far worse for humans. Lamarckians believed that it would be easy to change the culture and train people to be good socialists. Then their children would inherit those traits and voila, it would usher in a golden age where people would not have nasty, capitalist traits like greed, envy, and selfishness. In the meantime, it was eminently reasonable to simply exterminate those who didn’t get with the program and who clung to their pre-revolutionary ways. In the end, the Lamarckians in the Soviet Union rationalized the murder of many millions of their fellow citizens in the name of creating the new Soviet man.

Creationists who link Darwin with evil should also think long and hard about the fact that genocides and a great many other evils have been carried out under religious ideologies. Christiane Amanpour’s God’s Warriors on Jews,Christians, and Muslims 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) — all of which Buchanan presumably abhors. Is that a reason for getting rid of religion?

The problem of evil is very much with us and continues to haunt all ideologies and scientific theories that address it. For a great many people, it is completely incomprehensible that a God would allow all the violence, pain, and suffering that have always been the fate of so many humans — and animals. Positing a God to explain human behavior and human traits is useless. It doesn’t really explain anything, because we then have to ask why He would make us to be so prone to inflict suffering on others. And why would he create animals that inflict so much suffering on other animals.

The scientific route of explaining human evil as resulting from Darwinian natural selection for traits that were adaptive in spreading the genes of our ancestors is unacceptable to many because it seems to justify violence and aggression. As Buchanan notes, racial nationalism in the period prior to World War I was very much in the air and was invoked by some advocates of war. But wars and genocides occurred long before World War I — without any Darwinian ideology.

And at least some wars would not have occurred if the war mongers had been good Darwinians. For example, the Civil War was a cousin’s war fought between closely related men from different British sub-cultures. Whatever the political and economic complexities that led to the Civil War, it was the Yankee moral condemnation of slavery that inspired and justified the massive carnage of closely related Anglo-Americans on behalf of slaves from Africa. (See here.) Militarily, the war with the Confederacy was the greatest sacrifice in lives and property ever made by Americans. From a Darwinian perspective it was a disaster in which mass murder of cousins was rationalized by a moral ideal.

Or consider World War II, the subject of Buchanan’s brilliant The Unnecessary War. It was indeed an unnecessary war — and one that would not have been launched by a British Darwinian. Buchanan is quite correct that Winston Churchill should live in infamy for his role in promoting both World War I and World War II. But did Churchill and the rest of the British elite who jumped over the cliff with him act like good Darwinians?

Buchanan is quite correct to point to Churchill’s bellicosity, his vanity, and his desire for personal power; and there are strong hints of his corruption as a result of being rescued from near bankruptcy after the stock market crash of 1929. But if Churchill was a good Darwinian, he would have been able to control these all too human impulses and think rationally about the long term good of his people. (Yes, evolutionists do believe that humans can control their primitive tendencies.) It simply made no sense to go to all out war with the closely related Germans over German hegemony over the continent — especially because in order to win, Britain had to make an alliance with the Soviet Union, the most murderous regime in history. The victory of the Soviet Union, made possible by military aid from the West, then subjected Eastern Europe to decades of brutality and economic stagnation, and it led to a prolonged and destructive Cold War. But from the standpoint of the West, all this sacrifice was endured in order to destroy genetically closer Germans. Churchill himself seems to have reveled in the destruction even of German civilians.

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No Darwinian would have done this. But Churchill — an egomaniacal, short-sighted, vainglorious war monger unaware of his ethnic genetic interests — loved it. 

Buchanan also fails to see how the defeat of Darwinism in the social sciences has led to all the ills that he deplores in the US and the contemporary West. The period from around 1890 to 1924 was a period of ethnic defense in the United States, and Darwinism was a potent tool in the hands of immigration restrictionists. Bluebloods like Henry Cabot Lodge and Madison Grant were extolling the virtues of Northern Europeans and funding the movement to end immigration — a battle that ended with the ethnically defensive immigration law of 1924 that was reaffirmed by the 1952 McCarran-Walter act. But at the same time, academic anthropology was coming under the control of the Boasians for whom the entire idea of race was anathema.

I have argued that Boasian anthropology is a Jewish intellectual movement that had the effect of undercutting Americans’ natural desire for an ethnically homogeneous culture. As immigration historian John Higham noted, by the time of the final victory in 1965, which removed national origins and racial ancestry from immigration policy and opened up immigration to all human groups, the Boasian perspective of cultural determinism and anti-biologism had become standard academic wisdom. The result was that “it became intellectually fashionable to discount the very existence of persistent ethnic differences. The whole reaction deprived popular race feelings of a powerful ideological weapon.”

The demise of Darwinism had major implications because it removed the only intellectually viable source of opposition to cosmopolitan ideology and a cultural pluralist model of America. In the absence of an intellectually respectable defense, ethnic defense was left to conservative religion and the popular attitudes of the less educated. These were no match for the cosmopolitan intellectual elite who quickly became ensconced in all the elite institutions of the US—especially the media and the academic world. In a very real sense, the demise of Darwinism has led to the death of the West that  Buchanan deplores. Without an intellectually compelling and scientifically based ideology of ethnic defense, it was not possible to erect barriers against the invasion of other peoples.

As I noted elsewhere, Darwin did indeed have a dangerous idea.

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, and there are winners and losers. …

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.

My alternate view of the 20th century in America is that if a robust Darwinian intellectual elite had remained in place, the cosmopolitan revolution that opened up America to immigration of all peoples never would have occurred. The immigration restrictionism of the 1920s would have been institutionalized in all the elite institutions of the United States, and it would have developed an increasingly sophisticated theoretical underpinning as the evolutionary understanding of human behavior progressed. Immigration policy would have been carefully formulated to ensure that immigrants were genetically similar to the founding stock — just as American immigration policy was crafted until 1965.

I close with a quote from Stephen Jay Gould where Buchanan follows Windchy in distorting a comment by Stephen Jay Gould. Based on his reading of the fossil record, Gould had proposed that evolution was less gradual than Darwin supposed, while certainly not disagreeing with Darwin’s central view on natural selection.

But most of all I am saddened by a trend I am just beginning to discern among my colleagues. I sense that some now wish to mute the healthy debate about theory that has brought new life to evolutionary biology. It provides grist for creationist mills, they say, even if only by distortion. Perhaps we should lie low and rally around the flag of strict Darwinism, at least for the moment—a kind of old-time religion on our part.

But we should borrow another metaphor and recognize that we too have to tread a straight and narrow path, surrounded by roads to perdition. For if we ever begin to suppress our search to understand nature, to quench our own intellectual excitement in a misguided effort to present a united front where it does not and should not exist, then we are truly lost.

I can’t say that I am a fan of Stephen Jay Gould because of his role in attempting to shape Darwinism to his leftist sympathies and, I think, his sense of Jewish interests. But I certainly agree that we have to continue to attempt to understand nature and let the chips fall where they may.

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