Not just a Religion: The American psychologist Kevin B. MacDonald observes Judaism from the perspective of evolutionary psychology
Thorsten Thomsen, editor of, Hier und Jetzt, reviews the German translation of Separation and Its Discontents
Translated by Tom Sunic
Absonderung und ihr Unbehagen. Auf dem Weg zu einer Evolutionären Theorie des Antisemitismus
Libergraphix, Gröditz 2011, €22.80
Introduction, by Tom Sunic
Much has been written and said in TOO about the self-constrained, self-contained and self-censored intellectual and cultural life in today’s Germany. In the modern Federal Republic of Germany, a state that officially brags about being “the freest of all states in Germany’s history,” even a minor politically incorrect joke can cause somebody a lot of legal troubles, something (as of now) inconceivable in the USA. In this sense the recent appearance of a classy, scholarly, right-wing nationalist quarterly in Germany, Hier und Jetzt, containing over 150 well-illustrated pages, feels like a breath of fresh air. What follows below is the review by Thorsten Thomsen of Prof. Kevin MacDonald’s book Separation and its Discontents in its recent German translation. Thomsen’s review of MacDonald’s book was published in # 18 of the Spring issue of the journal this year. Mr. Thomsen’s language and style, reproduced here in the English translation, may give a brief hint to an American reader about the overall political, intellectual and rhetorical climate in today’s Germany.
The psychologist and professor Kevin B. MacDonald from California State University has the reputation of being a “controversial” scientist in the USA. Controversial because his published research does not please certain influential circles and earns him therefore the sweeping label “unscientific.” Therefore, the high- flying American society cannot add up MacDonald to the circle of its friends, similar to a colleague of his, J. Philippe Rushton—also dubbed “controversial”—or the other authors who write in his journal The Occidental Quarterly, such as Tom Sunic and Alex Kurtagić, or the British psychologist and IQ researcher Richard Lynn.
At any rate his professorship at California State University–Long Beach cannot be disputed, although his university felt obliged on several occasions to issue explanations and disclaimers. In this neck of the woods (Germany) he would have long ago lost his professorship, or would have landed, on the grounds of “hate speech,” in front of the district prosecutor. Kevin MacDonald primarily deals with the analysis of Judaism in terms of evolutionary psychology. In simple terms, the U.S. psychologist’s thesis is that Judaism must be regarded not just as a religious issue, but rather as a sophisticated “group evolutionary strategy” which has steadily enabled the Jewish people, despite adverse circumstances, to persist and surpass other nations as resource competitors.
Group evolutionary strategies
The strategy of implicit ethnocentrism – with the maintenance of high ethnic homogeneity and exclusivity – provides the Jews with a number of strategic advantages, such as the above-average intelligence and a strong proclivity to collective behavior. In all of his three books, which in the United States came to be known as “the Judaism Trilogy,” MacDonald laid down similar and additional thesis about Judaism: A People That Shall Dwell Alone (1994), Separation and is Discontents (1998) and The Culture of Critique (1998).
MacDonald’s book was published in the German translation in the new publishing house Libergraphix from the town of Gröditz. This is his second book in the series on Judaism, which here in Germany carries the title Absonderung und ihr Unbehagen (with the subtitle Auf dem Weg zu einer evolutionären Theorie des Antisemitismus). Whoever may have some concerns that the translation was poor – given that the title seems a tad too bulky and taken word by word from the English language —will learn the opposite when reading this 376-page book. Other than a few exceptions, the translator did a decent job; the text reads smoothly and is comprehensible even to the layman.
Besides the purely scientific text, which holds a lot of inflammable material, this edition also provides MacDonald’s foreword to his first paperback edition, as well as to the first one published by the American publisher Praeger. Furthermore, the text is followed by a comprehensive bibliography. There are no footnotes given that the quotations are in the American language. One must also get used to the fact that the title of each chapter is not as usual at the top of each page, but at the bottom of the pages.
Already in his preface the author outlines in detail his arguments and refers again and again to his research results from the two other volumes of his “trilogy.” The present volume deals essentially with anti-Semitism as a counter-strategy to the “group evolutionary strategy” of Judaism in all its aspects, but it also deals with Jewish strategies in combating anti-Semitism, which MacDonald, in a sober manner depicts as a logical consequence occurring among the non-Jews in a competitive struggle among peoples.
Jewish Separation: Blessing and Curse
Already in the first chapter the author highlights the scientific basis of his thesis, i.e., essentially the theories of social identity based on evolutionary psychology, which are to be found both in Judaism and in anti-Semitism. MacDonald depicts here the common genetic roots of today’s Jews, i. e., findings which were confirmed by the Jewish-American geneticist Harry Ostrer from New York and his Israeli colleague Doron Behar from Haifa. These findings provide a scientific basis for further discussions on the basis of which the US psychologist came to be so disliked by the Jewish side.
In the next chapters MacDonald explains why the Jewish self-imposed separation in the course of history turned out to be a blessing and a curse at the same time. Although their strong ethnocentrism has brought undisputed advantages to the Jews and welded them firmly together as the community in the Diaspora, it has also led to drastic reactions by the peoples in whose midst Jews have lived their lives apart. The author identifies three historical examples illustrating this evidence: anti-Semitism in the late Roman Empire, anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages, especially during the Spanish Inquisition, and anti-Semitism under National Socialism, which, being itself an ideology with all the hallmarks of a group evolutionary strategy, functioned, in MacDonald’s view, almost as the “enemy brother” [mirror image] of Jewish ethnocentrism.
In the course of the book various Jewish strategies to counter anti-Semitism are discussed, in which the author, while on the one hand resorting to psychological arguments rather than phenotypic [physical] characteristics [e.g., ingroup/outgroup psychology], yet on the other hand, takes into consideration political movements of emancipatory value to Jews, such as Marxism or liberalism. MacDonald also points to the direct influence of organized lobbies such as the American-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL). These lobbies, according to the author, operate with methods that are otherwise common to the secret police. For this purpose MacDonald quotes the well-known critic of globalization, Noam Chomsky, himself a descendant of Jewish immigrants from Russia:
In the United States a rather effective system of intimidation has been developed to silence critique. . . . Take the Anti-Defamation League. . . . It’s actually an organization devoted to trying to defame and intimidate and silence people who criticize current Israeli policies, whatever they may be. For example, I myself, through a leak in the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League, was able to obtain a copy of my file there. It’s 150 pages, just like an FBI file, [consisting of] interoffice memos warning that I’m going to show up here and there, surveillance of talks that I give, comments and alleged transcripts of talks .
These files, or parts of them, would be then handed over to the local branches and, whenever it was judged appropriate, actions would be taken against Chomsky’s performances or speeches (or other critics of Israel or the Jewish lobby). Chomsky continues:
The politicians of course are directly subjected to this, and they are also subjected to substantial financial penalties if they don’t go along. . . . This totally one-sided pressure and this, by now, very effective system of vilification, lying, defamation, and judicious use of funds in the political system . . . has created a highly biased approach to the whole matter.
MacDonald quotes more examples of the groups that are (apparently) dedicated to the fight against anti-Semitism – only to further their own interests.
No Danger for Jews?
Prior to his final conclusion, chapters 7 and 8 clarify the question as to how Judaism, from its own perspective, developed its own “special position” and how this perspective contributed to errors in how they see the world. Firstly, MacDonald describes the lengthy history of the rationalization within Judaism, especially in its historiography, religious apologetics, and the development of Jewish theories of Judaism. According to the author, numerous such rationalizations, have led to deception and self-deception in regard to personal identity, the causes and scope of anti-Semitism, and the role of Jews in the political and cultural process. “I am arguing,” wrote MacDonald in the summary of the preface in the “Praeger edition, that “Jews, especially those who identify strongly with Judaism, are subject to self-delusion while ignoring negative information about themselves and their in-group.”
In the last chapter, the author raises the question whether Judaism today can still be conceptualized as an evolutionary strategy, given that the Jewish community in the Diaspora is also being affected and influenced by individualistic, ethnic, religious and pluralistic currents underlying modern Western societies. MacDonald does not see in it any danger for Judaism, and his thesis is that in an atomized world of traditional structures, which are in the process of dissolution, Judaism can continue to assert itself as a community. MacDonald even suggests that these signs of disintegration in Western societies provide an ideal breeding ground, so that Judaism, even within its own extensive unity, can continue to develop better than ever before.
No anti-Semitic Rag
The author’s work is replete with sources coming from different directions. This makes the overall thrust of MacDonald arguments not just comprehensible, but also sheds light on the US scientist who, although being ostracized in his profession by the media, is neither a Jew-baiting gossiper, nor a narrow minded ideologue wearing blinkers. The fact that MacDonald does not curse the Jews as “demons of the human race” (but instead depicts the characteristics and activities of the Jewish community in a rather sober and factual manner) can be best seen when he bestows upon them extremely positive characteristics, as for example in the field of their above-average intelligence.
This was also the case with Thilo Sarrazin, who at one place in the Chapter 3 of his bestseller Deutschland schafft sich ab, quotes MacDonald and his examination of the results of IQ testing. Lastly, the interpretation of the proposed factual basis of Absonderung und ihr Unbehagen is left to each reader to decide for himself. This is by no means an anti-Semitic piece of prose by Kevin MacDonald. From the information dispatched by the publishing house Libergraphix, it can be seen that Absonderung und ihr Unbehagen is only the first book in the series of MacDonald’s trilogy. This summer, the second book of the series is to be published with the title Der Jüdische Sonderweg – Der Judaismus als evolutionäre Gruppenstrategie [A People that Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy].
This coming winter, a translation of the collected works, Cultural Insurrections: Essays on Western Civilization, Jewish Influence and anti-Semitism will follow. Why Libergraphix did not publish the two other volumes on the American Judaism trilogy, which have already been mentioned in the beginning, remains the secret of the publisher. This would have been more appropriate. After all, MacDonald’s three main books of which Absonderung und ihr Unbehagen is the second follow up on each other. It is highly commendable, however, that the publisher from Gröditz is closing up the gap and is publishing the work of unfortunately still largely unknown Kevin B. MacDonald.