The Puritan Intellectual Tradition in America, Part 2: The Period of Ethnic Defense, 1890-1965

Go to Part 1.

The early part of the twentieth century was the high-water mark of Darwinism in the social sciences. It was common at that time to think that there were important differences between the races in both intelligence and moral qualities. Not only did races differ, they were in competition with each other for supremacy. For example, William Graham Sumner was a social Darwinist; he thought that social class and racial divisions as well as competition were part of the natural order of things. Writing in 1903, he noted that “the two races live more independently of each other now than they did” during the slave era.[1] Whereas later in the century, Jewish intellectuals led the battle against Darwinism in the social sciences, racialist ideas became part of the furniture of intellectual life—commonplace among intellectuals of all stripes, including a significant number of Jewish racial nationalists concerned about the racial purity and political power of the Jewish people. Many of them were Zionists who believed in the importance of Jewish racial purity (a Jewish homeland in Israel would prevent assimilation and intermarriage) and Jewish racial superiority .[2]

The victory of Darwinisn was short-lived, however, as the left became reinvigorated by the rise of several predominantly Jewish intellectual and political movements: Marxism, Boasian anthropology, psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt School, and other ideologies that collectively have dominated intellectual discourse ever since.[3] However, the interesting thing is that the intellectual milieu shifted in response to external events, resulting in a period of ethnic defense from around 1880 to 1965. My suggestion is that we are going through a similar period now, with many intellectuals and well-educated people realizing that the regime of immigration and multiculturalism is a disaster for White Americans.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, as American intellectuals were coming to grips with large-scale immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, the optimistic views of the future that were so typical of the nineteenth century were more and more difficult to defend, especially because a large number of the immigrants were (correctly) seen as politically radical and inassimilable. The decades leading up to the passage of the 1924 immigration law were a period of ethnic defense. Optimistic, liberal views on immigration persisted among a small group of intellectuals, but they were politically powerless.  And among many pro-restrictionist intellectuals, Darwinism won the day.

The result was an effective alliance between elite intellectuals of Ivy League-educated, Puritan-descended extraction with rural Whites in the South and West in an effort to prevent being overwhelmed by this threat. As Eric Kaufmann noted in his The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America, “Whenever the northeastern ‘WASP’ elite make common cause with their less prestigious but more numerous provincial kin, Anglo-Protestant ethnic nationalism revives.”[4] This alliance, which essentially lasted until the passage of the 1965 immigration law which opened up immigration to all peoples, indicates that despite the liberal strands of WASP culture, change may occur if liberal, cosmopolitan views are seen as resulting in negative consequences—if the nineteenth-century optimism of immigrants being “just like us” is proven to be obviously unwarranted. Similarly in the present era, American Whites are coalescing in the Republican Party, not on the traditional basis of social class, but as a result of a common racial/ethnic identity (if only implicit(, and among them there is increasing skepticism about the benefits of immigration.

Even before the 1920s Jewish organizations were the main force against continued immigration, managing to delay immigration restriction until the 1920s—30 years after popular opinion advocated restriction.[5] I discuss this in The Culture of Critique.

Largely as a result of this activism and despite the fact that even though immigration restriction was universally accepted by 1890, an effective immigration restriction bill was only enacted in 1924. During this period, around 20 million immigrants arrived in the United States,[6] including around 2 million Jews from Eastern Europe, many of whom tended toward political radicalism. As us the case today, popular attitudes don’t necessarily win out over special interests (ethnic and business lobbies in the case of immigration) in a so-called “democracy”

Beginning around 1900 racial theories based on Darwinism held the academic high ground with figures such as Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, Henry Pratt Fairchild, William Ripley, Gustav Le Bon, Charles Davenport, and William McDougall. The result was widespread beliefs among American elites, including prominent military officers, that racial identity was important and that racial homogeneity was the sine qua non of every stable nation state.  It was common to believe that their racial group was uniquely talented and possessed of a high moral sense. But, more importantly, whatever the talents and vulnerabilities of their race, they held it in the highest importance to retain control over the lands they had inherited as a result of the exploits of their ancestors who had conquered the continent and tamed the wilderness.  And despite the power that their race held at the present, there was dark foreboding about the future, reflected in the titles of some of the classic works of the period: Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race and Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy and The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under‑Man.[7]

Bluebloods like Henry Cabot Lodge and Madison Grant who descended from the Puritans 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 which was based on an ethnic status quo as of 1890. A. Lawrence Lowell, President of Harvard, Vice President of the Immigration Restriction League, and descendant of Puritans opposed the nomination of Louis Brandeis as a Supreme Court Justice because of Brandeis’ ardent Zionism, supported quotas on Jewish students (15%—generous give that Jews comprised 5% of the population), supported racial segregation, and opposed homosexuality.

The prominence of Darwinian theories of race was not confined to the United States. Such theories were influential among intellectuals in Europe as well, including Benjamin Disraeli, Arthur de Gobineau, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Gustave Le Bon, and a large number of Jewish racialist theorists mostly associated with Zionism.[8]

The defeat of racial Darwinism was a major thrust of Jewish intellectual and political movements, particularly Boasian anthropology:

[The defeat of the Darwinians] had not happened without considerable exhortation of ‘every mother’s son’ standing for the ‘Right.’ Nor had it been accomplished without some rather strong pressure applied both to staunch friends and to the ‘weaker brethren’—often by the sheer force of Boas’s personality.[9]

By 1915 the Boasians controlled the American Anthropological Association and held a two-thirds majority on its Executive Board. By 1926 every major department of anthropology was headed by Boas’s students, the majority of whom were Jewish.

As 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.”[10]

This a good indication of the power of the academia in American democracy. This was a top-down revolution that never received broad popular support. As in the period from 1890–1824, there is now a conflict between policy and popular attitudes, as indicated by a Harvard University poll showing 81% support for reducing immigration.

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 intellectuals who quickly became ensconced in all the elite institutions of the US—especially the media and the academic world.

The rise to preeminence of what was now a Jewish-dominated intellectual scene sealed the fate of the Puritan-descended intellectuals reviewed here. This Puritan-descended intellectual tradition was victorious against the aristocratic tradition of the Old South but proved no match to the rising Jewish elite which, by the 1960s had become dominant in critical sectors of American life, particularly the media, the social sciences, the legal profession, and as financial contributors to political campaigns and causes. High on the agenda of this new elite was replacement-level immigration which in 1965 was opened up to all the peoples of the world, often with explicit condemnation of the 1924 law as “anti-Semitic”— e.g., John Podhoretz:

Podhoretz has aggressively favored a more open immigration policy for the United States. He wrote: “I said merely what I feel deeply—which is that, as a Jew, I have great difficulty supporting a blanket policy of immigration restriction because of what happened to the Jewish people after 1924 and the unwillingness of the United States to take Jews in.

Or consider Stephen Steinlight, former Director of National Affairs (domestic policy) at the American Jewish Committee and an opponent of Muslim immigration:

[Steinlight’s] animosity toward the restrictionism of 1924–1965 shines through clearly. This “pause” in immigration is perceived as a moral catastrophe. He describes it as “evil, xenophobic, anti-Semitic,” “vilely discriminatory,” a “vast moral failure,” a “monstrous policy.” Jewish interests are his only consideration, while the vast majority of pre-1965 Americans are described as a “thoughtless mob” because they advocate a complete moratorium on immigration. (here, p. v)

After 1965, this cultural shift resulted an ever-decreasing power and influence of the European-derived peoples and cultures of America.

Go to Part 3.

[1] Quoted in Fraser, The WASP Question,, 299.

[2] Kevin MacDonald, Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism (Bloomington, Ind.: Firstbooks, 2004; orig. published: Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998), Chapter 5.

[3] Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Bloomington, Ind.: Firstbooks, 2002; orig. published: Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998).

[4] Kaufmann, The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America. 26.

[5] MacDonald, The Culture of Critique, 259–261.

[6] Roger Daniels, Not Like Us: Immigrants and Minorities in America, 1890–1924 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997).

[7] Kevin MacDonald, “Enemies of My Enemy. Review of The ‘Jewish Threat’: Anti-Semitic Politics of the U.S. Army by Joseph W. Bendersky,”The Occidental Quarterly 1, no.  2 (Winter 2001): 63-77, 63.

[8] MacDonald, Separation and Its Discontents, Chap. 5.

[9]  George W. Stocking, Race, Evolution, and Culture: Essays in the History of Anthropology (New York: Free Press, 1968), 286.

[10] John Higham, Send These to Me: Immigrants in Urban America, rev. ed. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968), 58–59.

11 replies

Comments are closed.