I am in the process of revising The Culture of Critique, hopefully to be published in 2023. The following is a revision of the first part of Chapter 2 of The Culture of Critique, titled “The Boasian School of Anthropology and the Decline of Darwinism in the Social Sciences.” This is the section on Franz Boas and the Boasians that forms the bulk of the chapter. It is updated and elaborated in certain places. I offer it here for comments and criticism. ~10,000 words.
If . . . we were to treat Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa as utopia, not as ethnography, then we would understand it better and save a lot of pointless debate. (Robin Fox 1989, 3)
Several writers have commented on the “radical changes” that occurred in the goals and methods of the social sciences consequent to the entry of Jews to these fields (Liebman 1973, 213; see also Degler 1991; Hollinger 1996; Horowitz 1993, 75; Rothman & Lichter 1982). Degler (1991, 187ff) notes that the shift away from Darwinism as the fundamental paradigm of the social sciences resulted from an ideological shift rather than from the emergence of any new empirical data.
As we have seen in regard to the shift in outlook among anthropologists and sociologists, professional or scientific attitudes were not the full explanation. One needs to look beyond professionalism and standard science; for the change in outlook was too fundamental, too radical to be accounted for on those grounds alone. After all, we are not dealing here with a long-held, well-substantiated theory (that is, race) which new and conclusive evidence had unambiguously disproved and overturned. Rather we see essentially the substitution of one unproved (though strongly held) assumption by another. (187)
Degler also notes that Jewish intellectuals have been instrumental in the decline of Darwinism and other biological perspectives in American social science since the 1930s (200). The opposition of Jewish intellectuals to Darwinism has long been noticed (e.g., Lenz 1931, 674; see also the comments of John Maynard Smith in Lewin [1992, 43]).
In sociology, the advent of Jewish intellectuals in the pre-World War II period resulted in “a level of politicization unknown to sociology’s founding fathers. It is not only that the names of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim replaced those of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, but also that the sense of America as a consensual experience gave way to a sense of America as a series of conflicting definitions” (Horowitz 1993, 75). In the post-World War II period, sociology “became populated by Jews to such a degree that jokes abounded: one did not need the synagogue, the minyan [i.e., the minimum number of Jews required for a communal religious service] was to be found in sociology departments; or, one did not need a sociology of Jewish life, since the two had become synonymous” (Horowitz 1993, 77). Indeed, the ethnic conflict within American sociology parallels to a remarkable degree the ethnic conflict in American anthropology that is a theme of this chapter. Here the conflict was played out between leftist Jewish social scientists and an old-line, empirically oriented Protestant establishment that was eventually eclipsed:
American sociology has struggled with the contrary claims of those afflicted with physics envy and researchers . . . more engaged in the dilemmas of society. In that struggle, midwestern Protestant mandarins of positivist science often came into conflict with East Coast Jews who in turn wrestled with their own Marxist commitments; great quantitative researchers from abroad, like Paul Lazarsfeld at Columbia, sought to disrupt the complacency of native bean counters. (Sennett 1995, 43)
This chapter will emphasize the ethnopolitical agenda of Franz Boas, but it is worth mentioning the work of Franco-Jewish structuralist anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss because he appears to have been similarly motivated, although the French structuralist movement as a whole cannot be viewed as a Jewish intellectual movement. Lévi-Strauss interacted extensively with Boas and acknowledged his influence (Dosse 1997 I, 15, 16). In turn, Lévi-Strauss was very influential in France, Dosse (1997 I, xxi) describing him as “the common father” of Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Lacan. He had a strong Jewish identity and a deep concern with anti-Semitism (Cuddihy 1974, 151ff). In response to an assertion that he was “the very picture of a Jewish intellectual,” Lévi-Strauss stated,
[C]ertain mental attitudes are perhaps more common among Jews than elsewhere. . . . Attitudes that come from the profound feeling of belonging to a national community, all the while knowing that in the midst of this community there are people—fewer and fewer of them, I admit—who reject you. One keeps one’s sensitivity attuned, accompanied by the irrational feeling that in all circumstances one has to do a bit more than other people to disarm potential critics. (Lévi-Strauss & Eribon 1991, 155–156)
Like many Jewish intellectuals discussed here, Lévi-Strauss’s writings were aimed at enshrining cultural differences and subverting the universalist Western approaches to science, a position that validates the position of Judaism as a non-assimilating group. Like Boas, Lévi-Strauss rejected biological and evolutionary theories. He theorized that cultures, like languages, were arbitrary collections of symbols with no natural relationships to their referents. Lévi-Strauss rejected Western modernization theory in favor of the idea that there were no superior societies. The role of the anthropologist was to be a “natural subversive or convinced opponent of traditional usage” (in Cuddihy 1974, 155) in Western societies, while respecting and even romanticizing the virtues of non-Western societies (see Dosse 1997 II, 30). Western universalism and ideas of human rights were viewed as masks for ethnocentrism, colonialism, and genocide:
Lévi-Strauss’s most significant works were all published during the breakup of the French colonial empire and contributed enormously to the way it was understood by intellectuals. . . . [H]is elegant writings worked an aesthetic transformation on his readers, who were subtly made to feel ashamed to be Europeans. . . . [H]e evoked the beauty, dignity, and irreducible strangeness of Third World cultures that were simply trying to preserve their difference. . . . [H]is writings would soon feed the suspicion among the new left . . . that all the universal ideas to which Europe claimed allegiance—reason, science, progress, liberal democracy—were culturally specific weapons fashioned to rob the non-European Other of his difference. (Lilla 1998, 37)
Part I: Boasian Anthropology as a Jewish Intellectual Movement
Degler (1991, 61) emphasizes the role of Franz Boas in the anti-Darwinian transformation of American social science: “Boas’s influence upon American social scientists in matters of race can hardly be exaggerated.” Boas engaged in a “life-long assault on the idea that race was a primary source of the differences to be found in the mental or social capabilities of human groups. He accomplished his mission largely through his ceaseless, almost relentless articulation of the concept of culture” (61). “Boas, almost single-handedly, developed in America the concept of culture, which, like a powerful solvent, would in time expunge race from the literature of social science” (71).
Boas did not arrive at that position from a disinterested, scientific inquiry into a vexed if controversial question. . . . ; There is no doubt that he had a deep interest in collecting evidence and designing arguments that would rebut or refute an ideological outlook—racism—which he considered restrictive upon individuals and undesirable for society. . . . Much evidence does come to light in [his] correspondence to suggest a persistent interest in pressing his social values upon the profession and the public. (Degler 1991, 82–83)
As Gelya Frank (1997, 731) points out, “The preponderance of Jewish intellectuals in the early years of Boasian anthropology and the Jewish identities of anthropologists in subsequent generations has been downplayed in standard histories of the discipline.” Jewish identifications and the pursuit of perceived Jewish interests, particularly in advocating an ideology of cultural pluralism as a model for Western societies, has been the “invisible subject” of American anthropology—invisible because the ethnic identifications and ethnic interests of its advocates have been masked by a language of science in which such identifications and interests were publicly illegitimate. Indeed, Gershenhorn (2004, 20) notes that “Boas was influenced by his liberal philosophy, his strict attachment to scientific accuracy, and perhaps most important, his Jewish identity”— despite the fact that it’s obvious that a strong ethnic identity might well interfere with scientific objectivity. And as noted, Boas’s views were not the result of “disinterested, scientific inquiry” (Degler 1991, 82).
Establishing Jewish Identity and Sense of Jewish Interests
Frank’s (1997, 731) statement that cultural pluralism has been the “invisible subject” of American anthropology deserves some comment. The empirical program of The Culture of Critique is to examine putative Jewish intellectual and political movements and determine whether the main figures identified as Jews and saw their intellectual and political work as advancing Jewish interests. A basic problem arises from the fact that Jewish intellectuals and political activists may be well advised not to advertise their Jewish identity and commitment to Jewish interests. This is especially the case during times of heightened anti-Semitism and prior to the time when Jewish social scientists had a critical mass at the most elite academic institutions. For example, anti-Semitism was much more common during the 1920s and 1930s, declining to a marginal phenomenon after World War II. During this period, Jews were well advised to be circumspect about their Jewish identities and Jewish commitments. For example, the Zionist movement began in the late nineteenth century but was a minority viewpoint within the Jewish community until the establishment of Israel because of fears of charges of “dual loyalty”—the idea that Jews would be at least as loyal to Israel as to the United States, and perhaps even more loyal to Israel (see MacDonald 2003). Even in the twenty-first century, neoconservative Jews with strong emotional and family connections to Israel are careful to frame their proposals for war in the Middle East as serving U.S. interests (see Chapter 4).
This is a general point. Jews, as a relatively small minority in the West, must attempt to appeal to non-Jews and avoid framing their theories and policy proposals in terms of their Jewish identity and Jewish interests. Thus one searches in vain for public pronouncements and framing of theories explicitly in terms of advancing Jewish interests.
Boas’s anthropology was strikingly apolitical in terms of explicit theory, but in message and purpose, it was an explicitly antiracist science. Boas’s career, rooted in his position as an ambiguously white European Jewish intellectual transplanted to America, continues to offer a model for infusing the science of anthropology with an activist agenda for inclusion, empowerment, and alliance across boundaries. (Frank 1997, 741)
Thus the lucrative and elaborate infrastructure that Jews have created in support of their causes, such as the network of neoconservative think tanks, positions at universities, and opportunities in the media that undoubtedly attract many non-Jews (Chapter 4). But typically, in the absence of evidence of explicit Jewish activism (e.g., being a member of the ADL or AIPAC, or, as in the case of the Frankfurt School (Chapter 6), having your central academic work, The Authoritarian Personality (1950) (published by the American Jewish Committee which funded their research), one must pore over detailed biographies that include, e.g., accounts of private conversations and letters. Freud, for example, left behind a great deal of evidence of his Jewish identity and his sense of Jewish interests (Chapter 5). Others did not, so one is forced to piece together an account on relatively scant evidence.
Again, this is especially the case in periods when Jews have been regarded with suspicion or dislike because of their ethnic background. Science by its very nature is supposed to be conducted without ethnic or religious biases. Thus, in anthropology, “there has … been a whitewashing of Jewish ethnicity, reflecting fears of anti-Semitic reactions that could discredit the discipline of anthropology and individual anthropologists, either because Jews were considered dangerous due to their presumed racial differences or because they were associated with radical causes (Frank 1997, 733). Jewish identities and interests were thus forced to be submerged in the language of objectivity and science.
Science is the gold standard of public discourse in the West. Real science is an individualistic endeavor in which individual scientists may defect from a particular movement depending on empirical advances, as opposed to adopting the cohesive, ingroup-outgroup perspective that pervades this volume. Any movement with ambitions to influence the public via academic culture must present itself as scientifically based and empirically grounded. It must appeal to a Western audience of empirically oriented social scientists—e.g., the “Protestant bean counters” noted above who dominated American sociology prior to the rise of Jewish Marxist-oriented sociologists (Sennett 1995, 43). As noted in Chapter 7, scientific progress depends on an individualistic, atomistic universe of discourse in which each individual sees himself or herself not as a member of a larger political or cultural entity advancing a particular point of view, but as an independent agent endeavoring to evaluate evidence and discover the structure of reality. Thus it should not be at all surprising that Boas would not proclaim his ethnic commitments, and thus one must examine the evidence with the understanding that the principle figures may well not be forthright about their Jewish commitments.
Recruiting Non-Jews. The involvement of non-Jews in various Jewish intellectual and political movements is a recurrent theme in this volume. Since movements parading as scientific in a Western cultural context must not be seen as ethnically motivated and must be at least to some extent appealing to non-Jews (given that Jews have always been a small minority in Western societies), it is certainly a good strategy to recruit sympathetic non-Jews as graduate students or as political operatives. Again, the paradigm is the neo-conservative program of establishing and activist organizations which resulted in high-profile positions for non-Jews.
Congruence with the Jewish Activist Community. A consideration helpful in understanding the non-coincidental nature of Jewish involvement in various intellectual and political movements is whether the attitudes of a particular Jew are congruent with mainstream Jewish opinion as explicitly stated by prominent Jewish activist organizations like the American Jewish Committee, the premier Jewish activist organization during the 1920s. This is particularly the case on issues where the attitudes of the Jewish community are out of step with those of the society as a whole. As discussed above, a Jewish intellectual intent on establishing scientific credibility in the wider scientific community is well advised not to explicitly state his Jewish identity and discuss how that informs his attitudes and opinions. Such considerations are anathema to the scientific spirit. On the other hand, Jewish activist organizations are typically not reticent. For example, during the 1920s’ immigration debates during which the American Jewish Committee (fronted by Louis Marshall) played by far the greatest role in opposing restriction (Okrent 2019), Franz Boas published his study of the skull shapes of immigrants (later found to be likely fraudulent [see below]), the conclusions of which were entirely congruent with the activism of the American Jewish Committee and quite divergent from the American majority.
Indeed, Boas was greatly motivated by the immigration issue as it occurred early in the century. Degler (1991, 74) notes that Boas’s professional correspondence “reveals that an important motive behind his famous head-measuring project in 1910 was his strong personal interest in keeping the United States diverse in population.” Degler makes the following comment regarding one of Boas’s environmentalist explanations for mental differences between immigrant and native children: “Why Boas chose to advance such an ad hoc interpretation is hard to understand until one recognizes his desire to explain in a favorable way the apparent mental backwardness of the immigrant children” (p. 75; see also Ch. 8.) Boas’s skull shape study was thus likely an example of ethnic activism posing as science.
As discussed in Chapter 8, keeping America diverse has been a clear goal of the American Jewish activist community from the early twentieth century (when facilitating Jewish immigration was a prime goal and Jewish activism was the prime mover of the anti-restrictionist movement) down to the present (when Jewish activists and organizations have championed liberal immigration policies aimed at importing all racial and ethnic groups, the extreme being the present Biden administration’s “open border” policy administered by Biden’s Jewish Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas). Jewish attitudes conflicted with the American majority at least by 1905 (Neuringer 1971, 83), and restrictionists were clearly in the driver’s seat when the 1924 immigration restriction finally became law despite intense Jewish opposition. As discussed below, Boas’s anti-restrictionist views on immigration motivated his research intended to show the power of the environment in shaping immigrants’ skull dimensions.
Franz Boas as Jewish Academic Activist
Boas was reared in a “Jewish-liberal” family in which the revolutionary ideals of 1848 remained influential—e.g., his mother established a Froebel kindergarten which was a “a highly contested left-liberal innovation” (Frank 1997, 733). He developed a “left-liberal posture which . . . is at once scientific and political” (Stocking 1968, 149). Boas was intensely concerned with anti-Semitism from an early period in his life (White 1966, 16); for example, he was aware that his chances for a university professorship in geography in Germany were likely to be limited, as he stated in letters, because of his Jewish origins and his outspokenness. “His writings from 1882 to 1884 indicate that he felt alienated from the Germany of his day (Stocking 1968, 150)—a reality that motivated him and his non-Jewish wife Maria Krackowiser, the daughter of a revolutionary socialist from Vienna, to move to America. Alfred Kroeber (1943, 8) recounted a story “which [Boas] is said to have revealed confidentially but which cannot be vouched for, . . . that on hearing an anti-Semitic insult in a public café, he threw the speaker out of doors, and was challenged. Next morning his adversary offered to apologize; but Boas insisted that the duel be gone through with. Apocryphal or not, the tale absolutely fits the character of the man as we know him in America.”
Anti-Jewish attitudes were becoming increasingly common in the Germany of Boas’s youth. This was the era of anti-Jewish writers and organizers like Wilhelm Marr (author of The Victory of Jewry over Germandom), Christian populist organizer Adolf Stoecker, and prominent academic Heinrich von Treitschke voiced concerns about eventual Jewish domination of the economy, the stock exchanges, and the newspapers. Although there were ups and downs in the intensity of anti-Semitism, the general trend over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was that calls for assimilation were increasingly replaced by calls for cohesive, collectivist gentile groups that would enable Germans to compete with Jews and even exclude them entirely from German economic and social life (see MacDonald [1998/2002] Separation and Its Discontents, Ch. 5; hereafter, SAID).
Despite Jewish declarations and appearances of assimilation (e.g., the movement of Reform Judaism designed to remove overt signs of Jewish separatism), Jews continued to “move in social and occupational circles that were disproportionately Jewish” (Glick 1982, 548).
In addition to a very visible group of Orthodox immigrants from Eastern Europe, Reform Jews generally opposed intermarriage, and secular Jews developed a wide range of institutions that effectively cut them off from socializing with gentiles. “What secular Jews remained attached to was not easy to define, but neither, for the Jews involved, was it easy to let go of: there were family ties, economic interests, and perhaps above all sentiments and habits of mind which could not be measured and could not be eradicated” (Katz 1996, 33). Moreover, a substantial minority of German Jews, especially in rural areas and in certain geographical regions (especially Bavaria) remained Orthodox well into the 20th century (Lowenstein 1992, 18). Vestiges of traditional separatist practices, such as Yiddish words, continued throughout this period.
Intermarriage between Jews and Germans was negligible in the 19th century. Even though intermarriage increased later, these individuals and their children “almost always” were lost to the Jewish community (Katz 1985, 86; see also Levenson 1989, 321n). “Opposition to intermarriage did constitute the bottom line of Jewish assimilation” (G. Mosse 1985, 9). These patterns of endogamy and within-group association constituted the most obvious signs of continued Jewish group separatism in German society for the entire period prior to the rise of National Socialism. Levenson (1989, 321) notes that Jewish defenses of endogamy during this period “invariably appeared to hostile non-Jews as being misanthropic and ungrateful,” another indication that Jewish endogamy was an important ingredient of the anti-Semitism of the period.
Moreover, Jewish converts would typically marry other Jewish converts and continue to live among and associate with Jews (Levenson 1989, 321n), in effect behaving as crypto-Jews. The importance of genealogy rather than surface religion can also be seen in that, while baptized Jews of the haute bourgeoisie were viewed as acceptable marriage partners by the Jewish haute bourgeoisie, gentiles of the haute bourgeoisie were not (W.E. Mosse 1989, 335). These patterns may well have fed into the perception among Germans that even overt signs of assimilation were little more than window dressing masking a strong sense of Jewish ethnic identity and a desire for endogamy. Indeed, the general pattern was that complete loss of Jewishness was confined to females from a “handful” of families who had married into the gentile aristocracy (W.E. Mosse 1989, 181). (SAID, Ch. 5)
Boas experienced anti-Semitism at his university: “The correspondence repeatedly shows how central this problem [anti-Semitism] was in Boas’s formative years. A letter from October 6, 1870 records a poignant incident. His letters from Kiel are particularly full of accounts of unpleasant activities and gross personal behavior” (Kluckhohn & Prufer (1959, 10–11), and Glick (1982, 553) notes that during Boas’s university years “Volkish ideology and anti-Semitism were a pervasive feature of life, something that no Jewish student could ignore. … Thus it’s not surprising that many Jews, Franz Boas among them, departed for America.”
Volkish anti-Semitism was based on an ideology of opposing ethnic interests—that the rise of a Jewish economic and media elite compromised the interests of Germans as a people, resulting, as noted above, in increasing calls for Germans to cohere into collectivist groups to compete with Jews. But Boas publicly claimed that Jews were only a religious denomination, thus avoiding issues related to ethnic conflicts of interest: “He did not acknowledge a specifically Jewish cultural or ethnic identity. … To the extent that Jews were possessed of a culture, it was … strictly a matter of religious adherence” (Glick 1982, 554).
After leaving Germany because of anti-Semitism, Boas immigrated to the United States “where he endured outsider status as an immigrant and a Jew. By attacking racist science, which concluded that blacks were inferior to whites, Boas was also able to mount an indirect challenge to the anti-Semitic belief that Jews were an inferior race” (Gershenhorn 2004, 20). Ignoring Gershenhorn’s negative comments on the racial science of the day, this clearly shows that Boas’s research was motivated at least in part by his sense of Jewish interests. Boas was thus an example of David L. Lewis’s observation that Jews supported civil rights for Blacks and attacked racial science in order to “fight anti-Semitism by remote control.”
By assisting in the crusade to prove that Afro-Americans could be decent, conformist, cultured human beings, the civil rights Jews were, in a sense, spared some of the necessity of directly rebutting anti-Semitic stereotypes; for if blacks could make good citizens, clearly, most white Americans believed, all other groups could make better ones. (Lewis 1992, 31)
Lewis (1984, 84) notes that the Jewish press often compared the situation of Jews to the situation of Blacks, e.g., comparing the 1917 race riot in East St. Louis to the 1903 Kishinev pogrom in Russia, and Forward editor Abraham Cahan commenting on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Green Pastures (1930) (the first Broadway play with an all-Black cast) that “In this play [presenting Old Testament stories from a Black perspective], the souls of two nations are woven together.” Even prior to the 1920s, “the NAACP had something of the aspect of an adjunct of B’nai B’rith and the American Jewish Committee, with the brothers Joel and Arthur Spingarn serving as board chairman and chief legal counsel respectively; Herbert Lehman on the executive committee; Lillian Wald and Walter Sachs on the board … ; and Jacob Schiff and Paul Warburg as financial angels” (85). Boas himself was one of the Jews “closely connected with the NAACP and the Urban League” (91), and “upper-crust Jews established the Kehillah and other defense organizations, and mobilized the formidable scholarship of Franz Boas and Alexander Goldenweiser” (88).
Gershenhorn (2004, 21) notes that “it is no coincidence that many of the scholars who joined with Boas to attack racial hierarchy were also Jewish, including Otto Klineberg, Ashley Montegu, Alexander Goldenweiser, and [Melville] Herskovits. Boas acknowledged this fact in a 1934 speech, noting that much of the important research on race was ‘the product of Jewish students and scholars.’” However, neither Boas or Gershenhorn explains exactly why this non-coincidence might occur, although clearly it has something to do with Jewish identity. In this regard, it is interesting to contrast the attitudes of Boas with a prominent non-Jewish student of his, Alfred Kroeber:
Whereas Boas’s attack on race was intimately connected with his personal and ideological commitment to opportunities for blacks in American society, Kroeber’s interest in the concept of culture was almost entirely theoretical and professional. Neither his private nor his public writings reflect the attention to public policy questions regarding blacks or the general question of race in American life that are so conspicuous in Boas’s professional correspondence and publications. Kroeber rejected race as an analytical category as forthrightly and thoroughly as Boas, but he reached that position primarily through theory rather than ideology. (Degler 1991, 90).
Kroeber argued that “our business is to promote anthropology rather than to wage battles on behalf of tolerance in other fields” (in Stocking 1968, 286). Nevertheless, although Kroeber did not have a self-conscious political agenda, his education in a leftist-Jewish environment may have had a lasting influence. Frank (1997, 734) notes that Kroeber was educated in schools linked to the Ethical Culture movement, “an offshoot of Reform Judaism” linked with leftist educational programs and characterized by an ideology of a humanistic faith that embraced all humanity.
As Frank (1997, 739) notes, Boas carried out his research within the German-Jewish milieu of New York, and doubtless—given the support for anti-restriction among wealthy German Jews of the period (Okrent 2019; see Ch. 8)—his views corresponded to the views of the wider Jewish community whose views were quite out of step with broader American opinion.
Context is critical … to understanding Franz Boas’s life and work in relation to being Jewish. Although Boas experienced anti-Semitism in Germany and discrimination as a German immigrant in America, he was able to establish powerful connections and a thriving discipline in the academic mainstream. Many of his contacts and much of his support came, however, from the cosmopolitan New York world in which Jewish Germans were well-established and active. Boas’s championing of race equality and racial justice took place in a peculiarly American context: Jews were threatening to nativists who dominated America’s institutions, but seemingly less so than other “racial” groups such as blacks, Japanese, and Mexicans.
The following quote is a further indication of the Jewish milieu of Boas’s life in America:
Boas was not a practicing Jew; most likely, he was an atheist. In New York, he became a member of the Society for Ethical Culture, a nondenominational offshoot of Reform Judaism. The Ethical Culture movement was inaugurated in 1876 by [Reform rabbi] Felix Adler, an educator, social activist, and, later, professor of political and social ethics at Columbia University. (Frank 1997, 734)
Glick (1982, 556) notes that the Society of Ethical Culture was “heavily and probably predominantly composed of cultivated German Jews for whom it gave organizational legitimation to the very same values that Boas summarized as ‘the ideals of the revolution of 1848.’”
Despite the anti-Semitism he experienced both in Germany and the U.S., it is often said that Boas had a deep fondness for Germany and German culture, as indicated by his involved with a German-American cultural society and a letter he wrote to the New York Times in 1916 opposing the vilification of Germany during World War I. Regarding the latter, it should be pointed out that by far the most prominent attitude of Diaspora Jewish communities was to oppose Czarist Russia because of its perceived anti-Semitism and thus support the German war effort. For example, immigrant Jews in the U.K. overwhelmingly refused to be drafted into military service because Germany was fighting Russia (Alderman 1992, 236). As I noted in Separation and Its Discontents (Ch. 2):
It is revealing that the immigrant German-American-Jewish leaders of the American Jewish Committee also favored Germany in World War I, but only until the success of the Bolshevik Revolution. They adopted this position not because of their ties with Germany but rather because of their ties with Russian Jews who they believed were being oppressed by the czar, and because Germany was at war with Russia.
Thus Boas’s attitudes toward Germany in 1916 coincided with those of the main Jewish activist organization in the U.S.
Boas was much attracted to the views of Rudolf Virchow, a German scientist who opposed Darwinist explanations of behavior and the idea of superior and inferior races. However, this may well be because Virchow was also a staunch opponent of anti-Semitism: “It seems evident that one of the many things that made Virchow as much of an ‘idol’ as Boas ever permitted himself was Virchow’s stalwart opposition to all forms of anti-Semitism (Kluckhohn & Prufer 1959, 10).
When writing specifically about Jews, Boas limited his focus exclusively to fighting invidious stereotypes. Ironically, he did so by ruling out a cultural approach which could have included issues that have often been linked to anti-Semitism—issues such as the traditional Jewish commitment to endogamy, ethnic nepotism, and separation from and economic competition with the surrounding society—instead emphasizing the irrelevant issue that Jews vary in their physical features too much to be considered a single racial type. (This comment was made in an era prior to recent population genetic research confirming substantial genetic commonality among widely dispersed Jewish groups, such as the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews [e.g., Behar et al. 2010]). Glick (1982, 557) suggests that Boas was being less than candid in his analysis:
Paradoxically, by concentrating in this manner on physical anthropology, to the virtual exclusion of the historical, economic, and cultural factors that shaped European Jewish identity over nearly two millennia, Boas was employing the very principle to which he was most fundamentally opposed, that “racial” type is the fundamental consideration in national identity, in order to reach conclusions precisely opposite to those of his racist antagonists [in the U.S.] and in Germany. Had he carried his analyses one essential step further and given serious consideration to European Jewish history and culture (including its distinguished German variant), he might have reached more penetrating conclusions on assimilation and related questions. But to have done so would have required more candid examination of Jewish identity than he was ever prepared to undertake.
As a result, Boas avoided the idea that “being Jewish might in itself operate as a formative element in a social environment” (Glick 1982, 557)—that being reared in a left-liberal Jewish environment and being subjected to anti-Semitism may have affected his attitudes toward non-Jewish society.
Quite clearly, a discussion of Jewish history and culture would also have raised issues about the role of Jews and Jewish culture in provoking anti-Semitism, as discussed throughout SAID.
Given the anti-Semitism of the period and the necessity of posing as a detached, disinterested scientist, it is not surprising that, like most German Jews of his generation, Boas sought to be identified foremost as a German and as little as possible as a Jew: “He was determined not to be classified as a Jew” (Glick 1982, 554). He portrayed himself as “an autonomous individual,” “determined not to be classified as a member of any group” (Glick 1982, 557).
Regarding Boas’s position on Jewish assimilation, the following quote is often cited (e.g., Glick 1982, 546; Lewis 1994, 97), as indicating that he favored complete Jewish cultural and genetic assimilation to the point of disappearance:
Thus it would seem that man being what he is, the Negro problem will not disappear in America until the Negro blood has been so much diluted that it will no longer be recognized just as anti-Semitism will not disappear until the last vestige of Jew as a Jew has disappeared. (Quoted in Glick 1982, 557)
However, this is simply an allegation of fact—a claim that because human nature is what it is, hostility toward Blacks and Jews will only end when they disappear completely. It is not, at least explicitly, a recommendation that either group should disappear. Boas’s activism was clearly aimed at promoting the idea that all cultures are equal and, as Frank (1997, 731) emphasizes, the effect of his movement has been to promote cultural pluralism and tolerance and acceptance of diverse cultures and peoples as a model for American society—also the view of Horace Kallen a prominent intellectual whose views were vastly influential in the wider American Jewish community (see below and Ch. 8)—not complete genetic and cultural homogenization. Given that Jewish immigration during the decades preceding the immigration restriction act of 1924 included a substantial portion of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews dedicated to creating their own ghetto-like communities and actively resisting intermarriage—a phenomenon that continues today—Boas likely realized that a program of complete Jewish submergence into the surrounding society was not realistic, and indeed Jewish intermarriage remained at very low levels until well after Boas died in 1942. Maurice Samuel’s well known and highly ethnocentric You Gentiles (1924/2022), written partly as a hostile response to the 1924 immigration restriction law (See Ch. 8), includes a detailed discussion showing that the idea of complete Jewish disappearance via intermarriage would be unlikely in the extreme.
As has been common among Jewish intellectuals in several historical eras, Boas was deeply alienated from and hostile toward gentile culture, particularly the cultural ideal of the Prussian aristocracy (Degler 1991, 200; Stocking 1968, 150). When Margaret Mead wanted to persuade Boas to allow her to pursue her research in the South Sea islands, “She hit upon a sure way of getting him to change his mind. ‘I knew there was one thing that mattered more to Boas than the direction taken by anthropological research. … This was that he should behave like a liberal, democratic, modern man, not like a Prussian autocrat.’ The ploy worked for Mead because she had indeed uncovered the heart of his personal values” (Degler 1991, 73).
Boas and the Battle to Dominate American Academic Anthropology. I conclude that Boas had a strong Jewish identification and that he was deeply concerned about anti-Semitism and other issues favored by the wider Jewish community, such as immigration and combatting anti-Black attitudes. On the basis of the foregoing, it is reasonable to suppose that his concern with anti-Semitism was a major influence in the development of American anthropology.
Indeed, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that ethnic conflict played a major role in the development of American anthropology. Boas’s views conflicted with the then-prevalent idea that cultures had evolved in a series of developmental stages labeled savagery, barbarism, and civilization. The stages were associated with racial differences, and modern European culture (and most especially, I suppose, the hated Prussian aristocracy) was at the highest level of this gradation. Wolf (1990, 168) describes the attack of the Boasians as calling into question “the moral and political monopoly of a [gentile] elite which had justified its rule with the claim that their superior virtue was the outcome of the evolutionary process.” Boas’s theories were also meant to counter the racialist theories of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (see SAID, Ch. 5) and American eugenicists like Madison Grant, whose book, The Passing of the Great Race (1921, 17), was highly critical of Boas’s research on environmental influences on skull size. The result was that “in message and purpose, [Boas’s anthropology] was an explicitly antiracist science” (Frank 1997, 741).
Grant characterized Jewish immigrants as ruthlessly self-interested whereas American Nordics were committing racial suicide and allowing themselves to be “elbowed out” of their own land (1921, 16, 91). Grant also believed Jews were engaged in a campaign to discredit racial research:
It is well-nigh impossible to publish in the American newspapers any reflection upon certain religions or races which are hysterically sensitive even when mentioned by name. . . . Abroad, conditions are fully as bad, and we have the authority of one of the most eminent anthropologists in France that the collection of anthropological measurements and data among French recruits at the outbreak of the Great War was prevented by Jewish influence, which aimed to suppress any suggestion of racial differentiation in France. (1921, xxxi–xxxii)
An important technique of the Boasian school was to cast doubt on general theories of human evolution, such as those implying developmental sequences with Western culture at the pinnacle, by emphasizing the vast diversity and chaotic minutiae of human behavior, as well as the relativism of standards of cultural evaluation. The Boasians argued that general theories of cultural evolution must await a detailed cataloguing of cultural diversity, but in fact no general theories emerged from this body of research in the ensuing half century of its dominance of the profession (Stocking 1968, 210). Leslie White, an evolutionary anthropologist and therefore someone whose professional opportunities within anthropology were limited because of his theoretical orientation, noted that because of its rejection of fundamental scientific activities such as generalization and classification, Boasian anthropology should be characterized more as an anti-theory than a theory of human culture (White 1966, 15). For example, in 1930, Boas advocated an anthropology focused on the study of individuals rather than “abstractions”:
It is only since the development of the evolutional theory that it became clear that the object of study is the individual, not abstractions from the individual under observation. … An error of modern anthropology, as I see it, lies in the overemphasis on historical reconstruction, the importance of which should not be minimized, as against a penetrating study of the individual under the stress of the culture in which he lives. (In Kluckhohn & Prufer 1959, 20).
Boas elaborates on this theme in his Foreword to Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa:
Some anthropologists even hope that the comparative study will reveal some tendencies of development that recur so often that significant generalisations regarding the processes of cultural growth will be discovered [presumably a reference to the cultural gradations theory, with Western culture at the pinnacle]. To the lay reader these studies are interesting on account of the strangeness of the scene, the peculiar attitudes characteristic of foreign cultures that set off in strong light our own achievements and behaviour. However, a systematic description of human activities gives us very little insight into the mental attitudes of the individual. His thoughts and actions appear merely as expressions of rigidly defined cultural forms. We learn little about his rational thinking, about his friendships and conflicts with his fellowmen. The personal side of the life of the individual is almost eliminated in the systematic presentation of the cultural life of the people. The picture is standardised, like a collection of laws that tell us how we should behave, and not how we behave; like rules set down defining the style of art, but not the way in which the artist elaborates his ideas of beauty; like a list of inventions, and not the way in which the individual overcomes technical difficulties that present themselves. And yet the way in which the personality reacts to culture is a matter that should concern us deeply and that makes the studies of foreign cultures a fruitful and useful field of research. (Boas, 1928)
Boas also opposed research in human genetics—what Derek Freeman (1991, 198) terms his “obscurantist antipathy to genetics,” and what Kluckhon & Prufer (1959, 22) describe as “his relative lack of interest in Darwinian evolution and his skepticism about Mendelian heredity.”
It is of critical importance to note that Boas and his students were intensely concerned with pushing an ideological agenda within the American anthropological profession (Degler 1991; Freeman 1991; Torrey 1992)—the antithesis of science as an open-ended pursuit of truth by individuals (see Ch. 7). Boas and his associates had a sense of group identity, a commitment to a common viewpoint, and an agenda to dominate the institutional structure of anthropology (Stocking 1968, 279–280). They were a compact group with a clear intellectual and political agenda rather than individualist seekers of disinterested truth. 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” (Stocking 1968, 286).
Such a phenomenon has no place in real science.
By 1915 the Boasians controlled the American Anthropological Association and held a two-thirds majority on its executive board (Stocking 1968, 285). In 1919 Boas could state that “most of the anthropological work done at the present time in the United States” was done by his students at Columbia (in Stocking 1968, 296). By 1926 every major department of anthropology was headed by Boas’s students, the majority of whom were Jewish. His protégé Melville Herskovits (1953, 23) noted that
the four decades of the tenure of [Boas’s] professorship at Columbia gave a continuity to his teaching that permitted him to develop students who eventually made up the greater part of the significant professional core of American anthropologists, and who came to man and direct most of the major departments of anthropology in the United States. In their turn, they trained the students who . . . have continued the tradition in which their teachers were trained.
According to Leslie White (1966, 26), Boas’s most influential students were Ruth Benedict, Alexander Goldenweiser, Melville Herskovits, Alfred Kroeber, Robert Lowie, Margaret Mead, Paul Radin, Edward Sapir, and Leslie Spier. All of this “small, compact group of scholars . . . gathered about their leader” (White 1966, 26) were Jews with the exception of Kroeber, Benedict, and Mead. Frank (1997, 732) also mentions several other prominent first-generation Jewish students of Boas, including the influential Melville Herskovits, Alexander Lesser, Ruth Bunzel, Gene [Regina] Weltfish, Esther Schiff Goldfrank, and Ruth Landes. (Especially later in his career, Boas had a significant number of non-Jewish students, but, as discussed above, any Jew intent on establishing an influential movement in a situation where Jews are a small minority is well advised to recruit non-Jews—a recurrent theme in this volume.)
It’s noteworthy that Sapir’s family fled the pogroms in Russia for New York, where Yiddish was his first language. Although not religious, he took an increasing interest in Jewish topics early in his career and later became engaged in Jewish activism, particularly in establishing a prominent center for Jewish learning in Lithuania (Frank 1997, 735). Ruth Landes’s background also shows the ethnic nexus of the Boasian movement. Her family was prominent in the Jewish leftist subculture of Brooklyn, and she was introduced to Boas by Alexander Goldenweiser, a close friend of her father and another of Boas’s prominent students.
Melville Herskovits as Jewish Academic Activist
I focus on Melville Herskovits because of the availability of Jerry Gershenhorn’s extensive biography, appropriately titled Melville J. Herskovits and the Racial Politics of Knowledge. Herskovits was an early student of Boas and, like Boas, his career illustrates the problems of a Jewish social scientist attempting to present his views as completely objective and scientific—to the point that, despite his own activism on behalf of Black issues (which were pursued outside of his publishing in scholarly journals), he has been accused of “using the rhetoric of ‘objectivity’ to exclude black scholars” whom he regarded as too overtly engaged in political activism (editorial introduction to Gershenhorn [2004, xiii]). Like other Boasians, he “promulgated the principle that all cultures deserve respect. He “sought to undermine the racial and cultural hierarchy throughout his career (Gershenhorn 2004, 4).
Herskovits challenged the biological definition of race and helped steer scholars toward a more modern conception of race as a sociological category. By doing so, he undercut the notion that race determined behavior. Instead, he substituted environment and culture for race as the explanation of behavioral and intellectual differences between individuals. In this way he attacked racial hierarchy and demonstrated the falsity of intellectual rankings based on race. … At a time when most white Americans assumed black Americans to be inferior as a race and a culture, Herskovits’ establishment of the strength and complexity of American and African-influenced cultures was a great intellectual achievement. … He laid the foundation for a dynamic view of cultural change that emphasized cultural diversity and cultural pluralism. At the same time, by providing evidence of the diverse influences on American culture, Herskovits helped transform notions of American identity from exclusive and unitary (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) to inclusive and pluralist. (Gershenhorn 2004, 4–6)
Despite his aversion to the older race science based on gradations of culture based on difference evolutionary histories, Herskovits accepted that races (Mongoloid, Caucasian, African) and subraces existed. However, like Richard Lewontin (see below) he argued that there was more variability in physical measurements within a race than between races; he claimed that races are “categories based on outer appearance as reflected in scientific measurements or observations that permit us to make convenient classifications of human materials” (in Gershenhorn 2004, 55)—a comment indicating his position that race is only “skin deep” and not a useful category for finding between-population differences in traits not visible in outer appearance, such as IQ. Nevertheless, he accepted the idea that ultimately research on race would be based on genetics and that such research would reveal that races were simply family trees, thus marking him as a “transitional figure” (Gershenhorn 2004, 55) to the “race-is-a-social-construct” view that is common today. I suspect that, given his activism for leftist causes (see below), Herskovits, along with the vast majority of contemporary social scientists, would reject the idea that genetic research would ultimately lead to findings indicating that genetically-based racial differences would be linked to traits like IQ and personality.
For Herskovits, the issue of American identity was personal:
His experience as the son of Jewish immigrants as one who had taken up and then rejected rabbinical studies, as one who had experienced anti-Semitism, as a war veteran, and as an advocate of leftist politics made the question of identity a very personal one … . (Gershenhorn 2004, 61).
As noted in Chapter 8 and above, Horace Kallen, a Jewish philosopher and Zionist, developed a theoretical approach that rejected Jewish assimilation. This view was influential with Herskovits (Gershenhorn, 67), pushing him in the direction of non-assimilation in contrast to his earlier views discounting differences between Black and White American culture, and “moving from a universalist one-sided emphasis on assimilation to a particularist emphasis on diversity” (Gershenhorn 2004, 92). A staunch Zionist, Kallen’s views were shaped by his desire to avoid Jewish assimilation in the U.S. He developed the ideology that different ethnic groups would maintain their separate identities while contributing to a harmonious, conflict-free future, using the analogy of different sections of a symphony orchestra, each contributing something unique while in harmony with the other sections—an early version of the current “diversity is our greatest strength.” As John Higham (1984, 209) noted, “Kallen lifted his eyes above the strife that swirled around him to an ideal realm where diversity and harmony coexist.”
As with Boas, cultivating the appearance of scientific objectivity was critically important for Herskovits as a Jewish scholar in an America still dominated by a White, Protestant elite:
As a Jewish scholar in an academic environment dominated by white Protestants—many of whom were anti-Semitic—Herskovits tried to deflect their tendency to devalue the scholarship on race produced by Jews, who were assumed to have a ‘subjective, minority agenda.’ Thus Herskovits emphasized his professional legitimacy by wrapping himself in the mantle of science. … Herskovits—like other Boasian anthropologists—emphasized objectivity to discredit social scientists who supported the status quo in race relations or advocated reactionary policies designed to control non-whites or minority groups. Thus despite his avowed support for objectivity and detached scholarship, Herskovits’s own strongly held egalitarian values influenced his work in physical and cultural anthropology. He believed that by shedding light on the diverse cultures of the world, anthropologists “documented the essential dignity of all human cultures (Gershenhorn 2004, 127–128; inner quote from Herskovits, Man and His Works , 653).
As with Boas, Herskovits’s attitudes reflected the leftist attitudes that were mainstream within the Jewish community of the time. He also became an activist for Black causes and attacked the applied anthropology of European scholars who used anthropology to support imperialism. When not writing in scholarly publications where the appearance of objectivity is required, Herskovits “spoke out against racism, imperialism, and injustice” (Gershenhorn 2004, 130), and in 1934 he joined the Conference on Jewish Relations which was formed to ‘dispel the various myths that people invent to justify race prejudice’” (Ibid., 131). Cementing his leftist credentials, he joined the radical Industrial Workers of the World, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a variety of other progressive organizations (Ibid., 131).
In a revealing comment indicating his opposition to the then-dominant White male Protestant elite, a female Black graduate student noted that “Herskovits had two special places in his heart: one for students who were African American, and another for students who were women (in Gershenhorn 2004, 139). He also became active in opposing the colonial regimes of the West: “Herskovits lobbied the U.S. government to support the independence of Africa and to bring an end to white supremacy regimes on the continent” (Ibid., 6). As suggested by David L. Lewis’s (1992, 31) comment that Jews fought anti-Semitism “by remote control” by supporting Black causes, Herskovits’s ethnic identity was a factor in his motivation: “Herskovits’s interpretation of black cultures was grounded in his ethnographic research, his ethnic identity, the influence of Harlem Renaissance writers, and the influence of his mentor, Franz Boas.” “Like his mentor [Boas], Herskovit’s Jewish heritage made him sensitive to his own outsider status and that of African Americans. … As a Jew who grew up in predominantly Christian small towns, Herskovits felt this outsider status with keen intensity” (Ibid., 21). Herskovits thus “sought to employ the authority of scientific objectivity and detached scholarship to counter pseudoscientific racism and advance black studies by empowering the subjects of his research—black people—as creators of their own culture” (Ibid., 9). Gershenhorn’s thesis is “that Herskovits’s work on Africans and African Americans is inextricably connected by his embrace of cultural relativism, his attack on racial and cultural hierarchy, and his conceptualization of Negro studies” (Ibid.). “Through his research, writing, and teaching, he dignified the lives and struggles of people of African descent on both sides of the Atlantic” (Ibid., 10).
However, Herskovits never acknowledged that his ethnic identity had anything to do with his activism on behalf of Blacks. He wrote that “neither in training, in tradition, in religious beliefs, nor in culture am I what may be termed a person any more Jewish than any American born and raised in a typical Middle Western milieu”—a comment that Gershenhorn notes was made “during a period of historically high anti-Semitism in the United States ,” and seeming to imply the obvious: that there was an element of deception in the statement; indeed, Gershenhorn goes on to note that “Herskovits’s attempts to minimize the significance of his Jewishness do not square with his youthful experience”—he was a former rabbinical student and regularly attended synagogue as a child (Gershenhorn 2004, 13), and he married within his ethnic group (Ibid., 16)—clearly not indications of a childhood spent in a “typical Middle Western milieu.” Nevertheless, “Jewish identity, argued Herskovits, was a matter of personal and very subjective choice, neither ethnicity or religious belief is relevant: ‘A person is a Jew if he calls himself a Jew or if he is called a Jew by others.’” (Jackson 1986, 101).
Moreover, after dropping out of rabbinical school, he became a political radical at the University of Chicago, at a time when there was a very mainstream and widespread Jewish subculture of political radicalism (see Ch. 3). While still at the university, he wrote a letter condemning a social club for wanting to hold separate dances for Jewish and non-Jewish students. He continued his radical associations after moving to New York; besides joining the Industrial Workers of the World, he “befriended a group of like-minded individuals [including Margaret Mead] who were interested in art, music, and literature, and who embraced gender and racial equality and radical politics.”
Ashley Montagu was another influential student of Boas (see Shipman 1994, 159ff). Montagu, whose original name was Israel Ehrenberg, was a highly visible crusader in in favor of idea of race as a social construct and against racial differences in mental capacities. He was also highly conscious of being Jewish, stating on one occasion that “if you are brought up a Jew, you know that all non-Jews are anti-Semitic … . I think it is a good working hypothesis” (in Shipman 1994, 166). Moreover, he proposed that humans are innately cooperative (but not innately aggressive) and that there is a universal brotherhood among humans—a highly problematic idea in the wake of the carnage of World War II.
Mention should also be made of Otto Klineberg, a professor of psychology at Columbia. Klineberg was “tireless” and “ingenious” in his arguments against the reality of racial differences. He came under the influence of Boas at Columbia and dedicated his 1935 book Race Differences to him. Klineberg “made it his business to do for psychology what his friend and colleague at Columbia [Boas] had done for anthropology: to rid his discipline of racial explanations for human social differences” (Degler 1991, 179). As noted above, Klineberg was a member of the solidary core of influential Jews surrounding Boas.
It is interesting in this regard that the members of the Boasian school who achieved the greatest public renown were two gentiles, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. As in several other prominent historical cases (see Chs. 3–5; SAID, Ch. 6), gentiles became the publicly visible spokespersons for a movement dominated by Jews. Indeed, like Freud, in the later years of his tenure at Columbia, Boas recruited gentiles out of concern “that his Jewishness would make his science appear partisan and thus compromised” (Efron 1994, 180). Again, Jews as a small minority have often recruited sympathetic non-Jews to their intellectual and political causes.
Boas devised Margaret Mead’s classic study on adolescence in Samoa with an eye to its usefulness in the nature-nurture debate raging at the time (Freeman 1983, 60–61, 75). The result of this research was Coming of Age in Samoa—a book that pushed American anthropology in the direction of radical environmentalism. Its success stemmed ultimately from its promotion by Boas’s students in departments of anthropology at prominent American universities (Freeman 1991). This work and Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture were also widely influential among other social scientists, psychiatrists, and the public at large, so that “by the middle of the twentieth century, it was a commonplace for educated Americans to refer to human differences in cultural terms, and to say that ‘modern science has shown that all human races are equal’” (Stocking 1968, 306).
Reflecting the ingroup-outgroup perspective of his movement, Boas rarely cited works of people outside his group except to disparage them, whereas, as with Mead’s and Benedict’s work, he strenuously promoted and cited the work of people within the ingroup. Similarly, Herskovits “blocked from the means of production (publication and research funding) those not indebted to him or not supporting his positions (and position of primacy) during the period when area studies was heavily funded by the U.S. government and foundations (particularly the Ford Foundation)” (Editorial Introduction to Gershenhorn [2004, xii]). The Boasian school of anthropology thus came to resemble in microcosm key features of Judaism as a highly collectivist group evolutionary strategy: a high level of ingroup identification, exclusionary policies, and cohesiveness in pursuit of common interests—a stance that is completely foreign to the scientific spirit.
The Guru Phenomenon in Boasian Anthropology. A theme in later chapters is that Jewish intellectual and political movements tend to center around guru-like charismatic figures who are slavishly admired by their followers. This phenomenon has strong roots in Jewish history, and can still be seen today among Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish leaders such as Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, “a towering charismatic figure in the Jewish world” (Keinon, 2020). Twenty-six years after Schneerson’s death in 1994, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz wrote, “For Hasidic movements … the death of any Rebbe is a disaster, almost like the death of a father. Because of the particularly close bond that existed between the Rebbe and his hassidim, that trauma was multiplied many times” (in Keinon, 2020). The following is an account of a service at a synagogue in Galacia in 1903:
There were no benches, and several thousand Jews were standing closely packed together, swaying in prayer like the corn in the wind. When the rabbi appeared the service began. Everybody tried to get as close to him as possible. The rabbi led the prayers in a thin, weeping voice. It seemed to arouse a sort of ecstasy in the listeners. They closed their eyes, violently swaying. The loud praying sounded like a gale. Anyone seeing these Jews in prayer would have concluded that they were the most religious people on earth. (Ruppin 1971, 69)
At the end of the service, those closest to the rabbi were intensely eager to eat any food touched by him, and the fish bones were preserved by his followers as relics. Another account notes that “devotees hoping to catch a spark from this holy fire run to receive him.” (Mahler 1985, 8)
Boasian anthropology, at least during Boas’s lifetime, was highly authoritarian and intolerant of dissent, and it was centered around a charismatic figure who served as an unquestioned leader. As in the case of Freud (see Ch. 4), Boas was a patriarchal father figure, strongly supporting those who agreed with him and excluding those who did not: Alfred Kroeber regarded Boas as “a true patriarch” who “functioned as a powerful father figure, cherishing and supporting those with whom he identified in the degree that he felt they were genuinely identifying with him, but, as regards others, aloof and probably fundamentally indifferent, coldly hostile if the occasion demanded it” (in Stocking 1968, 305–306). “Boas has all the attributes of the head of a cult, a revered charismatic teacher and master, ‘literally worshipped’ by disciples whose ‘permanent loyalty’ has been ‘effectively established’” (White 1966, 25–26).
As in the case of Freud, in the eyes of his disciples, virtually everything Boas did was of monumental importance and justified placing him among the intellectual giants of all time. Like Freud, Boas did not tolerate theoretical or ideological differences with his students. Individuals who disagreed with the leader or had personality clashes with him, such as Clark Wissler and Ralph Linton, were simply excluded from the movement. Paul Radin, mentioned above as an influential member of the core group Boas’s students, claimed that Boas was a “powerful figure who did not tolerate theoretical or ideological differences in his students” (in Darnell 2001, 35). Essentially, he made a generation of students an extension of himself and his ideas.
White (1966, 26–27) represents the exclusion of Wissler and Linton as having ethnic overtones. Both were gentiles. Wissler was a member of the Galton Society (founded by eugenicist scientist Charles Davenport and Nordicist writer Madison Grant) which promoted eugenics and accepted the theory that there is a gradation of cultures from lower forms to higher forms, with Western civilization at the top (Gershenhorn 2004, 23), so his exclusion is not surprising. But White (1966, 26–27) also suggests that George A. Dorsey’s status as a gentile was relevant to his exclusion from the Boas group despite Dorsey’s intensive efforts to be a member. Kroeber (1956, 26) notes that Dorsey, “an American-born gentile and a Ph.D. from Harvard, tried to gain admittance to the select group but failed.” (It should be noted that the very idea of a “select group” in a supposedly scientific enterprise contradicts the entire idea of a science [see Ch. 7]). As an aspect of this exclusionary authoritarianism, Boas was instrumental in completely suppressing evolutionary theory in anthropology (Freeman 1990, 197). Group solidarity within the Boasians has also drawn this comment from anthropologist Regna Darnell (2001, 35): they “shared a heady sense of solidarity, viewing themselves as rewriting the history of anthropology, creating a professionally respectable and scientifically rigorous discipline whose practitioners were loyal to a common enterprise”—a testament to a sense of group commitment that is antithetical to scientific research (see Ch. 7).
Boas as Pseudoscientist. Boas was the quintessential skeptic and an ardent defender of methodological rigor when it came to theories of cultural evolution and genetic influences on individual differences, yet “the burden of proof rested lightly upon Boas’s own shoulders” (White 1966, 12). Although Boas (like Freud; see Ch. 4) made his conjectures in a very dogmatic manner, his “historical reconstructions are inferences, guesses, and unsupported assertions [ranging] from the possible to the preposterous. Almost none is verifiable” (White 1966, 13). An unrelenting foe of generalization and theory construction (such as the cultural gradation theory that previously dominated anthropology), Boas nevertheless completely accepted the “absolute generalization at which [Margaret] Mead had arrived after probing for a few months into adolescent behavior on Samoa,” even though Mead’s results were contrary to previous research in the area (Freeman 1983, 291). Moreover, Boas uncritically allowed Ruth Benedict to distort his own data on the Kwakiutl (see Torrey 1992, 83).
This suggests that Boas might even go so far as to fudge his data or inflate their significance in order to support his political attitudes. 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 the cause of the anti-racialists and against those who wanted to restrict immigration. Indeed, it was likely intended as propaganda and has been highly successful in that regard, having been “cited innumerable times by writers of textbooks and anyone wishing to make the point that the cranium is plastic” (Sparks & Jantz, 2003, 334). Boas was far more concerned with showing that the cranial measurements of Eastern European Jews had altered toward the American (i.e., northwest European) type than showing similar results among Italians, writing in 1909 that “The composition of the Italian types in the schools proved to be so complex that no safe inference could be drawn in regard to the stability of the type” (Ibid.). Quite possibly this emphasis on showing the malleability of Jewish skulls reflected Boas’s ethnic affinity to this group as well as the fact that Eastern European Jews were seen as particularly unassimilable at the time (see Ch. 8).
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 that his data do not show any significant environmental effects on cranial form as a result of immigration (Sparks & Jantz 2002). Moreover, Boas made inflated claims about the results—very minor changes in cranial index were described as changes of “type” so that Boas was claiming that within one generation immigrants developed the long-headed type characteristic of northwest Europeans (Sparks & Jantz 2003, 334). As Sparks and Jantz note, several modern studies show that cranial shape is under strong genetic influence, including a study showing that, while both American Blacks and Whites have altered their cranial measurements over the last 150 years, these changes have occurred in parallel and have not resulted in convergence (Jantz, 2001). Their reanalysis of Boas’s data indicated that no more than one percent of the variation between groups could be ascribed to the environmental effects of immigration, with the remainder due to variation between ethnic groups.
Sparks and Jantz also claim that Boas may well have been motivated by a desire to end racialist views in anthropology:
While Boas [like Herskovits] 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. (Sparks & Jantz 2003, 335).
The entire Boasian enterprise may thus be characterized as a highly authoritarian political movement centered around a charismatic leader. The results were extraordinarily successful: “The profession as a whole was united within a single national organization of academically oriented anthropologists. By and large, they shared a common understanding of the fundamental significance of the historically conditioned variety of human cultures in the determination of human behavior” (Stocking 1968, 296). Research on racial differences ceased, and the profession completely excluded eugenicists and racial theorists like Madison Grant and Charles Davenport.
By the mid-1930s the Boasian view of the cultural determination of human behavior had a strong influence on social scientists generally (Stocking 1968, 300). The followers of Boas also eventually became some of the most influential academic supporters of another Jewish-dominated movement, psychoanalysis (see Ch. 4). Marvin Harris (1968, 431) notes that psychoanalysis was adopted by the Boasian school because of its utility as a critique of Euro-American culture, and, indeed, as we shall see in later chapters, psychoanalysis is an ideal vehicle of cultural critique. In the hands of the Boasian school, psychoanalysis was completely stripped of its evolutionary associations and there was a much greater accommodation to the importance of cultural variables (Harris 1968, 433).
Cultural critique was also an important aspect of the Boasian school. Stocking (1989, 215–216) shows that several prominent Boasians, including Robert Lowie and Edward Sapir, were involved in the cultural criticism of the 1920s which centered around the perception of American culture as overly homogeneous, hypocritical, and emotionally and aesthetically repressive (especially with regard to sexuality). Central to this program was creating ethnographies of idyllic cultures that were free of the negatively perceived traits that were attributed to Western culture. Among these Boasians, cultural criticism crystallized as an ideology of “romantic primitivism” in which certain non-Western cultures epitomized the approved characteristics Western societies should emulate.
Cultural criticism was a central feature of the two most well-known Boasian ethnographies, Coming of Age in Samoa and Patterns of Culture. These works are not only offered as critiques of Western civilization, but often systematically misrepresent key issues related to evolutionary perspectives on human behavior. For example, Benedict’s Zuni were described as being free of war, homicide, and concern with accumulation of wealth. Children were not disciplined. Sex was casual, with little concern for virginity, sexual possessiveness, or paternity confidence. Contemporary Western societies are, of course, the opposite of these idyllic paradises, and Benedict suggests that we should study such cultures in order “to pass judgment on the dominant traits of our own civilization” (Benedict 1934, 249). Mead’s similar portrayal of the Samoans ignored her own evidence contrary to her thesis (Orans 1996, 155). Negatively perceived behaviors of Mead’s Samoans, such as rape and concern for virginity, were attributed to Western influence (Stocking 1989, 245).
Both of these ethnographic accounts have been subjected to devastating criticisms. The picture of these societies that has emerged is far more compatible with evolutionary expectations than the societies depicted by Benedict and Mead (see Caton 1990; Freeman 1983; Orans 1996; Stocking 1989). In the controversy surrounding Mead’s work, some defenders of Mead have pointed to possible negative political implications of the demythologization of her work (see, e.g., the summary in Caton 1990, 226–227).
Indeed, one consequence of the triumph of the Boasians was that there was almost no research on warfare and violence among the peoples studied by anthropologists (Keegan 1993, 90–94). Warfare and warriors were ignored, and cultures were conceived as consisting of myth-makers and gift-givers. (Orans [1996, 120] shows that Mead systematically ignored cases of competition, violence, rape, and revolution in her account of Samoa.) Only five articles on the anthropology of warfare appeared during the 1950s. Revealingly, when Harry Turney-High published his volume Primitive War in 1949 documenting the universality of warfare and its oftentimes awesome savagery, the book was completely ignored by the anthropological profession—another example of the exclusionary tactics used against dissenters among the Boasians and characteristic of the other intellectual movements reviewed in this volume as well. Turney-High’s massive data on non-Western peoples conflicted with the image of them favored by a highly politicized profession whose members simply excluded these data entirely from intellectual discourse. The result was a “pacified past” (Keeley 1996, 163ff) and an “attitude of self-reproach” (179) in which the behavior of primitive peoples was bowdlerized while the behavior of European peoples was not only excoriated as uniquely evil but also as responsible for all extant examples of warfare among primitive peoples. From this perspective, it is only the fundamental inadequacy of European culture that prevents an idyllic world free from between-group conflict. Of course, these trends have been exacerbated in recent decades far beyond anything envisioned by Benedict or Mead.
The reality, of course, is far different. Warfare was and remains a recurrent phenomenon among pre-state societies—indeed evolutionary biologist Richard Alexander (1979) and others have argued that warfare was a critical force in human evolution, selecting for greater intelligence and a suite of other human characteristics. Surveys indicate over 90 percent of societies engage in warfare, the great majority engaging in military activities at least once per year (Keeley 1996, 27–32). Moreover, “whenever modern humans appear on the scene, definitive evidence of homicidal violence becomes more common, given a sufficient sample of burials” (Keeley 1996, 37). Because of its frequency and the seriousness of its consequences, primitive warfare was more deadly than civilized warfare. Most adult males in primitive and prehistoric societies engaged in warfare and “saw combat repeatedly in a lifetime” (Keeley 1996, 174).
 Lenz (1931, 675) notes the historical association between Jewish intellectuals and Lamarckianism in Germany and its political overtones. Lenz cites an “extremely characteristic” statement of a Jewish intellectual that “The denial of the racial importance of acquired characters favours race hatred.” The obvious interpretation of such sentiments is that Jewish intellectuals opposed the theory of natural selection because of its possible negative political implications. The suggestion is that these intellectuals were well aware of ethnic differences between Jews and Germans but wished to deny their importance for political reasons—an example of deception as an aspect of Judaism as an evolutionary strategy (SAID, Chs. 6–8). Indeed, Lenz notes that the Lamarckian Paul Kammerer, who was a Jew, committed suicide when exposed as a scientific fraud in an article in the prestigious British journal Nature. (The black spots on frogs, which were supposed to prove the theory of Lamarckianism, were in fact the result of injections of ink.) Lenz states that many of his Jewish acquaintances accept Lamarckianism because they wish to believe that they could become “transformed into genuine Teutons.” Such a belief may be an example of deception, since it fosters the idea that Jews can become “genuine Teutons” simply by “writing books about Goethe,” in the words of one commentator, despite retaining their genetic separatism. In a note (Lenz 1931, 674n), Lenz chides both the anti-Semites and the Jews of his day, the former for not accepting a greater influence of Judaism on modern civilization, and the latter for condemning any discussion of Judaism in terms of race. Lenz states that the Jewish opposition to discussion of race “inevitably arouses the impression that they must have some reason for fighting shy of any exposition of racial questions.” Lenz notes that Lamarckian sentiments became less common among Jews when the theory was completely discredited. Nevertheless, two very prominent and influential Jewish intellectuals, Franz Boas (Freeman 1983, 28) and Sigmund Freud (see Ch. 4), continued to accept Lamarckianism long after it became completely discredited.
 Torrey (1992, 60ff) argues cogently that the cultural criticism of Benedict and Mead and their commitment to cultural determinism were motivated by their attempts to develop self-esteem as lesbians. As indicated in Chapter 1, any number of reasons explain why gentile intellectuals may be attracted to intellectual movements dominated by Jews, including the identity politics of other ethnic groups or, in this case, sexual nonconformists.
 Although Freud is often viewed as a “biologist of the mind” (Sulloway 1979a), and although he was clearly influenced by Darwin and proposed a universal human nature, psychoanalysis is highly compatible with environmental influences and the cultural relativism championed by the Boasian school. Freud viewed mental disorder as the result of environmental influences, particularly the repression of sexuality so apparent in the Western culture of his day. For Freud, the biological was universal, whereas individual differences were the result of environmental influences. Gay (1988, 122–124) notes that until Freud, psychiatry was dominated by a biological model in which mental disorder had direct physical (e.g., genetic) causes.
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