Western Culture

Evil Genius: Constructing Wagner as Moral Pariah—PART 2

Jewish activists protesting the 2010 production of The Ring by the LA Opera

Go to Part 1.

Wagner’s Racial Thinking

In addition to his concern about the baleful Jewish influence on German culture, Wagner, under the influence of Darwinism and the French racial theorist Arthur de Gobineau, became increasingly concerned about the fate of the White race generally. Wagner met Gobineau in Rome in 1876 and again in Venice in 1880 when he read the French author’s bestselling An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races. Wagner thought that Gobineau had demonstrated in this famous essay that “we should have no History of Man at all, had there been no movements, creations, and achievements of the White man,” and was taken with his pessimistic notion that Western society was doomed because miscegenation would inevitably lead to the degeneration of the White race. He nevertheless disagreed with Gobineau’s claim that this degeneration was unstoppable. In his essay “Hero-dom and Christianity,” Wagner writes that: “We cannot withhold our acknowledgment that the human family consists of irremediably disparate races, whereof the noblest well might rule the more ignoble, yet never raise them to their level by commixture, but simply sink to theirs.” The Jews, however, offered a unique exception to this general rule:

The Jew, on the contrary, is the most astounding instance of racial congruence ever offered by world history. Without a fatherland, a mother tongue midst every people’s land and tongue he finds himself again, in virtue of the unfailing instinct of his absolute and indelible idiosyncrasy: even commixture of blood does not hurt him; let Jew or Jewess intermarry with the most distinct of races, a Jew will always come to birth.[1]

While accepting many of Gobineau’s basic premises, Wagner, in his 1881 essay about the German people entitled “Know Thyself,” rejects the idea of Aryan superiority and writes about the “enormous disadvantage at which the German race… appears to stand against the Jewish.” Furthermore, when Gobineau stayed with the Wagners for five weeks in 1881, their conversations were punctuated with frequent arguments. Cosima Wagner’s diary recounts one exchange in which Wagner “positively exploded in favor of Christianity as compared to racial theory.” Wagner proposed that a “true Christianity” could provide for the moral harmonization of all races, which could, in turn, help prevent the physical unification of the races, and thereby the degeneration of the White race through miscegenation:

Incomparably fewer in individual numbers than the lower races, the ruin of the white races may be referred to their having been obliged to mix with them; whereby, as remarked already, they suffered more from the loss of their purity than the others could gain by the ennobling of their blood. … To us Equality is only thinkable as based upon a universal moral concord, such as we can but deem true Christianity elect to bring about.[2]

Wagner had first developed the idea of a revolutionary new Christianity in the opera text Jesus of Nazareth (1849), which depicted Jesus as redeeming man from the materialism of the “Roman world … and still more, of that [Jewish] world subject to the Romans. … I saw the modern world of the present day as a prey to the worthlessness akin to that which surrounded Jesus.”[3] Wagner here drew heavily on Kant’s critique of Judaism. Enslaved to the Law, the Jews had rejected Jesus’ message of love; Jewish egoism and lovelessness had led Judas to betray Him. The Jews had preferred “power, domination… [and] the loveless forces of property and law, symbolized by Judaism.”[4] Wagner’s hope for the emergence of a “new Christianity” to act as a bulwark against miscegenation and the degeneration of the White race has not transpired, although some Jewish commentators see it as having being realized in the ideology and practices of National Socialism.

For the Jewish music critic Larry Solomon, in Richard Wagner “all the racist historical models from Luther to Fichte, Feuerbach, Gobineau, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Chamberlain, come to full maturity.”[5] Yet, despite the irate epithets routinely directed at Wagner, most of his assertions are objectively true—not least his many warnings about the dangers of the Jewish economic and cultural domination of Western nations. The evidence shows that the races are unequal intellectually and physically, and race mixing does lead (on average) to the cognitive decline of the more intelligent racial party to the admixture. It should also be noted that Wagner’s racial views were mainstream opinions at the time he expressed them—including among the leading Jewish intellectuals I cited in my review of Jews & RaceWritings on Identity and Difference 1880-1940.

Wagner’s views on the Jewish Question strongly paralleled those of the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl. Both Wagner and Herzl saw the Jews as a distinct and foreign group in Europe. Herzl saw anti-Semitism as “an understandable reaction to Jewish defects” brought about by the Jewish persecution of gentiles. Jews had, he claimed, been educated by Judaism to be “leeches” and possessed “frightful financial power.”[6] For Herzl, the Jews were a money worshipping people incapable of understanding any other motives than money. Kevin MacDonald notes in Separation and its Discontents that Herzl argued that “a prime source of modern anti-Semitism was that emancipation had brought Jews into direct economic competition with the gentile middle classes. Anti-Semitism based on resource competition was rational.” Herzl “insisted that one could not expect a majority to ‘let itself be subjugated’ by formally scorned outsiders that they had just released from the ghetto.”[7] Pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim notes that “Wagner’s conclusion about the Jewish problem was not only verbally similar to Herzl’s” but that “both Wagner and Herzl favored the emigration of the German Jews.”[8] Despite their convergence of opinion on the Jewish Question, Herzl avoided the opprobrium posthumously heaped on Wagner; intellectual consistency being the first casualty of Jewish ethnic warfare through the construction of culture.

Jewish Responses to Wagner’s Ideas

Basically ignoring whether Wagner’s views on Jewish influence on German art and culture had any validity, a long line of Jewish music writers and intellectuals have furiously attacked the composer for just having expressed them. In his essay “Know Thyself,” Wagner writes of the fierce backlash that followed his drawing “notice to the Jews’ inaptitude for taking a productive share in our Art,” which was “met by the utmost indignation of Jews alike and Germans; it became quite dangerous to breathe the word ‘Jew’ with a doubtful accent.”[9] Wagner was surprised by the hornet’s nest he had stirred up, and in a letter to the composer Franz Liszt noted that “I seem to have struck home with terrible force, which suits my purpose admirably, since that is precisely the sort of shock that I wanted to give them. For they will always remain our masters—that much is as certain as the fact that it is not our princes who are now our masters, but bankers and philistines.”[10]

Wagner’s critique of Jewish influence on German art and culture could not be dismissed as the ravings of an unintelligent and ignorant fool. Richard Wagner was, by common consent, one of the most brilliant human beings to have ever lived, and his views on the Jewish Question were cogent and rational. Accordingly, Jewish critics soon settled on the response of ascribing psychiatric disorders to the composer, and this has been the stock approach ever since. As early as 1872, the German-Jewish psychiatrist Theodor Puschmann offered a psychological assessment of Wagner that was widely reported in the German press. He claimed Wagner was suffering from “chronic megalomania, paranoia … and moral derangement.”[11] Cesare Lombroso, the famous nineteenth-century Italian-Jewish criminologist, branded Wagner “a sexual psychopath.”[12]

Later, drawing on this approach, and with the advent of Freudian psychoanalysis and Expressionism in art and music, the habit arose of treating Wagner’s operas as journeys into the inner life of their creator. Scruton observes that:

From the first days of psychoanalysis, Wagner’s works were singled out as both confirming and demanding a psychoanalytic reading. Their super-saturated longing, their cry for redemption through sexual love, their exultation of Women as the vehicle of purity and sacrifice—all these features have naturally suggested, to the psychoanalytic mind, incestuous childhood fantasies, involving a fixation on the mother as wife. Such is the interpretation maintained by [the Jewish psychoanalysts] Max Graf and Otto Rank, both writing in 1911. Thereafter the habit of reading the works in terms of the life became firmly established in the literature.1183

Such interpretations have strongly influenced the discussion of Wagner’s works—“revenge on Wagner” has for some time been “an almost obligatory part of the intellectual’s apprenticeship.” Books like Jean-Jacques Nattiez’s Wagner Androgyne and Joachim Kohler’s Richard Wagner: Last of the Titans continue a now venerable tradition in regarding “anti-Semitism as the meaning and Oedipal confusion as the cause of just about everything the master composed.” Even the respected British musicologist Barry Millington frequently writes “as though anti-Semitism is somewhere near the top of Wagner’s musical and intellectual agenda.”

The denigration of Wagner in the post-World War II era, spearheaded by Jewish musicologists and intellectuals like T.W. Adorno, established the pattern of treating his works as expressions of a deeply pathological personality, where the musicological task at hand was to “analyse them as exhibits in a medical case study, and to create the impression that we can best understand them not for what they say but for what they reveal about their creator.” Adorno condemned Wagner as a symbol of all that was hateful in the culture of nineteenth-century Germany. Scruton notes how Adorno’s criticisms of Wagner were deeply influenced by “the Holocaust and all that it meant concerning the roots of German nationalism.” Wagner’s autobiography is regularly trawled for evidence of psychopathology and “for the proof—however fleeting and arcane—that in this or that respect he was just as ordinary as the rest of us, even though the mind revealed in the book is one of the most extraordinary and comprehensive that has ever existed.”

T.W. Adorno

In 1968, the Jewish writer Robert Gutman published a biography of Wagner (Richard Wagner: the Man, his Mind and his Music) in which he portrayed his subject as a racist, psychopathic, proto-Nazi monster. Gutman’s scholarship was questioned at the time, but this did not prevent his book from becoming a best-seller, and as one source notes: “An entire generation of students has been encouraged to accept Gutman’s caricature of Richard Wagner. Even intelligent people, who have either never read Wagner’s writings or tried to penetrate them and failed … have read Gutman’s book and accepted his opinions as facts.”[13] The long-time music critic for The New York Times, the Jewish Harold Schonberg, was one of them, describing Wagner in his Lives of the Great Composers as “Amoral, hedonistic, selfish, virulently racist, arrogant, filled with gospels of the superman … and the superiority of the German race, he stands for all that is unpleasant in human character.”[14] Likewise, for Jewish music critic David Hurwitz, Wagner was “an obnoxious, jackboot-stomping Nazi pygmy.” He regards Verdi, that other great opera composer of the nineteenth century, as “so overwhelmingly more important and deeper and more emotionally significant and a more finished and talented composer than Wagner could ever aspire to being.”[15] According to the composer Thomas Adès, Wagner is more than bad; he is pathologically bad, and his “music grows parasitically … It has a laboratory atmosphere—a sort of fungus.”

Another prominent refrain from Jewish commentators like Jacob Katz, the author of The Darker Side of Genius: Richard Wagner’s Anti-Semitism, is that Wagner’s concern about the Jewish influence on German culture stemmed from his morbid jealousy of all the brilliant Jews around him like Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer and Heine. Taking up this theme, the music writer David Goldman insists that “Wagner ripped off the scenario for his opera ‘The Flying Dutchman’ from Heine and knocked off Mendelssohn’s ‘Fingal’s Cave’ overture in the ‘Dutchman’s’ evocation of the sea. Wagner tried to cover his guilty tracks by denouncing Jewish composers he emulated, including Giacomo Meyerbeer. Wagner was not just a Jew-hater, then, but a backstabbing self-promoter who defamed the Jewish artists he emulated and who (in Meyerbeer’s case) had advanced his career.”[16] Boroson, writing in the Jewish Standard, likewise claims Wagner’s envy of Meyerbeer’s success “played a pivotal role in Wagner’s suddenly becoming a Jew-hater.”[17]

Numerous sources trace Wagner’s anti-Semitism to his perception that a clique of powerful Jews (led by Meyerbeer and Halevy) had thwarted the staging of his Rienzi in Paris, and “at his dependence on money lenders, mostly presumably Jewish, at this time.”[18] Carr notes that from early in his career Wagner’s profligacy “put him in hock with moneylenders who were usually Jews.” Already in Magdeburg where he courted his first wife Minna, “he railed at having to deal with the ‘Jewish scum’ because ‘our people’ offered no credit. In Paris he pawned his goods to Jews and did work he felt was menial for, amongst others, Maurice Schlesinger, a Jewish music publisher. Schlesinger’s cash helped ward off starvation but that made the struggling composer feel no better.”[19] Magee notes that the two and half years Wagner spent in Paris trying and failing to establish himself was “the worst period of deprivation and humiliation he ever had to suffer.”[20]

Invoking Freud, the Jewish music writer Marc A. Weiner in his Richard Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination, claims that: “Wagner’s vehement hatred of Jews was based on a model of projection involving a deep-seated fear of precisely those features within the Self (diminutive stature, nervous demeanor and avarice, as well as lascivious nature) that are projected upon and then recognized and stigmatized in the hated Other.”[21] Weiner’s view echoes that of the Jewish psychiatrist Theodore Rubin who views anti-Semitism as a “symbol sickness” that involves envy, low self-esteem and projection of one’s inner conflicts onto a stereotyped other.[22]

All these various theories, where Wagner’s criticism of Jewish influence is made a scapegoat for his own psychological frustrations, vastly overemphasize the irrational sources of prejudice, and effectively serve to clothe Jews in defensive innocence. According to these theories, anti-Jewish statements are never rational but invariably the product of a warped mind, while Jewish critiques of Europeans always have a thoroughly rational basis.

A Self-hating Jew?

Another well-worn theory has it that Wagner may have been part-Jewish, and that his anti-Semitism was his way of dealing this unedifying prospect (a variation of the “self-hating Jew” hypothesis). It is claimed that Wagner’s biological father was not his presumed father, the police registrar Friedrich Wagner who died of typhus shortly after Wagner’s birth, but his stepfather, the successful actor and painter Ludwig Geyer. However, there is no evidence that Geyer had any Jewish roots. In his biography of Wagner, John Chancellor states plainly that he had none, and “He [Geyer] claimed the same sturdy descent as the Wagners. His pedigree also went back to the middle of the seventeenth century and his forefathers were also, for the most part, organists in small Thuringian towns and villages.”[23] Magee is even more categorical, stating, “Geyer was not Jewish, and it had never occurred to anyone who knew him to think that he might be. He came from a long line of church musicians; for generations his forebears had been Lutheran cantors and organists in the town of Eisleben. There was nothing Jewish about his appearance that might have misled people who were ignorant of his background.”[24]

Ludwig Geyer

Chancellor blames Friedrich Nietzsche for first raising the question of Geyer’s possible Jewishness to add extra sting to his charge of illegitimacy, after the philosopher famously fell out with Wagner after years of close friendship. In his 1888 book Der Fall Wagner (The Case of Wagner), Nietzsche claimed that Wagner’s father was Geyer, and made the pun that “Ein Geyer ist beinahe schon ein Adler” (A vulture is almost an eagle)—Geyer also being the German word for a vulture and Adler being a common (but not exclusively) Jewish surname. Magee, while agreeing that Nietzsche undoubtedly intended to rile Wagner with the suggestion of his possible Jewish ancestry, believes Nietzsche’s words also represented a jibe of a quite different kind.

Wagner, a provincial with a regional accent, a lower-middle class family background, and a long personal history of penury, had risen late in life to walk with kings and emperors; and somewhere along the way (strikingly reminiscent of Shakespeare, this, as so often) he allotted himself a coat of arms. This was revealingly (it shows what he thought his descent was), the “Geyer” coat of arms, prominently featuring a vulture against the shield while the kings and emperors would have been displaying their royal or imperial eagles. I think it is more than likely that Nietzsche was being sarcastic about Wagner’s self-promotion to the arms-bearing ranks of society with his “a vulture is almost an eagle.”[25]

If, as has been often claimed, Wagner was concerned with denying the possibility that Geyer may have been his father (because of Geyer’s possible Jewish ancestry), why would he have adopted the Geyer coat of arms and insist it be prominently displayed on the cover of his autobiography? This obvious fact did not deter Gutman who contended that Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima tried to outdo each other in their anti-Semitism because they both had Jewish roots to conceal. While offering no proof Geyer was Jewish, Gutman insists that Wagner in his later years discovered letters from Geyer to his mother which led him to suspect that Geyer was his biological father, and that Geyer might have been Jewish. Wagner’s anti-Semitism was, according to Gutman, his way of dealing with the fear that people would think he was Jewish. Derek Strahan recycles this discredited theme, noting that:

Geyer’s affair with Wagner’s mother pre-dated the death of Wagner’s presumed father, Friedrich Wagner, a Police Registrar who was ill at the time young Richard was conceived, and who died six months after his birth. Soon after this, Wagner’s mother Johanna married Ludwig Geyer. Richard Wagner himself was known as Richard Geyer until, at the age of 14, he had his name legally changed to Wagner. Apparently he had taken some abuse at school because of his Jewish-sounding name. Could his later anti-Semitism have been motivated, at least in part, by sensitivity to this abuse, and by a kind of pre-emptive denial to prevent difficulties and suffering arising from prejudice?[26]

According to the only evidence we have on this point (Cosima’s diaries, 26 December 1868) Wagner “did not believe” that Ludwig Geyer was his real father. Cosima did, however, once note a resemblance between Wagner’s son Siegfried and a picture of Geyer.[27] Pursuing the theme that anyone who expresses antipathy toward Jews must be psychologically unhealthy, Solomon draws a parallel between Wagner and Adolf Hitler in that “both feared they had Jewish paternity, which led to fierce denial and destructive hatred.”[28] For Magee, these theories, which are now widely entrenched in the Wagner literature, are the “crassest falsehood.” Moreover, “the idea that Geyer might have been Jewish, or even that Wagner thought that he might have been, is pure fabrication, distilled nonsense.”[29]

Brenton Sanderson is the author of Battle Lines: Essays on Western Culture, Jewish Influence and Anti-Semitism, banned by Amazon, but available here and here.

Go to Part 3.

[1] Richard Wagner, “Religion and Art,” trans. by William Ashton Ellis, In: Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, Vol. 6 (London: 1897; repr. 1966), 211-52. http://users.belgacom.net/wagnerlibrary/prose/wlpr0126.htm

[2] Richard Wagner, “Hero-dom and Christianity,” trans. by William Ashton Ellis, In: Richard Wagner’s Prose Works Vol. 6 (London: 1897; repr. 1966), 275-84. http://users.belgacom.net/wagnerlibrary/prose/waghero.htm

[3] Richard Wagner, “Know Thyself,” trans. by William Ashton Ellis, In: Richard Wagner’s Prose Works Vol. 6 (London: 1897; repr. 1966), 264-74. http://users.belgacom.net/wagnerlibrary/prose/wagknow.htm

[4] Quoted in Paul Lawrence Rose, German Question/Jewish Question, 361.

[5] Larry Solomon, Wagner and Hitler, (Online article: 2002) http://solomonsmusic.net/WagHit.htm

[6] MacDonald, Separation and its Discontents, 57.

[7] Ibid., 54.

[8] Daniel Barenboim, “Wagner, Israel and the Palestinians,” Blog post, Undated. http://www.danielbarenboim.com/index.php?id=72

[9] Richard Wagner, “Know Thyself,” op. cit.

[10] Magee, Wagner and Philosophy, 352.

[11] Quoted in Martin Kitchen, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Germany, op. cit.

[12] Christopher Nicholson, Richard and Adolf: Did Richard Wagner Incite Adolf Hitler to Commit the Holocaust (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2007) 131.


[14] Harold Schonberg, The Lives of the Great Composers (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997), 268.

[15] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ax4N2B4GNs&t=662s

[16] David P. Goldman, “Muted: Performances of Wagner’s music are effectively banned in Israel. Should they be?” Tablet, August 17, 2011. http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/music/75247/muted

[17] Warren Boroson, “Richard Wagner—The Devil Who Had Good Tunes,” Jewish Standard, August 7, 2009, 16.

[18] Michael Steen, The Lives and Times of the Great Composers (London: Icon Books, 2005), 464.

[19] Carr, The Wagner Clan, 83.

[20] Magee, Aspects of Wagner, 26.

[21] Marc A. Weiner, Richard Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 6.

[22] Theodore Isaac Rubin, Anti-Semitism: A Disease of the Mind (New York: Barricade, 2011), 12.

[23] John Chancellor, Wagner (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 6.

[24] Magee, Wagner and Philosophy, 358.

[25] Ibid., 360.

[26] Derek Strahan, “Was Wagner Jewish: an old question newly revisited,” Online article, Undated. http://www.revolve.com.au/polemic/wagner.html

[27] Quoted in John Deathridge, Wagner: Beyond Good and Evil (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008), 1.

[28] Solomon, “Wagner and Hitler,” op. cit.

[29] Magee, Wagner and Philosophy, 358.

Evil Genius: Constructing Wagner as Moral Pariah—PART 1

Note: This is a greatly expanded and updated version of an essay that first appeared on TOO in 2012.

A long line of books and documentaries have explored Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism and his putative role as the spiritual and intellectual godfather to Adolf Hitler. In the Jewish-dominated cultural milieu of the contemporary West, this meme has taken on such a life that Wagner’s name is seldom mentioned today without the obligatory disclaimer that, while admittedly (and unfortunately) a musical genius, his reputation is forever sullied by his standing as a morally-loathsome anti-Semite. A consequence of this is that, for many people, Wagner “has become symbolic of everything evil in the world.”[1]

Richard Wagner was a one-man artistic and intellectual movement whose shadow fell across all of his contemporaries and most of his successors. Other composers had influence; Wagner had a way of thinking named after him. A significant biographical feature of the composers that followed Wagner was how they grappled with his legacy. Some, like Bruckner and Strauss, imitated him; some, like Debussy and Bartok, rejected him; and some, like Hugo Wolf were almost paralyzed by the immensity of his achievement. Wagner’s influence extended to writers and intellectuals like Proust, Joyce, Lawrence, Mann, Baudelaire, Eliot, Nietzsche and Shaw. Given his huge impact on Western culture, Bryan Magee has strong grounds for his contention that “Wagner has had a greater influence than any other single artist on the culture of our age.”[2]

Wagner was a deeply polarizing figure in his lifetime, and no other composer has provoked such extreme antipathy or adulation. It has been said that his music has been loved and hated more immoderately than that of any other composer. Wagner was notoriously unscrupulous in his personal life—but his sexual and financial misdemeanors pale into insignificance beside the vastness and originality of his compositions. Even the anti-Wagnerites have had to acknowledge the enormity of his achievement, and his most fanatical detractors (a great many of them Jewish) have reluctantly agreed with the Russian composer Tchaikovsky, who wrote of the Ring: “Whatever one might think of Wagner’s titanic work, no one can deny the monumental nature of the task he set himself, and which he has fulfilled; nor the heroic inner strength needed to complete the task. It was truly one of the greatest artistic endeavors which the human mind has ever conceived.”[3]

The essence of Wagnerian opera lies in the music which deepens and subtilizes the overt meaning of the storyline. Profound, far-reaching psychic changes are accomplished through the music with little or no help from the words, and Wagner’s oeuvre includes some of the most powerful scenes in all opera. Wagner’s music dramas are notable for their use of leitmotifs, musical phrases associated with an idea or character. Not simply accompanying the libretto, they reveal the subconscious feelings of the characters or anticipate what will happen later in the story. There is no one-for-one correspondence between a leitmotif and the concept, idea or emotion that is first attached to it. The leitmotif has a potential to develop—but to develop musically. Scruton observed how “by implanting the principal of musical development in the heart of the drama Wagner is able to lift the action out of the events portrayed on the stage, and to endow it with a universal, cosmic and religious significance.”

One hundred and forty years after his death, Wagner retains a cultural prominence that surpasses any of his contemporaries. The excellence of his music has ensured its popularity has never waned, and Wagner is still well represented on recordings, on radio, and in the theater. Wealthy Wagner devotees travel the world in pursuit of live performances of his fifteen-hour, four-night opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. Every year thousands still make a pilgrimage to the small Bavarian town of Bayreuth where in 1876 he inaugurated a festival devoted to his own music. The appeal of Wagner’s music, libretti and stagecraft have ensured his music dramas remain useful to opera companies around the world as a reliable income source, even in straitened economic times.

It is, however, Wagner’s standing as “a notorious anti-Semite,” and the intellectual establishment’s obsession with him on this basis, that has increasingly shaped his image in the popular consciousness. Wagner’s reputation is now so thoroughly tainted that one almost never encounters a serious examination of his ideas. For some, Wagner’s anti-Semitism diminishes or even invalidates his accomplishment as a composer. As the commentator Adrian Mourby noted: “The notion that artists don’t have to be as beautiful as the works they create is a commonplace now—except in the case of Wagner. ‘Judaism in Music’ is what has made him the unforgivable exception.”[4]

Judaism in Music

Kevin MacDonald observes in Separation and its Discontents that Richard Wagner is perhaps the best known intellectual who focused on the Jewish domination of culture.[5] Wagner first expounded on what he saw as the pernicious Jewish influence on German art and culture in his 1850 tract Das Judenthum in der Musik (usually translated as Judaism in Music or Jewishness in Music), which was published under pseudonym in 1850.[6] Wagner’s essay took up the theme of a previous article by Theodor Uhlig in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik that was critical of the “Hebraic art taste” that Uhlig thought manifest in Jewish composer Giacomo Meyerbeer’s grand opera Le Prophète.

Wagner attempted in his essay to account for the “popular dislike of the Jewish nature,” and “the involuntary repellence possessed for us by the nature and personality of the Jews.” He concludes that Germans instinctively disliked Jews due to their alien appearance, speech and behavior, noting that “with all our speaking and writing in favor of the Jews’ emancipation [i.e., the result of German high-mindedness and dedication to abstract principles of human rights], we always felt instinctively repelled by any actual, operative contact with them.”[7] Wagner here simply stated an obvious fact: that Germans, like all other racial and ethnic groups, were ethnocentric, and this colored their interactions with a fiercely-competitive, immensely ethnocentric resident outgroup like the Jews. According to Wagner, “We are deliberately distorting our own nature if we feel ashamed to proclaim the natural revulsion aroused in us by Jewishness. … Despite our pretended liberalism we still feel this aversion.”[8]

A 1910 English language edition of Judaism in Music

Wagner argued in Judaism in Music that Jewish musicians were only capable of producing music that was shallow and artificial because they had no connection to the genuine spirit of the German people. He observed that: “So long as the separate art of music had a real organic life-need in it down to the epochs of Mozart and Beethoven, there was nowhere to be found a Jewish composer. … Only when a body’s inner death is manifest, do outside elements win the power of lodgment in it—yet merely to destroy it.”[9] Jews had not fully assimilated into German culture, so did not identify with and merge themselves into the deepest layers of that culture, including its religious and ethnic influences—the Volksgeist. According to Wagner, “our whole European art and civilization … remained to the Jew a foreign tongue.” The Jews “through an intercourse of two millennia with European nations” had never fully abandoned the posture of “a cold, nay more, a hostile looker-on.” The entry of the Jews into nineteenth-century European society was, for Wagner, the infiltration of an alien and antagonistic group whose success symbolized the spiritual and creative crisis of German and European culture.

The same thesis was advanced by Zionist intellectuals like Ahad Ha’Am (the pseudonym of Asher Ginsburg). Kevin MacDonald notes that both Wagner and Ginsburg “developed the idea that Jews could not have their own artistic spirit because they failed to identify completely with the surrounding culture.”[10] In Wagner’s view, higher culture springs ultimately from folk culture. In the absence of Jewish influence, German music would once again reflect the deeper layers of German folk culture. For Wagner, “Judaic works of music often produce on us the impression as though a poem of Goethe’s, for instance, were being rendered in the Jewish jargon. … Just as words and constructions are hurled together in this jargon with wondrous inexpressiveness, so does the Jewish musician hurl together the diverse forms and styles of every age and every master. Packed side by side, we find the formal idiosyncrasies of all the schools, in motleyest chaos.”[11]

For Wagner, Jewish art was characterized by imitativeness, and therefore, by shallowness and superficiality. This was exemplified by the compositions that dominated the music scene of his time. From the depth and intensity of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, the music of the concert hall had descended to the comparative superficiality of Mendelssohn—who had diverted the “tempests of revolution” into soothing salon music. Similarly, opera had fallen from the musical-dramatic peaks of Gluck and Mozart to the barren flatlands of Meyerbeer and Halevy. For Wagner, all that was meretricious in Grand Opera could be ascribed to the Jewishness of its composers—whose work amounted to a series of glib surface effects. He writes: “Of necessity what comes out of attempts by Jews to make art must have the property of coldness, of non-involvement, to the point of being trivial and absurd. We are forced to categorize the Jewish period in modern music as the period of consummate uncreativeness—stagnation run to seed.”

Writing in 1988, philosopher and cultural historian Bryan Magee observes that “to write works of this kind was to make use of art as a mere means—a means of entertainment, a means of giving pleasure and getting to be liked, a means of achieving status, money, fame. For Jews it was a means of making their way in an alien society.”[12] It certainly worked for Meyerbeer, with the first hundred performances of Le Prophète in Berlin alone netting him 750,000 marks—almost 200,000 marks more than the entire sum Wagner received over nearly two decades from his patron King Ludwig II of Bavaria.[13]

Wagner’s thesis has been roundly condemned by Jewish commentators, and yet the Jewish academic David Rodwin, while labelling Wagner’s essay “a vile anti-Semitic screed,” admits there is substantial truth in the “aesthetic eclecticism” that Wagner identified as a unifying feature of Jewish composers.[14] Regarding Wagner’s attribution of “imitativeness” as a particularly Jewish trait, Jacob Katz likewise acknowledges that: “Jewish qualities may quite naturally appear—for better or for worse—in artistic creations of Jews, even of those who have joined non-Jewish culture. It would therefore be preposterous to dismiss categorically all observations from the mouths of anti-Semites as prejudicial misconceptions.”[15] Magee calls Wagner’s thesis “unbelievably original” and notes:

One does not need to share Wagner’s view of Mendelssohn, who came from a Christianized and highly assimilated family, to see that his argument is substantially correct. … A really great creative artist is one who, in freely expressing his own needs, aspirations, and conflicts, articulates those of an entire society. This is made possible by the fact that, through his earliest relationships, mother tongue, upbringing, and all his first experience of life, the cultural heritage on which he has entered at birth is woven into the whole fabric of his personality. He has a thousand roots in it of which he is unaware, nourishing him below the level of consciousness, so that when he speaks for himself he quite unconsciously speaks for others. Now in Wagner’s time it was impossible for a Jewish artist to be in this position. The ghettos of Western Europe had only begun to be opened in the wake of the French Revolution, and their abolition was going on throughout the nineteenth century. The Jewish composers of Wagner’s day were among the very first emancipated Jews, pastless in the society in which they were living and working. They spoke its language with, literally, a foreign accent.[16]

According to Magee, Wagner failed to notice that he was describing a transitional phenomenon—that the creations of Jewish composers would inevitably become “deeper” and more culturally authentic as the descendants of emancipated Jews assimilated into their host societies. Magee cites the emergence of Mahler and Schoenberg in the late nineteenth century to illustrate his point.

Richard Wagner

Drawing on the thesis of Heinrich Laube’s book Struensee, Wagner argued in Judaism in Music that Jews had also degraded German art by introducing their commercializing spirit into it. In February of 1848, at the funeral of Wagner’s mother, Laube had commiserated with his friend Wagner, equating the sadness of the hour with their mutual despair at the state of German art and culture, noting that “On the way to the station, we discussed the unbearable burden that seemed to us to lie like a dead weight on every noble effort made to resist the tendency of the time to sink into utter worthlessness.” As the preface to Struensee makes clear, this “worthlessness” consisted in the flowering of Jewish commercial values. Wagner’s only remedy was to “plunge dully and coldly into the only thing that could cheer me and warm me, the working out of my Lohengrin and my studies of German antiquity.”[17] Regarding the Jewish tendency to convert art into a branch of commerce, Wagner writes:

[All] is turned to money by the Jew. Who thinks of noticing that the guileless looking scrap of paper is slimy with the blood of countless generations? What the heroes of the arts … have invented … from two millennia of misery, today the Jew converts into an art-bazaar. … We have no need first to substantiate the Jewification [Verjudung] of modern art. It springs to the eye and thrusts upon the senses. … But if emancipation from the yoke of Judaism appears to us the greatest of necessities, we must hold it crucial above all to assemble our forces for this war of liberation. But we shall never gain these forces by merely defining the phenomenon [of Judaism] in an abstract way. This will be done only by accurately knowing the nature of that involuntary feeling of ours which utters itself as an instinctive repugnance against the Jew’s prime essence. … Then we can rout the demon from the field … where he has sheltered under a twilit darkness … which we good-natured humanists ourselves have conferred on him.[18]

For Wagner, Judaism was the embodiment of the bourgeois money-egoist spirit, and he observes that: “When our social evolution reached that turning-point at which the power of money to bestow rank began to be openly admitted, it was no longer possible to keep the Jews at bay. They had enough money to be admitted to society.” Wagner believed that Jews “will continue to rule as long as money remains the power to which all our activities are subjugated.” He later confessed to his fellow composer friend (and future father-in-law) Franz Liszt, “I felt a long-repressed hatred for this Jewish money-world, and this hatred is as necessary to my nature as gall is to blood. An opportunity arose when their damnable scribbling annoyed me most, and so I broke forth at last.”[19] In Judaism in Music Wagner finds the plea for Jewish emancipation to be “more than commonly naive, since we see ourselves rather in the position of fighting for emancipation from the Jews. The Jew is in fact, in the current state of the world, already more than emancipated. He rules.”

While stressing the harmful effects of the Jewish financial domination of German society, Wagner believed that the Jewish manipulation of language and art was infinitely more pernicious than their control over money. In his essay “What is German?” (1878, but based on a draft written in the 1860s) he states that culture, not economy, lies at the heart of German identity, and that Jews had bought the German soul and turned German Kultur into a sham, a mere image; and in doing this had destroyed “one of the finest natural dispositions in all the human race.”[20]

Wagner believed that the German people had been endowed with a uniquely rich inner life which had been forged during the crucible of the Thirty Years War. The body of the nation had almost been annihilated, “but the German spirit had passed through,” and amidst the physical ruins the Germans once again realized they were a nation of the spirit. This spirit had been preserved in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the German spiritual mission in the world was to proclaim “that the Beautiful and the Noble came not into the world for sake of profit, nay, not for the sake of even fame and recognition.”[21] Wagner thus viewed the new festival theater he built in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth in 1876 as the Grail Castle of a reborn, spiritual Germany. Far from the cosmopolitan theaters owned and operated by city-dwelling Jews, Bayreuth would allow the German nation to regain a sense of its true self by experiencing the mythic force of its own ancient epic—the Nibelungen. Through Bayreuth, Wagner wanted to reclaim German art and culture from that “race of mediators and negotiators whose influence was … to spread its truly ‘international’ power more and more widely over Germany.”[22]

Wagner repeatedly observed (and lamented) the fact Jews had stormed the fortress of German high culture and had successfully “brought the public art-taste of our time between the busy fingers of the Jew.”[23] A host of Jewish middlemen had gained a hold over the critical press, publishing, theaters, operas, orchestras, art galleries and agencies.  This Jewish cultural ascendancy in Germany was, of course, to reach its zenith in the Weimar Republic. Despite his stated views, Wagner twice refused to sign the “Anti-Semites Petition” of 1880 (presented to Bismarck) which complained about the very economic domination that so troubled him. The Petition, which quickly won 225,000 signatures, stated:

Wherever Christian and Jew enter into social relations, we see the Jew as master, the indigenous Christian population in a subservient position. The Jew takes part only to a negligible extent in the heavy labor of the great mass of the nation. But the fruits of his [the German’s] labor are reaped mainly by the Jew. By far the largest part of the capital which national labor produces is in Jewish hands. … Not only do the proudest palaces of our large cities belong to Jewish masters whose fathers and grandfathers, huckstering and peddling, crossed the frontiers into our fatherland, but rural holdings too, that most significant preservative basis of our political structure fall more and more into the hands of the Jews. … What we strive for is solely the emancipation of the German Volk from a form of alien domination which it cannot endure for any length of time.[24]

Cosima Wagner gave several explanations for her husband’s refusal to sign the petition, among them that he had already done as much as he could for the cause, that a petition he had signed against vivisection had failed, and that the new appeal was addressed in servile language to Bismarck, who by this time Wagner loathed.[25] Wagner deplored the “Jewishness” of the new German empire, which he thought, thanks to Bismarck, had turned out to be a real-politischer state, rather than a truly German one. In 1878, Wagner wrote that “Bismarck is creating German unity, but he has no conception of its nature. … His conduct is a disgrace for Germany … his decisions have brought forth from the Jews a petition of thanks.” When Bismarck spoke out against the Anti-Semites Petition it only confirmed Wagner in his conviction that Bismarck had “a pact with the Jews.”[26]

For Roger Scruton, central to Wagner’s genius was his determination to use his art to escape from the increasingly commercialized world of art he detested—a world “where value is price and price is value,” and where entertainment is considered more important than art. Wagner escaped “to a garret, high above the market place” in conscious reaction against the sentimentality and disingenuousness of the art and music at his time.

The operas of Wagner attempt to dignify the human being in something like the way he might be dignified by an uncorrupted common culture. Acutely conscious of the death of God, Wagner proposed man as his own redeemer and art as a transfiguring rite of passage to a higher world. The suggestion is visionary, and its impact on modern culture so great that the shockwaves are still overtaking us. … In the mature operas of Wagner our civilization gave voice for the last time to its idea of the heroic, through music that strives to endorse that idea to the full extent of its power. And because Wagner was a composer of supreme genius, perhaps the only one to have taken forward the intense inner language forged by Beethoven and to have used it to conquer the psychic spaces that Beethoven shunned, everything he wrote in his mature idiom has the ring of truth, and every note is both absolutely right and profoundly surprising.[27]

Wagner fled from the commercialized world of art into the inner realm of the imagination. He believed the idealism and heroism of a bygone age could be rekindled again. He strove to create a new music public that would not just identify with the Germanic heroic ideal, but embrace it as part of an idealistic nationalism that eschewed the bourgeois values of the mid-nineteenth century. In this endeavor, he strived to connect at an emotional rather than a rational level with his audience. As Wagner once wrote of his Ring cycle: “I shall within these four evenings succeed in artistically conveying my purpose to the emotional—not the critical—understanding of the spectators.”[28] This was in keeping with his dictum that art should be “the presentation of religion in a lively form.”

It was precisely this quality in Wagner’s works that most repelled the Frankfurt School music theorist and leading Wagner critic T.W. Adorno, who likened Wagner’s famous system of leitmotifs to advertising jingles in the way they imprinted themselves on the memory. For Adorno, Wagner’s musical innovations led to feelings of disorientation and intoxication that seduced audiences and rendered them docile and dangerously susceptible to political persuasion. In every crowd applauding a Wagnerian work, Adorno insisted, lurked “the old virulent evil” of “demagogy.” Elizabeth Whitcombe notes that

Adorno believed that Wagner’s work is “proselytizing” and “collective-narcissistic.” Adorno’s complaint about the “collective-narcissistic” quality of Wagner’s music is really a complaint that Wagner’s music appeals to deep emotions of group cohesion. Like the Germanic myths that his music was often based on, Wagner’s music evokes the deepest passions of ethnic collectivism and ethnic pride. In Adorno’s view, such emotions are nothing more than collective narcissism, at least partly because a strong sense of German ethnic pride tends to view Jews as outsiders—as “the other.” It is also not surprising that Adorno, as a self-consciously Jewish intellectual, would find such music abhorrent.[29]

Adorno’s jaundiced assessment of Wagner was encapsulated in Woody Allen’s quip that: “When I hear Wagner I have the irresistible urge to invade Poland.” Scruton points out that Wagner’s attempt to engage his audiences at the emotional level of religion (which so perturbed Adorno) was already doomed when Wagner first conceived it. The main problem being that:

[Wagner’s] sacerdotal presumptions have never ceased to alienate those who feel threatened by his message. Hence modern producers, embarrassed by dramas that make a mockery of their way of life, decide in their turn to make a mockery of the dramas [in so-called Regietheater/Eurotrash productions]. Of course, even today, musicians and singers, responding as they must to the urgency and sincerity of the music, do their best to produce the sounds that Wagner intended. But the action is invariably caricatured, wrapped in inverted commas, and reduced to the dimensions of the television sitcom. Sarcasm and satire run riot on the stage, not because they have anything to prove or say in the shadow of this unsurpassably noble music, but because nobility has become intolerable. The producer strives to distract the audience from Wagner’s message, and to mock every heroic gesture, lest the point of the drama should finally come home.

As Michael Tanner has argued, in his succinct and penetrating defense of the composer, modern productions attempt to “domesticate” Wagner, to bring his dramas down from the exalted sphere in which the music places them, to the world of human trivia, usually in order to make a “political statement” which, being both blatant and banal, succeeds only in cancelling the rich ambiguities of the drama. In contemporary Wagner productions we see exactly what the transition from modernism to the “post-modern” world involves, namely, the final rejection of high culture as a redemptive force and the ruination of the sacred in its last imagined form.[30]

In the conclusion to Judaism and Music, Wagner asserts of the Jews that “only one thing can redeem you from the burden of your curse: the redemption of Ahasverus—going under!”[31] Although this has been taken by some commentators to denote actual physical annihilation, in the context of the essay it refers to the eradication of Jewish separateness and traditions. Wagner advises Jews to follow the example of the German-Jewish political writer and satirist Ludwig Börne by abandoning Judaism. In this way Jews will take part in “this regenerative work of deliverance through self-annulment; then we are one and un-dissevered!”

Wagner was calling for the assimilation of Jews into mainstream German culture and society. He thus offered to take Hermann Levi, the first conductor of his last opera Parsifal, to be baptized. Under the influence of Darwinian thinking (promoted in Germany by Ernst Häckel), Wagner later came to favor expulsion over conversion, and thus paralleled the trajectory of German anti-Semitism over the course of the nineteenth century, which “shifted from demands for Jewish assimilation by intellectuals such as Kant and the young Hegelians in the early part of the century, to an increasing emphasis on the ethnic divide separating Germans and Jews.”[32]

Wagner republished Judaism in Music under his own name in 1869 with an extended introduction, leading to several protests by Jews at the first performances of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In the introduction he writes: “Whether the downfall of our culture can be arrested by a violent ejection of the destructive foreign element I am unable to decide, since that would require forces with whose existence I am unacquainted.”[33] In that year Wagner wrote a letter to the French philosopher Edouard Schoure in which he lamented that the assimilation of Jews into French society was preventing the French people from discerning the “corrosive influence of the Jewish spirit on modern culture.”

The second edition of Judaism in Music was published in the same year as Wilhelm Marr’s influential Der Sieg des Judenthums über das Germanenthum (The Victory of Jewishness over Germanism). Historian Richard Evans claims that by the end of the 1870s Wagner had read Wilhelm Marr’s essay and had “broadly agreed with it.”[34] In 1878, Wagner confessed that “It is distressing to me always to come back to the theme of the Jews. But one cannot escape it if one looks to the future.” In his late essay “Religion and Art” (1881), he described the Jews as “the plastic demon of the decline of mankind,” and declared: “I regard the Jewish race as the born enemies of humanity and everything that is noble in it; it is certain we Germans will go under before them, and perhaps I am the last German who knows how to stand up as an art-loving man against the Judaism that is already getting control of everything.”[35]

Brenton Sanderson is the author of Battle Lines: Essays on Western Culture, Jewish Influence and Anti-Semitism, banned by Amazon, but available here and here.

Go to Part 2.

[1] William Berger, Wagner Without Fear: Learning to Love—and Even Enjoy—Opera’s Most Demanding Genius (New York, Viking, 1998), 373.

[2] Bryan Magee, Aspects of Wagner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 56.

[3] Quoted in Martin Kitchen, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Germany (London: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 195.

[4] Adrian Mourby, “Can we forgive him?,” The Guardian, July 21, 2000. http://www.guardian.co.uk/friday_review/story/0,3605,345459,00.html

[5] Kevin MacDonald, Separation and its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism (1st Books Library, 2004), 60.

[6] Richard Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” trans. by William Ashton Ellis, In: Richard Wagner’s Prose Works Vol. 3 (London: 1894; repr. 1966), 79-100. http://www.jrbooksonline.com/PDF_Books/JudaismInMusic.pdf

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bryan Magee, Wagner and Philosophy (London: Penguin, 2001), 349.

[9] Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” op. cit.

[10] MacDonald, Separation and its Discontents, 184.

[11] Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” op. cit.

[12] Magee, Aspects of Wagner, 27.

[13] Jonathan Carr, The Wagner Clan (London: Faber and Faber, 2007) 83-4.

[14] David Rodwin, “Wagner Was Right: Eclecticism and the Jewish Aesthetic,” (Los Angeles: 2011). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkfGEqo3YjQ

[15] Quoted in MacDonald, Separation and its Discontents, 98.

[16] Magee, Aspects of Wagner, 24.

[17] Paul Lawrence Rose, German Question/Jewish Question: Revolutionary Anti-Semitism from Kant to

Wagner (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992) 360.

[18] Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” op. cit.

[19] Richard Wagner, letter of April 1851 trans. by W. Ashton Ellis, In: Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt 1841-1853, (London: 1897; repr. 1973), 145.

[20]Richard Wagner, “What is German?” trans. by William Ashton Ellis, In: Richard Wagner’s Prose Works Vol. 4 (London: 1894; repr. 1966), 151-69. http://users.belgacom.net/wagnerlibrary/prose/wagwiger.htm

[21] Ibid. (Italics in the original)

[22] Rose, German Question/Jewish Question, 376.

[23] Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” op. cit.

[24] Quoted in MacDonald, Separation and its Discontents, 52.

[25] Jonathan Carr, The Wagner Clan, 75.

[26] Rose, German Question/Jewish Question, 372.

[27] Roger Scruton, Modern Culture (London: Continuum, 2000), 69.

[28] Richard Wagner, “A Communication to my Friends,” trans. by William Ashton Ellis, In: Richard Wagner’s Prose Works Vol. 1 (London: 1895; repr. 1966), 269-392. http://users.belgacom.net/wagnerlibrary/prose/wagcomm.htm

[29] Elisabeth Whitcombe, “Adorno as Critic: Celebrating the Socially Destructive Force of Music,” The Occidental Observer, August 28, 2009. http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2009/08/adorno-as-critic/

[30] Scruton, Modern Culture, 69.

[31] Wagner, “Judaism in Music,” Ibid.

[32] MacDonald, Separation and its Discontents, 165.

[33] Richard Wagner, “Some Explanations Concerning ‘Judaism in Music,’” trans. by William Ashton Ellis, In: Richard Wagner’s Prose Works Vol. 3 (London: 1894; repr. 1966), 77-122. http://users.belgacom.net/wagnerlibrary/prose/wagjuda2.htm

[34] Richard Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (New York: Penguin, 2005), 33.

[35] Rose, German Question/Jewish Question, 377-8.



Anti-White Hate and White Ethnomasochism at the Opera

Daniel Bernard Roumain

Given the obsession with “systemic White racism,” it’s not at all surprising that enterprising non-Whites can make a career out of their supposed oppression. A very lucrative career in many cases.

A big problem for those intent on displacing White culture is the world of classical music. Brenton Sanderson described the assault on classical music in his aptly titled “Triggered by Beethoven: The Cultural Politics of Racial Resentment“:

Laudatory references to White male geniuses like Beethoven inevitably trigger rage from anti-White commentators who huff that it has “long been an argument of white supremacists, Nazis, Neo-Nazis, and racial separatists that ‘classical music,’ the music of ‘white people,’ is inherently more sophisticated, complicated, and valuable than the musical traditions of Africa, Asia, South America, or the Middle East, thus proving the innate superiority of the ‘white race.’” Seen through the Cultural Marxist lens of critical race and gender theory, Beethoven’s music dominates the concert repertoire not because of its exceptional quality, but because White-male privilege and assumptions about White-male genius keep it there. Linda Shaver-Gleason insisted Beethoven’s dominant place in the canon was the result of a White supremacist conspiracy which “intentionally suppressed” the music of non-White composers “in the service of a narrative of white — specifically German — cultural supremacy (because, alas, that too is part of Western culture).”

The main problem for the haters is simply the complexity and sophistication of the Western musical tradition.

While purporting to offer additional insight into music, the New Musicology systematically imposes an anti-White male ideology on its subject, and, in this endeavor, happily discards all standards of proof and evidence. [Before the new musicology,] there was a belief in purely musical elements and in the value of studying them. The problem with such “objective” technical analysis, for the [cultural Marxists], is that it invariably leads to “White supremacist” conclusions about the relative quality of different musical traditions.

Daniel Bernard Roumain, a Black of Haitian descent, is a classically trained violinist and composer. He likely agrees that any and all aspects of Western culture reflect White male supremacy and are hence evil to the core. But the main thrust of his assault on the classical music world takes a different course: interjecting his hatred of Whites into his compositions. Surprisingly, there has been some push-back to his explicitly expressed hatred, but in our woke cultural moment, that’s a big plus for his career.

Heather MacDonald has a nice analysis (“Resisting Racial Demagoguery“).

Composer Daniel Bernard Roumain has made a good career leveraging his skin color. He writes pieces with titles like “i am a white person who ____ Black people.” He argues that orchestras should “focus on BLACK artists exclusively” [punctuation in the original]. He has solicited funding for a work written “EXCLUSIVELY for BIPOC [black, indigenous, and people of color] members of ANY orchestra.” …

Roumain argues, white musicians’ contracts should be term-limited as reparations for “decades of benefitting from orchestral racism.”

Just your basic White-hating activist. So he was invited to write an aria for an event commemorating the Tulsa race riot of 1921, to be sung by a Black (of course) mezzo-soprano, Denyse Graves. And since his whole thing is anti-White activism, the emphasis in his writing is on the words, not the music—thus avoiding any serious analysis of the technical aspects of his compositions. (I would not venture an opinion on its technical aspects, but Heather M describes the piano accompaniment as consisting of “insipid, New Age-y broken triads and cliché-ridden chord progressions. The melodic line is negligible.” A composer who preferred to remain anonymous (for good reason!) stated, “Although I do believe that [Graves] was not in sympathy with the tone and thrust of the text, she also knows well what good music is. This ain’t it.”)

Roumain thinks there is a “bloodlust sown deep within the American psyche,” but he’s definitely not referring to the vastly higher rate of Black homicide per capita. He’s referring to George Floyd and Breanna Taylor—exactly the sort of nuanced analysis we have come to expect from BIPOC activists. He thinks that Blacks live every day in fear of being killed by a cop, stating to a very sympathetic interviewer: “The inspiration to compose They Still Want To Kill Us was my wanting to convey how it feels to live in America as a Black man and know that on any given day, you could be murdered and die in America. That feeling never goes away. It’s always there.” I wonder if he’s afraid of being around Blacks given that Blacks are much more likely to be killed by Blacks than Whites.

But it could be that he actually believes he is in permanent danger because of his race given the media- and activist-created hysteria that happens every time a cop kills a Black, no matter what the circumstances. As with the covid panic where we see people wearing masks even outdoors and even alone in their cars, the public is quite susceptible to messages that create fear.

Roumain seems more interested in spewing out sound bites expressing his hatred toward Whites than in writing serious music. Heather M.:

Roumain’s titles are his calling card, into which he puts his greatest effort, he says—arguably an unusual emphasis for a composer; once he comes up with the name of a piece, the musical writing comes easily.

Roumain also wrote the aria’s lyrics, which begin with brief phrases about the rampage and end with:

They still want to kill us.
God Bless America
God Damn America.

But Graves balked at singing that last line, “God Damn America,” and Roumain refused to budge, so there was an impasse. But the aria was eventually performed by another Black soprano, J’Nai Bridges and funded by a variety of establishment arts organizations, including:  Opera Philadelphia, the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Stanford Live, and the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan. And besides that:

Roumain’s racial-justice profile has earned him a seat on the boards of the League of American Orchestras and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, as well as a faculty position at Arizona State University. He has been commissioned by Carnegie Hall and is working on film, TV, and opera scores.

Such oppression!

As is so often the case among social justice warriors, on one hand he wants discrimination against White musicians, but then he dresses it all up with the loftiest of moral platitudes:

The truth is: as much as I would love to feel safe in America and a part of its moral fabric, I don’t feel safe and I would like this country to embrace a new shared radical morality based on empathy, safety for us, and justice for us all.

So at least he’s not explicitly hoping for White genocide. But he’s certainly willing to bend over backwards to blame a White person for the impasse in Tusla.

Roumain was particularly exercised that [Tulsa Opera’s artistic director Tobias] Picker was involved in trying to reach a compromise. Picker is white. No matter that Graves was the one who rejected the piece and that [Black Assistant Conductor] Howard Watkins was just as instrumental as Picker in the abortive negotiations. The entire incident, in Roumain’s view, reflected what happens when a white male runs a classical music organization. Roumain told Tulsa Public Radio that it “hurt” to have Picker suggest possible revisions. Picker’s whiteness is emblematic of the racism of an institution with “far too many white males in charge,” Roumain said. And Picker’s suggested revisions didn’t speak to “what happened on Jan. 6, what happened in Ferguson, what happened in Charlottesville . . . what happened in Atlanta.”

Picker is a White transgender activist and, at least from Roumain’s point of view, exactly the sort of progressive White person described by Robin DiAngelo, who has another book out, this time focusing exclusively on progressive White people, “the most bigoted, the most harmful, the greatest threat to racial equality.” By not giving Roumain the artistic freedom to express his hatred toward White America, Picker has shown himself to be an oppressor of Black people. And I guess Graves and Watkins are Uncle Toms.

Picker … is a far cry from the white reactionary of Roumain’s nightmares. Tulsa Opera hosted the American debut of a transgender Heldenbaritone—formerly male, now “female”—who in 2019 sang the title role in Tulsa’s Don Giovanni, creating a sexual hall of mirrors that would delight the most cutting-edge gender studies professor. Picker’s own opera about one of the first recipients of sex-reassignment surgery will be premiered in 2023.

Even though Graves, Picker, and Watkins stood up to Roumain, it’s likely that most of the classical music world and their audience are engaging in the usual ethnomasochism so common among progressive White people.

photo on the New Jersey Orchestra’s website publicizing “i am a white person” shows smiling, elderly white people clustered around the composer, hanging on his every word. One imagines him explaining his status as a victim of their white privilege, an accusation they humbly accept.

Roumain is likely aware that his entire career depends on White guilt and he is more than ready to take it to the bank. He’s just appealing to his audience in the confidence that his messages of anti-White hate will trump serious analysis of his music because the audience really wants to be brow-beaten by messages of how evil White people are.

The enthusiastic audience for Greenwood Overcomes was predominantly white and middle-aged, judging by the concert video, just like Roumain’s audience at the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. This demographic, scorned by the Black Lives Matter movement, is more likely to turn out for black-themed programs than blacks themselves. Roumain seeks color-coded boundaries around artistic expression and historical commemoration. This neo-segregationism is not just a blow against imaginative possibility and human understanding; it is also commercially suicidal.

Given the guilt-ridden tendencies of White progressives and Roumain’s excellent career trajectory, I rather doubt that Roumain’s messages are “commercially suicidal.” Is his “neo-segregationism” good for White advocates — Whites who reject White guilt and are looking to advance the prospects of White Americans? It’s quite clear that quite a few Whites, like Roumain’s audiences, are willing to wallow in self-abnegation and pay for the privilege of doing so. They are intelligent, well-educated, and economically secure — and often they have benefited career-wise by going along with our new culture of White denigration. But they are caught up in the moral community created by our hostile elites in the media and academic world, and they just want to be seen as good people. And many of them are good people — at least the ones who aren’t cynically exploiting the situation for personal gain. They are just hopelessly naïve about how the world works and what this cultural revolution means for the future of Whites in America. One hopes that they will wake up when they find their grandchildren are passed over for non-Whites when applying for positions in universities or in the job market.

But maybe not. This tendency toward wanting to be seen as a good person runs very deep in White people. It’s fundamental to the unique individualism that defines the West.

In any case, there are substantial numbers of White people — it’s not clear how many — who react to anti-White hate by identifying more strongly as White and understanding that the future of Whites in America is precarious at best. This neo-segregationism has become a talking point among mainstream conservatives like Heather M., and twenty states have banned or restricted Critical Race Theory from being taught in public schools. A lot of this is conservative virtue-signaling (“Dems are the real racists”) but mainstream conservatives do seem much more willing these days to dwell on examples from the media or academic world and note explicitly that they are anti-White. For example, Tucker Carlson and Fox News noted an outrageous “academic” paper in The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association by the presumably Jewish Donald Moss. The abstract:

Whiteness is a condition one first acquires and then one has—a malignant, parasitic-like condition to which “white” people have a particular susceptibility. The condition is foundational, generating characteristic ways of being in one’s body, in one’s mind, and in one’s world. Parasitic Whiteness renders its hosts’ appetites voracious, insatiable, and perverse. These deformed appetites particularly target nonwhite peoples. Once established, these appetites are nearly impossible to eliminate. Effective treatment consists of a combination of psychic and social-historical interventions. Such interventions can reasonably aim only to reshape Whiteness’s infiltrated appetites—to reduce their intensity, redistribute their aims, and occasionally turn those aims toward the work of reparation. When remembered and represented, the ravages wreaked by the chronic condition can function either as warning (“never again”) or as temptation (“great again”). Memorialization alone, therefore, is no guarantee against regression. There is not yet a permanent cure.

This is nothing less than a recipe for the genocide of Whites as incurable racists. The hatred is obvious, and it’s no accident that the writer is a Jew (Fox News refers to him as a “white man” but Moss is a common Jewish name). Nor is it surprising that Moss’s article appears in a psychoanalytic journal. As noted in The Culture of Critique, psychoanalysis is an infinitely pliable tool that is able to create any result one wants and give it a veneer of science — with psychoanalytic theories of anti-Semitism and the Frankfurt School’s theory of White ethnocentrism being the most relevant here. So even though conservatives tiptoe around the deeper issues, it’s not difficult to see that the message of mainstream hatred toward Whites is definitely getting out there. A necessary development.

Triggered by Beethoven: The Cultural Politics of Racial Resentment

2020 was meant to be a year of celebration for Beethoven who was baptized 250 years ago (his exact date of birth is unknown) in Bonn on December 17, 1770. COVID-19 prompted the cancelation of commemorative concerts of Beethoven’s music, but the pandemic didn’t quell efforts by anti-White activists to attack the composer’s reputation and dominant place in the cultural pantheon of the West. Rather than a year full of performances of the great composer’s sonatas, string quartets, concertos and symphonies, 2020 saw repeated attacks on Beethoven for the crime of being a White male genius and for embodying the European musical tradition.

Beethoven is the most-performed composer in the repertoire, and his anniversary year was planned to be no exception. Before the widespread cancellation of concerts, 15 to 20 per cent of the repertoire programmed by leading orchestras was music by Beethoven. Widely regarded as the greatest composer of all time, Beethoven is inescapable because he remade almost every genre of concert music that matters. The concerto and symphony in his hands became driving musical narratives of heroic struggle. His late string quartets open a profound window on to the soul. Unlike his predecessors who were craftsmen who supplied a commodity to a paymaster, Beethoven ushered in the age of Romanticism by insisting on his creative independence and the absolute importance of self-expression: “What is in my heart must come out so I write it down.” This was manifested in his refusal to take a secure, salaried position like his one-time tutor Joseph Haydn who was the master of music for a feudal landowner in what is now Hungary.

Beethoven’s heroism in overcoming the worst thing that can happen to a composer — worsening deafness from young adulthood — to compose some of the greatest music ever has awed generations and become emblematic of triumph over adversity. All the stories of Beethoven’s misanthropy, his eccentricity and wildness, date from the decline in his hearing, which often caused him acute physical pain. Only his art prevented him from taking his own life: “It seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me.” While Beethoven’s confidence as a pianist and conductor gradually diminished with his creeping deafness, his imaginative powers as a composer grew stronger and stronger, and he cast a daunting shadow over his successors: Brahms did not feel confident tackling a symphony until he was in his forties.

Beethoven excelled at his trade because he was born with a gift and worked at it as hard as it is possible to work. Swafford notes how his sketches and manuscripts reveal that:

Nothing came easily to him, least of all composing. Where Mozart could dream up a whole piece in his head while playing billiards, Beethoven had to worry and whip every note into place in his sketches. The sketchbooks are amazing documents: gold being refined from raw ore, pedestrian ideas becoming revolutionary concepts, incoherence being forged into clarity and purposefulness. Even the final manuscripts are a morass of scrawls and blots and revisions on top of revisions.[1]

Beethoven’s Faustian spirit made him into the kind of figure that dominated the imagination of nineteenth century Europeans: the superhuman genius, the revolutionary hero, the master of his own fate and transformer of the world. This reputation carried over into the twentieth century with the influential French writer Romain Rolland holding the composer up as a role model for a less heroic age, epitomizing personal sincerity and self-denial — in a word, authenticity.[2]

Attacks on Beethoven

Laudatory references to White male geniuses like Beethoven inevitably trigger rage from anti-White commentators who huff that it has “long been an argument of white supremacists, Nazis, Neo-Nazis, and racial separatists that ‘classical music,’ the music of ‘white people,’ is inherently more sophisticated, complicated, and valuable than the musical traditions of Africa, Asia, South America, or the Middle East, thus proving the innate superiority of the ‘white race.’” Seen through the Cultural Marxist lens of critical race and gender theory, Beethoven’s music dominates the concert repertoire not because of its exceptional quality, but because White-male privilege and assumptions about White-male genius keep it there. Linda Shaver-Gleason insisted Beethoven’s dominant place in the canon was the result of a White supremacist conspiracy which “intentionally suppressed” the music of non-White composers “in the service of a narrative of white — specifically German — cultural supremacy (because, alas, that too is part of Western culture).”

Slate online recently rebuked Beethoven for his mononym: the fact he is known by a single name, like Michelangelo or Shakespeare. This practice supposedly gives the pedestal of nomenclature to “straight white men at the expense of everyone else.” White male composers, it is claimed, “became so ensconced in elite musical society’s collective consciousness that only one word was need to evoke their awesome specter. Mouthfuls of full names became truncated to terse sets of universally recognized syllables: Mozart. Beethoven. Bach.” The works of composers with mononyms are therefore assumed to be “on a different plane,” whereas this assumption is, we are told, actually the product of “centuries of systematic prejudice, exclusion, sexism and racism.”

In a recent Vox podcast and article, musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding claim the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (the famous da-da-da-DUM motif) should not be given their traditional interpretation — the sound of fate knocking on the door and Beethoven’s resilience in the face of encroaching deafness — but should be construed as the sound of the gate slamming shut on minorities, such as “women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color.” They assert (without evidence) that “wealthy white men” embraced the Fifth Symphony as a “symbol of their superiority and importance.” Black clarinetist Anthony McGill agrees, likening the inescapability of the Fifth Symphony to a “wall” between classical music and new, racially-diverse audiences.

Jewish music writer Norman Lebrecht defended Beethoven against Sloan and Harding’s polemic by citing Beethoven’s “liberal” credentials, claiming, for example, that they “fail to explore how Beethoven’s Fifth served for millions as a symbol of freedom in the war against Nazism.” Unmentioned by Lebrecht is the fact that, despite Beethoven’s politics — which were liberal for their time (he had republican sympathies) — the composer made repeated comments critical of Lebrecht’s own ethnic group. On one occasion, he rejected the idea of selling his Missa Solemnis to the Jewish music publisher Adolf Schlesinger in favor of the German publisher C.F. Peters, informing the latter that: “In no circumstances will Schlesinger ever get anything more from me, because he too has played me a Jewish trick.” Beethoven’s disgust with Schlesinger was prompted by repeated experiences of being short-changed with “such insulting niggardliness, the like of which I have never experienced.”[3] In a letter of 1823, Beethoven called Schlesinger “a beach peddler and rag-and-bone Jew.” In his negotiations with another publisher, Beethoven noted the publisher was “neither Jew nor Italian” and that as he himself was also neither of these, “perhaps we shall come to some agreement.”[4]

Sloan and Harding are on stronger ground in arguing the thematic complexity of the Fifth Symphony necessitated unprecedentedly close listening to fully grasp, and this, in turn, led to the establishment of new norms of concert behavior. These norms — sitting still, staying quiet and not clapping mid-piece — led to the strict culture of classical music that persists to this day, and which allegedly oppresses non-Whites who cannot reasonably be expected to conform to such standards of behavior. Sloan and Harding lament that classical concerts are the sole remaining American institution that typically insists on starting on time. Rather than a sign of respect for all parties involved, these behavioral and procedural norms are, they insist, symbols of White supremacy which alienate “diverse audiences,” and their origins can be traced to Beethoven.

Jewish music writer for The New Yorker, Alex Ross, labelled the planned 2020 Beethoven celebrations “a gratuitously excessive celebration of the two-hundred-and-fiftieth birthday of a composer who hardly needs any extra publicity.” He insists that, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter riots, an examination of the relationship between classical music, which he labels “blindingly white, both in its history and present,” and racism is “sorely needed” because of the genre’s “extreme dependence on a problematic past.” Ross claims that when the classical music tradition was transplanted to the United States, the “white majority tended to adopt European music as a badge of its supremacy. The classical-music institutions that emerged in the mid- and late nineteenth century — the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Metropolitan Opera, and the like — became temples to European gods. … Little effort was made to cultivate American composers; it seemed more important to manufacture a fantasy of Beethovenian grandeur.”

For Ross, classical music can only “overcome the shadows of its past” if it commits itself to a “much more radical confrontation with the white European inheritance,” and by programing more non-White composers like Julius Eastman — a Black composer whose “improvisatory structures, his subversive political themes, and his openness about his homosexuality give him a revolutionary aspect, yet he also had a nostalgic flair for the grand romantic manner.’”

In the frontline of attacks on Beethoven in 2020 was Black music writer and Hunter College academic Philip Ewell, who penned an article titled “Beethoven was an Above-Average Composer — Let’s Leave it at That.” Ewell begrudges the laudatory epithets routinely applied to White composers like Beethoven and their works. For Ewell, adjectives like “genius” and “masterwork,” evoke slavery (master-slave) and sexism (master-mistress), and the classical music lexicon is, in his assessment, overflowing with euphemisms that disguise and reinforce the “white-male frame.”

In addition to “master’ and its derivatives, here are some of the other common euphemisms for white and whiteness in music theory’s white racial frame: authentic, canonic, civilized, classic(s), conventional, core (“core” requirement), European, function (“functional” tonality), fundamental, genius, German (“German” language requirement), great (“great” works), maestro, opus (magnum “opus”), piano (“piano” proficiency, skills), seminal, sophisticated, titan(ic), towering, traditional, and western. Even terms such as “the long nineteenth century” and “fin de siècle” can be considered euphemisms for whiteness and white framing for their close associations with dates and events (and languages) significant to Europe and Europeanism. Such euphemisms are intended to sublimate whiteness into less objectionable forms, thus mitigating the effect of whiteness on music theory and hiding its existence.

Rather than enjoying a merited reputation for the brilliance and originality of his oeuvre, Ewell insists Beethoven’s fame has been upheld by such lexical scaffolding, claiming Beethoven, “along with countless other white males, has been propped up by the white-male frame, both consciously and subconsciously, with descriptors such as genius, master and masterwork.” In Ewell’s jaundiced assessment, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is “no more a masterpiece” than Esperanza Spalding’s 12 Little Spells (click the links and judge for yourself). The status of Beethoven’s Ninth is purely, he argues, a product of music theory’s “white-male frame” which “obfuscates race and gender.”

Ewell’s attack on Beethoven is an adjunct of this broader hostility to classical music’s “white racial frame” which, he insists, reinforces the hierarchy of White male composers, and “works in concert with patriarchal structures to advantage whiteness and maleness while disadvantaging POC and non-males.” This frame purportedly encompasses Western tonality itself (with its major-minor harmony and its equal-tempered scale) which is assumed to be the “master” language. Ewell even regards the Gregorian calendar as “white racial framing writ large,” insisting “no one can deny the racial element behind how the world now understands the linear and cyclic nature of time.”

Phillip Ewell

In an article for the journal Music Theory Online entitled “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame,” Ewell argues that “music theory is white [it is]” and the discipline is undergirded by a deep-seated ideology of White supremacy calculated to thwart Black and Brown (but strangely not East Asian) achievement in classical music. The main target of Ewell’s critique is the early twentieth-century music theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868–1935) who initiated the parsing of musical structures into foreground, middle-ground and background to tease out the tonal formulas that underpin large-scale movements. Drawing on poststructuralist critiques of Western civilization, Ewell claims this kind of score-driven analysis of musical works as part of Western musicology (what he dubs the “drive to scientificize music analysis”) represents an effort to “shore up whiteness in music theory’s white frame” and to insulate “whiteness from potential criticism.” In attacking Schenker (who was an Austrian Jew), Ewell inadvertently strayed into forbidden fields of inquiry and faced unexpectedly fierce blowback and accusations of “Black anti-Semitism.”

Ewell’s “white racial frame” purportedly extends to musical education where, in the most commonly used theory textbooks in the United States, only 1.63% of musical examples come from non-White composers. This is also problematic for Linda Shaver-Gleason because studying a particular piece “reaffirms its canonical status; enshrining it in a textbook is deeming it worthy of study.” Constantly referencing White composers “reinforces the idea that they’re the ones who deserve the most respect, as if to say, ‘Marvel at the many techniques Mozart used so perfectly!’” Ethan Hein, a (presumably Jewish) doctoral fellow in music education at NYU, likewise decries the stubbornness of music teachers in teaching “European-descended” classical music over that of “music descending from the vernacular traditions of the African diaspora.” Orienting music education towards the European classical tradition, an “implicit racial ideology,” is, he declares, “insidious” in its “affirmations of Whiteness.”

In 2020, college-level music pedagogy responded to Black Lives Matter by “dramatically reconsidering which composers and musical traditions we do and don’t discuss in the classroom.” Similar dynamics were at work within other musical institutions. The Metropolitan Opera, upon cancelling its 2020–21 season, announced that it would begin its next season with Black composer Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, the first opera by a Black composer to appear on the Met’s stage. Despite such gestures, for Slate journalist Chris White, musicians, academics, and teachers still “have a lot of work ahead to confront the racist and sexist history of classical music.”

Music theory’s white racial frame is also sustained, according to Ewell, by the “citational chain” of white men citing other white men in the musicological literature. He wants to break this chain “in which whiteness begets whiteness and maleness begets maleness.” Meanwhile, Ewell’s own utterly conventional and establishment beliefs are the unreflective product of his engagement with a group of predominantly Jewish critical race and gender theorists: he borrowed the term “white racial frame” from Harvard sociology professor Joe Feagin. Arguing that the entire Western art music tradition is inherently White supremacist, Ewell advocates “overthrowing the existing structure and building a new one that would accommodate non-white music a priori [prior to listening to it??] no reaching for ‘inclusion’ necessary because non-white composers would already be there.”

Beethoven and the “New Musicology”

Ewell postures as an outsider bravely challenging sinister norms entrenched in Western musicology when, in reality, his perspective has been utterly conventional since the advent of the “New Musicology” in late 1980s — when Cultural Marxists to a significant extent overran the discipline. Musicology was one of the last frontiers for poststructuralism and critical theory which had already infested most of the humanities and social sciences by the early 1980s. The New Musicology was founded by the Jewish-American critic and musicologist Joseph Kerman (born Zukerman) whose journalist father William Zukerman (1885–1961) was a prominent figure in the Jewish media and author of the 1937 book The Jew in Revolt: The Modern Jew in the World Crisis.

A key figure in the ascent of the “New Musicology” was Susan McClary whose 1991 book Feminine Endings: Music, Gender and Sexuality is considered a trailblazing text for the movement. McClary gained fame and notoriety for her feminist “analysis” of the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, where she claimed: “The point of recapitulation in the first movement of the Ninth is one of the most horrifying in music, as the carefully prepared cadence is frustrated, damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release.” This risible statement was an elaboration of her belief the Western musical convention of sonata form is inherently sexist, misogynistic and imperialistic: that “tonality itself — with its process of instilling expectations and subsequently withholding promised fulfilment until climax — is the principle musical means during the period from 1600 to 1900 for arousing and channeling desire.” The primary “masculine” key (or first subject group) is said to represent the male self, and the secondary “feminine” key (or second subject group) represents the “other,” a territory to be explored and conquered, assimilated into the self and stated in the tonic home key.

Virtually all Cultural Marxist critiques of Western classical music fall back on these kind of entirely speculative metaphors. While purporting to offer additional insight into music, the New Musicology systematically imposes an anti-White male ideology on its subject, and, in this endeavor, happily discards all standards of proof and evidence. The conceit that, before the advent of the New Musicology, the discipline was limited to the rigid boundaries of empiricism and positivism is false; awareness of the context and reception of music has always been a core topic of musicology. There was, however, also a belief in purely musical elements and in the value of studying them. The problem with such “objective” technical analysis, for the likes of McClary and Ewell, is that it invariably leads to “White supremacist” conclusions about the relative quality of different musical traditions. The “problematic dimension” of analyzing “music as simply music,” McClary notes, is that people inevitably point to Western classical music “as evidence of the superiority of European and European-descended people, which marginalizes the rest of the world and, also, minority groups in the U.S.”

Constructing Beethoven as Black

The main alternative to the Cultural Marxist deconstruction (and proposed anti-White reconstruction) of the Western musical canon, has been attempts by Blacks to appropriate Beethoven for themselves. Given Beethoven’s status as the archetypical musical genius, it is unsurprising that aggrieved Blacks have, since the early twentieth century, attempted to propagate the myth that Beethoven had some African ancestry. The basis for this entirely spurious claim was the composer’s slightly swarthy complexion, and the fact part of his family traced its roots to Flanders, which was, for a period, under Spanish monarchical rule. Because Spain had a longstanding historical connection to North Africa through the Moors, a degree of blackness supposedly trickled down to the great composer — this despite the fact the Moors as an ethnic group weren’t even Black.

The myth was eagerly disseminated by Jamaican “historian” Joel Augustus Rogers (1880–1966) in works like Sex and Race (1941—44), the two-volume World’s Great Men of Color (1946–47), 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro (1934), Five Negro Presidents (1965), and Nature Knows No Color Line (1952). Rogers, whose intellectual rigor was basically non-existent, claimed that Beethoven — in addition to Thomas Jefferson, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Robert Browning, and several popes, among others — was genealogically African and thus Black. Despite being thoroughly debunked, the myth still lingers in contemporary culture: in 2007 Nadine Gordimer published a short story collection called Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black: And Other Stories. The determination, contrary to all available evidence, to make Beethoven Black is, of course, a desperate attempt to make the composer and his oeuvre a glorious symbol of Black accomplishment.

A pearl of wisdom from Jamaican historian Joel Augustus Rogers (1880–1966)

Otherwise sympathetic commentators have cautioned that such efforts are self-defeating, merely serving to treat the Western canon as fundamental and all other styles as deviations from this norm, thus reinforcing “the notion that of classical music as a universal standard and something that everyone should aspire to appreciate.” Trying to make Beethoven Black and desperately scouring the historical records for examples of non-Whites who wrote symphonies is to accept “a white-centric perspective that presents symphonies as the ultimate human achievement in the arts.”

Among those routinely cited by those desperate to prove the racial diversity of the Western art music tradition are the mixed-race composers Chevalier de Saint George, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and George Bridgetower. These figures are remembered solely because they were non-White, not because of the excellence of their compositions. Beethoven personally knew Bridgetower, a talented violinist whose father was from the West Indies. Indeed, Bridgetower was the original dedicatee of one of Beethoven’s most celebrated violin sonatas. Beethoven called it the “mulatto sonata” after Bridgetower (before the word took on a more pejorative sense) and the pair gave the first performance but fell out soon afterwards, whereupon Beethoven renamed the piece for another violinist, Rudolphe Kreutzer.


Classical music, like other aspects of Western culture, has been a casualty of the anti-White diversity mania that now infests Western intellectual life. The Cultural Marxist critique of classical music (and of Beethoven) wallows in bad faith arguments and cognitive dissonance: Western classical music is nothing exceptional, yet cannot be invoked to praise White people because this necessarily implies the inferiority of other races; a White supremacist conspiracy thwarts Black and Brown achievement in the genre, but utterly fails to prevent East Asian interest and success; Black composers have written symphonies (and, indeed, Beethoven himself was Black), yet the Western classical music tradition is inherently White supremacist and needs radical deconstruction.

Ultimately, the reason the classical music canon (and Beethoven’s status as a titan of European civilization) is so keenly resented by anti-White activists, is because the gap in civilizational attainment it underscores is an embarrassing affront to regnant egalitarian assumptions. Western art music (with Beethoven as its leading exponent) stands as a glaring testament to the pre-eminence of European high culture, and implicitly of the race responsible for it. The attacks on Beethoven in 2020 are yet another example of warfare waged against White people through the construction of culture.

Brenton Sanderson is the author of Battle Lines: Essays on Western Culture, Jewish Influence and Anti-Semitism, available here and here.

[1] Jan Swafford, The Vintage Guide to Classical Music: An Indispensable Guide for Understanding and Enjoying Classical Music (Knopf, 1993), 184-85.

[2] Romain Rolland, Beethoven the Creator (Rolland Press, 2008)

[3] Jan Swafford, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph (Faber, 2015), 760.

[4] Lewis Lockwood, Beethoven: The music and the Life (Norton, 2005), 533.

The Empress’s New Clothes: Leftist Self-Worship and the Cult of Artemisia Gentileschi

“She was a genius,” says the Guardian. She was a “uniquely gifted artist who should be considered among the all-time greatest painters,” says the BBC. I say, no, she was not. The Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–c.1656) was not a genius, was not uniquely gifted and should definitely not be considered a great painter. But don’t take my word for it — see for yourself. Here is one of her most famous and extravagantly praised paintings:

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (c. 1640), Artemisia Gentileschi

Given the title of Gentileschi’s self-portrait, you can’t fault her ambition and egocentricity. But you can fault her perspective, her composition, her colouring, her grasp of her own anatomy, and her ability to represent fabric, flesh, and hair. Here for comparison is a self-portrait by a genuinely gifted female artist, the French Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun (1755–1842):

Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat (1782), Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun

Vigée-Le Brun represents herself as attractive and enjoying both life and being a woman. Feminists don’t want women to be attractive and happy like that. They want women to be unhappy, angry and militant. That’s one big reason they prefer the untalented Gentileschi to the highly talented Vigée-Le Brun. I don’t think Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting even rises to the level of bad art. The words that come most naturally to my lips are “bloody awful.” The first time I saw the painting in a book of art history, I wondered whether its inclusion was a joke or mistake. How could any art-historian or critic take that mess seriously?

The siren-song of solipsism

Very easily, it became apparent. And very prudently too. Anyone at the Guardian, BBC or other leftist institution who spoke the truth about Artemisia Gentileschi’s sometimes execrable art would be in serious trouble. If Gentileschi had been a man and painted to the same low standard, she would quite rightly have been forgotten long ago. But she was a woman and a “rape-survivor,” so feminists in the 1970s decided to create a cult around her. By worshipping her, they were really worshipping themselves, because I think some or perhaps most feminists don’t see other women as individuals or even as human beings in their own right. Instead, those feminists see other women as reflections of themselves or as counters in the feminist struggle for power and self-assertion.

But this inability to see others as real applies more generally to leftists and their supposed objects of concern. I was struck by this passage in The Liar (1991), an autobiographical novel by the near-ubiquitous British leftist Stephen Fry: “For Adrian other people did not exist except as bit-players in the film of his life. No-one but he had noted the splendour and agony of existence, no one else was truly or fully alive.” Fry is homosexual and half-Jewish, which may also be significant, but his solipsism is, I’d argue, an important feature of leftism. For leftists, collectivism is really the simplest and surest way to exalt the self. And you can see these aspects of leftism in the cult of Artemisia Gentileschi — and also in Gentileschi herself. Her bad art is now being worshipped in a major exhibition at the National Gallery in London. Here’s how Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett of the Guardian reacted when she overheard some truth-telling at the exhibition:

Artemisia’s features, in the guise of myriad saints and figures from myth and religion, are everywhere. As Laura Cumming wrote, she “seems to live inside every role she depicts”. I delighted in this, but other visitors did not. “Self-obsessed”, said one older man, and I laughed to myself because, really, his remark was just too perfect, too predictable, too tediously sexist for words. The history of women and art has been, in the main part, a history of bodies. Bodies stripped of clothing and imagined and objectified by men. Yet running alongside this parade of breasts and bottoms as conceived by the male gaze is a subversive counterhistory: that of women artists seeing themselves. (The history of art is full of female masters. It’s time they were taken seriously, The Guardian, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett)

Yes, Gentileschi did see herself. She then put herself down on canvas, over and over again, in awkward, ugly, ill-coloured ways. That is subversive, I suppose. It’s definitely self-obsessed. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett says the remark by the “older man” is “tediously sexist” because she can’t say that it’s untrue. Gentileschi also sometimes looks self-pitying, as in her Self-Portrait as Martyr, the painting on the left below:

Some of Artemisia’s subversive self-obsession: self-portraits as martyr, lute-player and St Catherine

Cosslett both explains and echoes the self-pity: “Artemisia was a survivor of male violence, just as I am. Tears sprang to my eyes when I looked at the transcript of her torture during her rapist’s trial, and read that she had repeated ‘è vero, è vero, è vero’ (‘it is true, it is true, it is true’).” I’d suggest that Cosslett wept for herself, not for Gentileschi. That is, Cosslett sees Gentileschi as a reflection of herself, not as an individual. That’s why objective standards of good and bad art don’t apply in the cult of Artemisia Gentileschi. She and her art serve to reflect feminists back at themselves.

And her art is probably even more appealing to feminists because, unlike Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun’s, it is bad art. Leftists hate beauty, truth and goodness, and delight in the destruction of those things. The cult of Artemisia exalts ugliness and insists on untruths: Artemisia was a “genius,” a “uniquely gifted artist … among the all-time greatest painters.”

Chopping off White men’s heads

The cult also celebrates the overthrow of White men, because this is Gentileschi’s most famous painting in its two versions:

Judith Beheading Holofernes

Many painters have represented the ethnocentric Old Testament story of a Jewish heroine killing a gentile to defend her people, but few have done it as badly as Gentileschi did. And here is another of her bad paintings on a similar theme:

Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist (c. 1615)

Gentileschi places herself on canvas, dealing death to White men, and feminists can again see themselves reflected in her bad art. If you want to see how a real genius represents Judith’s death-dealing, here is Caravaggio:

Caravaggio’s Judith beheading Holofernes (1599)

Compositionally, that isn’t one of Caravaggio’s best paintings: it isn’t a realistic portrayal of what such a beheading would have looked like (according to the apocryphal Book of Judith, Holofernes was drunk and helpless when Judith cut off his head as her maidservant kept watch at the door of his tent, but painters have understandably chosen more drama and less drunkenness). Gentileschi understood Judith’s task better, which is why she shows the beheading as a collaboration. After all, men are on average far more physically powerful than women, as Gentileschi presumably learned when she was raped by her father’s assistant, Agostino Tassi.

Victimhood valorizes

So yes, she was the victim of a bad crime and yes, the crime was compounded by the torture she endured to prove her accusation against Tassi. But her victimhood does not “valorize” her art (to use an ugly neologism found in this feminist art-criticism on Gentileschi). Her art is still bad and Caravaggio’s is still sublime. I’m not disturbed by Gentileschi’s decapitations. They might be more realistic, but they don’t look real. Caravaggio’s decapitation does look real.

And while Gentileschi painted herself as a martyr and saint, as you can see above, Caravaggio painted himself as a sinner, as you can see below:

Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ (c. 1602)

The figure on the far right, holding up a lantern to assist the taking of Christ for trial and crucifixion, is probably Caravaggio himself. That is a very simple and effective way to represent a difficult but essential Christian doctrine: that we all bear responsibility for the crucifixion of God’s only-begotten son.

Anatomy out of whack

It’s also significant, I think, that Caravaggio has given a determinedly gentile face to the kiss-bestowing Judas, an archetypal Jewish villain in so much Christian iconography. There’s no evasion of responsibility here: Caravaggio is saying “I did it; you did it; we all did it.” But if Artemisia Gentileschi had attempted the same scene, I think her first impulse would have been to give Christ her own features and thereby play the victim again. She certainly couldn’t have painted to Caravaggio’s sublime standards. He could represent reality; she couldn’t. Even the Guardian and BBC acknowledge Gentileschi’s artistic failings:

Her anatomy is sometimes out of whack, her details occasionally glossed over (or perhaps painted by assistants). … the single light source in [Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes (1623-5)] — a candle near Judith’s upper arm — is in the wrong place. It is too far behind Judith, who has her left hand held out catching the light that is clearly behind it, which is not possible. The mistake is compounded by a poorly painted shadow covering much of Judith’s face, which is also not possible. It’s a splodge and a botch. (Artemisia review — overwhelmingly present, The Guardian, 4th October 2020; Artemisia Gentileschi: Will Gompertz reviews her show at the National Gallery, BBC, 3rd October 2020)

Will Gompertz of the BBC then says: “And yet. Who cares?” I care and so should everyone who wants to defend artistic standards. Gentileschi’s failings aren’t minor and incidental, but major and characteristic. It matters that her “anatomy is sometimes out of whack” and that Caravaggio’s isn’t. She aimed for realism like him and didn’t achieve it. And without the example and inspiration of male painters like Caravaggio, she wouldn’t have reached even the low standards that she did. Whether feminists and other leftists like it or not, artistic genius and creativity are largely male things — more specifically, White male gentile things.

Some risibly bad art by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Feminists and other leftists don’t like it, of course, which is why they have created cults not just for Artemisia Gentileschi, but also for the risibly bad Black artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the parodically minimalist Jewish artist Mark Rothko (see Brenton Sanderson’s three-part study of Rothko). Unlike them, Gentileschi valued realism, even if she didn’t achieve it. Basquiat and Rothko are part of what Tom Wolfe calls The Painted Word, that is, art that depends for its success not on its own merits, but on the spinning of verbal webs by disproportionately Jewish critics, academics and dealers. But Caravaggio’s realism — his ability to capture reality in paint — was not an isolated act of genius. It is no coincidence that his great art belongs to the same period as the birth of modern science and anatomy. Other White men were looking at the world and trying to understand and represent it in objective ways. Caravaggio was obsessed with light; Gentileschi was obsessed with herself.

The might of the “male gaze”

So are many of the feminists who now celebrate her and her subversive gynocentric reclamation of “breasts and bottoms as conceived by the male gaze,” as the Guardian journalist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett put it. But if Cosslett wants true subversion, she should consider the fact that female breasts and bottoms were actually created by the male gaze. You could almost say that the human female is a work of art created by the human male, because countless acts of sexual selection down the course of evolution have favoured some types of women and disfavoured others. The sexual selection has worked in the other direction too, shaping male bodies according to female preferences.

But humans are not like Birds of Paradise, with drab, selective females and spectacular, attention-seeking males. The shaping of women by the “male gaze” may have been particularly strong in Europe when women were competing for the attention of skilled hunters in the colder and harsher European environment. The anthropologist Peter Frost argues that this female competition explains the variety of eye- and hair-colours found in Europe, where genes for blue eyes and blond hair appeared under pressure of the male gaze. In prehistoric times, White women were evolving special beauty even as White men were evolving special creativity.

Opposing beauty, pursuing power

In modern times, that White female beauty was celebrated by the art of White male creators. Later still, both the art and the beauty were attacked by leftist ideologies invented or decisively influenced by an alien group called Jews. I agree with a fascinating article at National Vanguard arguing that “Jews themselves are an unattractive and, on average, ugly people” and that “Jews, as a group, oppose beauty.” Indeed, the Talmud advises Jews not to regard physical beauty as important in marriage: “For ‘false is grace and beauty is vain.’ Pay regard to good breeding, for the object of marriage is to have children” (Taanith 26b and 31a).

The cult of Artemisia Gentileschi is a product of those leftist ideologies, celebrating a painter who was mediocre at her rarely achieved best. And just as Gentileschi’s art was not beautiful, nor was Gentileschi herself. She looks masculine and muscular, with high testosterone that may have given her the ambition and drive to promote herself in a way that her art could not do on its own merits. And she had novelty value as a female painter, of course. Cosslett says that a “large part of why Gentileschi captivates is because she triumphed against patriarchy.” But feminists like Cosslett don’t genuinely care about patriarchy or about rape. It wasn’t the Guardian or BBC that exposed the Muslim rape-gangs of Rotherham and numerous other British towns and cities. But it is the Guardian and BBC that support the continued growth in Western nations of Islam, which competes with Orthodox Judaism for the title of the world’s most patriarchal and misogynistic religion.

Instead, feminists like Cosslett care about themselves and about warring on truth, beauty and goodness. The cult of Artemisia Gentileschi is a small but characteristic battle-front in that war. Gentileschi was a bad artist who created ugly art. There are thousands of male artists far worthier of exhibitions at the National Gallery and of praise in the mainstream media. But those male artists don’t receive the attention they deserve. Not while leftism rules the media and inverts reality in its perpetual quest not for truth and beauty, but for power and revenge.

Moral Communities and the Summer of George

The Summer of George is a paradigmatic example of a media-induced moral panic. A whole new, well-funded industry involving “racial sensitivity training” has sprung up where White people are systematically browbeaten into racial submission and abject guilt for the accomplishments of their ancestors. Such moral panics are, so far as I know, unique to the West and a key consequence of individualist culture. Try to imagine a moral panic in an African society. Or China. Or an Arab country. Not going to happen (counter-examples welcome).

My view is that the moral communities observed at the origins of Western history and surfacing recurrently in later centuries tapped into a pre-existing tendency among individualists to create such communities as a force for cohesion that does not rely on kinship relations. Particularly important since the seventeenth century have been the egalitarian moral communities based on a hunter-gatherer ethic whose evolutionary origins are discussed in Chapter 3 of Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition (hereafter Individualism).

Egalitarianism is a notable trait of hunter-gatherer groups around the world. Such groups have mechanisms that prevent despotism and ensure reciprocity, with punishment ranging from physical harm to shunning and ostracism.[1] Christopher Boehm describes hunter-gatherer societies as moral communities in which women have a major role,[2] and the idea that Western cultures, particularly since the seventeenth century, are moral communities based on a hunter-gatherer egalitarian ethic will is a major theme of Individualism  In such societies people are closely scrutinized to note deviations from social norms; violators are shunned, ridiculed, and ostracized. Decisions, including decisions to sanction a person, are by consensus. Adult males treat each other as equals.

Moral communities are pervasive throughout the institutional structures of the West; however, because of their widespread influence, moral communities are particularly noteworthy in the media and the academic world—both areas which have been dominated by a Jewish elite whose gradual rise to power increased greatly after World War II and came to dominate the culture of the West by the 1960s. For example, whereas mainstream social science had been relatively free of morally based ingroup-outgroup thinking prior to World War II, such thinking has had dramatic effects on the social sciences and humanities in later decades, to the point that academic departments and scholarly associations in these areas can be accurately characterized as “tribal moral communities” in the sense of Jonathan Haidt.[3] This is most obviously the case in areas such as social psychology, sociology, and ethnic and gender studies.

The result has been that academic research communities and the media rigorously police research and commentary that conflict with racial egalitarianism or promote the interests of European-derived peoples, and these attitudes have been internalized by a great many White people. Researchers such as Arthur Jensen, Richard Lynn, J. Philippe Rushton, and Ralph Scott who attempt to publish findings on race differences or on public policies related to race find themselves socially ostracized, and they quickly learn that there are steep barriers to publication in mainstream academic journals and no mainstream grant support for their research. Recently Bruce Gilley, a professor at Portland State University, had the audacity to publish an academic article titled “The Case for Colonialism” in which he “suggested that European colonies in the Third World were both beneficial and legitimate, as they generally increased the local standard of living and were often supported by a significant portion of the local population.” The moral (not factual) condemnations quickly followed, and his department is now doing all can to make life miserable for him despite “acknowledg[ing] Gilley’s professionalism: it alleges neither academic misconduct nor personal misconduct on his part but affirms the opposite.” The editor of the journal where the article was published “resigned his position out of fear for his physical safety.”

One wonders how Gilley’s article even got published. When scholarly articles contravening the sacred values of the tribe are submitted to academic journals, reviewers and editors usually become extremely “rigorous”— demanding more experimental controls and other changes in methodology. Such “scientific skepticism” regarding research that one dislikes for deeper reasons was a major theme of The Culture of Critique in discussions of the work of Franz Boas, Richard C. Lewontin, Stephen Jay Gould, and the Frankfurt School, to name a few.[4] 

One result of this academic reign of terror has been that conservatives often self-select to go into other areas that are not so compromised, such as the hard sciences or computing; there is also active discrimination against conservative job candidates and Ph.D. applicants.[5] The system is therefore self-replicating.

Normal levels of wanting to be liked (not to mention pathological altruism) often involve a sense of self-righteousness, which can be translated as a sense of moral superiority that advertises one’s good reputation within a community defined, as prototypical European groups are, not by kinship but by conforming or exceeding the moral standards of the community. As noted above, such expressions of moralistic self-righteousness have a long history in Western societies and are very salient in contemporary political rhetoric.

It’s interesting that moral outrage, especially by males, acts as a cue to mate value in monogamous marriage that is a fundamental marker of Western social structure.[6] Since women want mates who fit into their moral community, men who signal moral outrage compatible with the values of that community are seen as good marriage prospects. One can imagine how this works on campus environments in the contemporary West where moral outrage directed at pretty much the entire Western past is de rigueur. Or in cities like Portland where, on Columbus Day, statues of Teddy Roosevelt and the sainted Abraham Lincoln (because he ordered the executions of 38 Indians after a Dakota uprising) were toppled by morally outraged antifa mobs.

An example of how self-righteous virtue signaling works at the highest levels of government can be seen in the comments of David Goodhart, a liberal journalist on migration:

There has been a huge gap between our ruling elite’s views and those of ordinary people on the street. This was brought home to me when dining at an Oxford college and the eminent person next to me, a very senior civil servant, said: ‘When I was at the Treasury, I argued for the most open door possible to immigration [because] I saw it as my job to maximise global welfare, not national welfare.’ I was even more surprised when the notion was endorsed by another guest, one of the most powerful television executives in the country. He, too, felt global welfare was paramount and that he had a greater obligation to someone in Burundi than to someone in Birmingham. … [The political class] failed to control the inflow … in the interests of existing citizens.[7]

An evolutionist can only marvel at the completely unhinged—pathological—altruism on display here, given that the people making these policies are presumably native White British themselves.

This overweening concern with people of different races living in far off lands at the expense of one’s own people was characteristic of many nineteenth-century English intellectuals, particularly those associated with Exeter Hall, who exhibited what Charles Dickens described as “platform sympathy for the Black and … platform indifference to our own countrymen.”[8] In his novel Bleak House, serialized in 1852–53, Dickens portrayed such sentiments in the character of Mrs. Jellyby, whose “handsome eyes had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if … they could see nothing nearer than Africa.”[9] Mrs. Jellyby neglected those around her, including her daughter, her thoughts directed instead towards the fictitious African possession of Borrioboola-Gha and her idealistic plans for its development.

It is well-known that massive non-White immigration has had negative effects most of all on the traditional, White working class of Western societies, while wealthier Whites can escape the problems brought about by immigration by moving to other neighborhoods—the phenomenon of White flight.  They also tend to have jobs, such as in journalism, that have not been impacted by immigration, although visas for workers in technical areas are increasingly common. However, contemporary liberal-minded elites throughout the West are indifferent or even dismissive of the negative effects of immigration on the White working class in terms of lowered wages,[10] lessened community cohesion and involvement,[11] and deteriorating public schools. As noted, in Mrs. Jellyby’s case, this included neglecting her own children—also characteristic of contemporary liberals who typically fail to think seriously about the effects of mass non-White migration on the long-term prospects of their own children as a minority in a majority non-White society.

Such expressions of high-mindedness are attempts to fit into a moral community as defined by the media and accepted by their peers. Because the left dominates the moral high ground, expressing empathy for the native Whites, especially the White working class, makes anyone with such ideas into a moral pariah, as would advocating for their interests, with likely negative effects on career prospects. Indeed, expressions of White identity and especially having a sense of White interests have been condemned by establishment media and academic figures as illustrating the lowest form of moral depravity.

Of course, the motives involved in such cases may involve more than empathy for suffering others. While these elite Whites may feel genuine empathy for suffering others in foreign lands to the point of wanting to inundate the West with them, they are also in effect buttressing their status in the morally defined ingroup. They may even be attempting to be “more moral than thou”—competitive virtue signaling—by out-empathizing others in the group. And whether consciously or unconsciously, they may be aware of severe costs if they fail to conform to the norms of their moral community—as well as the benefits of conforming.

The conviction of self-righteousness characteristic of altruistic people need not be rational:

What feels like a conscious life-affirming moral choice—my life will have meaning if I help others—will be greatly influenced by the strength of an unconscious and involuntary mental sensation that tells me that this decision is “correct.” It will be this same feeling that will tell you the “rightness” of giving food to starving children in Somalia, doing every medical test imaginable on a clearly terminal patient … . It helps to see this feeling of knowing as analogous to other bodily sensations over which we have no direct control.[12]

In other words, the sensations of rightness and nobility act as psychological reflexes, and they are so pleasurable that people are inclined to seek them in their own right and without regard to facts or the long-run consequences to themselves.

Talk to an insistent know-it-all who refuses to consider contrary opinions and you get a palpable sense of how the feeling of knowing can create a mental state akin to addiction. … Imagine the profound effect of feeling certain that you have ultimate answers. … Relinquishing such strongly felt personal beliefs would require undoing or lessening major connections with the overwhelmingly seductive pleasure-reward circuitry. Think of such a shift of opinion as producing the same type of physiological changes as withdrawing from drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes.[13]

Feelings of moral righteousness may thus be pleasurable and lead to addiction. “Sanctimony, or a sense of righteous outrage, can feel so intense and delicious that many people actively seek to return to it, again and again.”[14]

The pleasure of knowing, with subjective certainty, that you are right and your opponents are deeply, despicably wrong. Or, that your method of helping others is so purely motivated and correct that all criticism can be dismissed with a shrug, along with any contradicting evidence.[15]

This type of sanctimoniousness is, of course, particularly common among the people labeled “Social Justice Warriors.” These are the people screaming “racist,” “misogynist,” “white supremacist,” etc. at any seeming violation of the norms of the moral communities of the left. And, because of the cultural hegemony of the left, such people can often be seen on social media (and in op-eds in the mainstream media) expressing their moral righteousness—a moral righteousness that fits with or extends the boundaries of the cultural left.

Another aspect of this is competitive altruism or competitive virtue signaling. Given that expressions of moral righteousness are typically communicated in a social setting and are aimed at solidifying or enhancing one’s reputation within a group, there may be competition for ever more extreme expressions of self-righteousness—even among people who are not biologically inclined to be prone to be warm and loving to others. Extreme expressions of moral righteousness are not only addicting, they may also raise one’s status in a social group, just as it’s common for religious people to express “holier than thou” sentiments. Strongly religious people compete to be most virtuous in their local church. On the left, we see vegan fanatics shunning vegans who even talk to people who eat meat or eat in restaurants where meat is served—even family members. I imagine there is a dynamic within antifa groups—the shock troops of the establishment’s views on race and migration—where people who do not condone violence or are unwilling to crack heads themselves are ostracized or at least have much less status.

The result is a “feed forward” process in which the poles of political discourse move ever farther apart, doubtless exacerbated by the contemporary fixation on social media. For example, well-publicized attacks on Confederate statues have quickly morphed into attacks on Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Christopher Columbus. Sympathy among liberals for granting amnesty to illegal immigrants has morphed into calls by prominent Democrats to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), make border crossing legal, and give them health care, driver’s licenses, voting rights, and ultimately citizenship. Inviting anyone remotely associated with conservative ideas—much less the racialist Right—to give a talk at a college campus has morphed from a tolerated rarity to a context for angry protests, rioting, injuries to conservatives, and damage to property.

I suggest that this competitive virtue signaling is a major cause of the increasing polarization that we see in the United States and throughout the West in the age of social media. A Pew Research Center survey on changes in U.S. political culture from 1994–2017 found that the increasing divide between Republicans and Democrats, especially on immigration and race, was much more due to the median views of Democrats shifting left.[16]

Nevertheless, a theoretically similar phenomenon exists on the right as, for example, when individuals condemn others for being insufficiently militant or ideologically pure. However, because the left dominates the cultural landscape, such competitive virtue signaling has had most of its effects on the left as the median views of liberals shift to the left. Such competitive virtue signaling from both the left and the right is highly characteristic of the social dynamics of social media sites and journalism.

People on the right face the danger of “doxxing,” having their identity and personal information made public. Hosts of shows in the mainstream media may have to cope with losing sponsors and hence their livelihood; e.g., as of March, 2019, Fox News host Tucker Carlson had lost around 30 sponsors, mainly because of his comments on immigration.[17] Or people may fear losing their job as a result of a phone call to their place of employment by a self-described “civil rights” organization such as the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League. This may well be why it is the left that has become more extreme in recent decades, whereas far too many on the right attempt to mollify their leftist critics by knuckling under to their moral righteousness.

The cultural domination of the left has meant that certain views are off-limits for all but the most daring. Thus, media sites like Breitbart and The Daily Caller, while definitely to the right of the mainstream media, avoid explicit advocacy of White identity and interests. Such constraints are much less apparent on the left, with the result that the left continues to get more and more extreme in their views. As I write, views on immigration noted above and on abortion (making abortion legal up until or even shortly after birth) that used to be virtually non-existent among Democrats are increasingly being espoused by mainstream Democrat politicians and pundits. And because transgenderism has become a leftist cause, pre-pubertal children are now given hormone blockers, at times with disastrous results:

Prescribed puberty blockers by the Gender Identity Development Service as a teenager, the Manchester resident has been left with a male-sounding voice, body hair, a beard, no breasts, and unsure whether she will ever be able to have children.

A critical consequence of this is racial polarization. White Americans have been shifting toward the Republican Party—the last Democrat president to get a majority of White votes was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In general, this is an expression of implicit Whiteness, as non-White groups coalesce in the Democratic Party. The point here is that such trends are likely to increase and polarization become more severe.

Civil war is definitely in the air and one can only imagine the violence that would greet the (at this juncture unlikely) re-election of Donald Trump. But, if Joe Biden wins, a great many Americans, seeing that the changes are happening at warp speed and that the Democrats are aiming at a permanent power via importing Democrat-voting non-Whites, packing the Supreme Court, ending the electoral college and two senators per state and the re(as they already have in states like California), will become disillusioned with the system—like the USSR toward the end of the Cold War. Again, civil war is in the air.

[1] Christopher H. Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).

[2] Ibid., 8.

[3] Jonathan Haidt, “Post-partisan Social Psychology.” Presentation at the meetings of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, San Antonio, TX, January 27, 2011.



[4] Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998; 2nd edition: Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2002), especially Chs. 2 and 6.

[5] Kevin MacDonald, “Why are Professors Liberals?,” The Occidental Quarterly 10, no. 2 (Summer, 2010): 57–79.


[6] Mitch Brown et al., “Demonstrate Values: Behavioral Displays of Moral Outrage as a Cue to Long-Term Mate Potential,” unpublished ms, Fairleigh Dickinson University (2020).

[7] David Goodhart, “Why We on the Left Made an Epic Mistake on Immigration,” Daily Mail (March 22, 2013).


[8] Arthur A. Adrian, “Dickens on American Slavery: A Carlylean Slant,” PMLA: Journal of the Modern Languages Association of America 67, no. 4 (June 1952): 315–29, 329.

[9] Charles Dickens, Bleak House, Vol. 3 (London: Bradbury & Evans, 1853), 26.


[10] George J. Borjas, “The Analytics of the Wage Effect of Immigration,” Working Paper 14796 (March, 2009), National Bureau of Economic Research.


[11] Robert D. Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century,” Scandinavian Political Studies 3 (2007): 137–174; Salter, “The Biosocial Study of Ethnicity”; see also Frank Salter, “Germany’s Jeopardy,” You Tube (January 5, 2016).

[12] Robert A. Burton, “Pathological Certitude,” in Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, Guruprasad Madhavan, and David Sloan Wilson (eds.), Pathological Altruism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012): 131–37, 135.

[13] Ibid., 136.

[14] David Brin, “Self-addiction and Self-righteousness,” in Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, Guruprasad Madhavan, and David Sloan Wilson (eds.), Pathological Altruism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012): 77–84, 80.

[15] Ibid., 80.

[16] Pew Research Center, “The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider” (October 5, 2017).


[17] Jeremy Barr, “Without Major Sponsors, Tucker Carlson’s Show Leans on Ads for Fox Programming,” The Hollywood Reporter (March 22, 2019).


The Moral Darwinian Argument For White Interests: Chapter 9 of Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition


We have now reached the last chapter of Kevin MacDonald’s Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition. This indispensable book argues that both the rise and decline of the West can be explained in terms of the genetically selected predisposition Europeans have for creating communities that emphasize the moral reputation of individuals for honesty, hard work, and fairness, rather than kinship ties and racial identities. The fundamental error of Whites was to project onto all human beings their peculiar individualism and moral universalism. Whites failed to understand their own history: that only Europeans created moral communities based on universal values, and that non-Whites have remained very in-group oriented and ethnocentric throughout their histories. They failed to understand that in the age of mass immigration non-Whites view their openness as an opportunity to promote their own ethnic interests.

This is not to say that Whites have always viewed themselves in the extreme individualistic and anti-nationalistic manner they do today. Some decades ago, Americans were quite comfortable identifying their liberal nation in ethnic “Anglo-Saxon” terms and imposing strict limits on immigration from non-European nations. They did not think that cultural nationalism was inconsistent with liberal principles. It was really after Word War II that Whites came to the view that liberalism demanded the integration of multiple races within their homelands. Why did they come to this view?

This is where the inordinate influence of Jews comes into MacDonald’s historical study. The Jews did not create Western liberalism. But in the United States, the focus of MacDonald’s work, Jews were crucially important in the articulation of the argument that America was meant to be a “polycentric” nation populated by multiple races. They came up with the idea that liberalism was inconsistent with the identification of America as an “Anglo-Saxon nation.” They played the leading intellectual role in formulating the idea that all Western nations were meant to be multicultural and that assimilation to a “dominant culture” was a violation of the “human dignity” of immigrants. They pushed the idea that Western nations were founded on racism, patriarchal domination, exploitation of the Third World, and that the mere existence of Western nations without racial diversity was a form of “White supremacy.”

MacDonald is not of the view that Whites are inherently condemned to be swamped by non-Whites in lieu of their individualism. As we saw in Part 8 of our extended review, Whites are still instinctively ethnocentric even while they express adherence to immigrant multiculturalism. Furthermore, and this is the focus of Chapter 9, MacDonald anticipates that, as “expressions of anti-white hatred” intensify, Whites will start to coalesce as a race. But he cautions against a strategy premised on the expectation that Whites will suddenly start behaving in the collectivist manner of non-Whites. Whites are not inclined to create kinship-based communities. Therefore, if Whites are to join communities that emphasize their racial interests, they need to be rationally persuaded that these race-oriented communities are morally justified. Whites need to be persuaded that their individual self-interests, and their own liberal way of life, are fundamentally threatened by immigrant diversification. As MacDonald writes:

Pro-White activists attempting to combat this moral community [of the left] must be aware of the very powerful tendency among their constituents toward wanting to be part of a moral community. In particular, they must emphasize that Whites have interests that are morally legitimate.

It is MacDonald’s view that a Darwinian perspective would be an excellent rationally-based argument to persuade Whites about the legitimacy of their ingroup interests. As Whites face increasing hostility from non-whites, they need to be persuaded that their communities based on social trust, rule of law, scientific objectivity, and equal rights, will survive only within an ethnicized form of individualism.

Darwinian Communities of WEIRD Whites

White normies can’t be expected to discard altogether their deeply seated behavioral inclination for communities based on moral fairness, trust, honesty, and merit. They can’t be expected to create “group-oriented intellectual movements based on dogmatic assertions [and] fealty to group leaders.” Whites are a different race with a WEIRD personality and intellect. Whites have a unique capacity for analytical reasoning. Whereas the minds of non-Whites operate within contextual relationships made up of traditions, kinship interests, and personal inclinations, the mind of Whites operate according to rules dictated by the mind’s own rational principles.

The White mind has a capacity for decontextualization, that is, for detaching things from their context, focusing on the inherent traits of objects as such and developing formal rules for explaining and predicting phenomena. The non-White mind, if I may put it bluntly, can’t fully distinguished the subject and the object, the mind and the body, the context and the thing-in-itself. The minds of collectivist non-Whites are socially embedded, which means that the collectivist mind tends to be trapped to the surrounding world of prescribed or dogmatically given norms and interests of the kinship group, and thus has a lesser capacity for impartiality, for science, for honesty, for trustworthiness. It is no accident that Whites are responsible for almost the entire history of logic, 97% of all scientific findings, the development of abstract symbols in musical notation, arithmetical operations, grammatical rules, and almost all the categorizing, serializing, enumerating, and inferring in science.

Therefore, if identitarians are to make a case for White racial interests in the face of growing White awareness of their impending marginalization, they must articulate arguments that take into consideration the unique nature of the White inclination for moral communities. It is MacDonald’s conviction that the key to a successful moral argument is to persuade Whites to create moral communities with a proper Darwinian understanding of history and in-group interests. The following are some of the key Darwinian lessons Whites must integrate into their moral communities:

  • that there are genetic differences between peoples, and that despite their individualism and universalism Whites have legitimate racial interests like every other race.
  • that those communities enjoying higher social trust, lawfulness, political participation, functional schools, and ethnic cohesion happen to be heavily populated by Whites with minimal diversity.
  • that the moral communities Whites cherish based on democratic politics, rule of law, meritocracy, are deteriorating precisely because these communities are increasingly populated by non-whites and dominated by radical leftist politics.
  • that Whites are the least morally depraved race on the planet when it comes to political corruption, inequality of rights, and ethnic despotism.
  • that low-IQ immigrants are a drain on society and on the ability of White nations to compete in our highly technical world economy, as well as a major cost to White taxpayers.
  • that mass immigration brings a downward pressure on the wages of working classes, and that the importation of workers from India and China undermines White high tech workers.
  • that immigration and incessant attacks on “white racism” are leading to extreme polarization in politics, civil strife, and eventual civil war across many Western communities, rather than racial harmony and the elimination of human conflict as promised.
  • that diversity comes together with increased anti-White hatred and violence against Whites.
MacDonald’s book thus comes full circle, in a tightly argued manner, from a very original account of Western uniqueness based on Darwinian principles, to a call for White identity politics based on moral Darwinian arguments that appeal to the individualism and the analytical mind of Whites to counter the anti-white “monster” the “left and its big business allies have created”. Criticisms can undoubtedly be directed against Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition. But having studied this book in a thorough manner, I am convinced that MacDonald’s perspective is far more than one viewpoint among other interesting viewpoints. It is an indispensable viewpoint without which White identity politics would lack both a solid scientific foundation and a compelling moral argument that could persuade large numbers of Whites about the legitimacy of their ingroup interests.