The Jewish Media GoliathFrom: Joey Kurtzman To: John Derbyshire
Subject: The euphemism treadmill, Gog and Magog, and so forth Wow, John, your last e-mail was 4000 words and could serve as the springboard for five different dialogues. Great reading, too, and not just the part where you complimented me on my “insufferable tone of sneering moral superiority.”
Allow me to distill your argument down to its basic points. I do this not because I hope to straw-man you or dumb you down, but because I want to identify our major points of agreement before moving on.
If the American chattering classes determine that you have the “wrong” views on race, you lose their esteem and the capacity to influence them on other issues. For that reason, conservatives wade into dangerous waters whenever they address race. It is particularly perilous to speak negatively of Jews as a group, because they have the means and the will to “smash you to pieces” (Sobran’s words, not yours, I know), i.e., stigmatize you as bigoted and thereby marginalize you in public debate.
And yet it moves: Humans do have group loyalties, these loyalties do influence how we view the world and interact with the people in it, and this applies to Jews just as it does to other people. This is plain to anyone who looks at the world honestly, and we’d best come to terms with it. Whatever his flaws, Kevin MacDonald at least goes to the trouble of exploring group loyalties and intergroup competition, and in this respect you find him appealing.
Is that a faithful (if drastically abbreviated) recapitulation? I hope so.
So here’s our problem: I agree with most of that. We agree on the basic story, on the general cultural context into which MacDonald’s Jewish trilogy emerged. But I must niggle over a few points.
I’m not arguing that you should have written a celebratory puff piece on MacDonald. That’s not because it would be offensive to do so, but because it would be poor journalism. There are too many problems in his work, too many disputed premises and wild conceptual leaps, to review of him with unqualified praise. But I certainly hope you wouldn’t be fired for turning in a positive review of MacDonald.
I don’t buy your claims about the dire professional consequences of pissing off Jews. I wanted to hear you describe the Jew-wrought professional Armageddon of your rather febrile imagination.
I’m aware that it’s all too easy to piss off lots of very vocal Jews. And I sympathize with writers who fear the anger of an aggrieved minority. But the fact remains that myriad writers make fine careers with material that pisses us off to no end.
You’re getting a lot of mileage out of William Cash, but you're also familiar with Buchanan, Novak, Fisk, Finkelstein, Cole, Chomsky, and a litany of others whose status as nationally known “opinion makers” is not threatened (and is arguably enhanced) by their incessant tipping of Jewish sacred cows.
That’s not to mention the cartoons and cover art: an award-winning cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating a baby, a Palestinian Jesus on the cross asking God not to let them “crucify me again,” the Union Jack pierced by a Jewish star, and on and on ad infinitum, all of it driving Jews bonkers with hurt and anger.
Or there’s Arthur Butz, a professor in good standing at Northwestern who for the past thirty years has spent his spare time “proving” the Holocaust never took place.
So this mythic Jewish goliath that’s awoken by even the faintest stirrings of dissent against the cult of Jewish victimhood, and which promptly “smashes you to bits”…well, it’s a fantasy, so far as I can tell. And if it’s true that one young British journalist had his career destroyed because he noticed there were lots of Jews in Hollywood, that’s a shame, and terribly unjust. But it's an anomaly.
As the Talmud says, “teku”: we’ll agree to disagree on this until the messiah comes and all debates are settled.
Another issue: I don’t know how you managed to interpret my last e-mail as “retailing” the view that group differences are a “figment of our imaginations.” I stated very clearly that group differences are real, including in the allele frequency for various genes—in other words, human populations are genetically different. That there are also vast cultural differences goes without saying.
But the existence of these differences does not militate one whit against the notion that in a sloppy, pluralistic society, we ought to make at least a modest effort not to piss on people’s cultural sensitivities. Is that what got your knickers in a bunch? Just my suggestion that sometimes it’s worth avoiding terms that other groups find offensive?
To the extent that group differences are real and group loyalty is a hardwired human impulse, I should think that’s only more reason why we should avoid triggering group resentments when there is no reason to do so. That’s provided, of course, that the adjustments we’re asked to make are not too elaborate or otherwise unreasonable.
I don’t think I am waffling or being inconsistent by stating all of this and then acknowledging that the ways in which American ethnic groups try to show respect for one another—for example by obsessing over ethnic terminology—have long spun out of control and come to preclude discussion rather than improve it. But to me, what we’re dealing with is too much of a good thing. Courtesies (good) that have grown into an inexplicable, intimidating set of rituals (bad). We need to take it down a notch, or a whole bunch of notches.
And yes, we need to step off the euphemism treadmill. Calling someone an “Irishman” or a “Jewess” or “black” when they’d prefer something else should be a small trespass, not a grave one.
So you and I disagree on the usefulness of intergroup courtesies while agreeing that group differences exist in the first place.
As for this tidal wave of intense, theologically informed philosemitism among American evangelicals…well yes, at least some evangelicals think most Jews will end up rotting in the hellfires, or will be annihilated in the war against Gog and Magog, or other charming scenarios.
At least some Jewish conservatives couldn’t care less about the theological complications so long as the evangelicals support Israel. Whether that’s more an expression of evolutionary strategy than is, say, Irish-American support of Irish Republicanism, I don't know. We should ask MacDonald…to whose work we should in any case turn back.
Where does he get it right, and where does he get it wrong? I’d like to dig into his take on left-wing politics and Jewish attitudes toward immigration policy:
immigration is the issue closest to MacDonald’s heart, but I think the tradition of utopian Jewish leftyism is at the root of most all the behaviors that bother MacDonald.
A Black and a Chinaman Walk Into a Bar…
From: John Derbyshire To: Joey Kurtzman Subject: A favorable review of MacDonald would be professional death
Now look: We can’t agree too much, or the whole debate will peter out.
Was that really 4,000 words? Good grief!
So far as the consequences of ticking off Jews are concerned: First, I was making particular reference to respectable rightwing journalism, most especially in the U.S.
I can absolutely assure you that anyone who made general, mildly negative, remarks about Jews would NOT—not ever again—be published in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages, The Weekly Standard, National Review, The New York Sun, The New York Post, or The Washington Times. I know the actual people, the editors, involved here, and I can assert this confidently.
Qualifications: You may, if you have ironclad journalistic credentials going back decades, like Novak or Buchanan, get away with something critical of Israel or the Israel lobbies. For a minor figure like myself, however, even that—let alone a favorable review of MacDonald—would be professional death.
Leftwing figures like Chomsky or Fisk are neither here nor there. The modern left is riddled with antisemitism, and nobody notices it any more. I spoke of the milieu I know. In this milieu, I say again, you don’t f*ck with the Jews. William Cash’s treatment—he was writing for The Spectator, a rightwing British magazine—was no anomaly. It was just what I should expect.
On the matter of intergroup courtesies, I think you are right that things have gone way too far, as some of the examples I raised in my last post illustrate. I certainly don’t think ethnic humor is out of bounds, though. The fact that it flourishes in private settings shows that it satisfies some deep human need.
I used to watch a lot of mainland Chinese TV, including the variety programs. Most Chinese TV humor consists of making fun of the various accents, manners, and stereotypes of China’s many regions. The Shandong people are pugnacious and none too bright; Cantonese will eat anything that moves; Shanxi people are cheap; Shanghainese are crafty; Beijing people ingratiating (“oily” is the actual Chinese word—jing you = “capital oil”); northeasterners inclined to crime; and on and on ad infinitum.
Even in PC America ethnic humor flourishes, on the understanding that jokes about group X may only be made by members of group X (though anyone is allowed to laugh at them). Chris Rock is outrageously funny on the criminality and sloth of blacks (“My friend called and said his car had broken down. He asked me what he should do. Where was he? I asked. He said he was on Martin Luther King Boulevard. I told him he should RUN…”). Similar with Jackie Mason and all his shoulder-shrugging Jew jokes.
On Kevin MacDonald: I thought his first two books made too much of the fact that the premodern European Jews were a distinctive group very diligent in maintaining group cohesion and advancing group interests. What’s surprising?
I thought Culture of Critique much more striking because of its detailed coverage of a topic I had been thinking about in an unfocused way for a long time, viz., how the great influx of European Jews into the U.S. in the decades around 1900 had had strong effects on American intellectual culture. This includes some very negative effects, like the elevation of spite-the-goy movements such as the Frankfurt School, and self-contained Talmudic-style pseudosciences such as Freudianism, headed by charismatic, authoritarian rabbi figures.
The very intense opposition of American Jews to almost any kind of immigration restriction has been much chewed over, not only by Kevin MacDonald. However, attitudes are changing fast.
John Podhoretz, editorial page editor of the New York Post, went to address a group of Midwestern Jews several months ago on the topic of illegal immigration. I hear that when he started with the traditionally Jewish-American lines about unrestricted immigration being a gift from G-d, etc., the audience hissed him down!
And several of the immigration-restrictionist groups (the CIS, FAIR, NumbersUSA…there are so many now I’m losing track) have Jewish activists in key positions—Dan Stein of FAIR comes to mind. It’s dawning on a lot of U.S. Jews that the main sources for present and future mass immigration into the U.S. are (a) Latin America, and (b) the Muslim world.
The former has high levels of antisemitism (look at where all the old Nazis retired to!) while the latter is antisemitic root and branch, and contains thousands of people who think that killing Jews is a holy sacrament. Mass immigration may no longer be “good for the Jews.” Older and more insulated Jews like Podhoretz haven’t got it yet, but I think younger Jews have.
I have a number of problems with MacDonald. There is, for instance, the one I specified in my review of Critique: his flat refusal to say anything positive about Jewish contributions in the U.S. For example, Jews totally revitalized American popular culture, especially musical culture. It’s hard to understand why someone working with such flammable material wouldn’t make some effort at fire prevention.
And then there is the issue of intention, which he is slippery about. To what degree is this “group evolutionary strategy” conscious? He clearly doesn’t think there is a “Jew Central” organizing it all, so I guess it is self-organizing, but what’s the mechanism of transmission? Why would it consciously be kept up by self-de-Judaized Jews, which is what most of the Jewish intellectuals in Critique are? If any of it is conscious, does MacDonald think there is a component of malice against Gentiles? (I think he does think so, but don’t recall him saying it explicitly.) If none of it is conscious, what does he think drives it? Genetics? Or what?
But I am over limit again.
A Break from Hooray-for-us Historiography
From: Joey Kurtzman To: John Derbyshire Subject: Jewish history through a kaleidoscope
I'm told we’ve used up our allotted space and have to wind down the dialogue. So this’ll be my last e-mail, and then you get the last word.
We spent most of our time discussing the cultural issues—American paranoia about racial issues, Jewish anxiety about being discussed as a group, Jewish influence in the media, and so on—that make an unselfconscious, inquisitive approach to MacDonald’s ideas so difficult. Those are all rich issues—so rich that we focused on them without giving MacDonald the going-over I’d have liked. My bad.
I agree with you that Culture of Critique is the most accessible of MacDonald’s trilogy (I find it and A People that Shall Dwell Alone equally fascinating). It's also, though, the most problematic. MacDonald too often takes a woefully essentialist view of what motivates Jews.
At some points MacDonald acknowledges that motivations are complex, but at others he presents a desire to “undermine homogenous Gentile culture” as the single significant motivating factor behind Jewish involvement in the movements he describes in Critique. And that’s just silly. Jews are more complicated than that. People are more complicated than that.
Sure, MacDonald could have written more about positive aspects of Jewish influence on the West, but I’m not surprised that he didn’t. I mean, really, think about what he’s doing here. He pulls from evolutionary biology and various areas of the social sciences to present a new model for analyzing how ethnic groups structure themselves and interact with other groups. As prominent evolutionary psychologist David Sloan Wilson points out, this is a radical but plausible way of applying the concept of group selection to ethnic minorities. The model alone would have been controversial, but then MacDonald decides, “And now I’d like to explore my model in greater detail by applying it to the Jews.”
Clearly, this man was not trying to avoid a shitstorm. He chose a group almost guaranteed to respond furiously. So the absence of some palliating “but the Jews sure put together some fine ditties!” sections doesn’t surprise me.
He seems to have learned a lesson, though. After the David Irving controversy, he said that he would no longer be studying the Jewish community, and on his website he says he was naive to think that others could be dissuaded from viewing his work as antisemitic. He wishes he had spent more of his time studying other groups. I guess he feels “smashed to pieces.”
You raise a good point about intentionality. Jews, of course, don’t use the term “group evolutionary strategy,” but I assume MacDonald would say that to the extent that we attempt to act in ways that are “good for the Jews,” or work to ensure “Jewish continuity,” and so on, we are advancing the group evolutionary strategy (GES) he posits. For Jews who do these things consciously—and that’s a great many of us, including myself—intentionality is straightforward.
As for how the strategy is perpetuated, well, MacDonald knows there is no Elders of Zion–style conclave in a basement somewhere in Brussels or Borough Park where Jews organize their group evolutionary strategy. But he certainly does see an important role for Jewish leadership in all this. Of the 15 million-or-so Jews in the world, only a very small percentage work for Jewish organizations. MacDonald argues that this small group of organizational Jews attempts to inculcate communal goals among the rest of the Jewish population.
And of course that’s all true, and blindingly obvious. Anyone who is at all familiar with major Jewish organizations knows that they work incredibly hard to disseminate among young Jews a sense of Jewish peoplehood and a commitment to communal goals.
MacDonald adduces tons of evidence for some self-evident points—including (as you observed) in his analysis of historical Jewish communities. So I imagine MacDonald’s identifying these things would be entirely uncontroversial had he not adopted a negative view of the consequences for American culture.
Things are changing rapidly in the Jewish community, as you point out including attitudes toward immigration (though if American Jews change their tune on immigration because it no longer serves their interests, then I suppose MacDonald would still see this as the GES in action.)
I would like to hear more, though, of what MacDonald makes of the massive rates of intermarriage among young American Jews—around 50 percent—and the younger generation’s increasing alienation (as documented by numerous studies) from the agenda of the major Jewish organizations. If there really has been a Jewish strategy in operation these past centuries, it seems to be unraveling fast.
So, in toto, “Is Kevin MacDonald right about Jews?” On some issues, I think he is. In other instances I think he’s misunderstood basic aspects of Jewish history, or described Jewish behavior with near monocausal explanations that seem overblown or patently silly.
Whether his theory of “group evolutionary strategies” turns out to make sense in light of future research, and whether improved understanding of Jewish population genetics will support or rubbish the theory that Jews have hardwired behavioral predispositions, we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll be watching with interest.
But what seems to me undeniable is that MacDonald has presented us with a fascinating and genuinely novel examination of the history and internal workings of the Jewish world. His trilogy is a hell of a read. To any Jewcy readers tired of pious, “hooray-for-us!” Jewish historiography, or just interested in seeing traditional Jewish history through a kaleidoscope, I happily recommend it.
So that’s it for me, John. Thanks again for doing this.
Any final thoughts?
War-Winning, Disease-Curing, And Life-Improving
From: John Derbyshire To: Joey Kurtzman Subject: I wish a Jew had written these books
You bet. Though since I broke the bank previously, and am thereby presumably the cause of our moderator bringing down the guillotine, I’ll keep it short.
On empathy for immigrants: yours is not a sufficient explanation. Why haven’t the Irish, or the Italians, been as prominent in fighting immigration restriction as the Jews?
MacDonald argues (with bags of documentation) that opposition to the early-20th-century restrictionist movement, which eventually led to the 1924 Immigration Act and quota, was almost entirely Jewish.
You might argue that Jews are better at organizing and agitating in causes like this, but then you are just walking into MacDonald’s trap.
You also owe me an explanation of why current immigration-restrictionists are not Daughters of the American Revolution, or hillbilly descendants of 18th-century Scotch-Irish settlers, but people like Mark Krikorian (third-generation Armenian American), Peter Brimelow (immigrant from Britain), Michelle Malkin (daughter of immigrants from Philippines), and so on.
On MacDonald’s picking on the Jews: Well, his excuse is that the Jews provide an exceptionally data-rich set for the kind of study he wanted to undertake. That ought to be convincing. If I decided to embark on an inquiry into human groups’ ability to execute “group evolutionary strategies” across centuries, the Jews would be ideal. Of course, we are not convinced, for the reasons I have mentioned: MacDonald’s disinclination to say anything at all nice about the Jews, as well as his rather (it seems to me) unscholarly language in speaking about “manipulation” of Gentile culture by Jewish intellectuals, and so on.
I find myself wishing very much that someone Jewish had done the kind of study MacDonald did. I agree with you that it was worth doing; I agree that the results are often interesting and often true; I just wish it hadn’t been this guy who wrote Culture of Critique.
On the deracination of young Jews: Slezkine, in his book The Jewish Century (which I wish we had more space to discuss) gives his opinion that following the last influx of Jews (i.e. from the USSR in the years around 1980), the Jews of the U.S.A. are settling down as just another American ethnicity, with an increasingly feeble group identification and high rates of exogamy. (He gives the rate of out-marriage as 3 percent in 1940, 50 percent in 1990.)
Slezkine also makes much of the fact that we goyim are all becoming Jews: “learning how to cultivate people and symbols, not fields or herds… pursuing wealth for the sake of learning, learning for the sake of wealth, and both wealth and learning for their own sake…replacing inherited privilege with acquired prestige, and dismantling social estates for the benefits of individuals, nuclear families, and book-reading tribes (nations).” He quotes Levenson: “A Jewish style of life may be more endangered when everyone eats bagels than when Jews eat hot cross buns.”
All this sounds right to me; so while MacDonald has, I believe, uncovered some interesting truths about twentieth century American culture, I am not sure he has anything to tell us about the future.
Did MacDonald demonstrate that the group evolutionary strategy of the Jews had negative consequences for American intellectual culture? In Culture of Critique I believe he did. One of the most corrosive influences on 20th-century American life has been the collapse of group confidence among white Gentiles.
“These [Jewish-inspired and -led] movements have called into question the fundamental moral, political, and economic foundations of Western society,” says MacDonald in Critique. I think that’s putting it a bit too strongly; but yes, the Frankfurt School, the New York Intellectuals, the Boasian anthropologists, did manage to convince white-Gentile America that there was something deeply wrong with it. That is not to mention the number of lives that must have been wrecked by Freudian superstition, and the unpleasant future consequences that will flow (I believe) from decades of well-nigh unrestrained Third World immigration.
I do think we’d have been better off without all that. You have to put something in the other side of the balance, though: the wonderful vitality of American popular culture, which had a huge Jewish component, the war-winning, disease-curing, and life-improving developments in the theoretical sciences that had so many Jews among their originators. History is all swings and roundabouts. Net-net, would the U.S.A. have been worse off, or better off, without the Great Wave Jewish immigrants? It seems indisputable to me that we would have been worse off. MacDonald would disagree.
Finally, I endorse your call to Jews, and anyone else with an inquiring mind, to give MacDonald a try. I don’t think he is going to go down in history as one of the giants of social science, but he does have some interesting things to say, and he doesn’t give a fig about PC—always refreshing, in this rather stifled day and age. Still, I wish these books had been written by someone else.