Selwyn Raab’s ‘Five Families’: A History of the New York Mafia, Heavily Slanted Towards Recent Times

Selwyn Raab, Five Families: The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of American’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires (London: Robson Books 2006) 

With Italian-American organized now surely in terminal decline, the time is ripe for a definitive history of the New York Mafia. Unfortunately, Selwyn Raab’s ‘Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires’ is not it.[1]

In particular, despite its length, it gives only cursory coverage to the early history of the New York Mafia. 

Instead, it is heavily weighted towards the recent history of the five families. 

This is perhaps unsurprising. After all, the author, Selwyn Raab is, by background, a journalist not an historian. 

Indeed, it is surely no coincidence that Raab’s history only starts to become in-depth at about the time he began covering the activities of the New York mob in real-time as reporter for The New York Times in 1974.

To give an idea of this bias I will cite page numbers. 

The book comprises over 700 pages, plus title pages, ‘Prologue’, ‘Introduction’, ‘Afterword’, ‘Epilogue’, two appendices, ‘Bibliography’ and ‘Index’, themselves comprising a further 100 or so pages. 

The first two chapters are introductory, and mostly cite examples of Mafia activities from the mid- to late twentieth century. 

The chronological narrative begins in in Chapter 3, titled ‘Roots’, which purports to cover both the origin of the New York Mafia and its prehistory. 

In doing so, Raab repeats uncritically the Sicilian Mafia’s own romantic foundation myth, claiming that the Mafia began during Sicily’s long history of foreign occupation as a form of  “self-preservation against perceived corrupt oppressors (p14). 

Indeed, even his supposedly “less romantic and more likelyetymology for the word ‘Mafia is that it derives from “a combined Sicilian-Arabic slang expression that means acting as a protector against the arrogance of the powerful” (p14). 

Actually, according to historian, John Dickie, rather than protecting the common people against corrupt oppression by outsiders, the Sicilian Mafia was itself corrupt, exploitative and oppression from the very beginning (see Dickie’s books, Costa Nostra and Blood Brotherhoods). 

Raab is vague on the precise origins of the Sicilian Mafia, but does insist that mafia cosche evolved “over hundreds of years” (p14).

This is, again, likely a Mafia myth. The Mafia, like the Freemasons (from whom its initiation rituals are, at least according to Dickie, likely borrowed), exaggerates its age to enhance its venerability and mystique.[2]

Of course, Raab’s text is a history of the New York Mafia. One can therefore overlook his inadequate treatment of its Sicilian prehistory. 

Unfortunately, his treatment of early Mafia activity in New York itself is barely better. 

Early turn-of-the-century New York Mafiosi like Giuseppe Morello and Lupo the Wolf are not even mentioned. Nor are their successors, the Terranova brothers. Neither is there any mention of the barrel murders, counterfeiting trial or Mafia-Camorra War

Even their nemesis, Italian-born NYPD officer, Joe Petrosino, murdered in Sicily while investigating the backgrounds of transplanted Mafiosi with a view to deportation, merits only a cursory two and a bit pages – something almost as derisory as the “bare, benchless concrete slab serv[ing] as a road divider and pedestrian-safety island” that ostensibly commemorates him in Lower Manhattan today (p19- 21). 

There are just nineteen pages in Raab’s chapter on the New York Mafia’s ‘Roots’. The next chapter is titled ‘The Castallammarese War’, and focuses upon the gang war of that name, which began in 1930, although the chapter begins with a discussion of the effects of the national Prohibition law that came into force in 1920. 

Therefore, since the Morello Family seems to have had its roots in the 1890s, that’s over twenty years of New York Mafia history (not to mention, according to Raab, some several centuries of Sicilian Mafia history) passed over in less than twenty pages. 

Readers interested in the origins of the five families, and indeed how there came to be five families in the first place, should look elsewhere. I would recommend instead Mike Dash’s The First Family, which uncovers the formerly forgotten history of the first New York Mafia family, the Morello family, the ancestor of today’s Genovese Family, arguably still the most powerful mafia family in America to this day. 

Although I have yet to read it, James Jacobs’ The Mob and the City also comes highly recommended in many quarters. 

Whereas Raab’s account of the first few decades of American Mafia history is particularly inadequate, the coverage of the next few decades of organized crime history, is barely better. 

Here, we get the familiar potted history of the New York Mafia with the each of the usual suspects – Luciano, Anastasia, Costello, Genovese – successively assuming center stage. 

Moreover, despite his ostensible focus on Italian-American organized crime, unlike the Mafia itself (which, though it has survived countless RICO prosecutions, which surely would never survive a class-action lawsuit for racial discrimination), non-Italians are not arbitrarily excluded from Raab’s account.

On the contrary, each of make their usual, almost obligatory, cameos—Bugsy Siegel assassinated in his  Vegas casino-hotel, Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles ‘accidentally’ falling from a sixth-floor window, and, of course, the shadowy and much-mythologized Meyer Lansky always lurking in the background like a familiar anti-Semitic conspiracy theory

It is not that Raab actually misses anything out, but rather that he doesn’t really add much. 

Instead, we get another regurgitation of the familiar Mafia history with which anyone who has had the misfortunate of reading any of the countless earlier popular histories of the American Mafia will be all too familiar. 

Then, after just 100 pages, we are already at the Appalachin meeting in 1957. 

That’s over fifty years of twentieth century American Mafia history condensed in less than 100 pages. More to the point, it’s over half the entire period of American Mafia history covered by Raab’s book (which was published in 2005) covered in less than a seventh of the total text. 

After a brief diversion, namely two chapters discussing supposed Mafia involvement in the Kennedy assassination, we are into the 1970s, and now Raab’s coverage becomes in-depth and authoritative. 

But, although this period may have marked the height of the mafia’s mystique, with blockbuster movies like the overrated Godfather’ trilogy glamourizing Italian-American organized crime like never before, it arguably also marked the beginning of the Mafia’s decline.[3]

Indeed, the mafia’s notoriety during this period may even have been a factor in its decline. After all, publicity and media infamy are, for a criminal organization, at best a mixed blessing.  

True, a media-cultivated aura of power and untouchability may discourage victims from running to the police, and also deter rival criminals from attempting to challenge mafia hegemony. 

However, criminal conspiracies operate best when they are outside the public eye, let alone the scrutinizing glare of the journalists, movie-makers, government and law enforcement. 

There is, after all, a reason why the Mafia is a secret society whose very existence is, at least in theory, a closely-guarded secret.

It is no accident, then, that those crime bosses who openly courted the limelight and revelled in their own notoriety did not enjoy long and successful careers. 

Prominent Italian American examples of criminals who made the mistake of openly courting press attention are John Gotti and Al Capone.[4]

Thus, John Gotti inevitably takes up more than his share of chapters in Raab’s book, just as, during his lifetime, he enjoyed more than his share of headlines in Raab’s own New York Times

The so-called ‘Dapper Don’ invariably made for good copy. 

However, courting the media is rarely a sensible way to run a crime empire. 

A famous adage of the marketing industry supposedly has it that all publicity is good publicity.

This may be true, or at least close to being true, in, say, the realm of rock or rap music, where controversy is often a principal selling point.

However, in the world of organized crime, almost the exact opposite could be said to be true. 

Thus, much of the press coverage of Gotti may have been flattering, even fawning, or at least perceived by Gotti as such. Certainly he himself often seemed to revel in his own infamy and also became something of a folk hero to some sections of the public. 

However, the more he became a folk hero by thumbing his nose at the authorities, the more of a threat he posed to those authorities, in part precisely because he had become something of a folk hero.

The result was that, although the press initially dubbed him ‘The Teflon Don’, because, supposedly, no charges would ever stick, Gotti actually enjoyed less than a decade of freedom as Gambino family boss before being convicted and imprisoned. 

By courting the limelight, he also invited the attention of, not just the media, but also of law enforcement and thereby ensured that his fifteen minutes of fame would immediately be followed by a lifetime of incarceration. 

A rather more sensible approach was perhaps that adopted by a lesser-known contemporary of and rival to Gotti, Genovese family boss Vincent ‘The Chin’ Gigante, who, far from courting publicity like Gotti, let ‘front bossFat Tony Salerno take the bulk of law enforcement heat, himself, for many years, largely passing under the radar. 

While fictional Mafia boss Tony Soprano spent the bulk of the television series in which he played the leading role attempting to conceal his visits to a psychiatrist from his Mafia colleagues, Gigante made sure his own (supposed) mental health difficulties were as public as possible, feigning mental illness for decades in order to avoid law enforcement attention. 

Nicknamed ‘The Oddfather’ by the press for his bizarre antics, he made sure to be regularly seen  walking the streets of Greenwich village in a bathrobe, was said to regularly check into psychiatric hospitals whenever law enforcement heat was getting too much.[5]

Wary of phone taps and bugs, Gigante also insisted that other members of the crime family of which he was head never mention him by name, but rather, if they had to refer to him, simply to point towards their chin or curl their fingers into the shape of a letter ‘c’. 

These precautions had law enforcement fooled for years, and it was long believed in law enforcement circles that Gigante was retired and the real boss was indeed front boss Tony Salerno. 

Largely as a result, Gigante enjoyed at least a decade and a half as Genovese boss before he too belatedly joined his erstwhile rival John Gotti behind bars. 

Of course, the secrecy with which mafiosi like Gigante took pains to veil their affairs presents a challenge, not just to law enforcement, but also to the historian. 

After all, criminals are, almost by definition, dishonest.[6]

Even those mafiosi who did break rank, and the code of omertà, by providing testimony to the authorities, or sometimes publishing memoirs and giving interviews on television (or, most recently, even starting their own youtube channels), are notoriously unreliable sources of information, being prone to both exaggerate their own role and importance in events, while also (rather contradictorily) minimizing their role in any serious prosecutable offences for which they have yet to serve time. 

Perhaps a more trustworthy source of information—or so one would hope—is law enforcement.  

Yet, relying on the latter as a source, Raab’s account inevitably ends up being as much a history of law enforcement efforts to bring the Mafiosi to justice as it is of the Mafia itself. 

Thus, for example, a whole chapter, entitled ‘The Birth of RICO’, is devoted to the development and passage into law of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or RICO Act of 1970

Indeed, amusingly, but not especially plausibly, Raab even suggests that the name of this act, or rather the acronym by which the Act, and prosecutions under it, became known may have been inspired by the once-famous final line of seminal 1930s Warner Brothers gangster movie, Little Ceasar, Raab reporting that George Robert Blakely, the lawyer largely responsible for the drafting of the Act: 

Refuses to explain the reason for the RICO acronym. But he is a crime-film buff and admits that one of his favorite movies is Little Caesar, a 1931 production loosely modeled on Al Capone’s life… Dying in an alley after a gun battle with the police, Little Caesar gasps one of Hollywood’s famous closing lines—also Blakey’s implied message to the Mob: ‘Mother of Mercy—is this the end of Rico?’” (p177). 

Of course, the passage into law of the RICO statute, as it turned out, was indeed a seminal event in American Mafia history, facilitating, as it did, the successful prosection and incarceration of countless Mafia bosses and other organized crime figures.

Nevertheless, in this chapter, and indeed elsewhere in the book, the five families themselves inevitably fade very much into the background, and Raab concentrates instead on the tactics of and conflicts among law enforcement themselves. 

Yet, in Raab’s defence such material is often no less interesting than the stories of mafiosi themselves. 

Indeed, one thing to emerge from portions of Raab’s narrative is that conflicts and turf wars between different branches, levels and layers of law enforcement—local, state and federal—were often as fiercely, if less bloodily, fought over as were territorial disputes among mafiosi themselves. 

After all, mafiosi rarely take the trouble to commit crimes in only the jurisdiction of a single police precinct. Therefore, the jurisdiction of different branches and levels of law enforcement frequently overlapped.  

Yet, such was the fear of police corruption and mafia infiltration, different branches of law enforcement rarely trusted one another enough to share intelligence with other branches of law enforcement, lest a confidential source, informant, undercover agent, phone tap, bug or wire be thereby compromised, let alone to allow a rival branch of law enforcement to take the lion’s share of the credit, and newspaper headlines, for bringing a high-profile mafia scalp to justice. 

In contrast, territorial disputes between crime families actually seem to have been surprisingly muted, and were usually ironed out through ‘sit-downs’ (i.e. effectively an appeal to arbitration by a higher authority) rather than resort to violence. 

Thus, despite its familiarity as a formulaic cliché of mafia movies from The Godfather onwards, there appears to have never actually been another war between rival Mafia families in New York after the Castallammarese War ended in 1931. 

Mafia wars did ocassionally occur—e.g. the Banana War, First, Second and Third Colombo Wars. However, these were all intra-family affairs, involving control over a single family, rather than conflict between different families.[7]

The Castallammarese War therefore stands as the New York Mafia equivalent of the First World War, with each of the nascent five family factions joined together in two grand coalitions, just as, before and during the World War One, the great powers (and a host of lesser powers) joined together in two grand alliances. 

However, whereas the First World War only promised to be the war to end all wars, the Castallammarese War actually has some claim to actually delivering on this promise, with the independent sovereignty of each of the five families thenceforth mutually respected in a sort of Westphalian Peace, or ‘Pax Mafiosa’ that lasted for the better part of a century. 

In The Godfather (the novel, not the film), Michael Corleone quotes his father as claiming, had “the [five] Families had been running the State Department there would never have been World War II”, since they would have been smart enough to iron out their problems without resort to unnecessary bloodshed and economic expense. 

On the evidence of New York Mafia history as recounted by Raab in ‘The Five Families’, Don Corleone may, perhaps surprisingly, have had a point. 

Perhaps, then, our world leaders and statesmen could learn indeed something from lowlife criminals about the importance of avoiding the unnecessary bloodshed and expense of war. 

Honor Among Thieves – and Men of Honor? 

Another general conclusion that can be drawn from Raab’s history is that, if there is, as cliché contends, but little honor among thieves, there is seemingly scarcely any more honor even among self-styled ‘men of honor’. 

This is even true of the most influential figure in American Mafia history, Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, described by Raab in one photo caption as “the visionary godfather and designer of the modern Mafia”, and elsewhere as “the Mafia’s visionary criminal genius”, who is even credited, in some tellings, with creating the Commission and even the five families themselves.[8]

Yet Luciano was a serial traitor. 

First, he betrayed his ostensible ally, Joe ‘The Boss’ Masseria, in the Castellammarese War, setting him up for assassination by his rival Salvatore Maranzano. Then, just a few months later, he betrayed and arranged the murder of Maranzano himself, leaving Luciano free to take the position of, if not capo di tutti capi, then at least the most powerful mafiosi in New York, and probably in America, if not the world. 

In this series of betrayals, Luciano set the pattern for the twentieth century mob. 

The key is to make sure that you betray what turns out to be the losing side, if only on account of your betrayal.

The powerful Gambino crime family provides a particularly good illustration of this. Indeed, for much of the twentieth century, staging an interal coup or arranging the assassination of the current incumbent seems to have been almost the accepted means of securing the succession.

Later, John Gotti famously became boss of the family by arranging the murder of his own boss, Paul Castellano, just as Castellano’s predecessor, the eponymous Carlo Gambino had himself allegedly been complicit in the murder of his own predecessor, Albert Anastasia, who was himself the main suspect in the murder of his own predecessor, Vincent Mangano

However, such treachery was by no means limited to the Gambinos. On the contrary, Joe Colombo became boss of the crime family now renamed in his honor by betraying his own boss Joe Magliocco (and Bonanno boss Joe Bonnano) to the bosses of the three other families whom he had been ordered by them to to kill. 

Meanwhile, one of Colombo’s successors, Carmine ‘The Snake’ Gigante, had also been at war with his own boss, Joe Profaci, in the First Colombo War, but then, in a further betrayal, switched allegiances, setting up his former allies, the Gallo brothers, for assassination by the Profaci leadership. For his trouble, Gigante earned himself the perhaps unflattering sobriquet of ‘The Snake’, but also ultimately the leadership of the crime family.

As for Luciano himself, not only was he a serial traitor, he was also guilty of what was, in Mafia eyes, an even more egregious and unpardonable transgression—namely, he was a police informer

Thus, during his trial for prostitution offences, Raab reveals: 

The most embarrassing moment for the proud Mafia don was Dewey’s disclosure that in 1923, when he was twenty-five, Luciano had evaded a narcotics arrest by informing on a dealer with a larger cache of drugs. 
‘You’re just a stool pigeon,’ Dewey belittled him. ‘Isn’t that it?’ 
‘I told them what I knew,’ a downcast Luciano replied” (p55). 

In this, Luciano was again to set a pattern that, later in the century, many other mafiosi would follow. 

Indeed, by the end of the century, the fabled Mafia code of omertà seems to have been, rather like its earlier ban on drug-dealing, almost as often honored in the breach as actually complied with, at least for mafiosi otherwise facing long spells of incarceration with little prospect of release.

At least since Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles, who, being non- Italian, was not, of course, a ‘made man’, and who, at any rate, died under mysterious circumstances, none, to my recollection, ever paid the ultimate price for their betrayal. 

Instead, the main consequence of their breaking the code of omerta seems to have been reduced sentences, government protection under the witness protection program and an end to their Mafia careers.

Yet an end to their mafia careers rarely meant an end to their criminal careers, and few turncoat mafiosi seem to have gone straight, let alone been genuinely repentant.

The most famous case is that of Gambino underboss, and Gotti nemesis, Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano, then the highest-ranking New York mafiosi ever to become a cooperating witness, who helped put John Gotti and a score of other leading mafiosi behind bars with his testimony.

In return for this testimony, Gravano was to serve less than five years in prison, despite admitting involvement in as many as nineteen murders.

In defence of this exceptionally lenient sentence, Leo Glasser, the judge responsible for sentencing both Gravano and Gotti, naïvely insisted that Gravano’s craven treachery was “the bravest thing I have ever seen” and declared “there has never been a defendant of his stature in organized crime who has made the leap he has made from one social planet to another” (p449). 

In fact, however, just a few years after his release, Gravano was convicted of masterminding a multi-million-dollar ecstasy ring in Arizona, where the authorities had relocated him for his own protection. 

His status as a notorious mafia stoolie seems to have impeded his reentry into the crime world hardly at all. 

On the contrary, it seems to have been precisely his status as a famed former Gambino family underboss that recommended him to the starstruck young ecstasy trafficking crew who, having befriended his son, were only too happy to allow the infamous Sammy Gravano to assume leadership of the crime ring they themselves had established and built up. 

By the end of the century, only the secretive and close-knit Bonnano Family, long the only New York family still to restrict membership to those of full-Sicilian (not just Southern Italian) ancestry, could brag that they were, perhaps for this reason, the only New York family never to have had a fully-inducted member become a cooperating government witness.  

Yet even this claim, though technically true, was largely disingenuous. 

Indeed, the Bonannos had actually been expelled from the Commission for reportedly being on the verge of inducting undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone (alias ‘Donnie Brasco’) into the family just before his status as an undercover FBI agent and infiltrator had been revealed by the authorities.

Nevertheless, this did not stop Bonanno boss Joe Massino:

Proudly inform[ing] the new soldiers of the family’s unique record among all of the nation’s borgatas as the only American clan that had never spawned a stool pigeon or cooperative government witness” (p640).

It is therefore somewhat ironic that, in 2004, Massino himself who would become the first ever actual boss of a New York family to become a cooperating witness. 

Mafia Decline 

Besides its inadequate treatment of early New York Mafia history (see above), the other main reason that Raab’s ‘Five Families’ cannot be regarded as the definitive history of the New York Mafia is that Raab himself evidently doesn’t believe the story is over. On the contrary, in his subtitle, he predicts, and, in his Afterword, reports a ‘resurgence’.

The reason Raab wrongly predicts a Mafia revival is that he fails to understand the ultimate reason behind mafia malaise, attributing it primarily to law enforcement success: 

The combined federal and state campaigns were arguably the most successful anticrime expedition in American history. Over a span of two decades, twenty-four Mob families, once the best-organized and most affluent criminal associations in the nation, were virtually eliminated or seriously undermined” (p689). 

The real reason for Mafia decline is demographic. 

Italian-Americans no longer live in close-knit urban ghettos. Indeed, outside of Staten Island, few even live in New York City proper (i.e. the five boroughs). 

Italian Harlem has long previously transformed into Spanish Harlem and, beyond the tourist trap, restaurants and annual parade, there is now little of Italy left in what little remains of Manhattan’s Little Italy

Even Bensonhurst, perhaps the last neighborhood in New York to be strongly associated with Italian-Americans, was never really an urban ghetto, being neither deprived nor monoethnic, and is now majority nonwhite.[9]

Italian-Americans are now often middle-class, and the smart ambitious ones now aspire to be professionals and legitimate businessmen rather than criminals.

Indeed, I would argue that Italian-Americans no longer even still exist as a distinct demographic. They are now fully integrated into the American mainstream. 

Indeed, I suspect that, as with the infamous plastic paddy phenomenon with respect to Irish ancestry, few self-styled ‘Italian-Americans’ are even of 100% Italian ancestry. Thus, as far back as 1985, the New York Times reported: 

8 percent of Americans of Italian descent born before 1920 had mixed ancestry, but 70 percent of them born after 1970 were the children of intermarriage… Among Americans of Italian descent under the age of 30, 72 percent of men and 64 percent of women married someone with no Italian background” (Collins, The Family: A new look at intermarriage in the US, New York Times, Feb 11 1985). 

Thus, almost of necessity, the five families relaxed their traditional requirement for inductees to be of full-Italian ancestry, since otherwise so few Americans would be eligible. 

The Gambinos acting first, inducting, and eventually promoting to acting-boss, John Gotti’s son, Gotti Junior, at the behest of his father, despite the (part-) Russian, or possibly Russian-Jewish, ancestry of his mother (p462). 

Recently, Raab reports, in an attempt to restore discipline, the earlier requirement has been reimposed.  

However, in the absence of a fresh infusion of zips fresh off the boat from Sicily (which Raab also anticipates: p703), this will only further dry up the supply of potential recruits, since so few native-born Americans now qualify as 100% Italian in ancestry.

Raab reports that the supposed Mafia revival has resulted from a reduction in FBI scrutiny, owing to: 

1) The perception that the Mafia threat is extinguished;

2) A change in FBI priorities post-9/11, with the FBI increasingly focusing on domestic terror at the expense of Mafia investigation.  

The lower public profile of the five families in recent years, Raab believes, only shows that Mafiosi have been slipping below the radar, quietly returning to their roots:  

Gambling and loan-sharking—the Mafia’s symbiotic bread-and-butter staples—appear to be unstoppable” (p692).[10]

But, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, sports betting is now legal throughout the New York Metropolitan area (i.e. in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), and indeed most of the US, one of these two staples is now likely off the menu for the foreseeable future. 

Moreover, the big money is increasingly in narcotics, and, as Raab concedes, in contrast with their success in taking down the Mafia, the FBI’s “more costly half-century campaign against the narcotics scourge remains a Sisyphean failure” (p689). 

This has meant that non-Italian criminals have increasingly taken over the drug-trade, especially Latin-American cartels, who have taken over importation and wholesale, and black and Latino street gangs, who control most distribution at the street-level. 

In truth, the replacement of Italian-Americans in organized crime is only the latest in an ongoing process of  ethnic succession—in New York, the Italians had themselves replaced Jews, who had dominated organized crime in New York in the early twentieth century into the prohibition era, and who had themselves replaced the Irish gangs and political bosses of the nineteenth century (see Ianni, Black Mafia: Ethnic Succession Organized Crime). 

The future likely belongs to blacks and Hispanics. The belief that the latter are somehow incapable of operating with the same level of organization and sophistication as the Mafia is, not only racist, but also likely wrong. 

Indeed, the fact that, prior to recent times, the Mafia in particular, not organized crime in general, was a major FBI priority may even have acted as a form of racially-based ‘affirmative action for black and Hispanic criminals. 

Raab may be right that the shift in FBI priorities post-9/11 has permitted a resurgence of organized crime. Indeed, in truth, organized crime, like the drug problem that fuels it, never really went away.

However, there is no reason to anticipate any resurgence will come with an Italian surname or wearing a fedora and Italian suit.

Endnotes

[1] Indeed, since Italian-American crime is in terminal decline – not just in New York – the time is also ripe for a definitive history of Italian-American organized crime in general. Of course, Raab’s book does not purport to be a history Italian-American organized crime in general. It is a history only of the famed ‘five families’ operating in the New York metropolitan area, and hence only of Italian-American organized crime in this city. 
However, it does purport, in its subtitle, to be a history of ‘America’s most Powerful Mafia Empires’. Probably the only Italian-American crime syndicate (or at least predominantly Italian-American crime syndicate) outside of New York which had a claim to qualifying as one of ‘America’s most Powerful Mafia Empires’ during most of the twentieth century is the Chicago Outfit. The Chicago outfit, however, barely gets a mention in Raab’s mamouth book, and then only in passing.
Raab extends his gaze beyond the New York families to Mafia families based in other cities only during an extended, and probably misguided, discussion of the supposed role of the Mafia, in particular Florida boss, Santo Trafficante Jr., and New Orleans boss, Carlos ‘The Little Man’ Marcello, in the assassination of John F Kennedy.
However, even here, the Chicago Outfit receive short shrift, with infamous Chicago boss, Sam ‘Momo’ Giancana receiving only passing mention by Raab, even though he features as prominently in JFK conspiracy theories as either Trafficante and Morello.

[2] Of course, most mafiosi themselves likely believe this myth, just as many Freemasons probably themselves believe the exaggerated tales of their own venerability and spurious historical links to groups such as the Knights Templar. They are, in short, very much in thrall of their own mystique. This is among the reasons they are led to join the mafia in the first place. If claims of ancient origins were originally a myth cynically invented by mafiosi themselves, rather than presumed by outsiders, then modern mafiosi have certainly come to very much fall for their own propaganda.

[3] This is certainly the suggestion of Francis Ianni in Black Mafia: Ethnic Succession in Organized Crime, who argues that the American Mafia was already ceding power to black and Hispanic organized crime by at least the 1970s. This view seems to have some substance. 
Early to mid-twentieth century black Harlem crime Bumpy Johnson, for all his infamy, was said to be very much subservient to the Italian mafia families. Indeed, in the 1920s, a white criminal like Owney Madden was able to run the famous Cotton Club, initially with a whites-only door policy, in the heart of black Harlem.
However, by the 1970s, Harlem was mostly a no-go area for whites, Italian-Americans very much included. Therefore, even if the Mafia had the upper-hand in any negotiations, they nevertheless had to delegate to blacks any criminal activities in black areas of the city.
Thus, Nicky Barnes, the major heroin distributer in Harlem, was said to buy his heroin from mafia importers and wholesalers, especially Crazy’ Joe Gallo, whom he was said to formed a relationship with while they were both in prison together. Similarly, unlike his portrayal in the movie American GangsterFrank Lucas also seems to have bought his heroin primarily through mafia wholesalers. However, he may also have had an indirect link to the Golden Triangle through his associate Ike Anderson, a serving soldier in the Vietnam War.
However, both Lucas and Barnes necessarily had their own crew of black dealers to distribute the drugs on the street. The first black criminal in New York to supposedly operate entirely independently of the Mafia in New York was said to have been Frank Matthews, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances while on parole.

[4] Intriguingly, Professor of Criminal Justice, Howard Abadinsky, in his textbook on organized crime, links the higher public profile adopted by Capone and Gotti to the fact that both trace their ancestry, not to Sicily, but rather to Naples, where the local Camorra have long cultivated a higher public profile, and a flashy style of dress and demeanor, than their Sicilian Mafia equivalents (Organized Crime, 4th Edition: p18).
Thus, historian John Dickie refers to a “longstanding difference between the public images of the two crime fraternities”: 

The soberly dressed Sicilian Mafioso has traditionally had a much lower public profile than the Camorrista. Mafiosi are so used to infiltrating the state and the ruling elite that they prefer to blend into the background rather than strike poses of defiance against the authorities. The authorities, after all, were often on their side. Camorista, by contrast, often played to an audience” (Mafia Republic: p248). 

Abadinsky concurs that: 

While even a capomafioso exuded an air of modesty in both dress and manner of speaking, the Camorrista was a flamboyant actor whose manner of walking and style of dress clearly marked him out as a member of the società” (Organized Crime, 4th Edition: p18). 

Adabinsky therefore tentatively observes: 

In the United States the public image of Italian-American organized crime figures with Neapolitan heritage has tended towards Camorra, while their Sicilian counterparts have usually been more subdued. Al Capone, for example, and, in more recent years, John Gotti, are both of Neapolitan heritage” (Organized Crime, 4th Edition: p18). 

However, while true, I cannot see how this could be anything other than a coincidence, since both Capone and Gotti were born and spent their entire lives in the USA, Gotti being fully two generations removed from the old country, and neither seem to have had parents or other close relatives who were involved in crime and could somehow have passed on this cultural influence from Naples – unless perhaps Abadinsky is proposing some sort of innate, heritable, racial difference between Neapolitans and Sicilians, which seems even more unlikely.

[5] Gigante is not the only organized crime boss accused of malingering. Neapolitan Camorra boss, Raffaele Cutolo, alias ‘The Professor’, also stood accused of faking mental illness. However, whereas Gigante did so in order to avoid prison, Cutolo, apart from eighteen months living on the run from the authorities after escaping, spent virtually the entirety of his career as a crime boss locked up, being periodically shuttled between psychiatric hospitals and prisons. 

[6] Actually, not all crimes necessarily involve dishonesty – e.g. crimes of passion, some crimes of violence. However, any mafiosa necessarily has to be dishonest, since otherwise he would admit his crimes to the authorities and hence not enjoy a long career. Indeed, the very code of omertà, though conceptualized as a code of honour, demands dishonesty, at least in one’s dealings with the authorities, since it forbids both informing to the authorities regarding the crimes of others, and admitting the existence of, or one’s membership of, the criminal fraternity itself. 

[7] On the other hand, if there was never outright war between families after the Castallammarese War, nevertheless bosses of some families did sometimes attempt to sponsor ‘regime change’ in other families, by deposing other bosses, both in New York and beyond. For example, as discussed above, Bonanno family boss Joe Bonnano, acting in concert with Joe Magliocco, the then-boss of what was then known as the Profaci family, supposedly conspired to assasinate the bosses of the other three New York families, only to have their scheme betrayed by the assigned assassin, Joe Colombo, who was then himself rewarded for his betrayal by being appointed as boss of the family that thenceforth came to be named after him.
Similarly, Genovese boss Vincent ‘The Chin’ Gigante and Lucchese boss Tony ‘Ducks’ Corallo together attempted unsuccessfully assassinate Gambino boss John Gotti as revenge for Gotti’s own unauthorised assassination of his predecessor, Paul Castellano, which they saw as a violation of Mafia rules, whereby the assassination of a boss was, at least in theory, only permissible with the prior consent and authority of the Commission. The attempted assassination, carried out by Vittorio ‘Little Vic’ Amuso and Anthony ‘Gaspipe’ Casso, themselves later to become boss and underboss of the Luccheses, resulted in the death of Gambino underboss, Frank DeCicco in a car bomb, but not Gotti himself.

[8] In truth, Luciano seems to have invented neither the five families nor the commission. According to Mike Dash in his excellent The First Family, the Commission, under the earlier name ‘the Council’, actually existed long before Luciano came to prominance. 
As for the five families, surely if Luciano, or indeed Maranzano before him (as other versions relate), were to invent afresh the structure of the New York Mafia in a ‘top down’ process, they would surely have created a more unitarycentralized structure in order to maximize their own power and control as overall boss of bosses, rather than devolving power to the bosses of the individual families, who themselves issued orders to capos and soldiers.
As I have discussed previously, the power of the so-called National Commission was, to draw an analogy with international relations, largely intergovernmental rather than federal, let alone unitary or centralized, in its powers. Its power lay in its perverse perceived ‘legitimacy among mafiosi. As Stalin is said to have contemptuously remarked of the Pope, the Commision commanded no divisions (nor any ‘crews’, capos or soldiers) of its own.
In reality, Maranzano and Luciano surely at most merely give formal recognition to factions which long predated the Castallammarese War and its aftermath and whose independent power demanded recognition. Indeed, the Commission, was even initially said to have included non-Italians such as Dutch Schultz, if only because the power of the Bronx beer baron simply demanded his inclusion if the Commission were to be effective in regulated organized crime in New York.

[9] Raab, for his part, anticipates that Mafia rackets will increasingly, like Italian-Americans themselves, migrate to the suburbs: 

A strategic shift could be exploiting new territories. Although big cities continue to be glittering attractions, there are signs that the Mafia, following demographic trends, is deploying more vigorously in suburbs. There, the families might encounter police less prepared to resist them than federal and big-city investigators. ‘Organized crime goes where the money is, and there’s money and increasing opportunities in the suburbs,’ Howard Abadinsky, the historian, observes. Strong suburban fiefs have already been established by the New York, Chicago, and Detroit families” (p707). 

However, organized crime tends to thrive in poor close-knit communities in deprived areas who lack a trust in the police and authorities and are hence unwilling to turn to the latter for protection. If the Mafia attempts to make inroads in the cities, it will likely come up against assimilated, middle-class Americans only too willing to turn the to police to protection. In short, there is a reason why organized crime has largely been absent in such areas.

[9] Although he wrote ‘Five Families’ several years before the legalization of sports betting in most of America, New York City included, Raab seems to anticipate that legalization will have little if any effect on Mafia revenue from illegal sports books, writing: 

Sensible gamblers will always prefer wagering with the Mob rather than with state-authorized Off-Track Betting parlors and lotteries. Bets on baseball, football, and basketball games placed with a bookie have a 50 percent chance of winning, without the penalty of being taxed, while the typical state lottery is considered a pipe dream because the chance of winning is infinitesimal” (p694). 

It is, of course, true that lotteries, almost by definition, involve long odds and little realistic chance of winning. However, the same was also true of the illegal numbers rackets that were a highly lucrative source of income for predominantly black ‘policy kings’ (and queens) in early twentieth century America. Indeed, this racket was so lucrative so eventually major white organized crime figures like Dutch Schultz in New York and Sam Guancana in Chicago sought to take it over.
Yet, if winning a state lottery is indeed a ‘pipe dream’, the same is not true of legalized sports betting. On the contrary, here, the odds are as good as in illegal Mafia-controlled sports betting, and, given the legal regulation, prospective gamblers will probably be more confident that they are not likely to be ripped off by the bookies.
Thus, in most jurisdications where off-track sports betting is legal and subject to few legal restrictions, there is little if any market for illegal sports betting. Hence the legalization of sports betting in most of America will likely mean that sports betting is no longer controlled by organized crime, let alone the Mafia, just as the end of Prohibition in 1933 similarly similarly led to the decline in the the market for moonshine and bootleg alcohol.

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In Defence of Physiognomy

Edward Dutton, How to Judge People by What they Look Like (Wrocław: Thomas Edward Press, 2018) 

Never judge a book by its cover’ – or so a famous proverb advises. 

However, given that Edward Dutton’s ‘How to Judge People by What they Look Like’, represents, from its provocative title onward, a spirited polemic against this received wisdom, one is tempted, in the name of irony, to review his book entirely on the basis of its cover. 

I will resist this temptation. However, it is perhaps worth pointing out that two initial points are apparent, if not from the book’s cover alone, then at least from its external appearance. These are: 

1) It is rather cheaply produced and apparently self-published; and

2) It is very short – a pamphlet rather than a book.[1]

Both these facts are probably excusable by reference to the controversial and politically-incorrect nature of the book’s title, theme and content.

Thus, on the one hand, the notion that we can, with some degree of accuracy, judge people by appearances alone is a very politically-incorrect idea and hence one that many publishers would be reluctant to associate themselves with or put their name to.

On the other hand, the fact that the topic is so controversial may also explain why the book is so short. After all, relatively little research has been conducted on this topic for precisely this reason.

Moreover, even such research as has been conducted is often difficult to track down. 

After all, physiognomy, the field of research which Dutton purports to review, is no longer a recognized science. On the contrary, most people today dismiss it as a discredited pseudoscience.

Therefore, there is no ‘International Journal of Physiognomy’ available at the click of a mouse on ScienceDirect. 

Neither are there any Departments of Physiognomy or Professors of Physiognomy at major universities, or a recent undergraduate, or graduate-level textbook on physiognomy collating all important research on the subject. Indeed, the closest thing we have to such a textbook is Dutton’s own thin, meagre pamphlet. 

Therefore, not only has relatively little research has been conducted in this area, at least in recent years, but also such research as has been conducted is spread across different fields, different journals and different researchers, and hence not always easy to track down. 

Moreover, such research rarely actually refers to itself as ‘physiognomy’, in part precisely because physiognomy is widely regarded as a pseudoscience and hence something to which researchers, even those directly researching correlations between morphology and behaviors, are reluctant to associate themselves.[2]

Therefore, conducting a key word search for the term ‘physiognomy’ in one or more of the many available databases of scientific papers would not assist the reader much, if at all, in tracking down relevant research.[3]

It is therefore not surprising that Dutton’s book is quite short. 

For this same reason, it is perhaps also excusable that Dutton has evidently failed to track down some interesting studies relevant to his theme. 

For example, a couple of interesting studies not cited by Dutton purported to uncover an association between behavioural inhibition and iris pigmentation in young children (Rosenberg & Kagan 1987; Rosenberg & Kagan 1989). 

Another interesting study not mentioned by Dutton presents data apparently showing that subjects are able to distinguish criminals from non-criminals at better than chance levels merely from looking at photographs of their faces (Valla, Ceci & Williams 2011).[4]

Such omissions are inevitable and excusable. More problematically however, Dutton also seems to have omitted at least one entire area of research relevant to his subject-matter – namely research on so-called minor physical anomalies or MPAs

These are certain physiological traits, interpreted as minor abnormalities, probably reflecting developmental instability and mutational load, which have been found in several studies to be associated with various psychiatric and developmental conditions, as well as being a correlate of criminal behaviour (see below).

Defining the Field 

Yet Dutton not only misses out on several studies relevant to the subject-matter of his book, he also is not entirely consistent in identifying just what the precise subject-matter of his book actually is. 

It is true that, at many points in his book, he talks about physiognomy

This term is usually defined as the science (or, according to many people, the pseudoscience) of using a person’s morphology in order to determine their character, personality and likely behaviour. 

However, the title of Dutton’s book, ‘How to Judge People by What They Look Like’, is potentially much broader. 

After all, what people look like includes, not just our morphology, but also, for example, how we dress and what clothes we wear.

For example, we might assess a person’s job from their uniform, or, more generally, their socioeconomic status and income level from the style and quality of their clothing, or the designer labels and brand names adorning it. 

More specifically, we might even determine their gang allegiance from the color of their bandana, and their sexuality and fetishes from the colour and positioning of their handkerchief

We also make assessments of character from clothing style. For example, a person who is sloppily dressed and is hence perceived not take care in his or her appearance (e.g. whose shirt is unironed or unclean) might be interpreted as lacking in self-worth and likely to produce similarly sloppy work in whatever job s/he is employed at. On the other hand, a person always kitted out in the latest designer fashions might be thought shallow and materialistic. 

In addition, certain styles of dress are associated with specific youth subcultures, which are often connected, not only to taste in music, but also with lifestyle (e.g. criminality, drug-use, political views).[5]

Dutton does not discuss the significance of clothing choice in assessments of character. However, consistent with this broader interpretation of his book’s title, Dutton does indeed sometimes venture beyond physiognomy in the strict sense. 

For example, he discusses tattoos (p46-8) and beards (p60-1). 

I suppose the decision to get tattooed or grow a beard reflects both genetic predispositions and environmental influence, just as all aspects of phenotype, including morphology, reflect the interaction between genes and environment. 

However, this is also true of clothing choice, which, as I have already mentioned, Dutton does not discuss.  

On the other hand, both tattoos and, given that they take time to grow, even beards are relatively more permanent than whatever clothes we are wearing at any given time. 

However, Dutton also discusses the significance of what he terms a “blank look” or “glassy eyes” (p57-9). But this is a mere facial expression, and hence even more transitory than clothing. 

Yet Dutton omits discussion of other facial expressions which, unlike his wholly anecdotal discussion of “glassy eyes”, have been researched by ethologists at least since Charles Darwin’s seminal The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals was published in 1872. 

Thus, Paul Ekman famously demonstrated that the meanings associated with at least some facial expressions are cross-culturally universal (e.g. smiling being associated with happiness). 

Indeed, some human facial expressions even appear to be homologues of behaviour patterns among non-human primates. For example, it has been suggested that the human smile is homologous with an appeasement gesture, namely the baring of clenched teeth (aka a ‘fear grin’), among chimpanzees. 

Of particular relevance to the question posed in Dutton’s book title, namely ‘How to Judge People by What They Look Like’, it is suggested some facial expressions lie partly outside of conscious control – e.g. blushing when embarrassed, going pale when shocked or fearful.  

Indeed, even a fake smile is said to be distinguishable from a Duchenne smile

This then explains the importance of reading facial expressions when playing poker or interrogating suspects, as people often inadvertently give away their true feelings through their facial expressions, behaviour and other mannerisms (e.g. so-called microexpressions). 

Somatotypes and Physique 

Dutton begins his book with a remarkable attempt to resurrect William Sheldon’s theory that certain types of physiques (or, as Sheldon called them, somatotypes) are associated with particular types of personality (or as Sheldon called them, constitutions). 

Although the three dimensions by which Sheldon classified physiques – endomorphy, ectomorphy and mesomorphy – have proven useful as dimensions for classifying body-type, Sheldon’s attempt to equate these ideal types with personality is now widely dismissed as pseudoscience. 

Dutton, however, argues that physique is indeed associated with character, and moreover provides what was conspicuously lacking in Sheldon’s own exposition – namely, compelling theoretical reasons for the postulated associations. 

Yet, interestingly, the associations suggested by Dutton do indeed to some extent mirror those first posited by William Shelton over half a century previously.

Whereas, elsewhere, Dutton draws on previously published research, here, Dutton’s reasoning is, to my knowledge, largely original to himself, though, as I show below, psychometric studies do support the existence of at least some of the associations he postulates. 

This part of Dutton’s book represents, in my view, the most important and convincing original contribution in the book. 

Endomorphy/Obesity, Self-Control and Conscientiousness

First, he discusses what Sheldon called endomorphy – namely, a body-type that can roughly be equated with what we would today call fatness or obesity

Dutton points out that, at least in contemporary Western societies, where there is a superabundance of food, and starvation is all but unknown even among the relatively less well-off, obesity tends to correlate with personality. 

In short, people who lack self-control and willpower will likely also lack the self-control and willpower to diet effectively. 

Endomorphy (i.e. obesity) is therefore a reliable correlate of the personality factor known to psychometricians as conscientiousness (p31-2).  

Although Dutton himself cites no data or published studies in support of this conclusion, nevertheless several published studies confirm an association between BMI and conscientiousness (Bagenjuk et al 2019; Jokela et al 2012; Sutin et al 2011). 

Obesity is also, Dutton claims, inversely correlated with intelligence

This is, first, because IQ is, according to Dutton, correlated with time-preference – i.e. a person’s willingness to defer gratification by making sacrifices in the short-term in return for a greater long-term pay-off. 

Therefore, low-IQ people, Dutton claims: 

Are less able to forego the immediate pleasure of ice cream for the future positive of not being overweight and diabetic” (p31). 

However, far from being associated with a short-time preference, some evidence, not discussed by Dutton, suggests that intelligence is actually inversely correlated with conscientiousness, such that more intelligent people are actually on average less conscientious (e.g. Rammstedt et al 2016; cf. Murray et al 2014). 

This would suggest that low IQ people might, all else being equal, actually be more successful at dieting than their high IQ counterparts. 

However, according to Dutton, there is a second reason that low-IQ people are more likely to be fat, namely: 

They are likely to understand less about healthy eating and simply possess less knowledge of what constitutes healthy food or a reasonable portion” (p31). 

This may be true. 

However, while there are some borderline cases (e.g. foods misleadingly marketed by advertisers as healthy), I suspect that virtually everyone knows that, say, eating lots of cake is unhealthy. Yet resisting the temptation to eat another slice is often easier said than done. 

I therefore suspect conscientiousness is a better predictor of weight than is intelligence

Interestingly, a few studies have investigated the association between IQ and the prevalence of obesity. However, curiously, most seem to be premised on the notion that, rather than low intelligence causing obesity, obesity somehow contributes to cognitive decline, especially in children (e.g. Martin et al 2015) and the elderly (e.g. Elias et al 2012). 

In fact, however, longitudinal studies confirm that, as contended by Dutton, it is low IQ that causes obesity rather than the other way around (Kanazawa 2014). 

At any rate, people lacking in intelligence and self-control also likely lack the intelligence and self-discipline to excel in school and gain promotions into high-income jobs, since both earnings and socioeconomic status correlate with both intelligence and conscientiousness.[6]

One can also, then, make better than chance assessments of a person’s socioeconomic status  and income from their physique. 

In other words, whereas in the past (and perhaps still in the developing world) the poor were more likely to starve or suffer from malnutrition and only the rich could afford to be fat, in the affluent west today it is the relatively less well-off who are, if anything, more likely to suffer from obesity and diseases of affluence such as diabetes and heart disease

This, then, all rather confirms the contemporary stereotype of the fat, lazy slob. 

However, Dutton also provides a let-off clause for offended fatties. Obesity is associated, not only with conscientiousness, but also with the factor of personality known as extraversion. This refers to the tendency to be outgoing, friendly and talkative, traits that are generally viewed positively. 

Several studies, again not cited by Dutton, do indeed suggest an association between extraversion and BMI (Bagenjuk et al 2019; Sutin et al 2011). Dutton, for his part, explains it this way: 

Extraverts simply enjoy everything positive more, and this includes tasty (and thus unhealthy) food” (p32). 

Dutton therefore provides theoretical support to the familiar stereotype of, not only the fat, lazy slob, but also the jolly and gregarious fat man, and the ‘bubbly’ fat woman.[7]

Mesomorphy/Muscularity and Testosterone

Mesomorphs were another of Sheldon’s supposed body-types. Mesomorphy can roughly be equated with muscularity. 

Here, Dutton concludes that: 

Sheldon’s theory… actually fits quite well with what we know about testosterone” (p33). 

Thus, mesomorphy is associated with muscularity, and muscularity with testosterone

Yet testosterone, as well as masculinizing the body, also masculinizes brain and behaviour. 

This is why anabolic steroids, not only increase muscularity, but are also said to be associated with roid rage.[8]

Testosterone, at least during development, may also be associated, not only with muscularity, but also with certain aspects of facial morphology, such as a wide and well-defined jawline, prominent brow ridges, deep-set eyes and facial width.  

I therefore wonder if this might go some way towards explain the finding, not mentioned by Dutton (but clearly relevant to his subject-matter), that observers are apparently able to identify convicted criminals at better than chance levels from a facial photograph alone (Valla, Ceci & Williams 2011).[9]

Testosterone and Autism 

Further exploring the effects of testosterone on both psychology and morphology, Dutton also proposes: 

We would also expect the more masculine-looking person to have higher levels of autism traits” (p34). 

This idea seems to be based on Simon Baron-Cohen’s extreme male brain theory of autism

However, the relationship between, on the one hand, levels of androgens such as testosterone and, on the other, degree of masculinization in respect of a given sexually-dimorphic trait may be neither one-dimensional nor linear

Thus, interestingly, Kingsley Browne in his excellent Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality (which I have reviewed here) reports: 

The relationship between spatial ability and [circulating] testosterone levels is described by an inverted U-shaped curve… Spatial ability is lowest in those with the very lowest and the very highest testosterone levels, with the optimal testosterone level lying in the lower end of the normal male range. Thus, males with testosterone in the low-normal range have the highest spatial ability” (Biology at Work: p115; Gouchie & Kimura 1991). 

In contrast, however, Dutton claims: 

There is evidence that testosterone level in healthy males is positively associated with spatial ability” (p36). 

However, the only study he cites in support of this assertion was, according to its methodology section and indeed its very title, conducted among “older males”, reported as having been between the ages of 60 and 75 years of age (Janowsky et al 1994). 

Therefore, since testosterone levels are known to decline with age, this finding is not necessarily inconsistent with the relationship between testosterone and spatial ability described by Browne (see Moffat & Hampson 1996). 

This, of course, accords with the anecdotal observation that math nerds and autistic males are rarely athletic, square-jawed ‘alpha male’-types.[10]

Testosterone and Baldness 

Another trait associated with testosterone levels, according to Dutton, is male pattern baldness. Thus, Dutton contends: 

Baldness is yet another reflection of high testosterone… [B]aldness in males known as androgenic apolecia, is positively associated with levels of testosterone” (p55). 

As evidence, he cites a study both a review (Batrinos 2014) and some indirect anecdotal evidence: 

It is widely known among doctors – I base this on my own discussions with doctors – that males who come to them in their 60s complaining of impotence tend to have full heads of fair or only very limited hair loss” (p55).[11]

If male pattern baldness is indeed associated with testosterone levels then this is somewhat surprising, because our perceptions regarding men suffering from male pattern baldness seem to be that they are, if anything, less masculine than other males. 

Thus, Nancy Etcoff, in Survival of the Prettiest (which I have reviewed here), reports that one study  found that: 

Both sexes assumed that balding men were weaker and found them less attractive” (Survival of the Prettiest: p121; Cash 1990).[12]

Yet, if the main message of Dutton’s book is that individual differences in morphology and appearance do indeed predict individual differences in behaviour, psychology and personality, then a second implicit theme seems also to be that our intuitions and stereotypes regarding the association between appearance and behaviors are often correct.  

True, it is likely that few people notice, say, digit ratios, or make judgements about people based on them either consciously or unconsciously. However, elsewhere, Dutton cites studies showing that subjects are able to estimate the IQ of male students at better than chance levels simply by viewing a photograph of their faces (Kleisner et al 2014; discussed at p50); and identify homosexuals and heterosexual men at better than chance levels from a facial photograph alone (Kosinski & Wang 2017; discussed at p66). 

Yet, according to Etcoff and Cash, perceptions regarding the personalities of balding men are almost the opposite of what would be expected if male pattern balding were indeed a reflection of high testosterone levels, as suggested by Dutton. 

In fact, however, although a certain level of testosterone is indeed a necessary condition for male pattern hair loss (this is why neither women nor castrated eunuchs experience the condition, though their hair does thin with age), this seems to be a threshold effect, and among non-castrated males with testosterone levels within the normal range levels of circulating testosterone do not seem to significantly predict either the occurrence, or severity, of male pattern baldness

Thus, healthline reports: 

It’s not the amount of testosterone or DHT that causes baldness; it’s the sensitivity of your hair follicles. That sensitivity is determined by genetics. The AR gene makes the receptor on hair follicles that interact with testosterone and DHT. If your receptors are particularly sensitive, they are more easily triggered by even small amounts of DHT, and hair loss occurs more easily as a result. 

In other words, male pattern baldness is yet another trait that is indeed related to testosterone, but does not evince a simple linear relationship

2D:4D Ratio

Another presumed correlate of prenatal androgens is 2D:4D ratio (aka digit ratio). 

Over the last two decades, a huge body of research has reported correlations between 2D:4D ratio and a variety of psychiatric conditions and behavioural propensities, including autism (Manning et al 2001), ADHD (Martel et al 2008; Buru 2020; Işık 2020), psychopathy (Blanchard & Lyons 2010), aggressive behaviours (Bailey & Hurd 2005; Benderlioglu & Nelson 2005), sports and athletic performance (Manning & Taylor 2001Hönekopp & Urban 2010; Griffin et al 2012; Keshavarz et al 2017), criminal behaviour (Ellis & Hoskin 2015; Hoskin & Ellis 2014) and homosexuality (Williams et al 2000; Lippa 2003; Kangassalo et al 2011; Li et al 2016; Xu & Zheng 2016). 
 
Unfortunately, and slightly embarrassingly, Dutton apparently misunderstands what 2D:4D ratio actually measures. Thus, he writes: 

If the profile of someone’s fingers is smoother, more like a shovel, then it implies high testosterone. If, by contrast, the little finger is significantly smaller than the middle finger, which is highly prevalent among women, then it implies lower testosterone exposure” (p69). 

Actually, however, both the little finger and middle finger are irrelevant to 2D:4D ratio.

Indeed, for virtually everyone, “the little finger is significantly smaller than the middle finger”. This is, of course, why the latter is called “the little finger”.

Actually, 2D:4D ratio concerns the ratio between index finger and the ring finger – i.e. the two fingers on either side of the middle finger

These fingers are, of course, the second and fourth digit, respectively, if you begin counting from your thumb outwards, hence the name ‘2D:4D ratio’. 

In evidently misnumbering his digits, I can only conclude that Dutton began counting at the correct end, but missed out his thumb. 

At any rate, the evidence for any association between digit ratios and measures of behavior and psychology is, at best, mixed

Skimming the literature on the subject, one finds many conflicting findings – for example, sometimes significant effects are found only for one sex, while other studies find the same correlations limited to the other sex (e.g. Bailey & Hurd 2005; Benderlioglu & Nelson 2005; see also Hilgard et al 2019), and also many failures to replicate earlier reported associations (e.g. Voracek et al 2011; Fossen et al 2022; Kyselicová et al 2021). 

Likewise, meta-analyses of published studies have generally found, at best, only small and inconsistent associations (e.g Voracek et al 2011 ; Pratt et al 2016). Thus, 2D:4D ratio has been a major victim of the recent so-called replication crisis in psychology

Indeed, it is not entirely clear that 2D:4D ratio represents a useful measure of prenatal androgens in the first place (Hollier et al 2015), and even the universality of the sex difference that originally led researchers to posit such a link is has been called into question (Apicella 2015; Lolli et al 2017).  

In short, the usefulness of digit ratio as a measure of exposure to prenatal androgens, let alone an important correlate of behaviour, psychology, personality or athletic performance, is questionable. 

Testosterone and Height 

The examples of male pattern baldness and spatial ability demonstrate that the effect of testosterone on some sexually-dimorphic traits is not necessarily always linear. Instead, it can be quite complex. 

Therefore, just because men are, on average, higher for a given trait than are women, which is ultimately a consequence of androgens such as testosterone, this does not necessarily mean that men with relatively higher levels of testosterone are necessarily higher for this trait than are men with relatively lower levels of testosterone. 

Indeed, Dutton himself provides another example of such a trait – namely height

Thus, although men, in general, are taller than women, nevertheless, according to Dutton: 

Men who are high in testosterone… tend to be of shorter stature than those who are low in it. High levels of testosterone at a relatively early age have been shown to reduce stature” (p34).[13]

In evolutionary terms, Dutton explains this in terms of the controversial Life History Theory of Philippe Rushton, of whom Dutton seems to be, with some reservations, something of a disciple (p22-4). 

If true, this might explain why eunuchs who were castrated before entering puberty are said to grow taller, on average, than other men. 

Further corroboration is provided by the fact that, in the Netherlands, whose population is among the tallest in the world, excessively tall boys are sometimes treated with testosterone in order to prevent them growing any taller (de Waal et al 1995).[14]

This is said to occur because additional testosterone speeds up puberty, and produces a growth spurt, but it also brings this to an end when height stabilizes and we cease to grow any taller. This is discussed in Carole Hooven’s book Testosterone: The Story of the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us.

Short Man Syndrome’?

Interestingly, although Dutton does not explore the idea, the association between testosterone levels and height among males may even explain the supposed phenomenon of short man syndrome (also referred to, by reference to the supposed diminutive stature of the French emperor Napoleon, as a Napoleon complex), whereby short men are said to be especially aggressive and domineering. 

This is something that is usually attributed to a psychological need among shorter men to compensate for their diminutive stature. However, if Dutton is right, then the supposed aggressive predilections of short men might simply reflect differences between short and taller man in testosterone levels during adolescence. 

Actually, however, so-called short man syndrome is likely a myth – and yet another way society in general demeans and belittles short men. Certainly, it is very much a folk-psychiatric diagnosis with no empirical or real evidential basis, besides the merely anecdotal.  

Indeed, far from short men being, on average, more aggressive and domineering than taller men, one study commissioned by the BBC actually found that short men were less likely to respond aggressively when provoked

Given that tall men have an advantage in combat, it would actually make sense for relatively shorter men to avoid potentially violent confrontations with other men where possible, since, all else being equal, they would be more likely to come off worse in any such altercation.  

Consistent with this, some studies have found a link between increased stature and anti-social personality disorder, which is associated with aggressive behaviours (e.g. Ishikawa et al 2001; Salas-Wright & Vaughn 2016), while another study found a positive association between height and dominance, especially among males (Malamed 1992).[15]

Height and Intelligence 

Height is also, Dutton reports, correlated with intelligence, with taller people having, on average, slightly higher IQs than shorter people.  

The association between height and IQ is, like most if not all of those discussed by Dutton in this book, modest in magnitude or effect size.[16]

However, unlike many other associations reported by Dutton, many of which are based on just a single published study, or sometimes by purely theoretical arguments, the association between height and intelligence is robust and well-established.[17] Indeed, there is even wikipedia page on the topic

Dutton’s explanation for this phenomenon is that intelligence and height “have been sexually selected for as a kind of bundle” (p46). 

Females have sexually selected for intelligent men (because intelligence predicts social status and they have been specifically selected for this) but they have also selected for taller men, realising that taller men will be better able to protect them. This predilection for tall but intelligent men has led to the two characteristics being associated with one another” (p46). 

Actually, as I see it, this explanation would only work, or at least work much better, if both men and women had a preference for partners who are both tall and intelligent

This is indeed Arthur Jensen’s explanation for the association between height and IQ: 

Probably represents a simple genetic correlation resulting from cross-assortative mating for the two traits. Both height and ‘intelligence’ are highly valued in western culture. There is also evidence for cross-assortative mating for height and IQ. There is some trade-off between them in mate selection. When short and tall women are matched on IQ, educational level and social class of origin, for example, it is found that taller women tend to marry men of higher socioeconomic status… than do shorter women” (The G Factor: The Science of Mental Ability: p146). 

An alternative explanation might be that both height and intelligence reflect developmental stability and a lack of deleterious mutations. On this view, both height and intelligence might represent indices of genetic quality and lack of mutational load. 

However, this alternative explanation is inconsistent with the finding that there is no ‘within-family’ correlation between height and intelligence. In other words, when one looks at, say, full-siblings from the same family, there is no tendency for the taller sibling to have a higher IQ (Mackintosh, IQ and Human Intelligence: p6). 

This suggests that the genes that cause greater height are different from those that cause greater intelligence, but that they have come to be found in the same individuals through assortative mating, as suggested by Jensen and Dutton.[18]

Height and Earnings 

Although not discussed by Dutton, there is also a correlation between height and earnings. Thus, economist Steven Landsburg reports that: 

In general, an extra inch of height adds roughly an extra $1,000 a year in wages, after controlling for education and experience. That makes height as important as race or gender as a determinant of wages” (More Sex is Safer Sex: p53). 

This correlation could be mediated by the association between height and intelligence, since intelligence is known to be correlated with earnings (Case & Paxson 2009). 

However, one interesting study found that it was actually height during adolescence that accounted for the association, and that, once this was controlled for, adult height had little or no effect on earnings (Persico, Postlewaite & Silverman 2004). 

Controlling for teen height essentially eliminates the effect of adult height on wages for white males. The teen height premium is not explained by differences in resources or endowments” (Persico, Postlewaite & Silverman 2004). 

Thus, Landsburg reports: 

Tall men who were short in high school earn like short men, while short men who were tall (for their age) in high school” (More Sex is Safer Sex: p54). 

This suggests that it is height during a key formative period (a critical period’) in adolescence that increases self-confidence, which self-confidence continues into adulthood and ultimately contributes to higher adult earnings of men who were relatively taller as adolescents. 

On the other hand, however, Case and Paxon report that, in addition to being associated with adult height, intelligence is also associated with an earlier growth spurt. This leads them to conclude that adolescent height might be a better marker for cognitive ability than adult height, thereby providing an alternative explanation for Persico et al’s finding (Case & Paxson 2009). 

Head Size and Intelligence 

Dutton also discusses the finding that there is an association between intelligence and head-size. This is indeed true and is a topic I have written about elsewhere

However, Dutton’s illustration of this phenomenon seems to me rather unhelpful. Thus, he writes: 

Intelligent people have big heads in comparison to the size of their bodies. This association is obvious at the extremes. People who suffer from a variety of conditions that reduce their intelligence, including fetal alcohol syndrome or the zika virus, have noticeably very small heads” (p56). 

However, to me, this seems to be the wrong way to think about it. 

While it is indeed true that microcephaly (i.e. a smaller than usual head size) is usually associated with lower than normal intelligence levels, the reverse is not true. Thus, although head-size is indeed correlated with IQ, people suffering from macrocephaly (i.e. abnormally large heads) do not generally have exceptionally high IQs.  

Neither do people afflicted with forms of disproportionate dwarfism, such as achondroplasia, have higher than average IQs even though their heads are larger relative to their body-size than are those of ordinary-sized people.  

In short, rather than being, as Dutton puts it “obvious at the extremes”, the association between head-size and intelligence is obvious at only one of the extremes and not at all apparent at the other extreme. 

In general, species, individuals and races with larger brains have higher intelligence because, because brain-size is highly metabolically expensive and therefore unlikely to evolve without some compensating advantage (i.e. higher intelligence). 

However, conditions such achondroplasia and macrocephaly did not evolve through positive selection. On the contrary, they are pathological and maladaptive. Therefore, in these cases, the additional brain tissue may indeed be wasted and hence confer no cognitive advantage. 

Mate Choice 

In evolutionary psychology, there is a large literature on human mate-choice and beauty/attractiveness standards. Much of this depends on the assumption that the physical characteristics favoured as mate-choice criteria represent fitness-indicators, or otherwise correlate with traits desirable in a mate. 

For example, a low waist-to-hip ratio (or ‘WHR’) is said to be perceived as attractive among females because it is supposedly a correlate of both health and fertility. Similarly, low levels of fluctuating asymmetry are thought to be perceived as attractive by members of the opposite sex in both humans and other animals, supposedly because it is indicative of developmental stability and hence indirectly of genetic quality

Dutton reviews some of this literature. However, an introductory textbook on evolutionary psychology (e.g. David Buss’s Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind), or on the evolutionary psychology of mating behaviour in particular (e.g. David Buss’s The Evolution of Desire), would provide a more comprehensive review. 

Also, some of Dutton’s speculations are rather unconvincing. He claims: 

Hipsters with their Old Testament beards are showcasing their genetic quality… Beards are a clear advertisement of male health and status. They are a breeding ground for parasites” (p61). 

However, if this is so, then it merely raises the question as to why have beards come back into fashion very recently? Indeed, until the last few years, beards had not been in fashion for men in the west to my knowledge since the 1970s.[19]

Moreover, it is not at all clear that beards do increase attractiveness (e.g. Dixson & Vasey 2012). Rather, it seems that beards increase perceptions of male age, dominance, social status and aggressiveness, but not their attractiveness.[20]

This suggests that beards are more likely to have evolved through intrasexual selection (i.e. dominance competition or fighting between males) than by intersexual selection (i.e. female choice). 

This is actually consistent with a recently-emerging consensus among evolutionary psychologists that human male physiology (and behaviour) has been shaped more by intrasexual selection than by intersexual selection (Puts 2010; Kordsmeyer et al 2018). 

Consistent with this, Dutton notes: 

“[Beards] have been found to make men look more aggressive, of higher status, and older… in a context in which females tend to be attracted to slightly older men, with age tending to be associated with status in men” (p61). 

However, this raises the question as to why, today, most men prefer to look younger.[21]

Are Feminine Faces More Prone to Infidelity?

Another interesting idea discussed by Dutton is that mate-choice criteria may vary depending on the sort of relationship sought. For example, he suggests: 

A highly feminine face is attractive, in particular in terms of a short term relationship… [where] a healthy and fertile partner is all that is needed” (p43). 

In contrast, however, he concludes that for a long-term relationship a less feminine face may be desirable, since he contends “being extremely feminine in terms of secondary sexual characteristics is associated with an r-strategy” and hence supposedly with a greater risk of infidelity (p43).[22]

However, Dutton presents no evidence in favour of the claim that less feminine women are less prone to sexual infidelity. 

Actually, on theoretical grounds, I would contend that the precise opposite relationship is more likely to exist. 

After all, less feminine and more masculine females, having been subjected to higher levels of androgens, would presumably also have a more male-typical sexuality, including a high sex drive and preference for promiscuous sex with multiple partners

Indeed, there is data in support of this conclusion, from studies of women afflicted with a rare condition, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which results in their having been exposed to abnormally high levels of masculinizing androgens such as testosterone both in the womb and sometimes in later life as compared to other females, and who, as a consequence, exhibit a more male-typical psychology and sexuality than other females. 

Thus, Donald Symons in his seminal The Evolution of Human Sexuality (which I have reviewed here) reports:  

There is evidence that certain aspects of adult male sexuality result from the effects of prenatal and postpubertal androgens: before the discovery of cortisone therapy women with andrenogenital syndrome [AGS] were exposed to abnormally high levels of androgens throughout their lives, and clinical data on late-treated AGS women indicate clear-cut tendencies toward a male pattern of sexuality” (The Evolution of Human Sexuality: p290). 

Thus, citing the work of, among others the much-demonized John Money, Symons reports that women suffering from andrenogenital syndrome

Tended to exhibit clitoral hypersensitivity and an autonomous, initiatory, appetitive sexuality which investigators have characterized as evidencing a high sex drive or libido” (The Evolution of Human Sexuality: p290). 

This suggests that females with a relatively more masculine appearance, having been subject, on average, to higher levels of masculinizing androgens, will also evidence a more male-typical sexuality, including greater promiscuity and hence presumably a greater proclivity towards infidelity, rather than a lesser tendency as theorized by Dutton. 

Good Looks, Politics and Religion 

Dutton also cites studies showing that conservative politicians, and voters, are more attractive than liberals (Peterson & Palmer 2017; Berggren et al 2017). 

By way of explanation for these findings, Dutton speculates that in ancestral environments: 

Populations… so low in ethnocentrism as to espouse Multiculturalism and reject religion would simply have died out… Therefore… the espousal of leftist dogmas would partly reflect mutant genes, just as the espousal of atheism does. This elevated mutational load… would be reflected in their bodies as well as their brains” (p76). 

However, this seems unlikely, since atheism and possibly socially liberal political views as well have usually been associated with higher intelligence, which is probably a marker for good genes.[23]

Moreover, although mutations might result in suboptimal levels of both ethnocentrism and religiosity, these suboptimal levels would presumably also manifest in the form of excessive levels of religiosity and ethnocentrism

This would suggest that religious fundamentalists and extreme xenophobes and racial supremacists would be just as mutated, and hence just as ugly, as atheists and extreme leftists supposedly are. 

Yet Dutton instead insists that religious fundamentalists, especially Mormons, tend to be highly attractive (Dutton et al 2017). However, he and his co-authors cite little evidence for this claim beyond the merely anecdotal.[24]

The authors of the original paper, Dutton reports, themselves suggested an alternative explanation for the greater attractiveness of conservative politicians, namely: 

Beautiful people earn more, which makes them less inclined to support redistribution” (p75). 

This, to me seems, both simpler more plausible. However, in response, Dutton observes: 

There is far more to being… right-wing… than not supporting redistribution” (p75). 

Here, he is right. The correlation between socioeconomic status/income and political ideology and voting is actually quite modest (see What’s Your Bias). 

However, earnings do still correlate with voting patterns, and this correlation is perhaps enough to explain the modest association between physical attractiveness and political opinions. 

Nevertheless, other factors may also play a role. For example, a couple of studies have found, among men, an association between grip strength and support for policies that benefit oneself economically (Peterson et al 2013; Peterson & Laustsen 2018). 

Grip strength is associated with muscularity, which is generally considered attractive in males. 

Since most leading politicians mostly come from middle-class, well-to-do, if not elite backgrounds, this would suggest that conservative male politicians are likely to be, on average, more attractive than liberal or leftist politicians.

Indeed, Noah Carl has even purported to observe, and presents evidence suggesting, a general, and widening, masculinity gap between the political left and right, and some studies have found evidence that more physically formidable males have more conservative and less egalitarian political views (Price et al 2017; Kerry & Murray 2018). 

Since masculinity in general (e.g. not just muscularity, but also square jaws etc.) is associated with attractiveness in males (see discussion here), this might explain at least part of the association between political views and physical attractiveness. 

On the other hand, among females, an opposite process may be at work. 

Among women, leftist politics seem to be strongly associated with feminist views

Since feminists reject traditional female sex roles, it is likely they would be relatively less ‘feminine’ than other women, perhaps having been, on average, subjected to relatively higher levels of androgens in the womb, masculinizing both their behaviour and appearance. 

Yet it is relatively more feminine women, with feminine, sexually-dimorphic traits such as large breasts, low waist to hip ratios, and neotenous facial features, who are perceived by men as more attractive.

It is therefore unsurprising that feminist women in particular tend to be less attractive than women who are attracted to traditional sex roles.[25]

Developmental Disorders and MPAs

One study cited by Dutton found that observers are able to estimate a male’s IQ from a facial photograph alone at better than chance level (Kleisner 2014). To explain this, Dutton speculates: 

Having a small nose is associated with Downs [sic] Syndrome and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and this would have contributed to our assuming that those with smaller noses were less intelligent” (p51). 

Thus, he explains: 

“[Whereas] Downs [sic] Syndrome and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome are major disruptions of developmental pathways and they lead to very low intelligence and a very small nose… even minor disruptions would lead to slightly reduced intelligence and a slightly smaller nose” (p51-2). 

Indeed, foetal alcohol syndrome itself seems to exist on a continuum and is hence a matter of degree. 
 
Indeed, going further than Dutton, I would agree with publisher/blogger Chip Smith, who observes in his blog

Dutton only mention[s] trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) in passing, but I think that’s a pretty solid place to start if you want to establish the baseline premise that at least some mental traits can be accurately inferred from external appearances.” 

Thus, the specific ‘look associated with Down Syndrome is a useful counterexample to cite to anyone who dismisses the idea of physiognomy, and the existence of any association between looks and ability or behaviour, a priori

Indeed, other developmental disorders and chromosomal abnormalities, not mentioned by Dutton, are also associated with a specific specific ‘look’ – for example, Williams Syndrome, the distinctive appearance, and personality, associated with which has even been posited as the basis for the elf figure in folklore.[26]

Less obviously, it has even been suggested that there are also subtle facial features that distinguish autistic children from neurotypical children, and which also distinguish boys with relatively more severe forms of autism from those who are likely to be diagnosed as higher functioning (Aldridge et al 2011; Ozgen et al 2011). 

However, Dutton neglects to mention that there is in fact a sizable literature regarding the association between so-called minor physical anomalies (aka MPAs) and several psychiatric conditions including autism (Ozgen et al 2008), schizophrenia (Weinberg et al 2007; Xu et al 2011) and paedophilia (Dyshniku et al 2015). 

MPAs have also been identified in several studies as a correlate of criminal behaviour (Kandel et al 1989; see also Criminology: A Global Perspective: p70-1). 

Yet these MPAs are often the very same traits – the single transverse palmar crease; sandal toe gap; fissured tongue – that are also used to diagnose Down Syndrome in nenates.

The Morality of Making Judgements

But is it not superficial to judge a book by its cover? And, likewise, by extension, isn’t it morally wrong to judge people by their appearance? 

Indeed, it is not only morally wrong to judge people by their appearance, but also, worse still, isn’t it racist

After all, skin colour is obviously a part of our appearance, and did not our Lord and Saviour, Dr Martin Luther King, himself advocate for a world in which people would be judged “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” 

Here, Dutton turns from science to morality, and convincingly contends that, at least in certain circumstances, it is indeed morally acceptable to judge people by appearances. 

It is true, he acknowledges, that most of the correlations that he has uncovered or reported are modest in magnitude. However, he is at pains to emphasize, the same is true of almost all correlations that are found throughout psychology and the social sciences. Thus, he exhorts: 

Let us be consistent. It is very common in psychology to find a correlation between, for example, a certain behaviour and accidents (or health) of 0.15 or 0.2 and thus argue that action should be taken based on the results. These sizes are considered large enough to be meaningful and even for policy to be changed” (p82). 

However, Dutton also includes a few sensible precautions and caveats to be borne in mind by those readers who might be tempted overenthusiastically apply some of his ideas. 

First, he warns against regarding making inferences regarding “people from a racial group with which you have relatively limited contact”, where the same cues used with respect to your own group may be inapplicable, or must be applied relative to the group averages for the other group, something we may not be adept at doing (p82-3). 

Thus, to give an obvious example, among Caucasians, epicanthic folds (i.e. so-called ‘slanted’ eyes) may be indicative of a developmental disorder such as Down syndrome. However, among East Asians, Southeast Asians and some other racial groups (notably the Khoisan of Southern Africa), such folds are entirely normal and not indicative of any pathology. 

He also cautions regarding people’s ability to disguise their appearance, both by makeup and plastic surgery. However, also notes that the tendency to wear excessive makeup, or undergo cosmetic surgery, is itself indicative of a certain personality type, and indeed often, Dutton asserts, of psychopathology (p84-5). 

Using physical appearance to make assessments is particularly useful, Dutton observes, “in extreme situations when a quick decision must be made” (p80). 

Thus, to take a deliberately extreme reductio ad absurdum, if we see someone stabbing another person, and this first person then approaches us in an aggressive manner brandishing the knife, then, if we take evasive action, we are, strictly speaking, judging by appearances. The person appears as if they are going to stab us, so we assume they are and act accordingly. However, no one would judge us morally wrong for so doing. 

However, in circumstances where we have access to greater individualizing information, the importance of appearances becomes correspondingly smaller. Here, a Bayesian approach is useful. 

In 2013, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller caused predictable outrage and hysteria when he tweeted

Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.” 

According to Dutton, as we have seen above, willpower is indeed likely correlated with obesity, because, as Miller argues, people lacking in willpower also likely lack the willpower to diet. 

However, a PhD supervisor surely has access to far more reliable information regarding a person’s personality and intelligence, including their conscientiousness and willpower, in the form of their application and CV, than is obtainable from their physique alone. 

Thus, the outrage that this tweet provoked, though indeed excessive and a reflection of the intolerant climate of so-called cancel culture’ and public shaming in the contemporary west, was not entirely unwarranted. 

Similarly, if geneticist James Watson did indeed say, as he was rather hilariously reported as having said, that “Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them”, he was indeed being prejudiced, because, again, an employer has access to more reliable information regarding applicants than their physique, namely, again, their application and CV. 

Obesity may often—perhaps even usually—be indicative of low levels of conscientiousness, willpower and intelligence. But, it is not always indicative of low levels of conscientiousness, willpower and intelligence. Instead, it may instead, as Dutton himself points out, reflect only high extraversion, or indeed an unusual medical condition. 

However, even at job interviews, employers do still, in practice, judge people partly by their appearance. Moreover, we often regard them as well within their rights to do so. 

This is, of course, why we advise applicants to dress smartly for their interviews.

Endnotes

[1] If ‘How to Judge People by What They Look Like’ is indeed a very short book, then, it must be conceded that this is, by comparison, a rather long and detailed book review. While, as will become clear in the remainder of this review, I have many points of disagreement with Dutton (as well as many points of agreement) and there are many areas where I feel he is mistaken, nevertheless the length of this book review is, in itself, testament to the amount of thinking that Dutton’s short pamphlet has inspired in this reader. 

[2] In addition, I suspect few of the researchers whose work Dutton cites ever even regarded themselves as working within, or somehow reviving, the field of physiognomy. On the contrary, despite researching and indeed demonstrating robust associations between morphology and behavior, this idea may never even have occurred to them.
Thus, for example, I was already familiar with some of this literature even before reading Dutton’s book, but it never occurred to me that what I was reading was a burgeoning literature in a revived science of physiognomy. Indeed, despite being familiar with much of this literature, I suspect that, if questioned directly on the matter, I may well have agreed with the general consensus that physiognomy was a discredited pseudoscience.
Thus, one of the chief accomplishments of Dutton’s book is simply to establish that this body of research does indeed represent a revived science of physiognomy, and should be recognized and described as such, even if the researchers themselves rarely if ever use the term.

[3] Instead, it would surely uncover mostly papers in the field of ‘history of science’, documenting the history of physiognomy as a supposedly discredited pseudoscience, along with such other real and supposed pseudosciences as phrenology and eugenics.

[4] The studies mentioned in the two paragraphs that precede this endnote are simply a few that I happen to have stumbled across that are relevant to Dutton’s theme and which I happen to have been able to recall. No doubt, any list of relevant studies that I could compile would be just as inexhaustive as that of Dutton and my own list would be longer than Dutton’s only because I have the advantage of having read Dutton’s book beforehand.

[5] Thus, a young person dressed as a hippy in the 60s and 70s was more likely to ascribe to certain (usually rather silly and half-baked) political beliefs, and also more likely to engage in recreational drug-use and live on a commune, while a young man dressed as a teddy boy in Britain in the 1950s, a skinhead in the 1970s and 80s, a football casual in the 1990s, or indeed a chav today, may be perceived as more likely to be involved in violent crime and thuggery. The goth subculture also seems to be associated with a certain personality type, and also with self-harm and suicide.

[6] The association between IQ and socioeconomic status is reviewed in The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (which I have reviewed here). The association between conscientiousness and socioeconomic status is weaker, probably because personality tests are a less reliable measure of conscientiousness than IQ tests are of IQ, since the former rely on self-report. This is the equivalent of an IQ test that, instead of asking test-takers to solve logical puzzles, simply asked them how good they perceived themselves to be at solving logical puzzles. Nevertheless, conscientiousness, as measured in personality tests, does indeed correlate with earnings and career advancement, albeit less strongly than does IQ (Spurk & Abele 2011Wiersma & Kappe 2016).

[7] If some fat people are low in conscientiousness and intelligence, and others merely high in extraversion, there may, I suspect, also be a third category of people who do have self-control and self-discipline, but simply do not much care about whether they are fat or thin. However, given both the social stigma and health implications of obesity, this group is, I suspect, small. It is also likely young, since health dangers of obesity increase with age, and male, since both the social stigma of fatness, and especially its negative impact on mate value and attractiveness, seems to be greater for females. 

[8] Actually, whether roid rage is a real thing is a matter of some dispute. Although users of anabolic steroids do indeed have higher rates of violent crime, it has been suggested that this may be at least in part because the type of people who choose to use steroids are precisely those already prone to violence. In other words, there is a problem of self-selection bias.
Moreover, the association between testosterone and aggressive behaviours is more complex than this simple analysis assumes. One leading researcher in the field, Allan Mazur, argues that testosterone is not associated with aggression or violence per se, but only with dominance behaviours, which only sometimes manifest themselves through violent aggression. Thus, for example, a leading politician, business tycoon or chief executive of a large company may have high testosterone and be able to exercise dominance without resort to violence. However, a prisoner, being of low status in the legitimate world, is likely only able to assert dominance through violence (see Mazur & Booth 1998; Mazur 2009).

[9] Here, however, it is important to distinguish between the so-called organizing and ‘activating’ effects of testosterone. The latter can be equated with levels of circulating testosterone at any given time. The former, however, involves androgen levels at certain key points during development, especially in utero (i.e. in the womb) and during puberty, which thenceforth have long-term effects on both morphology and behaviour (and a person’s degree of susceptibility to circulating androgens).
Facial bone structure is presumable largely an effect of the ‘organizing’ effects of testosterone during development, though jaw shape is also affected by the size of the jaw muscles, which can be increased, it has been claimed, by regularly chewing gum. Bodily muscularity, on the other hand, is affected by both levels of circulating testosterone (hence the effects of anabolic steroids on muscle growth) but also levels of testosterone during development, not least because high levels of androgens during development increases the number and sensitivity of androgen receptors, which affect the potential for muscular growth.

[10] In this section, I have somewhat conflated spatial ability, mathematical ability and autism traits. However, these are themselves, of course, not the same, though each is probably associated with the others, albeit again not necessarily in a linear relationship.

[11] I have been unable to discover any evidence for this supposed association between lack of balding and impotence in men. On the contrary, googling the terms ‘male pattern baldness’ and ‘impotence’ finds only a results, mostly people speculating whether there is a positive correlation between balding and impotence in males, if only on the very unpersuasive ground that the two conditions tend to have a similar age of onset (i.e. around middle-age).

[12] In contrast, the shaven-head skinhead-look, or close-cropped military-style induction cut, buzz cut or high and tight is, of course, perceived as a quintessentially masculine, and even thuggish, hairstyle. This is perhaps because, in addition to contrasting with the long hair typically favoured by females, it also, by reducing the size of the upper part of the head, makes the lower part of the face e.g. the jaw and body, appear comparatively larger, and large jaws are a masculine trait, Thus, Nancy Etcoff observes:

The absense of hair on the head serves to exaggerate signals of strength. The smaller the head the bigger the look of the neck and body. Bodybuilders often shave or crop their hair, the size contrast between the head and neck and shoulders emphasizing the massiveness of the chest” (Survival of the Prettiest: p126).

[13] The source that Dutton cites for this claim is (Nieschlag & Behr 2013).

[14] In America, it has been suggested, especially tall boys are not treated with testosterone to prevent their growing any taller. Instead, they are encouraged to attempt to make a successful career in professional basketball

[15] On the other hand, one Swedish study investigating the association between height and violent crime found that the shortest men in Sweden had almost double convictions for violent crimes as compared to the tallest men in Sweden. However, after controlling for potential confounds (e.g. socioeconomic status and intelligence, both of which positively correlate with height), the association was reversed, with taller man having a somewhat higher likelihood of being convicted of a violent crime (Beckley et al 2014). 

[16] According to Dutton, the correlation between height and IQ is only about r = 0.1. This is a modest correlation even by psychology and social science standards.

[17] In other words, although modest in magnitude, the association between height and IQ has been replicated in so many studies with sufficiently large and representative sample sizes that we can be certain that it represents a real association in the population at large, not an artifact of small, unrepresentative or biased sampling in just one or a few studies. 

[18] An alternative explanation for the absence of a within-family correlation between height and intelligence is that some factor that differs as between families causes both increased height and increased intelligence. An obvious candidate would be malnutrition. However, in modern western economies where there is an superabundance of food, starvation is almost unknown and obesity is far more common than undernourishment even among the ostensible poor (indeed, as noted by Dutton, especially among the ostensible poor), it is doubtful that undernourishment is a significant factor in explaining either small stature or low IQs, especially since height is mostly heritable, at least by the time a person reaches adulthood.

[19] The conventional wisdom is that beards went out of fashion during the twentieth century precisely because their role as in spreading germs came to be more widely known. Thus, Nancy Etcoffwrites:

Facial hair has been less abundant in this century than in centuries past (except in the 1960s) partly because medical opinion turned against them. As people became increasingly aware of the role of germs in spreading diseases, beards came to be seen as repositories of germs. Previously, they had been advised by doctors as a means to protect the throat and filter air to the lungs” (Survival of the Prettiest: p156-7). 

Of course, this is not at all inconsistent with the notion that beards are perceived as attractive by women precisely because they represent a potential vector of infection and hence advertise the health and robustness of the male whom they adorn, as contended by Dutton. On the contrary, the fact that beards are indeed associated with infection, is consistent with and supportive of Dutton’s theory. 

[20] It would be interesting to discover whether these findings generalize to other, non-western cultures, especially those where beards are universal or the norm (e.g. among Muslims in the Middle East). It would also be discover whether women’s perceptions regarding the attractiveness of men with beards have changed as beards have gone in and out of fashion. 

[21] Perhaps this is because, although age is still associated with status, it is no longer as socially acceptable for older men to marry, or enter sexual relationships with, much younger women or girls as it was in the past, and such relationships are now less common. Indeed, in the last few years, this has become especially socially unacceptable. Therefore, given that most men are maximally attracted to females in this age category, they prefer to be thought of as younger so that it is more acceptable for them to seek relationships with younger, more attractive females.
Actually, while older men tend to have higher status on average, I suspect that, after controlling for status, it is younger men who would be perceived as more attractive. Certainly, a young multi-millionaire would surely be considered a more eligible bachelor than an older homeless man. Therefore, age per se is not attractive; only high status is attractive, which happens to correlate with age.

[22] This idea is again based on Philippe Rushton’s Differential K theory, which I have reviewed here and here.

[23] Dutton is apparently aware of this objection. He acknowledges, albeit in a different book, that “Intelligence, in general, is associated with health” (Why Islam Makes You Stupid: p174). However, in this same book, he also claims that: 

Intelligence has been shown to be only weakly associated with mutational load” (Why Islam Makes You Stupid: p169). 

Interestingly, Dutton also claims in this book: 

Very high intelligence predicts autism” (Why Islam Makes You Stupid: p175). 

This claim, namely that exceptionally high intelligence is associated with autism, seems anecdotally plausible. Certainly, autism seems to have a complex and interesting relationship with intelligence
Unfortunately, however, Dutton does not cite a source for the claim the claim that exceptionally high intelligence is associated with autism. Nevertheless, according to data cited here, there is indeed a greater variance in the IQs of autistic people, with greater proportions of autistic people at both tail-ends of the bell curve, the author even referring to an inverted bell curve for intelligence among autistic people, though, even according to her own cited data, this appears to be an exaggeration. However, this is not a scholarly source, but rather appears to be the website of a not entirely disinterested advocacy group, and it is not entirely clear from where this data derives, the piece referring only to data from the Netherlands collected by the Dutch Autism Register (NAR). 

[24] Admittedly, Dutton does cite one study showing that subjects can identify Mormons from facial photographs alone, and that the two groups differed in skin quality (Rule et al 2010). However, this might reflect merely the health advantages resulting from the religiously imposed abstention from the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee.
For what it’s worth, my own subjective and entirely anecdotal impression is almost the opposite of Dutton’s, at least here in secular modern Britain, where anyone who identifies as Christian, let alone a fundamentalist, unless perhaps s/he is elderly, tends to be regarded as a bit odd.
An interesting four-part critique of this theory, along very different lines from my own, is provided by Scott A McGreal at the Psychology Today website, see here, here, here, and here. Dutton responds with a two-part rejoinder here and here.

[25] However, when it comes to actual politicians, I suspect this difference may be attenuated, or even nonexistent, since pursuing a career in politics is, by its very nature, a very untraditional, and unfeminine, career choice, most likely because, in Darwinian terms, political power has a greater reproductive payoff for men than for women. Thus, it is hardly surprising that leading female politicians, even those who theoretically champion traditional sex roles, tend themselves to be quite butch and masculine in appearance and often as unattractive as their leftist opponents (e.g. Ann Widdecombe). Indeed, even Ann Coulter, a relatively attractive woman, at least by the standards of female political figures, has been mocked for her supposedly mannish appearance and pronounced Adam’s apple.
Moreover, most leading politicians are at least middle-aged, and female attractiveness peaks very young, in mid- to late-teens into early-twenties

[26] Another medical condition associated with a specific look, as well as with mental disability, is cretinism, though due to medical advances, most people with the condition in western societies, develop normally and no longer manifest either the distinctive appearance or the mental disability. 

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Desmond Morris’s ‘The Naked Ape’: A Pre-Sociobiological Work of Human Ethology 

Desmond Morris, Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal (New York: Mcgraw-Hill Book Company, 1967)

First published in 1967, ‘The Naked Ape’, a popular science classic authored by the already famous British zoologist and TV presenter Desmond Morris, belongs to the pre-sociobiological tradition of human ethology

In the most general sense, the approach adopted by the human ethologists, who included, not only Morris, but also playwright Robert Ardrey, anthropologists Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox and the brilliant Nobel-prize winning ethologist, naturalist, zoologist, pioneering evolutionary epistemologist and part-time Nazi sympathizer Konrad Lorenz, was correct. 

They sought to study the human species from the perspective of zoology. In other words, they sought to adopt the disinterested perspective, and detachment, of, as Edward O Wilson was later to put it, “zoologists from another planet” (Sociobiology: The New Synthesis: p547). 

Thus, Morris proposed cultivating: 

An attitude of humility that is becoming to proper scientific investigation… by deliberately and rather coyly approaching the human being as if he were another species, a strange form of life on the dissecting table” (p14-5).  

In short, Morris proposed to study humans just as a zoologist would any other species of non-human animal. 

Such an approach was an obvious affront to anthropocentric notions of human exceptionalism – and also a direct challenge to the rather less scientific approach of most sociologists, psychologists, social and cultural anthropologists and other such ‘professional damned fools’, who, at that time, almost all studied human behavior in isolation from, and largely ignorance of, biology, zoology, and the scientific study of the behavior of all animals other than humans. 

As a result, such books inevitably attracted controversy and criticism. Such criticism, however, invariably missed the point. 

The real problem was not that the ethologists sought to study human behavior in just the same way a zoologist would study the behavior of any nonhuman animal, but rather that the study of the behavior of nonhuman animals itself remained, at this time, very much in its infancy. 

Thus, the field of animal behavior was to be revolutionized just a decade or so after the publication of ‘The Naked Ape’ by the approach that came to be known as, first, sociobiology, now more often as behavioral ecology, or, when applied to humans, evolutionary psychology

These approaches sought to understand behavior in terms of fitness maximization – in other words, on the basis of the recognition that organisms have evolved to engage in behaviors which tended to maximize their reproductive success in ancestral environments. 

Mathematical models, often drawn from economics and game theory, were increasingly employed. In short, behavioral biology was becoming a mature science. 

In contrast, the earlier ethological tradition was, even at its best, very much a soft science. 

Indeed, much such work, for example Jane Goodall’s rightly-celebrated studies of the chimpanzees of Gombe, was almost pre-scientific in its approach, involving observation, recording and description of behaviors, but rarely the actual testing or falsification of hypotheses. 

Such research was obviously important. Indeed, Goodall’s was positively groundbreaking. 

After all, the observation of the behavior or an organism is almost a prerequisite for the framing of hypotheses about the behavior of that organism, since hypotheses are, in practice, rarely generated in an informational vacuum from pure abstract theory. 

However, such research was hardly characteristic of a mature and rigorous science. 

When hypotheses regarding the evolutionary significance of behavior patterns were formulated by early ethologists, this was done on a rather casual ad hoc basis, involving a kind of ‘armchair adaptationism’, which could perhaps legitimately be dismissed as the spinning of, in Stephen Jay Gould’s famous phrase, just so stories

Thus, a crude group selectionism went largely unchallenged. Yet, as George C Williams was to show, and Richard Dawkins later to forcefully reiterate in The Selfish Gene (reviewed here), behaviors are unlikely to evolve that benefit the group or species if they involve a cost to the inclusive fitness of the individual engaging in the behavior. 

Robert Wright picks out a good example of this crude group selectionism from ‘The Naked Ape’ itself, quoting Morris’s claim that, over the course of human evolution: 

To begin with, the males had to be sure that their females were going to be faithful to them when they left them alone to go hunting. So the females had to develop a pairing tendency” (p64). 

To anyone schooled in the rudiments of Dawkinsian selfish gene theory, the fallacy should be obvious. But, just in case we didn’t spot it, Wright has picked it out for us: 

Stop right there. It was in the reproductive interests of the males for the females to develop a tendency toward fidelity? So natural selection obliged the males by making the necessary changes in the females? Morris never got around to explaining how, exactly, natural selection would perform this generous feat” (The Moral Animal: p56). 

In reality, couples have a conflict of interest here, and the onus is clearly on the male to evolve some mechanism of mate-guarding, though a female might conceivably evolve some way to advertise her fidelity if, by so doing, she secured increased male parental investment and provisioning, hence increasing her own reproductive success.[1]

In short, mating is Machiavellian. A more realistic view of human sexuality, rooted in selfish gene theory, is provided by Donald Symons in his seminal The Evolution of Human Sexuality (which I have reviewed here). 

Unsuccessful Societies? 

The problems with ‘The Naked Ape’ begin in the very first chapter, where Morris announces, rather oddly, that, in studying the human animal, he is largely uninterested in the behavior of contemporary foraging groups or other so-called ‘primitive’ peoples. Thus, he bemoans: 

The earlier anthropologists rushed off to all kinds of unlikely corners of the world… scattering to remote cultural backwaters so atypical and unsuccessful that they are nearly extinct. They then returned with startling facts about the bizarre mating customs, strange kinship systems, or weird ritual procedures of these tribes, and used this material as though it were of central importance to the behaviour of our species as a whole. The work done by these investigators… did not tell us was anything about the typical behaviour of typical naked apes. This can only be done by examining the common behaviour patterns that are shared by all the ordinary, successful members of the major cultures-the mainstream specimens who together represent the vast majority. Biologically, this is the only sound approach” (p10).[2]

Thus, today, political correctness has wholly banished the word ‘primitive’ from the anthropological lexicon. It is, modern anthropologists insist, demeaning and pejorative.  

Indeed, post-Boasian cultural anthropologists in America typically reject the very notion that some societies are more advanced than others, championing instead a radical cultural relativism and insisting we have much to learn from the lifestyle and traditions of hunter-gatherers, foragers, savage cannibals and other such ‘indigenous peoples’. 

Morris also rejects the term ‘primitive’ as a useful descriptor for hunter-gatherer and other technologically-backward peoples, but for diametrically opposite reasons. 

Thus, for Morris, to describe foraging groups as ‘primitive’ is to rather give them altogether too much credit: 

The simple tribal groups that are living today are not primitive, they are stultified. Truly primitive tribes have not existed for thousands of years. The naked ape is essentially an exploratory species and any society that has failed to advance has in some sense failed, ‘gone wrong’. Something has happened to it to hold it back, something that is working against the natural tendencies of the species to explore and investigate the world around it” (p10). 

Instead, Morris proposes to focus on contemporary western societies, declaring: 

North America… is biologically a very large and successful culture and can, without undue fear of distortion, be taken as representative of the modern naked ape” (p51) 

It is indeed true that, with the diffusion of American media and consumer goods, American culture is fast becoming ubiquitous. However, this is a very recent development in historical terms, let alone on the evolutionary timescale of most interest to biologists. 

Indeed, viewed historically and cross-culturally, it is we westerners who are the odd, aberrant ones. 

Thus, we even have been termed, in a memorable backcronym, WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic), and hence quite aberrant, not only in terms of our lifestyle and prosperity, but also in terms of our psychology and modes of thinking

Moreover, while foraging groups, and other pre-modern peoples, may now indeed now be tottering on the brink of extinction, this again is a very recent development. 

Indeed, far from being aberrant, this was the lifestyle adopted by all humans throughout most of the time we have existed as a species, including during the period when most of our unique physical and behavioural adaptations evolved

In short, although we may inhabit western cities today, this is not the environment where we evolved, nor that to which our brains and bodies are primarily adapted.[3]

Therefore, given that it represents the lifestyle of our ancestors during the period when most of our behavioral and bodily adaptations evolved, primitive peoples must necessarily have a special place in any evolutionary theory of human behaviour.[4]

Indeed, Morris himself admits as much himself just a few pages later, where he acknowledges that: 

The fundamental patterns of behavior laid down in our early days as hunting apes still shine through all our affairs, no matter how lofty they may be” (p40). 

Indeed, a major theme of ‘The Naked Ape’ is the extent to which the behaviour even of wealthy white westerners is nevertheless fundamentally shaped and dictated by the patterns of foraging set out in our ancient hunter-gatherer past. 

This, of course, anticipates the concept of the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (or EEA) in modern evolutionary psychology

Thus, Morris suggests that the pattern of men going out to work to financially provision wives and mothers who stay home with dependent offspring reflects the ancient role of men as hunters provisioning their wives and children: 

“Behind the façade of modern city life there is the same old naked ape. Only the names have been changed: for ‘hunting’ read ‘working’, for ‘hunting grounds’ read ‘place of business’, for ‘home base’ read ‘house’, for ‘pair-bond’ read ‘marriage’, for ‘mate’ read ‘wife’, and so on” (p84).[5]

In short, while we must explain the behaviors of contemporary westerners, no less than those of primitive foragers, in the light of Darwinian evolution, nevertheless all such behaviors must be explained ultimately in terms of adaptations that evolved over previous generations under very different conditions. 

Indeed, in the sequel to ‘The Naked Ape’, Morris further focuses on this very point, arguing that modern cities, in particular, are unnatural environments for humans, rejecting the then-familiar description of cities as concrete jungles on the grounds that, whereas jungles are the “natural habitat” of animals, modern cities are very much an unnatural habitat for humans. 

Instead, he argues, the better analogy for modern cities is a Human Zoo

The comparison we must make is not between the city dweller and the wild animal but between the city dweller and the captive animal. The city dweller is no longer living in conditions natural for his species. Trapped, not by a zoo collector, but by his own brainy brilliance, he has set himself up in a huge restless menagerie where he is in constant danger of cracking under the strain” (The Human Zoo: pvii). 

Nakedness 

Morris adopts what he calls a zoological approach. Thus, unlike modern evolutionary psychologists, he focuses as much on explaining our physiology as our behavior and psychology. Indeed, it is in explaining the peculiarities of human anatomy that Morris’s book is at his best.[6]

This begins, appropriately enough, with the trait that gives him his preferred name for our species, and also furnishes his book with its title – namely our apparent nakedness or hairlessness. 

Having justified calling us ‘The Naked Ape’ on zoological grounds, namely on the ground that this is the first thing the naturalist would notice upon observing our species, Morris then comes close to contradicting himself, admitting that we actually have more hairs on our bodies than do chimpanzees.[7]

However, Morris summarily dispatches this objection: 

It is like saying that because a blind man has a pair of eyes, he is not blind. Functionally, we are stark naked and our skin is fully exposed” (p42). 

Why then are we so strangely hairless? Neoteny, Morris proposes, provides part of the answer. 

This refers to the tendency of humans to retain into maturity traits that are, in other primates, restricted to juveniles, nakedness among them. 

Neoteny is a major theme in Morris’s book – and indeed in human evolution

Besides our hairlessness, other human anatomical features that have been explained either partly or wholly in terms of neoteny, whether by Morris or by other evolutionists, include our brain size, growth patterns, inventiveness, upright posture, spinal curvature, smaller jaws and teeth, forward facing vaginas, lack of a penis bone, the length of our limbs and the retention of the hymen into sexual maturity (see below). Indeed, many of these traits are explicitly discussed by Morris himself as resulting from neoteny

However, while neoteny may supply the means by which our relative hairlessness evolved, it is not a sufficient explanation for why this development occurred, because, as Morris points out: 

The process of neoteny is one of the differential retarding of developmental processes” (p43). 

In other words, humans are neotenous in respect of only some of our characters, not all of them. After all, an ape that remained infantile in all respects would never evolve, for the simple reason that it would never reach sexual maturity and hence remain unable to reproduce. 

Instead, only certain specific juvenile or infantile traits are retained into adulthood, and the question then becomes why these specific traits were the ones chosen by natural selection to be retained. 

Thus, Morris concludes: 

It is hardly likely… that an infantile trait as potentially dangerous as nakedness was going to be allowed to persist simply because other changes were slowing down unless it had some special value to the new species” (p43). 

As to what this “special value” (i.e. selective advantage) might have been, Morris considers, in turn, various candidates.  

One theory considered by Morris theory relates to our susceptibility to insect parasites.  

Because humans, unlike many other primates, return to a home base to sleep most nights, we are, Morris reports, afflicted with fleas as well as lice (p28-9). Yet fur, Morris observes, is a good breeding ground for such parasites (p38-9). 

Perhaps, then, Morris imagines, we might have evolved hairlessness in order to minimize the problems posed by such parasites. 

However, Morris rejects this as an adequate explanation, since, he observes: 

Few other den dwelling mammals… have taken this step” (p43). 

An alternative explanation implicates sexual selection in the evolution of human hairlessness.  

Substantial sex differences in hairiness, as well as the retention of pubic hairs around the genitalia, suggests that sexual selection may indeed have played a role in the evolution of our relative hairlessness as compared to other mammals. 

Morris, however, rejects this explanation on the grounds that: 

The loss of bodily insulation would be a high price to pay for a sexy appearance alone” (p46). 

But other species often often pay a high price for sexually selected bodily adornments. For example, the peacock sports a huge, brightly coloured and elaborate tail that is thought to have evolved through sexual selection or female choice, which is costly to grow and maintain, impedes his mobility and is conspicuous to predators. 

Indeed, according to Amotz Zahavi’s handicap principle, it is precisely the high cost of such sexually-selected adornments that made them reliable fitness indicators and hence attractive to potential mates, because only a highly ‘fit’ male can afford to grow such a costly, inconvenient and otherwise useless appendage. 

Morris also gives unusually respectful consideration to the highly-controversial aquatic ape theory as an explanation for human hairlessness. 

Thus, if humans did indeed pass through an aquatic, or at least amphibious, stage during our evolution, then, Morris agrees, this may indeed explain our hairlessness, since it is indeed true that other aquatic or semiaquatic mammals, such as whales, dolphins and seals, also seem to have jettisoned most of their fur over the course of their evolution. 

This is presumably because fur increases frictional drag while in the water and hence impedes swimming ability, and is among the reasons that elite swimmers also remove their body-hair before competition. 

Indeed, our loss of body hair is among the human anatomical peculiarities that are most often cited by champions of aquatic ape theory in favor of the theory that humans did indeed pass through an aquatic phase during our evolution. 

However, aquatic ape theory is highly controversial, and is rejected by almost all mainstream evolutionists and biological anthropologists.  

As I have said, Morris, for his part, gives respectful consideration to the theory, and, unlike many other anthropologists and evolutionists, does not dismiss it out of hand as entirely preposterous and unworthy even of further consideration.[8]

On the contrary, Morris credits the theory as “ingenious”, acknowledging that, if true, it might explain many otherwise odd features of human anatomy, including not just our relative hairlessness, but also the retention of hairs on our head, the direction of the hairs on our backs, our upright posture, ‘streamlined’ bodies, dexterity of our hands and the thick extra layer of sub-cutaneous fat beneath our skin that is lacking in other primates. 

However, while acknowledging that the theory explains many curious anomalies of human physiology, Morris ultimately rejects ‘aquatic ape theory’ as altogether too speculative given the complete lack of fossil evidence in support of the theory – the same reason that most other evolutionists also reject the theory. 

Thus, he concludes: 

It demands… the acceptance of a hypothetical major evolutionary phase for which there is no direct evidence” (p45-6). 

Morris also rejects the theory that was, according to Morris himself, the most widely accepted explanation for our hairlessness among other evolutionists at the time he was writing – namely the theory that our hairlessness evolved as a cooling mechanism when our ancestors left the shaded forests for the open African savannah

The problem with this theory, as Morris explains it, is that:  

Exposure of the naked skin to the air certainly increases the chances of heat loss, but it also increases heat gain at the same time and risks damage from the sun’s rays” (p47). 

Thus, it is not at all clear that moving into the open savannah would indeed select for hairlessness. Otherwise, as Morris points out, we might expect other carnivorous, predatory mammals such as lions and jackals, who also inhabit the savannah, to have similarly jettisoned most of their fur. 

Ultimately, however, Morris accepts instead a variant on this idea – namely that hairlessness evolved to prevent overheating while chasing prey when hunting. 

However, this fails to explain why it is men’s bodies that are generally much hairier than those of women, even though, cross-culturally, in most foraging societies, it is men who do most, if not all, of the hunting. 

It also raises the question as to why other mammalian carnivores, including some that also inhabit the African Savannah and other similar environments, such as lions and jackals, have not similarly shed their body hair, especially since the latter rely more on their speed to catch prey species, whereas humans, armed with arrows and javelins as well as hunting dogs, do not always have to catch a prey themselves in order to kill it. 

I would tentatively venture an alternative theory, one which evidently did not occur to Morris – namely, perhaps our hairlessness evolved in concert with our invention and use of clothing (e.g. animal hides) – i.e. a case of gene-culture coevolution

Clothing would provide an alternative means of protect from both sun and cold alike, but one that has the advantage that, unlike bodily fur, it can be discarded (and put back on) on demand. 

This explanation suggests that, paradoxically, we became naked apes at the same time, and indeed precisely because, we had also become clothed apes. 

The Sexiest Primate? 

One factor said to have contributed to the book’s commercial success was the extent to which its thesis chimed with the prevailing spirit of the age during which it was first published, namely the 1960s. 

Thus, as already alluded to, it presented, in many ways, an idealized and romantic version of human nature, with its crude group-selectionism and emphasis on cooperation within groups without a concomitant emphasis on conflict between groups, and its depiction of humans as a naturally monogamous pair-bonding species, without a concomitant emphasis on the prevalence of infidelity, desertion, polygamy, Machiavellian mating strategies and even rape.  

Another element that jibed with the zeitgeist of the sixties was Morris’s emphasis on human sexuality, with Morris famously declaring: 

The naked ape is the sexiest primate alive” (p64). 

Are humans indeed the ‘sexiest’ of primates? How can we assess this claim? It depends, of course, on precisely how we define ‘sexiness’. 

Obviously, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then sexiness is located in a rather different part of the male anatomy, but equally subjective in nature. 

Thus, humans like ourselves find other humans more sexy than other primates because we have evolved to do so. A male chimpanzee, however, would likely disagree and regard a female chimpanzee as sexier. 

However, Morris presumably has something else in mind when he describes humans as the “sexiest” of primates. 

What he seems to mean is that sexuality and sexual behavior permeates the life of humans to a greater degree than for other primates. Thus, for example, he cites as evidence the extended or continuous sexual receptivity of human females, writing: 

There is much more intense sexual activity in our own species than in any other primates” (p56) 

However, the claim that sexuality and sexual behavior permeates the life of humans to a greater degree than for other primates is difficult to maintain when you have studied the behavior of some of our primate cousins. Thus, for example, both chimpanzees and especially bonobos, our closest relatives among extant non-human primates, are far more promiscuous than all but the sluttiest of humans

Indeed, one might cynically suggest that what Morris had most in mind when he described humans as “the sexiest primate alive” was simply a catchy marketing soundbite that very much tapped into the zeitgeist of the era (i.e. the 1960s) and might help boost sales for his book. 

Penis Size

As further evidence for our species’ alleged “sexiness” Morris also supposedly unusually large size of the human penis, reporting: 

The [human] male has the largest penis of any primate. It is not only extremely long when fully erect, but also very thick when compared with the penises of other species” (p80). 

This claim, namely that the human male has an unusually large penis, may originate with Morris, and has certainly since enjoyed wide currency in subsequent decades. 

Thus, competing theories have been formulated to account for the (supposedly) unusual size of our penes, including the idea that penis size evolved through sexual selection (e.g. The Mating Mind: p234-6), or that our large penes are designed to remove sperm deposited by rival males in the female reproductive tract (Human Sperm Competition: p170-171; Gallup & Burch 2004; Gallup et al 2004; Goetz et al 2005; Goetz et al 2007

Yet, according to Alan F Dixson, the human penis is, in fact, not unusually long by primate standards, being roughly the same length as that of the chimpanzee (Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems: p64). 

Instead, Dixson reports: 

The erect human penis is comparable in length to those of other primates, in relation to body size. Only its circumference is unusual when compared to the penes of other hominids” (Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems: p65). 

The human penis is unusual, then, only in its width or girth. 

As to why our penes are so wide, the answer is quite straightforward, and has little to do with the alleged ‘sexiness’ of the human species, whatever that means. 

Instead, it is a simple, if indirect, reflection of our increased brain-size.

Increased brain-size first selected for changes in the size and shape of female reproductive anatomy. This, in turn, led to changes in male reporoductive anatomy. Thus, Bowman suggests: 

As the diameter of the bony pelvis increased over time to permit passage of an infant with a larger cranium, the size of the vaginal canal also became larger” (Bowman 2008). 

Similarly, Robin Baker and Mark Bellis write: 

The dimensions and elasticity of the vagina in mammals are dictated to a large extent by the dimensions of the baby at birth. The large head of the neonatal human baby (384g brain weight compared with only 227g for the gorilla…) has led to the human vagina when fully distended being large, both absolutely and relative to the female body… particularly once the vagina and vestibule have been stretched during the process of giving birth, the vagina never really returning to its nulliparous dimensions” (Human Sperm Competition: Copulation, Masturbation and Infidelity: p171). 

In turn, larger vaginas select for larger penises in order to fill this larger vagina (Bowman 2008).  

Interestingly, this theory directly contradicts the alleged claim of Philippe Rushton that there is an inverse correlation between brain-size and penis-size, which relationship supposedly explains race differences in brain and genital size. Thus, Rushton was infamously quoted as observing: 

It’s a trade off, more brains or more penis. You can’t have everything.[9]

On the contrary, this analysis suggests that, at least as between species (and presumably as between sub-species, i.e. races, as well), there is a positive correlation between brain-size and penis-size.[10]

According to Baker and Bellis, one reason male penis size tracks that of female vagina size (both being relatively large, and especially wide, in humans) is that the penis functions as, in Baker and Bellis’s words, a “suction piston”, functioning as a mechanism of sperm competition by removing any sperm previously deposited by rival males. 

Thus, they report: 

In order to distend the vagina sufficiently to act as a suction piston, the penis needs to be a suitable size [and] the relatively large size… and distendibility of the human vagina (especially after giving birth) thus imposes selection, via sperm competition, for a relatively large penis” (Human Sperm Competition: p171). 

Interestingly, this theory – namely that the human penis functions as a sperm displacement device – although seemingly fanciful, actually explains some otherwise puzzling aspect of human coitus, such as its relatively extended duration, the male refractory period and related Coolidge effect – i.e. why a male cannot immediately recommence intercourse immediately after orgasm, unless perhaps with a new female (though this exception has yet to be experimentally demonstrated in humans). 

It even has some empirical support (Gallup & Burch 2004; Goetz et al 2005; Goetz et al 2007), including some delightful experiments involving sex toys of various shapes (Gallup et al 2004). 

Morris writes: 

“[Man] is proud that he has the biggest brain of all the primates, but attempts to conceal the fact that he also has the biggest penis, preferring to accord this honor falsely to the mighty gorilla” (p9). 

Actually, the gorilla, mighty though he indeed may be, has relatively small genitalia. This is on account of his polygynous, but non-polyandrous, mating system, which involves minimal sperm competition.[11]

Moreover, the largeness of our brains, in which, according to Morris, we take such pride, may actually be the cause of the largeness of our penes, for which, according to Morris, we have such shame (here, he speaks for few men). 

Thus, large brains required larger heads which, in turn, required larger vaginas in order to successfully birth larger-headed babies. This in turn selected for larger penises to fill the larger vagina. 

In short, the large size, or rather large girth/width, of our penes has less to do with our being the “sexiest primate” and more to do with our being the brainiest

Female Breasts

In addition to his discussion of human penis size, Morris also argues that various other features of human anatomy that not usually associated with sex nevertheless evolved, in part, due to their role in sexual signaling. These include our earlobes (p66-7), everted lips (p68-70) and, tentatively and rather bizarrely, perhaps even our large fleshy noses (p67). 

He makes the most developed and persuasive case, however, in respect of another physiological peculiarity of the human species, and of human females in particular, namely the female breasts

Thus, Morris argues: 

For our species, breast design is primarily sexual rather than maternal in function” (p106). 

The evolution of protruding breasts of a characteristic shape appears to be yet another example of sexual signalling” (p70). 

As evidence, he cites the differences in shape between women’s breasts and both the breasts of other primates and the design of baby bottles (p93). In short, the shape of human breasts do not seem ideally conducive to nursing alone. 

The notion that breasts have a secondary function as sexual advertisements is indeed compelling. In most other mammals, large breasts develop only during pregnancy, but human breasts are permanent, developing at puberty, and, except during pregnancy and lactation, composed predominantly of fat not milk (see Møller et al 1995; Manning et al 1997; Havlíček et al 2016). 

On the other hand, it is difficult to envisage how breasts ever first became co-opted as a sexually-selected ornament. 

After all, the presence of developed breasts on a female would originally, as among other primates, have indicated that the female in question was pregnant, and hence infertile. There would therefore initially have been strong selection pressure among males against ever finding breasts sexually attractive, since it would lead to their pursuing infertile women whom they could not possibly impregnate. 

How then did breasts ever make the switch to a sexually attractive, sexually-selected ornament? This is what George Francis, at his blog, ‘Anglo Reaction’, terms the breast paradox.[12]

Morris does not address this not insignificant problem. However, he does suggest that two other human traits unique among primates may have facilitated the process. 

Our so-called ‘nakedness’ (i.e. relative hairlessness), the trait that furnished Morris’s book with its title, and Morris himself with his preferred name for our species, is the first of these traits. 

Swollen breast-patches in a shaggy-coated female would be far less conspicuous as signalling devices, but once the hair has vanished they would stand out clearly” (p70-1). 

Secondly, Morris argues that our bipedalism (i.e. the fact we walk on two legs) and resulting vertical posture, necessarily put the female reproductive organs out of sight underneath a woman when she adopts a standing position, and hence generally out of the sight of potential mates. There was therefore, Morris suggests, a need for some frontal sexual-signaling. 

This, he argues, was further necessitated by what he argues is our species’ natural preference for ventro-ventral (i.e. missionary position) intercourse. 

In particular, Morris argues that human female breasts evolved in order to mimic the appearance of the female buttocks, a form of what he terms ‘self-mimicry’. 

The protuberant, hemispherical breasts of the female must surely be copies of the fleshy buttocks” (p76). 

Everted Lips 

Interestingly, he makes a similar argument in respect of another trait of humans not shared by other extant primates – namely, our inverted lips.

The word ‘everted’ refers to the fact that our lips are turned outwards, as is easily perceived by comparing human lips with the much thinner lips of our closest non-human relatives

Again, this seems intuitively plausible, since, like female breasts, lips do indeed seem to be a much-sexualized part of the human anatomy, at least in western societies, and in at least some non-western cultures as well, if erotic art is to be taken as evidence.[13]

These everted lips, he argues, evolved to mimic the appearance of the female labia

As with Morris’s idea that female breasts evolved to mimic the appearance of female buttocks, the idea that our lips, and women’s use of lipstick, is designed to imitate the appearance of the female sexual organs has been much mocked.[14]

However, the similarity in appearance of the labia and human lips can hardly be doubted. After all, it is even attested to in the very etymology of the word

Of course, inverted lips reach their most extreme form among extant sub-species of hominid among black Africans. This Morris argues is because: 

If climatic conditions demand a darker skin, then this will work against the visual signalling capacity of the lips by reducing their colour contrast. If they really are important as visual signals, then some kind of compensating development might be expected, and this is precisely what seems to have occurred, the negroid lips maintaining their conspicuousness by becoming larger and more protuberant. What they have lost in colour contrast, they have made up for in size and shape” (p69-70).[15]

Thus, rejecting the politically-incorrect notion that black Africans are, as a race, somehow more ‘primitive than other humans, Morris instead emphasizes the fact that, in respect of this trait (i.e. everted lips), they are actually the most differentiated from non-human primates.  

Thus, all humans, compared to non-human primates, have everted lips, but black African lips are the most everted. Therefore, Morris concludes, using the word ‘primitive’ is in the special phylogenetic sense

Anatomically, these negroid characters do not appear to be primitive, but rather represent a positive advance in the specialization of the lip region” (p70).

In other words, whereas whites and Asians may be more advanced than blacks when it comes to intelligence, brain-size, science, technology and building civilizations, when it comes to everted lips, black Africans have us all beaten! 

Female Orgasm

Morris also discusses the function of the female orgasm, a topic which has subsequently been the subject of much speculation and no little controversy among evolutionists.  

Again, Morris suggests that humans’ unusual vertical posture, brought on by our bipedal means of locomotion, may have been central to the evolution of this trait. 

Thus, if a female were to walk off immediately after sexual intercourse had occurred, then: 

Under the simple influence of gravity the seminal fluid would flow back down the vaginal tract and much of it would be lost” (p79).  

This obviously makes successful impregnation less likely. As a result, Morris concludes: 

There is therefore a great advantage in any reaction that tends to keep the female horizontal when the male ejaculates and stops copulating” (p79). 

The chief adaptive function of the female orgasm therefore, according to Morris, is the tiredness, and perhaps post-coital tristesse, that immediately follows orgasm, and motivates the female experiencing these emotions to remain in a horizontal position even after intercourse has ended, and hence retain the male ejaculate within her reproductive tract. 

The violent response of female orgasm, leaving the female sexually satiated and exhausted has precisely this effect” (p79).[16]

However, the main problem with Morris’s theory is that it predicts that female orgasm should be confined to humans, since, at least among extant primates, we represent the only bipedal ape.  

Morris does indeed argue that the female organism is, like our nakedness, bipedal locomotion and large brains, an exclusively human trait, describing how, among most, if not all, non-human primates: 

At the end of a copulation, when the male ejaculates and dismounts, the female monkey shows little sign of emotional upheaval and usually wanders off as if nothing had happened” (p79). 

Unfortunately for Morris’s theory, however, evidence has subsequently accumulated that some non-human (and non-bipedal) female primates do indeed seem to sometimes experience responses seemingly akin to orgasm during copulation. 

Thus, Alan Dixson reports: 

Female orgasm is not confined to Homo sapiens. Putatively homologous responses [have] been reported in a number of non-human primates, including stump-tail and Japanese Macaques, rhesus monkeys and chimpanzees… Pre-human ancestors of Homo sapiens, such as the australopithecines, probably possessed a capacity to exhibit female orgasm, as do various extant ape and monkey species. The best documented example concerns the stump tailed macaque (Macaca arctoides), in which orgasmic uterine contractions have been recorded during female-female mounts… as well as during copulation… De Waal… estimates that female stump-tails show their distinctive ‘climax face’ (which correlates with the occurrence of uterine contractions) once in every six copulations. Vaginal spasms were noted in two female rhesus monkeys as a result of extended periods of stimulation (using an artificial penis) by an experimenter… Likewise, a female chimpanzee exhibited rhythmical vaginal contractions, clitoral erection, limb spasms, and body tension in response to manual stimulation of its genitalia… Masturbatory behaviour, accompanied by behavioural and physiological responses indicative of orgasm, has also been noted in Japanese macaques… and chimpanzees” (Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems: p77). 

Thus, in relation to Morris’s theory, Dixson concludes that the theory lacks “comparative depth” because: 

Monkey and apes exhibit female orgasm in association with dorso-ventral copulatory postures and an absence of post-mating rest periods” (Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems: p77). 

Certainly orgasm is not required for successful impregnation. 

Thus, American physician, Robert Dickson, in his book, Human Sex Anatomy (1933), reports that, in a study of a thousand women who attended his medical practice afflicted with so-called ‘frigitity’ (i.e incapable of orgasmic response during intercourse): 

The frigid were not notably infertile, having the expected quota of living children, and somewhat less than the average incidence of sterility” (Human Sex Anatomy: p92). 

Thus, as argued by Donald Symons in his groundbreaking The Evolution of Human Sexuality (which I have reviewed here), the most parsomonious theory of the evolution of female orgasm is that it represents simply a non-adaptive byproduct of male orgasm, which is, of course, itself adaptive (see Sherman 1989Case Of The Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution).

It thus represents, if you like, the female equivalent of male nipples – only more fun.

Hymen

Interestingly, Morris also hypothesizes regarding the evolutionary function of another peculiarity of human female reproductive anatomy which, in contrast to the controversy regarding the evolutionary function, if any, of the female orgasm and clitoris (and of the female breasts), has received surprisingly scant attention from evolutionists – namely, the hymen

In most mammals, Morris reports, “it occurs as an embryonic stage in the development of the urogenital system” (p82). However, only in humans, he reports, is it, when not ruptured, retained into adulthood. 

Regarding the means by which it evolved, the trait is then, Morris concludes, like our large brains, upright posture and hairlessness, “part of the naked ape’s neoteny” (p82). 

However, as with our hairlessness, neoteny only the means by which this trait was retained into adulthood among humans, not the evolutionary reason for its retention.  

In other words, he suggests, the hymen, like other traits retained into adulthood among humans, must serve some evolutionary function. 

What is this evolutionary function? 

Morris suggests that, by making first intercourse painful for females, it deters young women from engaging in intercourse too early, and hence risking pregnancy, without first entering a relationship (‘pair-bond’) of sufficient stability to ensure that male parental investment, and provisioning, will be forthcoming (p73). 

However, pain experienced during intercourse occurs rather too late to deter first intercourse, because, by the time this pain is experienced, intercourse has already occurred. 

Of course, given our species’ unique capacity for speech and communication, the pain experienced during first intercourse could be communicated to young virginal women through conversation with other non-virginal women who had already experienced first intercourse.  

However, this would be an unreliable method of inducing fear and avoidance regarding first intercourse, especially given the sort of taboos regarding discussion of sexual activities which are common in many cultures. 

At any rate, why would natural, or sexual, selection not instead simply directly select for fear and anxiety regarding first intercourse – i.e. a psychological rather than a physiological adaptation. After all, as evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists have convincingly demonstrated, our psychology is no less subject to natural selection than is our physiology. 

Although, as already noted, the evolutionary function, if any, of the female hymen has received surprisingly little attention from evolutionists, I can think of at least three rival hypotheses regarding the evolutionary significance of the hymen. 

First, it may have evolved among humans as a means of advertising to prospective suitors a prospective bride’s chastity, and hence reassuring the suitor of the paternity of offspring that subsequently result and encouraging paternal investment in offspring. 

This would, in turn, increase the perceived attractiveness of the female in question, and help secure her a better match with a higher-status male, and hence increase her own reproductive success

Thus, it is notable that, in many cultures, prospective brides are inspected for virginity, a so-called virginity test, sometimes by the prospective mother-in-law or another older woman, before being considered marriageable and accepted as brides. 

Alternatively, and more prosaically, the hymen may simply function to protect against infection, by preventing dirt and germs from entering a woman’s body by this route. 

This, of course, would raise the question as to why, at least according to Morris, the trait is retained into sexual maturity only among humans?  

Actually, however, as with his claim that the female orgasm is unique to humans, Morris’s claim that only humans retain the hymen into sexual maturity is disputed by other sources. Thus, for example, Catherine Blackledge reports: 

Hymens, or vaginal closure membranes or vaginal constrictions, as they are often referred to, are found in a number of mammals, including llamas, guinea-pigs, elephants, rats, toothed whales, seals, dugongs, and some primates, including some species of galagos, or bushbabys, and the ruffed lemur” (The story of V: p145). 

Finally, even more prosaically, the hymen may simply represent a nonadaptive vestige of the developmental process, or a nonadaptive by-product of our species’ neoteny

This would be consistent with the apparent variation with which the trait presents itself, suggesting that it has not been subject to strong selection pressure that has weeded out suboptimal variations. 

This then would appear to be the most parsimonious explanation. 

Zoological Nomenclature 

The works on human ethology of both Richard Ardrey and Konrad Lorenz attracted much attention and no little controversy in their day. Indeed, they perhaps attracted even more controversy than Morris’s own ‘The Naked Ape’, not least because they tended to place greater emphasis on humankind’s capacity, and alleged innate proclivity, towards violence. 

In contrast, Morris’s own work, placing less emphasis on violence, and more on sex, perhaps jibed better with the zeitgeist of the era, namely the 1960s, with its hippy exhortations to ‘make love not war’. 

Yet, although all these works were first published at around the same time, the mid- to late-sixties (though Adrey continued publishing books of this subject into the 1970s), Morris’s ‘The Naked Ape’ seems to be the only of these books that remains widely read, widely known and still in print, to this day. 

Partly, I suspect, this reflects its brilliant and provocative title, which works on several levels, scientific and literary.  

Morris, as we have seen, justifies referring to humans by this perhaps unflattering moniker on zoological grounds.  

Certainly, he acknowledges that humans possess many other exceptional traits that distinguish us from all other extant apes, and indeed all other extant mammals. 

Thus, we walk on two legs, use and make tools, have large brains and communicate via a spoken language. Thus, the zoologist could refer to us by any number of descriptors – “the vertical ape, the tool-making ape, the brainy ape” are a few of Morris’s own suggestions (p41).  

But, he continues, adopting the disinterested detachment of the proverbial alien zoologist: 

These were not the first things we noticed. Regarded simply as a zoological specimen in a museum, it is the nakedness that has the immediate impact” (p41) 

This name has, Morris observes, several advantages, including “bringing [humans] into line with other zoological studies”, emphasizing the zoological approach, and hence challenging human vanity. 

Thus, he cautions: 

The naked ape is in danger of being dazzled by [his own achievements] and forgetting that beneath the surface gloss he is still very much a primate. (‘An ape’s an ape, a varlet’s a valet, though they be clad in silk or scarlet’). Even a space ape must urinate” (p23). 

Thus, the title works also on another metaphoric level, which also contributed to the title’s power.  

The title ‘Naked Ape’ promises to reveal, if you like, the ‘naked’ truth about humanity—to strip humanity down in order to reveal the naked truth that lies beneath the façade and finery. 

Morris’s title reduces us to a zoological specimen in the laboratory, stripped naked on the laboratory table, for the purposes of zoological classification and dissection. 

Interestingly, humans have historically liked to regard ourselves as superior to other animals, in part, precisely because we are the only ones who did clothe ourselves. 

Thus, beside Adam and Eve, it was only primitive tropical savages who went around in nothing but a loincloth, and they were disparaged as uncivilized precisely on this account. 

Yet even tropical savages wore loincloths. Indeed, clothing, in some form, is sometimes claimed to be a human universal

Yet animals, on the other hand, go completely unclothed – or so we formerly believed. 

But Morris turns this reasoning on its head. In the zoological sense, it is humans who are the naked ones, being largely bereft of hairs sufficient to cover most of our bodies. 

Stripping humanity down in this way, Morris reveals the naked truth that beneath, the finery and façade of civilization, we are indeed an animal, an ape and a naked one at that. 

The power of Morris’s chosen title ensures that, even if, like all science, his book has quickly dated, his title alone has stood the test of time and will, I suspect, be remembered, and employed as a descriptor of the human species, long after Morris himself, and the books he authored, are forgotten and cease to be read. 

Endnotes

[1] In fact, as I discuss in a later section of this review, it is possible that the female hymen evolved through just such a process, namely as a means of advertising female virginity and premarital chastity (and perhaps implying post-marital fidelity), and hence as a paternity assurance mechanism, which benefited the female by helping secure male parental investment, provisioning and hypergamy.

[2] Morris is certainly right that anthropologists have overemphasized the exotic and unfamiliar (“bizarre mating customs, strange kinship systems, or weird ritual procedures”, as Morris puts it). Partly, this is simply because, when first encountering an alien culture, it is the unfamiliar differences that invariably stand out, whereas the similarities are often the very things which we tend to take for granted.
Thus, for example, on arriving in a foreign country, we are often struck by the fact that everyone speaks a foreign unintelligible language. However, we often take for granted the more remarkable fact that all cultures around the world do indeed have a spoken language, and also that all languages supposedly even share in common a universal grammar.
However, anthropologists have also emphasized the alien and bizarre for other reasons, not least to support theories of radical cultural malleability, sometimes almost to the verge of outright fabrication (e.g. Margaret Mead’s studies in Samoa).

[3] It is true that there has been some significant human evolution since the dawn of agriculture, notably the evolution of lactase persistence in populations with a history of dairy agriculture. Indeed, as Cochran and Harpending emphasize in their book The 10,000 Year Explosion, far from evolution having stopped at the dawn of agriculture or the rise of ‘civilization’, it has in fact sped up, as a natural reflection of the rapid change in environmental conditions that resulted. Thus, as Nicholas Wade concludes in A Troublesome Inheritance, much human evolution has been “recent, copious and regional”, leading to substantial differentiation between populations (i.e. race differences), including in psychological traits such as intelligence. Nevertheless, despite such tinkering, the core adaptations that identify us as a species were undoubtedly molded in ancient prehistory, and are universal across the human species.

[4] However, it is indeed important to recognize that the lifestyle of our own ancestors was not necessarily identical to that of those few extant hunter-gatherer groups that have survived into modern times, not least because the latter tend to be concentrated in marginal and arid environments (e.g. the San people of the Kalahari DesertEskimos of the Arctic region, Aboriginals of the Australian outback), with those formerly inhabiting more favorable environments having either themselves transitioned to agriculture or else been displaced or absorbed by more advanced invading agriculturalists with higher population densities and superior weapons and other technologies.

[5] This passage is, of course, sure to annoy feminists (always a good thing), and is likely to be disavowed even by many modern evolutionary psychologists since it relies on a rather crude analogy. However, Morris acknowledges that, since “’hunting’… has now been replaced by ‘working‘”: 

The males who set off on their daily working trips are liable to find themselves in heterosexual groups instead of the old all-male parties. All too often it [the pair bond] collapses under the strain” (p81). 

This factor, Morris suggests, explains the prevalence of marital infidelity. It may also explain the recent hysteria, and accompanying witch-hunts, regarding so-called ‘sexual harassment’ in the workplace.
Relatedly, and also likely to annoy feminists, Morris champions the then-popular man the hunter theory of hominid evolution, which posited that the key development in human evolution, and the development of human intelligence in particular, was the switch from a largely, if not wholly, herbivorous diet and lifestyle, to one based largely on hunting and the consumption of meat. On this view, it was the cognitive demands that hunting placed on humans that selected for increased intelligence among humans, and also the nutritional value of meat that made possible increases in  highly metabolically expensive brain tissue.
This theory has since fallen into disfavor. This seems to be primarily because it gives the starring role in human evolution to men, since men do most of the hunting, and relegates women to a mere supporting role. It hence runs counter to the prevailing feminist zietgeist.
The main substantive argument given against the ‘man the hunter theory’ is that other carnivorous mammals (e.g. lions, wolves) adapted to carnivory without any similar increase in brain-size or intelligence. Yet Morris actually has an answer to this objection.
Our ancestors, fresh from the forests, were relative latecomers to carnivory. Therefore, Morris contends, had we sought to compete with tigers and wolves by mimicking them (i.e. growing our fangs and claws instead of our brains) we would inevitably have been playing a losing game of evolutionary catch-up. 

Instead, an entirely new approach was made, using artificial weapons instead of natural ones, and it worked” (p22).

However, this theory fails to explain how female intelligence evolved. One possibility is that increases in female intelligence are an epiphenomenal byproduct of selection for male intelligence, rather like the female equivalent of male nipples.
On this view, men would be expected to have higher intelligence than women, just as male nipples are smaller than female nipples, and the male penis is bigger than the female clitoris. That adult men have greater intelligence than adult women is indeed the conclusion of a recent controversial theory, though the difference is very modest (Lynn 1999). There is also evidence this sexual division of labour between hunting and gathering led to sex dithfferences spatio-visual intelligence (Eals & Silverman 1994).

[6] Another difference from modern evolutionary psychologists derives from Morris’s ethological approach, which involves a focus on human-typical behaviour patterns. For example, he discusses the significance of body language and facial expressions, such as smiling, which is supposedly homologous with an appeasement gesture (baring clenched teeth, aka a ‘fear grin’) common to many primates, and staring, which represents a form of threat across many species.

[7] Interestingly, however, he acknowledges that this statement does not apply to all human races. Thus, he observes: 

Negroes have undergone a real as well as an apparent hair loss” (p42). 

Thus, it seems blacks, unlike Caucasians, have fewer hairs on their body than do chimpanzees. This fact is further evidence that, contrary to the politically correct orthodoxy, race differences are real and important, though this fact is, of course, played down by Morris and other popular science writers.

[8] Edward O Wilson, for example, in Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (which I have reviewed here) dismisses aquatic ape theory, as then championed by Elaine Morgan in The Descent of Woman, as feminist-inspired pop-science “contain[ing] numerous errors” and as being “far less critical in its handling of the evidence than the earlier popular books”, including that of Morris (who is mentioned by name in the same paragraph (Sociobiology: The New Synthesis: p29).

[9] Actually, I suspect this infamous quotation may be apocryphal, or at best a misconstrued joke. Certainly, while I think Rushton’s theory of race differences (which he calls ‘differential K theory’) is flawed, as I explain in my review of his work, there is nothing in it to suggest a direct trade-off between penis-size and brain-size. Indeed, one problem with Rushton’s theory, or at least his presentation of it, is that he never directly explains how traits such as penis-size actually relate to r/K selection in the first place.
The quotation is usually traced to a hit piece in Rolling Stone, a leftist hippie rag with a reputation for low editorial standards and fake news. However, Jon Entine, in his book on race differences in athletic ability, instead traces it to a supposed interview between Rushton and Geraldo Rivera broadcast on the Geraldo’ show in 1989 (Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports: p74).
Interestingly, one study has indeed reported that there is a “demonstrated negative evolutionary relationship”, not between brain-size and penis-size, but rather between brain-size and testicle size, if only on account of the fact that each contain “metabolically expensive tissues” (Pitnick et al 2006).

[10] Interestingly, Baker and Bellis attribute race differences in penis-size, not to race differences in brain-size, but rather to race differences in birth weight. Thus, they conclude:

Racial differences in size of penis (Mongoloid < Caucasoid < Negroid…) reflects racial differences in birth weight… and hence presumably, racial differences in size of vagina” (Human Sperm Competition: p171). 

[11] In other words, a male silverback gorilla may mate with the multiple females in his harem, but each of the females in his harem likely have sex with only one male, namely that silverback. This means that sperm from rival males are rarely simultaneously present in the same female’s oviduct, resulting in minimal levels of sperm competition, which is known to select from larger testicles in particular, and also often more elaborate penes as well.

[12] Alternative theories for the evolution of permanent fatty breasts in women is that they function analogously to camel humps, i.e. as a storehouse of nutrients to guard against and provide reserves in the event of future scarcity or famine. On this view, the sexually dimorphic presentation (i.e. the fact that fatty breasts are largely restricted to women) might reflect the caloric demands of pregnancy. Indeed, this might explain why women have higher levels of fat throughout their bodies. (For a recent review of rival theories for human breast evolution see Pawłowski & Żelaźniewicz 2021.)

[13] However, to be pedantic, this phraseology is perhaps problematic, since, to say that breasts and lips are ‘sexualized’ in western, and at least some non-western, cultures implicitly presupposes that they are not already inherently sexual parts of our anatomy by virtue of biology, which is, of course, the precisely what Morris is arguing. 

[14] For example, if I recall correctly, extremely annoying, left-wing 1980s-era British comedian Ben Elton once commented in a one of his stand-up routines that the male anthropologist (i.e. Morris, actually not an anthropologist, at least not by training) who came up with this idea (namely, that lips and lipstick mimiced the appearance of the labia) had obviously never seen a vagina in his life. He also, if I recall correctly, attributed this theory to the supposed male-dominated, androcentric nature of the field of anthropology – an odd notion given that Morris is not an anthropologist by training, and cultural anthropology is, in fact, one of the most leftist-dominated, feminist-infested, politically correct fields in the whole of academia, this side of ‘gender studies’, which, in the present, politically-correct world of academia, is saying a great deal.

[15] To test this theory, we might look at other relatively dark-skinned, but non-Negroid, populations. Here, the theory receives, at best, only partial support. Thus, Australian Aboriginals, another dark-skinned but unrelated group, do indeed tend to have quite large lips. However, these lips are not especially everted. 
On the other hand, the dark-skinned Dravidian populations of Southern India are not generally especially large-lipped, but are rather quite Caucasoid in facial morphology, and indeed, like the generally lighter-complexioned, Indo-European speaking, ‘Aryan’ populations of northern India, were generally classified as ‘Caucasoid by most early-twentieth century racial anthropologists.

[16] This theory is rather simpler, and has hence always struck me as more plausible, than the more elaborate, but also more widely championed so-called ‘upsuck hypothesis’, whereby female orgasm is envisaged as somehow functioning to suck semen deeper into the cervix. This idea is largely based on a single study involving two experiments on a single subject (Fox et al 1970). However, two other studies failed to produce any empirical support for the theory (Grafenberg 1950; Masters & Johnson 1966). Baker and Bellis’s methodologically problematic work on what they call ‘flowback’ provides, at best, ambivalent evidence (Baker & Bellis 1993). For detailed critique, see Dixson’s Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems: p74-6.

References 

Baker & Bellis (1993) Human sperm competition: ejaculate manipulation by females and a function for the female orgasm. Animal Behaviour 46:887–909. 
Bowman EA (2008) Why the human penis is larger than in the great apes. Archives of Sexual Behavior 37(3): 361. 
Eals & Silverman (1994) The Hunter-Gatherer theory of spatial sex differences: Proximate factors mediating the female advantage in recall of object arrays. Ethology and Sociobiology 15(2): 95-105.
Fox et al 1970. Measurement of intra-vaginaland intra-uterine pressures during human coitus by radio-telemetry. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility 22:243–251. 
Gallup et al (2004). The human penis as a semen displacement device. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 277–289 
Gallup & Burch (2004). Semen displacement as a sperm competition strategy in humans. Evolutionary Psychology 2:12-23. 
Goetz et al (2005) Mate retention, semen displacement, and human sperm competition: A preliminary investigation of tactics to prevent and correct female infidelity. Personality and Individual Differences 38:749-763 
Goetz et al (2007) Sperm Competition in Humans: Implications for Male Sexual Psychology, Physiology, Anatomy, and Behavior. Annual Review of Sex Research 18:1. 
Grafenberg (1950) The role of urethra in female orgasm. International Journal of Sexology 3:145–148. 
Havlíček et al (2016) Men’s preferences for women’s breast size and shape in four cultures, Evolution and Human Behavior 38(2): 217–226. 
Lynn (1999) Sex differences in intelligence and brain size: A developmental theory. Intelligence 27(1):1-12.
Manning et al (1997) Breast asymmetry and phenotypic quality in women, Ethology and Sociobiology 18(4): 223–236. 
Masters & Johnson (1966) Human Sexual Response (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966) 
Møller et al (1995) Breast asymmetry, sexual selection, and human reproductive success, Ethology and Sociobiology 16(3): 207-219. 
Pawłowski & Żelaźniewicz (2021) The evolution of perennially enlarged breasts in women: a critical review and a novel hypothesis. Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 96(6): 2794-2809. 
Pitnick et al (2006) Mating system and brain size in bats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 273(1587): 719-24. 

Pierre van den Berghe’s ‘The Ethnic Phenomenon’: Ethnocentrism and Racism as Nepotism Among Extended Kin

Pierre van den Berghe, The Ethnic Phenomenon (Westport: Praeger 1987) 

Ethnocentrism is a pan-human universal. Thus, a tendency to prefer one’s own ethnic group over and above other ethnic groups is, ironically, one thing that all ethnic groups share in common. 

In ‘The Ethnic Phenomenon’, pioneering sociologist-turned-sociobiologist Pierre van den Berghe attempts to explain this universal phenomenon. 

In the process, he not only provides a persuasive ultimate evolutionary explanation for the universality of ethnocentrism, but also produces a remarkable synthesis of scholarship that succeeds in incorporating virtually every aspect of ethnic relations as they have manifested themselves throughout history and across the world, from colonialism, caste and slavery to integration and assimilation, within this theoretical and explanatory framework. 

Ethnocentrism as Nepotism? 

At the core of Pierre van den Berghe’s theory of ethnocentrism and ethnic conflict is the sociobiological theory of kin selection. According to van den Berghe, racism, xenophobia, nationalism and other forms of ethnocentrism can ultimately be understood as kin-selected nepotism, in accordance with biologist William D Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness (Hamilton 1964a; 1964b). 

According to inclusive fitness theory (also known as kin selection), organisms evolved to behave altruistically towards their close biological kin, even at a cost to themselves, because close biological kin share genes in common with one another by virtue of their kinship, and altruism towards close biological kin therefore promotes the survival and spread of these genes. 

Van den Berghe extends this idea, arguing that humans have evolved to sometimes behave altruistically towards, not only their close biological relatives, but also sometimes their distant biological relatives as well – namely, members of the same ethnic group as themselves. 

Thus, van den Berghe contends: 

Racial and ethnic sentiments are an extension of kinship sentiments [and] ethnocentrism and racism are… extended forms of nepotism” (p18). 

Ethnic Groups as Kin Groups?

Before reading van den Berghe’s book, I was skeptical regarding whether the degree of kinship shared among co-ethnics would ever be sufficient to satisfy Hamilton’s rule, whereby, for altruism to evolve, the cost of the altruistic act to the altruist, measured in terms of reproductive success, must be outweighed by the benefit to the recipient, also measured in terms of reproductive success, multiplied by the degree of relatedness of the two parties (Brigandt 2001; cf. Salter 2008; see also On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethnicity and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration). 

Thus, Brigandt (2001) takes van den Berghe to task for his formulation of what the latter catchily christens “the biological golden rule”, namely: 

Give unto others as they are related unto you” (p20).[1]

However, contrary to both critics of his theory (e.g. Brigandt 2001) and others developing similar ideas (e.g. Rushton 2005; Salter 2000), van den Berghe is actually agnostic on the question of whether ethnocentrism is ever actually adaptive in modern societies, where the shared kinship of large nations or ethnic groups is, as van den Berghe himself readily acknowledges, “extremely tenuous at best” (p243). Thus, he concedes: 

Clearly, for 50 million Frenchmen or 100 million Japanese, any common kinship that they may share is highly diluted … [and] when 25 million African-Americans call each other ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, they know that they are greatly extending the meaning of these terms” (p27).[2]

Instead, van den Berghe suggests that nationalism and racism may reflect the misfiring of a mechanism that evolved when our ancestors still still lived in small kin-based groups of hunter-gatherers that represented little more than extended families (p35; see also Tooby and Cosmides 1989; Johnson 1986). 

Thus, van den Berghe explains: 

Until the last few thousand years, hominids interacted in relatively small groups of a few score to a couple of hundred individuals who tended to mate with each other and, therefore, to form rather tightly knit groups of close and distant kin” (p35). 

Therefore, in what evolutionary psychologists now call the environment of evolutionary adaptedness or EEA

The natural ethny [i.e. ethnic group] in which hominids evolved for several thousand millennia probably did not exceed a couple of hundred individuals at most” (p24) 

Thus, van den Berghe concludes: 

The primordial ethny is thus an extended family: indeed, the ethny represents the outer limits of that inbred group of near or distant kinsmen whom one knows as intimates and whom therefore one can trust” (p25). 

On this view, ethnocentrism was adaptive when we still resided in such groups, where members of our own clan or tribe were indeed closely biologically related to us, but is often maladaptive in contemporary environments, where our ethnic group may include literally millions of people. 

Another not dissimilar theory has it that racism in particular might reflect the misfiring of an adaptation that uses phenotype matching, in particular physical resemblance, as a form of kin recognition

Thus, Richard Dawkins in his seminal The Selfish Gene (which I have reviewed here), cautiously and tentatively speculates: 

Conceivably, racial prejudice could be interpreted as an irrational generalization of a kin-selected tendency to identify with individuals physically resembling oneself, and to be nasty to individuals different in appearance” (The Selfish Gene: p100). 

Certainly, van den Berghe takes pains to emphasize that ethnic sentiments are vulnerable to manipulation – not least by exploitative elites who co-opt kinship terms such as ‘motherland’, fatherland and ‘brothers-in-arms‘ to encourage self-sacrifice, especially during wartime (p35; see also Johnson 1987; Johnson et al 1987; Salmon 1998). 

However, van den Berghe cautions, “Kinship can be manipulated but not manufactured” (p27). Thus, he observes how: 

Queen Victoria could cut a motherly figure in England; she even managed to proclaim her son the Prince of Wales; but she could never hope to become anything except a foreign ruler of India; [while] the fiction that the Emperor of Japan is the head of the most senior lineage descended from the common ancestor of all Japanese might convince the Japanese peasant that the Emperor is an exalted cousin of his, but the myth lacks credibility in Korea or Taiwan” (p62-3). 

This suggests that the European Union, while it may prove successful as customs union, single market and even an economic union, and while integration in other non-economic spheres may also prove a success, will likely never command the sort of loyalty and allegiance that a nation-state holds over its people, including, sometimes, the willingness of men to fight and lay down their lives for its sake. This is because its members come from many different cultures and ethnicities, and indeed speak many different languages. 

For van den Berghe, national identity cannot be rooted in anything other than a perception of shared ancestry or kinship. Thus, he observes: 

Many attempts to adopt universalistic criteria of ethnicity based on legal citizenship or acquisition of educational qualifications… failed. Such was the French assimilation policy in her colonies. No amount of proclamation of Algérie française could make it so” (p27). 

Thus, so-called civic nationalism, whereby national identity is based, not on ethnicity, but rather, supposedly, on a shared commitment to certain common values and ideals, as encapsulated by the notion of America as a proposition nation’, is, for van den Berghe, a complete non-starter. 

Yet this is today regarded as the sole legitimate basis for national identity and patriotic feeling, not only in the USA, but also all other contemporary western polities, where any assertion of racial nationalism or a racially-based or ethnically-based national identity is, at least for white people, anathema and beyond the pale. 

Moreover, due to the immigration policies of previous generations of political leaders (that continue today), all contemporary western polities are now heavily multi-ethnic and multi-racial, such that any sense of national identity that was based on race or ethnicity is arguably untenable as it would necessarily exclude a large proportion of their populations.

On the other hand, however, van den Berghe’s reasoning also suggests that the efforts of some white nationalists to construct a pan-white, or pan-European, ethnic identity is also, like the earlier efforts of Japanese imperialist propagandists to create a pan-Asian identity, and of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA to construct a pan-African identity, likely to end in failure.[3]

Racism vs Ethnocentrism 

Whereas ethnocentrism is therefore universal, adaptive and natural, van den Berghe denies that the same can be said for racism

There is no evidence that racism is inborn, but there is considerable evidence that ethnocentrism is” (p240). 

Thus, van den Berge concludes: 

The genetic propensity is to favor kin, not those who look alike” (p240).[4]

As evidence, he cites:

The ease with which parental feelings take precedence over racial feeling in cases of racial admixture” (p240). 

In other words, fathers who sire mixed-race offspring with women of other races, and the women of other races with whom they father such offspring, often seemingly love and care for the resulting offspring just as intensely as do parents whose offspring is of the same race as themselves.[5]

Thus, cultural, rather than racial, markers are typically adopted to distinguish ethnic groups (p35). These include: 

  • Clothing (e.g. hijabs, turbans, skullcaps);
  • Bodily modification (e.g. tattoos, circumcision); and 
  • Behavioural criteria, especially language and dialect (p33).

Bodily modification and language represent particularly useful markers because they are difficult to fake, bodily modification because it is permanent and hence represents a costly commitment to the group (in accordance with Zahavi’s handicap principle), and language/dialect, because this is usually acquirable only during a critical period during childhood, after which it is generally not possible to achieve fluency in a second language without retaining a noticeable accent. 

In contrast, racial criteria, as a basis for group affiliation, is, van den Berghe reports actually quite rare: 

Racism is the exception rather than the rule in intergroup relations” (p33). 

Racism is also a decidedly modern phenomenon. 

This is because, prior to recent technological advances in transportation (e.g. ocean-going ships, aeroplanes), members of different races (i.e. groups distinguishable on the basis of biologically inherited physiological traits such as skin colour) were largely separated from one another by the very geographic barriers (e.g. deserts, oceans, mountain ranges) that reproductively isolated them from one another and hence permitted their evolution into distinguishable races in the first place. 

Moreover, when different races did make contact, then, in the absence of strict barriers to exogamy and miscegenation (e.g. the Indian caste system), racial groups typically interbred with one another and hence become phenotypically indistinguishable within just a few generations. 

This, van den Berghe explains, is because: 

Even the strongest social barriers between social groups cannot block a specieswide [sic] sexual attraction. The biology of reproduction triumphs in the end over the artificial barriers of social prejudice” (p109). 

Therefore, in the ancestral environment for which our psychological adaptations are designed (i.e. before the development of ships, aeroplanes and other methods of long-distance intercontinental transportation), different races did not generally coexist in the same locale. As a result, van den Berghe concludes: 

We have not been genetically selected to use phenotype as an ethnic marker, because, until quite recently, such a test would have been an extremely inaccurate one” (p 240). 

Humans, then, have simply not had sufficient time to have evolved a domain-specificracism module’ as suggested by some researchers.[6]

Racism is therefore, unlike ethnocentrism, not an innate instinct, but rather “a cultural invention” (p240). 

However, van den Berghe rejects the fashionable, politically correct notion that racism is “a western, much less a capitalist monopoly” (p32). 

On the contrary, racism, while not innate, is, not a unique western invention, but rather a recurrent reinvention, which almost invariably arises where phenotypically distinguishable groups come into contact with one another, if only because: 

Genetically inherited phenotypes are the easiest, most visible and most reliable predictors of group membership” (p32).

For example, van den Berghe describes the relations between the Tutsi, Hutu and Twa of Rwanda and neighbouring regions as “a genuine brand of indigenous racism” which, according to van den Berghe, developed quite independently of any western colonial influence (p73).[7]

Moreover, where racial differences are the basis for ethnic identity, the result is, van den Berghe claims, ethnic hierarchies that are particularly rigid, intransient and impermeable.

For van den Berghe, this then explains the failure of African-Americans to wholly assimilate into the US melting pot in stark contrast to successive waves of more recently-arrived European immigrants. 

Thus, van den Berghe observes: 

Blacks who have been English-speaking for several generations have been much less readily assimilated in both England… and the United States than European immigrants who spoke no English on arrival” (p219). 

Thus, language barriers often break down within a generation. 

As Judith Harris emphasizes in support of peer group socialization theory, the children of immigrants whose parents are not at all conversant in the language of their host culture nevertheless typically grow up to speak the language of their host culture rather better than they do the first language of their parents, even though the latter was the cradle tongue to which they were first exposed, and first learnt to speak, inside the family home (see The Nurture Assumption: which I have reviewed here). 

As van den Berghe observes: 

It has been the distressing experience of millions of immigrant parents that, as soon as their children enter school in the host country, the children begin to resist speaking their mother tongue” (p258). 

While displeasing to those parents who wish to pass on their language, culture and traditions to their offspring, this response is wholly adaptive from the perspective of the offspring themselves:  

Children quickly discover that their home language is a restricted medium that not useable in most situations outside the family home. When they discover that their parents are bilingual they conclude – rightly for their purposes – that the home language is entirely redundant… Mastery of the new language entails success at school, at work and in ‘the world’… [against which] the smiling approval of a grandmother is but slender counterweight” (p258).[8]

However, whereas one can learn a new language, it is not usually possible to change one’s race – the efforts of Rachel Dolezal, Elizabeth Warren, Jessica Krug and Michael Jackson notwithstanding. However, due to the one-drop rule and the history of miscegenation in America, passing is sometimes possible (see below). 

Instead, phenotypic (i.e. racial) differences can only be eradicated after many generations of miscegenation, and sometimes, as in the cases of countries like the USA and Brazil, not even then. 

Meanwhile, van den Berghe observes, often the last aspect of immigrant culture to resist assimilation is culinary differences. However, he observes, increasingly even this becomes only a ‘ceremonial’ difference reserved for family gatherings (p260). 

Thus, van den Berghe surmises, Italian-Americans probably eat beef hamburgers as often as Americans of any other ethnic background, but at family gatherings they still revert to pasta and other traditional Italian cuisine

Yet even culinary differences eventually disappear. Thus, in both Britain and America, sausage has almost completely ceased to be thought of as a distinctively German dish (as have hamburgers, originally thought to have been named in reference to the city of Hamburg) and now pizza is perhaps on the verge of losing any residual association with Italians. 

Is Racism Always Worse than Ethnocentrism? 

Yet if racially-based ethnic hierarchies are particularly intransigent and impermeable, they are also, van den Berghe claims, “peculiarly conflict-ridden and unstable” (p33). 

Thus, van den Berghe seems to believe that racial prejudice and animosity tends to be more extreme and malevolent in nature than mere ethnocentrism as exists between different ethnic groups of the same race (i.e. not distinguishable from one another on the basis of inherited phenotypic traits such as skin colour). 

For example, van den Berghe claims that, during World War Two: 

There was a blatant difference in the level of ferociousness of American soldiers in the Pacific and European theaters… The Germans were misguided relatives (however distant), while the ‘Japs’ or the ‘Nips’ were an entirely different breed of inscrutable, treacherous, ‘yellow little bastards.’ This was reflected in differential behavior in such things as the taking (versus killing) of prisoners, the rhetoric of war propaganda (President Roosevelt in his wartime speeches repeatedly referred to his enemies as ‘the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Japanese’), the internment in ‘relocation camps’ of American citizens of Japanese extraction, and in the use of atomic weapons” (p57).[9]

Similarly, in his chapter on ‘Colonial Empires’, by which he means “imperialism over distant peoples who usually live in noncontiguous territories and who therefore look quite different from their conquerors, speak unrelated languages, and are so culturally alien to their colonial masters as to provide little basis for mutual understanding”, van den Berghe writes: 

Colonialism is… imperialism without the restraints of common bonds of history, culture, religion, marriage and blood that often exist when conquest takes place between neighbors” (p85). 

Thus, he claims: 

What makes for the special character of the colonial situation is the perception by the conqueror that he is dealing with totally unrelated, alien and, therefore, inferior people. Colonials are treated as people totally beyond the pale of kin selection” (p85). 

However, I am unpersuaded by van den Berghe’s claim that conflict between more distantly related ethnic groups is always, or even typically, more brutal than that among biologically and culturally more closely related groups. 

After all, even conquests of neighbouring peoples, identical in race, if not always in culture, to the conquering group, are often highly brutal, for example the British in Ireland or the Japanese in Korea and China in the first half of the twentieth century. 

Indeed, many of the most intense and intractable ethnic conflicts are those between neighbours and ethnic kin, who are racially (and culturally) very similar to one another. 

Thus, for example, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, and Bosnians, Croats, Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans, and even Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East, are all racially and genetically quite similar to one another, and also share many aspects of their culture with one another too. (The same is true, to give a topical example at the time of writing, of Ukrainians and Russians.) However, this has not noticeably ameliorated the nasty, intransient and bloody conflicts that have been, and continue to be, waged among them.  

Of course, the main reason that most ethnic conflict occurs between close neighbours is because neighbouring groups are much more likely to come into contact, and hence into conflict, with one another, especially over competing claims to land.[10]

Yet these same neighbouring groups are also likely to be related to one another, both culturally and genetically, because of both shared origins and the inevitable history of illicit intermarriage or miscegenation, and cultural borrowings, that inevitably occur even among the most hostile of neighbours.[11]

Nevertheless, the continuation of intense ethnic animosity between ethnic groups who are genetically, close to one another seems to pose a theoretical problem, not only for van den Berghe’s theory, but also, to an even greater degree, for Philippe Rushton’s so-called genetic similarity theory (which I have written about here), which argues that conflict between different ethnic groups is related to their relative degree of genetic difference from one another (Rushton 1998a; 1998b; 2005). 

It also poses a problem for the argument of political scientist Frank K Salter, who argues that populations should resist immigration by alien immigrants proportionally to the degree to which the alien immigrants are genetically distant from themselves (On Genetic Interests; see also Salter 2002). 

Assimilation, Acculturation and the American Melting Pot 

Since racially-based hierarchies result in ethnic boundaries that are both “peculiarly conflict-ridden and unstable” and also peculiarly rigid and impermeable, Van den Berghe controversially concludes: 

There has never been a successful multiracial democracy” (p189).[12]

Of course, in assessing this claim, we must recognize that ‘success’ is not only a matter of degree, but also can also be measured on multiple different dimensions. 

Thus, many people would regard the USA as the quintessential “successful… democracy”, even though the US has been multiracial, to some degree, for the entirety of its existence as a nation. 

Certainly, the USA has been successful economically, and indeed militarily.

However, the US has also long been plagued by interethnic conflict, and, although successful economically and militarily, it has yet to be successful in finding a way to manage its continued interethnic conflict, especially that between blacks and whites.

The USA is also afflicted with a relatively high rate of homicide and gun crime as compared to other developed economies, as well as low levels of literacy and numeracy and educational attainment. Although it is politically incorrect to acknowledge as much, these problems also likely reflect the USA’s ethnic diversity, in particular its large black underclass.

Indeed, as van den Berghe acknowledges, even societies divided by mere ethnicity rather than race seem highly conflict-prone (p186). 

Thus, assimilation, when it does occur, occurs only gradually, and only under certain conditions, namely when the group which is to be assimilated is “similar in physical appearance and culture to the group to which it assimilates, small in proportion to the total population, of low status and territorially dispersed” (p219). 

Thus, van den Berghe observes: 

People tend to assimilate and acculturate when their ethny [i.e. ethnic group] is geographically dispersed (often through migration), when they constitute a numerical minority living among strangers, when they are in a subordinate position and when they are allowed to assimilate by the dominant group” (p185). 

Moreover, van den Berghe is careful distinguish what he calls assimilation from mere acculturation.  

The latter, acculturation, involves a subordinate group gradually adopting the norms, values, language, cultural traditions and folkways of the dominant culture into whom they aspire to assimilate. It is therefore largely a unilateral process.[13]

In contrast, however, assimilation goes beyond this and involves members of the dominant host culture also actually welcoming, or at least accepting, the acculturated newcomers as a part of their own community.  

Thus, van den Berghe argues that host populations sometimes resist the assimilation of even wholly acculturated and hence culturally indistinguishable out-groups. Examples of groups excluded in this way include pariah castes, such as the untouchable dalits of the Indian subcontinent, the Burakumin of Japan and, at least according to van den Berghe, blacks in the USA.[14]

In other words, assimilation, unlike acculturation, is very much a two-way street. Thus, just as it ‘takes two to tango’, so assimilation is very much a bilateral process: 

It takes two to assimilate” (p217).  

On the one hand, minority groups may sometimes themselves resist assimilation, or even acculturation, if they perceive themselves as better off maintaining their distinct identify. This is especially true of groups who perceive themselves as being, in some respects, better-off than the host outgroup into whom they refuse to be absorbed. 

Thus, middleman minorities, or market-dominant minorities, such as Jews in the West, the overseas Chinese in contemporary South-East Asia, the Lebanese in West Africa and South Asians in East Africa, being, on average, much wealthier than the bulk of the host populations among whom them live, often perceive no social or economic advantage to either assimilation or acculturation and hence resist the process, instead stubbornly maintaining their own language and traditions and marrying only among themselves. 

The same is also true, more obviously, of alien ruling elites, such as the colonial administrators, and settlers, in European colonial empires in Africa, India and elsewhere, for whom assimilation into native populations would have been anathema.

Passing’, ‘Pretendians’ and ‘Blackfishing’ 

Interestingly, just as market-dominant minorities, middleman minorities, and European colonial rulers usually felt no need to assimilate into the host society in whose midst they lived, because to do so would have endangered their privileged position within this host society, so recent immigrants to America may no longer perceive any advantage to assimilation. 

On the contrary, there may now be an economic disincentive operating against assimilation, at least if assimilation means forgoing from the right to benefit from affirmative action in employment and college admissions

Thus, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the phenomenon of passing, at least in America, typically involved non-whites, especially light-skinned mixed-race African-Americans, attempting to pass as white or, if this were not realistic, sometimes as Native American.  

Some non-whites, such as Bhagat Singh Thind and Takao Ozawa, even brought legal actions in order to be racially reclassified as ‘white’ in order to benefit from America’s then overtly racialist naturalization law.

Contemporary cases of passing, however, though rarely referred to by this term, typically involve whites themselves attempting to somehow pass themselves off as some variety of non-white (see Hannam 2021). 

Recent high-profile recent examples have included Rachel Dolezal, Elizabeth Warren and Jessica Krug

Interestingly, all three of these women were both employed in academia and involved in leftist politics – two spheres in which adopting a non-white identity is likely to be especially advantageous, given the widespread adoption of affirmative action in college admissions and appointments, and the rampant anti-white animus that infuses so much of academia and the cultural Marxist left.[15]

Indeed, the phenomenon is now so common that it even has its own associated set of neologisms, such as Pretendian, ‘blackfishing’ and, in Australia, box-ticker.[16]

Indeed, one remarkable recent survey purported to uncover that fully 34% of white college applicants in the United States admitted to lying about their ethnicity on their applications, in most cases either to improve their chances of admission or to qualify for financial aid

Although Rachel Dolezal, Elizabeth Warren and Jessica Krug were all women, this survey found that white male applicants were even more likely to lie about their ethnicity than were white female applicants, with only 16% of white female applicants admitting to lying, as compared to nearly half (48%) of white males.[17]

This is, of course, consistent with the fact that it is white males who are the primary victims of affirmative action and other forms of discrimination.  

This strongly suggests that, whereas there were formerly social (and legal) benefits that were associated with identifying as white, today the advantages accrue to instead to those able to assume a non-white identity.  

For all the talk of so-called ‘white privilege’, when whites and mixed-race people, together with others of ambiguous racial identity, preferentially choose to pose as non-white in order to take advantage of the perceived benefits of assuming such an identity, they are voting with their feet and thereby demonstrating what economists call revealed preferences

This, of course, means that recent immigrants to America, such as Hispanics, will have rather less incentive in integrate into the American mainstream than did earlier waves of European immigrants, such as Irish, Poles, Jews and Italians, the latter having been, primarily the victims of discrimination rather than its beneficiaries

After all, who would want to be another, boring unhyphenated American when to do so would presumably mean relinquishing any right to benefit from affirmative action in job recruitment or college admissions, not to mention becoming a part of the hated white ‘oppressor’ class. 

In short, ‘white privilege’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

This perverse incentive against assimilation obviously ought to be worrying to anyone concerned with the future of American as a stable unified polity. 

Ethnostates – or Consociationalism

Given the ubiquity of ethnic conflict, and the fact that assimilation occurs, if at all, only gradually and, even then, only under certain conditions, a pessimist (or indeed a racial separatist) might conclude that the only way to prevent ethnic conflict is for different ethnic groups to be given separate territories with complete independence and territorial sovereignty. 

This would involve the partition of the world into separate ethnically homogenous ethnostates, as advocated by racial separatists and many in the alt-right. 

Yet, quite apart from the practical difficulties such an arrangement would entail, not least the need for large-scale forcible displacements of populations, this ‘universal nationalism’, as championed by political scientist Frank K Salter among others, would arguably only shift the locus of ethnic conflict from within the borders of a single multi-ethnic state to between those of separate ethnostates – and conflict between states can be just as destructive as conflict within states, as countless wars between states throughout history have amply proven.  

In the absence of assimilation, then, perhaps fairest and least conflictual solution is what van den Berghe terms consociationalism. This term refers to a form of ethnic power-sharing, whereby elites from both groups agree to share power, each usually retaining a veto power regarding major decisions, and there is proportionate representation for each group in all important positions of power. 

This seems to be roughly the basis of the power sharing agreement imposed on Northern Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement, which was largely successful in bringing an end to the ethnic conflict known as ‘the Troubles.[18]

On the other hand, however, power-sharing was explicitly rejected by both the ANC and the international anti-apartheid movement as a solution in another ethnically-divided polity, namely South Africa, in favour of majority rule, even though the result has been a situation very similar to the situation in Northern Ireland which led to the Troubles, namely an effective one-party state, with a single party in power for successive decades and institutionalized discrimination against minorities.[19]

Consociationalism or ethnic power-sharing also arguably the model towards which the USA and other western polities are increasingly moving, with quotas and so-called ‘affirmative action increasingly replacing the earlier ideals of appointment by merit, color blindness or freedom of association, and multiculturalism and cultural pluralism replacing the earlier ideal of assimilation

Perhaps the model consociationalist democracy is van den Berghe’s own native Belgium, where, he reports: 

All the linguistic, class, religious and party-political quarrels and street demonstrations have yet to produce a single fatality” (p199).[20]

Belgium is, however, very much the exception rather than the rule, and, at any rate, though peaceful, remains very much a divided society

Indeed, power-sharing institutions, in giving official, institutional recognition to the existing ethnic divide, function only to institutionalize and hence reinforce and ossify the existing ethnic divide, making successful integration and assimilation almost impossible – and certainly even less likely to occur than it had been in the absence of such institutional arrangements. 

Moreover, consociationalism can be maintained, van den Berghe emphasizes, only in a limited range of circumstances, the key criterion being that the groups in question are equal, or almost equal, to one another in status, and not organized into an ethnic hierarchy. 

However, even when the necessary conditions are met, it invariably involves a precarious balancing act. 

Just how precarious is illustrated by the fate of other formerly stable consociationalist states. Thus, van den Bergh notes the irony that earlier writers on the topic had cited Lebanon as “a model [consociationalist democracy] in the Third World” just a few years before the Lebanese Civil War broke out in the 1970s (p191). 

His point is, ironically, only strengthened by the fact that, in the three decades since his book was first published, two of his own examples, namely the USSR and Yugoslavia, have themselves since descended into civil war and fragmented along ethnic lines. 

Slavery and Other Recurrent Situations  

In the central section of the book, van den Berghe discusses such historically recurrent racial relationships as “slavery”, middleman minorities, “caste” and “colonialism”. 

In large part, his analyses of these institutions and phenomena do not depend on his sociobiological theory of ethnocentrism, and are worth reading even for readers unconvinced by this theory – or even by readers skeptical of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology altogether. 

Nevertheless, the sociobiological model continues to guide his analysis. 

Take, for example, his chapter on slavery. 

Although the overtly racial slavery of the New World was quite unique, slavery often has an ethnic dimension, since slaves are often captured during warfare from among enemy groups. 

Indeed, the very word slave is derived from the ethnonym, Slav, due to the frequency with which the latter were captured as slaves, both by Christians and Muslims.[21]

In particular, van den Berghe argues that: 

An essential feature of slave status is being torn out of one’s network of kin selection. This condition generally results from forcible removal of the slave from his home group by capture and purchase” (p120).

This then explains, for example, why European settlers were far less successful in enslaving the native inhabitants of the Americas than they were in exploiting the slave labour of African slaves who had been shipped across the Atlantic, far from their original kin groups, precisely for this purpose. 

Thus, for van den Berghe, the quintessential slave is: 

Not only involuntarily among ethnic strangers in a strange land: he is there alone, without his support group of kinsmen and fellow ethnics” (p115).[22]

This, however, is likely to be only a temporary condition, since, at least if allowed to reproduce, then, gradually over time, slaves would put down roots, produce new families, and indeed whole communities of slaves.[23]

When this occurs, however, slaves gradually, over generations, cease to be true slaves. The result is that: 

Slavery can long endure as an institution in a given society, but the slave status of individuals is typically only semipermanent and nonhereditary… Unless a constantly renewed supply of slaves enters a society, slavery, as an institution, tends to disappear and transform itself into something else” (p120). 

This then explains the gradual transformation of slavery during the medieval period into serfdom in much of Europe, and perhaps also the emergence of some pariah castes such as the untouchables of India. 

Paradoxically, van den Berghe argues that racism became particularly virulent in the West precisely because of Western societies’ ostensible commitment to notions of liberty and the rights of man, notions obviously incompatible with slavery. 

Thus, whereas most civilizations simply took the institution of slavery for granted, feeling no especial need to justify its existence, western civilization, given its ostensible commitment to such lofty notions as individual liberty and the equality of man, was always on the defensive, feeling a constant need to justify and defend slavery. 

The main justification hit upon was racialism and theories of racial superiority

If it was immoral to enslave people, but if at the same time it was vastly profitable to do so, then a simple solution to the dilemma presented itself: slavery became acceptable if slaves could somehow be defined as somewhat less than fully human” (p115).  

This then explains much of the virulence of western racialism in the much of the eighteenth, nineteenth and even early-twentieth centuries.[24]

Another important, and related, ideological justification for slavery was what van den Berghe refers to as ‘paternalism’. Thus, Van den Berghe observes that: 

All chattel slave regimes developed a legitimating ideology of paternalism” (p131). 

Thus, in the American South, the “benevolent master” was portrayed a protective “father figure”, while slaves were portrayed as childlike and incapable of living an independent existence and hence as benefiting from their own enslavement (p131). 

This, of course, was a nonsense. As van den Berghe cynically observes: 

Where the parentage was fictive, so, we may assume, is the benevolence” (p131). 

Thus, exploitation was, in sociobiological terms, disguised as kin-selected parental benevolence

However, despite the dehumanization of slaves, the imbalance of power between slave and master, together with the men’s innate and evolved desire for promiscuity, made the sexual exploitation of female slaves by male masters all but inevitable.[25]

As van den Berghe observes: 

Even the strongest social barriers between social groups cannot block a specieswide [sic] sexual attraction. The biology of reproduction triumphs in the end over the artificial barriers of social prejudice” (p109). 

Thus, he notes the hypocrisy whereby: 

Dominant group men, whether racist or not, are seldom reluctant to maximize their fitness with subordinate-group women” (p33). 

The result was that the fictive ideology of ‘paternalism’ that served to justify slavery often gave way to literal paternity of the next generation of the slave population. 

This created two problems. First, it made the racial justification for slavery, namely the ostensible inferiority of black people, ring increasingly hollow, as ostensibly ‘black slaves acquired greater European ancestry, lighter skins and more Caucasoid features with each successive generation of miscegenation. 

Second, and more important, it also meant that the exploitation of this next generation of slaves by their owners potentially violated the logic of kin selection, because: 

If slaves become kinsmen, you cannot exploit them without indirectly exploiting yourself” (p134).[26]

This, van den Berghe surmises, led many slave owners to free those among the offspring of slave women whom they themselves, or their male relatives, had fathered. As evidence, he observes:  

In all [European colonial] slave regimes, there was a close association between manumission and European ancestry. In 1850 in the United States, for example, an estimated 37% of free ‘negroes’ had white ancestry, compared to about 10% of the slave population” (p132). 

This leads van den Bergh to conclude that many such free people of color – who were referred to as people of color precisely because their disproportionate degree of white ancestry precluded any simple identification as black or negro – had been freed by their owner precisely because their owner was now also their kinsmen. Indeed, many may have been freed by the very slave-master who had been responsible for fathering them. 

Thus, to give a famous example, Thomas Jefferson is thought to have fathered six offspring, four of whom survived to adulthood, with his slave, Sally Hemings – who was herself already three-quarters white, and indeed Jefferson’s wife’s own half-sister, on account of miscegenation in previous generations. 

Of these four surviving offspring, two were allowed to escape, probably with Jefferson’s tacit permission or at least acquiescence, while the remaining two were freed upon his death in his will.[27]

This seems to have been a common pattern. Thus, van den Berghe reports: 

Only about one tenth of the ‘negro’ population of the United States was free in 1860. A greatly disproportionate number of them were mulattoes, and, thus, presumably often blood relatives of the master who emancipated them or their ancestors. The only other slaves who were regularly were old people past productive and reproductive age, so as to avoid the cost of feeding the aged and infirm” (p129). 

Yet this made the continuance of slavery almost impossible, because each new generation more and more slaves would be freed.  

Other slave systems got around this problem by continually capturing or importing new slaves in order to replenish the slave population. However, this option was denied to American slaveholders by the abolition of the slave trade in 1807

This leads van den Berghe to conclude that: 

By making the slave woman widely available to her master…Western slavery thus literally contained the genetic seeds of its own destruction” (p134).[28]

Synthesising Marxism and Sociobiology 

Given the potential appeal of his theory to nationalists, and even to racialists, it is perhaps surprising that van den Berghe draws heavily on Marxist theory. Although Marxists were almost unanimously hostile to sociobiology, sociobiologists frequently emphasized the potential compatibility of Marxist theory and sociobiology (e.g. The Evolution of Human Sociality). 

However, van den Berghe remains, to my knowledge, the only figure (except myself) to actually successfully synthesize sociobiology and Marxism in order to produce novel theory.  

Thus, for example, he argues that, in almost every society in existence, class exploitation is disguised by an ideology (in the Marxist sense) that disguises exploitation as either: 

1) Kin-selected nepotistic altruism – e.g. the king or dictator is portrayed as benevolent ‘father’ of the nation; or
2) Mutually beneficial reciprocity – i.e. social contract theory or democracy (p60). 

However, contrary to orthodox Marxist theory, van den Berghe regards ethnic sentiments as more fundamental than class loyalty since, whereas the latter is “dependent on a commonality of interests”, the former is often “irrational” (p243). 

Nationalist conflicts are among the most intractable and unamenable to reason and compromise… It seems a great many people care passionately whether they are ruled and exploited by members of their own ethny or foreigners” (p62). 

In short, van den Berghe concludes: 

Blood runs thicker than money” (p243). 

Another difference is that, whereas Marxists view control over the so-called means of production (i.e. the means necessary to produce goods for sale) as the ultimate factor determining exploitation and conflict in human societies, Darwinians instead focus on conflict over access to what I have termed the means of reproduction – in other words, the means necessary to produce offspring (i.e. fertile females, their wombs and vaginas etc.). 

This is because, from a Darwinian perspective: 

The ultimate measure of human success is not production but reproduction. Economic productivity and profit are means to reproductive ends, not ends in themselves” (p165). 

Thus, unlike his contemporary Darwin, Karl Marx was, for all his ostensible radicalism, in his emphasis on economics rather than sex, just another Victorian sexual prude.[29]

Mating, Miscegenation and Intermarriage 

Given that reproduction, not production, is the ultimate focus of individual and societal conflict and competition, van den Berghe argues that ultimately questions of equality, inequality and assimilation must be also determined by reproductive, not economic, criteria. 

Thus, he concludes, intermarriage, especially if it occurs, not only frequently, but also in both directions (i.e. involves both males and females of both ethnicities, rather than always involving males of one ethnic group, usually the dominant ethnic group, taking females of the other ethnic group, usually the subordinate group, as wives), is the ultimate measure of racial equality and assimilation: 

Marriage, especially if it happens in both directions, that is with both men and women of both groups marrying out, is probably the best measure of assimilation” (p218). 

In contrast, however, he also emphasizes that mere “concubinage is frequent [even] in the absence of assimilation” (p218). 

Moreover, such concubinage invariably involves males of the dominant-group taking females from the subordinate-group as concubines, whereas dominant-group females are invariably off-limits as sexual partners for subordinate group males. 

Thus, van den Berghe observes, although “dominant group men, whether racist or not, are seldom reluctant to maximize their fitness with subordinate-group women”, they nevertheless are jealously protective of their own women and enforce strict double-standards (p33). 

For example, historian Wynn Craig Wade, in his history of the Ku Klux Klan (which I have reviewed here), writes: 

In [antebellum] Southern white culture, the female was placed on a pedestal where she was inaccessible to blacks and a guarantee of purity of the white race. The black race, however, was completely vulnerable to miscegenation.” (The Fiery Cross: p20). 

The result, van den Berghe reports, is that: 

The subordinate group in an ethnic hierarchy invariably ‘loses’ more women to males of the dominant group than vice versa” (p75). 

Indeed, this same pattern is even apparent in the DNA of contemporary populations. Thus, geneticist James Watson reports that, whereas the mitochondrial DNA of contemporary Columbians, which is passed down the female line, shows a “range of Amerindian MtDNA types”, the Y-chromosomes of these same Colombians, are 94% European. This leads him to conclude: 

The virtual absence of Amerindian Y chromosome types, reveals the tragic story of colonial genocide: indigenous men were eliminated while local women were sexually ‘assimilated’ by the conquistadors” (DNA: The Secret of Life: p257). 

As van den Berghe himself observes: 

It is no accident that military conquest is so often accompanied by the killing, enslavement and castration of males, and the raping and capturing of females” (p75). 

This, of course, reflects the fact that, in Darwinian terms, the ultimate purpose of power is to maximize reproductive success

However, while the ethnic group as a whole inevitably suffers a diminution in its fitness, there is a decided gender imbalance in who bears the brunt of this loss. 

The men of the subordinate group are always the losers and therefore always have a reproductive interest in overthrowing the system. The women of the subordinate group, however frequently have the option of being reproductively successful with dominant-group males” (p27). 

Indeed, subordinate-group females are not only able, and sometimes forced, to mate with dominant-group males, but, in purely fitness terms, they may even benefit from such an arrangement.  

Hypergamy (mating upward for women) is a fitness enhancing strategy for women, and, therefore, subordinate-group women do not always resist being ‘taken over’ by dominant-group men” (p75). 

This is because, by so doing, they thereby obtain access to both the greater resources that dominant group males are able to provide in return for sexual access or as provisioning for their offspring, as well as the superior’ genes which facilitated the conquest in the first place. 

Thus, throughout history, women and girls have been altogether too willing to consort and intermarry with their conquerors. 

The result of this gender imbalance in the consequences of conquest and subjugation, is, a lack of solidarity as between men and women of the subjugated group. 

This sex asymmetry in fitness strategies in ethnically stratified societies often creates tension between the sexes within subordinate groups. The female option of fitness maximization through hypergamy is deeply resented by subordinate group males” (p76). 

Indeed, even captured females who were enslaved by their conquerers sometimes did surprisingly well out of this arrangement, at least if they were young and beautiful, and hence lucky enough to be recruited into the harem of a king, emperor or other powerful male.

One slave captured in Eastern Europe even went on to become effective queen of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power. Hurrem Sultan, as she came to be known, was, of course, exceptional, but only in degree. Members of royal harems may have been secluded, but they also lived in some luxury.

Indeed, even in puritanical North America, where concubinage was very much frownded upon, van den Berghe reports that “slavery was much tougher on men than on women”, since: 

Slavery drastically reduced the fitness of male slaves; it had little or no such adverse effect on the fitness of female slaves whose masters had a double interest – financial and genetic – in having them reproduce at maximum capacity” (p133) 

Van den Berghe even tentatively ventures: 

It is perhaps not far-fetched to suggest that, even today, much of the ambivalence in relations between black men and women in America… has its roots in the highly asymmetrical mating system of the slave plantation” (p133).[30]

Miscegenation and Intermarriage in Modern America 

Yet, curiously, however, patterns of interracial dating in contemporary America are anomalous – at least if we believe the pervasive myth that America is a ‘systemically racist’ society where black people are still oppressed and discriminated against

On the one hand, genetic data confirms that, historically, matings between white men and black women were more frequent than the reverse, since African-American mitochondrial DNA, passed down the female line, is overwhelmingly African in origin, whereas their Y chromosomes, passed down the male line, are often European in origin (Lind et al 2007). 

However, recent census data suggests that this pattern is now reversed. Thus, black men are now about two and a half times as likely to marry white women as black women are to marry white men (Fryer 2007; see also Sailer 1997). 

This seemingly suggests white American males are actually losing out in reproductive competition to black males. 

This observation led controversial behavioural geneticist Glayde Whitney to claim: 

By many traditional anthropological criteria African-Americans are now one of the dominant social groups in America – at least they are dominant over whites. There is a tremendous and continuing transfer of property, land and women from the subordinate race to the dominant race” (Whitney 1999: p95). 

However, this conclusion is difficult to square with the continued disproportionate economic deprivation of much of black America. In short, African-Americans may be reproductively successful, and perhaps even, in some respects, socially privileged, but, despite benefiting from systematic discrimination in employment and admission to institutions of higher education, they are clearly also, on average, economically much worse-off as compared to whites and Asians in modern America.  

Instead, perhaps the beginnings of an explanation for this paradox can be sought in van den Berghe’s own later collaboration with anthropologist, and HBD blogger, Peter Frost

Here, in a co-authored paper, van den Berghe and Frost argue that, across cultures, there is a general sexual preference for females with somewhat lighter complexion than the group average (van den Berghe and Frost 1986). 

However, as Frost explains in a more recent work, Fair Women, Dark Men: The Forgotten Roots of Racial Prejudice, preferences with regard to male complexion are more ambivalent (see also Feinman & Gill 1977). 

Thus, whereas, according to the title of a novel, two films and a hit Broadway musical, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (who also reputedly, and perhaps as a consequence, have more fun), the idealized male romantic partner is instead tall, dark and handsome

In subsequent work, Frost argues that ecological conditions in sub-Saharan Africa permitted high levels of polygyny, because women were economically self-supporting, and this increased the intensity of selection for traits (e.g. increased muscularity, masculinity, athleticism and perhaps outgoing, sexually-aggressive personalities) which enhance the ability of African-descended males to compete for mates and attract females (Frost 2008). 

In contrast, Frost argues that there was greater selection for female attractiveness (and perhaps female chastity) in areas such as Northern Europe and Northeast Asia, where, to successfully reproduce, women were required to attract a male willing to provision them during cold winters throughout their gestation, lactation and beyond (Frost 2008). 

This then suggests that African males have simply evolved to be, on average, more attractive to women, whereas European and Asian females have evolved to be more attractive to men. 

This speculation is supported by a couple of recent studies of facial attractiveness, which found that black male faces were rated as most attractive to members of the opposite sex, but that, for female faces, the pattern was reversed (Lewis 2011; Lewis 2012). 

These findings could also go some way towards explaining patterns of interracial dating in the contemporary west (Lewis 2012). 

The Most Explosive Aspect of Interethnic Relations” 

However, such an explanation is likely to be popular neither with racialists, for whom miscegenation is anathema, nor with racial egalitarians, for whom, as a matter of sacrosanct dogma, all races must be equal in all things, even aesthetics and sex appeal.[31]

Thus, when evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa made a similar claim in 2011 in a blog post (since deleted), outrage predictably ensued, the post was swiftly deleted, his then-blog dropped by its host, Psychology Today, and the author reprimanded by his employer, the London School of Economics, and forbidden from writing any blog or non-scholarly publications for a whole year. 

Yet all of this occurred within a year of the publication of the two papers cited above that largely corroborated Kanazawa’s finding (Lewis 2011; Lewis 2012). 

Yet such a reaction is, in fact, little surprise. As van den Berghe points out: 

It is no accident that the most explosive aspect of interethnic relations is sexual contact across ethnic (or racial) lines” (p75). 

After all, from a sociobiological perspective, competition over reproductive access to fertile females is Darwinian conflict in its most direct and primordial form

Van den Berghe’s claim that interethnic sexual contact is “the most explosive aspect” of interethnic relations also has support from the history of racial conflict in the USA and elsewhere. 

The spectre of interracial sexual contact, real or imagined, has motivated several of the most notorious racially-motivated ‘hate-crimes’ of American history, from the torture-murder of Emmett Till for allegedly propositioning a white woman, to the various atrocities of the reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan in defence of the ostensible virtue of ‘white womanhood, to the recent Charleston church shooting, ostensibly committed in revenge for the allegedly disproportionate rate of rape of white women by black man.[32]

Meanwhile, interracial sexual relations are also implicated in some of American history’s most infamous alleged miscarriages of justice, from the Scottsboro Boys and Groveland Four cases, and the more recent Central Park jogger case, all of which involved allegations of interracial rape, to the comparatively trivial conduct alleged, but by no means trivial punishment imposed, in the so-called Monroe ‘kissing case

Allegations of interracial rape also seem to be the most common precursor of full-blown race riots

Thus, in early-twentieth century America, the race riots in Springfield, Illinois in 1908, in Omaha, Nebraska in 1919, in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 and in Rosewood, Florida in 1923 were all ignited, at least in part, by allegations of interracial rape or sexual assault

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, multi-racial Britain’s first modern post-war race riot, the 1958 Notting Hill riot in London 1958, began with a public argument between an interracial couple, when white passers-by joined in on the side of the white woman against her black Jamaican husband (and pimp) before turning on them both. 

Meanwhile, Britain’s most recent unambiguous race riot, the 2005 Birmingham riot, an entirely non-white affair, was ignited by the allegation that a black girl had been gang-raped by South Asians.

Meanwhile, at least in the west, whites no longer seem participate in race riots, save as victims. However, an exception was the 2005 Cronulla riots in Sydney, Australia, which were ignited by the allegation that Middle Eastern males were sexually harassing white Australian girls on Sydney beaches. 

Similarly, in Britain, though riots have yet to result, the spectre of so-called Muslim grooming gangs, preying on, and pimping out, underage white British girls in northern towns across the England, has arguably done more to ignite anti-Muslim sentiment among whites in the UK than a whole series of Jihadist terrorist attacks on British civilian targets

Thus, in Race: The Reality of Human Differences (which I have reviewed here, here and here) Sarich and Miele caution that miscegenation, often touted as the universal panacea to racism simply because, if practiced sufficiently widely, it would eventually eliminate all racial differences, or at least blur the lines between racial groups, may actually, at least in the short-term, actually incite racist attacks. 

This, they argue, is because: 

Viewed from the racial solidarist perspective, intermarriage is an act of race war. Every ovum that is impregnated by the sperm of a member of a different race is one less of that precious commodity to be impregnated by a member of its own race and thereby ensure its survival” (Race: The Reality of Human Differences: p256) 

This “racial solidarist perspective” is, of course, a crudely group selectionist view of Darwinian competition, and it leads Sarich and Miele to hypothesize: 

Paradoxically, intermarriage, particularly of females of the majority group with males of a minority group, is the factor most likely to cause some extremist terrorist group to feel the need to launch such an attack” (Race: The Reality of Human Differences: p255). 

In other words, in sociobiological terms, ‘Robert’, a character from one of Michel Houellebecq’s novels, has it right when he claims: 

What is really at stake in racial struggles… is neither economic nor cultural, it is brutal and biological: It is competition for the cunts of young women” (Platform: p82). 

Endnotes

[1] Actually, however, contrary to Brigandt’s critique, it is clear that van den Berghe intended his “biological golden rule” only as a catchy and memorable aphorism, crudely summarizing Hamilton’s rule, rather than a quantitative scientific law akin to, or rivalling, Hamilton’s Rule itself. Therefore, this aspect of Brigandt’s critique is, in my view, misplaced. Indeed, it is difficult to see how this supposed rule could be applied as a quantitative scientific law, since relatedness, on the one hand, and altruism, on the other, are measured in different currencies. 

[2] Thus, van den Berghe concedes that: 

In many cases, the common descent acribed to an ethny is fictive. In fact, in most cases, it is partly fictive” (p27). 

[3] The question of racial nationalism (i.e. encompassing all members of a given race, not just those of a single ethnicity or language group) is actually more complex. Certainly, members of the same race do indeed share some degree of kinship, in so far as they are indeed (almost by definition) on average more closely biologically related to one another than to members of other races – and indeed that relatedness is obviously apparent in their phenotypic resemblance to one another. This suggests that racial nationalist movements such as that of, say, UNIA or of the Japanese imperialists, might have more potential as a viable form of nationalism than do attempts to unite racially disparate ethnicities, such as civic nationalism in the contemporary USA. The same may also be true of Oswald Mosley’s Europe a Nation campaign, at least while Europe remained primarily monoracial (i.e. white). However, any such racial nationalism would incorporate a far larger and more culturally, linguistically (and genetically) disparate group than any form of nationalism that has previously proven capable of mobilizing support.
Thus, Marcus Garvey’s attempt to create a kind of pan-African ethnic identity enjoyed little success and was largely restricted to North America, where African-Americans, do indeed share a common language and culture in addition to their race. Similarly, the efforts of Japanese nationalists to mobilize a kind of pan-Asian nationalism in support of their imperial aspirations during the first half of the twentieth century was an unmitigated failure, though this was partly because of the brutality with which they conquered and suppressed the other Asian nationalities whose support for pan-Asianism they intermittently sought to enlist.
On the other hand, it is sometimes suggested that, in the early twentieth century, a white supremacist ideology was largely taken for granted among whites. However, while to some extent true, this shared ideology of white supremacism did not prevent the untold devastation wrought by the European wars of the early twentieth century, namely World Wars I and II, which Patrick Buchanan has collectively termed The Great Civil War of the West.
Thus, European nationalisms usually defined themselves by opposition to other European peoples and powers. Thus, just as Irish nationalism is defined largely by opposition to Britain, and Scottish nationalism by opposition to England, so English (and British) nationalism has itself traditionally been directed against rival European powers such as France and Germany (and formerly Spain), while French nationalism seems to have defined itself primarily in opposition to the Germans and the British, and German nationalism in opposition to the French, Dutch and Slavs, etc.
It is true that, in the USA, a kind of pan-white American nationalism did seem to prevail in the early twentieth century, albeit initially limited to white protestants, and excluding at least some recent European immigrants (e.g. Italians, Jews). This is, however, a consequence of the so-called melting pot, and really only amounts to yet another parochial nationalism, namely that of a newly-formed ethnic group – white Americans.
At any rate, today white American nationalism is, at most, decidedly muted in form – a kind of implicit white racial consciousness, or, to coin a phrase, the nationalism that dare not speak its name. Thus, Van den Berghe observes: 

In the United States, the whites are an overwhelming majority, so much so that they cannot be meaningfully conceived of as a ruling group at all. The label ‘white’ in the United States does not correspond to a well-defined ethnic or racial group with a high degree of social organization or even self-consciousness, except regionally in the south” (p183). 

Van den Berghe wrote this in 1981. Today, of course, whites are no longer such an “overwhelming majority” of the US population. On the contrary, they are already well on the way to becoming a minority in America, a milestone that is likely to be reached over the coming decades.
Yet, curiously, white ‘racially consciousness’ is seemingly even more muted and implicit today than it was back when van den Berghe authored his book – and this is seen even in the South, which van den Berghe cited as an exception and lone bastion of white identity politics.
True, White Southerners may vote as a solidly for Republican candidates as they once did for the Democrats. However, overt appeals to white racial interests are now as anathema in the South as elsewhere.
Thus, as recently as 1990, a more or less open white racialist like David Duke was able to win a majority of the white vote in Louisiana in his run for the Senate. Today, this is unimaginable.
If the reason that whites lack any ‘racial consciousness’ is indeed, as van den Berghe claims, because they represent such an “overwhelming majority” of the American population, then it is interesting to speculate if and when, during the ongoing process of white demographic displacement, this will cease to be the case.
One thing seems certain: If and when it does ever occur, it will be too late to make any difference to the ongoing process of demographic displacement that some have termed ‘The Great Replacement’ or a third demographic transition.

[4] Of course, a preference for those who look similar to oneself (or one’s other relatives) may itself function as a form of kin recognition (i.e. of recognizing who is kin and who is not). This is referred to in biology as phenotype matching. Moreover, as Richard Dawkins has speculated in The Selfish Gene (reviewed here), racial could conceivably have evolved through a misfiring of such a crude heuristic (The Selfish Gene: p100).

[5] Actually, I suspect that, on average, at least historically, both mothers and fathers may indeed, on average, have provided rather less care for their mixed-race offspring than for offspring of the same race as themselves, simply because mixed-race offspring were more likely to be born out of wedlock, not least because interracial marriage was, until recently, strongly frowned upon, and both mothers and fathers tended to provide less care for illegitimate offspring, fathers because they often refused to acknowledge their illegitimate offspring and had little or no contact with them, and mothers because, lacking paternal support, they usually had no means of raising their illegitimate offspring alone and hence often gave them up for adoption or fostering.

[6] On the other hand, in his paper, ‘An integrated evolutionary perspective on ethnicity’, controversial evolutionary psychologist Kevin Macdonald disagrees with this conclusion, citing personal communication from geneticist and anthropologist Henry Harpending for the argument that: 

Long distance migrations have easily occurred on foot and over several generations, bringing people who look different for genetic reasons into contact with each other. Examples include the Bantu in South Africa living close to the Khoisans, or the pygmies living close to non-pygmies. The various groups in Rwanda and Burundi look quite different and came into contact with each other on foot. Harpending notes that it is ‘very likely’ that such encounters between peoples who look different for genetic reasons have been common for the last 40,000 years of human history; the view that humans were mostly sessile and living at a static carrying capacity is contradicted by history and by archaeology. Harpending points instead to ‘starbursts of population expansion.’ For example, the Inuits settled in the arctic and exterminated the Dorsets within a few hundred years; the Bantu expansion into central and southern Africa happened in a millennium or less, prior to which Africa was mostly the yellow (i.e., Khoisan) continent, not the black continent. Other examples include the Han expansion in China, the Numic expansion in northern America, the Zulu expansion in southern Africa during the last few centuries, and the present day expansion of the Yanomamo in South America. There has also been a long history of invasions of Europe from the east. ‘In the starburst world people would have had plenty of contact with very different looking people‘” (Macdonald 2001: p70). 

[7] Others have argued that the differences between Tutsi and Hutu are indeed largely a western creation, part of the divide and rule strategy supposedly deliberately employed by European colonialists, as well as a theory of Tutsi racial superiority promulgated by European racial anthropologists known as the Hamitic theory of Tutsi origins, which suggested that the Tutsi had migrated from the Horn of Africa, and had benefited from Caucasoid ancestry, as reflected in their supposed physiological differences from the indigenous Hutu (e.g. lighter complexions, greater height, narrower noses).
On this view, the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi was originally primarily socioeconomic rather than racial, and, at least formerly, the boundaries between the two groups were quite fluid.
I suspect this view is nonsense, reflecting political correctness and the leftist tendency to excuse any evidence of dysfunction or oppression in non-Western cultures as necessarily of product of the malign influence of western colonizers. (Most preposterously, even the Indian caste system has been blamed on British colonizers, although it actually predated them, in one form or another, by several thousand years.)
With respect to the division between Tutsi and Hutu, there are not only morphological differences between the two groups in average stature, nose width and complexion, but also substantial differences in the prevalence of genes for lactose tolerance and sickle-cell. These results do indeed seem to suggest that, as predicted by the reviled ‘Hamitic theory’, the Tutsi do indeed have affinities with populations from the Horn of Africa and East Africa. Modern genome analysis tends to confirm this conclusion. 

[8] Exceptions, where immigrant groups retain their distinctive language for multiple generations, occur where immigrants speaking a particular language arrive in sufficient numbers, and are sufficiently isolated in ethnic enclaves and ghettos, that they mix primarily or exclusively with people speaking the same language as themselves. A related exception is in respect of economically, politically or socially dominant minorities, such as alien colonizers, as well as market-dominant or middleman minorities, who often resist assimilation into the mainstream culture precisely so as to maintain their cultural separateness and hence their privileged position within society. 

[9] Some German-Americans were also interred during World War II. However, far fewer were interred than among Japanese-Americans, especially on a per capita basis.
Nevertheless, some German-Americans were treated very badly indeed, yet the latter, unlike the Japanese, have yet to receive a government apology or compensation. Moreover, there was perhaps justification for the differing treatment accorded Japanese- and German-Americans, since the latter were generally longer established and more integrated, and there was perceived to be a real threat of enemy sabotage.
Also, with regard to van den Berghe’s observation that nuclear atomic weapons were used only against Japan, they could not have been used against Germany, since, by the time of the first test detonation of a nuclear device, Germany had already surrendered. In fact, the Manhattan Project seems to have been begun with the Germans very much in mind as a prospective target. (Many of the scientists involved were Jewish, many having fled Nazi-occupied Europe for America, and hence their hostility towards the Nazis, and perhaps Germans in general, is easy to understand.)
Whether it is true that, as van den Berghe claims, atomic bombs were never actually likely to be “dropped over, say, Stuttgart or Dortmund” is a matter of supposition. Certainly, there were great animosity towards the Germans in America, as illustrated by the Morgenthau Plan, which, although ultimately never put into practice, was initially highly influential in directing US policy in Europe and even supported by President Roosevelt.
On the other hand, Roosevelt’s references to ‘the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Japanese’ might simply reflect the fact that there was no obvious name for the faction or regime in control of Japan during the Second World War, since, unlike in Germany and Italy, no named political party had seized power. I am therefore unconvinced that a great deal can necessarily be read into this.

[10] The idea that neighbouring groups tend to be in conflict with one another precisely because, being neighbours, they are also in close contact, and hence competition, with one another, ironically posits almost the exact opposite relationship between ‘contact’ and intergroup relations than that posited by the famous contact theory of mid-twentieth psychology, which posited that increased contact between members of different racial and ethnic groups would lead to reduced prejudice and animosity.
This, of course, depends, at least partly, on the nature of the ‘contact’ in question. Contact that involves territorial rivalry, economic competition and war, obviously exacerbates conflict and animosity. In contrast, proponents of contact theory typically had in mind personal contact, rather than, say, the sort of impersonal, but often deadly, contact that occurs between rival belligerent combatants in wartime.
In fact, however, even at the personal level, contact can take many different forms, and often functions to increase inter-ethnic animosity. Hence the famous proverb, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.
Indeed, social psychologists now concede that only ‘positive’ interactions with members with members of other groups (e.g. friendship, cooperation, acts of altruism, mutually beneficial trade) reduces animosity and conflict.
In contrast, negative interactions (e.g. being robbed, mugged or attacked by members of another group) only serves to reinforce, exacerbate, or indeed create intergroup animosity. This, of course, reduces the contact hypothesis to little more than common sense – positive experiences with a given group lead to positive perceptions of that group; negative interactions to negative perceptions.
This in turn suggests that stereotypes are often based on real experiences and therefore tend to be true – if not of all individuals, then at least at the statistical, aggregate group level.
I would add that, anecdotally, even positive interactions with members of disdained outgroups do not always shift perceptions regarded the disdained outgroup as a whole. Instead, the individuals with whom one enjoys positive interactions, and even friendships, are often seen as exceptions to the rule (‘one of the good ones’), rather than representative of the demographic to which they belong. Hence the familiar phenomenon of even virulent racists having friendships and sometimes even heroes among members of races whom they generally otherwise disdain. 

[11] This was especially so in historical times, before the development of improved technologies of long-distance transportation (ships, aeroplanes) enabled more distantly related populations to come into contact, and hence conflict with one another (e.g. blacks and whites in the USA and South Africa, South Asians and English in the UK or the British Raj). Thus, the ancient Indian treatise on statecraft and strategy, Arthashastra, observed that a ruler’s natural enemies are his immediate neighbours, whereas his next-but-one neighbours, being immediate neighbours of his own immediate neighbours, are his natural allies. This is sometimes credited as the origin of the famous aphorism, The enemy of my enemy is my friend

[12] However, Van den Berghe acknowledges that racially diverse societies have lived in “relative harmony” in places such as Latin America, where government gives no formal political recognition to racial groups (e.g. racial preferences and quotas for members of certain races) and where the latter do not organize on a racial basis, such that government is, in van den Berghe’s terminology, “non-racial” rather than “multiracial” (p190). However, this is perhaps a naïvely benign view of race relations in Latin American countries such as Brazil, which is, despite the fluidity of racial identity and lack of clear dividing lines between races, nevertheless now viewed by most social scientists, not so much the model racial democracy, so much as a racially-stratified pigmentocracy , where skin tone correlates with social status. It is also arguably an outdated view of race relations in Latin America, because, perhaps due to indirect cultural and political influence emanating from the USA, ethnic groups in much of Latin America (e.g. blacks in Brazil, indigenous populations in Bolivia) increasingly do organize and agitate on a racial basis.

[13] I am careful here not to refer to refer the dominant culture as that of either a ‘host population’ or a ‘majority population’, or the subordinate group as a ‘minority group’ or an incoming group of migrants. This is because sometimes newly-arrived settlers successfully assimilate the indigenous populations among whom they settle, and sometimes it is the majority group who ultimately assimilate to the norms and culture of the minority. Thus, for example, the Anglo-Saxons imposed their Germanic language on the indigenous inhabitants of what is today England, and indeed ultimately most of the inhabitants of Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well, even though they likely never represented a majority of the population even in England, and may have made only a comparatively modest contribution to the ancestry of the people whom we today call ‘English’.

[14] Interestingly, and no doubt controversially, Van den Berghe argues that blacks in the USA do not have any distinctive cultural traits that distinguish them from the white American mainstream, and that their successful assimilation has been prevented only by the fact that, until very recently, whites have refused to ‘assimilate’ them. He is particularly skeptical regarding the notion of any cultural inheritances from Africa, dismissing “the romantic search for survivals of African Culture” as “elusive” (p177).
Indeed, for van den Berghe, the whole notion of a distinct African-American culture is “largely ideological and romantic” (p177). “Afro-Americans are,” he argues, “culturally ‘Anglo-Saxon’” and hence paradoxically ”as Anglo as anyone… in America” (p177). He concludes:

The case for ‘black culture’ rests… largely on the northern ghetto lumpenproletariat, a class which has no direct counterpart. Even in that group, however, much of the distinctiveness is traceable to their southern, rural origins” (p177). 

This reference to “southern rural origins” anticipates Thomas Sowell’s later black rednecks hypothesis. Certainly, many aspects of black culture, such as dialect (e.g. the use of terms such as y’all and ain’t and the pronunciation of ‘whores’ as ‘hoes’) and stereotypical fondness for fried chicken, are obvious inheritances from Southern culture rather than distinctively black, let alone an inheritance from Africa. Thus, van den Berghe observes:

Ghetto lumpenproletariat blacks in Chicago, Detroit and New York may seem to have a distinct subculture of their own compared collectively to their white neighbors, but the black Mississippi sharecropper is not very different, except for his skin pigment, from his white counterparts” (p177). 

Any remaining differences not attributable to their Southern origins are, van den Berghe claims, not “African survivals, but adaptation to stigma” (p177). Here, van den Berghe perhaps has in mind the inverse morality, celebration of criminality, and bad nigger’ archetype prevalent in, for example, gangsta rap music. Thus, van den Berghe concludes that: 

Afro-Americans owe their distinctiveness overwhelmingly to the fact that they have been first enslaved and then stigmatized as a pariah group. They lack a territorial base, the necessary economic, and political resources and the cultural and linguistic pluralism ever to constitute a successful nation. Their pluralism is strictly a structural pluralism inflicted on them by racism. A stigma is hardly an adequate basis for successful nationalism” (p184). 

[15] Thus, Elizabeth Warren was a law professor who became a Democratic Party Senator and Presidential candidate, and had described herself as ‘American Indian, and been cited by her University employers as an ethnic minority, in order to benefit from informal affirmative action, despite having only a very small amount of Native American ancestry. Krug and Dolezal, meanwhile, taking advantage of the one drop rule, both identified as African-American, Krug, a history professor and leftist activist, taking advantage of her Middle-Eastern appearance, itself likely a reflection of her Jewish ancestry. Dolezal, however, was formerly a white, blonde girl, but, through the simple expedient of getting a perm and tan, managed to become an adjunct professor of black studies at a local university and local chapter president of the NAACP in an overwhelmingly white town and state. Whoever said blondes have more fun? 

[16] It has even given rise to a popular new hairstyle among young white males attempting to escape the stigma of whiteness by adopting a racially ambiguous appearance – the mulatto perm

[17] Interestingly, the examples cited by Paddy Hannam in his piece on the phenomenon, The rise of the race fakers also seem to have been female (Hannam 2021). Steve Sailer wisely counsels caution with regard to the findings of this study, noting that anyone willing to lie about their ethnicity on their college application, is also likely even more willing to lie in an anonymous survey (Sailer 2021 ; see also Hood 2007). 

[18] Actually, the Northern Ireland settlement is often classed as centripetalist rather than consociationalist. However, the distinction is minimal, with the former arrangement representing a modification of the latter designed to encourage cross-community cooperation, and prevent, or at least mitigate, the institutionalization and ossification of the ethnic divide that is perceived to occur under consociationalism, where constitutional recognition is accorded to the divide between the two (or more) communities. There is, however, little evidence that centripetalism have ever actually been successful in encouraging cross-community cooperation, beyond what is necessitated by the consitutional system, let alone encouraging assimilation of the rival communities and the depoliticization of ethnic identity. 

[19] The reason for the difference in the attitudes of leftists and liberals towards majority-rule in Northern Ireland and South Africa respectively seems to reflect the fact that, whereas in Northern Ireland, the majority protestant population were perceived of as the dominant oppressor’ group, the black majority in South Africa were perceived of as oppressed.
However, it is hard to see why this would mean black majority-rule in South Africa would be any less oppressive of South Africa’s white, coloured, and Asian minorities than Protestant majority rule had been of Catholics in Ulster. On the contrary, precisely because the black majority in South Africa perceive themselves as having been ‘oppressed’ in the past, they are likely to be especially vengeful and feel justified in seeking recompense for their earlier perceived oppression. This indeed seems to be what is occurring in South Africa, and Zimbabwe, today. 
Interestingly, van den Berghe, writing in 1981 was wisely prophetic regarding the long-term prospects for both apartheid – and for white South Africans. Thus, on the one hand he predicted: 

Past experience with decolonization elsewhere in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe (which is in almost every respect a miniature version of South Africa) seems to indicate that the end of white domination is in sight. The only question is whether it will take the form of a prolonged civil war, a negotiated partition or a frantic white exodus. The odds favor, I think, a long escalating war of attrition accompanied by a gradual economic winddown and a growing white emigration” (p174). 

Thus, van den Berghe was right in so far as he predicted the looming end of the apartheid system – though hardly unique in making this prediction. However, he was wrong in his predictions as to how this end would come about. On the other hand, however, with ongoing farm murders and the overtly genocidal rhetoric of populist politicians like Julius Malema, van den Berghe was probably right regarding the long-term prognosis of the white community in South Africa when he observed: 

Five million whites perched precariously at the tip of a continent inhabited by 400 millions blacks, with no friends in sight. No matter what happens whites will lose heavily, perhaps their very lives, or at least their place in the African sun that they love so much” (p172). 

However, perhaps surprisingly, van den Berghe denies that apartheid was entirely a failure: 

Although apartheid failed in the end, it was a rational course for the Afrikaners to take, given their collective aims, and probably did postpone the day of reckoning by about 30 years” (p174).

[20] The only other polity that perhaps has a competing claim to representing the world’s model consociationalist democracy is Switzerland. However, van den Berghe emphasizes that Switzerland is very much a special case, the secret of its success being that:

Switzerland is one of those rare multiethnic states that did not originate either in conquest or in the breakdown of multinational empires” (p194).

It managed to avoid conquest by its richer and more powerful neighbours simply because:

The Swiss had the dual advantage in resisting outside conquest: favorable terrain and lack of natural resources” (p194)

Also, it provided valuable services to these neighbours, first providing mercenaries to fight in their armed forces and later specialising in the manufacture of watches and what van den Berghe terms “the management of shady foreigners’ ill-gotten capital” (p194).
In reality, however, although divided linguistically and religiously, Switzerland does not, in van den Berghe’s constitute true consociationalism, since the country, with originated as confederation of fomerly independent hill tribes, remains highly decentralized, and power is shared, not by ethnic groups, but rather between regional cantons. Therefore, van den Berghe concludes:

The ethnic diversity of Switzerland is only incidental to the federalism, it does not constitute the basis for it” (p196-7).

In addition, most cantons, where much of the real power lies, are themselves relatively monoethnic and monoliguistic, at least as compared to the country as a whole.

[21] Indeed, since the Slavs of Eastern Europe were the last group in Europe to be converted to Christianity, and it was forbidden by Papal decree to enslave fellow-Christians or sell Christian slaves to non-Christians (i.e. Muslims, among whom there was a great demand for European slaves), Slavs were preferentially targeted by Christians for enslavement, and even those non-Slavic people who were enslaved or sold into bondage were often falsely described as Slavs in order to justify their enslavement and sale to Muslim slaveholders. The Slavs, for geographic reasons, were also vulnerable to capture and enslavement directly by the Muslims themselves.

[22] In identifying the key feature of slavery in the fact that the slave is forcibly removed from and isolated from his or her kinship group, van den Berghe anticipates the key insight of Jamaican sociologist Orlando Peterson’s comparative study of slavery, Slavery and Social Death, who terms this key characteristic of slavery natal alienation. (Although this review is based on the 1987 edition, The Ethnic Phenomenon was first published in 1981, whereas Slavery and Social Death came out just a year later in 1982.)

[23] In the antebellum American South, much is made of the practice of slave-owners selling the spouses and offspring of their slaves to other masters, thereby breaking up families. On the basis of van den Berghe’s arguments, this might actually have represented an effective means of preventing slaves from putting down roots and developing families and slave communities, and might therefore have helped perpetuate the institution of slavery.
However, even assuming that such practices would indeed have had this effect, it is doubtful that there was any such deliberate long-term policy among slaveholders to break up families in this way. On the contrary, van den Berghe reports:  

It is not true that slave owners systematically broke up slave couples… On the contrary, it was in their interest to foster stable slave families for the sake of morale, and to discourage escape” (p133). 

Thus, though it certainly occurred and may indeed have been tragic where it did occur, slaveholders generally preferred to keep slave families intact, precisely because, in forming families, slaves would indeed ‘put down roots’ and hence be less likely to try to escape, lest, in the process, they would leave other family members behind to face the vengeance of their former owners alone and without any protection and support they might otherwise have been in a position to offer. The threat of breaking up families, however, surely remained a useful tool in the arsenal of slaveholders to maintain control over slaves. 

[24] While acknowledging, and indeed emphasizing, the virulence of western racialism, van den Berghe, bemoaning the intrusion of “moralism” (and, by extension, ethnomasochism) into scholarship, has little time for the notion that western slavery was intrinsically more malign than forms of slavery practised in other parts of the world or at other times in history (p116). This, he dismisses as “the guilt ascription game: whose slavery was worse?” (p128). Male slaves in the Islamic world, for example, were routinely castrated before being sold (p117). 
Thus, while it is true that slaves in the American South had unusually low rates of manumission (i.e. the granting of freedom to slaves), they also enjoyed surprisingly high standards of living, were well-fed and enjoyed long lives. Indeed, not only did slaves in the American South enjoy standards of living superior to those of most other slave populations, they even enjoyed, by some measures, higher standards of living than many non-slave populations, including industrial workers in Europe and the Northern United States, and poor white Southerners, during the same time period (The End of Racism: p88-91; see also Time on the Cross: the Economics of American Slavery). 
Ironically, living standards were so high for the very same reason that rates of manumission were so low – namely, slaves, especially after the abolition and suppression of the transatlantic slave-trade (but also even before then due to the costs of transportation during the middle passage) were an expensive commodity. Masters therefore fully intended to get their money’s worth out of their slaves, not only by rarely granting them their freedom, but also ensuring that they lived a long and healthy life. Slaves may have been property – but they were valuable property.
Ironically, therefore, indentured servants (themselves, in America, often white, and later, in Africa, usually South or East Asian) were, during the period of their indenture, often worked harder, and forced to live in worse conditions, than were actual slaves. This was because, since they were indentured for only a set number of years before they would be free, there was less incentive on the part of their owners to ensure that they lived a long and healthy life.   
Van den Berghe concludes: 

“The blanket ascription of collective racial guilt for slavery to ‘whites’ that is so dear to many liberal social scientists is itself a product of the racist mentality produced by slavery. It takes a racist to ascribe causality and guilt to racial categories” (p130). 

Indeed, as Dinesh D’Souza in The End of Racism, and Thomas Sowell in his essay ‘The Real History of Slavery’ included in the collection Black Rednecks and White Liberals, both emphasize, whereas all civilizations have practised slavery, what was unique about western civilization was that it was the first civilization ever known to have abolished slavery (at, as it ultimately turned out, no little economic cost to itself).
Therefore, even if liberals and leftists do insist that we play what van den Berghe disparagingly calls “the guilt ascription game”, then white westerners actually come out rather well in the comparison. 

[25] Indeed, in most cultures and throughout most of history, the use of female slaves as concubines was, not only widespread, but also perfectly socially acceptable. For example, in the Islamic world, the use of female slaves as concubines was entirely open and accepted, not only attracting literally no censure or criticism in the wider society or culture, but also receiving explicit prophetic sanction in the Quran. For this reason, in the Islamic world, females slaves tended to be in greater demand than males, and usually commanded a higher price.
In contrast, most slaves transported to the Americas were male, since males were more useful for hard, intensive agricultural labour and, in puritanical North America, sexual contact with between slaveholder and slave was very much frowned upon, even though it certainly occurred. Thus, van den Berghe cynically observes:  

Concubinage with slaves was somewhat more clandestine and hypocritical in the English and Dutch colonies than in the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies where it was brazen, but there is no evidence that the actual incidence of interbreeding was any higher in the Catholic countries” (p132). 

[26] Actually, exploitation can still be an adaptive strategy, even in respect of close biological relatives. This depends of the precise relative gain and loss in fitness to both the exploiter (the slave owner) and his victim (the slave), and their respective coefficient of relatedness, in accordance with Hamilton’s rule. Thus, it is possible that a slaveholder’s genes may benefit more from continuing to exploit his slaves as slaves than by freeing them, even if the latter are also his kin. Possibly the best strategy will often be a compromise of, say, keeping your slave-kin in bondage, but treating them rather better than other non-related slaves, or freeing them after your death in your will. 
Of course, this is not to suggest that individual slaveholders consciously (or subconsciously) perform such a calculation, nor even that their actual behaviour is usually adaptive. Slaveholding is likely an ‘environmental novelty’ to which we are yet to have evolved adaptive responses

[27] Others suggest that Thomas Jefferson himself did not father any offspring with Sally Hemmings and that the more likely father is Jefferson’s wayward younger brother Randolph, who would, of course, share the same Y chromosome as his elder brother. For present purposes, this is not especially important, since, either way, Heming’s offspring would be blood relatives of Jefferson to some degree, hence likely influencing his decision to free them or permit them to escape.

[28] Quite how this destruction can be expected to have manifested itself is not spelt out by van den Berghe. Perhaps, with each passing generation, as slaves became more and more closely biologically related to their masters, more and more slaves would have been freed until there were simply no more left. Alternatively, perhaps, as slaves and slaveowners increasingly became biological kin to one another, the institution of slavery would gradually have become less oppressive and exploitative until ultimately it ceased to constitute true slavery at all. At any rate, in the Southern United States this (supposed) process was forestalled by the American Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, and neither does it appear to have occurred in Latin America.  

[29] Another area of conflict between Marxism and Darwinism is the assumption of the former that somehow all conflict and exploitation will end in a future posited communist utopia. Curiously, although healthily cynical about exploitation under Soviet-style communism (p60), van den Berghe describes himself as an anarchist (van den Berghe 2005). However, anarchism seems even more hopelessly utopian than communism, given humanity’s innate sociality and desire to exploit reproductive competitors. In short, a Hobbesian state of nature is surely no one’s utopia (except perhaps Ragnar Redbeard). 

[30] The idea that there is “ambivalence in relations between black men and women in America” seems anecdotally plausible, given, for example, the delightfully misogynistic lyrics found in much African-American rap music. However, it is difficult to see how this could be a legacy of the plantation era, when everyone alive today is several generations removed from that era and living in a very different sexual and racial milieu. Today, black men do rather better in the mating market place than do black women, with black men being much more likely to marry non-black women than black women are to marry non-black men, suggesting that black men have a larger dating pool from which to choose (Sailer 1997; Fryer 2007).
Moreover, black men and women in America today are, of course, the descendants of both men and women. Therefore, even if black women did have a better time of it that black men in the plantation era, how would black male resentment be passed down the generations to black men today, especially given that most black men are today raised primarily by their mothers in single-parent homes and often have little or no contact with their fathers?

[31] Indeed, being perceived as attractive, or at least not as ugly, seems to be rather more important to most women that does being perceived as intelligent. Therefore, the question of race differences in attractiveness is seemingly almost as controversial as that of race differences in intelligence. This, then, leads to the delightfully sexist Sailer’s first law of female journalism, which posits that: 

The most heartfelt articles by female journalists tend to be demands that social values be overturned in order that, Come the Revolution, the journalist herself will be considered hotter-looking.” 

[32] A popular alt-right meme has it that there are literally no white-on-black rapes. This is, of course, untrue, and reflects the misreading of a table in a US departnment of Justice report that actually involved only a small sample. In fact, the government does not currently release data on the prevalence of interracial rape. Nevertheless, the US Department of Justice report (mis)cited by some white nationalists does indeed suggest that black-on-white rape is much more common than white-on-black rape in the contemporary USA, a conclusion corroborated by copious other data (e.g. Lebeau 1985).
Thus, in his book Paved with Good Intentions, Jared Taylor reports:

“In a 1974 study in Denver, 40 percent of all rapes were of whites by blacks, and not one case of white-on-black-rape was found. In general, through the 1970s, black-on-white rape was at last ten times more common than white-on-black rape… In 1988 there were 9,406 cases of black-on-white rape and fewer than ten cases of white-on-black rape. Another researcher concludes that in 1989, blacks were three or four times more likely to commit rape than whites and that black men raped white women thirty times as often as white men raped black women” (Paved with Good Intentions: p93). 

Indeed, the authors of one recent textbook on criminology even claim that: 

“Some researchers have suggested, because of the frequency with which African Americans select white victims (about 55 percent of the time), it [rape] could be considered an interracial crime” (Criminology: A Global Perspective: p544). 

Similarly, in the US prison system, where male-male rape is endemic, such assaults disproportionately involve non-white assaults on white inmates, as discussed by the Human Rights Watch report, No Escape: Male Rape in US Prisons

References

Brigandt (2001) The homeopathy of kin selection: an evaluation of van den Berghe’s sociobiological approach to ethnicity. Politics and the Life Sciences 20: 203-215. 
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Frost (2008) Sexual selection and human geographic variation. Special Issue: Proceedings of the ND Annual Meeting of the Northeastern Evolutionary Psychology Society. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2(4): 169-191 
Fryer (2007) Guess Who’s Been Coming to Dinner? Trends in Interracial Marriage over the 20th Century, Journal of Economic Perspectives 21(2), pp. 71-90 
Hannam (2021) The rise of the race fakers. Spiked-Online.com, 5 November. 
Hamilton (1964) The genetical evolution of social behaviour I and II, Journal of Theoretical Biology 7:1-16,17-52. 
Hood (2017) The privilege no one wants, American Renaissance, December 11.
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Johnson (1987) In the Name of the Fatherland: An Analysis of Kin Term Usage in Patriotic Speech and Literature. International Political Science Review 8(2): 165-174.
Johnson, Ratwik and Sawyer (1987) The evocative significance of kin terms in patriotic speech pp157-174 in Reynolds, Falger and Vine (eds) The Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism: Evolutionary Dimensions of Xenophobia, Discrimination, Racism, and Nationalism (London: Croom Helm). 
Lebeau (1985) Rape and Racial Patterns. Journal of Offender Counseling Services Rehabilitation, 9(1- 2): 125-148 
Lewis (2011) Who is the fairest of them all? Race, attractiveness and skin color sexual dimorphism. Personality & Individual Differences 50(2): 159-162. 
Lewis (2012) A Facial Attractiveness Account of Gender Asymmetries in Interracial Marriage PLoS One. 2012; 7(2): e31703. 
Lind et al (2007) Elevated male European and female African contributions to the genomes of African American individuals. Human Genetics 120(5) 713-722 
Macdonald 2001 An integrative evolutionary perspective on ethnicity. Poiltics & the Life Sciences 20(1):67-8. 
Rushton (1998a). Genetic similarity theory, ethnocentrism, and group selection. In I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt & F. K. Salter (Eds.), Indoctrinability, Warfare, and Ideology: Evolutionary perspectives (pp. 369-388). Oxford: Berghahn Books. 
Rushton (1998b). Genetic similarity theory and the roots of ethnic conflict. Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, 23, 477-486. 
Rushton, (2005) Ethnic Nationalism, Evolutionary Psychology and Genetic Similarity Theory, Nations and Nationalism 11(4): 489-507. 
Sailer (1997) Is love colorblind? National Review, July 14. 
Sailer (2021) Do 48% of White Male College Applicants Lie About Their Race? Interesting, if It Replicates. Unz Review, October 21. 
Salmon (1998) The Evocative Nature of Kin Terminology in Political Rhetoric. Politics & the Life Sciences, 17(1): 51-57.   
Salter (2000) A Defense and Extension of Pierre van den Berghe’s Theory of Ethnic Nepotism. In James, P. and Goetze, D. (Eds.)  Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Conflict (Praeger Studies on Ethnic and National Identities in Politics) (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press). 
Salter (2002) Estimating Ethnic Genetic Interests: Is It Adaptive to Resist Replacement Migration? Population & Environment 24(2): 111–140. 
Salter (2008) Misunderstandings of Kin Selection and the Delay in Quantifying Ethnic Kinship, Mankind Quarterly 48(3): 311–344. 
Tooby & Cosmides (1989) Kin selection, genic selection and information dependent strategies Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12(3): 542-544 
Van den Berghe (2005) Review of On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny and Humanity in the Age of Mass Migration by Frank Salter Nations and Nationalism 11(1) 161-177 
Van den Berghe & Frost (1986) Skin color preference, sexual dimorphism, and sexual selection: A case of gene-culture co-evolution? Ethnic and Racial Studies, 9: 87-113.
Whitney G (1999) The Biological Reality of Race. American Renaissance, October 1999.

Kevin Macdonald’s ‘Culture of Critique’: A Fundamentally Flawed Theory of Twentieth Century Jewish Intellectual and Political Activism

Kevin Macdonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Involvement of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth Century Intellectual and Political Movements (1st Books Library 2002). 

In A People That Shall Dwell Alone (which I have reviewed here), psychologist Kevin Macdonald conceptualized Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy that functioned to promote the survival and prospering of the Jewish people and religion in diaspora. 

In ‘Culture of Critique’, its more famous (and controversial) sequel, Macdonald purports to extend this theory to the behaviour of secular twentieth-century intellectuals of Jewish ancestry. 

Here, however, he encounters an immediate and, in my view, ultimately fatal problem. 

For, in A People That Shall Dwell Alone (PTSA) (reviewed here), Macdonald was emphatic that his theory of Judaism was a theory of cultural, not biological, group selection

In other words, it is a strategy that is encoded, not in Jewish genes, but in the rather teachings of Judaism, the religion. 

It is therefore a theory, not of genetics, but rather memetics, in accordance with the idea of memes’ as units of cultural selection analogous to genes, as first proposed by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (which I have reviewed here).[1]

Yet Macdonald envisages even secular Jews as continuing to pursue this so-called group evolutionary strategy, even though they have long previously abandoned the religion in whose precepts this cultural group strategy is ostensibly contained, or, in some cases, raised in secular homes, never even exposed to it in the first place.[2]

Presumably Macdonald is not arguing that these intellectuals, many of them militant atheists (e.g. Marx and Freud), are actually secret practitioners of Judaism, engaging in what Macdonald somewhat conspiratorially terms crypsis

How then is this possible? 

Group Commitment 

Macdonald never really directly addresses, or even directly acknowledges, this fundamental problem with his theory. 

The closest he comes to addressing it is by arguing that, since Jewish collectivism and ethnocentrism are, at least according to Macdonald, partly innate, secular Jews continued to pursue ethnocentric ends even after abandoning the religion of their forebears. 

Moreover, just as Jewish ethnocentrism is innate, so, Macdonald argues, is Jewish intelligence and other aspects of the typical Jewish personality profile. Thus, Macdonald claims that the ethnic Jews drawn to movements such as psychoanalysis and Marxism

Retained their high IQ, their ambitiousness, their persistence, their work ethic, and their ability to organize and participate in cohesive highly committed groups” (p4). 

These traits, he argues, gave them a key advantage in competition with other intellectual currents. 

The success of these intellectual movements (i.e. Freudianism, Boasian anthropology, Marxism, the Frankfurt School) reflected, then, not their (decidedly modest) explanatory power, but rather the intense commitment and dedication of their adherents to the movement and ideology. 

Thus, just as Macdonald attributes the economic success of Jews to their collectivism and hence their tendency to operate  price-fixing trade cartels and favour their co-ethnics in commercial operations, so, he argues, the success of Jewish intellectual movements reflects the commitment and solidarity of their members: 

Cohesive groups outcompete individualist strategies. The fundamental truth of this axiom has been central to the success of Judaism throughout its history whether in business alliances and trading monopolies or in the intellectual and political movements discussed here” (p5-6; see also p209-10). 

Thus, Macdonald emphasizes the cult-like qualities of psychoanalysis, Marxism and Boasian anthropology, whose members evince a fanatical quasi-religious devotion to the movement, its ideology and leaders. 

He argues that these movements recreated the structure of traditional Jewish religious groups, being grouped around a charismatic leader (a rebbe) who is the object of reverence and veneration, and against whom no dissent was tolerated on pain of excommunication from the group (p225-6).  

Thus, according to Macdonald, ideologies such as Marxism, psychoanalysis and the ‘standard social science model’ (SSM) in psychology, sociology and anthropology take on many features of traditional religion, including the tendency to persecute heresy

This does indeed seem to represent an accurate model of how the psychoanalytic movement operated under the dictatorial leadership of Freud. It is also an accurate model of how the Soviet Union operated under communism, with deviationism relentlessly persecuted and suppressed in successive purges

Similarly, among social scientists, biological approaches to understanding human behaviour, such as sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and behavioural genetics, and especially theories of sex and race differences (and social class differences), for example in intelligence, have aroused an opposition among sociologists and anthropologists that often borders on persecution and witch-hunts

However, such quasi-religious political cults are hardly exclusive to Jews. 

On the contrary, National Socialism in Germany evinced a very similar structure, being organized around a charismatic leader (Hitler), who elicited reverence and whose word was law (the so-called führerprinzip). 

But Nazism was, of course, a movement very much composed of and led by white European Gentiles. 

To this, Macdonald would, I suspect, respond by quoting from the previous installment in the Culture of Critique series, where he argued: 

Powerful group strategies tend to beget opposing group strategies that in many ways provide a mirror image of the group which they combat” (Separation and Its Discontents: pxxxvii). 

Thus, in Separation and its Discontents, Macdonald provocatively contends: 

National Socialist ideology was a mirror image of traditional Jewish ideology… [Both shared] a strong emphasis on racial purity and on the primacy of group ethnic interests rather than individual interests… [and] were greatly concerned with eugenics” (Separation and Its Discontents: p194). 

On this view, Judaism provided, if not the conscious model for Nazism, then at least its ultimate catalyst. Nazism was, on this view, ultimately a defensive, or at least reactive, strategy.[3]

In other words, Macdonald suggests cult-like movements in Europe are mostly either manifestations of Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy, or reactions against Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy. 

This strikes me as doubtful, and as according the Jews an importance in determining the course of European history which, for all their gargantuan and vastly dispropotionate contributions to European culture, science and civilization, they do not wholly warrant. 

Instead, I believe there is a pan-human tendency to form such fanatical cult-like groups led by charismatic leaders. 

Indeed, in Separation and Its Discontents, Macdonald himself acknowledges that there is a pan-human proclivity to form such groups but insists that “Jews are higher on average in this system” than are other Europeans (Separation and Its Discontents: p31). 

At any rate, Macdonald’s claim at least has the advantage that it leads to testable predictions, namely that: 

(1) That few such cult-like movements existed in Europe before the settling of Jews, or in regions where Jews were largely absent; and

(2) That all (or most) such movements were either:

(a) Jewish movements, led and dominated by Jews; or
(b) Anti-Semitic movements opposed to Jews.

As noted above, I doubt these predictions can be borne out. However, interestingly, in Separation and Its Discontents, Macdonald does cite two studies that supposedly found that Jews were indeed “overrepresented among [members of] non-Jewish religious cults” (Separation and Its Discontents: p24).[4]

At any rate, a final problem with Macdonald’s theory is that, even if the Jewish tendency towards ethnocentrism and collectivism is indeed partly innate, this surely involves a disposition towards, not a specifically Jewish ethnocentrism, but rather an ethnocentrism in respect of whatever group the person in question comes to identify as. 

Thus, since many Jews are raised in secular households, often not even especially aware of their Jewish ancestry, we would hence expect Jewish ethnocentrism to manifest itself in disproportionate numbers of Jews joining the white nationalist movement![5]

Debunking Marx, Boas and Freud 

Undoubtedly the strongest part of Macdonald’s book is his debunking of the scientific merits of such intellectual paradigms as Boasian anthropology, the the standard social science model and Freudian psychoanalysis

Macdonald fails to convince me that these ideologies and belief-systems function as part of a Jewish ‘group evolutionary strategy’ (read: Jewish conspiracy) to subvert Western culture. He does, however, amply demonstrate that they are indeed pseudo-scientific nonsense. 

Yet, for Macdonald, the very scientific weakness of such paradigms as Marxism, Freudian psychoanalysis and the Standard Social Science Model is positive evidence that they serve a group evolutionary function, as otherwise their success in attracting adherents is difficult to explain. 

Thus, he writes: 

The scientific weakness of these movements is evidence of their group-strategic function” (pvi). 

Here, however, Macdonald goes too far. 

The scientific weakness of the theories and movements in question does indeed suggest that the reason for their popularity and success in attracting adherents must reflect something other than their explanatory power. However, he is wrong in presupposing this something is necessarily their supposed “group strategic function” in ethnic competition.[6]

Therefore, Macdonald’s critique of the theoretical and scientific merits of the intellectual movements discussed is not only the best part of his book, but also, in principle, entirely separable from his theory of the role of these movements in promoting an ostensible Jewish group evolutionary strategy. 

Take, for example, his critiques of Boasian anthropology and Freudian psychoanalysis, which are, of those discussed by Macdonald, the two intellectual movements with which I am most familiar and hence with respect to which I am most qualified to assess the merits of his critique.[7]

In assessing the scientific merits of Boasian cultural anthropology, Macdonald concludes that Boasian psychoanalysis was not so much a science, nor even a pseudo-science, as an outright rejection of science: 

An important technique of the Boasian school was to cast doubt on general theories of human evolution, such as those implying developmental sequences, by emphasizing the vast diversity and chaotic minutiae of human behavior, as well as by emphasizing the relativism of standards of cultural evaluation. The Boasians argued that general theories of cultural evolution must await a detailed cataloguing of cultural diversity, but in fact no general theories emerged from this body of research in the ensuing half-century of its dominance of the profession… Because of its rejection of fundamental scientific activities such as generalization and classification, Boasian anthropology may thus be characterized more as an anti-theory than as a theory” (p24). 

In other words, the Boasian paradigm involves, and seeks to make a perverse virtue out of, throwing one’s arms up in despair and declaring that human behaviour is simply too complex, and too culturally variable, to permit the formulation of any sort of general theory. 

This reminds me of David Buss’s critique of the notion that ‘culture’ is itself an adequate explanation for cultural differences, another idea very much derived from post-Boasian American anthropology. Buss writes: 

Patterns of local within-group similarity and between-group differences are best regarded as phenomena that require explanation. Transforming these differences into an autonomous causal entity called ‘culture’ confuses the phenomena that require explanation with a proper explanation of the phenomena. Attributing such phenomena to culture provides no more explanatory power than attributing them to God, consciousness, learning, socialization, or even evolution, unless the causal processes subsumed by these labels are properly described. Labels for phenomena are not proper causal explanations for them” (Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind: p404). 

Accepting that no society is more advanced than another, that there is no general direction to cultural change and that all differences between societies and cultures are purely random is essentially to accept the null hypothesis as true and abandoning, or ruling out a priori, any attempt to generate a causal framework for explaining cultural differences. 

It is not science, but a form of obscurantism in direct opposition to science. 

Jews and the Left 

Another interesting element of Macdonald’s work is his summary of just how predominantly Jewish-dominated these ostensibly Jewish intellectual movements indeed really were. 

This is something of a revelation precisely because this is a topic politely passed over in most mainstream histories of, say, revolutionary communism in Eastern Europe and America, or the psychoanalytic movement, both those sympathetic, and those hostile, to the movements under discussion. 

Among radical leftists, the Jewish overrepresentation is especially striking in the USA, probably because of both the relatively high numbers of Jews resident in the USA and the only very low levels of support for socialism among non-Jewish Americans throughout most of the twentieth century.  

Thus, Macdonald reports that: 

From 1921 to 1961, Jews constituted 33.5 percent of the Central Committee members [of the Communist Party USA] and the representation of Jews was often above 40 percent (Klehr 1978, 46). Jews were the only native-born ethnic group from which the party was able to recruit. Glazer (1969, 129) states that at least half of the CPUSA membership of around 50,000 were Jews into the 1950s” (p72). 

Similarly, Macdonald reports: 

In the 1930s Jews ‘constituted a substantial majority of known members of the Soviet underground in the United States’ and almost half the individuals prosecuted under the Smith Act of 1947 (Rothman & Lichter 1982)” (p74).

Likewise, with respect to the so-called new left and 1960s student radicalism, Macdonald reports: 

Flacks (1967: 64) found that 45% of students involved in a protest at the University of Chicago were Jewish… Jews constituted 80% of the students signing a petition to end the ROTC at Harvard and 30-50% of the Students for a Democratic Society – the central organization for radical students. Adelson (1972) found that 90 percent of his sample of radical students at the University of Michigan were Jewish… Braungart (1979) found that 43% of the SDS had at least one Jewish parent and an additional 20 percent had no religious affiliation. The latter are most likely to be predominantly Jewish: Rothman and Lichter (1982: 82) found that the ‘overwhelming majority of radical students who claimed that their parents were atheists had Jewish backgrounds” (p76-7).  

In short, it appears not unreasonable to claim that the radical left in twentieth century America, which never gained significant electoral support but nevertheless had a substantial social, cultural, academic and indirect political influence on American society, would scarcely have existed were it not for the presence of Jewish radicals.

However, in this respect, the USA was quite exceptional, due to both the relatively large numbers of Jews resident in the country, and the almost complete lack of support of radical leftism among non-Jewish Americans until very recently.[8]

Jewish Dominated Sciences – and Pseudo-Sciences

Just as Jews numberically dominated the American radical left, so, Macdonald reveals, they dominated the psychoanalytic movement. Thus, we learn from Macdonald’s account that, not only were the leaders of the psychoanalytic movement, and individual psychoanalysts, disproportionately Jewish, so were their clients: 

Jews have been vastly overrepresented as patients seeking psychoanalytic treatments, accounting for 60 percent of the applicants to psychoanalytic clinics in the 1960s” (p133). 

Indeed, Macdonald reports that there was: 

A Jewish subculture in New York in mid-twentieth-century America in which psychoanalysis was a central cultural institution that filled some of the same functions as traditional religious affiliation” (p133). 

This was that odd, and now fast disappearing, New York subculture, familiar to most of us only through watching Woody Allen movies, where visiting a psychoanalyst was a regular weekly ritual analogous to attending a church or synogogue. 

Yet, as noted above, the overrepresentation of Jews in the psychoanalytic movement is an aspect of Freudianism that is usually downplayed in most discussions or histories of the psychoanalytic movement, including those hostile to psychoanalysis. 

For example, Hans Eysenck, in his Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire, mentions the allegation that psychoanalysis was a ‘Jewish science’, only to dismiss it as irrelevant to question of the substantive merits of psychoanalysis as a theoretical paradigm or method of treatment (Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire: p12).  

Yet, here, Eysenck is right. Whether an intellectual movement is Jewish-dominated, or even part of a ‘Jewish group evolutionary strategy’, is ultimately irrelevant to whether its claims are true and represent a useful and empirically-productive way of viewing the world.[9]

For example, many German National Socialsts dismissed theoretical physics as a ‘Jewish science, and, given the overrepresentation of Jews among leading theoretical physicists in Germany and elsewhere, it was indeed a disproportionately Jewish-dominated field. 

However, whereas psychoanalysis was indeed a pseudoscience, theoretical physics certainly was not. 

Indeed, the fact that so many leading theoretical physicists were forced to flee Germany and German-occupied territories in the mid-twentieth century on account of their Jewishness, together with the National Socialist regime’s a priori dismissal of theoretical physics as a discredited Jewish science, has even been implicated as a key factor in the Nazis ultimate defeat, as it arguably led to their failure to develop an atom bomb

Cofnas’s Default Hypothesis 

In a recent critique of Macdonald’s work, Nathan Cofnas (2018) argues that Jews are in fact overrepresented, not only in the political and intellectual movements discussed by Macdonald, but indeed in all intellectual and political movements that are not overtly antisemitic

Here, Cofnas is surely right. Whatever your politics (short of Nazism), you are likely to count Jews among your intellectual heroes. 

For example, Karl Popper was ethnically Jewish, yet was also a leading critic of both psychoanalysis and Marxism, dismissing both as quintessential unfalsifiable pseudo-sciences. Likewise, Robert Trivers and David Barash were pioneering early-sociobiologists, but also of Jewish ethnicity. 

Indeed, Macdonald, to his credit, himself helpfully lists several prominent Jewish sociobiologists and behavior geneticists, acknowledging: 

Several Jews have been prominent contributors to evolutionary thinking as it applies to humans as well as human behavioral genetics, including Daniel G Freedman, Richard Herrnstein, Seymour Itzkoff, Irwin Silverman, Nancy Sigel, Lionel Tiger and Glenn Weisfeld” (p39) (p39). 

Indeed, ethnic Jews are even seemingly overrepresented among race theorists

These include Richard Herrnstein, co-author of The Bell Curve (which I have reviewed here); Stanley Garn, the author of Human Races and co-author, with Carleton Coon, of Races: A Study of the Problems of Race Formation in Man; Nathaniel Weyl, the author of, among other racialist works, The Geography of Intellect; Daniel Freedman, the author of some controversial and, among racialists, seminal, studies on race differences in behaviour among newborn babies; and Michael Levin, author of Why Race Matters.[10]

Likewise, the most prominent champions of hereditarianism with regard to race differences in intelligence in the mid- to late twentieth, namely Hans Eysenck and Arthur Jensen, were half-Jewish and a quarter-Jewish respectively.[11]

Meanwhile the most prominent contemporary populariser and champion of hereditarianism, including with respect to race differences, is Steven Pinker, who is also ethnically Jewish.[12]

Indeed, Nathan Cofnas is himself Jewish and likewise a staunch hereditarian

Also, although not a racial theorist as such, it is perhaps also worth noting that the infamous nineteenth-century ‘positivist criminologist’, Cesare Lombroso, a bête noire of radical environmental determinists, who infamously argued that criminals were an atavistic throwback to an earlier stage in human evolution, was also of Jewish background, albeit Sephardic rather than Ashkenazi. 

On the other hand, however, the first five opponents of sociobiology I could name offhand when writing this review (namely, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, Leon Kamin, Steven Rose and Marshall Sahlins) were all ethnic Jews to a man.[13]

In short, if ethnic Jews are vastly overrepresented among malignly influential purveyors of obscurantist pseudoscience, they are also vastly overrepresented among important contributors to real science, including in controversial areas such as the study of sex differences and race differences in intelligence and behaviour

Indeed, if there is a national or ethnic group disproportionately responsible obscurantist, faddish, anti-scientific and just plain bad (but nevertheless highly influential) ideas in philosophy, social science, and the humanities, then I would say that it is not Jewish intellectuals, but rather French intellectuals.[14]

Are we then to posit that these intellectuals were somehow secretly advancing a ‘Group Evolutionary Strategy’ to advance the interests of the France? 

Why Are Jews Overrepresented Among Leading Intellectuals? 

Cofnas (2018), for his part, attributes the overrepresentation of Jews among leading intellectuals to: 

1) The higher average IQ of Jews; and
2) The disproportionate concentration of Jews in urban areas.

In explaining the overrepresentation of Jews by reference to just two factors, Cofnas’s theory is certainly simpler and more parsimonious than Macdonald’s theory of partly unconscious group strategizing, which comes close to being a conspiracy theory. 

Indeed, if one were to go through passages of Macdonald’s work replacing the words “Jewish Group Evolutionary Strategy” with “Jewish conspiracy”, it would read much a traditional antisemitic conspiracy theory. 

However, I suspect Macdonald is right that a further factor is the tendency of Jews to promote the work of their co-ethnics. Thus, he cites one interesting study which used surname analysis to suggest that academic researchers with stereotypical Jewish surnames were more likely to both collaborate with, and cite the work of, other academic researchers with stereotypically Jewish surnames, as compared to those with non-Jewish surnames (p210; Greenwald & Schuh 1994). 

This, of course, reflects an ethnocentric preference. However, to admit as much is not necessarily to agree with Macdonald that Jews are any more ethnocentric than Gentile Europeans, but rather to recognize that ethnocentrism is a pan-human psychological trait and Jews are no more exempt from this tendency than are other groups (see The Ethnic Phenomenon: which I have reviewed here). 

Leftism and Iconoclasm 

But there is one thing that Cofas’s default hypothesis cannot explain—namely why, if Jews are overrepresented in leadership positions among all political and intellectual movements, they are nevertheless especially overrepresented on the Left (see here for data confirming this pattern). 

This overrepresentation on the left is paradoxical, since Jews are disproportionately wealthy, and leftism is hence against their economic interests. 

Moreover, Macdonald himself argues in A People That Shall Dwell Alone that Jews traditionally acted as agents and accessories of governmental oppression (e.g. as tax farmers), resented by the poor, but typically protected by their elite patrons.[15]

Why, then, were Jews, throughout most of the twentieth century, especially overrepresented on the left?

Cofnas (2018) suggests that Jews will be overrepresented among any political or intellectual movements that are not overtly antisemitic

However, this cannot explain the especial overrepresentation of Jews on the Left, since, since at least by the middle of the twentieth century, overt antisemitism has been as anathema among mainstream conservatives as it is among leftists.[16]

Yet all the movements discussed by Macdonald are broadly leftist. 

Perhaps the only exception is Freudian psychoanalysis.  

Indeed, although Macdonald emphasizes its co-option by the Left, especially by the Frankfurt School, some leftists dismiss Freudianism as inherently reactionary, as when student radicalism is dismissed as a form of adolescent rebellion against a father-figure, or feminism as a form of penis envy.[17]

Nevertheless, though not intrinsically leftist, Freudianism is certainly iconoclastic. 

Thus, one almost universal feature of Jewish intellectuals has been iconoclasm

Thus, Jews seem as overrepresented among leading libertarians as among leftists. For example, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard were all of Jewish ancestry. 

Yet libertarianism is usually classed as an extreme right-wing ideology, at least in accordance with the simplistic one-dimensional left-right axis by which most people attempt to conceptualize the political spectrum and plot people’s politics. 

However, in reality, far from being in any sense ‘conservative’, libertarian ideas, if and when put into practice, are just as destructive of traditional societal mores as is Marxism, possibly more so. It is therefore anything but ‘conservative’ in the true sense. 

In contrast, while prominent among neoliberals and, of course, so-called neoconservatives, relatively few Jews seem to be socially conservative (e.g. in relation to issues like abortion, gay rights and feminism, not to mention immigration).  

Orthodox and Conservative Jews are perhaps an exception here. However, the latter are highly insular, living very much in a closed world, like religious Jews in the pre-emancipation era.  

Therefore, although they may indeed vote predominantly for conservative candidates, beyond voting, they rarely involve themselves in politics outside their own communities, either as candidates or activists. 

Macdonald himself seeks to explain Jewish iconoclasm in terms of social identity theory

On this view, Jews, by virtue of their alien origins, enforced separation and minority status, not to mention the discrimination and resentment often directed towards them by host populations, felt estranged and alienated from mainstream culture and hence developed a hostility towards it. 

Here, Macdonald echoes Thorstein Veblen’s theory of Jewish intellectual preeminence (Veblen 1919). 

Veblen argued that Jewish intellectual achievements reflected their only partial assimilation into western societies, which meant that they were less committed to the prevailing dogmas of those societies, which produced both a degree of scholarly detachment and objectivity, and a highly skeptical, and enquiring, state of mind, which ideally suited them to careers in scholarship and science. 

At first, Macdonald reports: 

Negative views of gentile institutions were… confined to internal consumption within the Jewish community” (p7). 

However, with emancipation and secularization, Jewish critiques of the West increasingly went mainstream and began to gain a following even among Gentiles. 

Jewish Radical Critique… of Judaism Itself? 

However, the problem with seeing Jewish iconoclasm as an attack on Gentile culture is that the ideologies espoused necessarily entail a rejection of traditional Jewish culture too. 

Thus, if Christianity was indeed delusional, repressive and patriarchal, then this critique applied equally to the religion whence Christianity derived – namely Judaism

Indeed, far from Judaism being a religion that, unlike Christianity and Islam, is not sexually repressive (a view Macdonald attributes to Freud), the most sexually repressive, illiberal and, from a contemporary left-liberal perspective, problematic elements of Christian doctrine almost all derive directly from Judaism and the Old Testament

Thus, explicit condemnation of homosexuality occurs, not in the teaching of Jesus, but rather in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13). Similarly, it is principally from a passage in the Old Testament, that the Christian opposition to masturbation and coitus interruptus derives (Genesis 38:8-10). 

The Old Testament also, of course, contains the most racist and genocidal biblical passages (e.g. Deuteronomy 20:16-17; Joshua 10:40) as well as the only biblical commandments seemingly advocating mass rape and sexual enslavement (e.g. Deuteronomy 20: 13-14; Numbers 31: 17-18) – see discussion here

Only in respect of the question of divorce and remarriage is the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament arguably less liberal than that in the Old Testament.[18]

Likewise, if the nuclear family was pathological, patriarchal and the root cause of all neurosis, then this applied also to the traditional Jewish family. 

In short, radical critique is necessarily destructive of all traditional values and institutions, Jewish values and traditions very much included. 

Neither is this radical critique of Jewish culture always merely implicit. 

True, many Jewish iconoclasts concentrated their fire on Christian and Gentile cultural traditions. However, this might be excused by reference to the fact that it was Christian and gentile cultural traditions that represented the dominant cultural traditions within the societies in which they found themselves. 

However, secular Jewish intellectuals had, not least by virtue of their secularism, rejected Jewish culture and traditions too. 

Indeed, far from arbitrarily exempting Jews from their radical critique of traditional society and religion, many Jewish intellectuals were positively anti-Semitic in the degree of their criticism of Jews and of Judaism.  

A case in point is the granddaddy of Jewish Leftism, Karl Marx, who receives comparatively scant attention from Macdonald, probably for precisely this reason.[19]

Yet Marx’s writings, especially but not exclusively, in his infamous essay On the Jewish Question, are so anti-Jewish that, were it not for Marx’s own Jewish background and impeccable leftist credentials, modern readers would surely dismiss him as a raving anti-Semite, if not insist upon his cancellation for crimes against political correctness (see Whisker 1984).[20]

Although I dislike the term self-hating Jew on account of its pejorative and Freudian connotations of psychopathology, the tradition of Jewish self-criticism continues – from the anti-Zionism of radical leftists like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, to broadly ‘alt right’ Jews like Ron Unz and David Cole.[21]

Macdonald claims that Jewish leftists envisaged an ethnically inclusive society in which Jews would continue to exist as a distinct group. 

Actually, however, in my understanding, most radical leftists envisaged all forms of religious or ethnic identity as withering away in the coming communist utopia, such that both Judaism as a religion and the Jews as a people would ultimately cease to exist in a post-revolutionary society. 

Indeed, it is difficult to see how Jewishness could survive in the long-term without religion. 

Admittedly, Macdonald does amply demonstrate that even secular Jews, in both the West and Soviet Russia, continued to socialize, and intermarry, overwhelmingly among themselves. However, it is difficult to see how this pattern could continue indefinitely in the absence of a shared religion, as, over subsequent generations, the basis for their shared kinship becomes increasingly remote. 

It is true that some Marranos in Iberia and elsewhere managed to retain a Jewish identity over multiple generations by secretly continuing to practise Judaism, practising what Macdonald calls crypsis.  

However, this could hardly apply to Jewish leftists, since even Macdonald does not go as far as to claim that such militant secularists and anti-religionists as Marx and Freud were actually secret practitioners of Judaism.[22]

Macdonald also argues that, since the Jewish tendency towards higher IQs, high conscientiousness and highinvestment parenting is (supposedly) partly innate, Jews were relatively immunized against the destructive effects of the sexual revolution on rates of divorce, illegitimacy and single-parenthood (p147-9).[23]

Likewise, if the Jewish tendency towards ethnocentrism is also innate, Jews would be presumably less vulnerable to the impact of universalist and antiracist ideologies on group cohesion.

However, even assuming that this is true, does Macdonald actually envisage that the Jewish psychoanalysts and other Jewish thinkers who (supposedly) promoted hedonism and universalism actually consciously foresaw and intended that their social, intellectual and political activism would have a greater effect on gentile family and culture than on that of Jews for this reason?

This is surely implausible and would amount to a preposterous conspiracy theory. 

Moreover, it might instead be argued that, since Jews were at the forefront of, and overrepresented within, these intellectial movements, Jewish culture was actually especially vulnerable to the effect of such ideologies. 

Thus, perhaps Orthodox Jews were indeed relatively insulated from the effects of the 1960s counterculture. But, then, so were the Amish and Christian fundamentalists. 

On the other hand, however, many Jewish student radicals very much practised what they preached (e.g. hedonism, promiscuity, drug abuse, and terrorism). 

Immigration 

Macdonald’s penultimate chapter discusses the role of Jews in reforming immigration law in the USA.[24]

Macdonald shows that Jewish individuals, networks and organizations played a central role in advocating for the opening up of America’s borders, and the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, which exposed white America to replacement levels of non-white immigration, resulting in an ongoing, and now surely irreversible, demographic displacement.[25]

The basis of Macdonald’s thesis is that Jews perceive themselves as safer in multi-ethnic societies where they, as Jews, don’t stand out so much. This essence of this cynical logic was perhaps best distilled by Jewish comedienne, Sarah Silverman, who, during one of her stand-up routines, claimed: 

The Holocaust would never have happened if black people lived in Germany in the 1930s and 40s… well, it wouldn’t have happened to Jews.”[26]

There is indeed some truth to this idea. If I walk around London and see Sikhs in turbans, Muslims in burqas and hijabs and people of all different racial phenotypes, then even the elaborate apparel of Hasidic Jews might not jump out at me as overly strange. 

As for those Jews the only evidence of whose ethnicity is, say, a skullcap or an especially large nose, I am likely to see them as just another white person, no more exotic than, say, an Italian-American. 

Thus, today, most people see Jews as white and hence fail to notice their overrepresentation in media, politics, government and big business, and, when leftist campaigners protest that the Oscars are so white, the average man in the street is perhaps to be forgiven for not enquiring too far into the precise ethnic background of all these white Hollywood executives and movie producers.

However, I’m not entirely convinced that mass immigration is indeed ‘good for the Jews’. 

For one thing, many such immigrants, especially in Europe, tend to be Muslim, and Muslims have their own ‘beef’ with the Jews regarding the conquest, expulsion and subsequent persecution of their coreligionists in Palestine.[27]

Thus, while stories periodically trend in the media regarding an increase in anti-Semitic hate-crimes in Europe, what is almost invariably missed out of these news stories is that those responsible for these anti-Semitic hate crimes in Europe are almost invariably Muslim youths (see The Retreat of Reason, reviewed here: p107-11).[28]

In addition, some blacks, like Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, also stand accused of anti-Semitism

In fact, however, Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism is, in one sense, overblown. His religion holds that all white people, Jew and Gentile alike, are a race of white devils invented by an evil black scientist called Yakub (the most preposterous part of which theory is arguably the idea of a black scientist inventing something that useful).  

His comments about Jews are thus no more disparaging than his beliefs about whites in general. The particular outrage that his anti-Jewish comments have garnered reflect only the greater ‘victim-status’ accorded Jews in the contemporary West as compared to other whites, despite their hugely disproportionate wealth and political power

In contrast, anti-white rhetoric is all but ubiquitous on the political left, and indeed throughout American society as a whole, and hardly unique to Farrakhan. It therefore passes almost entirely without comment. 

Yet this points to another problem for American Jews as a direct result of both increasing ethnic diversity and increasing anti-white animosity – namely that, if increasing ethnic diversity does indeed mean that Jews come to be seen as no different from other whites, then the animosity of many non-whites towards whites, an animosity often nurtured by leftist Jewish intellectuals, is, unlike the destroying angel of Exodus, unlikely to distinguish Jew from Gentile. 

Yet, given their history, Jews, more than other whites, should be all too aware of the dangers in becoming a wealthy but resented minority, as whites in America are poised to become by the middle of the current century⁠, thanks to the immigration policy that Jews were, in Macdonald’s own telling, instrumental in moulding. 

In short, if I began this section of my review with a quote from a Jewish comedienne regarding blacks, it behoves to conclude with a quote from a black comedian, concerning Jews. Chris Rock, discussing the alleged anti-Semitism of Farrakhan in one of his stand-up routines, explains: 

Black people don’t hate Jews. Black people hate white people. We don’t got time to dice white people into little groups.” 

Endnotes

[1] Macdonald, however, never mentions the meme concept in PTSDA, perhaps on account of an antipathy to Richard Dawkins, whom he blames for prejudicing evolutionists against the idea groups have any important role to play in evolution (A People That Shall Dwell Alone: pviii). He does, however, mention the meme concept on one occasion in ‘Culture of Critique’, where he acknowledges:

The Jewish intellectual and cultural movements reviewed here may be viewed as memes designed designed to facilitate the continued existence of Judaism as an group evolutionary strategy” (p237).

However, Macdonald cautions:

Their adaptedness for gentiles who adopt them is highly questionable, however, and indeed, it is unlikely that any gentile who believes that, for example, anti-Semitism is necessarily a sign of a pathological personality is behaving adaptively” (p237).

[2] Curiously, Macdonald even refers to these secular thinkers and political activists as still continuing to practise what he calls “Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy”, a phrase he uses repeatedly throughout this book, even though the vast majority of the thinkers he discusses are secular in orientation. This suggests that, for Macdonald, the word “Judaism” has a rather different, and broader, meaning than it does for most other people, referring not merely to a religion, but rather to a group evolutionary strategy that is, as he purports to show in PTSDA, encapsulated in this religion, but also somehow broader than the religion itself, and capable of being practised by, say, secular psychoanalysts, Marxists and anthropologists just as much as by, say, devout orthodox Jews. This is a rather odd idea, and certainly a very odd definition of ‘Judaism’, that Macdonald never gets around to explaining.

[3] Indeed, Macdonald goes even further, provocatively arguing that the ultimate progenitor of Nazi race theory is not to be found among such infamously anti-Semitic proto-Nazi notables as Wagner, Chamberlain or Gobineau, let alone Eckart, Rosenberg or Hitler himself, but rather the celebrated, and ethnically Jewish, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Despite being, at least nominally, a Christian convert and marrying a Gentile, Disraeli, according to Macdonald, not only considered the Jews a superior race vis a vis white Gentiles, but also attributed this superiority to their alleged “racial purity” (Separation and Its Discontents: p181).
Thus, he quotes Disraeli as observing:

The other degraded races wear out and disappear; the Jew remains, as determined, as expert, as persevering, as full of resource and resolution as ever… All of which proves that it is in vain for man to attempt to battle the inexorable law of nature, which has decreed that a superior race shall never be destroyed or absorbed by an inferior” (Lord George Bentinck: A Political Biography: quoted in Separation and Its Discontents: p181).

Indeed, Macdonald reports, Disraeli considered Jews as being responsible for “virtually all the advances of civilization”, and, evincing black Israelite levels of delusion, apparently even considered Mozart to be Jewish. Thus, Macdonald quotes LJ Rather as concluding:

Disraeli rather than Gobineau—still less Chamberlain—is entitled to be called the father of nineteenth-century racist ideology” (Reading Wagner: quoted in Separation and Its Discontents: p180).

[4] The studies cited by Macdonald for this claim are: Marciano 1981; Schwartz 1978

[5] Of course, in making this claim, I am being at least semi-facetious. Jews are not be overrepresented among most white nationalist groups because most such groups are also highly anti-Semitic and hence Jews would not be welcome there. On the other hand, Jews would be welcome among more mainstream civic nationalist and anti-immigration groups, not least because they would lend such groups a defence against the charge of being anti-Semitic or ‘Nazis’. However, they do not appear to be especially well represented among these groups, or, at the very least, not as overrepresented among these groups as they are on the political left

[6] On the contrary, other plausible explanations as for why Jew and Gentile alike were drawn to the intellectual movements discussed readily present themselves. For example, wishful thinking may have motivated the Marxist belief in the coming of a communist utopia. Simply a sense of belonging, and of intellectual superiority, may also be a motivating factor in joining such movements as psychoanalysis and Marxism. Indeed, many disparate cults and religions have posited all kinds of odd religious beliefs (arguably odder even than those of Freud), such as reincarnation, miracles etc., without their being any discernible strategic advantage for the overwhelming majority of adherents, indeed sometimes at considerable cost to themselves (e.g. religiously imposed celibacy). 

[7] These are also the movements with which I suspect Macdonald himself is most familiar. As an evolutionary psychologist, he is naturally familiar with Boasian anthropology and the the standard social science model, to which evolutionary psychology stands largely in opposition. Also, he has a longstanding interest in Freudian psychoanalysis, having earlier written a critique of psychoanalysis as a cult in Skeptic magazine (Macdonald 1996), and also, ten years earlier, a not entirely unsympathetic assessment of Freud’s theories in the light of sociobiological theory (Macdonald 1986), both of which articles critique Freudianism without recourse to anti-Semitism or any talk of ‘Jewish group evolutionary strategies’. Also, the title of his previous book on ‘the Jewish question’, namely ‘Separation and Its Discontents’, is obviously drawn from the title of one of Freud’s own books, namely ‘Civilization and its Discontents’

[8] In contrast, in Britain, for example, there was an independent, indigenous socialist tradition, which developed quite independent of any external Jewish influence. In Britian, while Jews would certainly have been overrepresented among leftist radicals during the twentieth century, I suspect that it would not have been to anything like the same degree, not necessarily because of any lesser per capita involvement of Jews, but rather because of:

  1. The relatively lower numbers of Jews resident in the UK as a proportion of the overall population during this time frame; and
  2. The greater per capita involvement of Gentiles in leftist and radical socialist movements.

Meanwhile, in Scandinavian countries, so-called Nordic social democracy surely developed without any significant Jewish influence, or at least any direct influence, if only because so few Jews were resident in these countries. In short, socialism and radical leftism cannot be credited to (or blamed on) Jews alone.
Ethnic Jews were also vastly overrepresented in the Soviet regime the USSR, at least during the first few decades of Soviet rule. Thus, one Jewish Israeli publication reports that, despite only ever representing a tiny proportion of the overall Soviet Russian population:

In 1934, according to published statistics, 38.5 percent of those holding the most senior posts in the Soviet security apparatuses were of Jewish origin” (Plocker 2006).

Historian Robert Gellately seems to give a balanced picture when he reports of the Jewish role in the October revolution and Soviet regime:

Their participation in the Bolshevik Revolution in absolute terms was not great, but five of the twelve members at the Bolshevik Central Committee meeting on October 23 1917 were Jews. The Politburo that led the revolution had seven members, three of whom were Jews. During the stormy years of 1918-21, Jews generally made up one-quarter of the Central Committee and were active in other institutions as well including the Cheka” (Lenin, Stalin & Hitler: p67-8).

In short, the myth of ‘Judeo-bolshevism’ was indeed a myth, but the role of the Jews in both the Communist revolution and regime was indeed vastly disproportional to their numbers, given that Jews only ever constituted a tiny percentage of the Russian population at any given time. Regarding Macdonald’s own take on the involvement of Jews in the Soviet regime, and especially in Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, see Macdonald 2005.

[9] Analogously, leftist critics of neoliberal economics, sociobiological theory and evolutionary psychology sometimes claim that these theories were devised within a liberal-capitalist milieu, ultimately in order to justify the capitalist system. However, even assuming this were true, it is not directly relevant to the question of whether the theories in question are true, or at least provide a productive model of how the real world operates. Thus, biologist John Maynard Smith wrote of how:

There is a recent fashion in the history of science to throw away the baby and keep the bathwater to ignore the science, but to describe in sordid detail the political tactics of the scientists” (The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today: px).

[10] I am aware that all these writers and researchers are Jewish either because they have mentioned their ethnicity in their own writings, or it has been mentioned by other authors whom I regard as reliable. I have not, for example, merely relied on their having Jewish-sounding names. This is actually a very inaccurate way of determining ancestry, because, not only have many Jewish people anglicized their names, but also most surnames that Americans and British people think of as characteristically Jewish are actually German in origin, and only relatively more or less common among Jews than among German gentiles. Only a few surnames (e.g. Levin, Cohen) are exclusively Jewish in origin, and even these indicate, of course, only male-line ancestry.

[11] For whatever reason, Eysenck spent most of his life denying and concealing his own Jewish ancestry, practising what Macdonald calls crypsis. Another prominent Jewish champion of hereditarian theories of racial difference was the leading libertarian economist Murray Rothbard

[12] On his blog, Macdonald has repeatedly disparaged Pinker as occupying “the Stephen Jay Gould Chair for Politically Correct Popularization of Evolutionary Biology at Harvard”. This may be a witty (and perhaps anti-Semitic) putdown. It is also, however, grossly unfair. Pinker has not only championed IQ testing, behavioural genetics and sociobiology, but even the idea of innate differences between races in psychological traits such as intelligence (see What is Your Dangerous Idea: p13-5; Pinker 2006). 

[13] Admittedly, the first four of these very much form a clique, very much associated with one another, having jointly authored books and articles together and frequently citing one another’s work. This may be why they were the first five names to occur to me. It might also explain their common ethnicity, as it seems that, according to a study cited by Macdonald, Jewish scholars are more likely to collaborate with and cite fellow Jews (Greenwald & Schuh 1994). On the other hand, anthropologist Marshall Sahlins is not associated with this group, and prior to looking up his biographical details for the purpose of writing this paragraph, I was not aware he was of Jewish ancestry. Perhaps the next best-known critic of sociobiology (or at least the next one I could name offhand) is philosopher Phillip Kitcher, who, despite his German-sounding surname, is not, to my knowledge, of Jewish ancestry.

[14] Admittedly, a fair few of the worst offenders among them have been both French and Jewish (e.g. Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Derrida). 

[15] This explains why, despite its supposed association with the so-called ‘far-right, anti-Semitism and leftism typically go together. Thus, on the one hand, Marxists believe that society is controlled by a conspiracy of wealthy capitalists who control the mass media and exploit and oppress everyone else. On the other hand, anti-Semites believe that society is controlled by a conspiracy of wealthy Jewish capitalists who control the mass media and exploit and oppress everyone else.
Thus, as a famous aphorism has it: Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.
Thus, since the contemporary left in America is endlessly obsessed with the supposed ‘overrepresentation’ of white males in positions of power and influence, it ought presumably also to be concerned about the even greater per capita overrepresentation of Jews in those exact same positions of power and influence, as were the Nazis.
In short, National Socialism is indeed a form of socialism – the clue’s is in the name. 

[16] Indeed, today, anti-Semitism is arguably more common on the left, as the left has increasingly made common cause with Palestinians and indeed with Muslims more generally. Yet, in America, Jews still vote overwhelmingly for the leftist Democratic Party, even though Republicans now tend to be even more vociferously pro-Israel than the Democratics. In the UK, on the other hand, Jews are now more likely to vote for Conservative candidates than for Labour. However, I recall reading that, even in the UK, after controlling for socioeconomic status and income, Jews are still more likely to vote for leftist parties than are non-Jews of equivalent socioeconomic status and income-level.

[17] In contrast, as emphasized by Macdonald, other theorists sought to reclaim Freudianism on behalf of the left, notably the infamous (and influential) Frankfurt School, to whom Macdonald devotes a chapter in ‘Culture of Critique’. Thus, the chief innovation of the Frankfurt School was to combine Freudian psychoanalysis with Marxist social and economic theory, which, as I recall, Rod Liddle memorably described as the most brilliant theoretical synthesis since someone decided to combine the theory that the sun revolved around the earth with the theory that the earth is flat

[18] Thus, whereas various passages in the Old Testament envisage and provide for divorce and remarriage, in contrast Jesus’s teaching on this matter, as reported in the New Testament Gospels, is very strict in forbidding both divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:3-9; Matthew 5:32). Moreover, precisely because these teachings go against what was common practice amongst Jews at the time of Jesus’s ministry, they are regarded as satisfying the criterion of dissimilarity and hence as historically reliable teachings of the historical Jesus

[19] Thus, despite including in-depth discussion of the supposed ethnic motivations of many ethnically Jewish Marxist thinkers in his chapter on ‘Jews and the Left’, Macdonald passes over Marx himself in less than a page at the very beginning of this chapter, where he concedes: 

Marxism, at least as envisaged by Marx himself, is the very antithesis of Judaism… [and] Marx himself, though born of two ethnically Jewish parents, has been viewed by many as an anti-Semite” (p50). 

While also conceding that “Marx viewed Judaism as an abstract principal of human greed that would end in the communist society of the future”, he also claims, citing a secondary source, that: 

He envisaged that Judaism, freed from the principal of greed, would continue to exist in the transformed society of the future (Katz 1986, 113)” (p50). 

On his Occidental Observer website, Macdonald has also published a piece by the surely pseudonymousFerdinand Bardamu’ arguing that, despite appearances to the contrary, Marx was indeed pursuing a ‘Jewish group evolutionary strategy’ in his political activism (Bardamu 2020). The attempt is, in my view, singularly unpersuasive. 

[20] Marx was also highly racist by modern standards. Indeed, Marx even delightfully combined his racism with anti-Semitism in a letter to his patron and collaborator Friedrich Engels, where he describes fellow Jewish socialist (and friend), Ferdinand Lassalle, as “the Jewish nigger” and theorizes: 

It is now quite plain to me—as the shape of his head and the way his hair grows also testify—that he is descended from the negroes who accompanied Moses’ flight from Egypt (unless his mother or paternal grandmother interbred with a nigger)… The fellow’s importunity is also niggerlike.

[21] A complete list of prominent Jews who have iconoclastically challenged cherished and venerated Jewish institutions, beliefs and traditions is beyond the scope of this review. However, such a list would surely include, among others, such figures as Gilad Atzmon, Shlomo Sand and Otto Weininger. Israel Shahak is another Jewish intellectual frequently accused by his detractors of anti-Semitism, and certainly his book Jewish History, Jewish Religion is critical of aspects of Judaism and Talmudic teachings. Likewise, in Israel, the so-called New Historians, themselves overwhelmingly Jewish in ethnicity, were responsible for challenging many of the founding myths of Israel. Also perhaps meriting honourable (or, for some, dishonourable) mention in this context are Murray Rothbard, also Jewish, who extolled the work of Harry Elmer Barnes, himself widely considered an anti-Semite and early pioneer of ‘holocaust denial’; and Paul Gottfreid, the paleoconservative Jewish intellectual credited with coining the term ‘alt right’.

[22] In fact, even many Marranos seem to have ultimately lost their Jewish identity, especially those who migrated to the New World, who retained, at most, faint remnants of their former faith in certain cultural traditions the significance of which was gradually lost even to themselves. 

[23] Thus, Macdonald writes:

Given the very large differences between Jews and gentiles in intelligence and tendencies towards intelligence and highinvestment parenting… Jews suffer to a lesser extent than gentiles from the erosion of cultural supports for high-investment parenting. Given that differences between Jews and gentiles are genitically mediated, Jews would not be as dependent on the preservation of cultural supports for high-investment parenting parenting as would be the case among gentiles… Facilitation of the pursuit of sexual gratification, low investment parenting, and elimination of social controls on sexual behavior may therefore be expected to affect Jews and gentiles differently with the result that the competitive difference between Jews and gentiles… would be exacerbated” (p148-9). 

[24] Whereas his former chapters focussed on intellectual movements, which, though they almost invariably had a large political dimension, were nevertheless at least one remove away from the determination of actual government policy, this chapter focuses on political activism directly concerned with reforming government policy.

[25] Macdonald also charges Jewish activists with hypocrisy for opposing ethnically-based restrictions on immigration to the USA, while also supporting the overtly racialist immigration policy of Israel, which provides a so-called right of return for ethnic Jews who have never previously set foot in Israel, while denying a literal right of return to Palestinian refugees driven from their homeland in the mid-twentieth century.
In response, Cofnas (2018) notes that Macdonald has not cited that any Jews who actually take both these positions. He has only shown that American Jews favour mass non-white immigration to America, whereas Israeli Jews, a separate population, are opposed to non-Jewish immigration in Israel.
However, this only raises the question as to why it is that those Jews resident in America support mass immigration, whereas those resident in Israel support border control and maintaining a Jewish majority. Self-selection may explain part of the difference, as more ethnocentric Jews may prefer to be resident in Israel. However, given the scale of the disparity, and the extent of intermigration and even dual citizenship, it is highly doubtful that this can explain all of it.
As an example, Cofnas (2018) argues that American liberals such as Alan Dershowitz actually support the campaign for Israel to admit the (non-white) Beta Israel of Ethiopia into Israel.
However, the Beta Israel in total only number around 150,000. Therefore, even if all were permitted to emigrate to Israel (which is still yet to occur), they would represent less than 2% of Israel’s total population. Clearly, allowing a few thousand token ‘black Jews’ to immigrate to Israel is hardly comparable to advocating that people of all ethnicities (and all religions) be permitted to immigrate to Western jurisdictions.
Moreover, the Beta Israel, and even the Falash Mula, are still Jewish in a religious, if not a racial sense. Yet, attempts by white western countries other than Israel to restrict immigration on either racial or religious lines are universally condemned, including by Dershowitz, who condemned Trump’s call for a moratorium on Muslim immigration as incompatible with “the best values of what America should be like. Dershowitz is therefore indeed guilty of hypocrisy and double-standards when it comes the immigration issue.
Similarly, American TV presenter and political commentator Tucker Carlson recently revealed the hypocrisy of perhaps the most powerful Jewish advocacy group in the USA, the ADL, who had condemned Carlson for crimes against political correctness for opposing replacement-level immigration in the USA, while at the same time, and on the same website, themselves arguing, in a post since blocked from public access, that:

It is unrealistic and unacceptable to expect the State of Israel to voluntarily subvert its own sovereign existence and nationalist identity and become a vulnerable minority within what was once its own territory. 

Yet this is precisely what the ADL is insisting white Americans do by insisting that any opposition to replacement level immigration to America is evidence of ‘white supremacism’.
Macdonald may then, as Cofnas complains, not have actually named any Jewish individuals who are hypocritical with respect to immigration policy in America and Israel; however, Carlson has identified a major Jewish organization that is indeed hypocritical with respect to this issue.
I might add here that, unlike Macdonald, I do not think this type of hypocrisy is either unique to, or indeed especially prevalent or magnified among, Jewish people. On the contrary, hypocrisy is I suspect, like ethnocentrism, a universal human phenomenon.
In short, people are much better at being tolerant, moderate and conciliatory in respect of what they perceive as other people’s quarrels. Yet, when they perceive themselves, or their people, as having a direct ethnic or genetic stake in an issue at hand, they tend to be altogether less tolerant and conciliatory.

[26] Macdonald himself puts it this way: 

Ethnic and religious pluralism also serves external Jewish interests because Jews become just one of many ethnic groups. This results in the diffusion of political and cultural influence among the various ethnic and religious groups, and it becomes difficult or impossible to develop unified, cohesive groups of gentiles united in their opposition to Judaism. Historically, major anti-Semitic movements have tended to erupt in societies that have been, apart from the Jews, religiously or ethnically homogeneous (see SAID). Conversely, one reason for the relative lack of anti-Semitism in the United States compared to Europe was that ‘Jews did not stand out as a solitary group of [religious] non-conformists’” (p242). 

In addition, Macdonald contends that a further advantage of increased levels of ethnic diversity within the host society is that: 

Pluralism serves both internal (within-group) and external (between-group) Jewish interests. Pluralism serves internal Jewish interests because it legitimates the internal Jewish interest in rationalizing and openly advocating an interest in overt rather than semi-cryptic Jewish group commitment and nonassimilation” (p241).

In other words, multi-culturalism allows Jews to both abandon the (supposed) pretence of assimilation and overtly advocate for their own ethnic interests, because, in a multi-ethnic society, other groups will inevitably be doing likewise.
However, Jews may also have had other reasons for supporting open borders. After all, Jews are a sojourning diaspora people, who have often migrated from one host society to another, not least to escape periodic pogroms and persecutions. Thus, they had an obvious motive for supporting open borders, namely so that their own coreligionists would be able to migrate to America should the need arise.
One might also argue that, as a people who often had to migrate to escape persecution, they were naturally sympathetic to refugees of other ethnicities, or indeed other immigrants travelling to new pastures in search of a better life, as their own ancestors have so often done in the past, though Macdonald would no doubt dismiss this interpretation as naïve. 

[27] In my view, a better explanation for why so many western countries have opened up their borders to replacement levels of racially, culturally and religiously alien and unassmilable minorities, is the economic one. Indeed, here, a Marxist perspective may be of value, since the economically-dominant capitalist class benefits from the cheap labour that Third World migrants provide, as do wealthy consumers who can afford to purchase a disproportionate share the cheap products and services that such cheap labour provides and produces. In contrast, it is the indigenous poor and working-class, of all ethnicities, who bear a disproportionate share of the costs associated with such migration, including both depressed wages and ethnically-divided, crime-ridden and distrustful communities (see Liddle 2006).

[28] Ironically then, given the substantial numbers of Arab Muslims resident in France, for example, many of the people responsible for so-called ‘anti-Semitic hate crimes’ are themselves ‘Semitic’, and indeed have a rather stronger case for being ‘Semitic’ in a racial sense than do most of their Jewish victims. 

References 

Bardamu (2020) Karl Marx: Founding Father of the Jewish Left? Occidental Quarterly, 4 January.
Cofnas (2018) Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy. Human Nature, 29:134–156. 
Greenwald & Schuh (1994) An Ethnic Bias in Scientific Citations. European Journal of Social Psychology, 24(6), 623–639.
Liddle (2006) The Politics of Pleasantville, Spectator, 21 January
Macdonald (1986) Civilization and Its Discontents Revisited: Freud as an Evolutionary Biologist. Journal of Social and Biological Structures, 9, 213-220. 
Macdonald (1996) Freud’s Follies: Psychoanalysis as religion, cult, and political movement. Skeptic, 4(3), 94-99.
Macdonald (2005) Stalin’s Willing Executioners The Impact of Orthography Jews As a Hostile Elite in the USSR. Occidental Observer, 5(3): 65-100.
Marciano (1981) Families and CultsMarriage and Family Review, 4(3-4): 101-117. 
Pinker (2006) Groups and Genes. New Republic, 26 June. 
Plocker (2006) Stalin’s Jews, Yedioth Ahronoth (ynetnews.com), 21 December.
Whisker (1984) Karl Marx: Anti-Semite. Journal of Historical Review, 5(1): 69-76.
Schwartz (1978) Cults and the vulnerability of Jewish YouthJewish Education, 46(2): 23-42.
Veblen (1919) The Intellectual Pre-Eminence of Jews in Modern Europe. Political Science Quarterly 34(1). 

Mussolini and the Meaning of Fascism 

Nicholas Farrell, Mussolini: A New Life (London: Phoenix, 2003) 

Nicholas Farrell, author of ‘Mussolini: A New Life’, his controversial revisionist biography of Il Duce, is a journalist, born in England but now resident in Italy. 

Indeed, at the time he wrote this biography, he was living in Predappio, Mussolini’s birthplace and a mecca for neo-fascists, which, though long a communist stronghold, had, at that time (the authorities have since clamped down), a booming cottage industry selling what can only be described as ‘Mussolini Memorabilia’ to visiting tourists, fascist pilgrims and the merely curious. 

Mussolini: A New Life’ is not the definitive Mussolini biography. Indeed, it does not purport to be. Instead, in Farrell’s own view, this honour goes to Italian historian Renzo De Felice’s four-volume magnus opus.

Unfortunately, however, De Felice’s biography stretches to around 6,000 pages, spread over four volumes and published as eight separate books, has never been translated into English, and remained unfinished at the time of the author’s death in 1996. This makes it a heavy read even for someone fluent in Italian, a daunting work to translate, and one likely to be read in full only by professional historians. 

Farrell seems to view his own biography as primarily an abridgement, translation and popularization of De Felice’s work, written in order to bring De Felice’s new revelations, and new perspective, to a wider English-speaking audience. 

In contrast to De Felice’s work, Farrell’s biography is highly readable, and indeed written in a strangely colloquial, conversational style. 

Revisionist 

Yet, be forewarned, Farrell’s biography of Mussolini is not only highly readable, it is also highly revisionist, and attracted no little controversy and criticism when first published in 2003, being variously dismissed as everything from fascist apologetics and whitewash to a hagiographic paean to Il Duce

Why then the controversy? How then was Farrell’s work revisionist and why did it attract so much controversy? 

There seem to be two main elements where Farrell departs from the mainstream historical narrative regarding fascism in Italy. 

First, Farrell argues that Mussolini was not so bad, and even was a relatively successful Italian ruler compared to those who came both before and after him, his posthumous reputation being damaged primarily by his association with Hitler and National Socialism.

Second, Farrell claims that Mussolini, far from being ‘right-wing’, remained, until his dying day, very much a socialist

Given that Farrell himself is himself far from socialist, these claims come close to being contradictory. After all, if Mussolini was a leftist, then what is a conservative like Farrell doing defending him? If he was a socialist than surely he was indeed bad, at least from the perspective of a conservative like Farrell. 

Of course, it is possible for conservatives to admire some leftists. (An old aphorism, often attributed to Leo Rosten, has it that conservatives only admire radicals some several centuries after the latter are dead). 

However, Farrell perhaps lays himself open to the charge of wanting to both have his cake and eat it too. 

A cynic might interpret his thesis thus: Mussolini was not so bad, and, even if he was, he was a socialist anyway so he’s not our problem. 

Rehabilitation 

Is Farrell, then, successful in rehabilitating Il Duce

Well, yes, up to a point – the point in question being the latter’s disastrous decision to ally with Germany during World War Two. 

Up until that point, Mussolini had been, at least by twentieth century Italian standards, a relatively successful ruler and, by contemporary international standards, a not especially repressive one. 

Of course, he had, with the aid of his infamous Blackshirt militia, more or less bullied his way into power. Indeed, contrary to popular perception, his rise to power had actually been rather more violent than that of Hitler in Germany, albeit with violence on all sides not just on the part of the Fascists. 

Yet, after he had come to power, Mussolini was not especially repressive or draconian. There were no Gulags or concentration camps in Italy (at least prior to World War II), nor any Night of the Long Knifes or Stalinist purges

Of course, Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia was indeed brutal. Here, indeed, concentration camps were employed, among other brutal and draconian measures. 

However, Italian rule in Ethiopia was surely no worse than what preceded it, namely the rule of Haile_Selassie, under whom slavery was still both lawful and widely practiced, despite repeated promises by successive Ethiopian rulers to prohibit and eradicate the practice.[1]

Moreover, Mussolini had a point when he charged Britain and France with hypocrisy for opposing Italian expansion in Africa despite their own vastly greater African colonial possessions, acquired only a few years earlier, sometimes with comparable brutality. 

For example, during the Boer War of 1899 to 1902, which was fought by the British for transparently self-interested economic reasons, namely to gain control over the Boer Republics’ lucrative and newly-discovered gold and diamond reserves, was similarly brutal in nature. Here, the British themselves employed concentration camps, and indeed are even sometimes credited with having invented the concept.

Suppressing the Mafia

Today, there is a tendency to deny that the fascist regime had any positive impact on Italy, an implausible conclusion given both the popularity and endurance of the regime in Italy. 

Take, for example, Mussolini’s suppression of the Mafia in Sicily, an achievement to which Farrell himself devotes only a few paragraphs (p182-3). 

In most recent histories of the Sicilian Mafia, Mussolini and his regime are denied any credit whatever for this achievement. 

For example, historian John Dickie, in his books Blood Brotherhoods and Cosa Nostra, takes great pains to emphasize that, under Mussolini, the Mafia was not, in fact, finally defeated, but merely went underground and became inactive. Moreover, he insists, most of those mafiosi who were arrested and imprisoned or sent into internal exile during Cesare Mori’s clampdown on the Mafia were not Mafia bosses, but rather, at best, low-level soldiers and underlings. 

It is, of course, true that, under Mussolini, the Mafia was not finally defeated. Indeed, this was amply proven by the resurgence of the Mafia during the post-War period under the Allied occupation. 

Yet this view neglects to credit that merely forcing the Mafia to go underground and become inactive was an achievement in and of itself, and seemingly resulted in a massive decrease in serious violent crime, including homicide, in the Mafia’s traditional heartland of Palermo. 

For example, another historian of the Sicilian Mafia reports that, in the traditional Mafia stronghold of Palmermo:

Between 1924 and 1928 murders… dropped from 278 per year to 25, which, by any standard of crime prevention is impressive” (Mafia: Inside the Dark Heart: p92). 

Moreover, while leaving (some of) the mafia bosses untouched and focusing law enforcement attention on low-level soldiers may seem both unfair and inefficient, arresting and taking out of circulation a sufficiently large number of low-level soldiers is likely a highly effective method of suppressing a group such as the Mafia, since it is low-level soldiers who, on orders from above, are responsible for most of the day-to-day operation, crimes and violence of the group.[2]

Indeed, if the Mafia had indeed been made inactive in this way on a long-term, indefinite basis, then ultimately it would surely have died away and ceased to exist as a criminal network. 

Thus, it was only the overthrow of the Fascist regime and Allied occupation that permitted the resurgence of the Mafia in the post-War period, not least because imprisoned and exiled Mafiosi were, on their return to Sicily, able to use the fact of their imprisonment or exile under the fascist regime as proof of their supposed anti-fascist credentials, in order to pose as anti-fascists and hence secure appointment to high office under the Allied occupation.[3]

The Fascist campaign against the Mafia seems then, on balance, to have been quite successful.

Of course, methods employed by Mori and the Fascists to achieve this result were not always in accord with contemporary western notions of due process. On the contrary, they were often quite brutal and the Fascists been accused as employing to Mafiastyle intimidation against the Mafia – to out-mafia the Mafia, if you like.

One may then justifiably question whether the ends justified the means.

Indeed, on one view, Mussolini himself was a gangster whose thuggish blackshirts essentially used Mafiastyle violence and intimidation to bully their way into power. On this view, the cure was rather worse than the disease and, while the Sicilian Mafia was in abeyance, a rather worse Mafia now in power in Rome itself.

However, Mussolini’s, and Mori’s, achievement in, at least temporarily, defeating the scourge of the Sicilian Mafia, howsoever achieved, surely cannot be denied.

A Benevolent Dictator? 

The very endurance of the Fascist regime is, in one sense, a measure of its success. On this pragmatic definition, a politician or party are to be regarded as ‘successful’ if they successfully gain power, and successfully hold onto it.

Yet the endurance of Mussolini’s regime is also indirect evidence that, in terms of satisfying the demands of the Italian public with his policies and governance of the state, he was clearly doing something right.

Mussoini was not only popular at home, he was also widely respected abroad, and counted among his fawning admirers such politically diverse figures as Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and, of course, Hitler.

Mussolini is famously credited with making the trains run on time, a popular perception that surely had at least some basis in reality.

Certainly, the period of his rule up until the beginning of World War II constituted the most stable period of governance in Italy’s turbulent 20th century history, arguably right up to the present day. 

Moreover, in agreeing the Papal Accords and thereby resolving Roman Question which had dogged the Italian state from its birth, Mussolini produced a legacy that outlived both Mussolini and Fascism itself, since this agreement continues to govern the relationship between Church and State in Italy to this day. 

Thus, Farrell grandiloquently but not wholly unjustifiably claims: 

Garibaldi had begun the process of the creation of Italy. Mussolini would complete it” (p199). 

Mussolini and Hitler: A Match Made in Hell?

Mussolini’s undoing ultimately came with the rise of the National Socialist regime in Germany, the coming of the Second World War and Mussolini’s disastrous decision to ally his regime with that of Hitler in Germany and hence tie its own fate, and that of Mussolini himself, with that of Hitler and Germany. 

While today we might think of Hiter and Mussolini as natural allies, the alliance between Germany and Italy was actually far from a foregone conclusion. 

Indeed, to his credit, Mussolini was initially wary of German National Socialism and indeed of Hitler himself, despite the latter’s professed admiration for, and ardent courtship of, the Italian dictator upon whom he had (partly) modelled himself. 

Fascism,” he famously declared, “is not for export” (p240). 

I should be pleased, I suppose, that Hitler has carried out a revolution on our lines. But they are Germans. So they will end by ruining our idea.” 

This notion, namely that Germans, by virtue of being German, would inevitably ruin the idea of fascism, even if it ultimately proved prophetic, is obviously crudely jingoistic. Yet such jingoism was entirely consistent with fascist ideology. 

After all, fascism was a nationalist ideology, and nationalist ideologies are intrinsically jingoistic.

Nationalist movements are also, by their very nature, necessarily limited in their appeal to members of a single nation or ethnicity.

A nationalist of one nation is no necessary or natural ally for the nationalist of another, especially if the nations in question share a border. On the contrary, nationalists of neighbouring nations are natural enemies.[4]

Moreover, the fact Italy was the chief ally and protector of the Federal State of Austria, whose annexation was a major priority of Hitler’s foreign policy, and had herself annexed German-speaking South Tyrol at the end of World War I, certainly did not help matters.[5]

Hitler, however, was to prove an ardent suitor. 

Mussolini would have preferred, Farrell reports, an understanding with the British. (So incidentally would Hitler himself.)

Moreover, initially the British political establishment was surprisingly favourably disposed.

Indeed, Mussolini even counted among his most ardent British admirers one Winston Churchill, who, though then out of office, had in 1933 extolled fascism as a bulwark against Bolshevism and Il Duce himself as “the Roman genius” and “greatest law-giver among living men” (p225). 

Indeed, Farrell reveals that, given his staunch anti-communist credentials, oratorical ability and personal charisma, Churchill was was even touted by some contemporaries as a potential fascist dictator in his own right, journalist, Clare Sheridan, writing in one contemporary piece that he was “talked of as the likely leader of a fascisti party in England” (quoted: p130). 

Yet three factors, Farrell reports, ultimately led to Mussolini’s estrangement from Britain. These were: 

  1. The Spanish civil war
  1. The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden
  1. Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia

Each of these factors strained Mussolini’s relationship with Britain, and precluded any possibility of an alliance, or even an understanding, between the two powers. Ultimately, this led Mussolini, reluctantly at first, into the German Führer’s fatal embrace. 

Anti-Semitism 

Hitler is also likely to blame for Italy’s anti-Semitic laws, introduced in 1938. 

True, Hitler, it seems, exerted no direct pressure on Mussolini with regard to this issue. However, given that Mussolini had been in power a decade and a half without feeling any need to enact such laws on his own initiative, and evidently changed his mind only after he had begun to allign with the Hitler’s newly-established National Socialist regime in Germany, it seems likely that this was the decisive factor. 

However, Farrell claims that the rapprochement with Germany was “not the reason”, only “the catalyst” for this decision (p304). 

The real reason, he claims, was that: 

Jews had come to epitomise Mussolini’s three enemies: Communism, the bourgeoisie and anti-fascism [since] Jews were prominent in all three” (p304). 

This may be true. However, Jews, it should also be noted, were also prominent among Fascists themselves. Indeed, Farrell himself reports: 

More than 10,000 Jews, about one-third of adult Italian Jews, were members of the PNF in 1938” (p303).

Thus, relative to overall population size, Jews were in fact overrepresented among members of the PNF by a factor of three (Italy’s Jews: From Emancipation to Fascism: p44).[6]

Perhaps most prominent and influential among Jewish Italian fascists was Mussolini’s long-term mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, a leading Italian intellectual in her own right, who had followed, or perhaps even led, Mussolini from socialism to fascism, and who plays a prominent role in the first half of Farrell’s biography.

In addition to being Mussolini’s mistress (or rather one of his many mistresses) and a confidante of Il Duce for almost thirty years, she is thought to have been a key and influential figure in the Fascist regime, helping shape policy and decision-making from behind the scenes. 

She was also, Farrell surmises, the only of Mussolini’s many mistresses whom his semi-literate peasant wife (who was also, Farrell reveals, possibly his illegitimate half-sister: p40) truly “hated” and regarded as a serious threat to her marriage (p73-4). 

However, as Sarfatti aged, Mussolini’s ardour seemingly faded in parallel to her looks, suggesting that her hold over him had always been primarily sexual rather than intellectual. The breakdown of this relationship was likely a key factor in paving the way for both the Pact of Steel and Italy’s race laws. 

Mussolini also, Farrell reports, saw the Jews as harbouring “secret loyalties that conflicted with Fascism”, much like the Freemasons, themselves less fashionable victims of persecution under both German National Socialism and Italian Fascism (p304). 

Farrell attempts to play down the extent of persecution to which Jews were subject in Fascist Italy and absolve Mussolini of any culpability in the holocaust. 

Thus, he insists, Italy’s anti-Semitic laws “did not involve violence at all” (p310), and he concludes: 

Although not anti-Semitic, Mussolini became increasingly anti-Jewish” (p304). 

However, Farrell never really explains what exactly is the difference between these two surely synonymous terms.

Farrell also emphasizes that Mussolini’s racism was not biological but “spiritual” in nature (p305). In other words, it was not Hitlerian, but rather Spenglerian and Evolian.

If this is intended as a defence of Mussolini, then it rings decidedly hollow.

That the Italian dictator’s dislike of them reflected not biological but purely cultural factors was presumably scant consolation those Jews expelled from their jobs on account of their Jewishness, even if the criteria for qualifying as a Jew was less inclusive, and more open to exemptions and corrupt interpretation, than in Germany. 

Indeed, personally, as long-term readers of this blog, or my amazon and goodreads book reviews (assuming any such people exist) may be aware, I am actually not, as such, entirely unsympathetic to biological theories of race and of race differences.

Of course, National Socialist racial theories were indeed nonsense. However, in purporting to be biological, and hence scientific (even if this claim was disingenuous), they at least had one benefit over so-called ‘spiritual’ theories of race, namely that they could, at least in principle, be the subject or testing and hence falsification.

Indeed, National Socialist claims regarding the inferiority of the Jews are not only in principle falsifiable, but have indeed been falsified, at least with respect to intelligence differences.

In contrast, the so-called ‘spiritual racism’ of Spengler, Evola and, it seems, Mussoini, which admits exceptions whereby an ethnic Jew can be ‘spiritually’ Aryan, and vice versa, seems to me to be wholly unfalsifiable mysticism.[7]

In conclusion, Farrell quotes historian De Felice, himself, incidentally, of Jewish ancestry, as observing: 

Mussolini’s campaign against the Jews ‘was more against the Italians than against the Jews’” (p304). 

This may be true. However, I doubt either Farrell or De Felice could ever deny that it was surely the latter who ended up paying the greater price.  

The Holocaust 

On the other hand, Farrell does a good job of absolving Italians as a whole from any culpability in the holocaust. 

Italian government officials, ordered to round up Jews for deportation, often refused to comply and were deliberately obstructive. Many Italians, including the Vatican, hid and protected Jews. 

Mussolini himself, however, emerges rather less unscathed. 

On the one hand, Mussolini did indeed order the rounding up and deportation of Jews in accordance with German orders in the last years of the war.

However, by this stage, he was little more than a nominal puppet leader, with little power to act independently, let alone in defiance of, his German patrons. Moreover, Mussolini also overlooked the refusal of many officials to comply with these orders. 

Thus, reading between the lines, Mussolini seems to have been largely indifferent to the fate of the Jews

Certainly, even on the evidence presented by Farrell himself, his claim that “Mussolini did much to save Jews from Hitler” seems unwarranted (p363). 

The most Farrell manages to prove is that Mussolini was far less anti-Semitic than Hitler – faint praise indeed. 

World War II 

It is perhaps from World War II that the popular image of Mussolini as an inept and buffoonish figure emerged. Partly, this reflected allied propaganda. However, despite Farrell’s attempted rehabilitation of Il Duce, Mussolini’s conduct of the war does indeed seem inept from the start. 

Thus, before the War began, Mussolini made, arguably, his first mistake, agreeing the Pact of Steel with Germany, which obliged him to come to Germany’s aid even in the event of an aggressive war initiated by Germany herself (p317). 

Then, after the War had indeed begun in just this way, Mussolini conspicuously failed to come to Germany’s aid, in direct contravention of her newly acquired treaty obligations. 

Mussolini justified this decision on the grounds that Italy was not yet ready for war. In this assessment, he was right, as was proven tragically true when Italy did enter the war, with disastrous consequences, both for Mussolini’s own Fascist regime, and, arguably, for National Socialist Germany as well. 

To his credit, then, Mussolini had not, it seems, made the classic error of ‘falling for his own publicity’. He knew that his own militaristic braggadocio and podium strutting were mere empty bluff, and that war with Britain and France was the last thing that the Italian armed forces, or the Italian state, needed at this time.[8]

However, on witnessing Germany’s dramatic defeat of France, Mussolini suddenly decided he wanted to get in on the action – or rather in on the spoils.

Greedily and rather transparently anticipating a share of the territory of the conquered French, he suddenly and belatedly signed up for the war, albeit right about the same time that Hitler had already (seemingly) won it and hence had no further need of him. 

As a result, he got none of the territorial gains he so eagerly anticipated, the relevant parts of French territory having already been promised to the new French Vichy regime as part of the German-French peace accord of 1940 which brought an end to the fighting. 

Now, however, for better or worse, Mussolini had thrown in his lot with Hitler. Italy was now in for the long-haul and Mussolini’s own fate directly tied to that of the German war machine. Henceforth, Mussolini’s Italy would find itself relegated to the role of junior partner to the German behemoth, increasingly surrendering any capacity for independent decision-making. 

Mussolini did, however, make one last attempt to assert independence from the German war machine. Chagrined that Hitler kept invading foreign powers without consulting his ostensible ally, Mussolini decided to do the same for himself, aspiring to emulate his ally by invading Greece, and thereby shift the focus of the war towards the Mediterranean, where his own territorial ambitions were naturally, and quite sensibly, focused. 

The attempt to assert independence backfired disastously. His invasion easily rebuffed, Mussolini was forced to call in for help from the very Germans whose military successes he had so envied and sought to emulate.

Moreover, the delay to the proposed invasion of the USSR that Germany’s intervention on Italy’s behalf in Greece necessitated, has been implicated as a key factor that ultimately doomed Operation Barbarossa, and hence led, ultimately, to the fall of both both dictators.

Farrell does convincingly establish that, in his disagreements with Hitler regarding the conduct, strategy and overall direction of the war, Mussolini was, perhaps surprisingly, often more strategically astute than the Führer, who, despite his remarkable early military successes (or indeed because of them), had become increasingly detached from reality and inflexible in his strategic thinking.

Thus, most military historians would agree that shifting the focus of the war effort towards the Mediterranean, as Mussolini advocated, was a sound strategic policy, not only in Italy’s own strategic interests, but also that of Germany and the Axis as a whole. 

But, alas, it was to no avail. Hitler was no more willing to listen to the wise counsel of his Italian counterpart than he was to listen to that of his own senior generals and commanders.

Instead, Hitler had his sights firmly fixed on the invasion and conquest of the detested Soviet regime in Russia, and the perceived German geopolitical imperative of living space in the East, and would brook no delay or postponement, let alone cancelation, of these plans in order to secure his southern flank (which Churchill was later to identify as Europe’s vulnerable ‘soft underbelly’) and establish complete control of the Mediterranean. 

Ultimately, Farrell is successful in explaining why Mussolini did what he did in World War Two given the limited information available to him at the time and the difficult predicament in which he increasingly found himself. 

However, he fails to revise the established view that these decisions were, in the long-term, ultimately anything other than disastrous miscalculations. 

Ciano – Diarist and Dilettante

Not only was Mussolini more often more strategically astute than the Führer, he was also, Farrell shows, far more strategically adept than his foreign minister and son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano.

The latter plays a prominent role in the second half of Farrell’s biography, probably sue to the value of his famous diaries as an historical source regarding Mussolini’s thinking, and that of his inner-circle, during this critical time period.

From initially hero-worshiping his famous father-in-law, Ciano gradually became a firm critic of Mussolini, criticising the latter’s decision-making repeatedly in his diaries and ultimately betraying him.

Yet, in Farrell’s account, Ciano emerges as a political dilitante, a playboy, and a hypocrite – “the spoilt child of the regime” – who was always unpopular with the public (p322).

Thus, while, in his diaries, he criticizes Mussolini for his decision to ally with Germany, and, in the post-War period, according to Farrell, “a whole industry sprouted up on the basis of his famous diaries which would have us believe… that Ciano tried to srop the Pact of Steel”, the truth was that Ciano was no more than “the Duce’s yes man, however much whinging he did in private” (p316-7).

Moreover, though he was indeed often critical of the alliance with Germany, his views changed by the day. Thus, Farrell reports, despite his earlier criticisms, “as soon as Germany started winning easily in the west in the spring of 1940 he was all in favour of Germany again” (p322). He was also a main champion and proponent of Italy’s disastrous invasion of Greece (p340).

Indeed, Farrell does a far better job of showing that Ciano was even more incompetent, and inconsistent, in his strategic pronouncements than was Mussolini, than he does showing that Mussoini was himself in any way competent. 

History is written, it seems, not so much by the victors, or, at any rate, not only by the victors, but also by those with sufficient time on their hands, and sufficient inclination, to put across their own side of things in diaries or other writings that ultimately outlive them. As Churchill was to put it:

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”.

Was Mussolini a Socialist? 

What then of Farrell’s second claim: Did Mussolini really always remain a man of the Left until his dying day?

Certainly, both Fascism and Mussolini seem to have begun on the Left

Mussolini’s own journey from the Left began when he advocated Italian involvement in the First World War, contrary to the doctrine of the Second International. 

Yet, in this, Mussolini was merely following in the path trodden by socialists across Europe, who, caught up in the prevailing mood of nationalism and war-fever, abandoned the internationalism and pan-proletarian solidarity of the Second International en masse, to come out in support of, and march to their deaths in the service of, their respective nation’s war-efforts.[9]

Thus, as had occurred so often before, and would occur so many more times in the future, idealism and internationalism came crashing down in the face of nationalism, ethnocentrism and war fever. 

Mussolini himself thus came to believe in the power of nationalism to move men’s souls in a way that appeals to mere economic class interests never could. He came to believe that:

Nation had a stronger grip on men than class” (p61). 

As sociologist-turned-sociobiologist Pierre van den Berghe was later to put it in his excellent The Ethnic Phenomenon (which i have reviewed here): 

Blood runs thicker than money” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p243)

Thus, Mussolini and the early fascists, like the pre-Hitler German Workers’ Party in Germany, sought to combine socialism with nationalism

Mussolini also came to believe that, just as the Bolshevik revolution in Russia would never have been brought about without Lenin, so socialist revolution in Italy would require an elite revolutionary vanguard.

This was contrary to Marxist doctrine, and indeed ironically Leninist doctrine too, whereby the coming revolution was envisaged as both historically inevitable and as being brought about by the proletariat as a whole. 

In this assessment, Mussolini was surely right. The Bolshevik revolution would never have occurred without Lenin as the driving force.

When, in 1917, Lenin arrived by train in Petrograd, courtesy of the German government, even the vast majority of fellow Bolsheviks were resigned to a policy of support for the newly-established provisional government. Lenin was, at first, almost alone in advocating armed revolution. Yet this policy was ultimately to prove a success. 

Ironically, then, the much-maligned Great Man Theory of History’, as famously espoused by Thomas Carlyle, became perennially unfashionable at almost precisely the moment that, in the persons of first Lenin and later Hitler, it was proven so tragically true.[10]

However, recognizing the need for an elite revolutionary vanguard also led Mussolini to question another key tenet of Leftism, namely belief in the equality of man

In other words, if an elite revolutionary vanguard was indeed necessary to bring about socialism, then this suggested that this elite vanguard represented a superior caste of men. This, ironically, undermined the entire basis for socialism, which presupposed human equality.

This led Mussolini to Nietzsche and ultimately to Fascism, Mussolini himself being quoted by Farrell as explaining to a visiting American journalist during the 1920s that: 

Nietzsche had ‘cured me of my socialism’” (p30). 

Yet Farrell insists that Mussolini nevertheless remained, in some sense, a socialist even thereafter, and indeed throughout his political career. Thus, he writes:

Mussolini was never a democrat. But much of him was and remained a Socialist” (p39).

However, in making this claim, Farrell is not entirely consistent. Thus, explaining the adoption of the black Arditi flag by the fascist faithful, he explains:

Red was the colour of the enemy – Socialism” (p80).

However, on the very next page he claims:

Fascism was anything but a right-wing movement. The first Fascist programme… reflected the preponderance of the futurists was very left-wing” (p81). 

These different claims, only a page apart, are difficult to reconcile with one another.

Perhaps, in referring to socialism as “the enemy”, Farrell has in mind ‘Socialism’ with a capital ‘S’ – i.e. the programme of the Italian Socialist party. On this view, the Socialists might be the enemy of Fascism precisely because both movements were left-wing and hence competed in the same political space for the same constituency of support.[11]

However, Farrell does not employ capitalization in any such consistent manner and also capitalizes ‘socialism’ when referring to Mussolini’s own beliefs (e.g. p39: quoted above).

Mussolini’s eventual return to his leftist roots, Farrell reports, comes only much later, after his overthrow and dramatic rescue by the Germans, with the establishment of the short-lived Italian Social Republic in Northern Italy under German patronage.

By then, however, Mussolini was a mere German puppet, and any socialist pretentions, or indeed pretentions to any sort of action independent of, let alone in defiance to, his German National Socialist patrons, were wholly ineffectual.

Defining Fascism

To decide whether Fascism was a left-wing movement, we must first define we mean by ‘fascism’. Unfortunately, however, the meaning of the word ‘fascism’ changed a great deal over time.

The word ‘fascism’ derives from the Italian word ‘fascio’, meaning ‘a bundle of sticks’, in particular the fasces, a symbol of power and authority in ancient Rome.

Amusingly, it seems to be cognate with the word faggot, now chiefly employed as a pejorative Americanism for a homosexual male, but which also originally meant a bundle of sticks

The political usage seems to derive from the notion that several sticks bound together are stronger than one stick alone, hence emphasizing the importance of collectivism and national solidarity. 

With regard to situating fascism on the left-right political spectrum, it is certainly the case that, like Mussolini himself, Fascism began on the left

Thus, among the first political groups to style themselves ‘fascist’ was the peasant Fasci Siciliani, who unsuccessfully fought for peasant land rights in Sicily in the late-nineteenth century.

Indeed, even the first incarnation of Mussolini’s own brand of fascism, namely the Fasces of Revolutionary Action, founded by Mussolini in 1914, was very much left-wing and revolutionary in orientation, being composed, in large part, of syndicalists and other disgruntled leftists estranged from the mainstream Italian left (i.e. the Italian Socialist Party).

Most left-wing parties are less radical in power than they promise to be while still in opposition. However, Mussolini’s (and Fascism’s) own move from the left began long before they ever even came within distant sight of power.

Thus, even as early as 1920, after humiliation at the polls during national elections the previous year, Farrell himself acknowledges:

Most of the Fascists of the first hour – especially those of left-wing origin – had gone… [and] fascism… moved right” (p95).

Thus, while fascism was initially anti-clericalist and associated with revolutionary Syndicalism and the Futurist movement, it ultimately came to be associated with Catholicism and traditionalism.

Thus, the meaning of the word ‘fascism’ evolved and changed with the regime itself. 

Fascism’ ultimately came to mean whatever the regime stood for at any particular point in time, something that both changed over time and never represented a coherent ideology as much as it did pragmatic realpolitik.

Defining the Left

To determine if fascism was truly leftist, we must also define, not only what ‘fascism’ means, but also what we mean by leftist. This is only marginally less problematic than defining ‘fascism’.

Hayek, in his celebrated The Road to Serfdom, equates the Left with big government and a planned economy. On this basis, he therefore classes both German National Socialism and Italian Fascism as leftist.

However, leftism is usually associated, not only with big government and a planned economy, but also with redistribution and egalitarianism. In this sense, fascism was not especially leftist.

On the other hand, anti-Semitism has always seemed to me fundamentally leftist.

Thus, Marxists believe that society is controlled by wealthy capitalists who control the mass media and oppress and exploit everyone else. Anti-Semites, on the other hand, believe society is controlled by wealthy Jewish capitalists who control the mass media and oppress and exploit everyone else.

The distinction between Marxism and anti-Semitism is therefore racial and largely tangential. Anti-Semites insist that our capitalist oppressors are largely or wholly Jewish in ethnicity. Orthodox Marxists, on the other hand, take no stance on this matter either way.

Hence the famous aphorism that states:

Antisemitism is the socialism of fools.[12]

Defining the Right

If fascism cannot then unproblematically be described as a phenomenon of the left, can we then instead characterize it as a phenomenon of the right?

This, of course, requires a definition of ‘the right’. Unfortunately, however, defining the right is even more difficult than defining the Left. 

For example, Christian fundamentalist who wants to ban pornography and abortion has little in common with, on the one hand, a libertarian who wants to decriminalise prostitution and child pornography, nor, on the other, with a eugenicist who wants to make abortion, for certain classes of person, compulsory. Yet all three are classified as together as ‘right-wing’, even though they have no more in common with one another than any does with a raving, unreconstructed Marxist

The Right, then, is defined as, in effect, anything that is not the Left.

As Steven Pinker puts it, the Left is like the South Pole. Just as, at the South Pole, all directions lead north, so, at the Left Pole, all directions lead right.

Therefore, right-wing is itself a left-wing term – because it defines all political positions by reference to the extent to which they diverge from a perceived leftist ideal.

Therefore, debating whether fascism was really an ideology of left or right simply exposes the inadequacy of this one-dimensional conception of the political spectrum, whereby all political positions are situated on a single left-right axis.

A Third Way?

Rather than self-identifying as of ‘the Right’, Fascists themselves often affect to reject any simplistic situation of their views as either being of the left or the right. Instead, they insist that they have moved beyond left and right, transcended the left-right political divide, and represent instead a Third Position or Third Way.

This leads Farrell to propose an even more provocative analogy in his Preface, where he writes:

Whereas communist ideas appear terminally ill, the Fascist idea of the Third Way lives on and is championed by the standard bearers of the modern Left such as New Labour in Britain” (pxviii).

Unfortunately, however, Farrell never really gets around to expanding on this single throwaway sentence in his Preface.

On its face, it at first appears to rest on little more than a curious convergence of slogans – namely, both Fascism and New Labour claimed to represent a Third Way.

However, each meant something quite different by this term.

Thus, for Mussolini the Third Way (or ‘terza via’), namely fascism itself, entailed nationalism, abrogation of individual rights to the needs of the nation, and totalitarian dictatorship.

In contrast, much though the notion of totalitarian dictatorship might have appealed to Tony Blair, the objectives of New Labour were altogether more modest in scale.

Indeed, the two regimes differed not only in what their respective ‘Third Ways’ were to involve, but also in their conception of the ‘First’ and ‘Second Ways’ to which they represented themselves as an alternative.

Thus, for Mussolini, the ‘Third Way’ represented an alternative to, on the one hand, Soviet-style communism, and, on the other, western liberal democracy.

For Blair, on the other hand, it was an alternative to, on the one hand, Thatcherite neo-liberalism and, on the other, the sort of unreconstructed socialism that the Blairites dismissed as Old Labour.

Defining that Blairism or New Labour itself actually entailed is, however, much more difficult, and even more difficult, perhaps, than defining ‘fascism’.

This, then, perhaps points to a deeper affinity between the two movements. Both were not so much coherent ideologies as glorified marketing campaigns – triumphs of spin over substance.

Defining what either actually stood for, as opposed to merely against, is almost impossible.

Fascism’ and New Labour represented, then, little more than catchy political slogans that tapped into the zeitgeister of the respective ages, new words for not especially new ideas.

Indeed, Mussolini, himself a former journalist (and a very successful one at that), can perhaps lay claim to being the first politician to successfully manipulate modern media to manage his own public image – the first truly modern politician.

As for Farrell’s comparison between Fascism and New Labour, this, one suspects, reflected little more than a marketing campaign of Farrell’s own.

Farrell, also a journalist, was using a provocative quote to attract media attention, publicity and hence, so he hoped, sales for his new book in Blair-era Britain.

Today, less than twenty years later, it already seems strangely anachronistic, as New Labour has itself gone the way of fascism, into the dustbin of history (at least for now), to be replaced, in the Labour Party at least, with a return to unreconstructed ‘Old Laboursocialism, albeit now buttressed with a new, even more moronic, cultural Marxist ‘wokeism’ and deranged feminism.

Indeed, on the evidence of some recent Labour Party leaders, even “communist ideals” may no longer be as “terminally ill” as Farrell once so confidently predicted.

This, however, merely reinforces my suspicion that any attempt to draw analogies between fascism and contemporary political movements or regimes is ultimately unhelpful and reflects little more than a version of guilt-by-association or what Leo Strauss aptly termed the reductio ad Hitlerum.

Fascism certainly has little in common with the contemporary Left, despite the efforts of some conservatives to prove the contrary. However, as a nationalist and fundamentally anti-individualist ideology, it arguably has even less in common with the individualist and globalist ethos of contemporary neoliberalism and neoconservatism, let alone libertarianism.

As George Orwell wrote only a year or so after the defeat of both National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy:

The word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.”

So let’s stop using the word ‘fascist’ as a slur against our political opponents and restrict its use to an historical context.[13]

___________________

Endnotes

[1] The continued practice of slavery in Ethiopia was indeed among the justifications employed by the Italians to justify their invasion and conquest. Moreover, the Italians did indeed pass the first laws formally abolishing the practice of slavery in Ethiopia, though the extent to which these laws were enforced, or represented a mere propaganda exercise, seems to be in some dispute.

[2] Imprisoning or exiling large numbers of low-level mafia soldiers and associates will not only have taken those individuals themselves out of operation but also likely have deterred others from taking their places. In contrast, arresting only a few leading bosses may only result in others eagerly taking their place.

[3] Other, more genuine, Italian anti-fascists, who had indeed fought against the fascist regime, tended to be communists, who the American (and British) occupying forces were hence loathe to promote to high office. In addition, whereas the stronghold of the Mafia has always been Sicily, and other powerful Italian criminal syndicates (e.g. the ’Ndrangheta and Cammora) are likewise each based in regions of the Southern Italian Mezzogiorno, the Italian communists were always strongest in heavily industrialized Northern Italy. This ‘unholy alliance’ between the Americans, the Mafia, and, later, the Catholic Church and conservative Christian Democratic Party soon came to be almost institutionalized in post-war Italian politics, as during the Cold War, the American government, together with Italian conservatives opted to ally with the Mafia as the ‘lesser of two evils’ against Italy’s powerful Communist Party.

[4] Thus, for example, Irish nationalists and British nationalists are natural enemies, as are Pakistani and Indian nationalists, and Turkish and Greek nationalists. Indeed, as far back as the third century BCE, Arthashastra, the ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, observed that next-door neighbours, by virtue of sharing a border, are natural enemies, whereas a state’s next-door neighbours but one, by virtue of sharing a border with one’s immediate neighbours, and hence one’s enemies, but not with oneself, are natural allies. Thus, France and Scotland combined against their common neighbour England in the Auld Alliance which lasted two and a half centuries, while in the First World War Russia and France allied against their common neighbour Germany. Arthashastra’s observation is sometimes cited as the origin of the famous aphorism, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

[5] It is interesting to note that, even when Mussolini did belatedly embrace the idea of a ‘fascist international’, he initially excluded National Socialist Germany from this alliance. Thus, at the 1934 Montreux Fascist International Congress, representatives of the German National Socialist government were conspicuous by their absence. Yet, in contrast, representatives of what was then Hitler’s principal enemy, the Federal State of Austria, then governed by the ‘AustrofascistFatherland Front, were invited and did indeed attend.

[6] This statistic is perhaps misleading and probably reflects the higher levels of political engagement of Jews as compared to non-Jewish Italians, rather than any especial affinity towards Fascism. Jews were thus likely overrepresented among almost all political movements (other than those which are overtly anti-Semitic, of course), and may indeed have been overrepresented among communists and other opponents of the Fascist regime to an even greater degree than they were overrepresented among Fascists themselves.

[7] For my own thoughts on more realistic biological theories of race, see here, here and here.

[8] Although remembered as a disciple of his compatriot Niccolò Machiavelli, Mussolini, with his militaristic braggadocio and strutting, had perhaps here imbued, or, more likely, independently hit upon, the teaching of that other great guru of military strategy and statecraft, Sun Tzu, who famously advised military leaders:

The most powerful tool of a leader is deception. Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Thus, just as a powerful commander should fake weakness in order to lull his enemies into a false sense of security before attacking them, or even thereby provoking them to attack first, so a militarily weak power like Italy is advised to feign military strength and power in order to deter potential enemies from attacking.
However, it is likely that Mussolini’s own militaristic braggadocio and strutting was intended at least as much for internal consumption within Italy as on the international stage. Certainly, few foreign leaders seem to have been taken in, except perhaps Hitler, who indeed sought out an alliance with fascist Italy despite their military weakness.

[9] In this respect, Italy was, Mussolini and the fascists excepted, something of an outlier and exception, since, here, the leading socialist party, Partito Socialista Italiano, did indeed stand true to the ideals of the Second International by opposing Italy’s entry into the War, even though there was, by this time, no Second International left to which to remain true.

[10] To be clear, I do not here endorse the strong version of great man theory, whereby the impact of so-called ‘great men’ is viewed as, if not the sole, then at least the most important factor in determining the fate of peoples, nations and civilizations. On the contrary, the impact of ‘great men’ is, I believe, much less important than that of social, economic, ecological, environmental and biological factors.
The overemphasis on the impact of ‘great men’ in some popular histories has, I suspect, more to do with literary conventions, which require narratives to focus on the adventures and travails of heroes and villians and other human interest factors, in order to attract an audience, than with an objective appraisal of history. Such a focus is indeed, in my view, quite unscientific.
However, as the undoubted impact of such figures as Lenin and Hitler, and many others, on history amply demonstrates, ‘great men’ do indeed, at least sometimes, have a major effect on human history, and such factors cannot be entirely ignored or ruled out by the serious historian.
Of course, in referring to both Lenin and Hitler as I am not ‘great men’ I am not using the word ‘great’ in a moral, acclamatory or approving sense, but rather in the older meaning of the word, referring to the ‘great’ (i.e. massive) impact that each had upon history.

[11] Inevitably, it is parties of similar ideological persuasion who are most in competition with one another for support, since both will be attempting to attract the same core constituency of supporter. Relatedly, I am here reminded of a quotation attributed (possibly apocryphally) to Winston Churchill, who, when a newly elected MP, surveying for the first time the benches opposite, remarked ‘So, that’s the enemy’, was said to have replied, ‘No, that’s the oppostion. The enemy sits behind you’.

[12] Actually, as an avowed opponent of socialism and Marxism, I would think it would be more accurate to state:

Socialism is the socialism of fools. Anti-Semitism the socialism of other fools.

[13] I am here advocating that the word ‘fascism’ be confined in usage to the early- to mid-twentieth Italian political movement and ruling regime, and perhaps a few contemporaneous copycat movements that explicitly described themselves as ‘fascist’ (e.g. the BUF in the UK). Even describing the National Socialist movement and regime of Germany in the mid-twentieth century as ‘fascist’ seems to me unhelpful and potentially misleading, since, despite some commonalities, German National Socialism was, in many respects, a quite different and distinctively German phenomenon, and German National Socialist leaders such as Hitler, much as he may have admired and modelled himself on Mussolini, did not, to my knowledge, ever self-identify as ‘fascist’.

Anthropology Meets True Crime: ‘Pimp Philosophy’ and a World Where Men are Truly Dominant – Or Are They? 

Black Players: The Secret World Of Black Pimps by Richard Milner and Christina Milner (New York: Bantam Books, 1972)

To validate flawed sociological dogmas such as cultural determinism and feminism, generations of American anthropologists have bravely ventured into remote deserts, jungles and other dangerous, primitive and inhospitable corners of the globe in an effort to discover (or, if necessary, to fabricate) the existence of a society in which traditional western sex-roles are reversed.

The enterprise has, I think it is fair to say, proven singularly unsuccessful.[1]

However, way back in the early-1970s, Milner and Milner, two American anthropologists, discovered precisely what their colleagues have been searching for in vain, namely a culture in which sex roles are reversed, right in America’s own backyard – or rather in America’s own backstreets.

This was the underground subculture of pimps and ‘hos’. Here, in stark contrast to the traditional sexual division of labour in western (and indeed many non-western) societies: 

Women are the economic providers… [whereas] a man may spend hours a day on his hair, clothes and toilette while his women are out working to support the household” (p5).

Another feature of the pimp lifestyle at odds with mainstream American culture is the prevalence of polygyny. Thus, Milner report that many pimp-ho households are polygynous, being composed of a single pimp and several prostitutes, and polygyny is regarded as the ideal (p5). 

Interestingly, this family structure and pattern of economic activity in many respects parallels that still prevailing in much of sub-Saharan Africa, where polygyny is ubiquitous and women are self-supporting and perform most agricultural labour (Draper 1989). 

One controversial interpretation, then, is that people of black African descent are genetically predisposed such a mating system since it was adaptive in much of sub-Saharan African, and that African-Americans are simply recreating in America an approximation of the mating system, and economic system, of their African forebears. 

Of course, since pimp culture has now been popularized by generations of ‘gangsta rappers’, the “secret world” promised by the authors in their subtitle may be more familiar to modern readers than on the book’s first publication in 1972 (though even then blaxploitation films had introduced the black pimp archetype). However, the picture created in rap lyrics is necessarily so comically caricatured out of all recognition that the Milners’ exploration of the reality behind the absurd caricature remains as revelatory as ever.[2]

Male Dominance and Pimp Philosophy 

Of course, although women are the economic providers and pimps concerned with their clothes and appearance, in one crucial respect, conventional sex roles appear to be, not reversed, but rather accentuated in American pimp culture.

Thus, in American pimp culture, male dominance was, the Milners’ emphasize, absolute and categorical. 

However, what the Milners refer as ‘pimp philosophy’, namely the worldview and philosophy passed down among pimps from mentor to student and described by the Milners in detail, raises serious questions about whether this too, in some respects, represents a reversal of the sex roles apparent in mainstream society and whether, in ‘square’ society, it is indeed men who are really dominant (see also The Myth of Male Power: reviewed here). 

Thus, according to the ‘pimp philosophy’: 

White men (and square blacks) are thought to be ‘pussy-whipped’ by their wives after having been brain washed by their mothers to accept female dominance as the natural order of things. Most families today are controlled by women, who direct the goals and manage the money… by withholding sexual favours” (p161). 

It is indeed the case that, while men work longer hours and earn more money than women, women are known to control the vast majority of spending decisions.

Thus, marketing researcher Martha Barletta reports that reports that women are responsible for about 80% of household spending in modern America (Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach and Increase Your Share of the Largest Market Segment: at p4); while Bernice Kanner reports that women make approximately 88% of retail purchases in the US (see Pocketbook Power: How to Reach the Hearts and Minds of Today’s Most Coveted Consumers: p5).

Thus, according to ‘pimp philosophy’, square husbands are ‘pimped’ by their wives every bit as ruthlessly as street-prostitutes, by being obliged to earn money and financially support their wives in return for sexual favours.

Thus, according to ‘pimp philosophy’, the Milners report: “The highest level of prostitution is—the wife!” (p221). 

Whether the men want to admit it or not, every woman is a ho regardless of what the status is—housewife, nun, prostitutes, whatever you want to say. The Housewife gets longevity, you know. She gets the vacation every year, she gets the security with the fella on the twenty-five-dollar-a-year job. Vacation every summer, the golf club, country club” (p227) 

Interestingly, this view of male-female relations directly converges with that of anti-feminists such as Esther Vilar who expressed similar ideas in her book 1971 classic, The Manipulated Man, which I have reviewed here.[3]

For example, one pimp describes how wives supposedly bear children only, or at least primarily, because: 

She knows once she has one or two babies she’s gonna have him locked down tight and even if he leaves she can still get four or five hundred dollars a month [in maintenance payments] if he’s making any kind of money” (p227). 

This parallels Vilar’s description in The Manipulated Man of offspring as “hostages” in her chapter title “children as hostages”, since they are used, like hostages kidnapped in order to make a ransom demand, to demand additional monies from the unfortunate father. Thus, the pimp quoted by the Milners explains:

His wife is pimping him, see? She gets him to get up every morning, cooks his breakfast to make sure he’s good and strong, gives him his vitamin pills and everything, hands him his little briefcase, you know, so he can get out there and get the buck so she can go play bridge, go get her hair done, understand?” (p229) 

The pimp-ho relationship is then directly analogous to the relationship between husband and wife, only with the gender roles reversed. Thus, in the endnote to chapter one, the Milners approvingly quote sociologist Travis Hirschi as observing:

The similarity of the pimp-prostitute relationship to the husband-wife relationship, with the economic roles reversed, is too obvious to overlook” (p285; Hirschi 1962).

According to the pimps interviewed by the Milner’s during their research, the process of socializing and indoctrinating males to willingly accept their assigned role as beta providers begins in childhood. Thus, the Milners report:

“[Whereas] several pimps asserted that pimping comes from Black men being supported by their mothers as kids and deciding to continue the arrangement… Most pimps… believe that they were raised by their mothers not to be pimps, but to be tricks. ‘Trick marriage’ is seen by the pimps as a man’s servitude to women in exchange for ‘her pussy’” (p174-5).

Thus, since it is mothers who are responsible for most childcare, they indoctrinate their sons from infancy to accept ‘trick marriage’ and female dominance as the natural, normal and healthy state of affairs. 

She is, from the time you are a kid, understand, giving you a certain set of values which in reality is a woman’s set of values. She is brainwashing you to the extent of how to treat a woman” (p176). 

As a result of this indoctrination: 

If you are a boy, say twelve years old, and you see Mom and Dad fighting you naturally come to the defense of Mom… [because] from the time you were young, she’s the one who changed your diapers, bathed you, made sure that you were clothed and shoed and everything else, so you naturally come to the defense of Mom. And you forget entirely the fact that it was Dad was the one who made the money that put her in the position to do all these things in the first place. So when you become a man and encounter a woman you automatically accept the values which were taught to you there.” (p177) 

This again parallels Esther Vilar’s contention that: 

Men have been trained and conditioned by women, not unlike Pavlov conditioned his dogs, into becoming their slaves.

Thus, Vilar observes:

The advice a mother gives to her teenage son going out on his first date is a good example of woman’s audacity: Pay the taxi; get out first; open the door on the girl’s side and help her out. Offer her your arm going up the steps or, if they are crowded, walk behind her in case she stumbles so that you can catch her. Open the door into the foyer for her; help her out of her coat; take the coat to the cloakroom attendant; get her a program. Go in front of her when you are taking your seats and clear the way. Offer her refreshments during the intermissions – and so on” (The Manipulated Man: p40-41). 

As a consequence of such early indoctrination, even one otherwise resolutely ‘red-pilled’ player acknowledged:

There are things in me right now that I can’t help that have been conditioned over a period of time. I do things automatically, you know. I open doors for old ladies and if I go through a doorway, and hesitate and let the woman go first” (p177).

Thus, whereas the family structure of the ghetto has, on account of the prevalence of female-headed households and absent fathers, been characterized by sociologists as matriarchal, black players suggest a more nuanced interpretation:

Although the ghetto leans towards matriachy, players admit, it isn’t as all-pervasive or as smoothly functioning as the White matriarchy of the majority. For the White man is not even aware that he lives in a matriarchy, while Black men are becoming more sensitive to being pimped by both White society and their own Black women… White men, like Samson, are still sound asleep and unaware that Delilah has cut their hair” (p171). 

Indeed, the analogy with ‘red pill philosophy’ and the so-called men’s rights movement is made all but explicit by the Milners when they write: 

Woman’s liberation movement is not revolutionary, say the players. What would be truly revolutionary would be the liberation of men” (p227). 

However, the black players are capitalists at heart and hence reject all political liberation movements, including, not only women’s liberation, but also black liberation: 

In this… the pimp expresses a common ghetto sentiment: ‘Fuck Black power and White power; I believe in green power’” (p223). 

Thus, the Milners recount one anecdote of how:

“[When] a militant black man in the bar loudly proclaimed ‘I’ gonna get my piece and shoot all the whiteys’… another player replied, ‘Don’t do that, brother. Shit, you gonna take all my business away’” (p237). 

The same would apply to the liberation of men. After all, according to pimp philosphy, it is only because:

So-called normal and moral marriage is aberrant… [that] many husbands… pay hos for sex they cannot get at home, which [pimps] point to as the final degradation of the American male under the heel of the almighty bitchy American wife. She not only doesn’t give him what he is paying for, but forces him to go out and also pay some other woman if he wants sex. Often he pays another woman only to have a shoulder to cry on, because the wife loses respect for a man she can dominate and is unhappy in her unnatural unwomanly role as boss” (p175). 

Thus, the Milners envisage one pimp commiserating with the hapless henpecked husband, but then rationalizing: 

But, of course… I wouldn’t have it any other way, trick. Because, without you and your f*cked-up illusions, without your fucked-up sex life—I’d be out of business tomorrow” (p251). 

Pimp Philosophy Evaluated 

Pimp philosophy is certainly illuminating and thought-provoking. 

It is moreover undoubtedly more insightful than feminist theory, which represents the dominant paradigm for understanding the relations between the sexes among social scientists, journalists in the mainstream media, the academic establishment, politicians, women’s rights activists and other such professional damned fools. 

Indeed, although they never quite go so far as to endorse it, the Milners themselves are nevertheless clearly taken by ‘pimp philosophy’, and acknowledge:

Once the world, and particularly the relations between the sexes, is viewed from a black player’s vantage point, things never again seem quite the same” (p243). 

Indeed, according to the Milners, this is hardly surprising. 

Like the sociologist and anthropologist, pimps and hustlers depend for their livelihood on an awareness of social forces and the human psyche… [but whereas] the social scientist rarely applies his knowledge directly, and so has far more leeway than the hustler or the pimp in being wrong before he is out of a job” (p242). 

In other words, unlike feminist sociologists (and indeed anthropologists like themselves), who are insulated in universities behind ivory towers at the taxpayer’s expense and can therefore can hold fast to their flawed ideological dogmas with blind faith notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary, the pimp’s psychological and sociological analysis is subject to ruthless falsification at the hands of the market forces beloved of neoliberal economists. 

However, in claiming that male dominance is the natural state of humanity, pimp philosophy seems, to me, to have taken a wrong turn. 

Thus, according to the pimps, male dominance is the natural and harmonious order of mankind, and this was disrupted only when, according to ‘pimp mythology’ (an ingenious reinterpretation of biblical mythology), Adam gave in to sexual temptation, and was tempted by Eve to bite into the forbidden fruit (i.e. pay for sexual favours), thereby becoming, not the first man, but rather the first trick (p168-70; p259-60). 

Therefore, according to the pimps, as a result of this decision to bite into the forbidden fruit, most men are no longer ‘real men’ but rather mere ‘tricks’. Pimps themselves therefore represent, according to the ‘players’: 

The only real men [left] in America today” (p162). 

However, viewing male dominance as the natural and harmonious order of mankind necessarily raises the question: If, as pimps contend, male dominance is so natural and harmonious, why then is it found today only among a small and exclusive subculture of pimps? What is more, why, even among pimps, is it maintained only by levels of violence and of self-control on the part of pimps far greater than that typically apparent in ‘square’ relationships? 

However, the real flaw in the pimp perception of male dominance as the natural and harmonious state of nature lies in the nature of the pimps’ own dominance over their prostitutes and the lifestyle and occupation of the prostitutes themselves. 

Thus, as the Milners themselves observe: 

“[Although] the Book [i.e. the unwritten code of how to pimp passed from mentor to student] provides a blueprint for a male-dominated society and a rationale for wrestling all control over men from women… ironically, this condition is achieved by making women’s full-time occupation the control of men who are outside the subculture” (p48). 

In other words, the pimp’s exploitation of his women necessarily relies and depends on those women’s own exploitation of other men. 

A ho… is both ‘pimping’ off her customers and is being a trick [i.e. being pimped] by her man” (p213). 

The ‘Book’ provides, then, not a blueprint for male domination throughout society, but rather a blueprint for domination by a necessarily small subset of men – an exploitation both of women (i.e. the prostitutes whom the pimp controls) but also, indirectly, of other men (i.e. the clients of these prostitutes). 

The pimp survives, then, not only through the exploitation of women, but also, more fundamentally, by the vicarious exploitation of other men (namely the prostitutes’ clients, or, aptly named, ‘tricks’). 

Sweet Jones, a character from Iceberg Slim’s famous novel, Pimp: The Story of My Life, succinctly and eloquently summarized the same point: 

A pimp is really a whore who has reversed the game on whores. So Slim, be sweet as the scratch, no sweeter, and always stick a whore for a bundle before you sex her. A whore ain’t nothing but a trick to a pimp. Don’t let ’em georgia you. Always get your money in front just like a whore.” (Pimp: The Story of My Life: xxi).[4]

On this view, with their characteristically feminine concern for clothing, fashion, hair and hygiene and their ability, like housewives, to leech off the income of their sexual partners, pimps represent, not so much, as they themselves contend, “the only real men in America today” (p162), but rather second-rate female-impersonators. 

Endnotes

[1] Indeed, many aspects of sex roles (e.g. sex differences in intraspecific aggression, and in levels of parental care) appear to be, not only cross-culturally universal, but also universal throughout the mammalian order, and indeed widespread among animals in general. This, of course, reflects the fact that they are not only innate, but moreover the product of analogous selection pressures operating among many different species (see Bateman 1948; Trivers 1972). Thus, for example, in all human societies for which data is available, men are responsible for an overwhelming majority of homicides, and also represent the majority of victims. Similarly, in all documented cultures, mothers rather than fathers provide the vast majority of direct care for infants and babies.

[2] To illustrate just how comically caricatured public perceptions of the pimp lifestyle have become, it is worth pointing out that, in response to the use of the term in many rap songs, many people seem to believe that a ‘pimp stick’ is, to quote one definition, an ornate or gaudy cane, as might be used by a stereotypical pimp. In fact, however, pimps traditionally carried no such stick. Instead, the phrase ‘pimp stick’ originally referred, and among pimps presumably still refers, to a weapon composed of “two wire coat hangers twisted together” which is used by pimps as a whip with which to discipline disobedient whores (Whoreson: p212).

[3] In addition to Esther Vilar’s The Manipulated Man and my review of this work, see also Matthew Fitzgerald’s purported update to Esther Vilar’s work, namely his delightfully subtitled, Sex-Ploytation: How Women Use Their Bodies to Extort Money from Men

[4] Curiously, the Milners claim to have interviewed Iceberg Slim (alias Robert Beck, née Robert Lee Maupin) and refer to this supposed interview at various points in their book. However, Beck himself, without mentioning them by name, denies this in The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim (p200), where he accuses the Milners of stealing black culture, i.e. what would today be called cultural appropriation. The mysterious interview is supposedly contained in the recently published collection, Iceberg Slim: The Lost Interviews With The Pimp

References 

Bateman (1948), Intra-sexual selection in Drosophila, Heredity, 2(3): 349–368
Draper P (1989) African marriage systems: Perspectives from evolutionary ecology. Ethology and Sociobiology 10(1–3):145-169
Hirschi T (1962) The professional prostitute. Berkeley Journal of Sociology 7(1):33-49
Trivers, R. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. Sexual Selection & the Descent of Man, Aldine de Gruyter, New York, 136-179. Chicago. 

Meyer and the Myth of the American Mafia – Cutting Lansky Down to Size 

Robert Lacey, Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life (Boston: Little Brown & Co, 1991).

Robert Lacey’s biography of the infamous Jewish-American organized crime figure, Meyer Lansky, was originally published in 1992 with the title Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life, only to be reissued in 2016 with a new title, Meyer Lansky: The Thinking Man’s Gangster

This latter subtitle, ‘The Thinking Man’s Gangster’, perhaps accords more with the popular image of Lansky as a kind of nefarious criminal mastermind, and may therefore have helped boost the book’s sales. However, given that Lacey’s biography is actually concerned, to a large extent, with debunking that very image of Lansky, and indeed much of the popular mythology surrounding him, it is the earlier title, ‘Little Man’, that better reflects the book’s actual content.  

It is true that Lansky, despite his diminutive stature, was never, to my knowledge, known by the sobriquet, ‘Little Man’.[1]

However, in a metaphoric sense, Robert Lacey’s biography is indeed very much concerned with ‘cutting Lansky down to size’. 

Debunking Sensationalist Claims 

The history of organized crime in America is a subject that has rarely attracted the attention of serious historians or first-rate researchers. What literature does exist on the subject is largely to be found, not in the ‘history’ section, but rather in the much-maligned, and often justly maligned, true crime section of the library or bookshop, and is typically sensationalist in tone and often historically inaccurate. 

Indeed, Lacey coins a new and apt term for this literary subgenre – “Pulp Nonfiction” (p314).[2]

Thus, inevitably, much of Lacey’s text is concerned with debunking the many myths perpetuated in earlier Mafia histories.

One famous example is the so-called ‘Night of the Sicilian Vespers’, when, according to mafia folklaw, and countless previously published mafia histories, a whole succession of Mafia bosses across America were assassinated in a single night in the aftermath of the assassination of Salvatore Maranzano.  

Actually, however, despite being repeated as lore in countless mafia histories, the nationally-synchronized bloodbath never actually seemed to have occurred.  Thus, aside from the killing of Marazano himself, Lacey reports: 

systematic study of newspapers in eight major cities in the two weeks before and the two weeks following September 10, 1913, the date of Maranzo’s killing… [revealed] only three reports of similar gang- or racketeer-linked killings – two in Newark and one in Pittsburgh” (p65). 

Lucky Luciano and World War II

Another source of much “legend and exaggeration”, Lacey reports, has been the supposed role of then-imprisoned crime boss Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano in the Allied invasion of Sicily. Thus, Lansky reports how, in some of the more outlandish accounts: 

Lucky Luciano has been pictured hitting the beaches in person, waving triumphantly from atop a tank, and there have been dark tales of planes dropping flags and handkerchiefs bearing the letter L behind enemy lines – signals supposedly from Luciano to local Mafia chiefdoms” (p125).[3]

These claims are obvious make-believe. However, the real story of the cooperation between organized crime and the American government to forestall infiltration and sabotage on the New York docks, which cooperation likely gave rise to the more sensationalist rumours referred to above, is arguably almost as remarkable in its own right. 

The impetus was a fire onboard the SS Normandie, a French liner that had been commandeered for military use, and was being converted into a troop ship in a New York harbour. 

With the benefit of hindsight, it is today all but certain that the fire was simply an accident. However, authorities at the time, wary of the threat of infiltration, suspected enemy sabotage, and hence moves were made to establish contact with the underworld figures who were known to control the New York docks in order to forestall any possible recurrence.[4]

This search for underworld contacts on the docks led the authorities ultimately to Luciano, then serving a sentence for prostitution offences in a New York prison. Lansky’s own role in this process was to act as an intermediary, having been recommended for this role by Luciano’s Jewish lawyer Moses Polakoff. 

The result was a remarkable meeting between Luciano, Lansky and representatives of the US Navy in an interrogation room in Great Meadow Correctional Facility, at which Luciano somewhat reluctantly agreed to cooperate. 

Perhaps surprisingly, genuine patriotism seems to have been at least part of the reason both Luciano and Lansky agreed to help out.

Lansky, being Jewish, was obviously no friend to the Nazis; Luciano, meanwhile, may have been unsympathetic to Mussolini’s Fascist regime in his native Italy due to its crackdown on the Sicilian Mafia under Cesare Mori – both, however, also claimed to see themselves as patriotic Americans (though Luciano was soon to be deported).

Whether there was also some implicit quid pro quo agreement whereby Luciano would receive early release after the war in return for his cooperation is not clear. However, Luciano did attach at least one condition to his cooperation – namely, that it remain strictly a secret, lest he be subject to retribution after his envisaged deportation back to Sicily after the War (p119). 

Unfortunately for Luciano, however, after the war he was to discover that he was not the only one who wanted his secret agreement with US naval intelligence to remain very much a secret. On the contrary, with Mussolini’s regime now in tatters and the War very much won, it was now naval intelligence themselves who had every incentive to keep their disreputable secret dealings with organized crime elements very much out of newspaper headlines and the public domain, ultimately to the chagrin of Luciano himself. 

Thus, when Luciano’s attorney, the same Moses Polakoff who had played such an instrumental role in arranging the meeting, applied for a grant of clemency and commutation of sentence as recompense for Luciano’s wartime cooperation with the authorities, Naval Intelligence, contacted by the parole board for corroboration of Polakoff’s claims but loathe to admit their dealings with such a notorious figure, denied ever having been in contact with Luciano (p125-6). 

Polakoff did ultimately obtain evidence of his client’s wartime cooperation with the authorities, and, as a result, Luciano was indeed ultimately granted parole, albeit on condition that he not contest his immediate deportation to Italy, from where he was subsequently alleged to have orchestrated the international trade in heroin. 

However, the wartime cooperation between government and organized crime remained a tightly-guarded secret and it was probably this secrecy, combined with the inevitably leaking of “hints and half revelations” regarding what had occurred, that gave rise to some of the more outlandish claims of Mafia involvement in the invasion of Sicily (p119). 

History vs. True Crime 

Yet, if most true crime authors are indeed rightly to be criticized for the quality of their research, then the fault does not lie entirely with them. It also lies, according to Lacey, with the serious historians and researchers who have neglected this area of American history as somehow beneath them. 

Yet the history of organized crime is by no means a matter of peripheral importance in the history of twentieth century America. On the contrary, organized crime in America has had a substantial impact on America’s social, economic, legal, cultural and even its political history.  

Thus, Lacey rebukes his fellow-historians, declaring: 

There is a dire need for objectively analysed data on organized crime, an area which academics have too readily surrendered to the custody of popular entertainment” (p445). 

Gangster or Businessman? 

Unfortunately, however, in exhorting serious historians to research the history of organized crime in America, Lacey could almost be accused of failing to take his own advice, since the subject of his own biography, Meyer Lansky, was, at least in Lacey’s own telling, only really on the fringes of organized crime for most of his adult life.[5]

Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable revelation of Lacey’s biography of the most notorious Jewish gangster of the twentieth century, or perhaps of all-time, is that, for most of his adult life, Lansky apparently genuinely regarded himself as no such thing.

Rather, after youthful dalliances as, first, a shtark or “strong-arm man” and perhaps as a pimp, and then in his early adulthood as a prohibition-era bootlegger, Lansky thenceforth cultivated a respectable, or at least semi-respectable, image.  

In his own self-image, Lansky saw himself, not as a gangster, but rather as a businessman – albeit a businessman whose chosen line of business, namely casino gambling, happened to be unlawful. 

This makes large sections of Lacey’s biography rather less exciting in content than one might expect for a book ostensibly in the sensationalist ‘true crime’ genre of literature. Certainly, any reader who goes in expecting dramatic accounts of gunfights, gang wars and the like is liable to be disappointed.

Gang wars and assassinations occur only in the background, and Lacey discounts any notion that Lansky had any role in ordering such assassinations as those on Albert Anastasia or Bugsy Siegel with which he has sometimes been linked. 

Yet, unlike so many other prohibition-era bootleggers who took advantage of the repeal of prohibition to move into the lawful production and distribution of alcoholic beverages or other lawful business ventures, some of whom would ultimately establish themselves as respectable, and sometimes highly successful businessmen, Lansky never did quite ‘go straight’ (p80). 

Neither did he grasp the other main opportunity to ‘go legit’ that presented itself to him over the course of his career, namely in Las Vegas, Nevada, where casino gambling had been legalized in 1931 (p152). 

Instead, as an organizer of gambling activities, Lansky operated in an illegal and illicit industry. As such he could not turn to the police for protection, and had instead to rely on the muscle provided by organized crime. 

However, Lansky appears to have sought to distance himself from this side of the business, which he contracted out, mostly to Italians, and kept at arm’s length. Nevertheless, in Lacey’s eyes, Lansky ultimately remained ultimately a gangster: 

Ethically and practically, the perceived threat of muscle is the same as muscle itself, and all Meyer’s businesses rested ultimately on that threat” (p170). 

Gambling and Other Victimless Crimes 

In keeping with his respectable self-image, Lansky’s casinos were very much respectable institutions – or at least as close to respectable as casinos could be in a jurisdiction where casino gambling was illegal. 

One lesson he had learned in to the crap games of the Lower East Side was that the principal ingredient for long-term gaming success is not flashiness but probity. It is easy to fix a roulette wheel or to rig a game of craps… But such tricks can only yield temporary dividends. The moment that serious players sniff the slightest suspicion that the games are rigged against them, they will go elsewhere, and word spreads very quickly. A crap game or casino can be dead in a matter of hours, and once dead, it stays dead. So, as with his bootlegging, Meyer Lansky found himself in an illegal enterprise where enduring success depended on being honest” (p186). 

In short, in Lansky’s casinos, just like in the crooked ones, the high rollers would ultimately lose their money. But, unlike in the crooked casinos, they would be fleeced fair and square – and hence keep coming back eagerly for more. 

Lansky took pride in running a clean operation. For all their illegality, and the sinfulness of gambling, his carpet joints were essentially bourgeois establishments” (p143). 

Indeed, it was Lansky’s reputation for probity that led General Bastista, the then-dictator of pre-revolutionary Cuba, to invite Lansky to take control of the Cuba’s lucrative casino gambling operations so as to ensure that the games were fair and hence counter negative publicity in America that had resulted from the fleecing of American tourists. 

In accordance with his carefully-cultivated semi-respectable image, Lansky naturally sought to distance himself from other, less reputable, criminal activities besides his chosen vocation of gambling. 

Interestingly, this included not only victimful and violent crimes such as robbery and murder, but also other so-called victimless crimes besides gambling itself, such as prostitution and narcotics. Thus, Lacey reports: 

Throughout his adult career, Meyer Lansky was careful to distance himself from the ‘dirty’ crimes⁠—drugs, prostitution” (p159) 

I haven’t ever dealt in narcotics,” Lacey quotes Lansky as telling a journalist “with a mixture of pride and distaste” (p90).

 As for prostitution, not only did Lansky himself not profit from or involve himself in the trade, but he also strictly forbade prostitutes from frequenting and soliciting within his respectable ‘carpet joint’ casinos.[6]

Yet, ironically, Lansky adduces evidence to suggest that Lansky may have begun his criminal career as a pimp.

The evidence is tentative but tantalizing – each of Lansky’s first appearances before the courts related to violent assaults on women, who themselves, Lacey infers from their addresses, likely worked as prostitutes (p42-3). 

In other words, it appears that Lansky’s pimp hand was strong. 

Frank Costello and ‘Street Activities’ 

However, Lacey’s claim that Lansky was not involved in any other illegal activities besides casino gambling is perhaps brought into doubt by the fact that Lacey also makes a similar claim regarding Lansky’s friend and sometime business partner Frank Costello, claiming that, at least by the 1950s: 

There is no evidence that Frank Costello was involved in street activities like loan-sharking, drug-dealing, or pimping” (p189). 

This, however, in my view, puts the whole matter in some doubt, since, while this claim may indeed be true of Lansky, it cannot be true of Costello, since the latter was, at least according to the orthodox mafia chronology, at this time the ‘boss’ (or, in some versions, merely ‘acting boss’, accounts vary) of what is today known as the Genovese crime family

As boss, Costello probably had no need to directly participate in such activities, and almost certainly didn’t, having no wish to ‘dirty his hands’ or risk implicating himself in such a way. 

However, as boss of an American Mafia family, Costello would automatically be entitled to a cut of profits earned by members or associates of his crime family who did engage in such activities. 

Given that many Genovese family members no doubt did engage is such “street activities” as loan-sharking, and very possibly prostitution and drug-dealing as well, this would mean that Costello did indeed profit from, and hence involve himself, albeit indirectly and at arm’s length, in these activities. 

Lacey’s claim that Costello was wholly uninvolved in such activities is therefore doubtful. 

The Myth of the American Mafia? 

This leads to another topic on which Lacey has an interesting take – namely, the existence and nature of what we today habitually refer to as ‘the American Mafia’. 

A recurrent theme of recent histories of the Mafia, in both its Sicilian incarnation and its American offshoot, is that the Mafia was indeed a real criminal organization, and that those who denied the existence of the Mafia were, at best, naïve and misinformed, but, at worst, corrupt collaborators with, lackeys of and apologists for the Mafia itself. 

This, for example, is a recurrent theme in John Dickie’s history of the Sicilian mafia, Cosa Nostra, as well as its sequels, Blood Brotherhoods and Mafia Republic, where those who claimed that Mafia was not a criminal organization, but rather, in some versions, a mere ‘state of mind’, or ‘attitude of exaggerated individualism and defiance of authority’, come in for repeated condemnation as disingenuous mafia apologists. 

Similarly, in recent histories of the American Mafia, FBI boss J Edgar Hoover invariably comes in for criticism for having long denied the existence of the Mafia during the first half of the twentieth century, before being belatedly forced to change his tune after the much-publicized police raid on the Apalachin meeting of mafia bosses in 1957.[7]

For example, in Selwyn Raab’s long and ponderous history of the New York Mafia, Five FamiliesHarry Anslinger, the then-head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who is today mostly remembered for his hysterically exaggerated claims regarding the malign effects of cannabis, emerges as an unlikely hero, for recognizing the reality of the American Mafia while Hoover himself was still in denial, and not just about his sexuality

Lacey’s position regarding the existence, or non-existence, of the American Mafia is, however, more nuanced than that of most other mafia historians.

Certainly, Lacey does not deny the existence of the American Mafia. On the contrary, he readily acknowledges:

In the course of the last forty years countless law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have shown that America is riddled with local associations of Italian malefactors. Mafia is as good a name for them as any” (p203). 

However, Lacey does question what exactly we mean by the term Mafia.  

Thus, he argues that, contrary to popular perception, the American Mafia is not a nationally-organized criminal conspiracy, or, as it was popularly termed, a ‘national syndicate’, but rather a combination of many different local criminal conspiracies and syndicates.  

These disparate local criminal structures and networks may share a common culture, a common vocabulary and even a similar structure. For example, they may use similar terms to refer to one another (‘made guy’, ‘associate’, ‘boss’) and have similar or identical initiation rituals to induct new members.[8]

However, the American mafia is not and never was a single organization with a single nationwide hierarchal structure, as it was sometimes imagined as being. 

Thus, Lacy concludes: 

Hoover’s personal position, that the Mafia did not exist, has proved as erroneous as the Kefauver Committee’s belief in a national conspiracy” (p203). 

Defining ‘The Mafia’ 

Ultimately, then, whether the Mafia exists depends on what we mean by the term ‘the Mafia’. 

Indeed, FBI supremo J Edgar Hoover, long infamous for denying the existence of the American Mafia, took advantage of this semantic pedantry to assert that he had been right all along – ‘the Mafia’ did not exist but La Cosa Nostra very much did and indeed suddenly represented a serious nationwide threat (p293). 

This might sound like mere semantics, but it actually had an element of truth. Thus, as early Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi explained to a disbelieving Senate subcommittee: 

No one who was involved in what outsiders called the Mafia ever actually used the word” (p292).  

Instead, Mafia insiders in America referred, not to the Mafia, but to Cosa Nostra’which has been variously translated into English as either ‘Our thing’ or ‘This Thing of Ours’. 

However, to compound confusion, the FBI then decided to invent a new term of its own coinage – namely, not ‘Cosa Nostra’, but La Cosa Nostra, henceforth abbreviated to LCN in FBI documents (p293). 

Unfortunately, however, this was not only a term never actually used by mafia insiders (nor indeed, as far as I am aware, by anyone else prior to its adoption, or perhaps invention, by the FBI), but also made no grammatical sense whatsoever in the original Italian, translating to roughly ‘The Our Thing’ (Five Families: p136). 

The ironic result, Lacey observes, is that: 

After all the arguments, the FBI dedicated itself to the pursuit of an entity which literally did not exist” (p293). 

The Kefauver Committee and the Myth of the American Mafia 

Why then, in Lacey’s view, have American perceptions of Italian-American organized crime been so skewed and mistaken? 

Lacey places the ultimate blame primarily with the Kefauver committee, a Senate Committee set up to investigate organized crime in America in the 1950s, which, he argues, was responsible for several “fundamental and enduring misconceptions” about American organized crime, in particular the notion that American organized crime was a nationally organized criminal conspiracy (p203).  

Why then did the Kefauver Committee come to reach this strange conclusion, so contrary, at least in Lacey’s telling, to the evidence presented at its own hearings? 

Lacey proposes that the committee was itself institutionally predisposed to such a conclusion: 

As a national, federally constituted body… the committee was predisposed to a singular nationwide explanation” (p203). 

Indeed, not only was the Committee institutionally predisposed to just such a conclusion, it also, Lacey suggests, had a vested interest in depicting American organized crime in this manner. 

The Kefauver committee had no choice but to reach such a conclusion, for if organized crime was not fundamentally a matter of interstate commerce, then what business did an arm of the Senate have lavishing so much time and attention on the subject?” (p203). 

Thus, the Committee’s full title was The United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, and, if interstate commerce were not involved, then organized crime would properly be the province, not of the Senate and Federal government, but rather of individual state governments and legislatures. 

In other words, if the committee had not decided as it did, it would have undermined the very constitutionality of its own remit.

The Commission: Intergovernmental or Federal

Yet, as we have seen, even Hoover was belatedly changed to change his tune with regard to the existence of the Mafia (or, at least, of ‘La Cosa Nostra’) after the Appalachin meeting of gang bosses from across America of 1957. Did not this meeting, and other similar nationwide meetings between organized crime bosses from different parts of the country, prove that the Mafia did indeed exist as a nationwide criminal organization? 

Lacey thinks not. He acknowledges the abundant evidence that, at meetings such as that at Appalachin

Gang leaders [from different parts of the country] might meet from time to time for sit-downs at which they would sort out disputes over territory and common threats” (p66). 

However, Lacey is adamant in maintaining: 

While local groupings of mafiosi can generate quite active links between each other, they do not constitute, and have never constituted, a centrally, almost corporately structured organization such as the one the Kefauver Committee led America to believe existed” (p204). 

Thus, to draw an analogy with international relations, the Mafia’s so-called National Commission, though it certainly existed, seems to been more intergovernmental than federal, let alone unitary or centralized, in its powers and structure.[9]

In other words, it is more analogous to the United Nations or League of Nations than to, say, US federal government or even the European Union

Certainly, it had prestige and, in a world of illegitimate activities, even, within criminal circles, a certain perverse perceived ‘legitimacy’.[10]

However, as Stalin is said to have contemptuously remarked of the Pope, it commanded no divisions (nor any ‘crews’, capos or soldiers) of its own.[11]

Boss of Bosses’? 

What then of claims made that a single figure is boss of bosses throughout America? 

Various figures, at various times throughout the twentieth century are said to have attained this position, including, in chronological order Giuseppe MorelloJoe MasseriaSalvatore Maranzano and Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano. Yet, if there was no nationwide organization, then how could there ever be a single nationwide boss of bosses

Thus, some mafia authors have claimed that the very term capo di tutti i capi is a media invention, that has never actually been used by mafiosi themselves, let alone actually existed as a position in America or Sicily. 

Actually, however, the title capo di tutti i capi does not appear to have been entirely a myth. It does indeed appear to have been used by mafia insiders of certain influential figures during the history of twentieth century organized crime in America. 

For example, in his remarkable study of the early history of Italian-American organized crime in America, The First Family, historian Mike Dash reports that the title predates both Masseria and Maranzano and was first bestowed upon Giuseppe Morello at the dawn of the twentieth century. 

However, the meaning accorded by this title may have been rather different than that presumed by many popular historians and true crime writers. 

Thus, while the title capo di tutti i capi may indeed have been periodically claimed by, or bestowed upon, certain especially powerful and influential bosses, such a figure was, a best, first among equals vis a vis the bosses of other families.  

In this light, Lacey describes the differing approaches of, on the one hand, Salvatore Maranzano, and, on the other, Charles Lucky Luciano, when each was said, successively, to have assumed this position.  

Maranzano, Lacey reports, seems to have wanted to “extend his authority beyond the confines of New York City” and become, if not the nationwide head of the America Mafia, then at least “some sort of northeastern ‘boss of bosses’” (p66). 

Thus, like his rival, Joe ‘The Boss’ Masseria before him, Maranzano stood accused of attempting to demand a cut from the profits made by other bosses and crime families operating within New York City in return for his protection

However, Luciano’s intentions were, it seems, more modest. Thus, Lacey quotes Bonanno family boss Joe Bonanno as observing in his self-serving autobiography:  

Luciano… mainly wanted to be left alone to run his enterprises… He was not trying to impose himself on us as had Masseria. Lucky demanded nothing from us” (p66). 

Thus, Lacey concludes: 

The fundamental rule was live and let live – laissez-faire, the unstructured free market principle upon which the country’s legitimate business had long been founded” (p66). 

Luciano was, then, a true American laissez-faire capitalist. 

Mafia Ranks and Hierarchy?

Indeed, according to Lacey, ‘boss of bosses’ is not the only mafia title that has been misinterpreted by authors, senate committees and law enforcement. On the contrary, Lacey argues that the entire hierarchal structure of Cosa Nostra is in fact something of a myth. 

Thus, Lacey argues, just as the Kefauver committee, as a national legislative body, was predisposed to see a nationwide criminal conspiracy, so law enforcement were predisposed to seeing a hierarchical, bureaucratic and semi-military structure analogous to their own.

Thus, Lacey suggests that the hierarchal charts that famously adorn law enforcement walls in movies, television and real-life, and which attribute to Mafiosi such supposed Mafia ranks as ‘soldier’, capoconsigliere and underboss, reflected less real mafia ranks and relationships than they did: 

The bureaucratic and semimilitary cast of thought prevailing in the average police office. Everybody had a rank, and they did little justice to the confused, fluid, and essentially entrepreneurial character of most criminal activity” (p293). 

Thus, describing the criminal organization of Lansky’s ostensible model, and, according to Lacey, “the archetype of what would become known in America as organized crime” (p48), namely Arnold Rothstein, the man who is famed for supposedly fixing the 1919 World Series (even though, according to Lacey, he was not directly involved: p48; p460 n14), Lacey writes: 

The essence of organized crime as perfected by Arnold Rothstein was not structural organization as the conventional world knew it. It was, rather, the absence of structure… This was not the integrated empire of a czar or a JP Morgan. Such comparisons fail to grasp the secrecy and nimbleness necessary to success in organized crime… Each of Rothstein’s deals was separate, flexible, detached. His protegés and partners might operate individually or together. It was a question of what worked” (p50). 

In short, Lacey concludes: 

The secret of his organization was the lack of it” (p50). 

Like his early mentor, Lansky was to operate the same way: 

True to the example of his Arnold Rothstein, [Lansky’s] organization lay in the absence of structure… He kept the paperwork in his own head” (p54-5). 

Thus, in Lacey’s telling, what the authorities invariably failed to grasp about the nature of organized crime relationships was that they were based ultimately, not in hierarchy, but in partnership.[12]

As a consequence of this misunderstanding, Lacey notes the difficulty that early Mafia turncoat Joe Valachi had in explaining to senators that ‘soldiers’ received no salary from their boss or family, but rather, on the contrary, were expected to pay their boss a cut of what they themselves made (p293).
 
Lacey also notes the difficulty of fitting the non-Italian Lansky into this hierarchical scheme (p292). 

Ostensibly, Lansky, as a non-Italian and hence ineligible for membership, was a mere ‘associate’. However, even Lacey, who argues that Lansky’s power and importance in the American Mafia has been much exaggerated, admits that to describe Lansky as a mere ‘associate’ is not to do him justice.[13]

The Kosher Nostra?

Another mafia myth Lacey purports to debunk is the notion: 

The early thirties saw America’s gangsters became overwhelmingly Italian” (p65). 

In response, Lacey points out: 

This makes no allowance for the flourishing in New York City, throughout this period and beyond, of Dutch Schultz, Lepke Buchalter, Jake ‘Gurrah’ Shapiro, and Benny Seigel… who were responsible for more deaths between them than Lucky Luciano and all the Padrones in the Castellammarese Wars” (p65). 

It is certainly true that Italian-American organized crime has been much mythologized in the popular media at least since the latter part of the twentieth century, to the almost complete exclusion of organized crime involving criminals of other ethnicities. 

Jewish American organized crime, in particular, seems to have been largely ignored in Hollywood films, Sergio Leone’s masterful Once Upon a Time in America representing a notable exception. This is perhaps a reflection of the fact that so many Hollywood movie moguls were Jewish, and hence had little desire to feed into familiar anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as dishonest or as criminals.[14]

Yet, before the 1930s, organized crime in early twentieth century New York seems to have been, if anything, more Jewish-dominated then Italian-dominated, with figures such as Arnold Rothstein and Dutch Schultz representing perhaps the predominant prohibition-era bootleggers in New York City. 

Actually, however, I suspect that the popular perception which Lacey purports to debunk – namely that “the early thirties saw America’s gangsters became overwhelmingly Italian” – is not so much false, as about five or ten years premature. 

Thus, of the examples of Jewish criminals cited by Lacey in this passage, Schultz was assassinated in 1935, apparently on the orders of Italian organized crime figures who increasingly viewed him as a liability, and Murder Inc, the predominantly Jewish hitmen supposedly responsible for his assassination (and many others), not only took their orders from the Italian Albert Anastasia and the rest of the five families, but were, at any rate, themselves broken up by law enforcement in the early 1940s. 

Siegel, meanwhile, was assassinated in 1947, and, unlike the Italian-American mafia families that survived and flourished over several generations of leadership changes over the course of the twentieth century, the criminal organizations of Schultz and Siegel did not outlive their leaders.[15]

Meanwhile, looking outside of New York, the predominantly Jewish Purple Gang in Detroit imploded through internal warfare in the 1930s. 

Thenceforth, Jews like Lansky operated largely as adjuncts to Italian-American crime syndicates, not independent powers in and of themselves as Schultz and Rothstein had been.  

Only in Las Angeles, with a relatively small Italian-American population, and where the much-maligned Mickey Mouse Mafia was long perceived as weak, were Jewish racketeers like, first, Bugsy Seigel, and, later, Mickey Cohen, able to give the Italians a run for their money into the mid-twentieth century. 

This is a process known to sociologists and criminologists as ethnic succession theory, whereby, over the course of the twentieth century, successive waves of new immigrants replaced previous waves, not only in the urban ghettos where they resided, but also in the organized crime rackets that they successively inherited and came to control.[16]

Thus, in New York, organized crime was first dominated by the Irish in the nineteenth century, then, around the turn of the century, Jews started to attain dominance. Jews were then displaced by the Italians, who are now themselves now largely giving way to blacks and Latinos

This chronology, of course, represents a gross over-simplification.  

For one thing, the most recent incumbents in this chain of inheritance, namely American blacks, been resident in America rather longer than many of the Anglos, let alone most of the Italians, Irish Catholics and Jews. At most, they were internal migrants, having arrived in norther cities by fleeing the Jim Crow South in a series of so-called Great Migrations over the course of the twentieth century. 

Yet, even when Francis Ianni published Black Mafia: Ethnic Succession in Organized Crime in 1974, he was widely ridiculed for his claim that blacks, together with Latinos, were the rising force in organized crime in America.

In short, African-American dominance in organized crime has been long in gestation.[17]

For another thing, there have been people of many other ethnicities, besides Irish, Jews, Italians, blacks and Latinos, who have also been involved in organized crime over the course of the twentieth century.[18]

Finally, there has been considerable overlap in the periods of dominance of the different groups, and, of course, substantial geographic variation too, depending on the ethnic groups present in large numbers in any given area.

For example, the Irish-American Westies remained the dominant organized crime faction in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of New York until at least the 1980s, and, in other parts of America (e.g. Boston), Irish-American dominance may have lasted even longer.

As for Jews such as Lansky, their own period of dominance seems to have been especially short-lived if only on account of their exceptional levels of upward social mobility.

Thus, by the mid-twentieth century, Jews were already, one suspects, as likely to be lawyers, doctors and legitimate businessmen as organized crime figures. 

By the late-twentieth century, meanwhile, Jewish organized crime was all but extinct, only to belatedly re-emerge in the 1990s with a new wave of Russian Jewish immigrants to the Brighton Beach area

Las Vegas: A Gambling Oasis in the Desert 

Another Mafia myth debunked by Lacey is the notion that has Bugsy Siegel as the lone visionary single-handedly responsible for constructing the modern Las Vegas amid the Nevada desert. Actually, according to Lacey, Siegel was almost a latecomer:

In reality, Bugsy followed a trail pioneered by quite a few others. When he arrived in Las Vegas in 1941, there was already one luxurious hotel-casino in the desert… and in December 1942 [it] was joined by an even larger and more luxurious development” (p150). 

Indeed, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported as early as 1946: 

“‘I’m going to build a hotel’ was the stock comment of wealthy visitors to Las Vegas in the early months of peace” (p151). 

Instead, Seigel’s role was altogether more modest: 

Seigel did not invent the luxury resort hotel casino. He did not found the Las Vegas Strip. He did not [even] buy the land or first conceive the project that became the Flamingo. But by his death he made them all famous” (158). 

The conclusion is clear. Although Mafia figures certainly later bought, maneuvered and muscled their way in, the Las Vegas we know today, whether we love or hate it, would have come into being even without the involvement of the American Mafia, though its history may have been less colourful and bloody in the process. 

As for Lansky, Siegel’s friend and sometime partner, his own involvement in Las Vegas was, according to Lacey, even more modest. Thus, after the end of prohibition: 

Las Vegas offered the second great chance in [Lansky’s] life to go legit, but he made no special effort to take it” (p152). 

Thus, the extent of Lansky’s own investment in Vegas casinos was modest, and he remained largely a silent partner, with a minimal investment, allowing Siegel and others to take the leading role. 

Cuban Casinos and the Coming of Castro and the Communists 

Instead of investing heavily in Vegas hotel-casinos, Lansky chose to back a different horse – Cuba, constructing the massive, luxurious Havana Riviera hotel-casino in Havana, apparently in imitation of similar resorts in Vegas. 

At the time, and without the benefit of hindsight, Lansky’s investment actually made a great deal of sense. 

The then President-turned-military-dictator of Cuba, Fulgencio Bastista was indeed a visionary leader, being among the earliest Third World leaders to recognise the wealth and inward investment that a growing international tourist industry could bring to a country like Cuba, known for the beauty of its beaches, its women and its climate. 

Unfortunately, however, Cuba’s visionary leader was overthrown by puritanical communists opposed to gambling, as well as to prostitution, sex tourism and other such fun and healthy recreational activities.

Castro and communist Cuba were, of course, to become long-running headaches for the American government. Yet what is often forgotten is that the Cuban revolution was initially favourably received among most Americans.

Thus, on a visit to America soon after coming to power: 

In New York… Fidel Castro arrived in April 1959 to a hero’s welcome… The young guerrilla leader, charismatic in his beard and fatigues, was hailed as a liberator in the finest Latin American tradition – another Bolívar” (p253).  

Such naivity about incoming totalitarian despots is a recurrent feature of American politics. Previous generations of American journalists, such as John Reed and Walter Duranty, had hailed the Bolshevik revolution as a positive development, and Lenin and Stalin as benign and progressive leaders. Later generations of American journalists were to fall into the same trap again, when they hail Mugabe as a progressive and democratic liberator and freedom-fighter, and the so-called Arab Spring as motivated by support for western-style liberal democracy rather than for theocratic Islamic fundamentalism.

To misquote a famous (mis-)quotation from the philosopher Georg Hegel, we might observe:

The one thing we learn from history is that American left-liberals learn nothing from history’.

In respect of Cuba, among the first to see the writing on the wall was Lansky himself, perhaps because, unlike most Americans, he was present on the ground in Cuba attempting in vain to protect his investment and business interests. He could hardly afford to be as naïve and deluded as his fellow countrymen regarding the true nature of the new regime. 

Thus, it was that Lansky reluctantly took it upon himself to explain the truth about the new Cuban regime to the US government. The representatives of the US government to whom Lansky delivered his carefully prepared presentation were two FBI agents