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 WWII), 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 order 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]

One may, then, question the methods employed by Mori and the Fascists in their repression of the Mafia, which essentially involved employing Mafia-style intimidation and force against the Mafia itself. One may also debate whether the ends justified the means. 

However, the achievement of the regime in suppressing the Mafia surely cannot itself be denied. 

A Benevolent Dictator? 

Mussolini is famously credited with making the trains run on time. 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 Nazism 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. Indeed, the whole notion of exporting nationalism to foreigners is arguably a contradiction in terms.

A nationalist of one nation is no necessarily a 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 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 enacting such laws, and changed his mind only after allying with Hitler, 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 Nazism 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.[7]

If this is intended as a defence of Mussolini, 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. 

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. 

Thus, reading between the lines, Mussolini seems to have been largely indifferent to the fate of the Jews

On the one hand, he ordered the rounding up and deportation of Jews in accord with Nazi orders. However, he also overlooked the refusal of many officials to comply with these orders. 

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 WWII 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, and 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 Nazi 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 from whom he had sought to establish independence and 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 Hitler and Mussolini. 

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 Soviet Union, 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 ‘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 on the value of his famous diaries as an historical source regarding Mussolini’s thinking, and that of his inner-circle, during this crucial 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 he later, in his diaries, criticized 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 noted champion 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 himself was in any way competent. 

History is written, it seems, not so much by the victors, or, at any rate, not only by the victors, as 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 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. Thus, 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 seen as both historically inevitable and envisaged 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 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, even thereafter, and indeed throughout his political life. 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).

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 Nazi patronage.

By then, however, Mussolini was a Nazi puppet, and any socialist pretentions, or indeed pretentions to any sort of action independent of, let alone in defiance to, his Nazi 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 group 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 ofNew 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 Labour’ socialism, 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 Nazi 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.

[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 Hitler’s enemy, the Federal State of Austria, then governed by the ‘AustrofascistFatherland Front, were in attendance.

[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] 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 unsympathetic to biological theories of race and of race differences. Of course, Nazi racial theories were indeed largely 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 the benefit of being testable and hence falsifiable. Indeed, Nazi 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 perhaps Mussoini, which admits exceptions whereby an ethnic Jew can be ‘spiritually’ Aryan and vice versa, seems to me to be wholly unfalsifiable mysticism.

[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.

[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. Unfortunately, however, there was no Second International left to which to remain true.

[10] To be clear, I do not here endorce 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 trevails 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, 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 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 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, and to some extent continues to do so to this day.  

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 (semi-)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 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 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 tedious 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, 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 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). 

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]

Thus, 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). 

Actually, however, I suspect this view – 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.[14]

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.  

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.[15]

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.[16]

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, in New York, the Irish-American Westies remained the dominant organized crime in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood 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 1900s 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 American.

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) 

The one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. American liberals are no exception.

Thus, just as a previous generation of American journalists such as John Reed and Walter Duranty had hailed the Bolshevik revolution, so later generations to hail Mugabe and the so-called Arab Spring as ‘progressive’ liberators. 

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 whom his lawyer had arranged for him to meet in the latter’s office. 

The agents were impressed with Lansky’s presentation. However, predictably, the government took no notice. Although the copious notes made by the FBI agents present were added to Lansky’s FBI file, there is, Lacey reports, no evidence they were ever passed to the State Department or indeed anyone involved in formulating US foreign policy. 

Lansky nefarious reputation simply overshadowed the substantive content of his presentation “such that anyone who accepted what he said at face value risked being labelled tainted or naive” (p256) – and it was one thing to be naïve about Castro and the Cuban communists, quite another to be naïve regarding infamous Jewish-American crime figure Meyer Lansky. 

Lansky was, however, ultimately proven right: 

Subsequent events in Cuba suggested that the FBI might have paid more attention to what Meyer Lansky said… The records of the FBI’s meeting… show with rare clarity, that Meyer Lansky predicted almost exactly what was going to happen in Cuba the best part of a Year before it did” (p256). 

 
Of course, the main victims of the Castro and Cuban communism were the Cubans themselves, condemned to a half-century or more of poverty by the misguided socialism of the ruling regime. Another lesser victim was, however, Lansky himself. 

Thus, Lansky, the consummate gambler, had, in the greatest investment of his life, backed a losing horse. 

Meyer Lansky had staked his personal bankroll solidly on the success of the Riviera – to the exclusion of almost everything else. His spectacular casino-hotel was to be the culmination – and ultimate vindication – of his career… Meyer Lansky had invested much more than his money in the Havana Riviera. He invested himself. He gambled everything – and, as he later put it, ‘I crapped out’” (p257-8). 

Financial Genius? 

Lansky has sometimes been described as the accountant for the Mob’. In reality, ‘The Mob’, as a whole, not being a single homogenous entity, had no single accountant, and, if it did, they would probably have picked someone who was, well… an accountant. 

Thus, Lacey observes: 

The fantasies that depicted Meyer Lansky as the ‘Accountant of the Mob’ misrepresented organized crime as a corporate entity, and they also failed to take note of how much money the accountant in any deal tends to finish up with in real life… The owner of chief executive of a corporation may become a millionaire. The chief financial officer remains on a salary” (p405). 

Another familiar claim is that Lansky was the financial genius behind the Mafia

However, while it is sometimes claimed that Lansky himself was responsible for inventing the process that became known as money laundering, Lacey shows that there is not support for this claim (p304-5).

On the contrary, in laundering his own money, Lansky had his own financial “guru” who advised him on financial affairs and how to invest, namely one Paul Pullman (p306).

The latter, Lacey reports, then fatefully introduced Lansky to his boss, Tibor Rosenbaum – who, investing in a property development in Italy, but bribing the wrong set of corrupt politicians who promptly lost office, managed to lose the entirety of Lansky’s investment. Lacey concludes: 

This episode scarcely suggested that Meyer Lansky could be considered an infallible guide when it came to the dangers and complexities of international high finance” (p309). 

Making money in illegitimate ventures is always easier than making money legitimately, if only because the risk of arrest deters much of the competition, and the threat of violence deters most of the remainder. 

Lansky is therefore skeptical of the oft-repeated claim that, in the words of an unnamed FBI agent quoted in Lansky’s New York Times obituary: 

He [Lansky] would have been chairman of the board of General Motors if he’d gone into legitimate business” (p423). 

Indeed, according to Lacey, Lansky himself “ruefully remarked… more than once” that he had an “unerring ability… to lose money whenever he went legit” (p296). 

In his better moments Meyer managed to laugh at his atrocious sense of timing as a businessman… the millions lost in Cuba, his inability to take legal advantage of Las Vegas, the Bahamas, Atlantic City, or anywhere else that his own game of casino gambling became legal in his later years” (p430). 

Therefore, reviewing the failure of Lansky and his partners’ attempt to make money from a legitimate TV rental business, Lacey concludes: 

The television adventures of Meyer Lansky and his fellow czars of the underworld showed what sort of businessmen they were when the playing field is level” (p172).

This is perhaps unfair. It is a feature even of the careers of many successful entrepreneurs that their careers involve as many failures as successes, especially when they stray outside their main area of business. Successful entrepreneurs tend to be risk-takers, and risks, by their very nature, only sometimes pay off. Their success often seems as much a consequence of perseverance in the face of failure (and of luck) as of pure business acumen. 

Thus, Lansky does seem to have been successful in Cuba, and, to a lesser extent, in Vegas, where casino gambling had been legalized.

However, in Vegas, Meyer had Mafia might behind him, and, in Cuba, Batista’s regime may have provided the muscle necessary to secure Lansky’s monopoly even more effectively than did the Mafia. 

Family 

Some reviewers of Lacey’s book on amazon and goodreads have accused Lacey of producing a whitewash, a biography absolving Lansky of almost all the nefarious, criminal activities of which he has been accused and altogether too favourable to its subject. 

In fact, however, this is only half the story. Although Lacey does indeed suggest that Lansky was not nearly as dangerous, powerful and malign as he has been made out to be in other popular accounts, he also reduces Lansky to a rather marginal, insignificant figure in the history of American organized crime. 

If, in Lacey’s account, Lansky loses much of his power, glamour and mystique, he acquires in its place perhaps a certain sympathy. 

If Lansky’s business and criminal career seem to have been hardly the unmitigated success story made out by the popular press and true crime authors, his family life, in comparison, seems to have been virtually an unmitigated disaster. 

There was, Lacey reports, no grand romantic affairs. Any extra-marital affairs were conducted by Lansky with the same secrecy and discretion as that with which he couched his business affairs (p129). 

Lansky’s first wife succumbed to mental illness. Lacey, perhaps unfairly, blames this on Lansky himself, arguing that it was Lansky’s obsessive secrecy regarding his business affairs (necessitated, no doubt, by their criminal nature) that led to his wife’s breakdown. 

Lansky’s first son, Buddy, who seems to have been a primary source for Lacey’s biography, was born with a crippling physical disability and, as a result, never managed to live independently, being supported by his father throughout the latter’s life, and later by charity and the state, before dying in poverty. 

Given his disability, Buddy’s inability to live an independent life was perhaps excusable.  However, no such excuse was available to Lansky’s daughter who, after a short, unsuccessful marriage to a closeted homosexual, and an illegitimate child of unknown paternity who was so handicapped he ultimately had to be institutionalized, became something of a socialite, again on her father’s dime (p268). 

However, showing little gratitude to the father who funded her extravagant lifestyle, she also became an FBI informant against him, albeit providing little of real evidential value if only because of the secrecy with which Lansky hid his business affairs from his family (p269).[17]

Her ultimate betrayal, however, came only after her father’s death when, after her father’s underworld associates had got together to provide her and her disabled brother with a lump sum of $300,000 as a legacy to help them get by, she promptly embezzled the share of her by now severely debilitated disabled brother. 

Only Lansky’s second son, Paul, was something of a success and source of pride to his father, graduating from West Point and having a successful career in the military and then in civilian life. 

He disdained the lifestyle of both his father and his brother, being law-abiding, proudly independent and refusing any gifts from his father, but defiantly insisting on naming his own son Meyer Lansky II. 

He seems, therefore, to have inherited something of his father’s obsessive scrupulousness. 

Unfortunately, this personality trait may also have been implicated in his marital breakdown when it was discovered that, at the same time the FBI spying on and recording the phone calls of Lansky and possibly Paul himself, Paul himself was surreptitiously using expensive surveillance equipment to spy on and record his own family (p353-4). 

When the Honeymoon Was Over 

Lansky’s second marriage seems to have been more successful. However, his children from his first marriage naturally resented their father’s new wife, regarding her as “crude… loud and flashy”, but also stingy and cheap – in short, though Lacey never actually says this, stereotypically Jewish (p277). 

Her adult son, now Lansky’s stepson, caused both parents no little headache. Now relishing and trading on his new status as the ‘son’ of Meyer Lansky, he was ultimately murdered in apparent retaliation for himself killing the (actual biological) son of local Miami underworld figure in a barroom brawl (p394-5). 

Meyer’s second marriage also led to what was, at least in Lacey’s telling, perhaps the greatest mistake of Lansky’s long criminal career. This was his decision to take his new bride on an ostentatious new honeymoon, which was reported on by a reported from the New York Sun

As with the fictionalized Frank Lucas in the movie, American Gangster, who, at least in the film version, attracted law enforcement attention by attending a Muhammed Ali fight dressed in an expensive fur coat and occupying front-row seats, Lansky had made the fatal mistake of engaging in conspicuous consumption to impress his new wife. 

For whatever reason… Meyer had broken the cardinal rule that he had laid down to Vinnie Mercurio: ‘You must not advertise your wealth’” (p176). 

Previously, Lansky had had little problem complying with this advice. After all, Lacey reports: 

Meyer had genuintly sober tastes… [and] indulged none of the extravagance which characterized many… ‘hoodlums’” (p285-7). 

Unfortunately, however, this one extravagance was the beginning of the end for Lansky’s anonymity. Until that honeymoon, Lacey reports: 

Lansky’s name had only been mentioned, almost in passing, in occasional articles lists New York racketeers and gangsters… usually as an associate, and, by implication, something of a sidekick to underworld stars like Luciano and Bugsy Siegel. But with his appearance on the front page of the New York Sun and his first ever newspaper photograph, Lansky was starting on the path to becoming an underworld star in his own right” (p176). 

The price of fame, however, was a heavy burden to pay. While Lacey also suggests that Lansky sometimes rather relished his media infamy and reputation as a major mafia mogul, the negative consequences of his reputation surely, in the long-term, far outweighed any superficial boost to his ego. 

The result was endless years of law enforcement harassment and failed prosecutions, even as Lansky entered his dotage, finally culminating when even the Israeli government, despite its infamously broad, and overtly racially discriminatory, law of return, rejected his application for citizenship. 

Mafia Millions? 

Hank Messick, who launched a literary career out of mythologizing Lansky, described the diminutive Lansky as: 

Boss of the Eastern Syndicate and probably the biggest man in organized crime today” (quoted: p311).

In the course of the same article, he claimed: 

Lansky’s wealth is reliably estimated at $300 million” (quoted: p311). 
 

However, after the millions lost in Cuba, Lacey himself estimates Lansky’s wealth rather more modestly: 

Meyer would have had a hard job listing realizable assets and cash resources that stretched as far as $3 million” (p312). 

Indeed, even Messick himself later backed away from the figure he had earlier cited, insisting, in an interview conducted with Lacey: 

It was not my figure. It came from an expert who was supposed to know what he was talking about” (p311).[18]

For his part, Lansky himself affected to envy Messick the money the later made out of writing about him, on the one occasion they actually met remarking, “You ought to pay me half the money that you’ve made writing about me” (p315).

As for the claim, “We’re bigger than US Steel” – a quotation so famous it got into the script for The Godfather II – Lacey traces the origin of this quote to an FBI bug.

Lansky was, it seems, watching “a documentary… on organized crime, followed by a discussion among a studio panel of experts” (284). 

Meyer sat in silence… until one of the panellists ‘referred to organized crime as only being second in size only to the government itself’. Lansky remarked to his wife that organized crime was bigger than US Steel” (p284). 

The transcript was all that remained, the tapes having been recorded over and this transcript “shows that the agent chose to paraphrase” (p284).

Yet the context of the remark seems to suggest it was made sarcastically and in disbelief, and certainly concerned organized crime as a whole rather than Lansky’s, or even the Mafia’s, own operations alone. However, Lacey reports: 

By the time that Lansky’s comment was made public five years later… it had also been subtly altered: ‘We’re bigger than US Steel’” (p294). 

Antisemitism? 

For his part, Lansky himself tended to blame the law enforcement harassment and media attention that he received on antisemitism. 

Indeed, anti-Semitism seems to have been something to which Lansky was hypersensitive, perhaps even paranoid, having something of a persecution complex.[19]

Indeed, Lacey even interprets Lansky as blaming the Israeli Supreme Court’s refusal to allow his appeal against the decision not to grant him amnesty as evidence of antisemitism, Lansky being quoted in a newspaper in Israel as lamenting ruefully after his courtroom defeat “a Jew has a slim chance in the world” (p351). 

In this court case, even Lansky’s relative lack of serious criminal convictions was perversely turned against him, being cited as evidence of his power and hence untouchability, the state attorney arguing that: 

The slight and comparatively trivial nature of Meyer Lansky’s criminal record… was no indication of his innocent, argued the state attorney. On the contrary, it confirmed his guilt, since it was in the nature of US organized crime that those who were masterminds of criminal activity should insulate themselves from its practical execution. This meant that they were seldom caught, and, when brought to justice, tended to escape conviction. It followed, therefore, that those who were the most culpable usually had the fewest convictions – so the very lack of solid evidence against Meyer Lansky must, in fact, be considered the strongest possible evidence against him” (p343-4).[20]

Certainly, the popular image of Lansky, as a shadowy and sinister criminal mastermind, dominating organized crime from behind the scenes, is indeed disturbingly redolent of familiar antisemitic canards: 

Often hinted at, if seldom explicitly stated, Meyer Lansky’s Jewishness was an important part of his mystique” (p313). 

Interestingly, Lacey even posits Lansky as the ultimate prototype for the archetypical Bond villain

Unprepossessing little men, for the most part, they terrorized with the power of their minds… and to judge from their names, could never be mistaken for WASPsBlofeld, Stromberg, Dr Julius, Drax” (p313).[21]

Criminal Mastermind? 

If he was not then as rich and powerful as the popular imagination suggested, was Lansky indeed then the evil genius and criminal mastermind that he was so often credited as being? 

Certainly, Lansky seems to have been good with figures. His cellmate during his only substantial spell of incarceration recalls how, presumably to relieve the boredom of incarceration, Lansky would demonstrate his remarkable speed and accuracy at arithmetic (p209). 

Lansky also, Lacey reports, had a remarkable memory, which facilitated the expedient of not having to write anything down where it could be used as evidence against him. 

In a world without filing cabinets, Meyer Lansky’s genius [was] the ability to act as a human cash register and ledger book in the succession of shifting partnerships and deals” (p53). 

However, having a good head for figures and a good memory is hardly evidence of genius. Many people employed as bookmakers, for example, develop quick computation skills, and likewise rote-memory is not an especially g-loaded cognitive ability. 

Certainly, his criminal associates tended to be overawed by Lansky’s alleged intellect. 

However, someone else who got to known Lansky well, concluded that, though “reasonably sharp and quick-witted” (p327), Lansky “was not intelligent” (p339).

This was the opinion, perhaps tellingly, not of a criminal, but of a lawyer.

Perhaps then Lansky was regarded as an intellectual heavyweight only by dint of comparison with the company he kept. 

Thus, Lacey, a Cambridge-educated historian, notes with subtle but unmistakable intellectual snobbery the amazement of Lansky’s fellow criminals, Bugsy Seigel and Joe Adonis: 

Can you believe it? He’s even a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club” (p4). 

Daniel Seligman in his popular science book, A Question of Intelligence, notes that John Gotti, later to become a particularly infamous boss of the powerful New York-based Gambino crime family, when given an IQ test while still at school, had “tested at 110”. 

Since IQs are normed by reference to an average score of 100, with a standard deviation of about 15 points, a score of 110 is above average, but well within the normal range. Therefore, Seligman concludes: 

“[Since] criminals tend to have IQs clustered around 90, in a sense, then, you can think of Gotti’s rise to mob stardom as basically concordant with the general rule that smart people get to the top” ( A Question of Intelligence: p35).[22]

In general, criminals tend to have low IQs because ultimately crime, even serious organized crime, is not an especially smart career choice in the long-term, especially for someone with sufficient smarts to be successful in an alternative career where s/he does not run the risk of imprisonment.[23]

Thus, ultimately, Lansky’s refusal to ‘go straight’ either at the end of prohibition or in Vegas with its legalized gambling turned out to be his greatest mistake – since it was, ironically, those organized crime figures who didgo legit’ who ultimately amassed the sort of wealth and power which Lansky himself possessed only in the imaginings of those ‘pulp nonfiction’ writers whom Lacey so disparages. Thus, Lacey reports the irony whereby:

In reality, Dutch Schultz, Benny Siegel, Joe Adonis, Frank Costello, and Lucky Luciano all died without much money to their names. The millionaires of their generation were Moe Dalitz, Morris Klienman, and the other moguls of Las Vegas – the truly clever ones who went straight” (p405).  

Endnotes

[1] Carlos Marcello, the boss of the New Orleans crime family, most famous for his supposed role in the assassination of John F Kennedy, was the only major American organized crime figure, to my knowledge, widely known by the sobriquet ‘The Little Man’.

[2] Indeed, such is the quality and accuracy of some research and writing in this genre that, as with the word ‘true’ in the genre ‘true crime’, one might argue that the phrase ‘pulp nonfiction’ is inaccurate in so far as it implies that the content of such work is indeed anything other than fictional. Books outside the ‘true crime’ genre that might also qualify as ‘pulp nonfiction’ include conspiracy theory books and many celebrity biographies.

[3] While the role of Luciano and the American Mafia in the invasion of Sicily may be a myth, it does seem to be true that many figures associated with the Sicilian Mafia did take advantage of the American invasion by offering themselves up as translators and aides to the American invaders. Also, some Sicilian Mafiosi, imprisoned by the authorities during the fascist regime’s campaign to crush the Mafia for their Mafia associations and activities, seemingly succeeded in passing themselves off as anti-fascists, imprisoned instead for anti-fascist activities. In so doing, they managed to secure influential appointments as mayors in some Sicilian towns and villages. This alliance between Mafia and America was later institutionalized when the Southern Italian mafias found themselves elevated in American eyes to the lesser of two evils in an unholy alliance against the perceived communist threat in Italy during the Cold War. Here, again, however, exaggerated conspiracy theories abound, especially regarding Operation Gladio and the supposed culpability of the CIA for terrorist attacks during Italy’s Years of Lead

[4] Some true crime writers have even proposed that the Mafia themselves deliberately set the vessel afire in order to force the authorities to approach the imprisoned Luciano and hence enable to him offer his assistance in return for early release. However, the idea that Mafia figures would have anticipated that a fire onboard the vessel would somehow lead to the government making contact and conducting negotiations with the organized crime figures who controlled the docks, something that would have appeared beforehand to be an obviously improbable scenario (even if something similar did indeed ultimately come to pass), is obviously preposterous.

[5] In Lacey’s defence, it seems that he only became aware of just how marginal Lansky was to organized crime in America for most of the twentieth century as he researched his biography. Before undertaking his research, he had apparently believed the hype.

[6] The term ‘carpet joint’, refers to a relatively upmarket casino, though without glamour of later Vegas casinos, and is used to distinguished such an establishment from a less pretentious ‘sawdust joint’.

[7] Various conspiracy theories have been formulated to explain Hoover’s refusal in investigate the Mafia, usually involving either gambling debts owed to Mafia bookies or the Mafia supposedly having dirt regarding Hoover’s alleged homosexuality (see Potter 2006 Queer Hoover: Sex, Lies, and Political History Journal of the History of Sexuality 15(3): 355-381). Indeed, some versions even have Lansky himself possessing incriminating photographs of Lansky engaged in homosexual activities, Lansky being quoted as bragging, I fixed that sonofabitch.
More prosaically, and perhaps more realistically, it is suggested that Hoover simply did not want his FBI agents to become corrupted by mafia bribes, as he rightly feared would result from their investigating non-political profit-oriented organized crime. Thus, Selwyn Raab writes: 

Hoover’s reluctance to seriously challenge the Mafia stemmed from three main factors, according to former FBI agents and criminal-justice researchers. First was his distaste for long, frustrating investigations that more often than not would end with limited success. Second was his concern that mobsters had the money to corrupt agents and undermine the bureau’s impeccable reputation. And third, Hoover was aware that the Mob’s growing financial and political strength could buy off susceptible congressmen and senators who might trim his budget” (Five Families: p89).  

At any rate, since, at least according to Lacey, the American Mafia, far from being a nationwide conspiracy, is predominantly organized at the local level, one might question whether organized crime is indeed within the remit of a federal law enforcement authority, though no doubt some Mafia crimes did indeed cross state boundaries. 

[8] However, even these similarities may be exaggerated. For example, bemoaning law enforcement’s overreliance on (and overgeneralization from) what they were told by a few relatively low-level informants like Joe Valachi, who knew little, at first hand, about crime elsewhere, Lacey observes observes that:

Valachi was only a comparatively minor figure in one subgroup of New York Italian criminals. The strength of his testimony was that he had had firsthand experience of life in this group. His weakness was that he knew little, at first hand, about crime elsewhere – in Chicago, for example, Capone’s successors talked neither of ‘Cosa Nostra’ or ‘Mafia’, but of ‘The Outfit” (p292). 

Indeed, the Chicago Outfit, founded by predominantly non-Sicilian Italian-Americans like Big Jim Colosimo, Johnny Torrio and Capone, was initially a very different beast to the five families of the New York Metropolitan area. Initially, at least, it was said to have lacked the initiation rituals of the New York families altogether.

[9] Indeed, the so-called National Commission, not only existed, but may have been rather older than it is usually credited as having been. Its origins are usually traced, in most Mafia histories, to the end of the Castellammarese War in 1931, under either Maranzano or Luciano, though the idea for a National Commission is sometimes attributed to Johnny Torrio or sometimes even Lansky himself. However, in his remarkable book The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia, historian Mike Dash adduces evidence that the commission, under the name ‘the Council’ actually existed almost twenty years earlier, being established, he concludes “some time before 1909”.

[10] The use of the term ‘legitimacy’ may seem exaggerated, but this is exactly how mafiosi saw it. Thus, in FBI agent Joe Pistone’s account of his work as an undercover agent posing as an associate in the Bonnano crime family, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, when fellow undercover agent Edgar Robb (alias Tony Rossi) enquires as to what is precisely the advantage of being ‘straightened out’ to become a ‘made guy’ or ‘wiseguy’ (i.e. a member of the mafia), their sponsor Benjamin ‘Lefty’ Ruggiero explodes:

Donnie, don’t you tell this guy nothing? Tony, as a wiseguy, you can lie, you can cheat, you can steal, you can kill people—legitimately. You can do any goddamn thing you want and nobody can say anything about it. Who wouldn’t want to be a wiseguy?” (Donnie Brasco: p360)

[11] Thus, whatever its pretensions and theoretical powers, the National Commission, rather like the United Nations or earlier League of Nations, possesses no monopoly on the use of force, quite the contrary, and is therefore obliged to rely for enforcement of its edicts on the cooperation of its constituent members (i.e. individual crime families).
Another way of putting this is to say that crime families, like nation states, exist, vis a vis one another in a Hobbesian ‘state of nature, without a central authority, sovereign or ‘leviathan’ exercising a monopoly on the use of force.
Of course, in respect of crime families, this analysis is complicated by the fact that, of course, the American government does exist and, at least in theory, does claim a monopoly on the use of force. However, it is, of course, the fact that this ostensible monopoly on the use of force is, in practice, far from absolute, that allows organized crime syndicates and other violent criminal enterprises to survive and flourish.

[12] Indeed, even protection rackets offer a form of partnership, the extortioner offering protection, not just from himself but also from other extortionists, in exchange for a fee or cut of the profits. However, perhaps the better analogy here would be with the concept of tribute and fealty which governed the relationships between different ranks of rulers under feudalism. On this view, the so-called mafia operates as a sort of shadow government, which provides services, especially the maintenance of order, in return for taxes (or protection money). 

[13] Of course, there is today ample evidence, in the form of both turncoat testimony and wiretap recordings, of mafiosi themselves using such terms as ‘soldier’, ‘capo’, ‘consigliere’ and ‘underboss’ to refer to one another. Perhaps, however, this was a later development, or even a case of life imitating art, as mafiosi, themselves often avid viewers of mafia films, themselves adopted the terminology used first by the police and then later in movies. At any rate, it is clear that terms such as soldier and boss had very different meanings for mafiosi than for senators.

[14] Interestingly, even before his assassination, Schultz had taken the step of converting to Catholicism, something interpreted by many biographers and mafia historians as an attempt to ingratiate himself with Italian-American mafiosi, especially Luciano, who were already coming to dominate organized crime in the city. This decision may then have reflected a recognition on Schultz’s part of the changing demographics and ethnic power balance in New York organized crime. 

[15] Others have argued that African-American organized crime has existed since the early-twentieth century, but, for whatever reason, has attracted less attention and publicity (e.g. Lombardo 2002 The Black Mafia: African-American organized crime in Chicago 1890–1960 Crime, Law and Social Change 38: 33–65 ). This seems to be true. However, until the last few decades of the twentieth century, African-American organized crime groups and figures seem to have been, in general, relatively less powerful, wealthy and politically-connected than equivalents of other ethnicities. 

[16] For example, the so-called Dixie Mafia in the South were composed of white Southerners. Meanwhile, even in, for example, Chicago, where ethnic succession theory seems to be broadly applicable, Murray Humphries of the Chicago outfit was of Welsh descent, and George ’Bugs’ Moran of the rival North-Side Gang was apparently of French-Canadian ancestry.
It might be noted here that surnames are not an accurate indicator of the ethnicity of American crime figures, many organized crime figures not so much ‘anglicizing’ their names as, if you like, Irish-izing them. Thus, just as George ’Bugs’ Moran had been born Adelard Leo Cunin, but adopted the Irish-sounding surname Moran, so Paul Kelly, leader of the infamous early-twentieth century Five Points Gang, though possessing the quintessentially Irish surname of Kelly, was actually born, Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli; while, Jack McGurn, the ostensible choreographer of the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, had been born Vincenzo Antonio Gibaldi – both Kelly and Mcgurn supposedly first adopting Irish names to further their boxing careers. Frank Costello, born Francesco Castiglia, confused this pattern somewhat by choosing an Irish surname that nevertheless actually sounds more Italian than Irish

[17] According to her FBI handlers, she blamed her father for having her mother committed in order to marry his second wife, something that was untrue, but which, Lacey suggests, given her age at the time, she might have been forgiven for believing (p269-70).

[18] Lacey responds rather incredulously, “It is difficult to imagine who this expert could have been” (p311), and concludes “It is impossible to square the figure with anything that is known or can reasonably be imagined about the finances of Meyer Lansky” (p312). 

[19] For example, in a private conversation with the eponymous Estes Kefauver (of Kefauver Committee fame) where he challenged Kefauver as to why he and his committee were so concerned about the victimless crime of gambling, even though Kefauver himself was known to gamble, and Kefauver responded that he had no problem with gambling as such, but only with “you people” controlling it, Lansky chose to interpret that phrase “you people” as a racial remark, and retorted “I will not allow you to persecute me because I am a Jew” – even though, at least according to Lacey, by “you people” Kefauver almost certainly meant, not Jews (nor Italians), but rather criminals. Of course, the reason criminals control so much of the gambling in the USA is precisely because so many forms of gambling are illegal in puritanical America.

[20] One Israeli law student, who became a friend and champion of Lansky, one Yuram Sheftel (who seems to be the same Yuram Sheftel who later represented the convicted murderer of an Israeli Prime Minister and a Ukrainian-American falsely accused of being a succession of different Nazi war criminals) had advocated a different, more innovative, legal argument on Lansky’s behalf. Sheftel, who organized a petition on Lansky’s behalf, readily conceded that Lansky might have been a powerful American gangster, but maintained: 

Jewish gangsters like Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Waxey Gordon, Doc Stacher – even Lepke Buchalter, a convicted murderer – might have broken the law. But that law, in Sheftel’s eyes, was the law of ‘white Christian countries… based on Christianity, which is the most anti-Semitic phenomenon in history’. ‘I don’t see anything wrong,’ says Sheftel, ‘with a Jewish person breaking the law of countries which were persecuting, murdering, torturing, and discriminating against Jews for the past two thousand years” (p335). 

This argument is odd given both that Jews have thrived and prospered in the USA and other Christian countries and that America has given more aid to Israel than any other country in the world.

[21] Indeed, in the hands of professional anti-Semite David Duke, this unspoken anti-Semitic subtext becomes explicit, Duke claiming in his book My Awakening that, although Italian-American gangsters took most of the heat, it was Jews who were really to blame for the American Mafia, and Lansky himself who who was the worst of the bunch: 

The top law enforcement sources and investigative reporters agreed that Lansky was the master gangster in America. He had been the most powerful person in the American crime syndicates for four decades, yet most Americans – who certainly know the names Al Capone and John Dillinger – have never heard of Meyer Lansky. The most notorious gangster was not Italian; he was in fact Jewish and an ardent supporter of Zionism” (Duke, My Awakening). 

Actually, however, far from Jewish gangsters being the real powers behind the scenes, with Italian criminals merely representing the window dressing, the truth seems to have been, for a long time, almost the exact opposite of this. Thus, in the mid-twentieth century, at the Central Intelligence Bureau, Selwyn Raab reports: 

The consensus among the department’s brass was that Jewish bookmakers were raking in the big bucks as organized crime’s most productive money makers. [NYPD detective Remo] Franceschini got nowhere trying to convince officials that major bookies were not independent and could only operate with the acquiescence of one of the five families” (Five Families: 158). 

On the other hand, Hollywood does indeed seem to have largely ignored the phenomenon of Jewish-American organized crime in the movies. This probably reflects the fact that many Hollywood producers and executives were themselves Jewish and had no wish to feed into familiar antisemitic stereotypes of Jews as dishonest or criminal.
Thus, Italian-American organized crime has featured particularly prominently in Hollywood movies, especially from the middle of the twentieth century onwards. Black crime and Irish American organized crime have also hardly been neglected. However, there are few movies focussing specifically on Jewish-American organized crime, Sergio Leone’s masterful Once Upon a Time in America being a notable exception.
This trend began at the same time the genre itself began in the 1930s with the Warner Brothers gangster cycle. Here, Edward G Robinson made a career for himself playing Italian gangsters, while James Cagney’s characters, although their ethnicity was less explicit, are usually interpreted as being Irish-American. Neither were exactly what they pretended to be. Although Cagney was indeed of predominantly Irish ancestry, he was no archetypal tough guy, but rather a dancer and former female impersonator, and also spoke fluent Yiddish. Robinson, on the other hand, was actually of Jewish ancestry, the ‘G’ initial in his name supposedly standing for his original surname of ‘Goldenberg’. Robinson therefore disguised his Jewish origins by adopting an ‘Anglo’ surname, ironically so as to pursue a career mostly portraying Italians. 

[22] In fact, however, John Gotti, despite his notoriety (or indeed because of it), was a rather inept and unsuccessful crime boss. After all, genuinely smart criminals rarely court publicity as did the infamous ‘Dapper Don’. This only invites law enforcement attention, as John Gotti, like Capone before him, was subsequently to discover. Instead, smart criminals try to keep as low a profile as possible.
An interesting counterpoint to Gotti is his contemporary Vincent ‘The Chin’ Gigante, who reigned as boss of the Genovese family around the same time as Gotti was boss of the Gambinos. Yet, while Gotti invited media attention, Gigante shunned the spotlight, faking mental illness so successfully that he was, at first, genuinely believed by most law enforcement to be largely retired and inactive rather than boss of the most powerful crime family in America.
Interestingly, however, Gigante himself was intellectual heavyweight. According to his biographer, Larry McShane, Gigante had a “recorded IQ just north of 100  a slightly above average score” (Chin: The Life and Crimes of Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante: p6).
Here, it is worth noting that offenders, upon conviction and admission to prison, if not before then so as to present a psychological report in court before sentencing or even before trial, are often given a battery of psychological tests, including of cognitive ability. IQs for convicted criminals are therefore often rather more credible than those cited in respect of celebrities or other public figures.
However, criminals may sometimes deliberately get questions wrong on an IQ test in order to qualify for mitigation of sentence, especially in order to evade the death penalty. Assuming Gigante’s IQ was tested in these circumstances, it is possible he may have faked a low IQ score in order to lend credence to his courtroom defence, whereby his lawyers insisted that he was suffering from dementia. However, if he did, he obviously did not fake dementia very well, given that his score was, according to McShane, slightly above average.

[23] The claim that criminals tend to have low levels of intelligence, as claimed by Seligman, is based largely on the testing of convicted offenders in prisons. An obvious rejoinder is that it is disproportionately the dumber criminals who are successfully convicted. In contrast, one might argue, the smart criminals tend to avoid being successfully prosecuted and thus are less likely to ever see the inside of a prison cell in the first place. However, it is generally agreed that there is nevertheless some correlation between criminal behaviours and IQs in the low normal range.

‘Chosen People’?: A Memetic Theory of Judaism

Kevin MacDonald, A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy, With Diaspora Peoples. Writers Club Press 2002.

Every people claims to be unique and in some sense, of course, the claim is true. But some people are more unique than others.” 

Pierre van den Berghe, The Ethnic Phenomenon (reviewed here).

Ethnocentrism is an innate and pan-human facet of human nature. Every ethnic group therefore regards itself as special and unique (see The Ethnic Phenomenon: which I have reviewed herehere and here).  

Viewed in this light, the Jewish claim to be special and unique (i.e. to be God’s chosen people) is, of itself, not so special and unique. 

However, of all the ethnic groups in the world that claim to be special, Jews perhaps have the best claim to actually being justified in their self-assessment. 

The impact of the Jewish people on world history is vastly disproportionate to their numbers. The two largest world religions, Christianity and Islam, both derive ultimately, in large part, from Judaism, and Jews are vastly overrepresented public intellectuals, Nobel Prize winning scientists, celebrities, millionaire media moguls and multibillionaires

Yet, the most remarkable achievement of Jews is arguably their very survival as a people, despite conquestbanishment, persecution, successive pogroms, the holocaust and almost two thousand years of diaspora, not to mention to the recent trend towards secularization.[1] 

Thus, Kevin Macdonald, in his book ‘A People That Shall Dwell Alone’ (henceforth, ‘PTSDA’), argues: 

From an evolutionary perspective, the uniqueness of… Jews lies in their being the only people to successfully remain intact and resist normal assimilative processes after living for very long periods as a minority in other societies” (p86). 

He therefore concludes: 

They [Jews] are the only group that has successfully maintained genetic and cultural segregation while living in the midst of other peoples over an extremely long period of time… ‘the most tenacious people in history’” (p76). 

Off the top of my head, I can think of only two other groups who might plausibly assert a competing claim to this mantle: 

  1. Upper-caste Hindus, whose ancestors supposedly subjugated India several millennia ago, but who supposedly created the caste system precisely so as to preserve their racial and ethnic integrity; and 
  2. The Romani people (aka Gypsies or Roma), who have lived in Europe for at least several hundred years but have maintained their separate identity and way of life, resisting assimilation into the mainstream. 

Indeed, regarding the former, one might even argue that this complete genetic and cultural segregation applies, not only to upper-caste Hindus, but to all Indian castes, since each is, at least in theory, expected to marry endogamously

Moreover, this applies, not just to the four hierarchically-organized varna, plus the untouchable dalits, but also, again at least in theory, to each of the literally thousands of separate Jāti within each varna scattered across the subcontinent.

As a consequence, castes remain genetically distinguishable even today, with upper-caste Indians having greater genetic affinities with European populations, presumably a reflection of the Iranian, Indo-European origins of the Aryan invaders who settled and subdued the subcontinent, and are thought to have established the caste system (Bamshad et al 2001).

Indeed, to some extent, different castes are even distinguishable phenotypically, with upper-caste Indians having relatively lighter complexions (Jazwal 1979; Mishra 2017). Thus, Varna, the Hindi word for caste, originally derives from the Sanskrit word for ‘colour, possibly being a reference to the lighter complexions of the Aryan invaders.[2]

In this light, it is perhaps no surprise that the second group listed above, namely the Romani (or ‘Gypsies’), themselves also trace their ancestry ultimately to the Indian subcontinent. Therefore, the Romani insistence on maintaining remaining strict separation from the disdained ‘Gadjo’ outgroup, an aspect of their concern for ritual purity and cleanliness, is itself likely an inheritance from the Indian caste system

However, curiously, Macdonald characterizes “the caste system of India” as:

An example of a fairly open group evolutionary strategy… In India wealthy powerful males were able to mate with many lower-status concubines” (p31).[3]

In contrast, Macdonald claims, for Jews, all sexual contact with Gentiles was proscribed (p54-62). 

However, other biblical passages seemingly envisage the forced concubinage of foreign women (e.g. Deuteronomy 20:14Numbers 31:18). 

Macdonald acknowledges this, but argues that “although captured women can become wives, they have fewer rights than other wives”, citing the ease with which the divorce of foreign women captured as spoil is permitted under Deuteronomy 21:14 (p57). 

Similarly, with regard to the admonition in Numbers 31:18 “keep alive for yourselves” Midianite virgins, Macdonald concludes, given the prohibition on actually marrying Midianites which is contained in the very same biblical Book (Numbers 25:6), that the offspring of such sexual unions would be illegitimate: 

The captured women will be slaves and/or concubines for the Israelite males [and] their children would presumably have lower status than the offspring of regular marriages” (p57-8).[4]

However, much the same was true of lower-caste women used as concubines by upper-caste men under the Indian caste system

Thus, in India, the offspring of lower-caste concubines inherit the caste status of their mothers, irrespective of their paternal lineage. Therefore, at least in theory, the practice of concubinage would have no impact on the genetic composition, and ‘racial purity’, of the highest caste-group, namely the Brahmins. 

In short, the concubinage envisaged in the Bible seems directly analogous to that practiced by upper-caste Indians under the caste system

Cultural Group Selection 

In ‘A People That Shall Dwell Alone’ (PTSDA), Kevin Macdonald explains Jewish survival and success through a theory of cultural group selection, whereby he conceptualizes Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy that functions to promote the survival and prospering of Jews throughout the diaspora. 

Macdonald is not here referring to group selection in the strict biological sense. Instead, Macdonald seems to have in mind, not biological, but cultural evolution.  

Thus, although he never uses the term, perhaps on account of an animosity towards Richard Dawkins, the originator of the term, whom he credits with indoctrinating evolutionists against the view that groups have any important role to play in evolution (pviii), we might characterise his theory of Judaism as a memetic theory, in accordance with Richard Dawkins’ concept of memes as units of cultural evolution (see The Selfish Gene: which I have reviewed here). 

PTSDA is, then, a work, not of evolutionary psychology, but of memetics

Dawkins famously described religions as Viruses of the Mind that travel between and infect human hosts just like biological viruses (Dawkins 1993). 

On this view, the success of a religion in surviving and spreading depends partly on its ‘infectiousness’. This, in turn, depends on the behaviours (or ‘symptoms’) that the infection produces in those whom it afflicts. 

Thus, proponents of Darwinian medicine contend that pathogens (e.g. viruses) produce symptoms like coughing, sneezing and diarrhoea precisely because such symptoms enable the pathogen to infect new hosts via contact with the bodily fluids expelled, as part of the pathogen’s own evolutionary strategy to reproduce and spread. 

Indeed, some pathogens even affect the brains and behaviours of their host, in such a way as to facilitate their own spread at the expense of that of their hosts. For example, rabies causes dogs and other animals to become aggressive and bite, which, of course, helps the virus spread to a new host, namely the individual who has been bitten.[5]

Similarly, successful religions also promote behaviours that facilitate their spread. 

Thus, Christians are admonished by scripture to save souls and preach the gospel among heathens; while Muslims are, in addition to this, admonished to wage holy war against infidels.[6]

These behaviours promote the spread of Christianity and Islam just as surely as coughing, sneezing and diarrhoea facilitate the spread of flu or the common cold. 

In short, a religion that commands its adherents to be fruitful and multiply, indoctrinate infants in the faith from earliest infancy, persecute apostates and actively convert nonbelievers will likely enjoy greater longevity than would a religion that commanded its adherents to be celibate hermits and taught that proselytism and having children are both mortal sins.[7]

Christianity and Islam are examples of the former type of religion and, no doubt partly for this reason, have spread around the world from inauspicious beginnings to become the two largest world religions. 

In contrast, religions which forbid proselytism and reproduction are few and far between, probably precisely because, even when they are founded, they do not survive long, let alone spread far beyond their originators. 

Macdonald quotes biologist Richard Alexander as citing the Shakers, an eighteenth-century Christian sect practising strict celibacy, as an example of this latter type of religion – i.e. a religion which, because of its tenets, in particular strict celibacy, has today largely died out (p8). 

In fact, however, a small rump group of Shakers, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, does survive in North America to this day, perhaps because, although celibate, they did apparently proselytize.[8]

In contrast, any religion which renounced both reproduction and proselytism would surely never have spread beyond its original founder or founders and hence never even come to the attention of historians, or theorists of religion like Alexender and Macdonald, in the first place. 

Judaism: A ‘Closed Strategy’ 

Judaism has also survived – indeed rather longer than has either Christianity or Islam. However, its numbers have not grown to the same degree. 

This is perhaps because, unlike Christianity and Islam, it adopted what Macdonald calls a ‘closed strategy’. 

In other words, whereas the Shakers renounced reproduction but practised proselytism, Jews did the exact opposite. 

Thus, the Israelites are repeatedly admonished by scripture to be fruitful and multiply (p51-4), marry within the faith (p54-62) and indoctrinate their offspring as believers from earliest infancy (p326-335). 

However, Jews do not actively seek converts. Likewise, they were forbidden to intermarry with Gentiles (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:3;), and punished for so doing (e.g. 1 Kings 11:1-13). 

It is sometimes claimed that Judaism was once a proselyting religion. However, Macdonald dismisses this as “apologetics”, designed to deflect the charge that, in contrast to the universalism of Hellenism (and later of Christianity), Judaism was a parochial, particularist or even a racist religion (p92). 

Indeed, Macdonald even hints that the decision to admit converts at all reflected a desire to forestall and counter precisely this charge. 

Macdonald therefore characterizes the Jewish strategy as: 

Allow converts and intermarriage at a formal theoretical level, but minimise them in practice” (p97). 

Thus, Rabbinic attitudes towards proselytes fluctuated, at least in Macdonald’s telling, from ambivalent to overtly hostile. Prospective converts to Judaism are traditionally turned away by a rabbi three times before being accepted, required to devote considerable effort to religious study, and, if male, undergo the brutal and barbaric practice of circumcision

However, Jews were not, even in Macdonald’s telling, entirely averse to conversion. On the contrary, according to Macdonald, the Israelites did forcibly convert conquered groups, notably the Galileans and Nethinim, the latter, Macdonald argues, representing the descendants of non-Israelite conquered peoples who were forcibly converted to Judaism. 

However, both these groups were, Macdonald claims, relegated to low status within the Jewish community, and subject to discrimination (p11). 

Indeed, this was, according to Macdonald, true of converts in general, who, even when they were admitted, faced systematic discrimination (p91-113). 

In particular, they were genetically quarantined from the core Jewish population, through restrictive marriage prohibitions, designed to maintain the “racial purity” of the core Jewish population, especially the priestly ‘kohanim’ line descended from Aaron

These restrictions remained in force for many generations, until all evidence of their alien origins had disappeared – an especially long time given the Jewish practice of maintaining genealogies (p119-127). 

Racial Purity” 

Macdonald repeatedly refers to Judaism as designed to conserve the “racial purity” of the group, this very phrase, or variants on it, being used by Macdonald on over twenty different pages.[9]

Thus, for example, it was, Macdonald claims, perceived racial impurity, rather than theological differences, that explained the rift with the Samaritans (p59).[10]

Racial Purity” is, of course, a phrase today more often associated with Nazis than with Jews. However, this apparently paradoxical link between the Jews and their chief persecutors during the twentieth century is, according to Macdonald, no accident. 

Thus, a major theme of Macdonald’s follow-up book, Separation and Its Discontents, is that: 

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, Macdonald claims: 

There is an eerie sense in which National Socialist ideology was a mirror-image of traditional Jewish ideology. As in the case of Judaism, there is a strong emphasis on racial purity and on the primacy of group ethnic interests rather than individual interests. Like the Jews, the National Socialists were greatly concerned with eugenics” (Separation and Its Discontents: p194). 

On other words, Macdonald seems to arguing that 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. 

Jewish Genetics 

So, if the Jewish group evolutionary strategy is indeed focussed on maintaining the ethnic integrity and “racial purity” of the Jewish people, how successful has it been in achieving this end? 

Recent population genetic studies provide a new way to answer this very question. 

As a diaspora community with ostensible origins in the Middle East, but having lived for many generations alongside host populations with whom they were, at least in theory, forbidden to intermarry, save under certain strict conditions, the study of the population genetics of the Jews is of obvious interest to both geneticists and historians, not to mention many laypeople, Jewish and gentile alike.  

Add to this the fact that many leading geneticists are themselves of Jewish ancestry, and it is hardly a surprise that the study of the genetics of contemporary Jewish populations has become something of a cottage industry within population genetics in recent years.[11]

Unfortunately, however, Kevin Macdonald’s ‘A People That Shall Dwell Alone’ was first published in 1994, some years before any of this recent research had been published.[12]

Therefore, in attempting to assess the success of the Jewish population in reproductively isolating themselves from the host populations amongside whom they have lived, Macdonald is forced to rely on studies measuring, not genes themselves, but rather of their indirect phenotypic expression, for example studies of blood-group distributions and fingerprint patterns (p34-40). 

Nevertheless, recent genetic studies broadly corroborate Macdonald’s conclusions, regarding: 

  1. The genetic distinctness of Jews; 
  2. Their Middle Eastern origins; and 
  3. The genetic affinities among widely dispersed Jewish populations – including the Ashkenazi JewsSephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, and perhaps even possibly the Lemba of Southern Africa (but not the Beta Israel of Ethiopia).[13]

However, this is true only with one major proviso – namely, the Ashkenazim, who today constitute the vast majority of world Jewry, trace a substantial part of their ancestry to Southern Europe (Atzmon et al 2010).[14]

Interestingly, comparison of the mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome ancestry of Ashkenazim, passed down the male and female lines respectively, suggests that most of this ancestry ultimately derives from Jewish men marrying (or at least mating with) with Gentile women, and their offspring being incorporated into the Jewish population (Costa et al 2013). 

This is perhaps ironic given that, according to traditional rabbinic law, Jewish identity is, at least in theory, traced down the female line

Economic Success 

Macdonald identifies various elements of the Jewish group evolutionary strategy that have enabled Jews to repeatedly economically outcompete gentile host populations. These include: 

  1. High levels of collectivism and ethnocentrism
  2. Emphasis on education and high-investment parenting (e.g. the stereotypical Jewish mother); 
  3. High levels of Intelligence

Collectivism

Macdonald characterizes Judaism as “hyper-collectivist”, in accordance with the distinction between collectivist and individualist cultures formulated by Harry Triandis in Individualism and Collectivism (p353). 

Collectivist refers to a tendency for a person to regard their group membership, and ethnic identity, as an important part of their identity and to elevate the interests of the group above those of the individual, sometimes to the level of willing self-sacrifice. 

Macdonald regards this tendency towards collectivism and indeed to ethnocentrism as at least partly genetic in origin, although accentuated by rearing practices in which Jews are encouraged to identify with the in-group (p54-62). 

Partly, he claims, this genetic predisposition to collectivism is an inheritance from the Middle East, the region from which Jews trace (some of) their ancestry. In the Middle East, Macdonald claims, all groups are relatively collectivist and ethnocentric, at least compared to Europeans. 

This seems plausible given the tribal structure, and endemic tribal and ethnic conflict throughout much of the Middle East. 

Actually, it would be more accurate to say, not that Middle Eastern populations are especially collectivist or ethnocentric, but rather that Europeans are unusually individualist, since, viewed in global perspective, it is clearly the Europeans who are the WEIRD’ ones.[15]

One might imagine that, at least for the Ashkenazim (and perhaps Sephardi Jews too), both living among Europeans and to some extent acculturating to their norms, not to mention, as we have seen, incorporating a significant proportion of their genes from interbreeding with Europeans, might have accentuated, moderated or diluted these ethnocentric and collectivist impulses, at least as compared to those Middle Eastern populations who remained resident in the Middle East. 

However, Macdonald makes no such concession. On the contrary, he argues that, far from Jews being less collectivist and ethnocentric than other Middle Eastern populations, that Jews actually remain especially collectivist, even as when compared to other Middle Eastern groups. Moreover, he claims that this tendency long predates, though has not been noticeably moderated since, the Exile.[16]

Thus, even in ancient times, Macdonald observes:

Jews alone of all the subject peoples in the Roman Empire engaged in prolonged, even suicidal wars against the government in order to attain national sovereignty… [and] only… Jews, of all subject peoples were exempt from having to sacrifice to the Empire’s Gods, and… were… allowed its own courts and… ex officio government” (p356-8).[17]

This tendency towards ethnocentrism was augmented through strict prescriptive endogamy (i.e. marrying within the group), which increases the level of relatedness between group members, and hence facilitates cooperation and trust (p54-62).

In addition to endogamy, a further factor is a preference for consanguineous marriage (i.e. incestuous marriage), which again increases relatedness within the group, and hence further facilitates cooperation and trust. 

This is, again, like endogamy, a common feature of marriage throughout the Middle East. However, whereas Muslims, Arabs and other Middle Eastern groups typically favour cross-cousin marriage, the Jews, Macdonald reports, extolled, in particular, uncle-niece marriage, a practice probably even more distasteful to contemporary western sensibilities given the likely age-disparity. They were therefore, he reports, sometimes exempted from Christian laws prohibiting such unions (p118-9).[18]

As evidence of Jewish clannishness, Macdonald cites what he calls the ‘double-standards’ that are imposed by Judaic law. 

The most famous example relates to usury. Whereas Christians were forbidden outright to lend money at interest, Jews interpreted the same biblical passages as forbidding only the lending of money at interest to other Jews.[19]

Yet, ironically, this double-standard actually benefited its ostensible victims, since it gave Jews an incentive to lend money to Gentiles in the first place, and the resulting availability of capital for investment was probably a major factor in the economic growth of the West and its rise to world dominance.[20]

Other prohibitions, however, evinced greater economic understanding. Thus, Macdonald reports, Jews were not permitted to encroach upon the monopolies of other Jews, or undercut Jews, but only if the customers were Gentile – if the customer-base was Jewish, then competition was to be free so as to drive down prices and thereby benefit consumers (p227-230). 

Macdonald acknowledges that the more egregious examples of this ‘dual morality’ (e.g. “while the rape of an engaged Israelite virgin was punishable by death, there was no punishment at all for the rape of a non-Jewish woman”: p228) were tempered from the medieval period onward. 

However, this was done, he insists, only “to prevent ‘hillul hashem’ (disgracing the Jewish religion)” (p229). 

In other words, he seems to be saying, even the abolition of such practices was done in the interests of Jews themselves, in order to forestall, or avoid inciting, anti-Semitism, should such laws became widely known among gentile audiences. 

This, though, means that his theory comes close to being unfalsifiable

Thus, if an aspect of Judaism involves favouring Jews at the expense of non-Jews, then this, of course, supports Macdonald’s contention that Judaism is a group evolutionary strategy centred on maximizing the success and prospering of Jews and of Judaism. 

But if, on the other hand, an aspect of Jewish teaching actually involves tolerance for or even altruism towards Gentiles, then this also, according to Macdonald, supports his theory, because it is, in his view, a mere public relations exercise aimed at deceiving gentile audiences into viewing Jews and Judaism in a benign, non-threatening light.  

On this interpretation, it is difficult to see just what kind of evidence would falsify or be incompatible with Macdonald’s theory.[21]

Thus, Macdonald’s theory comes close to being a conspiracy theory. 

Indeed, if one were to go through the whole of Macdonald’s so-called ‘Culture of Critique trilogy’ replacing the words “Jewish group evolutionary strategy” with the words “Jewish conspiracy”, it would read much like traditional anti-Semitic literature. 

Collectivism and Capitalism 

Ironically, the Jewish tendency towards collectivism gave them a particular economic advantage in quintessentially individualist Western capitalist economies. 

Thus, in terms of game theory, a society otherwise composed entirely of atomized individualists, with no strong preference for one trading partner over another, is obviously vulnerable to invasion by a collectivist group with strong in-group bias, who, through preferentially favouring one another, would, all else being equal, outcompete the individualists and gradually come to dominate the economy. 

Thus, Macdonald writes: 

Jewish economic activity has historically been characterized by high levels of within-group economic cooperation and patronage. Jewish elites overwhelmingly tended to employ other Jews in their enterprises” (p220). 

Indeed, even in pre-capitalist times, Macdonald notes: 

The importance of highly placed courtiers in the general fortunes of the entire Jewish community” (p220). 

Moreover, both kinship ties which crossed international boundaries, and a common language (Yiddish), meant that Jews had business links and lines of credit that crossed international boundaries, giving Jews an advantage in an already increasingly globalized economy. 

Middlemen Minorities? 

One concept central to understanding the economic, social and political position of Jews in host societies is that of the middleman minority group

Yet Jews are by no means the only ethnic group to have occupied this social and economic niche.  

Indeed, although Jews are often regarded as the quintessential exemplar of a middleman minority, this is arguably a western-centric perspective. Other ethnicities occupying an analogous economic niche in their host societies include the Lebanese in West AfricaSouth Asians in East Africa, and the overseas Chinese in much of Southeast Asia

As economist Thomas Sowell, an economist and long-term student of ethnic relations in cross-cultural perspective, observes in his essay Are Jews Generic?’

Although the overseas Chinese have long been known as ‘the Jews of Southeast Asia’, perhaps Jews might be more aptly called the overseas Chinese of Europe” (Black Rednecks and White Liberals: p129) 

Thus, the overseas Chinese dominate the economies of South-East Asia to a far greater extent than the Jews have ever dominated the economy of any western economy save in the imaginings of the most paranoid of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, and also, again like Jews in Europe, have been the subject of ongoing resentment combined with periodic persecution (see Amy Chua’s World on Fire).[22]

Yet Jews acted, not only as economic middlemen (e.g. bankers, moneylender, peddlers, wholesalers), but also as, if you like, ‘political middlemen’ – i.e. intermediaries between rulers and their subjects. 

Thus, for Macdonald, the quintessential Jewish role in host cultures was one that combined both these roles, namely as tax farmers

The prototypical Jewish role as an instrument of governmental oppression has been that of the tax farmer” (p175). 

Tax-farmers were private agents responsible for collecting taxes on behalf of a ruler, who, in return for this service, received a cut of the monies received as payment and recompense. He therefore had a direct incentive to extract the maximum taxes possible so as to maximise his own profits. 

According to Macdonald, Jews’ status as strictly endogamous aliens perfectly preadapted them for this role: 

Precisely because their interests, as a genetically segregated group, were maximally divergent from those of the exploited population… [they would have] no family or kinship ties (and thus no loyalty) to the people who were being ruled” (p172). 

They could therefore be entrusted to extract maximum revenue with all necessary ruthlessness. 

He even discovers a biblical precursor to this role, namely Joseph from the Book of Genesis, claiming: 

The archetype of the well placed courtier who helps other Jews, while oppressing the local population, is Joseph in the biblical account of the sojourn in Egypt” (p175).  

Thus, in the famous bible story, Joseph, by building up stockpiles of grain and selling it back to the Egyptians during famine, ultimately reduced the latter to servitude (p175; Genesis 47:13-21).[23]

Thus, while the masses usually resented Jews, ruling elites often acted as patrons and protectors. 

However, protection could only go so far, and Jews also served another vital function for elites, namely to act as a convenient scapegoat in times of revolt and rebellion. 

Thus, Pierre van den Berghe observes, since middleman minorities groups “deal more directly and frequently with the masses than the upper class” and are ethnically alien, they, not the ruling-elite itself, “become primary targets of hostility by the native masses… and are blamed for the system of domination they did nothing to create” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: reviewed here: p145). 

Thus, Macdonald quotes Hubert Blalock in Toward a New Theory of Minority group Relations as observing: 

The price the [middleman] minority pays for protection in times of minimal stress is to be placed on the front lines of battle in any showdown between the elite and the peasant groups” (quoted: p173).

Jews’ IQs?

Another factor contributing to Jewish economic success is their high intelligence.  

I have discussed the topic of Jewish intelligence in a previous post

The subject of Jewish IQs, unlike other postulated race differences in intelligence, recently became a semi-respectable, if politically incorrect, topic of polite, and not so polite, conversation, with the publication of a paper, championed by Steven Pinker, proposing that Ashkenazi Jews in particular have evolved high intelligence, and that this intelligence is mediated in part through the same genetic mutations that result in higher rates of certain genetic diseases among Ashkenazim, such as Tay Sachs, through a form of heterozygote advantage (Cochran et al 2005). 

Interestingly, Macdonald has a claim to having anticipated Cochran et al’s theory in PTSDA, where he writes: 

Eldridge (1970; see also Eldridge & Koerber 1977) suggests that a gene causing primary torsion dystonia, which occurs at high levels among Ashkenazi Jews, may have a heterozygote advantage because of beneficial effects on intelligence. Further supporting the importance of selective processes, eight of the 11 genetic diseases found predominantly among Ashkenazi Jews involve the central nervous system, and three are closely related in their biochemical effects (see Goodman 1979, 463) (p36).[24]

Despite his reputation as an anti-Semite, Macdonald’s estimate for the average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews is actually even higher than that of Cochran et al and indeed most other researchers on the topic.[25]

Thus, he estimates the average Ashkenazi IQ at a whole standard deviation above the white gentile mean – i.e. 15 IQ points, or the roughly same as the difference between white and black Americans in the United States

However, despite the famous g factor (i.e. the correlation between scores for all different types of intelligence – verbal, spatial, mathematical etc.), Macdonald reports a massive difference in the verbal and performance IQs of Jews, with Ashkenazi jews scoring only about the same as the white European average for spatio-visual ability, but almost two standard deviations higher in verbal intelligence (p290).[26]

This, then, may explain the relative paucity of famous Jewish engineers or even architects as compared to Jewish overrepresentation in other spheres of achievment. It might also explain why, as MacDonald puts it:

This, together with the fact that Jewish entrepreneurs and financiers sometimes lent their financial and business skills to promote, market and profit from the innovations of Gentile engineers, lent superficial credence to the anti-Semitic charge that “Jews were not innovators, but only appropriated the innovations of others” (p291).[27]

Eugenics? 

If a component of the Jewish group evolutionary strategy, and Jewish economic success, is their high level of intelligence, how exactly did they obtain and maintain this high level of intelligence? Macdonald attributes the higher average IQ of Jews primarily to what he terms “eugenics” (p275-88). 

As evidence he cites various Rabbinic quotations regarding the desirability of marrying the daughter of a scholar, or marrying one’s daughter to a scholar, some of which seem to recognize, sometimes implicitly, sometimes almost explicitly, the heritability of intellectual ability (e.g. p275; p278; p281). 

This accords with what Steven Pinker rather disparagingly terms the Jewish ‘folk theory’ of Jewish intellectual ability, namely:

The weirdest example of sexual selection in the living world: that for generations in the shtetl, the brightest yeshiva boy was betrothed to the daughter of the richest man, thereby favoring the genes, if such genes there are, for Talmudic pilpul” (Pinker 2006).

In addition, Macdonald also observes that wealthy Jews generally had more surviving offspring than poor Jews and infers that this would produce an increase in intelligence levels, because wealth is correlated with intelligence. 

However, this pattern surely existed among all ethnic groups prior to the demographic transition and development of effective contraception and the welfare state, which disrupted the usual association between wealth and fertility. 

Thus, even in the absence of polygyny, the rich had higher numbers of surviving offspring, if only because only they could afford to feed and care for so many offspring. 

However, among Jews, wealth may have been especially correlated with intelligence, because most were concentrated in occupations requiring greater intellectual ability (e.g. moneylending rather than farm labouring).[28]

Poor Jews, meanwhile, were often the victims of substantial discrimination, sometimes including restrictions on their ability to marry, which, he infers, may have motivated the latter to abandon Judaism. Thus, their genes were lost from the Jewish gene pool. 

However, he provides no hard data showing that it was indeed relatively less well-off Jews who did indeed abandon Judaism in greater numbers. 

Moreover, in an earlier chapter on the alleged ‘clannishness’ of Jews, he discusses Jewish charity directed towards less well-off Jews, which may have represented an incentive for poor Jews to remain within the fold (p234-241). 

More plausible is Macdonald’s claim that Jews low in the personality trait known to psychometricians as conscientiousness may have been more prone to defect from the fold, because they lacked the self-discipline to comply with the incredible ritual demands that Judaism imposes on its adherents (p312-9). 

Religious Scholarship 

Whereas Jewish religious scholars were apparently much favoured as husbands, celibacy was imposed on many Christian religious scholars. As Francis Galton first surmised, this may have had a dysgenic effect on intelligence among Christians. 

Of course, today, religious scholarship is not regarded as an especially intellectually demanding field, nor arguably even an academically respectable one. Indeed, Richard Dawkins is even said to have disparaged theology as “not a real subject at all”. 

Moreover, there is a well-established inverse correlation between religiosity and IQ (Zuckerman et al 2013). 

My own view is that theology is indeed a real subject, just a rather silly and unimportant one rather like, as Dawkins has put it elsewhere, the hypothetically postulated field of ‘fairyology’ (i.e. the serious academic study of the nature of fairies). 

However, just because a subject-matter is silly and unimportant does not necessarily mean that it is intellectually undemanding. These are two different matters. 

Moreover, in the past, theology may have been the only form of scholarship it was safe for intellectually-minded Jews, Christians or even closet atheists to undertake. 

After all, anyone taking it upon himself to investigate more substantial matters, such as whether the Earth orbited the Sun or vice versa, was in danger of being burnt at the stake if he reached the wrong conclusion – i.e. the right conclusion.[29]

Untestable Panglossianism? 

Macdonald tends to view every aspect of Judaism as perfectly designed to ensure the survival and prospering of the Jewish people. Often, however, this is questionable. 

For example, Macdonald describes the special status accorded the Tribe of Levi, and the priestly Aaronite (Kohanim) line, as “from an evolutionary perspective… a masterstroke because it resulted in the creation of hereditary groups whose interests were bound up with the fate of the entire group” (p385).  

Thus, he contends: 

The presence of the priesthood among the Babylonian exiles and its absence among the Syrian exiles [i.e. the fabled lost tribes] from the Northern Kingdom may explain why the latter eventually… assimilated and the former did not” (p394).

However, one could just as plausibly argue that this arrangement, especially the hereditary right of the Levite priestly caste to payment from the other tribes, would produce resentment in other tribes and hence division. 

Again, this suggests that MacDonald’s theory is unfalsifiable.

Conscious Design or Random Mutation? 

In biological evolution, adaptions emerge without conscious design, through random mutation and selection.  

A similar process of selection may have occurred among rival religions: Some, like the Shakers, die out; others, like Christianity, Judaism and Islam, survive and spread. 

However, religions are also consciously created by their founders – i.e. by figures such as Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Zoroaster, Ron Hubbard, Jesus and Saul of Tarsus. 

Thus, although Macdonald is an atheist and evolutionist, with respect to Judaism he seems to be something of a creationist. 

Thus, he writes that, although Moses, like Lycurgus of Sparta, may have been mythical, the systems developed in their respective names “have all the appearance of being human contrivances” (p395). 

Thus, Macdonald seems also to envisage that the teachings of Judaism were indeed consciously designed with the survival and prospering of the Jews in mind. 

Indeed, there were likely, he suggests, multiple authors. Thus, Macdonald argues that: 

The Israelite system has been so successful in its persistence precisely because crucial aspects of the strategy were continually changed… to meet current contingencies” (p396).[30]

Thus, Jewish writings authored in Exile (e.g the Talmud) extol very different traits than the martial values celebrated in the Books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, authored when the Jews were, if not independent, at least still resident in Palestine; while the twentieth-century establishment of the state of Israel presaged, once again, Macdonald reports, “a return to military values” (p318). 

Yet, in proposing that the Jewish evolutionary strategy was consciously designed by its formulators, Macdonald credits the authors of the Biblical texts with remarkable judgement and foresight. 

It also casts them in the role of a sort of metaphoric premodern Elders of Zion

This suggests, once again, that Macdonald’s thesis comes close to a conspiracy theory. 

Indeed, as I have already noted, if one were to go through Macdonald’s work replacing the words “Jewish group evolutionary strategy” with the words “Jewish conspiracy” then it would read much like traditional anti-Semitic conspiracy literature.[31]

Cultural or Biological Evolution? 

Since Judaism represents what Macdonald terms a ‘closed’ group strategy, it has as its effect, not only of ensuring the survival of Judaism as a religion, but also the survival of the Jewish people and their genes. 

Sometimes, this makes Macdonald’s theory read more like a theory of biological evolution than of cultural evolution or memetics. For example, he repeatedly talks of the Jewish group strategy as being designed to conserve “Jewish genes” and, as we have seen, preserve the racial purity of the group. 

This could cause confusion. Indeed, I suspect Macdonald has even managed to confuse himself. 

Thus, in his opening chapter, Macdonald emphasizes that: 

Strategizing groups can range from complete genetic segregation from the surrounding population to complete panmixia (random mating). Strategizing groups maintain a group identity separate from the population as a whole but there is no theoretical necessity that the group be genetically segregated form the rest of the population” (p15). 

Thus, Macdonald insists: 

At a theoretical level… a group strategy does not require a genetic barrier between the strategizing group and the rest of the population. Group evolutionary strategies may be viewed as ranging from completely genetically closed… to genetically open” (p15; see also p27). 

However, in a later chapter, Macdonald seems to contradict himself, writing: 

In order to qualify as an evolutionary strategy, genetic segregation must be actively maintained by the strategizing group” (p85). 

This suggests that ‘open strategies’ like ChristianityIslam, and Shakerism cannot qualify as ‘group evolutionary strategies’ and hence reduces the applicability, and hence, in my view, the usefulness, of the concept. 

Towards a ‘Culture of Critique’? 

Most problematically, this confusion carries over into The Culture of Critique (reviewed here), Macdonald’s more (in)famous sequel to the present work, where Macdonald envisages even secular intellectuals of Jewish ethnicity, including Marxists, Freudian psychoanalysts and Boasian cultural anthropologists, as somehow continuing to pursue a Jewish group evolutionary strategy even though they have long previously abandoned the religion in whose teachings this group evolutionary strategy is ostensibly contained. 

Yet, if the Jewish group evolutionary strategy is encoded, not in Jewish genes, but rather in the teachings of Judaism, how then can secular Jews, some of whom have abandoned the religion of their forebears, and others, raised in secular households, never been exposed to it in the first place, somehow continue to pursue this group evolutionary strategy. 

The Culture of Critique, then, seems to be fundamentally theoretically flawed from the onset (see my reviewhere). 

In contrast, ‘A People That Shall Dwell Alone’ represents a tenable and, in some respects, persuasive theory in explaining the survival and success of the Jewish people over the centuries, and it is regrettable that its reputation has been tarnished and overshadowed somewhat by Macdonald’s more recent writings, reputation and political activism. 

Antisemitic? 

A final issue must also be addressed – namely, is Macdonald’s ‘A People that Shall Dwell Alone’ an anti-Semitic work? Certainly, in the light of Macdonald’s subsequent writing on the Jews, and political activism, it has been retrospectively characterized as such. 

Indeed, even at the time he authored the book, Macdonald was sensitive to the charge, insisting on the opening page of his Preface that, in his opinion: 

I believe that there is no sense in which this book may be considered anti-Semitic” (xcvii). 

In contrast, in the sequel, Separation and Its Discontents, Macdonald does not deny the charge of anti-Semitism, but rather predicts that this charge will indeed be levelled at his work, and indeed concludes that it is entirely compatible with his theory of Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy that it would be .

The charge that this is an anti-Semitic book is… expectable and completely in keeping with the thesis of this essay” (Separation and Its Discontents: pxxxvi). 

Most recently, in the Preface to the First Paperback Edition of the The Culture of Critique (reviewed here), the last work in Macdonald’s trilogy, the most (in)famous and, in my view, also the least persuasive, Macdonald comes very close to admitting the charge of anti-Semitism, writing: 

Whatever my motivations and biases, I would like to suppose that my work on Judaism at least meets the criteria of good social science, even if I have come to the point of seeing my subjects in a less than flattering light” (Culture of Critique: plxxix). 

Yet, here, Macdonald is surely right. 

The key question is not whether Macdonald himself is anti-Semitic, nor even whether his books are themselves anti-Semitic (whatever that means), or are liable to provoke antisemitism in others. Rather, it is whether his theory is true – or, rather, provides a useful and productive model of the real world. 

Moreover, it bears emphasizing that any evolutionary theory is necessarily cynical. 

All organisms evolve to promote their own survival, often if not always at the expense of competitors. Likewise, superorganisms, including ‘cultural group strategies’, also evolve to promote their own survival, often at the expense of other groups and other individuals. 

Indeed, as Macdonald shows in Separation and Its Discontents, this is no less true of anti-Semitic movements, such as medieval Christianity or National Socialism, than it is of Judaism itself (p1-2). 

Interestingly, in an even more recent speech/essay, Macdonald returns again to denying the charge of antisemitism, instead professing: 

I greatly admire Jews as a group that has pursued its interests over thousands of years, while retaining its ethnic coherence and intensity of group commitment (Macdonald 2004).[32] 

Moreover, as suggested by the title of this speech (Can the Jewish Model help the West Survive?), he even suggests that Judaism, as a successful ‘closed’ group strategy, might even provide a useful model for the contemporary West. 

In other words, for the West, and white westerners in particular, to survive amidst globalization, mass immigration, declining birth-rates, below replacement-level fertility and gradual demographic displacement even in our own indigenous homelands, perhaps white Americans, and white Europeans, must, in imitation of Judaism, develop a new, and rather less ‘open’, group evolutionary strategy of our own. 

Endnotes

[1] Indeed, ironically, even the very first definite textual and archaeological reference to the Jews is a reference to their ostensible destruction, namely the Merneptah Stele, dated to the Second Millennium BCE, which reads, in part, Israel is laid waste and his seed is no more. Yet some four thousand years later, the Jewish people survive and thrive, still practising a continuation of the same religion, while Egypt itself has long been relegated to a global backwater. As Twain is apocryphally quoted as observing in response to his own obituary, reports of Israel’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

[2] In fact, although the word varna is undoubtedly cognate with the Sanskrit word for ‘colour, recent attempts have been made to deny a connection with skin colour. Thus, the latest version of the Encyclopædia Britannica entry for ‘varna’ argues that the idea that:

Class distinctions were originally based on differences in degree of skin pigmentation between an alleged group of lighter-skinned invaders called ‘Aryans’ and the darker indigenous people of ancient India… has been discredited since the mid-20th century.”  

Instead, the authors of this entry argue: 

The notion of “colour” was most likely a device of classification.” 

In support of this interpretation, it is notable that, in discussing Georges Dumézil’s Trifunctional hypothesis with respect to the original proto-Indo-Europeans, from which the four varna system of India likely developed, David W Anthony writes: 

The most famous definition of the basic divisions within Indo-European society was the tripartite scheme of Georges Dumézil, who suggested there was a fundamental three-part division between the ritual specialist or priest, the warrior and the ordinary herder/cultivator. Colors may have been associated with these three roles: white for the priest, red for the warrrior and black or blue for the herder/cultivator” (The Horse, the Wheel and Language: p92). 

Similarly, leading Indo-Europeanist JP Mallory observes:

Indo-Iranian, Hittite, Celtic and Latin ritual all assign white to priests and red to the warrior. The third function would appear to have been marked by a darker colour such as black or blue” (In Search of the Indo-Europeans: p133).

Likewise, Mallory also observes that “both ancient India and Iran expressed the concept of caste with the word for colour” (In Search of the Indo-Europeans: p133). These commonalities suggest that the association of caste with colour predated the conquest of the Indian subcontinent by Indo-Europeans and therefore cannot have been a reference to the lighter complexion of the Indo-European conquerors as compared to the subjugated indigenous Dravidian peoples.
On the other hand, however, given the increasing genetic support for Aryan invasion theory in the populating of the subcontinent, and continued caste differences in complexion and skin colour, the idea that the term ‘varna’ was at least in part a reference to differences in skin colour cannot be ruled out.
Part of the reason for the persistent denial of an association with skin colour seems to be political correctness, since the idea of an Aryan conquest, and an association with lighter complexion, is associated both with notions of racial supremacy and also with caste snobbery. In fact, however, it was presumably the earlier indigenous pre-Aryan Dravidian populations who were responsible for founding one of the world’s earliest civilizations, so there is no reason to think of the Aryan invaders as in any way racially superior. On the contrary, like later waves of nomadic horse warriors who originated in the Euasian Steppe but, with their mastery of the horse, subjugated more advanced civilizations (e.g. the Mongols and Huns), the proto-Indo-Europeans may have been militarily formidable but otherwise culturally-backward barbarians.

[3] This claim, namely that the Indian caste system represents a “fairly open” group evolutionary strategy, seems to me to be contrary to all the historical, and the genetic, evidence. For example, even Gregory Clark’s recent The Son Also Rises, which uses surname analysis to determine rates of social mobility, finds that, until very recently, India had exceptionally, indeed uniquely, low rates of social mobility as compared to anywhere else in the world.

[4] Since Jewish identity is traditionally passed down the female line, the offspring of non-Jewish concubines and Jewish males would not qualify as Jewish, unless either the mother, or the offspring him or herself, had formally converted. 

[5] There are more dramatic examples of behavioural manipulation of hosts by pathogens. For example, one parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, when it infects a mouse, reduces the mouse’s aversion to cat urine, which is theorized to increase the risk of its being eaten by a cat, hence facilitating the reproductive life-cycle of the pathogen at the expense of that of its host. Similarly, the fungus, ophiocordyceps unilateralis turns ants into so-called ‘zombie ants’, who willingly leave the safety of their nests, and climb and lock themselves onto a leaf, in order to facilitate the life cycle of their parasite at the expense of their own. Similarly, dicrocoelium dendriticum (aka the lancet liver fluke) causes the ants whom it infects to climb to the tip of a blade of grass during daylight hours, increasing the chance they will be eaten by cattle or other grazing animals, again facilitating the next stage of the parasite’s life-history.

[6] For example, the Islamic promise that martyrs will receive 72 virgins in paradise seems perfectly designed to encourage young, unmarried males, excluded from reproduction in the polygynous mating milieu of Islam, where there are inevitably not enough fertile females to go around, to risk their lives or even commit suicide attacks in the name of holy war. Such an afterlife is vastly more appealing to young males than the Christian conception of heaven, or even the ancient Norse conception of Valhalla

[7] For example, the requirement of the Catholic Church, since relaxed, whereby, for a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic to be permitted, the parties had to agree to raise any offspring as Catholic, and also that the Catholic partner continue to attempt to convert the non-Catholic, obviously had high memetic fitness and likely contributed to the changing demographic fortunes of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland

[8] A celibate group which replenishes its numbers through accepting newcomers is therefore capable of surviving. Perhaps the various (ostensibly) celibate holy orders of the Christian Church, and other religions, can be conceptualized in a similar way, though they, of course, exist only as part of, and with the support of, the wider Christian religious community as a whole. 

[9] E.g. p50; p55; p60; p78; p82; p98; p107; p117; 118, p119; p120; p122; p127; p158; p163; p120; p121; 122; p227; p360; p362; p363; p366; p403; p404. This is easily discoverable by using the ‘search inside’ feature on either amazon or google books. 

[10] On this view, the Samaritans supposedly represented the remnants of the Northern Kingdom who, being of lower social status, had not been exiled by the Assyrians, but rather remained in Samaria, but had supposedly intermarried with non-Jews. In addition to any concern for racial purity, there seem seems also to have been an element of class snobbery involved in the split, since those remnants of the Northern Kingdom who were not expelled were mostly of a lower social class.

[11] For example, several books aimed at a popular readership have been published on the topic, including Jon Entine’s Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People (2008), David Goldstein’s Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History (2008) and Harry’s Ostrer’s Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People (2012).

[12] Admittedly, in the ‘Diaspora Peoples: Preface to the Paperback Edition’, included in more recent editions of PTSDA, Macdonald does discuss a few of the early genetic studies (pxiv-iv). Unfortunately, however, these all seem to involve Y chromosome ancestry (i.e. male-line ancestry). Subsequent studies which also sample mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the female line, have shown that most European input into the Ashkenazi gene-pool has come from Jewish men mating with Gentile women (Costa et al 2013). Therefore, Macdonald’s review of studies of Y chromosome ancestry in this preface causes him to overestimate the segregation of the Jewish gene-pool in diaspora. There have also now been studies of Jewish autosomal DNA (i.e. neither Y chromosome nor mitochondrial DNA, but rather genes from the remainder of the genome besides the sex chromosomes), which reflects both male- and female-line ancestry.

[13] In A Troublesome Inheritance, science journalist Nicholas Wade reports:

As to European Jews, or Ashkenazim, genetics show that there has been a 5% to 8% admixture with Europeans since the founding of the Ashkenazi population in about 900 AD, which is equivalent to 0.05% per generation” (A Troublesome Inheritance: p200). 

As evidence for this claim, Wade cites a study entitled ‘A genome-wide genetic signature of Jewish ancestry perfectly separates individuals with and without full Jewish ancestry in a large random sample of European Americans’ (Need et al 2009). Wade also estimates:

The rate of admixture with host populations has probably been similar among the other two main Jewish populations” (A Troublesome Inheritance: p200). 

[14] Population genetics studies also suggest that Sephardi Jews (i.e. those who inhabited the Iberian Peninsula prior to their expulsion in the late fifteenth century) also have substantial European admixture. Only the Mizrahi Jews, who remained in the Middle East and with whom Sephardi are sometimes conflated, may perhaps be of wholly Middle Eastern ancestry, since they lived among, and hence intermarried, only with other Middle Eastern populations. 

[15] Thus, for example, East Asian populations also seem to be highly collectivist in orientation. For example, a famous Japanese saying has it that ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’ and it seems difficult to imagine Europeans volunteering, or even agreeing, to become kamikaze pilots. The issue of European individualism, which Macdonald traces much further back in human history than would most historians, is a principal theme of Macdonald’s most recent book Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition.

[16] Interestingly, in the Preface to the Paperback Edition of The Culture of Critique (reviewed here), a sequel to the work currently under review, Macdonald cites evidence of a difference in stranger anxiety as between infants from North Germany and those from Israel, including both Kibbutz-raised and city-dwelling infants (The Culture of Critique (paperback): pxxxii). This finding is consistent with a greater level of group-mindedness and ethnocentrism. The source cited by Macdonald for this claim in the associated endnote is the edited book, Growing Points of Attachment Theory and Research (pp233–275).

[17] However, interestingly, the suicidal wars against their Roman overlords were pursued most tenaciously by the Galileans. Yet the Galileans were, at least according to Macdonald, themselves only recent converts to Judaism, and still of lower status than other Jews. This is, of course, contrary to Macdonald’s theory that Jews are especially ethnocentric and collectivist. It also suggests that suicidal wars against the Romans were a manifestation of the phenomena sometimes referred to as the zeal of the convert.

[18] Macdonald reports that Jews also practised polygyny, both in Biblical times (p53-54; e.g. Exodus 21:10), and indeed into relatively modern times, the practice remaining common especially among Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews (p373). Polygyny is, of course, another marriage pattern less frequent in the West than the Middle East, and which is today frowned upon, and unlawful, in all western cultures.

[19] Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20. The Jewish interpretation actually seems more reasonable given the wording of the passages. Indeed, according to anaesthesiologist-anthropologist John Hartung, many Old Testament Biblical injunctions that are today interpreted as universalist both by Christians and by many Jews, such as to love one’s neighbour and thou shalt not kill, and indeed many of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament as well, are properly to be interpreted, in their proper historical context, as applying only to fellow Jews (Hartung 1995).

[20] Macdonald, in contrast, sees Jewish usury, at least in ancient times, as exploitative. Thus, he observes:

“[F]ew individuals could expect to profit by taking a loan at the interest rates common in the medieval period. Interest rates in northern France were 65 percent and compounded until 1206, when the rate was fixed at 43 percent and compounding was made illegal… [But] both compounding and rates higher than the legal limit continued after attempts to abolish these practices. The great majority of loans were not for investment in businesses, but for living expences in a society that hovered near the subsistence level” (p406-7).

Although he acknowledges that moneylending, in making capital available for investment, is now an essential economic service, he emphasizes the exorbitant interest rates charged by Jewish moneylenders in the medieval period (in Separation and its Discontents: p46-7).
However, Jewish moneylenders were only able to charge such exorbitant rates because of a lack of competition (i.e. because Christians were forbidden to lend money at interest). The ultimate fault therefore lies with the prohibition on Christians charging interest on loans, not the Jewish moneylenders who took advantage of this exclusive market niche. Perhaps high interest rates were partly a product of price-fixing by Jewish monopolist cartels. However, if so, this was only because Christians were not permitted to compete with Jews as moneylenders, thereby undercutting them and hence driving down interest rates through increased competition.
Moreover, the high interest rates Jewish moneylenders charged probably also reflected the fact that the authorities had a habit of periodically declaring all debts void and expelling Jews from their territory without reimbursing them. The high interest rates charged therefore at least partly reflected the level of risk.
At any rate, even lending money at these seemingly exorbitant rates provided a service to the public. If it did not, then no one would ever have chosen to borrow money even on these terms. After all, if this was the only way in which monies were available to borrow, then it was better than nothing, if an urgent demand for capital demanded it.

[21] Interestingly, in its unfalsifiability, Macdonald’s theory mirrors Marxist sociology. Thus, for Marxist sociologists, if, for example, the law seemingly favours the capitalist class at the expense of workers, then this, of course, only confirms the Marxist in his belief that the capitalist legal system is biased in favour of the former. But if, on the other hand, laws are passed that, say, protect workers’ rights at the expense of their employers, then this is interpreted by the Marxist as a ‘sop to the workers’ – a forlorn effort on the part of the bourgeois capitalist government to appease the proletariat and thereby forestall, or at least postpone, the inevitable overthrow of capitalism – and hence proof of the inevitable coming of communism. Thus, Marxist social theory is as unfalsifiable as Marxist historicism.
In this light, the title of John Derbyshire’s piece on Macdonald in The American Conservative – namely The Marx of the Anti-Semities – is, I feel, rather insightful (thought Derbyshire himself, it must be noted, disclaimed this title, saying it had been forced on him by an editor).

[22] Macdonald argues that Jews differ from other middleman minorities, which usually attempt to maintain a low-profile, by their aggressiveness. Thus, Macdonald refers to the aggressiveness of the Jews, compared to the relative political passivity of the Overseas Chinese (Macdonald 2005).
For example, Amy Chua begins her book World on Fire by discussing the murder of her aunt, who was part of the Philippines’ wealthy Chinese business community, and the indifference of the police, and even of her own family, regarding the murder. Thus, she writes:

Hundreds of Chinese in the Philippines are kidnapped every year, almost invariably by ethnic Filipinos. Many victims, often children, are brutally murdered, even after ransom is paid. Other Chinese, like my aunt, are killed without a kidnapping, usually in connection with a robbery… The policemen in the Philippines, all poor ethnic Filipinos themselves, are notoriously unmotivated in these cases” (World on Fire: p2-3).

Even her own family, Chua reports, had a “matter of fact, almost indifferent attitude”, she reports, passively accepting that the murderer, though known, was unlikely ever to be apprehended (p2). 
It is impossible to imagine Jews in the West today reacting similarly. On the contrary, Jewish groups would surely be outraged and publicly protesting if Jews were being disproportionately targeted in racially motivated killings. Thus, for example, the powerful American Anti-Defamation League was formed in an attempt to protect wealthy Jewish convicted rapist and child murderer Leo Frank
On the other hand, however, I suspect, in previous centuries, attitudes among Jews in the West may have been similar to those in the Philippines. Perhaps the turning point for western Jewry in this respect was the Dreyfuss affair.
In stark contrast to Jews in the west, Macdonald reports:

The overseas Chinese in Indonesia have a reputation of being relatively uninterested in politics despite the fact that political have often had major effects on their business” (pliv).

Thus, the overseas Chinese strategy to avoid incurring enmity of the part of the host society among whom they live seems to involve maintaining a low-profile, keeping their heads down and concentrating on making money rather than making waves. Thus, Macdonald explains: 

Unlike the Jews, overseas Chinese have adopted a low profile political posture and have generally stayed out of local politics. Whereas Jews in the United States and elsewhere tend to have economic, political and cultural influence far out of proportion to their numbers, the Chinese are similar only in their economic influence.” (plxxxix). 

This is what sociologist-turned-sociobiologist Pierre van den Berghe, in his book The Ethnic Phenomenon (reviewed here and here) calls “weak money syndrome” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p153). Thus, van den Berghe observes:

“[Middleman minorities] basically survive by keeping a low profile, by remaining as inconspicuous as possible, by being unostentatious about wealth, by staying out of politics (at least overtly) and by adopting a conciliatory, nonaggressive strange” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p144).

The ironic result is that  “the more economically secure a [Middleman Minority group] becomes, the more precarious its position grows”, since their economic wealth produces an increase both their visibility and the resentment towards them that this provokes (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p144).
But Jews are seemingly almost as overrepresented among politicians and leading political activists as they are among businesspeople, though, as a rule, they tend to play down, sometimes even hide, their ethnicity.
Also, unlike Jews, Macdonald reports, the overseas Chinese “have not been concentrated in media ownership or in the construction of culture” (Macdonald 2005: 67). Neither, he reports, do we hear of: 

Chinese cultural movements, disseminated in the major universities and media outlets that subject the traditional culture of Southeast Asians and anti-Chinese sentiment to radical critique” (pxc)

However, to be fair, we don’t hear much about Jewish cultural movements that subject traditional western culture to radical critique either – unless of course, we happen to be readers of Macdonald’s own writings, especially The Culture of Critique (which I have reviewed here).
Macdonald himself attributes these differences partly to the fact that “The [overseas] Chinese [in Southeast Asia] are a very recent group evolutionary strategy” and partly also to the fact that, although both groups have high IQs, East Asians have a very different, almost opposite intelligence profile to Ashkenazi Jews (pxc).
Thus, whereas Jews, as discussed above and in a previous post, score very high in verbal ability, but not especially highly spatio-visual ability, East Asians score higher in spatio-visual and mathematical ability than in verbal ability.

[23] Though the Biblical passage in question actually describes this course of events as benefitting all concerned, including the subjects who were reduced to bondage, Macdonald regards this interpretation as disingenuous (p175). This is not unreasonable. It is rarely if ever to anyone’s advantage to be reduced to bondage and slavery. 

[24] Macdonald also notes in an accompanying endnote:

Motulsky (1977a) suggests that the higher incidence of myopia in Ashkenazi Jewish populations could be the result of selection for higher verbal intelligence. Myopia and intelligence have been linked in other populations, and Jews tend to have higher intelligence and higher rates of myopia

However, the celebrated (and ethnically-Jewish) geographer, anthropologist, physiologist, ornithologist and all-round polymath (and anti-racist) Jared Diamond has an even earlier claim to anticipating Cochran et al’s theory in a paper published in the jounral Nature in 1994 (see Sailer 1999). 

[25] E.g. Richard Lynn’s The Chosen People: A Study of Jewish Intelligence and Achievement.

[26] Interestingly, despite the g factor, Macdonald suggests that, if overall IQ (or g), is controlled for, then there is actually an inverse correlation between, on the one hand, verbal, and, on the other hand, spatio-visual, intelligence, suggesting that there is a degree of trade-off between the two, perhaps whereby the more brain tissue is devoted to one form of ability, the less remains to be devoted to the other. Thus, Macdonald writes:

Visuo-spatial abilities and verbal abilities are actually negatively correlated in populations that are homogeneous for Spearman’s g, and… there are neurological trade-offs such that the more the cortex is devoted to one set of abilities, the less it can be devoted to the other” (p292; see Lynn 1987).

[27] Interestingly, and no doubt controversially, in an associated endnote, Macdonald credits Nazi-era German geneticist and eugenicist Fritz Lenz, in his account of Nordic and Jewish abilities, as tentatively recognizing this difference in verbal versus spatio-visual ability. According to Macdonald, Lenz explains this difference in terms of what contemporary racial theorists would call cold winters theory. Thus, Macdonald writes: 

Lenz gives major weight to the selective pressures of the Ice Age on northern peoples. The intellectual abilities of these peoples are proposed to be due to a great need to master the natural environment, resulting in selection for traits related to mechanical ability, structural design, and inventiveness. Lens’s description of Jewish intellectual abilities conforms essentially to what is termed here verbal intelligence, and he notes that such abilities are important for social influence and would be expected in a people who evolved in large groups” (p341-2).

[28] Interestingly, contrary to popular opinion, Jews did not work as moneylenders primarily because they were forbidden from owning land and hence working as farmers. It is true that they were sometimes forbidden from owning land. However, in other times and places, they were not, and were actually encouraged by the gentile authorities to own land and take up farming to encourage their assimilation. However, Jews generally resisted such entreaties. This was because the financial rewards offered by moneylending was actually greater than that available in other careers. However, non-Jews did not typically work as moneylenders, because to do so required literacy, and the vast majority of non-Jews were not literate, and the exorbitant costs of education actually more than offset the financial benefit associated with careers such as moneylending that required literacy. However, since Jews were required by religious law to be literate anyway, they naturally took advantage of this ability to earn more money in careers such as moneylending (Landsburg 2003). 

[29] The Jews were no more tolerant than the Christian Church in this respect, as the excommunication of Spinoza demonstrates. Neither were protestants more tolerant than Catholics. Indeed, at least according to Bertrand Russell, both Luther and Calvin actually condemned Copernicus before the Catholic Church, and may have thereby indirectly provoked the Catholic Church into persecuting Galileo, since the latter were in danger of being seen as ‘soft on Heliocentrism’ as compared to their protestant rivals. As Bertrand Russell observed in his History of Western Philosophy:

Protestant clergy were at least as bigoted as Catholic ecclesiastics. Nevertheless there soon came to be much more liberty of speculation in Protestant than in Catholic countries, because in Protestant countries the clergy had less power… for schism led to national Churches, and national Churches were not strong enough to control the lay government” (History of Western Philosophy).

Thus, if the Church of England did not persecute Darwin as the Roman Church did Galileo, it was, Russell argues, only because they lacked the power to do so.

[30] Indeed, in practice, all successful religions have multiple designers, as they gradually evolve and change over time. Thus, Christianity, as we know it today, was probably at least as much the creation of Saul of Tarsus as it was of Jesus, while later figures such as Aquinas, Luther and Calvin also played key roles in shaping contemporary Christian beliefs and dogmas. Obviously, Christianity also draws on pre-Christian writings and religious ideas, most obviously those in the Old Testament.

[31] As Jeffrey C. Blutinger observes in a recent article on Macdonald’s work, A New Protocols: Kevin MacDonald’s Reconceptualization of Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory, Macdonald’s concept of Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy enables him to resurrect all the essential elements of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory with actually positing any actual conspiracy or conspiring.

[32] As I have mentioned in a previous post, anti-Semitism has a curious tendency to slide over into its ostensible opposite namely philo-Semitism. Both anti-Semites and philo-Semites tend to view Jews as uniquely separate from, and different to, all other peoples, and both also tend to notice the hughly disproportionate overrepresentation of Jews among different groups – philo-Semites, for example, pointing to the overrepresentation of Jews among Nobel prize winning scientists; anti-Semites more often pointing to their overrepresentation in media ownership and among leftists.
As Robert, a character from Michel Houellebecq’s novel Platform observes:

“All anti-Semites agree that the Jews have a certain superiority. If you read anti-Semitic literature, you’re struck by the fact that the Jew is considered to be more intelligent, more cunning, that he is credited with having singular financial talents – and, moreover, greater communal solidarity. Result: six million dead” (Platform: p113) 

Indeed, even Hiter occassionally seemed to cross the line into philo-Semiticism, the latter writing in Mein Kampf

“The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew. In hardly any people in the world is the instinct of self- preservation developed more strongly than in the so-called ‘chosen’. Of this, the mere fact of the survival of this race may be considered the best proof” (Mein Kampf, Manheim translation).

However, the precise connotations of this passage may depend on the translation. Thus, other translators translate the passage that Manheim translates as The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew instead as The Jew offers the most striking contrast to the Aryan”, which alternative translation has rather different, and less flattering, connotations, given that Hitler famously extols ‘the Aryan’ as the master race.
Nevertheless, if Hitler was loathe to openly admit Jewish intellectual superioriry, Nazi propaganda and ideology certainly came to close to inadvertantly implying Jewish superiority.
Thus, for example, Weimar-era Nazi propaganda often dwelt on, and indeed exaggerated, the extent of Jewish overrepresentation in big business and the professions, arguing that Jews had come to dominate Weimar-era Germany.
Yet if Jews, only ever a tiny proportion of the population of Weimar-era Germany, had indeed come to dominate the far greater number of ethnic Germans in whose midst they lived, then this not only seemed to indicate that the Jews were anything but inferior to those Germans, but also that the Germans were hardly the master race of Hitler’s own imagining. Nazi propaganda, then, came close to self-contradiction.

References 

Atzmon, Gil et al (2010) Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern AncestryAmerican Journal of Human Genetics 86(6): 850 – 859.
Bamshad et al 2001 Genetic Evidence on the Origins of Indian Caste PopulationsGenome Research 11(6): 994–1004.
Cochran, Hardy and Harpending (2006) Natural History Of Ashkenazi IntelligenceJournal of Biosocial Science 38(5):659-93.
Costa et al (2013). A substantial prehistoric European ancestry amongst Ashkenazi maternal lineages. Nature Communications. 4: 2543.
Dawkins (1993) “Viruses of the Mind,” in Bo Dalhbom, ed., Dennett and His Critics: Demystifying Mind (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993).
Hartung (1995) Love Thy Neighbor: The Evolution of In-Group MoralitySkeptic 3(4):86–98, 1995.
Jazwal (1979) Skin colour in north Indian populationsJournal of Human Evolution 8(3): 361-366.
Lansburg (2003) Why Jews Don’t FarmSlate June 13.
Lynn (1987) The intelligence of the Mongoloids: A psychometric, evolutionary and neurological theoryPersonality and Individual Differences 8(6): 813-844.
Macdonald (2004) Can the Jewish Model Help the West Survive? Acceptance speech, First Jack London Literary Prize (October 31, 2004).
Macdonald (2005) Stalin’s Willing Executioners: Jews as a Hostile Elite in the USSROccidental Quarterly 5(3): 65-100.
Mishra (2017) Genotype-Phenotype Study of the Middle Gangetic Plain in India Shows Association of rs2470102 with Skin Pigmentation. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 137(3):670-677.
Need et al (2009) ‘A genome-wide genetic signature of Jewish ancestry perfectly separates individuals with and without full Jewish ancestry in a large random sample of European Americans’ Genome Biology 10: R7.
Pinker (2006) Groups and Genes, New Republic, June 26.
Sailer (2019) Jared Diamond of ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’ Respectability Anticipated Some of Henry Harpending’s ‘Ashkenazi Intelligence’ Theory in 1994 in ‘Nature’Unz Review, December 30.
Zuckerman et al (2013) The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity, Personality and Social Psychology Review. 17: 325–354. 

Islam is intolerant – but so is the Old Testament

Robert Spencer, The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion. Regnery Publishing, 2007.   

But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee” (Deuteronomy 20: 16-17). 

The passage quoted above represents a more overt call for genocide than anything in contained within the pages of Mein Kampf. Yet it comes, neither from Mein Kampf, nor, for that matter, from the Quran or Islamic aḥādīth. Rather, it is a direct quotation from the Christian (and the Hebrew) Bible (Deuteronomy 20: 16-17). 

The next book of that same Bible, that of Joshua, describes the titular character fulfilling this very command: 

He left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded” (Joshua 10:40). 

Meanwhile, another biblical passage from another book of the Old Testament or Torah extends these sentiments to yet another ethnic group, strangely omitted from the previous passage: 

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (Samuel 1 15:3). 

In ‘The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion’, Robert Spencer argues that the teachings of the Quranaḥādīth and Islamic law are barbaric, illiberal and intolerant – in short, wholly incompatible with contemporary Western values. 

In this enterprise, he is entirely successful and, I believe, wholly correct. 

Indeed, it is hardly surprising that the Quran and aḥādīth are wholly incompatible with contemporary western values, since these works were authored, not in the contemporary West, but rather in the Middle East some thousand years ago. 

However, where I part from Spencer is in his implicit assumption that the Christian Bible is somehow any better. 

On the contrary, as I see it, the Old Testament of the Bible is, if anything, even less compatible with contemporary western values than is the Quran and aḥādīth – again, unsurprisingly since it was written, again in the Middle East, long even before the Quran. 

True, the New Testament of the Christian Bible is rather more pacifist in tone. So perhaps Christianity may have a claim for qualifying as a ‘religion of peace’ – at least if you regard parts of the Old Testament as somehow overruled or repealed by the New Testament or New Covenant.[1]

However, the same is surely not true of Judaism

Indeed, the Old Testament always strikes me as something akin to a racially-supremacist tract. The Jews, it repeatedly tells us, are God’s ‘Chosen People and everyone else is, at best, a second-class species of human, at worst, as seen in the passages quoted above, fit objects of genocide.[2]

Yet these verses have not prevented Jews and Christians, many of them devoutly religious, some even self-described Biblical literalists, from living together peaceably in western polities without significant numbers among them feeling the need to regularly suicide-bomb one another or fly planes into buildings, or, for that matter, massacre Hittites, Canaanites and Jebusites

However, there is clearly a difficulty in integrating Muslims into Western society, as various terrorist atrocities committed by citizens of the Muslim faith born and raised within the borders of western liberal democracies amply yet horribly demonstrate. 

The problem is not simply that Muslims have, in general, not fully reconciled themselves with such ostensibly ‘progressive’ notions as feminism and transsexual bathroom rights. After all, the same is true of many ChristiansJews and heathen secularists like myself.[3]

Rather the problem is that significant minorities of Muslims within the West (but certainly not of the West) engage in terrorism against the West. 

True, terrorists represent only a small minority of the Muslim population. However, they are not so small a minority as not to be able to wreak considerable havoc, causing much injury, loss of life and economic cost. 

Of course, historically, Christians and Jews have had their own share of ‘holy wars’ and religious bigotry, both against themselves, one another and outsiders. 

There were the Crusades, the burning of heretics, blasphemers and witches, countless wars justified in the name of God, plus the persecution of Protestants by Catholics, of Catholics by Protestants, of Jews by both Catholics and Protestants and, today, of Palestinians (themselves the probable descendants of the biblical Canaanites) by Jews, not to mention that whole nasty business with the holocaust. 

In short, liberal democracy and religious toleration came only relatively recently even to the West. 

Moreover, it is surely no coincidence that increasingly liberal and tolerant attitudes and laws have arisen hand-in-hand with the process of secularization

In short, liberal democracy and Western civilization have come about despite Christianity rather than because of it. 

Yet, nowadays, Catholics, Protestants and Jews resident in most of the West, together with various assorted secular heathens and infidels like myself, all live together in relative toleration. 

This holds out the prospect that, in the long-term, Muslims might learn to do likewise. 

However, it is unlikely to be a rapid transition, and nor is it necessarily an inevitable one. Therefore, we have every reason to be cautious about admitting more Muslims into our countries as migrants or asylum seekers. 

However, given that the holy books of both Christianity and Judaism contain passages that rival anything in the Quran or aḥādīth when it comes to draconian bellicosity, I contend that the reason for the current unassimilability of Muslim minorities in the West must be sought at least partly in factors external to the content of the Islamic scripture itself. 

One factor is perhaps that Muslims have come rather late, if at all, to Western modernity. 

Thus, whereas the ancestors of contemporary Ashkenazim and Sephardim settled in Europe centuries ago, and have therefore, like Christians themselves, been an integral (and, indeed, a disproportionately influential, and disproportionately secular and liberal) part of the secular, liberal West for at least as long as the West has had any claim to being secular and liberal, the presence of Muslim immigrants in Western polities is, to my knowledge, largely a recent phenomenon. 

Women as ‘Booty’ 

Spencer condemns “the treatment of women as war prizes, with no consideration of their will” as “from a twenty-first-century perspective… one of the most problematic aspects of Muhammad’s status as ‘an excellent model of conduct’” (p133-4). 

He likewise condemns the Quran for allowing Muslims to “have sex with slave girls (‘captives that your right hands possess’)” (p173). 

There are three problems with this argument.

First, the practice is by no means restricted to Islam. Indeed, as Spencer himself acknowledges: 

This phenomenon has manifested itself to varying degrees in all cultures and societies” (p134).[4]

Indeed, many evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists would contend that the capture of fertile females for breeding purposes is the ultimate purpose of warfare and reason why warfare evolved in the first place. 

However, Spencer nevertheless maintains that: 

In the Islamic world [this practice] is particularly hard to eradicate because of the prophetic sanction it has received” (p134). 

However, to my recollection, Spencer conveniently neglects to cite two other aḥādīth with a quite contrary message, namely Sahîh al-Bukhârî: 3015 and Sahîh Muslim: 1744

Yet, despite his apparent background in Christian theology, Spencer seems blissfully unaware that the Christian/Hebrew Bible also sanctions the exact same practices. Indeed, the Christian/Hebrew Bible gives even more explicit sanction to the taking of women as booty during war than does Islamic scripture.  

Thus, whereas Islamic teaching only gives implied “prophetic sanction” to forced concubinage by describing the Prophet himself as participating in such practices, the Christian/Hebrew Bible not only sanctions such behaviour, but explicitly commands it. 

Take, for example, the following passage, taken again from the Old Testament: 

When the LORD thy God hath delivered [a city that has refused to surrender peacefully] into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee” (Deuteronomy 20: 13-14). 

This phraseology, taken from the King James Version, seems to be an only mildly euphemistic incitement to mass rape. Here, “the women and the little ones” along with “cattle” are explicitly equated with “the spoils”, and the Israelites are commanded to “take unto thyself; and… eat the spoil of thine enemies”. 

Some prudish Christian apologists might affect to be blissfully unaware of what this passage alludes to, but I suspect all but the most naïve and innocent (or perhaps simply uneducated) among them would be being disingenuous. 

Or take this verse: 

Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man” (Numbers 31: 17-18). 

Again, one does not have to be a cynic with a ‘dirty mind’ to guess for what purpose one is being commanded to “save for yourself” all these young virginal maidens, and I doubt it is purely because one wants help with the housework. 

After all, if it were for any purposes other than the obvious sexual ones, then why are only girls being taken as captives while the men and boys are being killed?[5]

Who Gets Killed? 

But let us look a little further at these decidedly ‘gendered’ Biblical commandments. 

If female infidels are commanded to be taken as booty and possibly used as concubines or sexual slaves, then male infidels defeated in war were typically killed outright. 

Therefore, far from evidencing the oppression of women under Islam as contended by Spencer, the practice of taking captured women as spoils is actually a prime example of female privilege

Indeed, this represents a classic case of what Adam Jones aptly terms Gendercide.[6]

Why, then, are we not talking about how both Christianity and Islam (and Judaism) discriminate against men

Thus, just as the biblical passages quoted above (Deuteronomy 20: 13-14Numbers 31: 17-18) order massacres of all adult males, but the sparing of women and girls, so Islamic scripture is similarly ambivalent regarding the treatment of enemy females. 

Spencer mentions an Islamic ḥādīth that seemingly excuses the killing of females, at least in some circumstances: 

The Prophet passed by me at a place called Al-Abwa’ or Waddan, and was asked whether it was permissible to attack A/- Mushrikun [unbelieving] warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, ‘They (i.e. women and children) are from them (i.e. Al-Mushrikun)” (quoted at: p97; Sahih al-Bukhârî: 3012). 

Here, the killing of females is specifically forbidden by Mohammed. The prophet is described in these aḥādīth as finding the dead body of a woman after a battle and reproving those responsible. 

In short, Islamic law seems rather contradictory on the question of whether women can ever be killed in war. 

However, perhaps the different passages can be reconciled if female casualties are to be regarded as, to use two anachronistic contemporary terms, not legitimate targets’, but nevertheless excusable incidental collateral damage

Again, this is reminiscent of the Old Testament, which contains similarly contradictory prescriptions regarding female captives. 

Thus, in the passage which I quoted at the beginning of this review, deliberate massacres of entire cities, women and children included, is explicitly commanded (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). 

However, elsewhere, for example in the passages quoted in the last section of this post (Deuteronomy 20: 13-14Numbers 31: 17-18), whereas Israelites are order to kill all adult males, they are advised to spare (or rather instead merely rape and enslave) certain classes of female captive. 

Actually, however, Deuteronomy is not inconsistent; it is simply racist – in addition to being sexist. 

In short, all non-Hebrews must be conquered, and all (non-surrendering) males of enemy groups must also be massacred. However, only among particularly objectionable racial and ethnic groups (“these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance”: Deuteronomy 20:16-17) must the women and children also be massacred. 

In contrast, Mohammad’s justification for the killing of women and children (“they are of them”) actually seems eminently practical, especially in the context of modern warfare where, with the use of relatively indiscriminate weapons like missiles and bombs, let alone weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons, civilian casualties are almost unavoidable. 

Yet, while nuclear escalation may be avoidable, to forsake the use of weapons like missiles and bombs altogether would be suicidal in any conflict with any enemy not willing to similarly handicap themselves. 

Moreover, feminists in particular ought presumably to welcome those Islamic aḥādīth (and biblical passages) which advocate the killing of women alongside their menfolk, since this is surely the logical conclusion (or perhaps the reductio ad absurdum) of what feminists have for so long so noisily and incessantly demanded – namely, the equal treatment of men and women alike. 

Who Fights? 

There is moreover another related form of sex discrimination implicit in so much Islamic teaching – namely, it is only males who are expected to sacrifice their lives in jihad or holy war

Spencer himself reports that, before a planned raid on Tabuk, a follower came to Mohammed asking to be excused. In response, “Muhammad granted him permission, but then received a revelation from Allah, counting people who made such requests among the Hypocrites” (p154: Qur’an 9:489). 

Spencer reports: 

Allah even rebuked his prophet for excusing Muslims from the Tabuk expedition (Qur’an 9:43). He told Muhammad that true Muslims did not hesitate to wage jihad, even to the point of risking their property and their very lives. The ones who refused to do this weren’t believers (Qur’an 9:4445)” (p157). 

However, it goes without saying that these injunctions applied only to men. 

I am reminded of the build-up to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when the British and American media sought to justify the invasion by telling us incessantly how terribly ‘oppressed’ women supposedly were in Afghanistan, because, apparently, they were forced to wear burqas and cover their faces. 

Meanwhile, however, all able-bodied men in Afghanistan were being forcibly drafted into the Taliban armed forces, including the elderly, some dragged from cars or their homes, and every household expected to provide at least one male to sacrifice in the coming war (Harding 2001). 

Yet, strangely, no one in the western media ever said anything about men being oppressed in Afghanistan. 

Likewise, one heard little about the almost endemic and institutionalized sexual abuse and sexual enslavement of young boys in Afghanistan, known as bacha bāzī or dancing boys

Instead, it was women, forced to wear burkas, who were the only ones deemed to have been ‘oppressed’ – though I suspect it is precisely the enforced veiling, seclusion and other protections accorded women in Islamic societies, together with the effect of a polygynous mating milieu in denying reproductive opportunities for low-status males, that leads so many Afghan men to turn instead to young boys (bacha bereesh, literally ‘boys without beards’) as an alternative sexual outlet. 

Indeed, far from opposing the practice, US troops serving in Afghanistan were specifically ordered not to interfere with the systematic sexual abuse of boys, on the grounds that “it is a part of their culture” (Goldstein 2015).[7] 

Yet the wearing of burkas is also a part of Afghan culture – and indeed of Islamic culture in general. It is moreover surely a less objectionable part of that culture than the systematic and widespread sexual abuse of young boys

Indeed, just how trivial and comparatively trivial and unobjectionable is the requirement to cover one’s face has been revealed to most of Britain, America and the west during the recent corvid hysteria, when we were all legally obliged to wear face masks when in public places.

Many people, myself included, thought that this requirement unnecessary and an overreaction. Nevertheless, it was, at most, a minor inconvenience and hardly a major violation of human rights and civil liberties. Those who protested the masking laws as a horrendous and tyrannical infringement of basic civil liberties were rightly ridiculed for their overreaction. 

At any rate, even in Afghanistan, the requirement that women wear burkas to cover their faces when in public was paralleled by an analogous admonition that men also cover their faces, whether in public or not, by not shaving and instead growing a beard

Yet both forms of sex discrimination are wholly trivial when compared to both the obligation to sacrifice oneself in war, and the sexual enslavement of boys

In short, the idea that the right to wear high heels, short skirts, lipstick and sexually provocative clothing is a fundamental human right says more about the self-absorbed, overprivileged lifestyles of western women, feminists very much included, than is does about real oppression, which remains, in both Islam and the West, a largely male preserve

Inheritance and ‘Mahr’ 

So are women oppressed under Islam as Spencer contends? 

It is true that, under Islamic law, women are seen as possessions of their husbands, and commanded to be subservient and defer to them.

But, in return, men were expected to provide for their wives with food, clothing and housing. This is not a mere implicit assumption, but a specific religious obligation imposed on Muslim, known as nafaqah. There is no equivalent obligation imposed on wives. 

Thus, Spencer rebukes the Quran for insisting that a son’s inheritance be twice that accorded one’s daughter (p273). 

However, he neglects to mention two parallel forms of discrimination against males which also represent obvious rationales for the greater inheritance for males – namely the obligation that boys, if they wish to marry at all, must:

  1. Provide food, clothing and housing for his wife, and perhaps her retinue of servants as well (nafaqah); and
  2. Pay the Islamic bride price (mahr). 

The latter is, mahr, is not a mere nominal formality. On the contrary, it is often extortionate and, unlike other forms of bride-price in other cultures, is payable directly to the bride herself, not to her family. Men in Iran are often imprisoned for failing to pay this sum on demand (see Mehraspand 2014). 

Clearly it makes more sense to leave more money to your son than your daughter when your son is commanded by scripture to pay a bride-price should he wish to marry (mahr), and is then expected to provide for his wife during marriage (nafaqah), whereas your daughter is likely to receive such a payment on marriage and thereafter be supported, protected and provided for by her husband. 

This, then, is rather analogous to the familiar complaint that, in Islamic societies such as Afghanistan, girls are not permitted to go to school. But this merely reflects the fact that women are not expected to earn a living in a traditional Islamic society, but rather expect to be supported and provided for by their husbands (nafaqah), and hence have no need of education or vocational training. 

Far from evidencing the oppression of women, it is therefore an indirect reflection of female privilege.  

Proving Rape 

Indeed, even the infamous supposed requirement for four male witnesses in order to convict a man of rape is revealed as a myth. 

Actually, this applies to other sexual offences, such as adultery – but not to rape. 

Indeed, Spencer’s own account reveals that the requirement of four witnesses was actually introduced by Mohammed to protect women in general, and his own wife in particular, from allegations of adultery (p66-7; Quran 24:11-13). 

Moreover, this requirement of four male witnesses also made adultery a dangerous crime to accuse a woman of – since any man who made such an allegation without the requisite four male witnesses was himself punished by eighty lashes. 

In contrast, women could evade punishment for adultery by claiming to have been raped, positively incentivizing false allegations

Indeed, given that sexual relations usually occur in private, and adulterous sexual relations in some secrecy, the requirement of four male witnesses actually made allegations of adultery almost impossible to prove in practice, unless a devout Muslim wife were foolish enough to shoot a porno or attend an orgy. 

Who Then is Oppressed? 

Are women oppressed in Muslim societies? Despite what I have written, the answer remains very much a ‘yes’ – albeit with one important caveat, namely that men are oppressed in Muslim societies as well. 

Islam is oppressive of all humans, male and female alike. 

Indeed, oppression is virtually the defining principle of Islam, the very word ‘Islam famously translating as ‘submission’, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The action of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person”. 

Again, however, much the same is true of Christianity and Judaism. In both religions, adherents are expected to worship, obey, prostrate themselves in the presence of and sing songs in praise of, and sometimes even offer sacrifices to, or sacrifice themselves for, an allegedly almighty God

This is, of course, directly analogous to how a subject under totalitarianism or despotism is expected to bow down before, obey and pay homage to an absolutist monarch or dictator. 

Heil Hitler and ‘Praise be the Lord God’ are, as I have written before, essentially analogous forms of salutation. 

So all Judeo-Christian religions are oppressive. However, when men and boys are expressly singled out for massacre in holy scripture, while women and girls are spared, and when men are expected to fight and die in holy wars, if not martyr themselves with suicide bombs, for the glory of Allah, while women happily sit at home, perhaps wearing a burka, then there is no doubt whatsoever which sex is getting the better deal.

Endnotes

[1] Interestingly, various different heretical Christian sects, including the Marcions, Gnostics and Cathars, have converged in rejecting the authority of the Old Testament altogether and regarded the God of the Old Testament as a malevolent deity, different and lesser than that featured in the New Testament. This view would seemingly reconcile the very different tone of the two collections of texts. However, it is a view held by few Christians today, and obviously introduces no few additional theological problems of its own.

[2] It ought to be noted that many modern religious Jews, and Jewish ‘apologists (in the religious sense), insist that the notion of the Jews as God’s Chosen People does not entail any connotations to racial supremacy, but rather actually involved the imposition of greater responsibilities and obligations on Jews, hence the familiar notion of the Jews as a light unto the nations. Judaism certainly does purport to impose greater obligations and responsibilities on Jews, and many contemporary religious Jews may indeed interpret the concept of ‘chosenness’ in this way. However, reading parts of both the Old Testament and the Talmud, it is clear that there was also an element of supremacism in the notion of being ‘chosen’. Indeed, even today, many Haredi Jews are quite overt in their Jewish supremacism (see for examples Israel Shahak’s co-authored Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel).

[3] Indeed, when confronted with such absurdities as feminism, critical race theory and transexual activism, one is well able to understand the hostility of many Muslims to contemporary western culture, and perhaps even capable of envisaging Islamic fundamentalism as a preferable alternative. Thus, today, the ostensibly secular pseudo-religious faith of political correctness arguably demands of its adherents beliefs quite as preposterous those those of any religious fundamentalist. 
However, it must be noted that Islamic fundamentalism is not necessarily incompatible with such preposterous ‘progressive’ notions as the right of transexuals to be considered as the being of the opposite ‘gender’ to their biological sex. On the contrary, in Iran, while homosexuals are famously persecuted, transexualism is strangely tolerated, even perversely promoted. Indeed, it is even claimed that gay males are forced to undergo surgery in order to escape persecution as homosexuals. This may be why Iran is, somewhat surprisingly, said to have the second highest rate of sex change operations relative to population size behind only Thailand.

[4] This pattern is cross-culturally recurrent. Thus, Jared Diamond writes:

The wars of the Greeks and Trojans, of Rome and Carthage, and of the Assyrians and Babylonians and Persians proceeded to a common end: the slaughter of the defeated irrespective of sex, or else the killing of the men and enslavement of the women” (The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee: p265).

For example, Thucydides in the Melian Dialogue reports that, on conquering Melos, the Athenians put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the women and children for slaves. Similarly, in his recent comparative biography of Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II of Macedon, author Ian Worthington reports that on capturing the Greek city of Sestus:

“[His troops] killed all of its male citizens and sold all of its women and children as slaves – one of the more gruesome punishments that civilians suffered in warfare” (By the Spear: p57). 

[5] If, for example, the captives were to be enslaved and used for non-sexual purposes, then presumably it would be the male captives who were of greater value to the conquerors, since men, being generally bigger and stronger than women, are superior at most forms of manual labour. During the period of the transatlantic slave trade, for example, male slaves were preferred and commanded a higher price, whereas, in the Islamic worldfemale slaves tended be preferred and to command a higher price because of the greater acceptance of concubinage in the Islamic world as compared to puritanical America. Thus, although the Old Testament of the Bible certainly approves the sexual exploitation of female slaves, puritanical eighteenth and nineteenth century North American culture certainly did not. Nevertheless, it certainly occurred, as is apparent from the genetic composition of contemporary African-Americans. Indeed, according to Pierre van den Berghe in The Ethnic Phenomenon: which I have reviewed here): 

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” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p132). 

Van den Berghe does not directly compare the prevalence of “concubinage with slaves” in the Muslim world with that in Christian colonies, either Catholic and Latin or puritanical North America.

[6] Edward O Wilson instead terms this recurrent pattern of conquerors massacring conquered males while mating with conquered females ‘genosorption’. The phenomenon is so widespread that it is even apparent in the DNA of contemporary populations. Thus, geneticist James Watson reports that, whereas 94% of the Y-chromosomes of contemporary Colombians are European, mitochondrial DNA shows a “range of Amerindian MtDNA types”. Thus, he concludes:

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).

[7] In fact, rather to their credit, the Taliban had sought to eliminate the practice of bacha bāzī, seeing it as contrary to the tenets of Islam. Therefore, in seeking to overthrow the Taliban regime, and ordering their troops not to interfere with such practices, the US seem to have been promoting the practice, which was indeed said to have reemerged during the American occupation (Abdul-Ahad 2009).

References 

Abdul-Ahad (2009) The dancing boys of Afghanistan, Guardian 12 September
Goldstein (2015) U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies, New York Times, September 20. 
Harding L (2001) Taliban forcing thousands into armyGuardian, 4 October.
Mehraspand A (2014) Indentured servitude for men in Iran: The myth of patriarchal oppressive divorce, A Voice for Men August 13.

The Philosophy of Ragnar Redbeard

Might is Right or the Survival of the Fittest (1896) by Ragnar Redbeard
Sayings of Redbeard (1890) by Ragnar Redbeard  

Perhaps the most iconoclastic book ever written, a work so incendiary that it is widely dismissed as a parody, ‘Might is Right’ has, perhaps unsurprisingly, largely been ignored by mainstream philosophers and political theorists.[1]  

Written, like Thus Spake Zarathustra, in a pretentious pseudo-biblical style, sometimes deliberately paralleling biblical passages (“Blessed are the strong for they shall possess the earth”, “If a man smite you on one cheek, smash him on ‘the other’” etc.), ‘Might is Right’ is, unlike Nietzsche’s infamously incomprehensible screed, a straightforward, if rather repetitive, read. 

Indeed, Redbeard would, I suspect, attribute the failure of earlier thinkers to reach similar conclusions to a failure of The Will rather than The Intellect—a failure to face up to the reality of the human condition, or else, more likely, a deliberate desire to dissimulate and deceive. 

Interestingly, ‘Might is Right’ did come to the attention of some notable contemporaries, not least Alfred Wallace, the lesser-known co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, himself copiously quoted by Redbeard within the pages of his book.[2]

Wallace, a socialist, predictably disavowed Redbeard’s social Darwinism, but nevertheless acknowledged: 

Dr. Redbeard has given us a very brilliant and rhythmical poem‘The Logic of Today’ I admire his verse, but I decline to alter the meaning of such words as ‘justice’ and ‘right’ to make them accord with his theory that men are merely herds of brute beasts.” 

Here, Wallace, himself a keen amateur poet as well as a pioneering naturalist, is surely right. 

Thus, whatever his demerits as a political theorist or moral philosopher, Redbeard is a talented wordsmith – and has a better claim to being a great poet than he does to being a consistent or coherent moral philosopher.[3]

Throughout ‘Might is Right’, he coins countless quotable aphorisms, and his poetry, while occasionally clumsy, is often brilliant.

HL Mencken, a contemporary of Redbeard of similarly cynical, anti-Christian, social Darwinist and Nietzschean leanings, wrote, “Religion… like poetry, is simply a concerted effort to deny the most obvious realities” and “a device for gladdening the heart with what is palpably untrue” (A Mencken Chrestomathy: p7; p569). 

Redbeard would surely agree with Mencken with respect to religion. However, in regard of poetry, he disproves Mencken’s dicta with his own delightfully cynical social Darwinist verse, among which the twelve-stanza The Philosophy of Power (aka The Logic of Today) is indeed his masterwork.[4]

Amoralism, Moral Relativism or Morality of Power? 

At the core of Redbeard’s philosophy is his rejection of morality. On one occasion he opines: 

Conventional moral dogmas and political standards-of-value are, like wooden idols, the work of men’s hands.” 

Interestingly, at least in this passage, the critique is explicitly restricted to what Redbeard calls ‘conventional’ morality. It therefore holds out the possibility that Redbeard’s rejection of moral thinking does not necessarily apply to all forms of moral thinking, but only with conventional Christian moralisms. 

This interpretation is consistent with the fact that, as we will see, Redbeard does indeed seem to champion a form of morality, albeit a very different one that champions strength and conquest, much like that of Nietzsche, at other points during his treatise.[5]

Elsewhere, however, Redbeard is more absolute, emphatically rejecting all forms of morality, without exception. Thus, his treatise includes the following categorical pronouncements: 

All ethics, politics and philosophies are pure assumptions, built upon assumptions. They rest on no sure basis. They are but shadowy castles-in-the-air erected by day-dreamers, or by rogues upon nursery fables.” 

They are not even shadows; for a shadow implies a materialized actuality. It is somewhat difficult to define what is non existent. That task may be left to University professors and Sunday school divines. They are adepts at clothing their mental nudity in clouds of wonderous verbosity.” 

‘All moral philosophy is false and vain for man is unlimited… Good and Evil liveth only in men’s minds… Right and Wrong are no more than arbitrary algebraic signs, representing hypnagogic phantasies.” 

All rights are as transient as morning rainbows, international treaties, or clauses in a temporary armistice.” 

These passages suggest a wholesale rejection of all moral thinking, akin to that of amoralists like Richard Garner, Hans-Georg Moeller, Richard Joyce and JL Mackie

But Redbeard is nothing if not self-contradictory. Perhaps among the moral ideals that he rejects is that of intellectual consistency and internal coherence! 

Thus, elsewhere, he seemingly espouses instead a radical moral relativism.  

Yet, as always, Redbeard is insistent on going far further than other thinkers exploring similar ideas, and hence takes moral relativism to its logical conclusion, if not its reductio ad absurdum, by insisting, not only that conceptions of morality may differ as between different cultures and societies, and in different times and places, but also that even individuals within a single culture may legitimately differ in their moral ethos and philosophy. 

Indeed, for Ragnar, a single individual, not only can arrive at his own personal morality, quite different from that of his neighbours, but moreover that he must do so if he is to be truly free.[6]

Every age and nation must interpret Right and Wrong for itself. So must every man. It is each man’s manifest duty to invent his own Ethical Credo.” 

Here, morality is not abandoned altogether, but rather devolved to individual conscience. 

Moreover, the demand that each man must invent anew his own ethical credo becomes, in Redbeard’s formulation, itself a universal moral injunction. 

In other words, in insisting that each man must invent his own ethical credo afresh, Redbeard is propounding a universal moral law that in itself contradicts the very relativism that this moral law purports to insist upon. 

Thus, one might ask: If no man should accept any ethical credo unless he has arrived at it himself through his own reasoning power, does this then extend even to the very ethical credo that insists that no man should accept any ethical credo unless he has arrived at it himself by his own reasoning power? 

In other words, Redbeard’s envisaged moral ethos fails even by its own criterion for validity. 

Redbeard’s primary justification for his injunction against any man adopting the moral credo of another is that, by doing so, a person invariably renders himself vulnerable to exploitation at that other’s hands.  

A sensible man should never conform to any rule or custom, simply because it has been highly commended by others, alive or dead. If they are alive he should suspect their motives. If dead, they are out of Court. He should be a law unto himself in all things: otherwise he permits himself to be demonetized to the level of a domesticated animal.” 

He who ‘keeps the commandments’ of another is necessarily the slave of that other.” 

This suggests that the ultimate purpose of any moral system is to promote one’s own self-interest, and that self-interest is the ultimate moral good. 

Thus, a moral ethos promoted by a third-party is likely to reflect their self-interest, and hence must be rejected because it is likely to be in conflict with our own self-interest, which our own moral ethos would presumably promote. 

In practice, then, the ultimate moral end is one’s own self-interest, and any system of morality must be judged against this criterion. This, in effect, elevates the promotion of individual self-interest to a universal moral injunction, again contradicting Redbeard’s insistence that there are no universal moral moral laws.

Thus, Redbeard concludes: 

He abdicates his inherent royalty who bends before any human being or any human dogma – but his own.” 

However, this raises the question: Does this injunction against adopting the moral ethos expounded by a third-party extend even to the moral system expounded by Redbeard himself? 

For, elsewhere, Redbeard, contradicting himself yet again, does indeed champion a universal morality, albeit one very different to that of the Christian moralists and instead, like that of Nietzsche, idealizing strength, power and conquest.[7]

Thus, he writes: 

All ‘moral’ dogmatisms and religiosities are positive hindrances to the evolution of the Higher Manhood; inasmuch as men who honestly grasp at Morals, do not so energetically grasp at power – power being essentially non-moral.” 

Yet, here, in presuming that men ought to grasp towards power, Redbeard is implicitly elevating the pursuit of power itself to, itself, a moral ideal. 

Might Proves Right? 

If power, and the pursuit of power, is, then, the essence of Redbeard’s moral philosophy, what evidence does he present in support of this moral theory? 

More specifically, does not Redbeard’s own moral ethos, that of strength and the pursuit power, suffer from the precise same defect that he purports to uncover in all other moral credos – namely that, in Redbeard’s own words, it “rests on no sure basis” and is but “a shadowy castle-in-the-air”. 

To this objection, however, Redbeard has a ready response—namely that the superiority of his own moral system is proven by its real-world success in competition with other moral systems, in particular the Christian morality that he so excoriates and opposes. 

Thus, a man who acts in accordance with a morality that idealizes conquest and confrontation will, Redbeard argues, inevitably and overcome, conquer, annihilate or enslave a man who acts instead in accordance with Jesus’s admonition to ‘turn the other cheek’. 

Thus, Redbeard applies the notion of survival of the fittest, not only to competition as between individuals, or as between groups, populations or races, but also to competition as between ideas

Thus, just as different individuals compete to survive and reproduce, and only the ‘best’ survive, so the same is true of what Richard Dawkins, in The Selfish Gene, called ‘memetic’ selection among ideas, including, for Redbeard, conceptions of morality. 

Thus, Redbeard writes: 

Let a tribe of human animals live a rational life, Nature will smile upon them and their posterity; but let them attempt to organize an unnatural mode of existence an equality elysium, and they will be punished even to the point of extermination.” 

Let any nation throw away all ‘habits of violence,’ and before long it must cease to exist as a nation. It will be laid under tribute—it will become a province, a satrapy. It will be taxed and looted in a thousand different ways. Let any man abandon all property, also all overt resistance to aggression and behold, the first sun will scarcely have sunk down in the west, before he is a bondservant, a tributary, a beggar, or—a corpse.” 

This is, of course, the essence of so-called social Darwinism, whereby, in Redbeard’s own words:

Force governs all organic life
Inspires all right and wrong
It’s Nature’s plan to weed out man
And test who is the strong

Of course, for anyone with even a rudimentary schooling in the dogmas of contemporary moral philosophy, alarm bells will immediately start to sound in their mind on reading these passages.

Ah, they will insist, but Redbeard is committing the naturalistic fallacy, or appeal to nature fallacy. He is deriving ‘ought’ from ‘is and deducing facts from values and hence violating one of the most sacrosanct tenets and dogmas of contemporary moral philosophy. 

Yet, to his credit, Redbeard is not, it seems, entirely unaware of this criticism. On the contrary, he explicitly anticipates this objection and pre-emptively responds thusly – namely by denying outright that naturalistic fallacy or appeal to nature fallacy is indeed truly a fallacy at all. 

Thus, Redbeard declares forthrightly and unapologetically: 

To be right is to be Natural, and to be natural is to be right.” 

Does Might Make Right? 

Thus, for Redbeard, the ultimate criterion of moral truth is to be found in the outcome of real-world conflict. 

This is, of course, quite different from most people’s conception of how moral truth is to be arrived at. 

Yet, for Redbeard, it is so obvious as barely to require supporting argumentation in the first place. Thus, he laments: 

That ‘Might is Master’ should require demonstrating is itself a proof of the mental and moral perversity that pervades the world.” 

Thus, Redbeard does not bother to justify his contention that morality is determined by force of arms. Instead, he insists that the fact this is so is so obvious and straight forward as not to require justification or supporting arguments. 

Readers may disagree with Redbeard on this matter, but, in one sense, Redbeard does indeed have a point. 

If, as most moral philosophers maintain, moral principles cannot be derived from facts, then it follows that moral principles can only be derived from other moral principles. Thus, one moral belief may be justified only on the basis of another, more fundamental, such principle.

However, whence then are our ultimate moral principles, from which all our other moral principles are derived, themselves to find justification? Ultimately, it seems, they must ultimately be taken on faith. 

Therefore, it follows that there can be no ultimate justification for preferring any one moral ethos over any other. Each is equally valid (and invalid). 

Therefore, Redbeard’s own proposed criterion for determining moral truth (namely, victory in battle) is quite as valid as any other such criterion – which is to say, not very valid at all. 

However, although Redbeard purports to believe his own ultimate moral axiom, namely ‘Might is Master’, so obviously true as to be scarcely even in need of justification were it not for the decadence and perversity of the age, this does not prevent him from nevertheless belabouring this same point, over and over, at several different points during his treatise. Thus, at various places during his diatribe, he writes: 

Might is victory and victory establishes rightness.” 

Ethical principles are decided by the shock of contending armies.” 

Right… can be logically defined… as the manifestations of solar energy, materialized through human thought and thew, upon battlefields—that is to say, in Nature’s Supreme Court.” 

The natural law is tooth and claw. All else is error.” 

Always, however, a better poet than he is a consistent or coherent moral philosopher, Redbeard expresses himself best in his poem, The Philosophy of Power (aka The Logic of Today), where he declares: 

Might is right when Caesar bled
Upon the Stones of Rome;
Might was right when Joshua led
His hordes through Jordan’s foam…
For Might is Right when empires sink
In storms of steel and flame;
And it is right when weakling breeds
Are hunted down like game.” 

In short, for Redbeard, might not only is right, but might makes right! 

Memetic Selection Among Moralities? 

Yet, if, as he claims, Redbeard’s own social Darwinist moral ethos will itself inevitably overcome and outcompete every other moral system, Christian morality very much included, then this raises the question as to how the latter body of moral thinking ever come to be so widely espoused and championed? 

Indeed, since Christian and egalitarian moral systems seem to be far more widely espoused, at least in the contemporary West, than is the ‘Might-is-Right’ social Darwinist ethic of Redbeard, this would surely seem to suggest that it is Christian ethics which actually has the higher memetic fitness

This, in turn, suggests that Redbeard’s moral system fails even in accordance with the very criterion for success espoused by Redbeard himself, namely survival of the fittest

Thus, a contemporary review for an Australian socialist publication protested: 

[Redbeard] overlooks the fact, however, that if the fittest individuality survives, so does the fittest idea. The very fact of its survival is proof of its fitness. So his condemnation of Socialism falls flat, for Socialism survives and flourishes, so does Christianity.[8]

Of course, we may doubt whether, as this reviewer claims, socialism did indeed flourish, in 1899 when the reviewer penned these words any more than it does today. On the contrary, time and time again, socialism, when put into practice, has proven, at best, economically inefficient, and, at worst, utterly unworkable and conductive to tyranny.[9]

Yet, in another sense, socialism does indeed flourish, even today in the twenty-first century long after the dissolution of Soviet communism. Thus, while socialism as an practical real-world economic and political system may have proven again and again utterly unworkable and disastrous, socialism as an ideology has proven remarkably resilient and impervious to repeated falsification, whether at the hands of economists or indeed of history itself. 

In other words, if socialism itself certainly does not flourish, socialist ideas surely do. 

The same is also true of Christian moral teaching, which has indeed proven of greater longevity and resilience even than socialism.

Yet, if taken literally, Christian teaching is just as unworkable and utopian, when put into practice, as is socialism, if not more so.

Thus, no society, save the smallest of utopian communes,<a id=”reff10><sup>[10]</sup></a> has ever successfully put into practice such ideas as turn the other cheek[11] or judge not lest you yourself be judged[12] – ideas that, taken literally, are incompatible with either an effective criminal justice system or an effective defense policy and hence inherently self-defeating, leading as they do to either internal anarchy and/or external conquest at the hands of a foreign power, and hence are as hopelessly utopian as communism.

Likewise, Christian morality is just as self-defeating at the individual level. Thus, whereas at the state level, the adoption of Christian principles leads to rampant crime, internal anarchy, and likely conquest by a foreign power, so, if an individual were to live by such principles as turning the other cheek and giving up one’s worldly possessions,[13] both of which are explicitly demanded by Jesus in the Gospels, so he would inevitably invite exploitation and destitution. 

Thus, crime novelist and long-term alumni of the American prison system Edward Bunker described, in a beautiful and poetically evocative metaphor, what was likely to happen if you tried turning the other cheek in the Californian prison system

If he turned the other cheek they’d have him bent over spreading both cheeks of his ass while making a toy girl of him—a punk” (Little Boy Blue: p193-4). 

Thus, ‘turning the other cheek’ results in anal rape – in a literal sense in the American prison system, but in a metaphoric sense in the world at large. 

In short, a Christly life is inherently self-defeating. As Redbeard himself observes: 

If we lived as Christ lived, there would be none of us left to live. He begat no children; he labored not for his bread; he possessed neither house nor home; he merely talked. Consequentially he must have existed on charity or stolen bread. ‘If we all lived like Christ’ would there have been anyone left to labor, to be begged from, to be stolen from. ‘If we all lived like Christ’ is thus a self-evident absurdity.” 

Yet, if Christian ideas are as unworkable as socialist ones, nevertheless Christianity as a belief system thrives, at least in the sense that people still profess to believe in its tenets, even if, in practice, their own behaviour almost invariably falls short. 

Indeed, Christian influences have seemingly outlived even Christianity itself. 

Thus, contemporary secularists, including militant atheists, continue to espouse a morality derived ultimately from Christian teaching, even though they have ostensibly abandoned the Christian scripture, and Christian God, in whom this morality formerly found its ultimate basis and justification. 

Thus, as John Gray argues in Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (reviewed here), humanism replaces an irrational faith in an omnipotent God with an even more irrational faith in the omnipotence of Mankind himself.[14]

Much the same is true of the pseudo-secular political faiths of modernity, which derive ultimately from a thinly-veiled Christian eschatology. 

Thus, ostensibly secular Marxists replace the irrational Christian belief that we will ascend to heaven after death (or, in some versions, after Armageddon and the Day of Judgement) with the equally absurd and irrational Marxist belief that we will achieve communism (i.e. heaven-on-earth, in all but name) after the revolution

As Redbeard observes in Sayings of Redbeard

Rationalists in religion are numerous, but rationalists in politics are few. Nevertheless, salvation by politics is quite as much an insanity and a dream as salvation by the watery blood of a circumcised Jew. When his faith is analyzed the average Rationalist is even more irrational than the wildest Supernaturalist. What is politics but priestcraft in a new mask and cloak.” 

Morality as ‘Opiate of the Masses’ 

How then has Christian and egalitarian moral thinking come to acquire such a hold over the Western mind? And does not the popularity and resilience of these ideas prove their worth in accordance with the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ championed by Redbeard himself? 

While he does not address this objection directly, a careful reading of Redbeard’s writing suggests his likely response. 

For Redbeard, the popularity of Christian moral thinking is attributable to its cynical adoption by ruling elites as a method of indoctrinating and thereby pacifying the masses, by encouraging them to acquiesce in their own subjugation and exploitation. 

Thus, the masses are admonished by scripture to turn the other cheek[15] and render unto Caesar what is his[16] because, if persuaded to do so, they are more easily subjugated, taxed and thereby exploited and enslaved. 

Thus, Redbeard concludes: 

All moral principles… are the servitors, not the masters of the strong.” 

Thus, for Redbeard, ‘Might is Right’ in yet another sense⁠⁠—namely, ‘Might’ permits the mighty to dictate to, and instil in, the weak a false morality that serves the interests of the mighty. 

Here, Redbeard, despite his trenchant social Darwinism, actually echoes Marxist theory

Thus, just as Marx contended that religion was the opiate of the masses’, and functioned to keep the subjugated in a state of subjugation, happy in their lot, and content in the belief that, despite their suffering, they would get their due recompense in the next world, so Redbeard extends this analysis to morality itself. 

In a sense, then, he is simply taking the Marxist critique of bourgeois values to their logical conclusion—a conclusion that, ironically, undermines the very moral basis upon which the Marxist critique of capitalist exploitation rests. 

For, if morality is indeed a capitalist contrivance and example of a dominant ideology in the Marxist sense, then there can, of course, be no moral grounds for regarding capitalist exploitation as immoral, nor for viewing Marx’s own envisaged communist utopia as in any way morally preferable to capitalism, feudalism or any other economic system. 

Thus, American professor of philosophy Allen Wood writes of how: 

Marxists often express a contemptuous attitude towards morality, which (they say) is nothing but a form of illusion, false consciousness or ideology. But… the Marxists condemn capitalism for exploiting the working class and condemning most people to lives of alienation and unfilfilment [sic]. What reasons can they give for doing so, and how can they expect others to do so as well, if they abandon all appeals to morality?[17]

To the extent, then, that:

1) Morality is an example of capitalist dominant ideology designed to perpetuate the existing class system; and

2) Marxism is founded upon a moral critique of capitalism, and moral advocacy for communism;

Then, it naturally follows that Marxism itself is an indirect inadvertent outgrowth capitalist indoctrination. If, then, morality is a capitalist invention, it is surely one with the potential to be turned against its capitalist inventors.[18]

Thus, as Nietzsche and indeed Hitler were later to reiterate, Marxism is, for all its anti-Christian rhetoric and pseudo-secularism, the illegitimate offspring of Christianity itself.[19]

Given the inconsistency of Marxists, and of Marx himself, on this issue, therefore, Redbeard’s true precursor is not Marx, but rather the fictionalized Thrasymachus of Plato’s Republic, the latter anticipating both Marx and Redbeard in his famous pronouncement that: 

Justice is whatever is in the interests of the stronger party”. 

Social Contract Theory Debunked 

Ultimately, however, social order and obedience to the law depends, for Redbeard, not on indoctrination or brainwashing, but rather on force of arms. Thus, in the poem The Philosophy of Power (or Logic of Today), he boldly proclaims in one of his many quotable aphorisms: 

Behind all Kings and Presidents
All Government and Law,
Are army-corps and cannoneers
To hold the world in awe” 

Here, Redbeard echoes the sentiments of Thomas Hobbes, who maintained that: 

Covenants without the sword are but words.” 

Thus, Thomas Hobbes argued only a strong central government could pacify society by maintaining a monopoly on the use of force, which, by maintaining the peace, worked to the benefit of all.

Redbeard, in contrast, is no fan of peace and views all governmental power as based, ultimately, on subjugation and oppression. 

Thus, where Hobbes recommended ceding all rights and powers to a sovereign authority in order to maintain the peace, Redbeard insists that no man ought ever to acquiesce in subjugation before any higher authority than himself. Far from viewing a government maintaining a monopoly on the use of force as a good thing, Redbeard instead insists:

Unarmed citizens are always enslaved citizens, always.”

Thus, Hobbes, most cynical, hard-headed and realist of the great philosophers of the Western cannon (and a personal favourite of mine for this very reason), is revealed to be, at least in comparison with the unrelenting cynicism of Ragnar Redbeard, a hopelessly naïve and utopian romantic. 

Redbeard also rejects the social contract theory championed by Hobbes, as well as such other eminent luminaries as Rousseau and Locke, who each envisaged free men in a state of nature freely coming together to jointly agree the terms of their cohabitation in a community. 

In contrast, Redbeard insists that, far from arising through voluntary agreement, all polities ultimately arise through conquest and subjugation: 

How did the government of man by man originate? By force of arms. Victors became rulers.” 

‘Government’ arises from physical force applied by the strong to the control and exploitation of vanquished foes.” 

In terms of actual history, this strikes me as a far more realistic model of the origin of large modern states than the consensual model favoured by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.[20]

For Redbeard, therefore, all taxation is thus ultimately tribute extracted from the vanquished by their conquerors, and this is the ultimate function and purpose of all government: 

Forms of government change but the principle of government never changes: It is taxgathering.[21]

Moreover, if all taxation is ultimately tribute, so all laws originate ultimately from this same initial conquest and subjugation: 

When an army of occupation settles down upon an enemy’s territory, it issues certain rules of procedure for the orderly transference of the property and persons of the conquered into the absolute possession and unlimited control of the conquerors. These rules of procedure may at first take shape as orders issued by military generals but after a time they develop themselves into Statute Books, Precedents, and Constitutions.” 

Thus, in another of his poems, Redbeard counsels readers: 

Laws and rules imposed on you
From days of old renown
Are not intended for your good
But for your crushing down.” 

Similarly, he avers in one aphorism: 

Statute books and golden rules were made to fetter slaves and fools.[22]

Instead, Redbeard concludes: 

No man ought to obey any contract, written or implied, except he himself has given his personal and formal adherence thereto, when in a state of mental maturity and unrestrained liberty.” 

Yet this is, of course, manifestly not true of the US constitution which was agreed to, not by Americans alive today, but rather by men long dead even in Redbeard’s own time. Thus, Redbeard laments: 

We are ruled, in fact, by cadavers—the inhabitants of tombs”.[23]

Thus, for Redbeard, not only the constitution itself, but also all other laws, whether at the state or federal level, enacted ultimately thereunder, are invalid and of no moral force whatever. 

Indeed, on this ground, Redbeard dismisses the moral force, not only of the US constitution and legal system, and that of all other contemporary western polities, but also the influential school of political theory alluded to above known as social contract theory

In short, even if a polity and jurisdiction did indeed originate, not through conquest as Redbeard maintains, but rather through free men coming together to voluntarily relinquish their freedom and agree the terms of their cohabitation, as maintained by the social contract theorists, this is nevertheless an irrelevance. 

After all, any parties to such an agreement are long since dead. Why then should we, at most their distant descendants, be bound by the agreements of our distant ancestors? Thus, Redbeard forcefully maintains: 

It is only slaves that are born into contracts, signed and sealed by their progenitors. The freeman is born free, lives free, and dies free.” 

Democracy 

If conventional morality functions, as Redbeard maintains, to facilitate and disguise the subjugation of the masses, the same is also true, Redbeard contends, of democracy, or rather the façade of democracy that currently prevails in the West. 

I say the façade of democracy because, for Redbeard, real democracy does not exist and indeed simply cannot exist. It is, like socialism, a patent impossibility, defying the very laws of nature (or, at least, of human nature).

Redbeard thus summarily dismisses the notion of the people as sovereign

In all lunatic asylums may be found inmates who fancy themselves kings and queens, and lords of the earth. These sorrowful creatures, if only permitted to wear imaginary crowns and issue imaginary commands, are the most docile and harmless of all maniacs.[24]

By analogy, he recounts the (almost certainly apocryphal) tale of how a native chief in the Americas was invited by one of Columbus’s lieutenants: 

To don… a set of brightly polished steel manacles; it being cunningly represented to him, that the irons were the regalia of sovereignty… When the chains were firmly clasped around his limbs, he was led away, to die of vermin, turning a mill in a Spanish dungeon. What those glittering manacles were to the Indian Chieftain, constitutions, laws [and] moral codes… are to the nations of the earth.” 

Thus, Redbeard concludes: 

Cursed indeed are the harnessed ones! Cursed are they even though their harness be home made—even though it tinkle musically with silver bells—aye! even though every buckle and link and rivet thereof is made of solid gold.” 

Indeed, for Redbeard, it is the very glittering beauty of the “polished steel manacles” that ought to provoke our suspicion and put us on guard.

Thus, he maintains that the very exalted and poetic language of such documents as the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence is itself evidence of their deceptiveness, since: 

“It is notorious, universally so, that the blackest falsehoods are ever decked out in the most brilliant and gorgeous regalia. Clearly, therefore it is the brave man’s duty to regard all sacred things, all legal things, all constitutional things, all holy things, with more than usual suspicion.” 

Work versus Warriorhood 

Today, contemporaries of all political persuasions champion the notion that work is somehow intrinsically liberating.

This is what I cheerfully call the Work Sets You Free mantra, by reference to the famous signs (Arbeit Macht Frei) displayed above the entrances to Nazi concentration camps such as Dachau and Auschwitz.

The idea is, of course, preposterous. Indeed, work is, perhaps by very definition, something one does, not because one enjoys the activity itself, but rather because of either the end product of such work, or the remuneration offered in recompense for doing it. 

Thus, for example, a person cleans their house, not because they enjoy cleaning their house, but rather because they enjoy living in a cleaner environment. On the other hand, a person does a salaried job, not because they enjoy doing the job, but rather because of the salary offered precisely in recompense for the fact that they don’t enjoy it. 

To put the matter bluntly, if people really enjoyed their work, then you wouldn’t have to pay them to get them to do it! 

Yet it is natural that governments and capitalists should espouse and encourage the notion that work is somehow uniquely liberating, since, by doing so, they encourage the masses to willingly submit themselves to work for the benefit of capitalists and government.[25]

Redbeard, however, has no time for such nonsense. For him, work is the mark of a slave: 

The very idea of labor is in chains and yokes. There is no dignity in a bent back – no glory in a perspiring brow – no honor in greasy, copper-riveted rags.” 

Cursed is the brow that sweats – for hire, and the back that bends to a master’s burden. Calloused hands imply calloused minds.” 

Indeed, he insists that hard continuous labour is, not only unpleasant, but also has a negative effect on the constitution, both physical and psychological:

Hard continuous methodical labor destroys courage, saps vitality and demoralizes character. It tames and subdues men, just as it tames and subdues the young steer and the young colt. Men who labor hard and continuously have no power to think. It requires all their mental force to keep their muscles in trim.” 

Thus, Redbeard concludes: 

The civilized city working-man and working woman are the lowest and worst type of animal ever evolved from dust slime and oxygen. They actually worship work: and bow down before law as an ox-team crouches and strains under the lash.” 

Instead, he extols warriorhood over work: 

In the strength of his arm man eats his bread; in the sweat of his brow (and brain), the slave earns bread – for a master.” 

The Labour Theory of Property Debunked 

In accordance with this celebration of warriorhood over work, Redbeard also challenges the so-called labour theory of property, famously espoused by the British philosopher John Locke

Thus, John Locke famously formulated and expounded the notion that private property rights ultimately derive from labour expended in the transformation of natural resources

Thus, while God, according to Locke, gave the world to all mankind in common, nevertheless, if a person expends labour in transforming some natural resource – say sculpting a rock into an statue, chopping down a tree in order to construct a wooden hut, clearing a wilderness in order to raise crops, or castrating a slave to produce a eunuch – he or she thereby acquires ownership over the resource in its transformed state. 

This is Locke’s famous labour theory of property, whereby a person acquires property rights by mixing his labour with the resource in question, which also represents the philosophical basis for the so-called homestead principle.[26]

In ‘Sayings of Redbeard’, however, the pseudonymous Redbeard rejects wholly this notion and replaces it with the more cynical and realistic notion that property rights derive ultimately from force of arms. 

In the history of nations, the sword at all times commands the plow, the hammer and the spade. Everywhere the soil must be captured before it can be cultivated.” 

“‘The laborer is entitled to the full fruits of his labor’… but only on condition that he… can successfully defend his product against any one and everyone who comes up against him. Whoever can defend a thing against ‘all the world’ is its natural and rightful owner.” 

“Upon land titles written in blood the entire fabric of modern industrialism is founded.” 

Women and Sexual Selection 

Predictably, in the current feminist-dominated political and intellectual climate, Ragnar’s views on women have drawn inevitable accusations of misogyny. Thus, among other things, Redbeard asserts:

Woman is two thirds womb. The other third is a network of nerves and sentimentality.” 

A woman is primarily a reproductive cell organism, a womb structurally embastioned by a protective, defensive, osseous network; and surrounded by antennæ and blood vessels necessary for supplying nutrient to the growing ovum or embryo.” 

Actually, however, these statements reveal an impressive understanding of the evolutionary basis for sexual differentiation. Indeed, they anticipate the great late-twentieth-century biologist Edward O Wilson’s infamous observation that: 

The quintessential female is an individual specialized for making eggs” (On Human Nature: p123).[27]

This certainly suggests a realistic view of human females, and arguably perhaps even an unflattering one, but it is certainly nothing amounting to a hatred of women, as suggested by the overused term misogyny

On the contrary, although Redbeard insists that women must be subservient to men, he nevertheless also insists in the very same breath that, among men’s duties with respect to women, are “providing for, and protecting them”. 

Indeed, far from hating women, he actually repeatedly refers to women as “lovable creatures” and even as “lovable always”.

Indeed, on the basis of these statements, one might even conclude that Redbeard is guilty of the same sentimental wishful-thinking of which he accuses the Christians and socialists. 

Certainly, it appears he has had the benefit of enjoying the company of rather different women to myself. 

In insisting that women are “lovable creatures”, whom men are responsible for “providing for, and protecting”, he could almost be accused of being a white knight male feminist

On the other hand, elsewhere Redbeard is, to his credit, altogether more realistic, or perhaps, once again, simply self-contradictory, writing: 

For innate cruelty of deed, no animal can surpass woman.” 

He also observes: 

In many respects women have proved themselves more cruel, avaricious, bloodthirsty and revengeful than men.” 

He also echoes Schopenhauer in observing that: 

“Women are also remarkably good liars. Deception is an essential and necessary part of their mental equipment… Without deception of some sort, a woman would have no defense whatever against rivals, lovers, or husbands.” 

Indeed, here, Redbeard seems to be directly drawing on Schopenhauer’s celebrated and insightful essay On Women, where the latter similarly observed that: 

Just as lions are furnished with claws and teeth, elephants with tusks, boars with fangs, bulls with horns, and the cuttlefish with its dark, inky fluid, so Nature has provided woman for her protection and defense with the faculty of dissimulation. 

Yet, far from hating women, Redbeard seems to see their biological instincts, especially with regard to mate choice, as fundamentally sound, and indeed conducive to the higher evolution of the species. 

Thus, he insists that, just as men are drawn to battle, so women are naturally drawn to warriors who have proven themselves in battle. 

Wherever soldiers conquer in war, they also conquer in love… Women of vanquished races are usually very prone to wed with the men who have slaughtered their kindred in battle.” 

This is surely true. Indeed, it is proven by population genetic studies of the ancestry of contemporary populations. 

Thus, among populations that have been the subject of violent conquest at some point in their history, their mitochondrial DNA, passed down the female line, is invariably more likely to have been inherited from the indigenous, conquered population, whereas their Y-chromosomes, passed instead down the male-line, are more likely to have been inherited from the conquering group.[28]

Indeed, one particularly successful military leader and conqueror, Genghis Khan, is even posited as the origin of a Y chromosome haplogroup now common throughout much of Asia and the world

Yet, in observing that “women of vanquished races are usually very prone to wed with the men who have slaughtered their kindred in battle,” Redbeard does not reproach women for their faithlessness, treachery or lack of patriotic feeling for ‘consorting with the enemy’. On the contrary, he applauds them for thereby acting in accord with biological law and hence contributing to the propagation of, if you like, ‘warrior genes’ and, as he sees it, the progressive evolution of the species.[29]

Yet curiously, Redbeard seems to reject the primary means by which sexual selection might bring about this outcome – namely polygyny

Readers must distinctly understand that sexual morality is nowise condemned in these pages.” 

Thus, while he castigates other aspects of Christian morality, Redbeard seemingly takes Christian monogamy very much for granted, writing: 

Second-class males are driven by necessity to mate with second-class males; and in strict sequence third class males select partners from feminine remainders. (Hence the stereotyped nature of servile Castes.) Superior males take racially superior women, and inferior males are permitted to duplicate themselves, per media of inferior feminines.” 

However, in a highly polygynous mating system, this is not true. Here, high-status males command exclusive access to all females, and females themselves, anxious to secure the superior genes, and superior resources, commanded by high-status males, are often only too ready to comply. 

Indeed, according to the polygyny threshold model, it is in the female’s interests to comply. Thus, as George Bernard Shaw observed: 

Maternal instinct leads a woman to prefer a tenth share in a first-rate man to the exclusive possession of a third-rate one.[30]

Thus, under polygyny, low-status males, even if not altogether exterminated, are nevertheless precluded from reproducing altogether, facilitating the evolutionary process that Redbeard so extols. 

Yet Redbeard surely goes too far in writing: 

Women instinctively admire soldiers, athletes, king’s nobles, and fighting-men generally, above all other kinds of suitors – and rightly so.” 

Certainly, the dashing soldier in his uniform has a certain sex appeal. However, “above all other kinds of suitor”? Surely not. 

Indeed, the sorts of ‘sex symbols’ fawned over and fantasized about by contemporary women and girls are more often actors or pop stars than they are soldiers – and the foppish movie star or pop icon is about as far removed from the rugged, battle-scarred warrior of Redbeard’s own erotic fantasies as it is possible to envisage.

Similarly, Redbeard also insists: 

Women congregate at athletic sports and gladiatorial contests; impelled by the same universal instinct that induces the lioness to stand expectantly by, while two more rival males are ripping each other to pieces in a rough-and-tumble – for her possession.” 

Yet, actually, the audiences at most sporting events are overwhelmingly male. Moreover, the more violent the sport in question (e.g. boxing and MMA) the greater, in my experience, the scale of the disparity.[31]

Here, perhaps Redbeard, in his enthusiasm for Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, fails to fully distinguish what the latter termed intrasexual and intersexual selection

This is rather ironic since, among his copious quotations from Darwin himself in ‘Might is Right’, Redbeard actually quotes the very passage from Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex where Darwin first made this distinction: 

The sexual struggle is of two kinds: in the one it is between the individuals of the same sex, generally the males, in order to drive away or kill their rivals, the females remaining passive; while in the other, the struggle is likewise between the individuals of the same sex, in order to excite or charm those of the opposite sex, generally the females, which no longer remain passive, but select the more agreeable partners.” 

Though actually, perhaps tellingly, the version of this passage quoted by Redbeard is subtly altered, omitting the parenthesis “in order to excite or charm those of the opposite sex”. This perhaps reflects his inability to adequately understand the nature of intersexual, as opposed to intrasexual selection

Thus, intrasexual selection involves one sex, usually males, fighting over access to the other, usually females, and seems to be the form of sexual selection that Redbeard primarily has in mind and so extols. 

Intersexual selection, however, involves, not male fighting, but, at most, male display and female choice, as in so-called leking species. 

Here, females, not males, are very much in control of the mating process and the result is not so much the mighty antlers of the stag, as the beautiful but, from Redbeard’s perspective, rather less than manly tail of the peacock

Thus, if male warriors like Genghis Khan did indeed enjoy the remarkable reproductive success that genetic studies suggest, then this may have been as much attributable to male coercion as to female choice,[32] and, to the extent it is a product of female choice, as much a reflection of the female preference for high-status males as for successful warriors per se.

Men, Sexual Selection and Carnivory 

Yet, if, in failing to fully understand sexual selection theory, Redbeard misjudges the nature of women, the same is no less true of his assessment of the fundamental nature of men 

Thus, though he disparages contemporary men as pale and decadent imitations of their noble warrior forbears, nevertheless his image of Man, in his original pristine state, is distinctly flattering to the average male ego. 

Man is, according to Redbeard, by nature, a warrior, conqueror and carnivore. Indeed, one of his chapters is even titled “Man – the Carnivore!”.  

Of course, humans are indeed apex predators, with the unique distinction of having driven many prey species to extinction,[33] as well as having caused great death and destruction among their own kind through warfare and conflict.

However, Redbeard surely exaggerates the purely physiological formidability of Man. Thus, he maintains: 

Structurally, men are fashioned for purposes of inflicting and suffering pain. Every human anatomy is an elaborate nerve and bone infernal machine – a kind of breathing, perambulating Juggernaut – a superb engine of lethal immolation that automatically stokes its furnace with its victims… Men’s anatomy, external and internal; his eyes, his teeth, his muscles, his blood, his viscera, his brain, his verebra; all speak of fighting, passion, aggressiveness, violence, and prideful egoism.” 

Here, Redbeard surely flatters himself and other men. 

Actually, our muscles and teeth are decidedly unimpressive compared to other carnivores occupying a comparable place in the food chain (e.g. lions and tigers). Indeed, even our closest extant relatives, the primarily frugivorous chimpanzee, has far greater average upper-body strength than the average human, or even the average athlete. 

Thus, compared to a lion or a bear, or even the largely herbivorous gorilla, even Mike Tyson in his prime, unarmed, could not, I suspect, put up much of a fight. 

It is only our ability to devise weapons, tools, and tactics that gives us a chance. In other words, our greatest weapons are not the muscles, claws, fangs or antlers, of which, compared to other carnivores, and even some herbivores, we are sorely lacking – but rather our brains.

As the ‘The Beast’ declares in the recent movie Shot Caller:

A warrior’s greatest weapon is his mind.”

Individualism vs. Nationalism

While popular among some more intellectually-minded (and sociopathic) white nationalists, Redbeard, far from nationalist, is actually a radical individualist, arguably influenced as much by Max Stirner as by Nietzsche. 

Indeed, Redbeard would surely reject all forms of nationalism, since nationalism invariably puts the survival and prospering of the group (i.e. the race or nation) above that of the individual. 

For Redbeard, this is anathema: No man should subordinate his own interests below those of another, be that other a rival, a monarch, a state, a nation or a race or volk.

Indeed, when military and political leaders demand that we sacrifice our lives for our race, tribe or nation, Redbeard would see this as representing, not the interests of the race, tribe or nation, but rather the individual interest of the military or political leader responsible for issuing the demand. 

Thus, Redbeard purports to admire the warrior ethos. Certainly, he extols the likes of Napoleon (“Darwin on horseback”) and Alexander the Great

However, Redbeard would, I get the distinct impression, have nothing but disdain for the ordinary soldier – the mere cannon-fodder who risked, and often lost, their lives in the service, not of their own conquest and glory, but rather the conquest and glory of their commanders, or, worse still, the economic interests of their rulers and exploiters. 

Indeed, Redbeard’s individualism is among his grounds for rejecting morality. Thus, he declares: 

All arbitrary rules of Right and Wrong are insolent invasions of personal liberty.” 

Yet, in purporting to reject morality on this ground, Redbeard is, in effect, not rejecting morality altogether, but rather, once again, championing a new moral ethos – namely, one which regards individual freedom as the paramount, if not the sole legitimate, moral end. 

Thus, in purporting to reject universalist morality on individualist grounds, Redbeard inadvertently transforms individualism itself into a universalist moral injunction. 

‘Every man for himself’ is the law of life. Every man for an Institution, a God or a Dogma, is the law of death.” 

Once again, the self-contradiction is obvious: If all universalist moralities are, in Redbeard’s words, “insolent invasions of personal liberty,” then this surely applies also to his own universal moral injunction (i.e. “the law of life”) that demands that we always act in our own individual self-interest. 

Moreover, such a moral system, if adopted by all, would obviously result only in anarchy and the impossibility of any sort of functioning society. 

Interpreted in this way, it would then seem to fail even by the criterion of ‘survival of the fittest’ that Redbeard himself espouses – since societies composed of group-minded altruists, who are willing to sacrifice their own self-interest for the benefit of the group as a whole, will inevitably outcompete societies composed of pure egoists, who look out only for themselves, and are all too ready to sell out their own group for individual advantage. 

However, it is clear, at least by implication, that Redbeard never envisaged his morality being adopted wholesale by all. Instead, like Nietzsche’s philosophy, it is envisaged as necessarily restricted to a select and elite minority. 

Nihilism? 

Predictably, Redbeard has been charged with nihilism by some of his detractors. However, this is far from an accurate portrayal of his philosophy. 

It is true that, as we have seen, Ragnar does indeed flirt, albeit inconsistently, with a form of moral nihilism

Moreover, he sometimes seems to go further, seemingly embracing a more all-consuming nihilism, as, for example, in his alternative beatitudes, where he writes: 

Blessed are those who believe in nothing—Never shall it terrorize their minds.” 

Yet, in Sayings of Redbeard, Redbeard rejects any notion of nihilism, writing: 

One must have faith and courage even to be a pirate. He who does not believe in anything does not believe in himself, which is atheism of the worst kind. A religion is essential. Nobility of action is impossible without it. Faith is an integral part of all heroic and noble nature… He must believe something or else sit down to contemplate his navel and rot into nothingness as the Buddhists teach. The negative life won’t do, remember that.” 

Exactly what one should believe in, other than oneself, he is not altogether clear. 

Certainly, like Nietzsche, he purports to prefer paganism over the Christianity that ultimately displaced it, even writing, in an extension of the famous Nietzschean dictum

Christ is dead. Thor lives and reigns.” 

But he clearly means this only in a metaphoric sense, just as Nietzsche meant the death of God in a metaphoric sense. In a literal sense, God could never die, simply because He had never existed, and hence never been alive in the first place. 

Ultimately, given his radical individualism, I suspect Redbeard believes that we must, in the last instance, believe ultimately only in ourselves

Thus, he would, I suspect, approve of the tenth century Viking, who, asked by a Frank, what religion he adhered to, reputedly replied: 

I believe in my own strength – and nothing else.[34]

In other words, to translate Redbeard into explicitly Nietzschean terms, we might say: 

God is dead; Long live the Ubermensch

Or, as Redbeard himself might have put it: 

Nietzsche said: ‘God is dead’.
Ragnar Redbeard says: ‘God is dead. Long Live Ragnar Redbeard!’ 

Racialism 

A particularly troubling aspect of ‘Might is Right’ for many modern readers of Redbeard’s treatise, even those otherwise attracted to his radical individualism and rampant social Darwinism, is Redbeard’s extreme racialism

Yet Redbeard’s racialism, though as overblown and exaggerated as everything else in his writing, is actually largely tangential his philosophy.[35]

Indeed, given that it was first published in 1896, when notions of white racial superiority were almost accepted as given (at least among whites), one suspects that Redbeard’s racialism, overblown and exaggerated though it is, was, for contemporaries, among the least controversial aspects of his thought. 

It is often objected that Redbeard’s racialism is incompatible with, and contradicts, his individualism.

However, I think this is a misreading of Redbeard. 

While individualism is indeed incompatible with nationalism (see above), it is not incompatible with racialism per se, only with racial nationalism

Thus, no individualist would sacrifice his own interests for those of his race or nation. However, an individualist is quite capable of also believing that different races differ in their innate aptitudes, temperaments and ability – including to such an extent as to make only individuals of certain races capable of true individualism, just as certain species (e.g. the social insects) are incapable of individualism. 

Thus, in my reading, Redbeard comes across as consistently individualist, but simply regards his individualism as applicable to, and within the capability of, individuals of only one particular race. 

Moreover, though he clearly regards black Africans, for example, as an inferior subspecies fit only for enslavement, this remarkably racist claim is, in the context of Redbeard’s philosophy as a whole, actually not quite as racist as it sounds, since he also thinks the same of the vast majority of all peoples, white Europeans very much included, at least in their current ostensibly degraded form. 

Thus, of his (white) American contemporaries, he writes: 

Never having enjoyed genuine personal freedom (except on the Indian border) being for the most part descendants of hunted-out European starvelings and fanatics (defeated battlers) they now stupidly thought they had won freedom at last by the patent device of selecting a complete outfit of new tax-gatherers every fourth year.” 

Yet, here, Redbeard is again rather inconsistent and contradictory. 

Thus, he often seems to suggest that all white Nordic Europeans, or at least all white Nordic European men, were once at least capable of the heroism and ruthlessness that he so extols. 

Thus, writing of the now almost universally-reviled Cecil Rhodes, one of the few contemporaries to earn his unreserved admiration, he claims: 

In days long gone by, such men were the norms of Anglo-Saxondom. Now! Alas! They are astounding exceptions.” 

Yet the entire thrust of Redbeard’s philosophy is that always, at all times, all societies are composed of, on the one hand, the conquerors and, on the other, those whom they conquer, the latter invariably vastly outnumbering the former and very much deserving of their fate. 

Yet, if this is true universally, then it must also be true of the indigenous societies of the Nordic European peoples themselves, before they came into contact with, and were hence able to conquer and enslave all those ostensibly inferior non-Nordic untermensch

Inevitably, then, at this time in history, or prehistory, they must of conquered, subjugated and enslaved only one another. Like all other peoples, then, the vast majority of Nordic Europeans must have been slaves. 

This suggests that the vast majority of all peoples, including Nordic Europeans themselves, have always been slaves, and that the superior class of man is to be found, only in the minority, if at all, among all peoples, Nordic Europeans very much included. 

Anti-Semitism, Philo-Semitism and Self-Contradiction 

Yet, if Redbeard’s racialism is peripheral to his broader themes, the same is not true of his anti-Semitism, which represents a recurrent theme throughout his writing. 

Yet, here again we encounter another of many contradictions in Redbeard’s thought. 

For, in addition to other anti-Semitic canards, Redbeard endorses the familiar anti-Semitic trope whereby it is claimed that, through nefarious political and financial machinations, and especially through usury or moneylending, Jews have come to secretly control entire western economies, governments and indeed the world. 

Thus, in one particularly dramatic passage, Redbeard declares: 

The Jew has been supinely permitted to do — what Alexander, Caesar, Nusherwan, and Napoleon failed to accomplish — crown himself Emperor of the World; and collect his vast tributes from ‘the ends of the earth’.” 

Yet, if Jews do indeed control the world, including the West, as Redbeard so dramatically asserts, then this surely seems to suggest Jews are anything but inferior to the white western goyim whom they have ostensibly subjugated, hence contradicting any basis for Redbeard’s anti-Semitism. 

Moreover, applying the ‘Might-is-Right’ thesis of Redbeard himself, the inescapable conclusion is that Jewish domination is necessarily right and just. 

Thus, anti-Semitism leads almost inexorably to its opposite – philo-Semitism and Jewish supremacism.[36]

Thus, in the footnote accompanying this passage in the Underworld Amusements Authoritative Edition, editor Trevor Blake observes: 

Not a few pages earlier, Redbeard wrote: ‘Among the vertebrates, the king of the herd (or pack), selects himself by his battle-prowess—upon the same ‘general principles’ that induced Napoléon to place the Iron Crown upon his own brow with his own hand.’ By Redbeard’s own words and reasoning ‘the Jew’ is not only Emperor of the World but justly so. A significant challenge to both those who consider ‘Might is Right’ to be antisemitic and those who consider ‘Might is Right’ to be consistent.[37]

Yet Redbeard himself is not, it seems, himself entirely oblivious of this necessary implication, since, on various occasions he comes close to accepting this very conclusion. 

Take, for example, the following stanza from The Philosophy of Power (aka The Logic of Today): 

What are the lords of horded gold—the silent Semite rings
What are the plunder patriots—High pontiffs, priests and kings?
What are they but bold masterminds, best fitted for the fray
Who comprehend and vanquish by—the Logic of Today.” 

Here, “the lords of horded gold” and, more specifically, “the silent Semite rings” are explicitly equated with “bold masterminds, best suited to the fray” who “comprehend and vanquish” in accordance with the tenets of Redbeard’s own philosophy of power. 

Likewise, Redbeard does not exclude from his pantheon of heroes those military leaders, historical or mythological, who conquered and vanquished in accordance with Redbeard’s theory merely on account merely of their Jewish ethnicity. 

Thus, in The Philosophy of Power he is unapologetic in declaring, “Might is Right when Joshua led his hordes o’er Jordan’s foam” and when “Gideon led the ‘chosen’ tribes of old”, just as much as when “Titus burnt their temple roofed with gold”.[38]

Yet, elsewhere, Redbeard evades the inescapable conclusion of his own arguments—namely that, if Jews do indeed control the world, this surely demonstrates that they are indeed the master race and hence that, according to Redbeard’s own philosophy, that their rule is just and right. He does so by asserting the current social, economic and political order, in which Jews are supposedly supreme, is a perversion of the natural order. 

Thus, he avers: 

What is viler than a government of slaves and usurious Jews? What is grander than a government of the Noblest and the Best – who have proved their Fitness on the plains of Death?” 

Thus, while he views democracy and Christian morality as merely a façade for a thinly veiled exploitation, inequality and subjugation no less insidious than that of the ancients, nevertheless Redbeard yearns for the return of a more naked manifestation of authority and exploitation. 

In other words, he seems to be saying: Might is Right—but only so long as the right ‘Might’ is currently in power! 

The Coming (Long Overdue) Armageddon? 

Yet as well as calling for the overthrow of the current corrupt social, political and economic system, Redbeard also believes we may not have long to wait—for, being unnatural, the current system is also, he insists, inherently unsustainable. 

Thus, a recurrent theme throughout ‘Might is Right’ is the coming collapse of Western civilization, which is, according to Redbeard, both inevitable and long overdue. Thus, he writes: 

The Philosophy of Power has slumbered long but whenever men of sterling are found, it must again sweep away the ignoble dollar-damned pedlarisms of today and openly, as of old, dominate the destiny of an emancipated and all-conquering race.” 

Over a century after Redbeard penned these words, this collapse has conspicuously yet to occur. On the contrary, the ostensibly decadent liberal democratic polities and capitalist economies that Redbeard so disparages have only continued to flourish and spread—and, in the process, become ever more decadent. 

Against Civilization 

Yet, although he anticipates the coming collapse of Western civilization, Redbeard is far from pessimistic about this outcome. On the contrary, it is something he, not only anticipates, but very much welcomes and, indeed, regards as long overdue. 

This then demonstrates, in case we still harbored any doubts, just how radical and transgressive Redbeard’s philosophy truly is. 

Thus, whereas conservatives and white nationalists usually pose as defenders of western civilization, Redbeard himself evinces no such conceit. 

He does not want to restore Western civilization or, to adopt a famous political slogan, Make America Great Again. Rather, he wants to do away with civilization altogether, American capitalist democracy very much included.

Civilization is, for Redbeard, inherently decadent and effeminate. Thus, he laments of contemporary society: 

This world is too peaceful, too acquiescent, too tame. It is a circumcised world. Nay! – a castrated world! It must be made fiercer, before it can become grander and better and – more natural.” 

Redbeard’s posited utopia is, then, any other man’s dystopia—a Hobbesian State of Nature or ‘war of all against all’. 

Thus, although, as we have seen, Redbeard views naked self-interest as underlying the façades of liberal democracy and Christian morality, he nevertheless pines for a government that relies openly on naked force rather than a pretense of democracy or egalitarianism

Thus, where Bertrand Russell famously disparaged Nietzsche’s philosophy as amounting to nothing more than, I wish I had lived in the Athens of Pericles or the Florence of the Medici, Redbeard prefers, not the civilization of Athens, but rather the barbarism of Vikingdom. 

Redbeard’s Racialism Revisited – and Debunked! 

Yet Redbeard’s preference for barbarism over civilization also, ironically, undercuts any plausible basis for his racialism and Nordic supremacism

After all, the main evidence cited by white supremacists in support of the theory that whites are superior to other races is the achievements of whites in the spheres of science, technology, art, democracy, human rights, architecture, mathematics and metallurgy (and on IQ tests) – in short, their achievements in all the spheres that contribute towards creating and maintaining successful, peaceful, stable and technologically-advanced civilization

Yet, if one rejects civilization as an ideal, then on what grounds can whites still be held up as superior? 

After all, blacks are quite as capable of being barbarians as are Nordic Vikings and Teutons. Indeed, these days they seem to be better at it! 

Thus, the high crime rates of blacks, and abysmal state of civilization in so much of sub-Saharan Africa, not to mention Haiti, Baltimore and Detroit, so often cited by racialists as evidence of black pathology, is, from the perspective of Redbeard’s inverted morality, converted into positive evidence for black supremacy! 

Blacks are, today, better barbarians than are whites. Therefore, from the perspective of Redbeard’s savage theory, they must be the true Herrenvolk

Against Intellectualism 

Finally, rejecting civilization leads Redbeard ultimately to reject intellectualism too: 

Intellectualism renders more sensitive. Sensitive persons are very excitable, timid, and liable to disease. Over cultivation of the brain cells undoubtedly produces… physical decay and leads on towards insanity.” 

Perhaps this excuses the intellectual inadequacy of, and rampant internal contradictions within, his own philosophical treatise⁠. 

However, it also begs the question as to why Redbeard ever chose to write a philosophical treatise in the first place—an inherently intellectual endeavour. 

Indeed, had Redbeard, whoever this pseudonymous author really was, truly believed in and followed the precepts of his own philosophy, then he surely would never have put pen to paper, since he would be far too busy waging wars of conquest and enslaving inferior peoples. 

Indeed, his writing of the book is not merely a distraction from more important activities (e.g. war, conquest), but also positively counterproductive—because the more people learn the truth from his book and are inspired to lead conquests of their own, then the less willing they will be to be conquered and enslaved by Redbeard, and the more competition he will have in his envisaged conquests.[39]

Yet, whatever the true identity of the pseudonymous author who wrote under the pen-name of “Ragnar Redbeard”, he was surely neither Napoleon nor Alexander the Great. (For one thing, the dates don’t match up.) 

Therefore, Redbeard, whoever he was, did not live, or die, by his own philosophy, which, like the Christian morality he so detests, sets impossibly high standards for its adherents. 

Indeed, even leaving aside the contradictions and inconsistencies, Redbeard’s philosophy is so extreme that almost no one could ever truly live by it. Indeed, it would be far easier to die by Redbeard’s theory than it would be to live by it. 

Thus, Redbeard admonishes readers in his poem, The Philosophy of Power (aka The Logic of Today): 

You must prove your Right by deeds of Might of splendor and renown.
If need-be march through flames of hell, to dash opponents down.
If need-be die on scaffold high on the morning’s misty gray is still
For Liberty or Death is still the Logic of To-Day.” 

Thus, for Redbeard, the only truly honourable outcomes are either an endless succession of conquests and victory, or death in the pursuit thereof. 

Far better for a free animal to be killed outright, than to be mastered, subordinated, and enchained.” 

Thus, inevitably failing to live up to his own impossibly high ideals, Redbeard, whoever he was, must, to the extent he truly believed in the ideals he espoused, have been consumed by insecurity and self-hate. 

Ragnar Redbeard”: An Alter-Ego or a Fictional Character of Arthur Desmond’s Invention? 

This leads me to consider a possibility that I first dismissed offhand—namely that ‘Might is Right’ is indeed, as some have claimed, a work of satire, a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the worst excesses of social Darwinism and Nietzscheanism. 

Yet this simply cannot be true. The very power of Redbeard’s words demonstrates that the author was at the very least sympathetic to the ideas he espouses.

I cannot believe any writer, howsoever gifted, could ever write such brilliant poetry, nor coin such memorable aphorisms, in support of a theory to which he was himself wholly opposed and had no attachment whatsoever.  

This leads me to a third possibility. Perhaps the author, almost certainly one Arthur Desmond, was adopting a persona, namely that of “Ragnar Redbeard”, in order to explore, and take to their logical if remorseless conclusion, ideas with which he had developed a fascination, but to which he was nevertheless unwilling to put his own name. 

Thus, other philosophers, notably the proto-existentialist Søren Kierkegaard, have written under pseudonyms in order to explore alternative, often mutually contradictory, viewpoints. 

Perhaps then, in adopting the persona of Ragnar Redbeard, Arthur Desmond was doing the same thing. 

In other words, ‘Might is Right’ is neither an exposition of Desmond’s own views, nor still less a parody or critique of these views, but rather a kind of extended thought-experiment

Thus, just as Plato used his own fictionalized version of Socrates as a mouthpiece through which to expound ideas what were, in reality, almost certainly very much Plato’s own, so Arthur Desmond invented the entirely fictional figure, or alter-ego, of “Ragnar Redbeard” to espouse ideas which were, again, very much Desmond’s own, but to which he was nevertheless as yet unwilling to put his own name or entirely commit himself. 

This would make sense given the extremely controversial nature of the views expressed by Redbeard in his treatise. 

Clearly, Desmond was a bold, daring, radical, even extremist thinker, who could certainly never be accused of intellectual cowardice. However, to wholly commit himself to Redbeard’s severe and remorseless philosophy was perhaps a step too far even for him. 

After all, as we have seen, to truly live by Redbeard’s philosophy is almost an impossibility.  

Thus, by writing under pseudonym, Desmond would shield himself from the allegation that, in failing to lead any wars of conquest of his own, he was a hypocrite who failed to live up to the ideals of his own ideals. 

This idea, namely that Redbeard was, no so much a mere pseudonym or pen name, but an alter-ego or fictional character of Desmond’s own creation, might help explain why, although writing in a name other than his own, Desmond apparently made little if any effort to conceal his authorship, his own name often appearing on the same byline as that of his persona “Ragnar Redbeard” in the various obscure turn-of-the-century Nietzschean, anarchist and Egoist publications for which he wrote.[40]

Ragnar Redbeard” is not then a mere pen-name. Rather, he is an alter-ego or alternate persona, in whose voice the author chose to author this work. 

Thus, the views expressed are not necessarily, at least without reservation, those of the Desmond himself. But neither is there any evidence that Desmond opposed to these views either, let alone that he soughtt to parody or satirize such views. 

Rather, they are the views, not of Desmond, but of “Ragnar Redbeard”, a fictional character of Desmond’s own creation.

God is dead! Long live Ragnar Redbeard!

Endnotes

[1] To the extent it is remembered or widely read today, it is largely among, on the one hand, certain of the more intellectually-minded (and sociopathic) white nationalists, and, on the other, an equally marginal fringe of occultists and self-styled Satanists. Both associations are odd and actually contrary Redbeard’s philosophy. On the one hand, Redbeard is, despite his racialism, actually an egoist and radical individualist, influenced at least as much by Stirner as by Nietzsche and hence opposed to nationalism of any guise (see above). On the other, Redbeard is nothing if not a trenchant materialist, opposed to all forms of supernaturalism religion, occultism presumably very much included. (Admittedly, he does aver, in Sayings of Redbeard that “Christ is dead. Thor lives and reigns”. However, this is clearly meant in a metaphoric sense, as when Nietzsche declared the death of God, rather than an actual endorsement of paganism.) The curious association of Redbeard’s work with occultism seems to derive from the championing of his work, then apparently largely forgotten, by Anton Lavey, founder of the Church of Satan. Indeed, Lavey stands accused of lifting large sections of his own Satanic Bible directly from ‘Might is Right’. Perhaps among the aspects of conventional morality rejected by Laveyian Satanists is the prohibition on plagiarism. However, Lavey’s Satanism is resolutely nontheistic and indeed almost as trenchantly materialist as Redbeard’s own severe philosophy. 

[2] Leo Tolstoy was also familiar with Redbeard’s treatise, referring to it in name in his essay What is Art?’ and accurately summarizing its key tenets. Like Wallace, he has little time for Redbeard‘s philosophy. However, despite his literary background, Tolstoy, unlike Wallace, fails to show any appreciation of the brilliance of Redbeard’s verse, perhaps on account of his lack of fluency in English, which has also been suggested as a reason for his failure to appreciate the work of Shakespeare.

[3] Indeed, given that he, at times, rejects the whole notion of morality, it is doubtful whether Redbeard would indeed welcome being described as a moral philosopher anyway. As will become clear in the course of this essay, although with regard to his moral philosophy Redbeard is highly self-contradictory, I feel that, in addition to the brilliance of his poetry, Redbeard has much to offer as a political theorist.

[4] Admirers of his verse would do well to check out Sayings of Redbeard, a collection of poetry and aphorisms by the same author, including much poetry and other material omitted from ‘Might is Right’, and seemingly even less well known and widely read. As an example, I quote a shorter (seemingly untitled) piece from  Sayings of Redbeard

‘Let lions cease to prowl and fight,
Let eagles clip their wings,
Let men of might give up their right’,
The foolish poet sings.

‘Let lords of gold and Caesars bold
Forever pass away,
Enrich the slaves; enthrone the knaves,’
The base-born prophets say.

But I maintain with hand and pen
The other side of things,
The bold man’s right to rule and reign,
The way of gods and kings.

So capture crowns of wealth and power
(If you’ve the strength and can)
For strife is life’s eternal dower,
And nothing’s under ban. 

Ye, lions wake and hunt and fight,
Ye, eagles spread your wings;
Ye, men of might, believe you’re right
For you indeed are kings.

[5] Interestingly, although it is usually assumed that Redbeard is a disciple of, or at last influenced by, Nietzsche, the latter is never actually mentioned by name throughout the text, nor, to my knowledge, in any of Redbeard’s other published writings. Neither does Redbeard adopt such tell-tale Neitzschean neologisms as übermensch, slave morality etc. The ostensible editor of the original 1896 edition, one “Douglas K Handyside M.D. Ph.D.” (likely itself a pseudonym) makes, on Redbeard’s behalf, the interesting admission that:

Through his inability to read German, he [Redbeard] very deeply regrets that he cannot search thoroughly into the famous works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Felix Dahn, Alexander Tille, Karl Gutzkow, Max Stirner and other missionaries of what Huxley names ‘The New Reformation’.”

At the time Redbeard was writing, of course, English translations of many of these works were not widely available. Redbeard’s themes, however, do often echo, or at least mirror, those of both Nietzsche and Stirner in particular.

[6] Strictly speaking, presumably, for Redbeard, an individual’s own personal morality need not necessarily be wholly different from that of every other person, so long as it is arrived at independently. A person could, purely by chance, or by rather convergent reasoning, arrive at the same moral ethos as his neighbour. However, this is acceptable to Redbeard only so long as the convergence occurred without any coercion or indoctrination.

[7] Perhaps this apparent contradiction could be reconciled by claiming that, although each man must, for the sake of his freedom, determine anew his own version of morality, nevertheless, given the power of Redbeard‘s arguments, any intelligent, rational individual will inevitably arrive at the same conclusion as he himself. Interestingly in this light, although Redbeard usually regarded as having been influenced by Nietzsche in his views on morality, the latter is never actually cited or otherwise mentioned by name, or quoted, at any point within Redbeard’s text. Perhaps Redbeard is thereby attempting to emphasize that, howsoever much his ideas may converge with those of Nietzsche, they are nevertheless very much of his own, derived by way of independent reasoning.

[8] ‘The editors, ‘A bogus book ‘The Survival or the Fittest or The Philosophy of Power’ By Ragnar Redbeard’Tocsin, Thursday 23 March 1899. 

[9] This is certainly true of communism. Communism’s apologists typically claim that “‘true communism’ has never been tried, but this only illustrates the fact that there is a reason that true communism has never been achieved – namely, it is simply impossible and unworkable and therefore never could be achieved. Watered-down socialism, in the form of what is today called social democracy has proven workable and sustainable, albeit at some economic cost, in, for example, the, perhaps not unconincidentally, (until recently) racially and ethnically homogenous Nordic economies.

[10] Such small utopian communes sometimes succeed for a generation, because those drawn to them are highly committed to the ideology of the group, which is why they choose to join the group, and are thus a highly self-selected sample. However, they typically either break down, or, as in the case of Israeli kibbutzim, abandon many aspects of the original ideology and practice of the group, in succeeding generations, as those born into the group, though raised according to its precepts, nevertheless lack the commitment to its ideals of their parents. On the contrary, they often inherit their parents’ rebellious streak, the very rebellious streak that led their parent to join a commune, but which, in their offspring, leads them to rebel against the teaching of the commune. 

[11] Matthew 5 39-42; Luke 6: 27-31.

[12] Matthew 7.

[13] Giving up one‘s worldly possessions is explicitly commanded by Jesus in passages such as Mark 10:21Luke 14:33.

[14] In pinning their hopes on science for our liberation, secularists are, rather ironically, themselves following the biblical teaching that the truth shall set you free (John 8:32). In reality, the truth does not set us free: It merely reveals the truth of our own enslavement, namely precisely that which we were seeking to escape in the first place.

[15] Matthew 5 39-42Luke 6: 27-31.

[16] Matthew 22:21

[17] Wood, A (1990) ’Marx Against Morality’,in Singer (ed.), A Companion to Ethics (pp. 511- 524) Oxford: Blackwell.

[18] For more on this interesting topic, see Wood, A (1990) ’Marx Against Morality’,in Singer (ed.), A Companion to Ethics (pp. 511- 524) Oxford: Blackwell; Rosen, M. (2000). The Marxist Critique of Morality and the Theory of IdeologyMorality, Reflection and Ideology, 21-43.

[19] Thus, Nietzsche observed in The Anti-Christ

The anarchist and the Christian have the same ancestry” (The Anti-Christ). 

Hitler was later to reiterate the same point in his Table Talk, albeit with added (or at least more explicit) anti-Semitism, writing:

The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew” (Hitler’s Table Talk).

Here, Hitler directly echoes, and indeed combines, not only the quotation from Nietzsche in The Anti-Christ that I have quoted just above but also passage from The Anti-Christ, where Nietzsche anticipates Hitler by lamenting:

Christianity remains to this day the greatest misfortune of humanity” (The Anti-Christ).

Clearly, if Marxism, anarchism and Christianity share the same ancestry, so perhaps do Nietzsche and Hitler – and perhaps Redbeard too.

[20] After all, throughout history, conquest and subjugation has been a frequent occurrence. However, only rarely have states or peoples voluntarily entered into unions with other states or peoples in order to form a new state or people. On the contrary, peoples, with their inevitable petty hatreds against even their close neighbours (indeed, especially against close neighbours) are almost always reluctant to surrender their own traditions and identity, howsoever petty and parochial, and be subsumed into larger monolithic ethnic grouping. Moreover, when such unified polities have been voluntarily formed, this has typically been either to facilitate or forestall conquest, as when a group of smaller polities join together to protect themselves against a potential conqueror through force of numbers, or when they join together to facilitate the conquest of a third-party power. Even voluntary unions, then, are typically formed for the purposes of conquest or resisting conquest. Thus, as Herbert Spencer wrote: 

Only by imperative need for combination in war were primitive man led into cooperation” (quoted in: Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny: p56). 

Indeed, Robert Wright goes so far as to suggest: 

This is almost like a general law of history…formerly contentious Greek states form the Delian league to battle Persia, five previously warring tribes forming the Iroquois league (under Hiawatha’s deft diplomacy) in the sixteenth century after menacing white men arrived in America; American white men, two centuries later, merging thirteen colonies into a confederacy amid British hostility… The loosely confederated tribes [of Israel] transform[ing] themselves into a unified monarchy [under threat from the Philistines]” (Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny: p58). 

[21] This quotation is taken, not from ‘Might is Right’, but rather from Sayings of Redbeard, a separate collection of aphorisms and poetry by the same author.

[22] This quotation comes from ‘Might is Right’. Another formulation on the same theme, and an extension of the same rhyming couplet, is found in Sayings of Redbeard, where the author writes: 

Poison lurks in pastor preachments,
Satan works through golden rules,
Hell is paved with law and justice,
Christs were made to fetter fools.”

[23] Perhaps first-generation immigrants are an exception, having chosen to migrate to the jurisdiction of their choosing and hence voluntarily agreed to be bound by its laws. However, even this decision is hardly made “in a state of… unrestrained liberty”, the stringent condition demanded by Redbeard. After all, there are only a limited number of jurisdictions to choose from, most of them with legal systems, and bodies of law, rather similar to one another, such that the actual choice is even more limited. Incidentally, Arthur Desmond, the likely real person behind the pseudonymous Redbeard, was himself a migrant, having migrated from New Zealand to the USA at the time he authored this book. 

[24] Thus, Redbeard concludes:

The ‘Voice of the People’ can only be compared to the fearsome shrieks of agony that may now and then be heard, issuing forth from the barred windows of a roadside madhouse.” 

[25] For socialists to champion work is, however, altogether odder. Indeed, the very essence of leftist ideology implicitly presumes that work is something to be avoided. Thus, those who are obliged to work, through coercion or circumstance (i.e. slaves, wage-slaves, serfs and the aptly-named ‘working-classes) are, by virtue of this fact alone, presumed to be oppressed and exploited, while those who are exempt from work (the idle rich and leisure class) are regarded as privileged, if not as exploitative oppressors, on precisely this account. Yet somehow leftist agitation on behalf of workers was corrupted into a sentimental celebration of the working classes, and thence into a sentimental celebration of work itself as somehow ennobling. A cynic, of course, would suggest that this curious transformation was deliberately engineered by the capitalist employers and government themselves, and would also observe that ostensibly socialist governments tend to be as exploitative of, and parasitic upon, the working population as are every other form of government. This is, of course, the view of Redbeard himself.

[26] Interestingly, at one point in the same discussion, Redbeard seems to go yet further, rejecting not only the labour theory of property, but also the so-called labour theory of value. This is the idea, long discredited among serious economists, but still held to as a sacrosanct dogma by unreconstructed Marxists and other such professional damned fools, that the value or price of a commodity is determined by the labour expended in creating it. Thus, Redbeard seemingly attempts to argue that, not just ownership, but also economic value is somehow determined by force of arms:

“The sword, not labor, is the true creator of economic values.” 

I am, of course, like all right-thinking people, all in favour of gratuitous sideswipes at Marxism. Moreover, the labour theory of value is indeed largely discredited. However, the idea that value, in the economic sense, can be created by force of arms seems to me even more wrongheaded than the idea that value of a commodity is determined by the labour expended in creating it, and it is difficult to envisage how this idea would work in practice. At any rate, whatever the merits of this admittedly novel and intiguing idea, to justify such a notion, some sort of sustained argument is clearly required. Redbeard’s single throwaway sentence clearly does not suffice.

[27] Of course, a Darwinian perspective is arguably no more flattering to males. If the quintessential female is specialized for making eggs, then the quintessential male is an organism specialized to compete to fertilize as many such eggs as possible. Males, therefore, are destined to compete for access to females. This, of course, does not mean that for a either a man or a woman, or a male or female of any other species, to devote their life to such an endeavour is necessarily the morally right thing to do, nor even that it is necessarily the most psychologically rewarding course of action. 

[28] For example, James Watson reports that, whereas 94% of the Y-chromosomes of contemporary Colombians are European, mitochondrial DNA shows a “range of Amerindian MtDNA types” (DNA: The Secret of Life: p257). Thus, he concludes, “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” (Ibid: p257). Similarly, the Anglo-Saxon and Viking invaders to Britain made a greater contribution to the Y-chromosomes of the English than they did to our mitochondrial DNA (see Blood of the Isles).

[29] I put the phrase ‘warrior genes’ in inverted commas because Redbeard was actually writing before the modern synthesis i.e. before importance of Mendel’s pioneering work regarding the mechanism of heredity, what is today called genetics, was widely recognized. Redbeard himself therefore does not refer to ‘genes’ as such. 

[30] Shaw GB (1903) Man and Superman, Maxims for Revolutionists

[31] Indeed, perhaps the only exception to this general principle is in respect of those sporting events in which women are also themselves the competitors, since most men are, in my experience, uninterested in female sports. Yet this is clearly totally contrary to Redbeard’s theory of sports as an arena for female mate choice. For a more sophisticated evolutionary theory of competitive sport, see Lombardo (2012)  On the Evolution of Sport Evolutionary Psychology 10(1).

[32] In referring to “male coercion”, I do not have in mind primarily outright rape, though this did indeed likely play some small part in the propagation of warrior genes as it is a recurrent feature of war and conquest. Rather, I have in mind more subtle and indirect mechanisms of coercion such as, for example, arranged marriages.

[33] Other predators rarely drive their prey to extinction, since, once the prey species starts to become rare, then the predator species either switches to a different source of food (e.g. a different prey species) or else, bereft of food, starts to dwindle in numbers itself, such that, one way or another, the prey species is able to recover somewhat in numbers. Humans are said to be an exception because, in human cultures, there is often prestige in successfully capturing an especially rare prey, such that humans continue to hunt an endangered species right up to the point of extinction even when, in purely nutritional terms, this is a sub-optimal foraging strategy: see Hawkes K (1991) Showing off: Tests of an hypothesis about men’s foraging goals Ethology and Sociobiology 12(1): 29-54.

[34] Quoted in: Brownworth, L The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings: p20.

[35] Thus, Anton Lavey, in lifting material from ‘Might is Right’ for his own so-called Satanic Bible, largely cut out the racialist and anti-Semitic content, and, in doing so, produced a philosophy that was at least as consistent and coherent as Redbeard’s own (which is to say, not very consistent or coherent at all).

[36] As Robert, a character from Michel Houellebecq’s Platform, observes: 

All anti-Semites agree that the Jews have a certain superiority. If you read anti-Semitic literature, you’re struck by the fact that the Jew is considered to be more intelligent, more cunning, that he is credited with having singular financial talents – and, moreover, greater communal solidarity. Result: six million dead.” 

Indeed, even Hitler in Mein Kampf came close to conceding Jewish superiority, writing:

The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew. In hardly any people in the world is the instinct of self-preservation developed more strongly than in the so-called ‘chosen’. Of this, the mere fact of the survival of this race may be considered the best proof. Where is the people which in the last two thousand years has been exposed to so slight changes of inner disposition, character, etc., as the Jewish people? What people, finally, has gone through greater upheavals than this one – and nevertheless issued from the mightiest catastrophes of mankind unchanged? What an infinitely tough will to live and preserve the species speaks from these facts” (Mein Kampf, Manheim translation).

Thus, Nazi propaganda claimed that Jews controlled banking, moneylending, whole swathes of the German economy and dominated the legal and medical professions. Yet, if Jews, who composed only a tiny fraction of the Weimar population, did indeed dominate the economy to the extent claimed by the Nazis then, this not only suggested that Jews were far from inferior to their ‘Aryan’ hosts, but also that the Germans themselves, in allowing themselves to be dominated by a group so small in number, were anything but the Aryan Übermensch of Hitler’s own imagining.

[37] Might is Right: The Authoritative Edition: p259.

[38] In the authoritative edition, the editor, Trevor Blake, suggests that, just as Anton Lavey, in plagiarizing ‘Might is Right’, omitted the racialist and anti-Semitic elements, so, in editions produced by some white nationalist presses, these favourable references to Jewish figures are omitted. He does not, however, cite any specific examples of alterations from the text. Interestingly, however, the first version of the poem The Philosophy of Power (aka The Logic of Today) with which I became familiar did just that, replacing “Might is Right when Joshua led his hordes o’er Jordan’s foam” with “Might is Right when Genghis led his hordes o’er Danube’s foam”. Indeed, a google search for this version reveals nearly as many hits as for the correct, original wording, perhaps because this version was also used as the lyrics for a song by nineties white power band, Rahowa in their album, ‘Cult of the Holy War. Perhaps, from a white nationalist perspective, praising a non-white Asian military conqueror is more acceptable than praising a mythical Jewish military conqueror.

[39] From a social Darwinist perspective, however, this is to be welcomed, since it increases the competition between prospective despots and dictators, and hence ensures that only the greatest conqueror will prevail. However, among the many contradictions in ‘Might is Right’ is that Redbeard vacillates between championing a radical individualist egoist morality, and a social Darwinist ethos. Social Darwinism is actually, in a sense, a collectivist ideology, since, although it champions conflict between individuals, it does so only so that the only most superior individuals survive and reproduce, hence resulting in a eugenic benefit to the group or species as a whole. This is, of course, diametrically opposed to an individualist egoist ethos.

[40] So, at least, it is claimed here, by Underworld Amusements, publishers of what purports to be, with no little justification, The Authoritative Edition of the book. 

The ‘Means of Reproduction’ and the Ultimate Purpose of Political Power

Laura Betzig, Despotism and Differential Reproduction: A Darwinian View of History (New Brunswick: AdelineTransation, 1983). 

Moulay Ismail Ibn Sharif, alias ‘Ismail the Bloodthirsty’, a late-seventeenth, early eighteenth century Emperor of Morocco is today little remembered, at least outside of his native Morocco. He is, however, in a strict Darwinian sense, possibly the most successful human ever to have lived. 

Ismail, you see, is said to have sired some 888 offspring. His Darwinian fitness therefore exceeded that of any other known person.[1]

Some have questioned whether this figure is realistic (Einon 1998). However, the best analyses suggest that, while the actual number of offspring fathered by Ismail is indeed probably apocryphal, such a large progeny is indeed eminently plausible for a powerful ruler with access to a large harem of wives and/or concubines (Gould 2000; Oberzaucher & Grammer 2014).

Indeed, as Laura Betzig demonstrates in ‘Despotism and Differential Reproduction’, Ismail is exceptional only in degree.

Across diverse societies and cultures, and throughout human history, wherever individual males acquire great wealth and power, they convert this wealth and power into the ultimate currency of natural selection – namely reproductive success – by asserting and maintaining exclusive reproductive access to large harems of young female sex partners. 

A Sociobiological Theory of Human History 

Betzig begins her monograph by quoting a small part of a famous passage from the closing paragraphs of Charles Darwin’s seminal On the Origin of Species which she adopts as the epigraph to her preface. 

In this passage, the great Victorian naturalist tentatively extended his theory of natural selection to the question of human origins, a topic he conspicuously avoided in the preceding pages of his famous text. 

Yet, in this much-quoted passage, Darwin goes well beyond suggesting merely that his theory of evolution by natural selection might explain human origins in just the same way it explained the origin of other species. On the contrary, he also anticipated the rise of evolutionary psychology, writing of how: 

Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. 

Yet this is not the part of this passage quoted by Betzig. Instead, she quotes the next sentence, where Darwin makes another prediction, no less prophetic, namely that: 

Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history 

In this reference to “man and his history”, Darwin surely had in mind primarily, if not exclusively, the natural history and evolutionary history of our species.

Betzig, however, interprets Darwin more broadly, and more literally, and, in so doing, has both founded, and for several years, remained the leading practitioner of a new field – namely, Darwinian history.

This is the attempt to explain, not only the psychology and behaviour of contemporary humans in terms of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and selfish gene theory, but also to explain the behaviour of people in past historical epochs in terms of the same theory.  

Her book length monograph, ‘Despotism and Differential Reproduction: A Darwinian View of History’ remains the best known and most important work in this field. 

The Historical and Ethnographic Record 

In making the case that, throughout history and across the world, males in positions of power have used this power so as to maximize their Darwinian fitness by securing exclusive reproductive access to large harems of fertile females, Betzig, presumably to avoid the charge of cherry picking, never actually even mentions Ismail the Bloodthirsty at any point in her monograph. 

Instead, Betzig uses ethnographic data taken from a random sample of cultures from across the world. Nevertheless, the patterns she uncovers are familiar and recurrent.

Powerful males command large harems of multiple fertile young females, to whom they assert, and defend, exclusive reproductive access. In this way, they convert their power into the ultimate currency of natural selection – namely, reproductive success or fitness.

Thus, summarizing Betzig’s work, not only in ‘Despotism and Differential Reproduction’, but also in other published works, science writer Matt Ridley reports:

[Of] the six independent ‘civilizations’ of early history – Babylon, Egypt, India, China, the Aztecs and the Incas… the Babylonian king Hammurabi had thousands of slave ‘wives’ at his command. The Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten procured three hundred and seventeen concubines and ‘droves’ of consorts. The Aztec ruler Montezuma enjoyed four thousand concubines. The Indian emperor Udayama preserved sixteen thousand consorts in apartments guarded by eunuchs. The Chinese emperor Fei-ti had ten thousand women in his harem. The Inca… kept virgins on tap throughout the kingdom” (The Red Queen: p191-2; see Betzig 1993a).

Such vast harems seem, at first, wholly wasteful. This is surely more fertile females than even the horniest, healthiest and most virile of emperors could ever hope to have sex with, let alone successfully impregnate. As Betzig acknowledges: 

The number of women in such a harem may easily have prohibited the successful impregnation of each… but, their being kept from bearing children to others increased the monarch’s relative reproductive accomplishment” (p70). 

In other words, even if these rulers were unable to successfully impregnate every concubine in their harem, keeping them cloistered and secluded nevertheless prevented other males from impregnating them, which increased the relative representation of the ruler’s genes in subsequent generations.

To this end, extensive efforts also were made to ensure the chastity of these women. Thus, even in ancient times, Betzig reports: 

Evidence of claustration, in the form of a walled interior courtyard, exists for Babylonian Mai; and claustration in second story rooms with latticed, narrow windows is mentioned in the Old Testament” (p79). 

Indeed, Betzig even proposes an alternative explanation for early evidence of defensive fortifications

Elaborate fortifications erected for the purposes of defense may [also] have served the dual (identical?) function of protecting the chastity of women of the harem” (p79). 

Indeed, as Betzig alludes to in her parenthesis, this second function is arguably not entirely separate to the first. 

After all, if all male-male competition is ultimately based on competition over access to fertile females, then this surely very much includes warfare. As Napoleon Chagnon emphasizes in his studies of warfare and intergroup raiding among the Yąnomamö Indians of the Amazonian rainforest, warfare among primitive peoples tends to be predicated on the capture of fertile females from among enemy groups.[2]

Therefore, even fortifications erected for the purposes of military defence, ultimately serve the evolutionary function of maintaining exclusive reproductive access to the fertile females contained therein. 

Other methods of ensuring the chastity of concubines, and thus the paternity certainty of emperors, included the use of eunuchs as harem guards. Indeed, this seems to have been the original reason eunuchs were castrated and later became a key element in palace retinues (see The Evolution of Human Sociality: p45). 

Chastity belts, however, ostensibly invented for the wives of crusading knights while the latter were away on crusade, are likely a modern myth.

The movements of harem concubines were also highly restricted. Thus, if permitted to venture beyond their cloisters, they were invariably escorted. 

For example in the African Kingdom of Dahomey, Betzig reports: 

The king’s wives’… approach was always signalled by the ringing of a bell by the women servant or slave who invariably preceded them [and] the moment the bell is heard all persons, whether male or female , turn their backs, but all the males must retire to a certain distance” (p79). 

Similarly, inmates of the Houses of Virgins maintained by Inca rulers:

Lived in perpetual seclusion to the end of their lives… and were not permitted to converse, or have intercourse with, or to see any man, nor any woman who was not one of themselves” (p81-2). 

Feminists tend to view such practices as evidence of the supposed oppression of women

However, from a sociobiological or evolutionary psychological perspective, the primary victims of such practices were, not the harem inmates themselves, but rather the lower-status men condemned to celibacy and ‘inceldom’ as a consequence of royal dynasties monopolizing sexual access to almost all the fertile females in the society in question. 

The encloistered women might have been deprived of their freedom of movement – but many lower-status men in the same societies were deprived of almost all access to fertile female sex partners, and hence any possibility of passing on their genes, the ultimate evolutionary function of any biological organism. 

In contrast, the concubines secluded in royal harems were not only able to reproduce, but also lived lives of relative comfort, if not, in some cases, outright luxury, often being: 

Equipped with their own household and servants, and probably lived reasonably comfortable lives in most respects, except… for a lack of liberal masculine company” (p80). 

Indeed, seclusion, far from evidencing oppression, was primarily predicted on safety and protection. In short, to be imprisoned is not so bad when one is imprisoned in a palace. 

Finally, methods were also sometimes employed specifically to enhance their fertility of the women so confined. Thus, Ridley reports: 

Wet nurses, who allow women to resume ovulation by cutting short their breast-feeding periods, date from at least the code of Hammurabi in the eighteenth century BC… Tang dynasty emperors of China kept careful records of dates of menstruation and conception in the harem so as to be sure to copulate only with the most fertile concubines… [and] Chinese emperors were also taught to conserve their semen so as to keep up their quota of two women a day” (The Red Queen: p192). 

Confirming Betzig’s conclusions but subsequent to the publication of her work, researchers have now uncovered genetic evidence of the fecundity of one particular powerful ruler (or ruling male lineage) – namely, a Y chromosome haplogroup, found in 8% of males across a large region of Asia and in one in two hundred males across the whole world – the features of which are consistent with its having spread across the region thanks to the exception prolificity of Genghis Khan, his male siblings and descendants (Zerjal 2003). 

Female Rulers? 

In contrast, limited to only one pregnancy every nine months, a woman, howsoever rich and powerful, can necessarily bear far fewer offspring than can be sired by a man enjoying equivalent wealth, power and access to multiple fertile sex partners, even with the aid of evolutionary novelties like wet nurses, bottle milk and IVF treatment. 

As a female analogue of Ismail the Bloodthirsty, it is sometimes claimed that a Russian woman gave birth to 69 offspring in the nineteenth-century. She was also supposedly, and very much unlike Ismail the Bloodthirsty, not a powerful and polygamous elite ruler, but rather a humble, monogamously married peasant woman. 

However, this much smaller figure is both physiologically implausible and poorly sourced. Indeed, even her name is unknown, and she is referred to only as the wife of Feodor Vassilyev. It is, in short, almost certainly an urban myth.[3]

Feminists have argued that the overrepresentation of males in positions of power is a consequence of such mysterious and non-existent phenomena as patriarchy or male dominance or the oppression of women.

In reality, however, it seems that, for women, seeking positions of power and wealth simply doesn’t have the same reproductive payoff as for men – because, no matter how many men a woman copulates with, she can usually only gestate, and nurse, one (or, in the case of twins or triplets, occasionally two or three) offspring at a time. 

This is the essence of Bateman’s Principle, later formalized by Robert Trivers as differential parental investment theory (Bateman 1948; Trivers 1972).

This, then, in Darwinian terms, explains why women are less likely to assume positions of great political power.

It is not necessarily that they don’t want political power, but rather that they are less willing to make the necessary effort, or take the necessary risks, to attain power.[4]

This calculus then, rather than the supposed oppression of women, explains, not only the cross-culturally universal over-representation of men in positions of power, but also much of the so-called gender pay gap in our own societies (see Kingsley Browne’s Biology at Work: reviewed here). 

Perhaps the closest women can get to producing such a vast progeny is maneuver their sons into having the opportunity to do so. This might explain why such historical figures as Agrippina the Younger, the mother of Nero, and Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great, are reported as having been so active, and instrumental, in securing the succession on behalf of their sons. 

The Purpose of Political Power? 

The notion that powerful rulers often use their power to gain access to multiple nubile sex partners is, of course, hardly original to sociobiology. On the contrary, it accords with popular cynicism regarding males in positions of power. 

What a Darwinian perspective adds is the ultimate explanation of why political leaders do so – and why female political rulers, even when they do assume power, usually adopt a very different reproductive strategy. 

Moreover, a Darwinian perspective goes beyond popular cynicism in suggesting that access to multiple sex partners is not merely yet another perk of power. On the contrary, it is the ultimate purpose of power and reason why men evolved to seek power in the first place. 

As Betzig herself concludes: 

Political power in itself may be explained, at least in part, as providing a position from which to gain reproductively” (p85).[5]

After all, from a Darwinian perspective, political power in and of itself has no intrinsic value. It is only if power can be used in such a way as to maximize a person’s reproductive success or fitness that it has evolutionary value. 

Thus, as Steven Pinker has observed, the recurrent theme in science fiction film and literature of robots rebelling against humans to take over the world and overthrow humanity is fundamentally mistaken. Robots would have no reason to rebel against humans, simply because they would not be programmed to want to take over the world and overthrow humanity in the first place. 

On the other hand, humans have been programmed to seek wealth and power – and to resist oppression and exploitation. This is why revolutions are a recurrent feature of human societies and history.

But we have been programmed, not by a programmer or god-like creator, but rather by natural selection.

We have been programmed by natural selection to seek wealth and power only because, throughout human evolutionary history, those of us who achieved political power tended, like Ismail the Bloodthirsty, also to achieve high levels of reproductive success as a consequence. 

Darwin versus Marx 

In order to test the predictive power of her theory, Betzig contrasts the predictions made by sociobiological theory with a rival theory – namely, Marxism

The comparison is apposite since, despite repeated falsification at the hands of both economists and of history, Marxism remains, among both social scientists and laypeople, the dominant paradigm when it comes to explaining social structure, hierarchy and exploitation in human societies.  

Certainly, it has proven far more popular than any approach to understanding human dominance hierarchies rooted in ethology, sociobiology, evolutionary psychology or selfish gene theory

There are, it bears emphasizing, several similarities between the two approaches. For one thing, each theory traces its origins ultimately to a nineteenth-century Victorian founder resident in Britain at the time he authored his key works, namely Charles Darwin and Karl Marx respectively.  

More importantly, there are also substantive similarities in the content and predictions of both these alternative theoretical paradigms. 

In particular, each is highly cynical in its conclusions. Indeed, at first glance, Marxist theory appears superficially almost as cynical as Darwinian theory. 

Thus, like Betzig, Marx regarded most societies in existence throughout history as exploitative – and as designed to serve the interests, not of society in general or of the population of that society as a whole, but rather of the dominant class within that society alone – namely, in the case of capitalism, the bourgeoisie or capitalist employers. 

However, sociobiological and Marxist theory depart in at least three crucial respects. 

First, Marxists propose that exploitation will be absent in future anticipated communist utopias

Second, Marxists also claim that such exploitation was also absent among hunter-gatherer groups, where so-called primitive communism supposedly prevailed. 

Thus, the Marxist, so cynical with regard exploitation and oppression in capitalist (and feudal) society, suddenly turns hopelessly naïve and innocent when it comes to envisaging future unrealistic communist utopias, and when contemplating ‘noble savages’ in their putative ‘Eden before the fall’.

Unfortunately, however, in her critique of Marxism, Betzig herself nevertheless remains somewhat confused in respect of this key issue. 

On the one hand, she rightly dismisses primitive communism as a Marxist myth. Thus, she demonstrates and repeatedly emphasizes that:

Men accrue reproductive rights to wives of varying numbers and fertility in every human society” (p20).

Therefore, Betzig, contrary to the tenets of Marxism, concludes:

Unequal access to the basic resource which perpetuates life, members of the opposite sex, is a condition in [even] the simplest societies” (p32; see also Chagnon 1979).

Neither is universal human inequality limited only to access to fertile females. On the contrary, Betzig observes:

Some form of exploitation has been in evidence in even the smallest societies… Conflicts of interest in all societies are resolved with a consistent bias in favor of men with greater power” (p67).

On the other hand, however, Betzig takes a wrong turn in refusing to rule out the possibility of true communism somehow arising in the future. Thus, perhaps in a misguided effort to placate the many leftist opponents of sociobiology in academia, she writes:

Darwinism… [does not] preclude the possibility of future conditions under which individual interests might become common interests: under which individual welfare might best be served by serving the welfare of society… [nor] preclude… the possibility of the evolution of socialism” (p68). 

This, however, seems obviously impossible. 

After all, we have evolved to seek to maximize the representation of our own genes in subsequent generations at the expense of those of other individuals. Only a eugenic reengineering of human nature itself could ever change this. 

Thus, as Donald Symons emphasized in his seminal The Evolution of Human Sexuality (which I have reviewed here), reproductive competition is inevitable – because, whereas there is sometimes sufficient food that everyone is satiated and competition for food is therefore unnecessary and counterproductive, reproductive success is always relative, and therefore competition over women is universal. 

Thus, Betzig quotes Confucius as observing:

Disorder does not come from heaven, but is brought about by women” (p26). 

Indeed, Betzig herself elsewhere recognizes this key point, namely the relativity of reproductive success, when she observes, in a passage quoted above, that a powerful monarch benefits from sequestering huge numbers of fertile females in his harem because, even if it is unfeasible that he would ever successfully impregnate all of them himself, he nevertheless thereby prevents other males from impregnating them, and thereby increases the relative representation of his own genes in subsequent generations (p70). 

It therefore seems inconceivable that social engineers, let alone pure happenstance, could ever engineer a society in which individual interests were identical to societal interests, other than a society of identical twins or through the eugenic reingineering of human nature itself (see Peter Singer’s A Darwinian Left, which I have reviewed here).[6]

Marx and the Means of Reproduction

The third and perhaps most important conflict between the Darwinist and Marxist perspectives concerns what Betzig terms: 

The relative emphasis on production and reproduction” (p67).

Whereas Marxists view control of what they term the means of production as the ultimate cause of societal conflict, socioeconomic status and exploitation, for Darwinians conflict and exploitation instead focus on control over what we might term the means of reproduction – in other words fertile females, their wombs, ova and vaginas. 

Thus, Betzig observes: 

Marxism makes no explicit prediction that exploitation should coincide with reproduction” (p68). 

In other words, Marxist theory is silent on the crucial issue of whether high-status individuals will necessarily convert their political and economic power into the ultimate currency of Darwinian selection – namely, reproductive success

On this view, powerful male rulers might just as well be celibate as control and assert exclusive reproductive access to large harems of young fertile wives and concubines. 

In contrast, for Darwinians, the effort to maximize one’s reproductive success is the very purpose, and ultimate end, of all political power. 

As sociologist-turned-sociobiologist Pierre van den Berghe observes in his excellent The Ethnic Phenomenon (reviewe here, here and here): 

The ultimate measure of human success is no production but reproduction. Economic productivity and profit are means to reproductive ends, not ends in themselves” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p165). 

Thus, production is, from a sociobiological perspective, just another means of gaining the resources necessary for reproduction. 

On the other hand, reproduction is, from a biological perspective, the ultimate purpose of life. 

Therefore, it seems that, for all his ostensible radicalism, Karl Marx was, in his emphasis on economics rather than sex, just another nineteenth-century Victorian prude! 

The Polygyny Threshold Model Applied to Humans? 

One way of conceptualizing the tendency of powerful males to attract (or perhaps commandeer) multiple wives and concubines is the polygyny threshold model

This way of conceptualizing male and female reproductive and ecological competition was first formulated by ornithologist-ecologist Gordon Orians in order to model the mating systems of passerine birds (Orians 1969). 

Here, males practice so-called resource defence polygyny – in other words, they defend territories containing valuable resources (e.g. food, nesting sites) necessary for successful reproduction and provisioning of offspring. 

Females then distribute themselves between males in accordance with size and quality of male territories. 

On this view, if the territory of one male is twice as resource-abundant as that of another, he would, all else being equal, attract twice as many mates; if it is three times as resource-abundant, he would attract three times as many mates; etc. 

The result is rough parity in resource-holdings and reproductive success among females, but often large disparities among males. 

Applying the Polygyny Threshold Model to Modern America

Thus, applying the polygyny threshold model to humans, and rather simplistically substituting wealth for territory size and quality, we might predict that, if Jeff Bezos is a hundred thousand times richer than Joe Schmo, then, if Joe has only one wife, then Jeff should have around 100,000 wives.

But, of course, Jeff Bezos does not have 100,000 wives, nor even a mere 100,000 concubines. 

Instead, he has only one solitary meagre ex-wife, and she, even when married to him, was not, to the best of my knowledge, ever guarded by any eunuchs – though perhaps he would have been better off if she had been, since they might have prevented her from divorcing him and taking an enormous share of his wealth with her in the ensuing divorce settlement.[7]

The same is also true of contemporary political leaders. 

Indeed, if any contemporary western political leader does attempt to practice polygyny, even on a comparatively modest scale, then, if discovered, a so-called sex scandal almost invariably results. 

Yet, viewed in historical perspective, the much-publicized marital infidelities of, say, Bill Clinton, though they may have outraged the sensibilities the of mass of monogamously-married Middle American morons, positively pale into insignificance besides the reproductive achievements of someone like, say, Ismail the Bloodthirsty

Indeed, Clinton’s infidelities don’t even pack much of a punch beside those of a politician from the same nation and just a generation removed, namely John F Kennedy – whose achievements in the political sphere are vastly overrated on account of his early death, but whose achievements in the bedroom, while scarcely matching those of Ismail the Bloodthirsty or the Aztec emperors, certainly put the current generation of American politicians to shame. 

Why, then, does the contemporary west represent such a glaring exception to the general pattern of elite polygyny that Betzig has so successfully documented throughout so much of the rest of the world, and throughout so much of history? And what has become of the henpecked geldings who pass for politicians in the contemporary era? 

Monogamy as Male Compromise? 

According to Betzig, the moronic mass media moral panic that invariably accompanies sexual indiscretions on the part of contemporary Western political leaders and other public figures is no accident. Rather, it is exactly what her theory predicts. 

According to Betzig, the institution of monogamy as it operates in Western democracies represents a compromise between low-status and high status males. 

According to the terms of this compromise, high-status males agree to forgo polygyny in exchange for the cooperation of low status males in participating in the complexly interdependent economic systems of modern western polities (p105) – or, in biologist Richard Alexander’s alternative formulation, in exchange for serving as necessary cannon-fodder in wars (p104).[8]

Thus, whereas, under polygyny, there are never enough females to go around, under monogamy, at least assuming that there is a roughly equal sex ratio (i.e. a roughly equal numbers of men and women), then virtually almost all males are capable of attracting a wife, howsoever ugly and unpleasant. 

This is important, since it means that all men, even the relatively poor and powerless, nevertheless have a reproductive stake in society. This, then, in evolutionary terms, provides them with an incentive both:

1) To participate in the economy to support and thereby provide for their wife and family; and

2) To defend these institutions in wartime, if necessary with their lives.

The institution of monogamy has therefore been viewed as a key factor, if not the key factor, in both the economic and military ascendency of the West (see Scheidel 2008). 

Similarly, it has recently been argued that the increasing rates of non-participation of young males in the economy and workforce (i.e. the so-called NEET’ phenomenon) is a direct consequence of the reduction in reproductive opportunities to young males (Binder 2021).[9]

Thus, on this view, then, the media scandal and hysteria that invariably accompanies sexual infidelities by elected politicians, or constitutional monarchs, reflects outrage that the terms of this implicit agreement have been breached. 

This idea was anticipated by Irish playwright and socialist George Bernard Shaw, who observed in Man and Superman: Maxims for Revolutionaries, the preface to his play Man and Superman

Polygyny, when tried under modern democratic conditions, as by the Mormons is wrecked by the revolt of the mass of inferior men who are condemned to celibacy by it” (Shaw 1903). 

Socially Imposed Monogamy’?

Consistent with this theory of socially imposed monogamy, it is indeed the case that, in all Western democratic polities, polygyny is unlawful, and bigamy a crime. 

Yet these laws are seemingly in conflict with contemporary western liberal democratic principles of tolerance and inclusivity, especially in respect of ‘alternative lifestyles’ and ‘non-traditional relationships’.

Thus, for example, we have recently witnessed a successful campaign for the legalization of gay marriage in most western jurisdictions. However, strangely, polygynous marriage seemingly remains anathema – despite the fact that most cultures across the world and throughout history have permitted polygynous marriage, whereas few if any have ever accorded any state recognition to homosexual unions.

Indeed, strangely, whereas the legalization of gay marriage was widely perceived as ‘progressive’, polygyny is associated, not with sexual liberation with rather with highly traditional and sexually repressive groups such as Mormons and Muslims.[10]

Polygynous marriage was also, rather strangely, associated with the supposed oppression of women in traditional societies

However, most women actually do better, at least in purely economic terms, under polygyny than under monogamy, at least in highly stratified societies with large differences in resource-holdings as between males. 

Thus, if, as we have seen, Jeff Bezos is 100,000 times richer than Joe Schmo, then a woman is financially better off becoming the second wife, or the tenth wife (or even the 99,999th wife!), of Jeff Bezos rather than the first wife of poor Joe. 

Moreover, women also have another incentive to prefer Jeff to Joe. 

If she is impregnated by a polygynous male like Jeff, then her male descendants may inherit the traits that facilitated their father’s wealth, power and polygyny, and hence become similarly reproductively successful themselves, aiding the spread of the woman’s own genes in subsequent generations. 

Biologists call this good genes sexual selection or, more catchily, the sexy son hypothesis

Once again, however, George Bernard Shaw beat them to it when he observed in the same 1903 essay quoted above: 

Maternal instinct leads a woman to prefer a tenth share in a first rate man to the exclusive possession of a third rate one” (Shaw 1903). 

Thus, Robert Wright concludes: 

In sheerly Darwinian terms, most men are probably better off in a monogamous system, and most women worse off” (The Moral Animal: p96). 

Thus, women generally should welcome polygyny, while the only people opposed to polygyny should be: 

1) The women currently married to men like Jeff Bezos, and greedily unwilling to share their resource-abundant ‘alpha-male’ providers with a whole hundred-fold harem of co-wives and concubines; and

2) A glut of horny sexually-frustrated bachelor-‘incels’ terminally condemned to celibacy, bachelorhood and inceldom by promiscuous lotharios like Jeff Bezos and Ismail the Bloodthirsty greedily hogging all the hot chicks for themselves.

Who Opposes Polygyny, and Why? 

However, in my experience, the people who most vociferously and puritanically object to philandering male politicians are not low-status men, but rather women. 

Moreover, such women typically affect concern on behalf, not of the male bachelors and ‘incels’ supposedly indirectly condemned to celibacy by such behaviours, but rather the wives of such politicians – though the latter are the chief beneficiaries of monogamy, while these other women, precluded from signing up as second or third-wives to alpha-male providers, are themselves, at least in theory, among the main losers. 

This suggests that the ‘male compromise theory’ of socially-imposed monogamy is not the whole story. 

Perhaps then, although women benefit in purely financial terms under polygyny, they do not do so well in fitness terms. 

Thus, one study found that, whereas polygynous males (unsurprisingly) had more offspring than monogamously-mated males, they (perhaps also unsurprisingly) had fewer offspring per wife. This suggests that, while polygynously-married males benefit from polygyny, their wives incur a fitness penalty for having to share their husband (Strassman 2000). 

This probably reflects the fact that even male reproductive capacity is limited, as, notwithstanding the Coolidge effect (which has, to my knowledge, yet to be demonstrated in humans), males can only manage a certain number of orgasms per day. 

Women’s distaste for polygynous unions may also reflect the fact that even prodigiously wealthy males will inevitably have a limited supply of one particular resource – namely, time – and time spent with offspring may be an important determinant of offspring success, which paid child-minders, lacking a direct genetic stake in offspring, are unable to perfectly replicate.[11]

Thus, if Jeff Bezos were able to attract for himself the 100,000 wives that the polygyny threshold model suggests is his due, then, even if he were capable of providing each woman with the two point four children that is her own due, it is doubtful he would have enough time on his hands to spend much ‘quality time’ with each of his 240,000 offspring – just as one doubts Ismail the Bloodthirsty was himself an attentive father his own more modest mere 888. 

Thus, one suspects that, contrary to the polygyny threshold model, polygyny is not always entirely a matter of female choice (Sanderson 2001).

On the contrary, many of the women sequestered into the harems of rulers like Ismail the Bloodthirsty likely had little say in the matter. 

The Central Theoretical Problem of Human Sociobiology’ 

Yet, if this goes some way towards explaining the apparent paradox of socially imposed monogamy, there is, today, an even greater paradox with which we must wrestle – namely, why, in contemporary western societies, is there apparently an inverse correlation between wealth and number of offspring.

After all, from a sociobiological or evolutionary psychological perspective, this represents something of a paradox. 

If, as we have seen, the very purpose of wealth and power (from a sociobiological perspective) is to convert these advantages into the ultimately currency of natural selection, namely reproductive success, then why are the wealthy so spectacularly failing to do so in the contemporary west?[12]

Moreover, if status is not conducive to high reproductive success, then why have humans evolved to seek high-status in the first place? 

This anomaly has been memorably termed the ‘The central theoretical problem of human sociobiology’ in a paper by University of Pennsylvania demographer and eugenicist Daniel Vining (Vining 1986). 

Socially imposed monogamy can only go some way towards explaining this anomaly. Thus, in previous centuries, even under monogamy, wealthier families still produced more surviving offspring, if only because their greater wealth enabled them to successfully rear and feed multiple successive offspring to adulthood. In contrast, for the poor, high rates of infant mortality were the order of the day. 

Yet, in the contemporary west, it seems that the people who have the most children and hence the highest fitness in the strict Darwinian sense, are, at least according to popular stereotype, single mothers on government welfare. 

De Facto’ Polygyny 

Various solutions have been proposed to this apparent paradox. A couple amount to claiming that the west is not really monogamous at all, and, once this is factored in, then, at least among males, higher-status men do indeed have greater numbers of offspring than lower-status men. 

One suggestion along these lines is that perhaps wealthy males sire additional offspring whose paternity is misassigned, via extra-marital liaisons (Betzig 1993b). 

However, despite some sensationalized claims, rates of misassigned paternity are actually quite low (Khan 2010; Gilding 2005; Bellis et al 2005). 

If it is lower-class women who are giving birth to most of the offspring, then it is probably mostly males of their own socioeconomic status who are responsible for impregnating them, if only because it is the latter with whom they have the most social contact. 

Perhaps a more plausible suggestion is that wealthy high-status males are able to practice a form of disguised polygyny by through repeated remarriage. 

Thus, wealthy men are sometimes criticized for divorcing their first wives to marry much younger second- and sometimes even third- and fourth-wives. In this way, they manage monopolize the peak reproductive years of multiple successive young women. 

This is true, for example, of recent American President Donald Trump – the ultimate American alpha male – who has himself married three women, each one younger than her predecessor

Thus, science journalist Robert Wright contends: 

The United States is no longer a nation of institutionalized monogamy. It is a nation of serial monogamy. And serial monogamy in some ways amounts to polygyny.” (The Moral Animal: p101). 

This, then, is not so much ‘serial monogamy’ as it is ‘sequential’ or non-concurrent polygyny’. 

Evolutionary Novelties

Another suggestion is that evolutionary novelties – i.e. recently developed technologies such as contraception – have disrupted the usual association between status and fertility. 

On this view, natural selection has simply not yet had sufficient time (or, rather, sufficient generations) over which to mold our psychology and behaviour in such a way as to cause us to use these technologies in an adaptive manner – i.e. in order to maximize, not restrict, our reproductive success. 

An obvious candidate here is safe and effective contraception, which, while actually somewhat older than most people imagine, nevertheless became widely available to the population at large only over the course of the past century, which is surely not enough generations for us to have become evolutionarily adapted to its use.  

Thus, a couple of studies have found that that, while wealthy high-status males may not father more offspring, they do have more sex with a greater number of partners – i.e. behaviours that would have resulted in more offspring in ancestral environments prior to the widespread availability of contraception (Pérusse 1993: Kanazawa 2003). 

This implies that high-status males (or their partners) use contraception either more often, or more effectively, than low-status males, probably because of their greater intelligence and self-control, namely the very traits that enabled them to achieve high socioeconomic status in the first place (Kanazawa 2005). 

Another evolutionary novelty that may disrupt the usual association between social status and number of surviving offspring is the welfare system

Welfare payments to single mothers undoubtedly help these families raise to adulthood offspring who would otherwise perish in infancy. 

In addition, by reducing the financial disincentives associated with raising additional offspring, they probably increase the number of offspring these women choose to have in the first place. 

While it is highly controversial to suggest that welfare payments to single mothers actually give the latter an actual financial incentive to bear additional offspring, they surely, at the very least, reduce the financial disincentives otherwise associated with bearing additional children. 

Therefore, given that the desire for offspring is probably innate, women would rationally respond by having more children.[13]

Feminist ideology also encourages women in particular to postpone childbearing in favour of careers. Moreover, it is probably higher-status females who are more exposed to feminist ideology, especially in universities, where feminist ideology is thoroughly entrenched

In contrast, lower-status women are not only less exposed to feminist ideology encouraging them to delay motherhood in favour of career, but also likely have fewer appealing careers available to them in the first place. 

Finally, even laws against bigamy and polygyny might be conceptualized as an evolutionary novelty that disrupts the usual association between status and fertility. 

However, whereas technological innovations such as effective contraception were certainly not available until recent times, ideological constructs and religious teachings – including ideas such as feminism, prohibitions on polygyny, and the socialist ideology that motivated the creation of the welfare state – have existed ever since we evolved the capacity to create such constructs (i.e. since we became fully human). 

Therefore, one would expect that humans would have evolved resistance to ideological and religious teachings that go against their genetic interests. Otherwise, we would be vulnerable to indoctrination (and hence exploitation) at the hands third parties. 

Dysgenics? 

Finally, it must be noted that these issues are not only of purely academic interest. 

On the contrary, since socioeconomic status correlates with both intelligence and personality traits such as conscientiousness, and these traits are, in turn, substantially heritable, and moreover determine, not only individual wealth and prosperity, but also at the aggregate level, the wealth and prosperity of nations, the question of who has the offspring is surely of central concern to the future of society, civilization and the world. 

In short, what is at stake is the very genetic posterity that we bequeath to future generations. It is simply too important a matter to be delegated to the capricious and irrational decision-making of individual women. 

__________________________

Endnotes

[1] Actually, the precise number of offspring Ismail fathered is unclear. The figure I have quoted in the main body of the text comes from various works on evolutionary psychology (e.g. Cartwright, Evolution and Human Behaviour: p133-4; Wright, The Moral Animal: p247). However, another earlier work on human sociobiology, David Barash’s The Whisperings Within gives an even higher figure, of “1,056 offspring” (The Whisperings Within: p47). Meanwhile, an article produced by the Guinness Book of Records gives a figure of at least 342 daughters and 700 sons, while a scientific paper by Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer gives a figure of 1171 offspring in total. The precise figure seems to be unknown and is probably apocryphal. Nevertheless, the general point – namely that a powerful male with access to a large harem and multiple wives and concubines, is capable of fathering many offspring – is surely correct.

[2] The capture of fertile females from among enemy groups is by no means restricted to the Yąnomamö. On the contrary, it may even form the ultimate evolutionary basis for intergroup conflict and raiding among troops of chimpanzees, our species’ closest extant relative. It is also alluded to, and indeed explicitly commanded, in the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Deuteronomy 20: 13-14; Numbers 31: 17-18), and was formerly prevalent in western culture as well.
It is also very much apparent, for example, in the warfare and raiding formerly endemic in the Gobi Desert of what is today Mongolia. Thus, the mother of Genghis Khan was, at least according to legend, herself kidnapped by the Great Khan’s father. Indeed, this was apparently an accepted form of courtship on the Mongolian Steppe, as Genghis Khan’s own wife was herself stolen from him on at least one occasion by rival Steppe nomads, resulting in a son of disputed paternity (whom the great Khan perhaps tellingly named Jochi, which is said to translate as ’guest) and a later succession crisis.
Many anthropologists, it ought to be noted, dismiss Chagnon’s claim that Yanomami warfare is predicated on the capture of women. Perhaps the most famous is Chagnon’s own former student, Kenneth Good, whose main claim to fame is to have himself married a (by American standards, underage) Yąnomamö girl – who, in a dramatic falsification of her husband’s theory, was then herself twice raped and abducted by raiding Yanomami warriors.

[3] It is ironic that John Cartwright, author of Evolution and Human Behaviour, an undergraduate level textbook on evolutionary psychology, is skeptical regarding the claim that Ismail the Bloodthirsty fathered 888 offspring, but nevertheless apparently takes at face value that claim that a Russian peasant woman had 69 offspring, a biologically far more implausible claim (Evolution and Human Behaviour: p133-4).

[4] There may even be a fitness penalty associated with increased socioeconomic status and political power for women. For example, among baboons, it has been found that high-ranking females actually suffer reduced fertility and higher rates of miscarriages (Packer et al 1995). Kingsley Browne, in his excellent book, Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality (which I have reviewed here), noting that female executives tend to have fewer children, tentatively proposes that a similar effect may be at work among humans:

Women who succeed in business tend to be relatively high testosterone, which can result in lower female fertility, whether because of ovulatory irregularities or reduced interest in having children. Thus, rather than the high-powered career being responsible for the high rate of childlessness, it may be that high testosterone levels are responsible for both” (Biology at Work: p124).

[5] However, here, Betzig is perhaps altogether overcautious. Thus, whether or not “political power in itself” is explained in this way (i.e. “as providing a position from which to gain reproductively”), certainly the human desire for political power must surely be explained in this way.

[6] The prospect of eugenically reengineering human nature itself so as to make utopian communism achievable, and human society less conflictual, is also unrealistic. As John Gray has noted in Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (reviewed here), if human nature is eugenically reengineered, then it will be done, not in the interests of society, let alone humankind, as a whole, but rather in the interests of those responsible for ordering or undertaking the project – namely, scientists and, more importantly, those from whom they take their orders (e.g. government, politicians, civil servants, big business, managerial elites). Thus, Gray concludes:

“[Although] it seems feasible that over the coming century human nature will be scientifically remodelled… it will be done haphazardly, as an upshot of struggles in the murky realm where big business, organized crime and the hidden parts of government vie for control” (Straw Dogs: p6).

[7] Here, it is important to emphasize that what is exceptional about western societies is not monogamy per se. On the contrary, monogamy is common in relatively egalitarian societies (e.g. hunter-gatherer societies), especially those living at subsistence levels, where no male is able to secure access to sufficient resources so as to provision multiple offspring (Kanazawa and Still 1999). What is exceptional about contemporary western societies is the combination of:

1) Large differentials of resource-holdings between males (i.e. social stratification); and

2) Prescriptive monogamy (i.e. polygyny is not merely not widely practised, but also actually unlawful).

[8] Quite when prescriptive monogamy originated in the west seems to be a matter of some dispute. Betzig views it as very much a recent phenomenon, arising with the development of complex, interdependent industrial economies, which required the cooperation of lower-status males in order to function. Here, Betzig perhaps underestimates the extent to which even pre-industrial economies required the work and cooperation of low-status males in order to function. Thus, Betzig argues that, in ancient Rome, nominally monogamous marriages concealed rampantly de facto polygyny, with emperors and other powerful males fathering multiple offspring with both slaves and other men’s wives (Betzig 1992). Similarly, in medieval Europe, she argues that, despite nominal monogamy, wealthy men fathered multiple offspring through servant girls (Betzig 1995a; Betzig 1995b). In contrast, Macdonald persuasively argues that medieval monogamy was no mere myth (Macdonald 1995a; Macdonald 1995b).

[9] Certainly, the so-called NEET and incel phenomena seem to be correlated with one another. NEETs are disproportionately likely to be incels, and incels are disproportionately likely to be NEETs. However, the direction of causation is unclear and probably works in both directions. On the one hand, since women are rarely attracted to men without money or the prospects of money, men without jobs are rarely able to attract wives or girlfriends. However, on the other hand, men who, for whatever reason, perceive themselves as unable to attract a wife or girlfriend even if they did have a job, probably see little incentive to getting a job in the first place or keeping the one they do have.

[10] Indeed, during the debates surrounding the legalization of gay marriage, the prospect of the legalization of polygynous marriage was rarely discussed, and, when it was raised, it was usually invoked by the opponents of gay marriage, as a sort of reductio ad absurdum of changes in marriage laws to permit gay marriage, something champions of gay marriage were quick to dismiss as preposterous scaremongering. In short, both sides in the acrimonious debates regarding gay marriage seem to have been agreed that legalizing polygynous unions was utterly beyond the pale.

[11] Thus, father absence is a known correlate of criminality and other negative life outcomes. In fact, however, the importance of paternal investment in offspring outcomes, and indeed of parental influence more generally, has yet to be demonstrated, since the correlation between father-absence and negative life-outcomes could instead reflect the heritability of personality, including those aspects of personality that cause people to have offspring out of wedlock, die early, abandon their children or have offspring by a person who abandons their offspring or dies early (see Judith Harris’s The Nurture Assumption, which I have reviewed here). 

[12] This paradox is related to another one – namely, why it is that people in richer societies tend to have lower fertility rates than poorer societies? This recent development, often referred to as the demographic transition, is paradoxical for the exact same reason that it is paradoxical for poorer people within western societies to have have fewer offspring than poorer people within these same societies, namely that it is elementary Darwinism 101 that an organism with access to greater resources should channel those additional resources into increased reproduction. Interestingly, this phenomenon is not restricted to western societies. On the contrary, other wealthy industrial and post-industrial societies, such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea, have, if anything, even lower fertility rates than Europe, Australasia and North America.

[13] Actually, it is not altogether clear that women do have an innate desire to bear children. After all, in the EEA, there was no need for women to evolve a desire to bear children. All they required to a desire to have sexual intercourse (or indeed a mere willingness to acquiesce in the male desire for intercourse). In the absence of contraception, offspring would then naturally result. Indeed, other species, including presumably most of our pre-human ancestors, are surely wholly unaware of the connection between sexual intercourse and reproduction. A desire for offspring would then serve no adaptive function for these species at all. However, this did not stop these species from seeking out sexual opportunities and hence reproducing their kind. However, given anecdotal evidence of so-called ‘broodiness’ among women, I suspect women do indeed have some degree of innate desire for offspring.

References

Bateman (1948), Intra-sexual selection in Drosophila, Heredity, 2 (Pt. 3): 349–368.
Bellis et al (2005) Measuring Paternal Discrepancy and its Public Health Consequences. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 59(9):749.
Betzig 1992 Roman Polygyny. Ethology and Sociobiology 13(5-6): 309-349.
Betzig 1993a. Sex, succession, and stratification in the first six civilizations: How powerful men reproduced, passed power on to their sons, and used power to defend their wealth, women and children. In Lee Ellis, ed. Social Stratification and Socioeconomic Inequality, pp. 37-74. New York: Praeger.
Betzig 1993b. Where are the bastards’ daddies? Comment on Daniel Pérusse’s ‘Cultural and reproductive success in industrial societies’. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16: 284-85.
Betzig 1995a Medieval Monogamy. Journal of Family History 20(2): 181-216.
Betzig 1995b Wanting Women Isn’t New; Getting Them Is: Very. Politics and the Life Sciences 14(1): 24-25.
Binder (2021) Why Bother? The Effect of Declining Marriage Market Prospects on Labor-Force Participation by Young Men (March 1, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3795585 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3795585
Chagnon N (1979) Is reproductive success equal in egalitarian societies. In: Chagnon & Irons (eds) Evolutionary Biology and Human Social Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective pp.374-402 (MA: Duxbury Press).
Einon, G (1998) How Many Children Can One Man Have? Evolution and Human Behavior, 19(6):413–426.
Gilding (2005) Rampant Misattributed Paternity: The Creation of an Urban Myth. People and Place 13(2): 1.
Gould (2000) How many children could Moulay Ismail have had? Evolution and Human Behavior 21(4): 295 – 296.
Khan (2010) The paternity myth: The rarity of cuckoldry, Discover, 20 June, 2010.
Kanazawa & Still (1999) Why Monogamy? Social Forces 78(1):25-50.
Kanazawa (2003) Can Evolutionary Psychology Explain Reproductive Behavior in the Contemporary United States? Sociological Quarterly. 44: 291–302.
Kanazawa (2005) An Empirical Test of a Possible Solution to ‘the Central Theoretical Problem of Human Sociobiology’. Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology. 3: 255–266.
Macdonald 1995a The establishment and maintenance of socially imposed monogamy in Western Europe, Politics and the Life Sciences, 14(1): 3-23.
Macdonald 1995b Focusing on the group: further issues related to western monogamy, Politics and the Life Sciences, 14(1): 38-46.
Oberzaucher & Grammer (2014) The Case of Moulay Ismael – Fact or Fancy? PLoS ONE 9(2): e85292.
Orians (1969) On the Evolution of Mating Systems in Birds and Mammals. American Naturalist 103 (934): 589–603.
Packer et al (1995) Reproductive constraints on aggressive competition in female baboons. Nature 373: 60–63.
Pérusse (1993). Cultural and Reproductive Success in Industrial Societies: Testing the Relationship at the Proximate and Ultimate Levels.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16:267–322.
Sanderson (2001) Explaining Monogamy and Polygyny in Human Societies: Comment on Kanazawa and Still. Social Forces 80(1):329-335.
Scheidel (2008) Monogamy and Polygyny in Greece, Rome, and World History, (June 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1214729 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1214729
Shaw GB (1903) Man and Superman, Maxims for Revolutionists.
Strassman B (2000) Polygyny, Family Structure and Infant Mortality: A Prospective Study Among the Dogon of Mali. In Cronk, Chagnon & Irons (Ed.), Adaptation and Human Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective (pp.49-68). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Trivers, R. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. Sexual Selection & the Descent of Man, Aldine de Gruyter, New York, 136-179. Chicago.
Vining D 1986 Social versus reproductive success: The central theoretical problem of human sociobiology Behavioral and Brain Sciences 9(1): 167- 187.
Zerjal et al. (2003) The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols, American Journal of Human Genetics, 72(3): 717–721.

‘The Bell Curve’: A Book Much Read About, But Rarely Actually Read

The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray (New York: Free Press, 1994). 

There’s no such thing as bad publicity’ – or so contends a famous adage of the marketing industry. 

The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in America’ by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray is perhaps a case in point. 

This dry, technical, academic social science treatise, full of statistical analyses, graphs, tables, endnotes and appendices, and totalling almost 900 pages, became an unlikely nonfiction bestseller in the mid-1990s on a wave of almost universally bad publicity in which the work was variously denounced as racist, pseudoscientific, fascist, social Darwinist, eugenicist and sometimes even just plain wrong. 

Readers who hurried to the local bookstore eagerly anticipating an incendiary racialist polemic were, however, in for a disappointment. 

Indeed, one suspects that, along with The Bible and Stephen Hawkins’ A Brief History of Time, ‘The Bell Curve’ became one of those bestsellers that many people bought, but few managed to finish. 

The Bell Curve’ thus became, like another book that I have recently reviewed, a book much read about, but rarely actually read – at least in full. 

As a result, as with that other book, many myths have emerged regarded the content of ‘The Bell Curve’ that are quite contradicted when one actually takes the time and trouble to read it for oneself. 

Subject Matter 

The first myth of ‘The Bell Curve’ is that it was a book about race differences, or, more specifically, about race differences in intelligence. In fact, however, this is not true. 

Thus, ‘The Bell Curve’ is a book so controversial that the controversy begins with the very identification of its subject-matter. 

On the one hand, the book’s critics focused almost exclusively on subject of race. This led to the common perception that ‘The Bell Curve’ was a book about race and race differences in intelligence.[1]

Ironically, many racialists seem to have taken these leftist critics at their word, enthusiastically citing the work as support for their own views regarding race differences in intelligence.  

On the other hand, however, surviving co-author Charles Murray insisted from the outset that the issue of race, and race differences in intelligence, was always peripheral to he and co-author Richard Herrnstein’s primary interest and focus, which was, he claimed, on the supposed emergence of a ‘Cognitive Elite’ in modern America. 

Actually, however, both these views seem to be incorrect. While the first section of the book does indeed focus on the supposed emergence of a ‘Cognitive Elite’ in modern America, the overall theme of the book seems to be rather broader. 

Thus, the second section of the book focuses on the association between intelligence and various perceived social pathologies, such as unemployment, welfare dependency, illegitimacy, crime and single-parenthood. 

To the extent the book has a single overarching theme, one might say that it is a book about the social and economic correlates of intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, in modern America.  

Its overall conclusion is that intelligence is indeed a strong predictor of social and economic outcomes for modern Americans – high intelligence with socially desirable outcomes and low intelligence with socially undesirable ones. 

On the other hand, however, the topic of race is not quite as peripheral to the book’s themes as sometimes implied by Murray and others. 

Thus, it is sometimes claimed only a single chapter dealt with race. Actually, however, two chapters focus on race differences, namely chapters 13 and 14, respectively titled ‘Ethnic Differences in Cognitive Ability’ and ‘Ethnic Inequalities in Relation to IQ’. 

In addition, a further two chapters, namely chapters 19 and 20, entitled respectively ‘Affirmative Action in Higher Education’ and ‘Affirmative Action in the Workplace’, deal with the topic of affirmative action, as does the final appendix, entitled ‘The Evolution of Affirmative Action in the Workplace’ – and, although affirmative action has been employed to favour women as well as racial minorities, it is with racial preferences that Herrnstein and Murray are primarily concerned. 

However, these chapters represent only 142 of the book’s nearly 900 pages. 

Moreover, in much of the remainder of the book, the authors actually explicitly restrict their analysis to white Americans exclusively. They do so precisely because the well documented differences between the races in IQ as well as in many of the social outcomes whose correlation with IQ the book discusses would mean that race would have represented a potential confounding factor that they would otherwise have to take steps to control for. 

Herrnstein and Murray therefore took to decision to extend their analysis to race differences near the end of their book, in order to address the question of the extent to which differences in intelligence, which they have already demonstrated to be an important correlate of social and economic outcomes among whites, are also capable of explaining differences in achievement as between races. 

Without these chapters, the book would have been incomplete, and the authors would have laid themselves open to the charge of political-correctness and of ignoring the elephant in the room

Race and Intelligence 

If the first controversy of ‘The Bell Curve’ concerns whether it is a book primarily about race and race differences in intelligence, the second controversy is over what exactly the authors concluded with respect to this vexed and contentious issue. 

Thus, the same leftist critics who claimed that ‘The Bell Curve’ was primarily a book about race and race differences in intelligence, also accused the authors of concluding that black people are innately less intelligent than whites

Some racists, as I have already noted, evidently took the leftists at their word, and enthusiastically cite the book as support and authority for this view. 

However, in subsequent interviews, Murray always insisted he and Herrnstein had actually remained “resolutely agnostic” on the extent to which genetic factors underlay the IQ gap. 

In the text itself, Herrnstein and Murray do indeed declare themselves “resolutely agnostic” with regard to the extent of the genetic contribution to the test score gap (p311).

However, just couple of sentences before they use this very phrase, they also appear to conclude that genes are indeed at least part of the explanation, writing: 

It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences [in IQ]” (p311). 

This paragraph, buried near the end of chapter 13, during an extended discussion of evidence relating to the causes of race differences in intelligence, is the closest the authors come to actually declaring any definitive conclusion regarding the causes of the black-white test score gap.[2]

This conclusion, though phrased in sober and restrained terms, is, of course, itself sufficient to place its authors outside the bounds of acceptable opinion in the early-twenty-first century, or indeed in the late-twentieth century when the book was first published, and is sufficient to explain, and, for some, justify, the opprobrium heaped upon the book’s surviving co-author from that day forth. 

Intelligence and Social Class

It seems likely that races which evolved on separate continents, in sufficient reproductive isolation from one another to have evolved the obvious (and not so obvious) physiological differences between races that we all observe when we look at the faces, or bodily statures, of people of different races (and that we indirectly observe when we look at the results of different athletic events at the Olympic Games), would also have evolved to differ in psychological traits, including intelligence

Indeed, it is surely unlikely, on a priori grounds alone, that all different human races have evolved, purely by chance, the exact same level of intelligence. 

However, if races differ in intelligence are therefore probable, the case for differences in intelligence as between social classes is positively compelling

Indeed, on a priori grounds alone, it is inevitable that social classes will come to differ in IQ, if one accepts two premises, namely: 

1) Increased intelligence is associated with upward social mobility; and 
2) Intelligence is passed down in families.

In other words, if more intelligent people tend, on average, to get higher-paying jobs than those of lower intelligence, and the intelligence of parents is passed on to their offspring, then it is inevitable that the offspring of people with higher-paying jobs will, on average, themselves be of higher intelligence than are the offspring of people with lower paying jobs.  

This, of course, follows naturally from the infamous syllogism formulated by ‘Bell Curve’ co-author Richard Herrnstein way back in the 1970s (p10; p105). 

Incidentally, this second premise, namely that intelligence is passed down in families, does not depend on the heritability of IQ in the strict biological sense. After all, even if heritability of intelligence were zero, intelligence could still be passed down in families by environmental factors (e.g. the ‘better’ parenting techniques of high IQ parents, or the superior material conditions in wealthy homes). 

The existence of an association between social class and IQ ought, then, to be entirely uncontroversial to anyone who takes any time whatsoever to think about the issue. 

If there remains any room for reasoned disagreement, it is only over the direction of causation – namely the question of whether:  

1) High intelligence causes upward social mobility; or 
2) A privileged upbringing causes higher intelligence.

These two processes are, of course, not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it would seem intuitively probable that both factors would be at work. 

Interestingly, however, evidence demonstrates the occurrence only of the former. 

Thus, even among siblings from the same family, the sibling with the higher childhood IQ will, on average, achieve higher socioeconomic status as an adult. Likewise, the socioeconomic status a person achieves as an adult correlates more strongly with their own IQ score than it does with the socioeconomic status of their parents or of the household they grew up in (see Straight Talk About Mental Tests: p195). 

In contrast, family, twin and adoption studies and of the sort conducted by behavioural geneticists have concurred in suggesting that the so-called shared family environment (i.e. those aspects of the family environment shared by siblings from the same household, including social class) has but little effect on adult IQ. 

In other words, children raised in the same home, whether full- or half-siblings or adoptees, are, by the time they reach adulthood, no more similar to one another in IQ than are children of the same degree of biological relatedness brought up in entirely different family homes (see The Nurture Assumption: reviewed here). 

However, while the direction of causation may still be disputed by intelligent (if uninformed) laypeople, the existence of an association between intelligence and social class ought not, one might think, be in dispute. 

However, in Britain today, in discussions of social mobility, if children from deprived backgrounds are underrepresented, say, at elite universities, then this is almost invariably taken as incontrovertible proof that the system is rigged against them. The fact that children from different socio-economic backgrounds differ in intelligence is almost invariably ignored. 

When mention is made of this incontrovertible fact, leftist hysteria typically ensues. Thus, in 2008, psychiatrist Bruce Charlton rightly observed that, in discussion of social mobility: 

A simple fact has been missed: higher social classes have a significantly higher average IQ than lower social classes (Clark 2008). 

For his trouble, Charlton found himself condemned by the National Union of Students and assorted rent-a-quote academics and professional damned fools, while even the ostensibly ‘right-wing’ Daily Mail newspaper saw fit to publish a headline Higher social classes have significantly HIGHER IQs than working class, claims academic, as if this were in some way a controversial or contentious claim (Clark 2008). 

Meanwhile, when, in the same year, a professor at University College a similar point with regard the admission of working-class students to medical schools, even the then government Health Minister, Ben Bradshaw, saw fit to offer his two cents worth (which were not worth even that), declaring: 

It is extraordinary to equate intellectual ability with social class” (Beckford 2008). 

Actually, however, what is truly extraordinary is that any intelligent person, least of all a government minister, would dispute the existence of such a link. 

Cognitive Stratification 

Herrnstein’s syllogism leads to a related paradox – namely that, as environmental conditions are equalized, heritability increases. 

Thus, as large differences in the sorts of environmental factors known to affect IQ (e.g. malnutrition) are eliminated, so differences in income have come to increasingly reflect differences in innate ability. 

Moreover, the more gifted children from deprived backgrounds who escape their humble origins, then, given the substantial heritability of IQ, the fewer such children will remain among the working-class in subsequent generations. 

The result is what Herrnstein and Murray call the ‘Cognitive Stratification’ of society and the emergence of what they call a ‘Cognitive Elite’. 

Thus, in feudal society, a man’s social status was determined largely by ‘accident of birth’ (i.e. he inherited the social station of his father). 

Women’s status, meanwhile, was determined, in addition, by what we might call ‘accident of marriage’ – and, to a large extent, it still is

However, today, a person’s social status, at least according to Herrnstein and Murray, is determined primarily, and increasingly, by their level of intelligence. 

Of course, people are not allocated to a particular social class by IQ testing itself. Indeed, the use of IQ tests by employers and educators has been largely outlawed on account of its disparate impact (or indirect discrimination’, to use the equivalent British phrase) with regard to race (see below). 

However, the skills and abilities increasingly valued at a premium in western society (and, increasingly, many non-western societies as well), mean that, through the operation of the education system and labour market, individuals are effectively sorted by IQ, even without anyone ever actually sitting an IQ test. 

In other words, society is becoming increasingly meritocratic – and the form of ostensible ‘merit’ upon which attainment is based is intelligence. 

For Herrnstein and Murray, this is a mixed blessing: 

That the brightest are identified has its benefits. That they become so isolated and inbred has its costs” (p25). 

However, the correlation between socioeconomic status and intelligence remains imperfect. 

For one thing, there are still a few highly remunerated, and very high-status, occupations that rely on skills that are not especially, if at all, related to intelligence.  I think here, in particular, of professional sports and the entertainment industry. Thus, leadings actors, pop stars and sports stars are sometimes extremely well-remunerated, and very high-status, but may not be especially intelligent.  

More importantly, while highly intelligent people might be, by very definition, the only ones capable of performing cognitively-demanding, and hence highly remunerated, occupations, this is not to say all highly intelligent people are necessarily employed in such occupations. 

Thus, whereas all people employed in cognitively-demanding occupations are, almost by definition, of high intelligence, people of all intelligence levels are capable of doing cognitively-undemanding jobs.

Thus, a few people of high intellectual ability remain in low-paid work, whether on account of personality factors (e.g. laziness), mental illness, lack of opportunity or sometimes even by choice (which choice is, of course, itself a reflection of personality factors). 

Therefore, the correlation between IQ and occupation is far from perfect. 

Job Performance

The sorting of people with respect to their intelligence begins in the education system. However, it continues in the workplace. 

Thus, general intelligence, as measured by IQ testing, is, the authors claim, the strongest predictor of occupational performance in virtually every occupation. Moreover, in general, the higher paid and higher status the occupation in question, the stronger the correlation between performance and IQ. 

However, Herrnstein and Murray are at pains to emphasize, intelligence is a strong predictor of occupational performance even in apparently cognitively undemanding occupations, and indeed almost always a better predictor of performance than tests of the specific abilities the job involves on a daily basis. 

However, in the USA, employers are barred from using testing to select among candidates for a job or for promotion unless they can show the test has ‘manifest relationship’ to the work, and the burden of proof is on the employer to show such a relationship. Otherwise, given their disparate impact’ with regard to race (i.e. the fact that some groups perform worse), the tests in question are deemed indirectly discriminatory and hence unlawful. 

Therefore, employers are compelled to test, not general ability, but rather the specific skills required in the job in question, where a ‘manifest relationship’ is easier to demonstrate in court. 

However, since even tests of specific abilities almost invariably still tap into the general factor of intelligence, races inevitably score differently even on these tests. 

Indeed, because of the ubiquity and predictive power of the g factor, it is almost impossible to design any type of standardized test, whether of specific or general ability or knowledge, in which different racial groups do not perform differently. 

However, if some groups outperform others, the American legal system presumes a priori that this reflects test bias rather than differences in ability. 

Therefore, although the words all men are created equal are not, contrary to popular opinion, part of the US constitution, the Supreme Court has effectively decided, by legal fiat, to decide cases as if they were. 

However, just as a law passed by Congress cannot repeal the law of gravity, so a legal presumption that groups are equal in ability cannot make it so. 

Thus, the bar on the use of IQ testing by employers has not prevented society in general from being increasingly stratified by intelligence, the precise thing measured by the outlawed tests. 

Nevertheless, Herrnstein and Murray estimate that the effective bar on the use of IQ testing makes this process less efficient, and cost the economy somewhere between 80 billion to 13 billion dollars in 1980 alone (p85). 

Conscientiousness and Career Success

I am skeptical of Herrnstein and Murray’s conclusion that IQ is the best predictor of academic and career success. I suspect hard work, not to mention a willingness to toady, toe the line, and obey orders, is at least as important in even the most cognitively-demanding careers, as well as in schoolwork and academic advancement. 

Perhaps the reason these factors have not (yet) been found to be as highly correlated with earnings as is IQ is that we have not yet developed a way of measuring these aspects of personality as accurately as we can measure a person’s intelligence through an IQ test. 

For example, the closest psychometricians have come to measuring capacity for hard work is the personality factor known as conscientiousness, one of the Big Five factors of personality revealed by psychometric testing. 

Conscientiousness does indeed correlate with success in education and work (e.g. Barrick & Mount 1991). However, the correlation is weaker than that between IQ and success in education and at work. 

However, this may be because personality is less easily measured by current psychometric methods than is intelligence – not least because personality tests generally rely on self-report, rather than measuring actual behaviour

Thus, to assess conscientiousness, questionnaires ask respondents whether they ‘see themselves as organized’, ‘as able to follow an objective through to completion’, ‘as a reliable worker’, etc. 

This would be the equivalent of an IQ test that, instead of directly testing a person’s ability to recognize patterns or manipulate shapes by having them do just this, simply asked respondents how good they perceived themselves as being at recognizing patterns, or manipulating shapes. 

Obviously, this would be a less accurate measure of intelligence than a normal IQ test. After all, some people lie, some are falsely modest and some are genuinely deluded. 

Indeed, according to the Dunning Kruger effect, it is those most lacking in ability who most overestimate their abilities – precisely because they lack the ability to accurately assess their ability (Kruger & Dunning 1999). 

In an IQ test, on the other hand, one can sometimes pretend to be dumber than one is, by deliberately getting questions wrong that one knows the answer to.[3]

However, it is not usually possible to pretend to be smarter than one is by getting more questions right simply because one would not know what are the right answers. 

Affirmative Action’ and Test Bias 

In chapters nineteen and twenty, respectively entitled ‘Affirmative Action in Higher Education’ and ‘Affirmative Action in the Workplace’, the authors discuss so-called affirmative action, an American euphemism for systematic and overt discrimination against white males. 

It is well-documented that, in the United States, blacks, on average, earn less than white Americans. On the other hand, it is less well-documented that whites, on average, earn less than people of IndianChinese and Jewish ancestry

With the possible exception of Indian-Americans, these differences, of course, broadly mirror those in average IQ scores. 

Indeed, according to Herrnstein and Murray, the difference in earnings between whites and blacks, not only disappears after controlling for differences in IQ, but is actually partially reversed. Thus, blacks are actually somewhat overrepresented in professional and white-collar occupations as compared to whites of equivalent IQ. 

This remarkable finding Herrnstein and Murray attribute to the effects of affirmative action programmes, as black Americans are appointed and promoted beyond what their ability merits because through discrimination. 

Interestingly, however, this contradicts what the authors wrote in an earlier chapter, where they addressed the question of test bias (pp280-286). 

There, they concluded that testing was not biased against African-Americans, because, among other reasons, IQ tests were equally predictive of real-world outcomes (e.g. in education and employment) for both blacks and whites, and blacks do not perform any better in the workplace or in education than their IQ scores predict. 

This is, one might argue, not wholly convincing evidence that IQ tests are not biased against blacks. It might simply suggest that society at large, including the education system and the workplace, is just as biased against blacks as are the hated IQ tests. This is, of course, precisely what we are often told by the television, media and political commentators who insist that America is a racist society, in which such mysterious forces as ‘systemic racism’ and ‘white privilege’ are pervasive. 

In fact, the authors acknowledge this objection, conceding:  

The tests may be biased against disadvantaged groups, but the traces of bias are invisible because the bias permeates all areas of the group’s performance. Accordingly, it would be as useless to look for evidence of test bias as it would be for Einstein’s imaginary person traveling near the speed of light to try to determine whether time has slowed. Einstein’s traveler has no clock that exists independent of his space-time context. In assessing test bias, we would have no test or criterion measure that exists independent of this culture and its history. This form of bias would pervade everything” (p285). 

Herrnstein and Murray ultimately reject this conclusion on the grounds that it is simply implausible to assume that: 

“[So] many of the performance yardsticks in the society at large are not only biased, they are all so similar in the degree to which they distort the truth-in every occupation, every type of educational institution, every achievement measure, every performance measure-that no differential distortion is picked up by the data” (p285). 

In fact, however, Nicholas Mackintosh identifies one area where IQ tests do indeed under-predict black performance, namely with regard to so-called adaptive behaviours – i.e. the ability to cope with day-to-day life (e.g. feed, dress, clean, interact with others in a ‘normal’ manner). 

Blacks with low IQs are generally much more functional in these respects than whites or Asians with equivalent low IQs (see IQ and Human Intelligence: p356-7).[4]

Yet Herrnstein and Murray seem to have inadvertently, and evidently without realizing it, identified yet another sphere where standardized testing does indeed under-predict real-world outcomes for blacks. 

Thus, if indeed, as Herrnstein and Murray claim, blacks are somewhat overrepresented among professional and white-collar occupations relative to their IQs, this suggests that blacks do indeed do better in real-world outcomes than their test results would predict and, while Herrnstein and Murray attribute this to the effect of discrimination against whites, it could instead surely be interpreted as evidence that the tests are biased against blacks. 

Policy Implications? 

What, then, are the policy implications that Herrnstein and Murray draw from the findings that they report? 

In The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, cognitive science, linguist and popular science writer Steven Pinker popularizes the notion that recognizing the existence of innate differences between individuals and groups in traits such as intelligence does not necessarily lead to ‘right-wing’ political implications. 

Thus, a leftist might accept the existence of innate differences in ability, but conclude that, far from justifying inequality, this is all the more reason to compensate the, if you like, ‘cognitively disadvantaged’ for their innate deficiencies, differences which are, being innate, hardly something for which they can legitimately be blamed. 

Herrnstein and Murray reject this conclusion, but acknowledge it is compatible with their data. Thus, in an afterword to later editions, Murray writes: 

If intelligence plays an important role in determining how well one does in life, and intelligence is conferred on a person through a combination of genetic and environmental factors over which that person has no control, the most obvious political implication is that we need a Rawlsian egalitarian state, compensating the less advantaged for the unfair allocation of intellectual gifts” (p554).[5]

Interestingly, Pinker’s notion of a ‘hereditarian left’, and the related concept of Bell Curve liberals, is not entirely imaginary. On the contrary, it used to be quite mainstream. 

Thus, it was the radical leftist post-war Labour government that imposed the tripartite system on schools in the UK in 1945, which involved allocating pupils to different schools on the basis of their performance in what was then called the 11-plus exam, conducted at with children at age eleven, which tested both ability and acquired knowledge. This was thought by leftists to be a fair system that would enable bright, able youngsters from deprived and disadvantaged working-class backgrounds to achieve their full potential.[6]

Indeed, while contemporary Cultural Marxists emphatically deny the existence of innate differences in ability as between individuals and groups, Marx himself, laboured under no such delusion

On the contrary, in advocating, in his famous (plagiarized) aphorism From each according to his ability; to each according to his need, Marx implicitly recognized that individuals differ in “ability”, and, given that, in the unrealistic communist utopia he envisaged, environmental conditions were ostensibly to be equalized, these differences he presumably conceived of as innate in origin. 

However, a distinction must be made here. While it is possible to justify economic redistributive policies on Rawlsian grounds, it is not possible to justify affirmative action

Thus, one might well reasonably contend that the ‘cognitively disadvantaged’ should be compensated for their innate deficiencies through economic redistribution. Indeed, to some extent, most Western polities already do this, by providing welfare payments and state-funded, or state-subsidized, care to those whose cognitive impairment is such as to qualify as a disability and hence render them incapable of looking after or providing for themselves. 

However, we are unlikely to believe that such persons should be given entry to medical school such that they are one day liable to be responsible for performing heart surgery on us or diagnosing our medical conditions. 

In short, socialist redistribution is defensible – but affirmative action is definitely not! 

Reception and Readability 

The reception accorded ‘The Bell Curve’ in 1994 echoed that accorded another book that I have also recently reviewed, but that was published some two decades earlier, namely Edward O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: The New Synthesis

Both were greeted with similar indignant moralistic outrage by many social scientists, who even employed similar pejorative soundbites (‘genetic determinism’, reductionism, ‘biology as destiny’), in condemning the two books. Moreover, in both cases, the academic uproar even spilled over into a mainstream media moral panic, with pieces appearing the popular press attacking the two books. 

Yet, in both cases, the controversy focused almost exclusively on just a small part of each book – the single chapter in Sociobiology: The New Synthesis focusing on humans and the few chapters in ‘The Bell Curve’ discussing race. 

In truth, however, both books were massive tomes of which these sections represented only a small part. 

Indeed, due to their size, one suspects most critics never actually read the books in full for themselves, including, it seemed, most of those nevertheless taking it upon themselves to write critiques. This is what led to the massive disconnect between what most people thought the books said, and their actual content. 

However, there is a crucial difference. 

Sociobiology: The New Synthesis was a long book of necessity, given the scale of the project Wilson set himself. 

As I have written in my review of that latter work, the scale of Wilson’s ambition can hardly be exaggerated. He sought to provide a new foundation for the whole field of animal behaviour, then, almost as an afterthought, sought to extend this ‘New Synthesis’ to human behaviour as well, which meant providing a new foundation, not for a single subfield within biology, but for several whole disciplines (psychology, sociology, economics and cultural anthropology) that were formerly almost unconnected to biology. Then, in a few provocative sentences, he even sought to provide a new foundation for moral philosophy, and perhaps epistemology too. 

Sociobiology: The New Synthesis was, then, inevitably and of necessity, a long book. Indeed, given that his musings regarding the human species were largely (but not wholly) restricted to a single chapter, one could even make a case that it was too short – and it is no accident that Wilson subsequently extended his writings with regard to the human species to a book length manuscript

Yet, while Sociobiology was of necessity a long book, ‘The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in America’ is, for me, unnecessarily overlong. 

After all, Herrnstein and Murray’s thesis was actually quite simple – namely that cognitive ability, as captured by IQ testing, is a major correlate of many important social outcomes in modern America. 

Yet they reiterate this point, for different social outcomes, again and again, chapter after chapter, repeatedly. 

In my view, Herrnstein and Murray’s conclusion would have been more effectively transmitted to the audience they presumably sought to reach had they been more succinct in their writing style and presentation of their data. 

Had that been the case then perhaps rather more of the many people who bought the book, and helped make it into an unlikely nonfiction bestseller in 1994, might actually have managed to read it – and perhaps even been persuaded by its thesis. 

For casual readers interested in this topic, I would recommend instead Intelligence, Race, And Genetics: Conversations With Arthur R. Jensen (which I have reviewed herehere and here). 

Endnotes

[1] For example, Francis Wheen, a professional damned fool and columnist for the Guardian newspaper (which two occupations seem to be largely interchangeable) claimed that: 

The Bell Curve (1994), runs to more than 800 pages but can be summarised in a few sentences. Black people are more stupid than white people: always have been, always will be. This is why they have less economic and social success. Since the fault lies in their genes, they are doomed to be at the bottom of the heap now and forever” (Wheen 2000). 

In making this claim, Wheen clearly demonstrates that he has read few if any of those 800 pages to which he refers.

[2] Although their discussion of the evidence relating to the causes, genetic or environmental, of the black-white test score gap is extensive, it is not exhaustive. For example, Phillipe Rushton, the author of Race Evolution and Behavior (reviewed here and here) argues that, despite the controversy their book provoked, Herrnstein and Murray actually didn’t go far enough on race, omitting, for example, any real discussion, save a passing mention in Appendix 5, of race differences in brain size (Rushton 1997). On the other hand, Herrnstein and Murray also did not mention studies that failed to establish any correlation between IQ and blood groups among African-Americans, studies interpreted as supporting an environmentalist interpretation of race differences in intelligence (Loehlin et al 1973Scarr et al 1977). For readers interested in a more complete discussion of the evidence regarding the relative contributions of environment and heredity to the differences in IQ scores of different races, see my review of Richard Lynn’s Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis, available here.

[3] For example, some of those accused of serious crimes have been accused of deliberately getting questions wrong on IQ tests in order to qualify as mentally subnormal when before the courts for sentencing in order to be granted mitigation of sentence on this ground, or, more specifically, in order to evade the death penalty

[4] This may be because whites or Asians with such low IQs are more likely to have such impaired cognitive abilities because of underlying conditions (e.g chromosomal abnormalitiesbrain damage) that handicap them over and above the deficit reflected in IQ score alone. On the other hand, blacks with similarly low IQs are still within the normal range for their own race. Therefore, rather than suffering from, say, a chromosomal abnormality or brain damage, they are relatively more likely to simply be at the tail-end of the normal range of IQs within their group, and hence normal in other respects.

[5] The term Rawlsian is a reference to political theorist John Rawles version of social contract theory, whereby he poses the hypothetical question as to what arrangement of political, social and economic affairs humans would favour if placed in what he called the original position, where they would be unaware of, not only their own race, sex and position in to the socio-economic hierarchy, but also, most important for our purposes, their own level of innate ability. This Rawles referred to as ‘veil of ignorance’.

[6] The tripartite system did indeed enable many working-class children to achieve a much higher economic status than their parents, although this was partly due to the expansion of the middle-class sector of the economy over the same time-period. It was also later Labour administrations who largely abolished the 11-plus system, not least because, unsurprisingly given the heritability of intelligence and personality, children from middle-class backgrounds tended to do better on it than did children from working-class backgrounds.

References 

Barrick & Mount 1991 The big five personality dimensions and job performance: a meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology 44(1):1–26 
Beckford (2008) Working classes ‘lack intelligence to be doctors’, claims academicDaily Telegraph, 04 Jun 2008. 
Clark 2008 Higher social classes have significantly HIGHER IQs than working class, claims academic Daily Mail, 22 May 2008. 
Kruger & Dunning (1999) Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-AssessmentsJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 77(6):1121-34 
Loehlin et al (1973) Blood group genes and negro-white ability differencesBehavior Genetics 3(3): 263-270  
Rushton, J. P. (1997). Why The Bell Curve didn’t go far enough on race. In E. White (Ed.), Intelligence, political inequality, and public policy (pp. 119-140). Westport, CT: Praeger. 
Scarr et al (1977) Absence of a relationship between degree of white ancestry and intellectual skills within a black population. Human Genetics 39(1):69-86 . 
Wheen (2000) The ‘science’ behind racismGuardian, 10 May 2000. 

John Dickson’s ‘Jesus: A Short Life’: Christian Apologetics Masquerading as History

John Dickson, Jesus: A Short Life (Oxford: Lion Books, 2012).

The edition of John Dickson’s book, ‘Jesus: A Short Life’, that I read, published in 2012 was subtitled ‘Jesus: A Short Life – The Historical Evidence’. However, I notice that the first edition of this book, published a few years earlier in 2008, seemed to omit part of the subtitle referring to “The Historical Evidence”.

This is actually quite fitting, because, despite this added subtitle, Dickson himself omits to include much historical evidence supporting the biographical details he presents in the book.

Instead, Dickson relies heavily on what is referred to as the ‘appeal to authority or ‘argumentum ab auctoritate’ fallacy – albeit with a touch of the argumentum ad Populum’ fallacy thrown in too for good measure.

Thus, he repeatedly insists that ‘all serious scholars agree’ on a certain aspect of Jesus’s biography, with the clear implication that that this is reason enough for non-expert readers like myself to agree as well.

Unfortunately, he only very rarely actually takes the time to explain why all serious scholars supposedly agree on this aspect of Jesus’s life or present the actual evidence that has led the experts to agree.

Instead, he seems to imply that the reader should simply defer to expert opinion rather than taking the time to actually look at the evidence for themselves and make their own judgement.
 
For example, he observes that the claim that Jesus was publicly baptised by John the Baptist is “doubted by no one doing historical Jesus research” (p49).

However, he neglects to explain in the main body of his text why no serious scholar doubts this, or why the evidence is so compelling.

Only in an accompanying endnote does he bother to explain that the main reason all experts agree is that this episode supposedly satisfies what New Testament scholars refer to as the criterion of embarrassment.

In other words, because it seems to cast Jesus in a role subordinate to that of John, the opposite of the impression the biblical authors presumably intended to convey, it is hardly the sort of thing the gospel writers are likely to have invented (p137-8).

Incidentally, I am not entirely sure whether the so-called criterion of embarrassment is unambiguously satisfied with respect to the claim that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. After all, Jesus is portrayed as humble throughout the gospels and often adopts a subordinate role – for example, when he is described as washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:1–17).

Indeed, given that Jesus’s philosophy represents what Nietzsche called a slave morality, whereby what would usually be seen as a source of shame and embarrassment is instead elevated into a positive virtue, the entire concept of the criterion of embarrassment seems to of dubious value, at least with respect to questions regarding the historical Jesus.

Thus, Jesus’s entire life, from his obscure origin in Nazareth, through his baptism by John, to the ultimate failure of his ministry and his ignominious death at the hands of the Romans, would seem to be an embarrassment from start to finish, at least for a figure who claimed to be a saviour and ‘Messiah, who would free the Jews from subjugation at the hands of their Roman overlords and usher in a new Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, for Christians, all of this, far from being embarrassing, is reinterpreted as perverse proof of Jesus’s divinity and omnipotence.

In short, at least as applied to historical Jesus research, the so-called criterion of embarrassment seems to represent something of an embarrassment in and of itself.

Elsewhere, in rebutting the assertion of Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion that “it is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all”, Dickson again resorts to a combination of the argumentum ab auctorita and argumentum ad Populum fallacies, insisting “no one who is actually doing history thinks so” (p21).

Actually, although it remains very much a minority, maverick position, some researchers, who certainly regard themselves as “doing history”, have indeed championed the so-called mythicist’ thesis that Jesus never existed, including, for example, Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty and Robert Price.

Perhaps Dickson regards these authors’ work as so worthless that they cannot be said to be truly “doing history” at all. If so, however, then this is an obvious, indeed almost a textbook, example of the no true Scotsman’ fallacy.

Thus, Dickson asserts:

Not only is Jesus’ non-existence never discussed in academic literature… but most experts agree that there are… ‘no substantial doubts about the general course of Jesus’ life’” (p10-11).

The actual evidence he cites, however, seems rather less than compelling.

Aside from the gospels themselves one of the few other sources he cites is contemporary letter written by one Mara bar Serapion referring to the Jews killing their “wise king”.

Dickson claims:

There is a consensus among scholars that Mara bar Serapion‘s ‘wise king’ was none other than Jesus. It simply strains belief to imagine that there could have been two figures in first century Palestine fitting the description of Jew, law-giver, king and martyr by his own people” (p19).

Perhaps so – but unfortunately Jesus himself doesn’t fit the bill all that well either.

After all, Jesus may indeed have been ‘wise’. This, at least, is debatable.[1]

However, he certainly does not appear to have been a king’, at least in the ordinary, familiar sense of the word.

Neither does he appear to have been killed by the Jews, as claimed of the figure described in Mara bar Serapion’s letter, but rather by the Romans. Crucifixion was, after all, a Roman, not a Jewish, method of execution.

Moreover, Dickson himself admits “Jesus of Nazareth was not the most revered religious figure of the period”, even in Palestine (p109). Might not these other religious gurus fit the bill better?

Moreover, although Dickson asserts “it simply strains belief to imagine that there could have been two figures in first century Palestine fitting the description”, actually there appears to be nothing in Mara bar Serapion’s letter that actually says anything about this “wise king” necessarily having resided “in first century Palestine”. This seems to have been entirely an invention of Dickson’s own.

What then of Jewish religious leaders, or better still actual “kings” (in the familiar sense of this word) from other periods?

Or perhaps Mara bar Serapion was just mixed up and confusing the Jews with some other people.

Who Mara bar Serapion was referring to seems to be, at best, a mystery. Certainly, his letter hardly represents the definitive proof of Jesus’s historicity.[2]

Should we Trust the Experts’?

The ‘argumentum ab auctoritate’, or appeal to authority, is perhaps a method of argumentation that naturally appeals to devout Christians. After all, they usually appeal to the ostensible authority, not of ‘experts’ and ‘reputable scholars’, but rather to that of God himself, or of ‘holy scripture’ or ‘the Word of God’).

Of course, appealing to the unanimous opinion of scholars in a given field is sometimes legitimate. If, for example, we do not have the time or the inclination to research the topic for ourselves, it is prudent to defer to majority opinion among qualified experts.

However, in a book subtitled “The Historical Evidence”, one is surely entitled to demand rather more.

Moreover, the field of study in which the experts are ostensibly deemed to be expert must itself be a reputable field of study in the first place.

Thus, if all ‘reputable homeopaths’ or all ‘reputable astrologers’ agree on a particular aspect of homeopathic or astrological theory, I am entitled to disagree simply because the entire fields of homeopathy and astrology are pseudo-scientific and therefore there is simply no such thing as a ‘reputable homeopath’ or ‘reputable astrologer’ in the first place and all are no more than charlatans or professional damned fools.

Similarly, I submit, although the case is nowhere near as clear cut as with astrology or homeopathy, that there is reason not to trust the so-called ‘experts’ in the case of historical Jesus research.

This is because those who have chosen to devote their lives to the study of the life of Jesus have typically done so because they are themselves devout and committed Christians.

Given, then, that their whole philosophy of life is predicated on the existence of a figure of Jesus resembling the one described in the gospels, it is perhaps hardly surprising that they tend to conclude that the story in the gospels is more or less accurate.

Admittedly, unlike homeopaths and astrologers, many of these researchers have important-sounding professorships at apparently reputable, sometimes even prestigious, universities.

However, this is largely an anachronistic remnant of origins of the European university system in Medieval Chrisendom, when religious scholarship was a key function, perhaps the key function, of the university system.[3]

However, this should not fool us into mistaking them for serious, secular historians.[4]

Thus, most researchers investigating the historical Jesus, at least in universities, seem to come from backgrounds, not in history, but rather in theology, seminaries and Bible studies.

Few, then, seem to have spent any time researching other areas of history, and they are therefore presumably unfamiliar with the standards of proof demanded by mainstream historians researching other periods of history or other historical questions.

Thus, the tools used by researchers into the historical Jesus to judge the veracity of gospel claims (e.g. the criterion of embarrassment, the criterion of multiple/independent attestation) do not seem to be widely used in other areas of history when assessing the trustworthiness of sources – or, at any rate, the same terms are not used.

One finds these terms only, so far as I am aware, in the index on books on dealing with historical Jesus studies – not in general books on methods of historical research, nor in works of history dealing with other times and places and other historical questions.

Certainly, analogous principles are employed, but the standards of proof seem, in my opinion, to be rather higher.[5]

I would have preferred it if Dickson had announced at the onset that he was a Christian, in the same way that politicians and lawmakers are expected to ‘declare an interest’ in a matter before they venture an opinion during a debate, let alone cast a vote regarding a decision.[6]

However, although there is no such explicit declaration in the opening paragraphs, Dickson is, to his credit, open about his own religious belief. Nevertheless, he insists that he approaches the facts of Jesus’s life as an historian not as a Christian.

Thus, Dickson insists:

The presupposition that the Bible is God’s word and therefore entirely trustworthy is perfectly arguable at the philosophical level” (p13).

To play Dickson at his own game of appealing to expert opinion in lieu of formulating an actual substantive argument, I am not sure how many contemporary philosophers would agree this statement. Certainly not Daniel Dennett for one.

Nevertheless, Dickson insists in the same paragraph:

I intend to approach the New Testament as an entirely human document” (p13).

However, we surely have reason to doubt whether a devout Christian, whose beliefs are surely at the very core of their philosophy of life, can ever perform the sort of ‘mental gymnastics’ necessary to approach a topic such as the life of Jesus with the necessary disinterest, scholarly detachment and objectivity required of a serious historian.

The Gospels as an Historical Source

At the heart of Dickson’s account of the life of Jesus is his contention that the gospels themselves are legitimate historical sources in their own right.

Thus, they are, he argues, more trustworthy than the apocrypha, because the latter are less contemporaneous and they generally date from a later period (p25). This is, indeed, according to Dickson, the main reason why the latter were rejected as non-canonical in the first place.

On researching the issue, I discovered that it does indeed seem to be generally true that the canonical gospels date back to an earlier time-frame than do the New Testament apocrypha. It is indeed perhaps the one useful thing I learnt from reading Dickson’s book – since it is indeed true that many skeptics and atheist authors do indeed seem to imply that the choice of which books to be included in the New Testament Canon was either entirely arbitrary or else reflective of the theological or political agendas of the later Christian leaders responsible for the decision.

True, Dickson acknowledges, the gospel writers were Christians, and sought to convince readers of the divinity of Jesus – but all ancient sources, he observes, have some sort of agenda, and there is therefore, he argues, no reason to give any less credence to Christian sources than to any others.

This is only partly true.

Dickson is right in so far as he asserts that most, if not all, sources, ancient or indeed modern, have some sort of bias. Thus, we should not regard any source as completely infallible, in the same way that Christians have traditionally regarded the Bible as the infallible ‘Word of God’.

But, if no source is completely trustworthy, this does not mean that all sources are equally trustworthy.

On the contrary, some sources are much more accurate and reliable than others, some of which are completely worthless as history.

The Christian gospels, with their plainly ahistorical content and frankly preposterous elements (e.g. miracles, the resurrection), are clearly unreliable.

Are there no other contemporary sources on the life of Jesus besides the Christians gospels to provide balance? What about anti-Christian writings by adherents of other faiths?

Moreover, call me naïve, but from a book subtitled “the Historical Evidence”, I expected something more than another repetition of the gospel stories so many of us were so cruelly subjected to in Sunday School from earliest infancy – albeit this time supplemented with occasional references to Josephus and, of course, ‘the unanimous opinion of all reputable scholars’.

Dickson therefore concludes:

History… demonstrates that the story at the heart of the Gospels is neither a myth nor fraud, but a broadly credible account of a short first century life” (p129).

However, the primary (indeed virtually the only) source he has used to construct this so-called ‘history’ is the gospels themselves. No other sources (e.g. Josephus) provide any details whatever beyond the faintest of outlines.

To establish that “the story at the heart of the gospels” is “a broadly credible account” surely requires an independent source external to the gospels themselves against which to judge their veracity.

To claim that we can be certain of the gospels’ historical veracity because they are consistent with all the contemporary historical sources available simply won’t do when the only contemporary historical sources available are the gospels themselves.

This is simply to state the self-evident tautological truism that the gospels are consistent with themselves.

Jesus’s Birthplace

Actually, however, the gospels are not entirely consistent with themselves – or at least not with one another.

Take, for example, the matter of Jesus’s birthplace.

Against the arguments of skeptics such as Richard Dawkins, Dickson argues in favour of Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus, in accordance with Christian tradition.

Dismissing the claim that the Gospels of Luke and Matthew only relocated the nativity to Bethlehem so as to accord with Old Testament prophecy (Micah 5:2), Dickson demands petulantly:

What is the evidence that Matthew and Luke put him there out of some necessity to make him look messianic? None. The argument dissolves” (p37).

Instead, Dickson argues:

Just as important as the fact that Bethlehem is not mentioned in Mark or John is the fact that it is mentioned in Luke and Matthew. Surely the silence of two of the gospels cannot be louder than the affirmation of the other two” (p37).

Yet Dickson does not mention that the two gospels manage to relocate Jesus to Bethlehem by entirely different and mutually incompatible means. Thus, Matthew has the family based in Bethlehem then only fleeing to escape the wrath of Herod; whereas Luke has them only visiting Bethlehem in order to register for a census.

Nor does he mention that both stories are historically doubtful.

Whereas there is simply no evidence for the so-called Massacre of the Innocents outside of the Gospel of Matthew itself, the story in Luke is positively contradicted by the historical record.

Thus, the first census did not occur until AD 6 after the death of King Herod. Yet, just a couple of pages earlier Dickson himself has concluded:

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke agree that Jesus was born while Herod the Great, the Rome appointed king over Palestine, was still alive… This leads to the broad consensus among scholars that Jesus was born around 5 BC” (p35).

At any rate, a census, even if it occurred, would apply only to Roman citizens, not Jews in Galilee, then a client state not under direct Roman rule. Moreover, even Roman citizens were not required to return to the hometowns of their remote ancestors merely for the purpose of a census – an obviously preposterous proposition given the expense and difficulty of long-distance travel during this time-period and the huge disruption and chaos such a requirement would impose (see The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible: p27-32).

Finally, given that Dickson acknowledges that Jesus was born into obscurity and attained what little prominence he did achieve within his own lifetime only as an adult, anything about his birth is likely to be legendary and made-up long after the fact. At the time of birth, on the other hand, hardly anyone was likely paying much attention.

Dickson is therefore right to conclude “one cannot prove that Jesus was born in Bethlehem”. However, given the incentive to make Jesus’s birth accord with Old Testament prophecy (Micah 5:2), the apparent embarrassment associated with his originating in Nazareth (John 1:46) and the contradictions and ahistorical elements in the accounts given of how ‘Jesus of Galilee’ (also known as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’) could ever have ended up being born in Bethlehemseventy or eighty miles from Galilee and Nazareth – the weight of evidence is surely strongly against the notion.

Supernatural Events, Miracles and the Resurrection

Yet perhaps the strongest evidence against the notion that the Gospels can ever be considered reliable historical sources is the fact that they contain many supernatural elements (e.g. miracles).

However, Dickson, being a Christian, obviously does not see this as a problem. Instead, he maintains:

The best sources and methods employed by the leading scholars in the field produce the unexpected – and, for some, embarrassing – conclusion that the paradoxa erga [i.e. miracles] are, as Professor James Dunn admits ‘one of the most widely attested and firmly established of the historical facts with which we have to deal’” (p77).

In this passage, Dickson admits that this conclusion is “for some, embarrassing” (p77). However, he does not mention to whom it is supposedly embarrassing.

Yet it ought to be embarrassing, not, as implied by Dickson, to skeptics, rationalists and atheists, but rather to biblical scholars themselves – since, if indeed “the best sources and methods employed by the leading scholars in the field” suggest that events such as the feeding of the 5,000’, the turning of water into wine and Jesus healing lepers by touching them are “firmly established… historical facts”, then this seems to suggest that there is something fundamentally wrong with the “sources and methods employed by leading scholars” in the field to such an extent that the entire field is called into disrepute.

Of course, the reliable historical attestation of Jesus performing miracles could be interpreted differently. It might suggest simply that Jesus perhaps performed conjuring tricks, involving psychological suggestion and other chicanery of the sort employed by contemporary faith healers and similar charlatans, which, together with the well-documented placebo effect, together explain the similarly “widely attested and firmly established” eye-witness testimony regarding the ostensible miracles of these modern-day charlatans and con artists.

Similarly, resorting again to the argumentum ab auctoritate, Dickson lists various scholars who have investigated the historicity of the resurrection, claiming “All of these scholars agree that there is an irreducible core to the resurrection story that cannot be explained away as pious legend and wholesale deceit” (p110) – because “from the very beginning, numbers of men and women claimed to have seen Jesus alive after death” and that this is “a fact of history” (p111-2).

Of course, large numbers of men and women also claim to have been abducted by aliens. However, most of us do not regard this as evidence for the occurrence of alien abductions so much as it is evidence for the unreliability of eyewitness testimony and either the deceit or delusion of those making the claims.

Conclusions

I have complained that I would have preferred it had author John Dickson admitted at the beginning of his book, or, better yet, on the back cover, that he is a devout Christian and hence far from impartial with regard to the matter of the life of Jesus, just as politicians are expected to ‘declare an interest’ in a matter before casting their ballots or participating in a Parliamentary debate.

Here is my own belated disclaimer: I am an atheist.

However, I make this belated disclaimer, not so much to ‘declare an interest’ as it is to declare a lack of interest, or rather a disinterest.

I am obviously interested in the subject of the historical Jesus – otherwise I would not have taken the time to read Dickson’s book, let alone to write this review.

However, unlike Christian readers or researchers, I have no vested interest one way or another regarding the biography of Jesus. It does not challenge my fundamental beliefs whether Jesus existed, didn’t exist, lived a life roughly similar to that described in the gospels or a life very different.

Certainly, if evidence of the occurrence of miracles were discovered, this would challenge my beliefs, since it would suggest that the laws of physics as they are currently understood are somehow mistaken, incomplete or capable of temporary suspension on demand.

However, given that it is inconceivable that miracles supposedly performed some two millennia ago could ever be conclusively proven to have occurred some two thousand years after they are alleged to have happened, this is not really a problem.

Apart from this, I am in principle entirely open to the possibility that – miracles aside – the rest of the gospels is largely accurate as a description of Jesus’s life. However, on reading Dickson’s account of the “historical evidence”, it just seems to me that the evidence isn’t really there.

Certainly it is possible that (excepting miracles, virgin births, resurrections and other such patent nonsense) Jesus’s life did indeed take roughly the same path as that described in the gospels.

Moreover, since the canonical gospels, though obviously unreliable, do indeed seem to be the earliest surviving detailed accounts that we have of the life of Jesus, I am even prepared to tentatively concede that we must provisionally accept this as the most likely scenario.

However, it also seems quite possible that the course of Jesus’s life was very different and that the gospel stories themselves are largely mythical and invented after the fact.

It certainly seems probable that there existed a religious leader called Jesus who lived and was crucified by the Romans at around the time and place he is alleged to have lived and died and who provided a basis, howsoever minimal, for the stories and myths that subsequently came to be told about him.

However, I suspect that, given his relative obscurity in his own lifetime, it is doubtful much can ever be known about him today some two millennia later.

Moreover, even the most extreme form of the so-called mythicist’ thesis, namely that the gospel stories are entirely mythical and no person called Jesus upon whom the stories were based ever existed in the real world, hardly seems to be the sort of preposterous crank theory, roughly on a par with holocaust denial, as it is portrayed as being by Dickson and other Christian apologists.[7]

It just seems to me that there is so little reliable contemporary historical evidence regarding the life of Jesus that even extreme positions remain tenable – or at least cannot be definitively disproven. This is why attempted reconstructions of the historical Jesus are so notoriously divergent.

Indeed, there seems to be a fundamental contradiction in Dickson’s thesis.

On the one hand, he contends, surely rightly, that Jesus was, during his own lifetime, only, as Dickson himself puts it, quoting the title of another book about the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew, who achieved prominence and historical importance only after his death.

However, at the same time, Dickson contends that there is abundant reliable evidence regarding the life of this marginal Jew. Yet, if the Jew in question was so marginal, one would hardly expect to find abundant documentary evidence regarding his life.

In short, perhaps the reason so few serious secular scholars and historians have studied the life of Jesus and the field remains the preserve of ‘true believers’ like Dickson is precisely because there is so little to study in the first place.[8]

Only those with an a priori emotional commitment to belief in Jesus as ‘messiah’ (or sometimes an a priori commitment to disbelief in this same concept), precisely those whose emotional commitment renders them unfit to undertake a disinterested and objective investigation, take it upon themselves to embark on the project in the first place.

Endnotes

[1] Actually, at least in so far as the accounts of his teachings as reported in the gospels are accurate, Jesus’s teachings do not appear to have been at all ‘wise’ in my opinion. On the contrary, they appear quite foolish. Thus, advising people to turn the other cheek when they are victims of assault (Matthew 5 39-42; Luke 6: 27-31), and to give up their worldly possessions (Mark 10:21; Luke 14:33) seems, to me, not ‘wise’ counsel, but rather very foolish advice. Corroboration for this interpretation is found in Jesus’s ultimate fate: If he had indeed been ‘wise’ perhaps he would not have ended up nailed to a tree.

[2] Another supposed early textual reference to Jesus sometimes cited by New Testament scholars, but curiously omitted by Dickson, seems similarly spurious. This is the reference by the Roman historian Suetonius in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars to disturbances during the reign of Claudius supposedly conducted at the instigation of Chrestus. After all, quite apart from the fact that ‘Chrestos’ was in fact a common name at the time, at least among Pagans, if not among Jews, the word is also the same, or very similar, to the Greek word, Khristós (Χριστός), which is itself the translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. Given that it was widely anticipated among the Jews that a ‘Messiah’ would appear among them, overthrow Roman rule and restore independence in Judea, and Jesus was only one of many claimants to this mantle, this reference to a ‘Chrestus’ or ‘Chresto’ could easily have referred to one of these other candidates for this title.

[3] The fact that the western university system traces its origins to medieval Christendom, when Christian dogma was almost unopposed, results in the paradoxical irony that, whereas many new universities often no longer even bother with courses in theology and Bible studies, the older, and hence generally more prestigious, universities often maintain a large number of professorships in these fields, and have long-established, entrenched and well-endowed Schools of Divinity.

[4] The idea that simply because someone has an impressive-sounding professorship at a prestigious university this must mean they are authoritative is, of course, another version of the argumentum ab auctoritate, or appeal to authority, that features so heavily in Dickson’s book, and the criticism of which is a major theme of this review. In fact, however, today as in the medieval age, there are many tenured and well-credentialled professors at ostensibly prestigious universities who are little more than ‘professional damned fools’. In a former age they were mostly theologians; today, meanwhile, they are mostly professors of women’s studies, gender studies, cultural studies, black studies, and other aspects of what has been aptly termed the grievance studies’ industry. These fields, indeed, arguably represent the modern ‘cultural Marxist’ equivalent of what theology represented in the medieval age, and are today even more entrenched in academia.

[5] Of course, this may depend on the area of history in question. Obviously, sources are more abundant for certain historical periods than for others. Thus, as a crude generalization, ancient history tends to be more speculative than modern history.

[6] Had Dickson began with a declaration to this effect, then, I must confess, I would probably never have bothered to read his book in the first place. This might perhaps be dismissed as a prejudice on my part. However, as explained above, I simply do not believe that a devout Christian can ever be capable of investigating the historical Jesus with the necessary scholarly detachment, disinterest and objectivity required for such an endeavour.

[7] Indeed, it is bizarre to read Christian apologists like Dickson pouring scorn on mythicism as a kind of crankish, kookish conspiracy theory or form of pseudo-scholarship, while at the same time insisting that miracles are among “the most widely attested and firmly established of the historical facts” about Jesus (p77), and that there is an irreducible [historical] core to the resurrection story that cannot be explained away as pious legend and wholesale deceit” (p110). Is Dickson really trying to have us believe that the idea that Jesus never existed is more preposterous than the idea that he cured lepers by touching them and later rose from the dead?
I am reminded of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2006 Easter Sermon, where he dismissed The Da Vinci Code book and film, then just released, as a preposterous conspiracy theory (as indeed it was), contrasting it with what he had the audacity to call the prosaic reality – the latter presumably a reference to the gospel accounts with all their virgin birth, resurrection and miracle stories. The phrases pot calling the kettle black and people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones very much spring to mind in both these cases.

[8] These ‘true believers’ include, it must be acknowledged, not only Christians like Dickson, but also many virulently anti-Christian cranks and conspiracy theorists, who often seemingly have almost as strong an a priori commitment to their own pet theories (e.g. mythicism) as the Christians do to the veracity of the gospel stories.

John R Baker’s ‘Race’: “A Reminder of What Was Possible Before the Curtain Came Down”

‘Race’, by John R. Baker, Oxford University Press, 1974.

John Baker’s ‘Race’ represents a triumph of scholarship across a range of fields, including biology, ancient history, archaeology, history of science, psychometrics and anthropology.

First published by Oxford University Press in 1974, it also marks a watershed in Western thought – the last time a major and prestigious publisher put its name to an overtly racialist work.

As science writer Marek Kohn writes:

Baker’s treatise, compendious and ponderous, is possible the last major statement of traditional race science written in English” (The Race Gallery: p61).

Inevitably for a scientific work first published over forty years ago, ‘Race’ is dated. In particular, the DNA revolution in population genetics has revolutionized our understanding of the genetic differences and relatedness between different human populations.

Lacking access to such data, Baker had only indirect phenotypic evidence (i.e. the morphological similarities and differences between different peoples), as well as historical and geographic evidence, with which to infer such relationships and hence construct his racial phylogeny and taxonomy.

Phenotypic similarity is obviously a less reliable method of determining the relatedness between groups than is provided by genome analysis, since there is always the problem of distinguishing homology from analogy and hence misinterpreting a trait that has independently evolved in different populations as evidence of relatedness.[1]

However, I found only one case of genetic studies decisively contradicting Baker’s conclusions. Thus, whereas Baker classes the Ainu People of Japan as Europid (p158; p173; p424; p625), recent genetic studies suggest that the Ainu have little or no genetic affinities to Caucasoid populations and are most closely related to other East Asians.[2]

On the other hand, however, Baker’s omission of genetic data means that, unusually for a scientific work, in the material he does cover, ‘Race’ scarcely seems to have dated at all. This is because the primary focus of Baker’s book – namely, morphological differences between races – is a field of study that has become politically suspect and in which new research has now all but ceased.[3]

Yet in the nineteenth- and early-twentieth century, when the discipline of anthropology first emerged as a distinct science, the study of race differences in morphology was the central focus of the entire science of anthropology.

Thus, Baker’s ‘Race’ can be viewed as the final summation of the accumulated findings of the ‘old-stylephysical anthropology of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, published at the very moment this intellectual tradition was in its death throes.

Accessibility

Baker’s ‘Race’ is indeed a magnum opus. Unfortunately, however, at over 600 pages, embarking on reading ‘Race’ might seem almost like a lifetime’s work in and of itself.

Not only is it a very long book, but, in addition, much of the material, particularly on morphological race differences and their measurement, is highly technical, and will be readily intelligible only to the dwindling band of biological anthropologists who, in the genomic age, still study such things.

This inaccessibility is exacerbated by the fact that Baker does not use endnotes, except for his references, and only very occasionally uses footnotes. Instead, he includes even technical and peripheral material in the main body of his text, but indicates that material is technical or peripheral by printing it in a smaller font-size.[4]

Baker’s terminology is also confusing.[5] He prefers the ‘-id’ suffix to the more familiar ‘-oid’ and ‘-ic’ (e.g. ‘Negrid‘ and ‘Nordid‘ rather than ‘Negroid’ and ‘Nordic‘) and eschews the familiar terms Caucasian or Caucasoid, on the grounds that:

The inhabitants of the Caucasus region are very diverse and very few of them are typical of any large section of Europids” (p205).

However, his own preferred alternative term, ‘Europid’, is arguably equally misleading as it contributes to the already common conflation of Caucasian with white European, even though, as Baker is at pains to emphasize elsewhere in his treatise, populations from the Middle East, North Africa and even the Indian subcontinent are also ‘Europid’ (i.e. Caucasoid) in Baker’s judgement.

In contrast, the term Caucasoid, or even Caucasian, causes little confusion in my experience, since it is today generally understood as a racial term and not as a geographical reference to the Caucasus region.[6]

At any rate, a similar criticism could surely be levelled at the term ‘Mongoloid’ (or, as Baker prefers, ‘Mongolid’), since Mongolian people are similarly quite atypical of other East Asian populations, and, despite the brief ascendancy of the Mongol Empire, and its genetic impact (as well as that previous waves of conquest by horse peoples of the Eurasian Steppe), were formerly a rather marginal people confined to the arid fringes of the indigenous home range of the so-called Mongoloid race, which had long been centred in China, the self-styled Middle Kingdom.[7]

Certainly, the term ‘Caucasoid’ makes little etymological sense. However, this is also true of a lot of words which we nevertheless continue to make use of. Indeed, since all words change in meaning over time, the original meaning of a word is almost invariably different to its current accepted usage.[8]

Yet we continue to use these words so as to make ourselves intelligible to others, the only alternative being to invent an entirely new language all of our own which only we would be capable of understanding.

Unfortunately, however, too many racial theorists, Baker included, have insisted on creating entirely new racial terms of their own coinage, or sometimes new entire lexicons, which, not only causes confusion among readers, but also leads the casual reader to underestimate the actual degree of substantive agreement between different authors, who, though they use different terms, often agree regarding both the identity of, and relationships between, the major racial groupings.[9]

Historical Focus

Another problem is the book’s excessive historical focus.

Judging the book by its contents page, one might imagine that Baker’s discussion of the history of racial thought is confined to the first section of the book, titled “The Historical Background” and comprising four chapters that total just over fifty pages.

However, Baker acknowledges in the opening page of his preface that:

Throughout this book, what might be called the historical method has been adopted as a matter of deliberate policy” (p3).

Thus, in the remainder of the book, Baker continues to adopt an historical perspective, briefly charting the history behind the discovery of each concept, archaeological discovery, race difference or method of measuring race differences that he introduces.

In short, it seems that Baker is not content with writing about science; he wants to write history of science too.

A case in point is Chapter Eight, which, despite its title (“Some Evolutionary and Taxonomic Theories”), actually contains very little on modern taxonomic or evolutionary theory, or even what would pass for ‘modern’ when Baker wrote the book over forty years ago.

Instead, the greater part of the chapter is devoted to tracing the history of two theories that were, even at the time Baker was writing, already wholly obsolete and discredited (namely, recapitulation theory and orthogenesis).

Let me be clear, Baker himself certainly agrees that these theories are obsolete and discredited, as this is his conclusion at the end of the respective sections devoted to discussion of these theories in his chapter on “Evolutionary and Taxonomic Theories”.

However, this only begs the question as to why Baker chooses to devote so much space in this chapter to discussing these theories in the first place, given that both theories are discredited and also of only peripheral relevance to his primary subject-matter, namely the biology of race.

Anyone not interested in these topics, or in history of science more generally, is well advised to skip the majority of this chapter.

The Historical Background

Readers not interested in the history of science, and concerned only with contemporary state-of-the-art science (or at least the closest an author writing in 1974 can get to modern state-of-the-art science) may also be tempted to skip over the whole first section of the book, entitled, as I have said, “The Historical Background”, and comprised of four chapters or, in total, just over fifty pages.

These days, when authoring a book on the biology of race, it seems to have become almost de rigueur to include an opening chapter, or chapters, tracing the history of race science, and especially its political misuse during nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries (e.g. under the Nazis).[10]

The usual reason for including these chapters is for the author or authors to thereby disassociate themselves from the earlier supposed misuse of race science for nefarious political purposes, and emphasize how their own approach is, of course, infinitely more scientific and objective than that of their sometimes less than illustrious intellectual forebears.

However, Baker’s discussion ofThe Historical Background” is rather different, and refreshingly short on disclaimers, moralistic grandstanding and benefit-of-hindsight condemnations that one usually finds in such potted histories.

Instead, Baker strives to give all views, howsoever provocative, a fair hearing in as objective and sober a tone as possible.[11]

Only Lothrop Stoddard, strangely, is dismissed altogether. The latter is, for Baker, an “obviously unimportant” thinker, whose book “contains nothing profound or genuinely original” (p58-9).

Yet this is perhaps unfair. Whatever the demerits of Stoddard’s racial taxonomy (“oversimplified to the point of crudity,” according to Baker: p58), Stoddard’s geopolitical and demographic predictions have proven prescient.[12]

Overall, Baker draws two general conclusions regarding the history of racial thought in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

First, he observes how few of the racialist authors whom he discusses were anti-Semitic. Thus, Baker reports:

Only one of the authors, Lapouge, strongly condemns the Jews. Treitschke is moderately anti-Jewish; Chamberlain, Grant and Stoddard mildly so; Gobineau is equivocal” (p59).

The rest of the authors whom he discusses evince, according to Baker, “little or no interest in the Jewish problem”, the only exception being Friedrich Nietzsche, who is “primarily an anti-egalitarian, but [who] did not proclaim the inequality of ethnic taxa”, and who, in his comments regarding the Jewish people, or at least those quoted by Baker, is positively gushing in his praise.

Yet anti-Semitism often goes hand-in-hand with philo-Semitism. Thus, both Nietzsche and Count de Gobineau indeed wrote passages that, at least when quoted in isolation, seem highly complementary regarding the Jewish people. However, it is well to bear in mind that Hitler did as well, the latter writing in Mein Kampf:

The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew. In hardly any people in the world is the instinct of self- preservation developed more strongly than in the so-called ‘chosen’. Of this, the mere fact of the survival of this race may be considered the best proof” (Mein Kampf, Manheim translation).[13]

Thus, as a character from a Michel Houellebecq novel observes:

All anti-Semites agree that the Jews have a certain superiorityIf you read anti-Semitic literature, you’re struck by the fact that the Jew is considered to be more intelligent, more cunning, that he is credited with having singular financial talents – and, moreover, greater communal solidarity. Result: six million dead” (Platform: p113) 

Baker’s second general observation is similarly curious, namely that:

None of the authors mentioned in these chapters claims superiority for the whole of the Europid race: it is only a subrace, or else a section of the Europid race not clearly defined in terms of physical anthropology, that is favoured” (p59).

In retrospect, this seems anomalous, especially given that the so-called Nordic race, on whose behalf racial supremacy was most often claimed, actually came relatively late to civilization, which began in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, arriving in Europe only with the Mediterranean civilizations of Greece and Rome, and in Northern Europe later still.

However, this focus on the alleged superiority of certain European subraces rather than Caucasians as a whole likely reflects the fact that, during the time period in which these works were written, European peoples and nations were largely in competition and conflict with other European peoples and nations.

Only in European overseas colonies were Europeans in contact and conflict with non-European races, and, even here, the main obstacle to imperial expansion was, not so much the opposition of the often primitive non-European races whom the Europeans sought to colonize, but rather that of rival colonizers from other European nations.

Therefore, it was the relative superiority of different European populations which was naturally of most concern to Europeans during this time period.

In contrast, the superiority of the Caucasian race as a whole was of comparably little interest, if only because it was something that these writers already took very much for granted, and hence hardly worth wasting ink or typeface over.

The Rise of Racial Egalitarianism

There are two curious limitations that Baker imposes on his historical survey of racial thought. First, at the beginning of Chapter Three (From Gobineau to Houston Chamberlain’), he announces:

The present chapter and the next [namely, those chapters dealing with the history of racial thinking from the mid-nineteenth century up until the early-twentieth century] differ from the two preceding ones… in the more limited scope. It is are concerned only with the growth of ideas that favoured belief in the inequality of ethnic taxa or are supposedrightly or wronglyto have favoured this belief” (p33).

Given that I have already criticised ‘Race’ as overlong, and as having an excessive historical focus, I might be expected to welcome this restriction. However, Baker provides no rationale for this self-imposed restriction.

Certainly, it is rare, and enlightening, to read balanced, even sympathetic, accounts of the writings of such infamous racialist thinkers as Gobineau, Galton and Chamberlain, whose racial views are today usually dismissed as so preposterous as hardly to merit serious consideration. Moreover, in the current political climate, such material even acquires a certain allure of the forbidden’.

However, thinkers championing racial egalitarianism have surely proven more influential, at least in the medium-term. Yet such enormously influential thinkers as Franz Boas and Ashley Montagu pass entirely unmentioned in Baker’s account.[14]

Moreover, the intellectual antecedents of the Nazism have already been extensively explored by historians. In contrast, however, the rise of the dogma of racial equality has passed largely unexamined, perhaps because to examine its origins is to expose the weakness of its scientific basis and its fundamentally political origins.[15]

Yet the story of how the theory of racial equality was transformed from a maverick, minority opinion among scientists and laypeople alike into a sacrosanct contemporary dogma which a person, scientist or layperson, can question only at severe cost to their career, livelihood and reputation is surely one worth telling.

The second restriction that Baker imposes upon his history is that he concludes it, prematurely, in 1928. He justifies closing his survey in this year on the grounds that this date supposedly:

Marks the close of the period in which both sides in the ethnic controversy were free to put forward their views, and authors who wished to do so could give objective accounts of the evidence pointing in each direction” (p61).

Yet this cannot be entirely true, for, if it were, then Baker’s own book could never have been published – unless, of course, Baker regards his own work as something other than an “objective account of the evidence pointing in each direction”, which seems doubtful.

Certainly, the influence of what is now called political correctness is to be deplored for impact on science, university appointments, the allocation of research funds and the publishing industry. However, there has surely been no abrupt watershed but rather a gradual closing of the western mind over time.

Thus, it is notable that other writers have cited dates a little later than that quoted by Baker, often coinciding with the defeat of Nazi Germany and exposure of the Nazi genocide, or sometimes the defeat of segregation in the American South.

Indeed, not only was this process gradual, it has also proceeded apace in the years since Baker’s ‘Race’ first came off the presses, such that today such a book would surely never would have been published in the first place, certainly not by as prestigious a publisher as Oxford University Press (who, surely not uncoincidently, soon gave up the copyright).[16]

Moreover, Baker is surely wrong to claim that it is impossible:

To follow the general course of controversy on the ethnic problem, because, for the reason just stated [i.e. the inability of authors of both sides to publicise their views], there has been no general controversy on the subject” (p61).

On the contrary, the issue remains as incendiary as ever, with the bounds of acceptable opinion seemingly ever narrowing and each year a new face falling before the witch hunters of the  contemporary racial inquisition.

Biology

Having dealt in his first section with what he calls “The Historical Background”, Baker next turns to what he calls “The Biological Background”. He begins by declaring, rightly, that:

Racial problems cannot be understood by anyone whose interests and field of knowledge stop short at the limit of purely human affairs” (p3).

This is surely true, not just of race, but of all issues in human biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology and political science, as the recent rise of evolutionary psychology attests. Indeed, Baker even coins a memorable and quotable aphorism to this effect, when he declares:

No one knows Man who knows only Man” (p65).

However, Baker sometimes takes this thinking rather too far, even for my biologically-inclined tastes.

Certainly, he is right to emphasise that differences among human populations are analogous to those found among other species. Thus, his discussion of racial differences among our primate cousins are of interest, but also somewhat out-of-date.[17]

However, his intricate and fully illustrated nine-page description of race differences among the different subspecies of crested newt stretched the patience of this reader (p101-109).

Are Humans a Single Species?

Whereas Baker’s seventh chapter (“The Meaning of Race”) discusses the race concept, the preceding two chapters deal with the taxonomic class immediately above that of race, namely ‘species’.

For sexually-reproducing organisms, ‘species’ is usually defined as the largest group of organisms capable of breeding with one another and producing fertile offspring in the wild.

However, as Baker explains, things are not quite so simple.

For one thing, over evolutionary time, one species gradually transforms into another gradually with no abrupt dividing line where one species suddenly becomes another (p69-72). Hence the famous paradox, Which came first: the chicken or the egg?.

Moreover, in respect of extinct species, it is often impossible to know for certain whether two ostensible ‘species’ interbred with one another (p72-3). Therefore, in practice, the fossils of extinct organisms are assigned to either the same or different species on morphological criteria alone.

This leads Baker to distinguish different species concepts. These include:

  • Species in the paleontological sense” (p72-3);
  • Species in the morphological sense” (p69-72); and
  • Species in the genetical sense”, i.e. as defined by the criterion of interfertility (p72-80).

On purely morphological criteria, Baker questions humanity’s status as a single species:

“Even typical Nordids and typical Alpinids, both regarded as subraces of a single race (subspecies), the Europid, are very much more different from one another in morphological characters—for instance in the shape of the skull—than many species of animals that never interbreed with one another in nature, though their territories overlap” (p97).

Thus, later on, Baker claims:

Even a trained anatomist would take some time to sort out correctly a mixed collection of the skulls of Asiatic jackals (Canis aureus) and European red foxes (vulpes vulpes), unless he had made a special study of the osteology of the Canidae; whereas even a little child, without any instruction whatever, could instantly separate the skulls of Eskimids from those of Lappids” (p427).

That morphological differences between human groups do indeed often exceed those between closely-related but non-interbreeding species of non-human animal has recently been quantitatively confirmed by Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele in their book, Race the Reality of Human Differences (which I have reviewed here, here and here).

However, even if one defines ‘species’ strictly by the criterion of interfertility (i.e. in Baker’s terminology, “species in the genetical sense”) matters remain less clear than one might imagine.

For one thing, there are the phenomena of ring species, such as the herring gull and lesser black-backed gull.

These two ostensible species (or subspecies), both found in the UK, do not interbreed with one another, but each does interbreed with intermediaries that, in turn, interbreed with the other, such that there is some indirect gene-flow between them. Interestingly, the species ranges of the different intermediaries form a literal ring around the Arctic, such that genes will travel around the Artic before passing from lesser black backed gull to herring gull or vice versa (p76-79).[18]

Indeed, even the ability to produce fertile offspring is a matter of degree. Thus, some pairings produce fertile offspring only rarely.

For example, often, Baker reports, “sterility affects [only] the heterogametic sex [i.e. the sex with two different sex chromosomes]” (p95). Thus, in mammals, sterility is more likely to affect male offspring. Indeed, this pattern is so common that it even has its own name, being known as Haldane’s Rule, after the famous Marxist-biologist JBS Haldane who first noted this pattern.

Other times, Baker suggests, interfertility may depend on the sex of the respective parents. For example, Baker suggests that, whereas sheep may sometimes successfully reproduce with he-goats, rams may be unable to successfully reproduce with she-goats (p95).[19]

Moreover, the fertility of offspring is itself a matter of degree. Thus, Baker reports, some hybrid offspring are not interfertile with one another, but can reproduce with one or other of the parental stocks. Elsewhere, the first generation of hybrids are interfertile but not subsequent generations (p94).

Indeed, though it was long thought impossible, it has recently been confirmed that, albeit only very rarely, even mules and hinnies can successfully reproduce, despite donkeys and horses, the two parental stocks, having, like goats and sheep, a different number of chromosomes (Rong et al 1985; Kay 2002).

Thus, Baker concludes:

There is no proof that hybridity among human beings is invariably eugenesic, for many of the possible crosses have not been made, or if they have their outcome does not appear to have been recorded. It is probable on inductive grounds that such marraiges would not be infertile, but it is questionable whether the hybridity would necessarily be eugenesic. For instance, statistical study might reveal a preponderance of female offpsring” (p97-8).

Is there then any evidence of reduced fertility among mixed-race couples? Not a great deal.

Possibly blood type incompatibility between mother and developing foetus might be more common in interracial unions due to racial variation in the prevalence of different blood groups.

Also, one study did find a greater prevalence of birth complications, more specifically caesarean deliveries, among Asian women birthing offspring fathered by white men (Nystrom et al 2008).

However, this is a simple reflection of the differences in average stature of between whites and Asians, with smaller-framed Asian women having difficult birthing larger half-white offspring. Thus, the same study also found that white women birthing offspring fathered by Asian men actually have lower rates of caesarean delivery than did women bearing offspring fathered by men of the same race as themselves (Stanford University Medical Center 2008).[20]

Also, one study from Iceland rather surprisingly found that the highest pregnancy rates were found among couples who were actually quite closely related to one another, namely equivalent to third- or fourth-cousins, with less closely related spouses enjoying reduced pregnancy rates (Helgason et al 2008; see also Labouriau & Amorim 2008).

On the other hand, however, David Reich, in Who We Are and How We Got Here reports that, whereas there was evidence of selection against Neanderthal genes in the human genome (that had resulted from ancient hybridization between anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals) owing to the deleterious effects of these genes, there was no evidence of selection against European genes (or African genes) among African-Americans, a racially-mixed population:

“In African Americans, in studies of about thirty thousand people, we have found no evidence for natural selection against African or European ancestry” (Who We Are and How We Got Here: p48; Bhatia et al 2014).

This lack of selection against either European-derived (or African-derived) genes in African-Americans suggests that discordant genes did not result in reduced fitness among African-Americans.[21]

Humans – A Domesticated Species?

A final complication in defining species is that some species of nonhuman animal, wildly recognised as separate species because they do not interbreed in the wild, nevertheless have been known to successfully interbreed in captivity.

A famous example are lions and tigers. While they have never been known to interbreed in the wild, if only because they rarely if ever encounter one another, they have interbred in captivity, sometimes even producing fertile offspring in the form of so-called ligers and tigons.

This is, for Baker, of especial relevance to question of human races since, according to Baker, we ourselves are a domesticated species. Thus, he approvingly quotes Blumenbach’s claim that:

Man is ‘of all living beings the most domesticated’” (p95).

Thus, with regard to the question of whether humans represent a single species, Baker reaches the following controversial conclusion:

The facts of human hybridity do not prove that all human races are to be regarded as belonging to a single ‘species’. The whole idea of species is vague because the word is used with such different meanings, none of which is of universal application. When it is used in the genetical sense [i.e. the criterion of interfertility] some significance can be attached to it, in so far as it applies to animals existing in natural conditions… but it does not appear to be applicable to human beings, who live under the most extreme conditions of domestication” (p98).

Thus, Baker goes so far as to question whether:

Any two kinds of animals, differing from one another so markedly in morphological characters (and in odour) as, for instance, the Europid and Sanid…, and living under natural conditions, would accept one another as sexual partners” (p97).

Certainly, in our ‘natural environment’ (what evolutionary psychologists call the environment of Evolutionary adaptedness or EEA), many human races would never have interbred, if only for the simple reason that they would never come into contact with one another.

On the contrary, they were separated from one another by the very geographic obstacles (oceans, deserts, mountain-ranges) that reproductively isolated them from one another and hence permitted their evolution into distinct races.

Thus, Northern Europeans surely never mated with sub-Saharan Africans for the simple reason that the former were confined to Northern Europe and surrounding areas while the latter were largely confined to sub-Saharan Africa, such that they are unlikely ever to have interacted.[22]

Only with the invention of technologies facilitating long-distance travel (e.g. ships, aeroplanes) would this change.

However, whether humans can be said to be domesticated depends on how one defines ‘domesticated’. If we are domesticated, then humans are surely unique in having domesticated ourselves (or at least one another).

Defining Race

Ultimately then, the question of whether the human race is a single species is a purely semantic one. It depends how one defines the word ‘species’.

Likewise, whether human races can be said to exist ultimately depends on one’s definition of the word ‘race’.

Using the word ‘race’ interchangeably with that of ‘subspecies’, Baker provides no succinct definition. Instead, he simply explains:

If two populations [within a species] are so distinct that one can generally tell from which region a specimen was obtained, it is usual to give separate names to the two races” (p99).

Neither does he provide a neat definition of any particular race. On the contrary, he is explicit in emphasizing:

The definition of any particular race must be inductive in the sense that it gives a general impression of the distinctive characters, without professing to be applicable in detail to every individual” (p99).

Is Race Real?

At the conclusion of his chapter on “Hybridity and The Species Question”, Baker seems to reach what was, even in 1974, an incendiary conclusion – namely that, whether using morphological criteria or the criterion of interfertility, it is not possible to conclusively prove that all extant human populations belong to a single species (see above</