Hitler, Hicks, Nietzsche and Nazism

Nietzsche and the Nazis: A Personal View by Stephen Hicks (Ockham’s Razor Publishing 2010) 

Scholarly (and not so scholarly) interpretations of Nietzsche always remind me somewhat of biblical interpretation

In both cases, the interpretations always seem to say at least as much about the philosophy, worldview and politics of the person doing the interpretation as they do about the content of the work ostensibly being interpreted. 

Just as Christians can, depending on preference, choose between, say, Exodus 21:23–25 (an eye for an eye) or Matthew 5:39 (turn the other cheek), so authors of diametrically opposed political and philosophical worldviews can almost always claim to find something in Nietzsche’s corpus of writing to support their own perspective. 

Thus, whereas German National Socialists selectively quoted passages from Nietzsche that appear critical of Jews, so modern apologists cite passages that profess great admiration for the Jewish people, and other passages undoubtedly highly critical both of Germans and anti-Semites.  

Similarly, in HL Mencken’s The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Nietzsche appears as an aristocratic elitist, opposed to Christianity, Christian ethics, egalitarianism and herd morality, but also as a scientific materialist—much like, well, HL Mencken himself. 

Yet, among leftist postmodernists, Nietzsche’s moral philosophy is largely ignored, and he is cited instead as an opponent of scientific materialism who rejects the very concept of objective truth, including scientific truth—in short, a philosophical precursor to postmodernism. 

There are indeed passages in Nietzsche’s work that, at least when quoted in isolation, can be interpreted as supporting any of these mutually contradictory notions. 

In his book Nietzsche and the Nazis, professor of philosophy Stephen Hicks discusses the association between the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche and the most controversial of the many twentieth century movements to claim Nietzsche as their philosophical precursor, namely the National Socialist movement and regime in early- to mid-twentieth century Germany. 

Since he is a professor of philosophy rather than a historian, it is perhaps unsurprising that Hicks demonstrates a rather better understanding of the philosophy of Nietzsche than he does of the ideology of Hitler and the German National Socialist movement. 

Thus, if the Nazis can be accused of misinterpreting, misappropriating or misrepresenting the philosophy of Nietzsche, Hicks can claim to have outdone even them—for he has managed to misrepresent, not only the philosophy of Nietzsche, but also that of the Nazis too. 

Philosophy as a Driving Force in History 

Hicks begins his book by making a powerful case for the importance of philosophy as a force in history and as a factor in the rise of German National Socialism in particular. 

Thus, he argues: 

The primary cause of Nazism lies in philosophy… The legacy of World War I, persistent economic troubles, modern communication technologies, and the personal psychologies of the Nazi leadership did play a role. But the most significant factor was the power of a set of abstract, philosophical ideas. National Socialism was a philosophy-intensive movement” (p10-1). 

This claim—namely, that “National Socialism was a philosophy-intensive movement”—may seem an odd one, especially since German National Socialism is usually regarded, not entirely unjustifiably, as a profoundly anti-intellectual movement. 

Moreover, to achieve any degree of success and longevity, all political movements, and political regimes, must inevitably make ideological compromises in the face of practical necessity, such that their actual policies are dictated at least as much pragmatic considerations of circumstance, opportunity and realpolitik as it is by pure ideological dictate.[1]

Yet, up to a point, Hicks is right. 

Indeed, Hitler even saw himself as, in some ways, a philosopher in his own right. Thus,  historian Ian Kershaw, in his celebrated biography of the German Führer, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris, observes: 

“In Mein Kampf, Hitler pictured himself as a rare genius who combined the qualities of the ‘programmatist’ and the ‘politician’. The ‘programmatist’ of a movement was the theoretician who did not concern himself with practical realities, but with ‘eternal truth’, as the great religious leaders had done. The ‘greatness’ of the ‘politician’ lay in the successful practical implementation of the ‘idea’ advanced by the ‘programmatist’. ‘Over long periods of humanity,’ he wrote, ‘it can once happen that the politician is wedded to the programmatist.’ His work did not concern short-term demands that any petty bourgeois could grasp, but looked to the future, with ‘aims which only the fewest grasp’… Seldom was it the case, in his view, that ‘a great theoretician’ was also ‘a great leader’… He concluded: ‘the combination of theoretician, organizer, and leader in one person is the rarest thing that can be found on this earth; this combination makes the great man.’ Unmistakably, Hitler meant himself” (Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris: p251–2). 

Moreover, philosophical ideas have undoubtedly had a major impact on history in other times and places. 

Thus, for example, the French revolution and Bolshevik Revolution may have been triggered and made possible by social and economic conditions then prevailing. But the regimes established in their aftermath were, at least in theory, based on the ideas of philosophers and political theorists.  

Thus, if the French revolution was modelled on the ideas of thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire, and the Bolshevik Revolution on those of Marx, who then were the key thinkers, if any, behind the National Socialist movement in Germany? 

Hicks, for his part, tentatively ventures several leading candidates: 

Georg Hegel, Johann Fichte, even elements from Karl Marx” (p49).[2]

In an earlier chapter, as part of his attempt to argue against the notion that German National Socialism had no intellectual credibility, he also mentions several contemporaneous thinkers who, he claims, “supported the Nazis long before they came to power” and who could perhaps be themselves be considered intellectual forerunners for National Socialism, including Oswald Spengler, Martin Heidegger, and legal theorist Carl Schmitt (p9).[3]

Besides Hitler himself, and Rosenberg, each of whom considered themselves philosophical thinkers in their own right, other candidates who might merit honourable (or perhaps dishonourable) mention include Hitler’s own early mentor Dietrich Eckart, racial theorists Arthur De Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the American Madison Grant, biologist Ernst Haeckel, geopolitical theorist Karl Haushofer, and, of course, the composer Richard Wagner – though most of these are not, of course, philosophers in the narrow sense.  

Yet, at least according to Hicks, the best known and most controversial name atop any such list is almost inevitably going to be Friedrich Nietzsche (p49). 

Nietzsche’s Philosophy 

Although the association between Nietzsche with the Nazis continues to linger large in the popular imagination, mainstream Nietzsche scholarship in the years since World War II, especially the work of influential Jewish philosopher Walter Kaufmann, has done much rehabilitate the reputation of Nietzsche, sanitize his philosophy and absolve him of any association with, let alone responsibility for, Fascism or National Socialism. 

Hick’s own treatment is rather more balanced. 

Before directly comparing and contrasting the various commonalities and differences between Nietzsche’s philosophy and that of the National Socialist movement and regime, Hick devotes one chapter to discussing the political philosophy and ideology of the Nazis, another to discussing their policies once in power, and a third to discussion of Nietzsche’s own philosophy, especially his views on morality and religion. 

As I have already mentioned, although Nietzche’s philosophy is the subject of many divergent interpretations, Hicks, in my view, mostly gets Nietzsche’s philosophy right. There are, however, a few problems.

Some are relatively trivial, perhaps even purely semantic. For example, Hicks equates Nietzsche’s Übermensch with Zarathustra himself, writing:

Nietzsche gives a name to his anticipated overman: He calls him Zarathustra, and he names his greatest literary and philosophical work in his honor” (p74)

Actually, as I understood Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (which is to say, not very much at all, since it is a notoriously incomprehensible work, and, in my view, far from Nietzsche’s “greatest literary and philosophical work”), Nietzsche envisaged his fictional Zarathustra, not as himself the Übermensch, but rather as its herald and prophet.

Indeed, to my recollection, not only does Zarathustra never himself even claim to embody the Übermensch, but he also repeatedly asserts that the most contemporary man, Zarathustra himself presumably included, can ever even aspire to be is a ‘bridge’ to the Übermensch, rather than the Übermensch himself.

A perhaps more substantial problem relates to Hick’s understanding of Nietzsche’s contrasting master’ and ‘slave moralities. Hicks associates the former with various traits, including:  

Pride, Self-esteem; Wealth; Ambition, boldness; Vengeance; Justice… Pleasure, Sensuality… Indulgence” (p60). 

Most of these associations are indeed unproblematically associated with Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’, but a few require further elaboration. 

For example, it may be true that Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’ is associated with the idea of “vengeance” as a virtue. However, associating the related, but distinct concept of “justice” exclusively with the master morality as Hicks does (p60; p62) strikes me as rather more questionable. 

After all, the ‘slave morality’ of Christianity also concerns itself a great deal with “justice”. It just has a different conception of what constitutes justice, and also sometimes defers the achievement of “justice” to the afterlife, or to the Last Judgement and coming Kingdom of God (or, in pseudo-secular modern leftist versions, the coming communist utopia). 

Similarly problematic is Hicks’s characterization of Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’ as championing “indulgence”, as well as “pleasure [and] sensuality”, over “self-restraint” (p62; p60). 

This strikes me as, at best, an oversimplification of Nietzsche’s philosophy 

On the one hand, it is true that Nietzsche disparages and associates with ‘slave morality’ what Hume termed ‘the monkish values’, namely ideals of self-denial and asceticism. He sees them as both a sign of weakness and a denial of life itself, writing in Twilight of the Idols:  

To attack the passions at their roots, means attacking life itself at its source: the method of the Church is hostile to life… The same means, castration and extirpation, are instinctively chosen for waging war against a passion, by those who are too weak of will, too degenerate, to impose some sort of moderation upon it” (Twilight of the Idols: iv:2.). 

The saint in whom God is well pleased, is the ideal eunuch. Life terminates where the ‘Kingdom of God’ begins” (Twilight of the Idols: ii:4). 

Yet it is clear that Nietzsche does not advocate complete surrender to indulgence, pleasure and sensuality either. 

Thus, in the first of the two passages quoted above, he envisages the strong as also imposing “some sort of moderation” without the need for complete abstinence. 

Indeed, in The Antichrist, Nietzsche goes further still, extolling: 

The most intelligent men, like the strongest [who] find their happiness where others would find only disaster: in the labyrinth, in being hard with themselves and with others, in effort; their delight is in self-mastery; in them asceticism becomes second nature, a necessity, an instinct” (The Antichrist: 57) 

Indeed, advocating complete and unrestrained surrender to indulgence, sensuality and pleasure is an obviously self-defeating philosophy. If someone really completely surrendered himself to indulgence, he would do presumably nothing all day except masturbate, shoot up heroin and eat cake. He would therefore achieve nothing of value. 

Thus, throughout his corpus of writing, Nietzsche repeatedly champions what he calls self-overcoming

In short, to be effectively put into practice, the Nietzschean Will to Power necessarily requires willpower

Individualism vs Collectivism (and Authoritarianism) 

Another matter upon which Hicks arguably misreads Nietzsche is the question the extent to which Nietzsche’s philosophy is to be regarded as either individualist or a collectivist in ethos/orientation. 

This topic is, Hicks acknowledges, a controversial one upon which Nietzsche scholars disagree. It is, however, a topic of direct relevance to the extent of relationship between Nietzsche’s philosophy and the ideology of the Nazis, since the Nazis themselves were indisputably extremely collectivist in ethos, the collective to which they subordinated all other concerns, including individual rights and wants, being that of the nation, Volk or race. 

Hicks himself concludes that Nietzsche was much more of a collectivist than an individualist

“[Although] Nietzsche has a reputation for being an individualist [and] there certainly are individualist elements in Nietzsche’s philosophy… in my judgment his reputation for individualism is often much overstated (p87). 

Yet, elsewhere, Hicks comes close to contradicting himself, for, among the qualities that he associates with Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’, which Nietzsche himself clearly favours over the ‘slave morality’ of Christianity, are “Independence”, “Autonomy” and indeed “Individualism” (p60; p62). Yet these are all clearly individualist virtues.[4]

In reaching his conclusion that Nietzsche is primarily to be considered a collectivist rather than a true individualist, Hicks distinguishes three separate questions and, in the process, different forms of individualism, namely: 

  1. Do individuals shape their own identities—or are their identities created by forces beyond their control?”; 
  1. Are individuals ends in themselves, with their own lives and purposes to pursue—or do individuals exist for the sake of something beyond themselves to which they are expected to subordinate their interests?”; and 
  1. Do the decisive events in human life and history occur because individuals, generally exceptional individuals, make them happen—or are the decisive events of history a matter of collective action or larger forces at work?” (p88). 

With regard to the first of these questions, Nietzsche, according to Hicks, denies that men are masters of their own fate. Instead, Hicks contends that Nietzsche believes: 

Individuals are a product of their biological heritage” (p88). 

This may be correct, and certainly there is much in Nietzsche’s writing to support this conclusion. 

However, even if human behaviour, and human decisions, are indeed a product of heredity, this does not in fact, strictly speaking, deny that individuals are nevertheless the authors of their own destiny. It merely asserts that the way in which we do indeed shape our own destiny is itself a product of our heredity. 

In other words, our actions and decisions may indeed be predetermined by hereditary factors, but they are still our decisions. 

Individuals may determine their own fate, but the way in which they choose to do so is itself determined by heredity. 

However, it is not clear that Nietzsche believes this is true of all men, but rather only of certain men of a superior type, this superior type being itself largely determined by heredity. 

Indeed, for Nietzsche, the superior type of man determines not only his own fate, but also often that of the society in which he lives and of mankind as a whole. 

This leads to the third of Hicks’s three types of individualism, namely the question of whether the “decisive events in human life and history occur because individuals, generally exceptional individuals, make them happen”, or whether they are the consequence of factors outside of individual control such as economic factors, or perhaps the unfolding of some divine plan. 

On this topic, I suspect Nietzsche would side with Thomas Carlyle, and Hegel, that history is indeed shaped, in large part, by the actions of so-called ‘great men. This is among the reasons he places such importance on the emerging Übermensch

Admittedly, Nietzsche repeatedly disparages Carlyle in many of his writings, and, in Ecce Homo, repudiates any notion of equating of his Übermensch with what he dismisses as Carlyle’s “hero cult” (Ecce Homo (iii, 1).

However, as Will Durant writes in The Story of Philosophy, Nietzsche often reserved his greatest scorn for those contemporaries, or near-contemporaries (e.g. the Darwinians and Social Darwinists), who had independently developed ideas that, in some respects, paralleled or anticipated his own, if only as a means of emphasizing his own originality and claim to priority, or, as Durant puts it, of “covering up his debts” (The Story of Philosophy: p373).

Hitler, of course, would also have agreed with Carlyle regarding the importance of great men, and indeed saw himself as just such a ‘world historical figure’. 

Indeed, for better or worse, given Hitler’s gargantuan impact on world history from his coming to power in Germany in the 1930s arguably right up to the present day, he might even find ourselves reluctantly forced to agree with him.[5]

As I have written previously, it is ironic that the so-called great man theory of history seemingly became perennially unfashionable at almost precisely the same time that, in the persons of first Lenin and then Hitler, it was proven so terribly true. Just as the October revolution would surely never have occurred without Lenin as driving force and instigator, so the Nazis, though they may have existed, would surely never have come to power, let alone achieved the early diplomatic and military successes that briefly conferred upon them mastery over Europe, without Hitler as leader.

Yet, for Nietzsche, individual freedom is restricted, or at least should be restricted, only to such ‘great men’, or at least to a wider, but still narrow, class of superior types, and not at all extended at all to the great mass of humanity. 

Thus, I believe that we can reconcile Nietzsche’s apparently conflicting statements regarding the merits of, on the one hand, individualism, and, on the other, collectivism, by recognizing that he endorsed individualism only for a small elite cadre of superior men. 

Indeed, for Nietzsche, the vast majority of mankind, namely those whom he disparaged as ‘herd animals’, were incapably of such individualism and should hence to subject to a strict authoritarian control in the service of the superior caste of man. 

Indeed, Nietzsche’s prescription for the majority of mankind is not so much collectivist, as it is authoritarian, since Nietzsche regards the lives of such people, even as a collective, as essentially worthless. 

The mass of men must be controlled and denied freedom, not for the benefit of such men themselves even as a collective, but rather for the benefit of the superior type of man, and of the higher evolution of mankind.[6]

Yet Hicks reaches almost the opposite conclusion, namely, rather than the lives of the mass of mankind serving the interests of the higher man, even the individualism accorded the higher type of man, and even the Übermensch himself, ultimately serves the interest of the collective – the human species as a whole. 

Thus, Nietzsche writes in Twilight of the Idols

The individual… is nothing in himself, no atom, no ‘link in the chain,’ no mere heritage from the past,—he represents the whole direct line of mankind up to his own life” (Twilight of the Idols: viii: 33). 

National Socialist Ideology 

As I have already said, however, Hicks’s understanding of Nietzsche’s philosophy is rather better than his understanding of the ideology of German National Socialism. 

This is not altogether surprising. Hicks is, after all, a professor of philosophy by background, not an historian.

Hicks lack of background in history his especially apparent in his handling of sources, which leaves a great deal to be desired.

For example, several quotations attributed to Hitler by Hicks are sourced, in their associated footnotes, to one of two works – namely Unmasked: Two Confidential Interviews with Hitler in 1931 and The Voice of Destruction (aka Hitler Speaks) by Hermann Rauschning – that are both now widely considered by historians to have been fraudulent, and to contain no genuine quotations from Hitler whatsoever.[7]

Other quotations are sourced to secondary sources, such as websites and biographies of Hitler, which makes it difficult to determine both the primary source from which the quotation is drawn, and in what context and to whom the remark was originally said or written.

This is an especially important point, not only because some sources (e.g. Rauschning) are very untrustworthy, but also because Hitler often carefully tailored his message to the specific audience he was addressing, and was certainly not above concealing or misrepresenting his real views and long-term objectives, especially when addressing the general public, foreign statesmen and political rivals.

Perhaps for this reason, Hicks seemingly misunderstands the true nature of the National Socialist ideology, and Hitler’s own Weltanschauung in particular.

However, in Hicks’s defence, the core tenets of Nazism are almost as difficult to pin down are those of Nietzsche. 

Unlike in the case of Nietzsche, this is not so much because of either the inherent complexity of the ideas, or the impenetrability of its presentation—though admittedly, while Nazi propaganda, and Hitler’s speeches, tend to be very straightforward, even crude, both Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Rosenberg’s The Myth of the Twentieth Century both make for a difficult read. 

Rather the problem is that German National Socialist thinking, or what passed for thinking among National Socialists, never really constituted a coherent ideology in the first place. 

After all, like any political party that achieves even a modicum of electoral success, let alone actually seriously aspires to win power, the Nazis necessarily represented a broad church.  

Members and supporters included people of many divergent and mutually contradictory opinions on various political, economic and social matters, not to mention ethical, philosophical and religious views and affiliations. 

If they had not done so, then the Party could never have attracted enough votes in order to win power in the first place. 

Indeed, the NSDAP was especially successful in presenting itself as ‘all things to all people’ and in adapting its message to whatever audience was being addressed at a given time. 

Therefore, it is quite difficult to pin down what exactly were the core tenets of German National Socialism, if indeed they had any. 

However, we can simplify our task somewhat by restricting ourselves to an altogether simpler question: namely what were the key tenets of Hitler’s own political philosophy? 

After all, one key tenet of German National Socialism that can surely be agreed upon is the so-called Führerprinzip’, whereby Hitler himself was to be the ultimate authority for all political decisions and policy. 

Therefore, rather than concerning ourselves with the political and philosophical views of the entire Nazi leadership, let alone the whole party, or everyone who voted for them, we can instead restrict ourselves to a much simpler task – namely, determining the views of a single individual, namely the infamous Führer himself. 

This, of course, makes our task substantially easier.

Yet we then encounter yet another problem: namely, it is often quite difficult to determine what Hitler’s real views actually were. 

Thus, as I have already noted, like all the best politicians, Hitler tailored and adapted his message to the audience that he was addressing at any given time. 

Thus, for example, when he delivered speeches before assembled business leaders and industrialists, his message was quite different from the one he would deliver before audiences composed predominantly of working-class socialists, and his message to foreign dignitaries, statesmen and the international community was quite different to the hawkish and militaristic one presented in Mein Kampf, to his leading generals  and before audiences of fanatical German nationalists

In short, like all successful politicians, Hitler was an adept liar, and what he said in public and actually believed in private were often two very different things. 

National Socialism and Religion 

Perhaps the area of greatest contrast between Hitler’s public pronouncements and his private views, as well as Hicks’ own most egregious misunderstanding of Nazi ideology, concerns religion. 

According to Hicks, Hitler and the Nazis were believing Christians. Thus, he reports: 

“[Hitler] himself sounded Christian themes explicitly in public pronouncements” (p84). 

However, the key words here are “in public pronouncements”. Hitler’s real views, as expressed in private among conversations among confidents, seem to have been very different. 

Thus, Hitler was all too well aware that publicly attacking Christianity would be an unpopular stance with the public, and would not only alienate much of his erstwhile support but also provoke opposition from powerful figures in the churches whose tacit support or acquiescence he could ill afford to do without. 

Hitler therefore postponed his eagerly envisaged kirchenkampf, or settling of accounts with the churches, until after the war, if only because he wished to avoid fighting a war on multiple fronts. 

Thus, Speer, in his post-war memoirs, noting that “in Berlin, surrounded by male cohorts, [Hitler] spoke more coarsely and bluntly than he ever did elsewhere”, quotes Hitler as declaring more than once: 

Once I have settled my other problems… I’ll have my reckoning with the church. I’ll have it reeling on the ropes” (Inside the Third Reich: p123). 

Hicks also asserts: 

The Nazis took great pains to distinguish the Jews and the Christians, condemning Judaism and embracing a generic type of Christianity” (p83).  

In fact, the form of Christianity that was, at least in public, espoused by the Nazis, namely what they called Positive Christianity was far from “a generic type of Christianity” but rather a very idiosyncratic, indeed quite heretical, take on the Christian faith, which attempted to divest Christianity of its Jewish influences and portray Jesus as an Aryan hero fighting against Jewish power, while even attempting to incorporate elements of Gnosticism and Germanic paganism

Moreover, far from attempting to deny the connection between Christianity and Judaism, there is some evidence that Hitler actually followed Nietzsche in directly linking Christianity to the Jews. Thus, in his diary, Goebbels quotes Hitler directly linking Christianity and Judaism:  

“[Hitler] views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race. This can be seen in the similarity of religious rites. Both (Judaism and Christianity) have no point of contact to the animal element” (The Goebbels Diaries, 1939-1941: p77). 

Likewise, in his Table Talk, carefully recorded by Bormann and others, Hitler declares on the night of the 11th July: 

The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew” (Table Talk: p7). 

Here, in linking Christianity and Judaism, and attributing Jewish origins to Christianity, Hitler is, of course, following Nietzsche, since a central theme of the latter’s The Antichrist is that Christianity is indeed very much a Jewish invention. 

Indeed, the whole thrust of this quotation will immediately be familiar to anyone who has read Nietzsche’s The Antichrist. Thus, just as Hitler describes Christianity as “the heaviest blow that ever struck humanity”, so Nietzsche himself declared: 

Christianity remains to this day the greatest misfortune of humanity” (The Antichrist: 51). 

Similarly, just as Hitler describes “Bolshevism” as “Christianity’s illegitimate child”, so Nietzsche anticipates him in detecting this family resemblance, in The Antichrist declaring: 

The anarchist and the Christian have the same ancestry” (The Antichrist: 57). 

Thus, in this single quoted passage, Hitler aptly summarizes the central themes of The Antichrist in a single paragraph, the only difference being that, in Hitler’s rendering, the implicit anti-Semitic subtext of Nietzsche’s work is made explicit. 

Elsewhere in Table Talk, Hitler echoes other distinctly Nietzschean themes with regard to Christianity.  

Thus, just as Nietzsche famously condemned Christianity as a expression of slave morality and ‘ressentiment’, so Hitler declares: 

Christianity is a prototype of Bolshevism: the mobilisation by the Jew of the masses of slaves with the object of undermining society” (Table Talk: p75-6). 

Another common theme is the notion of Christianity as rejection of life itself. Thus, in a passage that I have already quoted above, Nietzsche declares: 

To attack the passions at their roots, means attacking life itself at its source: the method of the Church is hostile to life… The saint in whom God is well pleased, is the ideal eunuch. Life terminates where the ‘Kingdom of God’ begins” (Twilight of the Idols: iv:1) 

Hitler echoes this theme, himself declaring in one passage where he elucidates a social Darwinism ethic

Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure” (Table Talk: p51). 

In short, in his various condemnations of Christianity from Table Talk, Hitler is clearly drawing on his own reading of Nietzsche. Indeed, he could almost be accused of plagiarism. 

Historians like to belittle the idea that Hitler was at all erudite or well-read, suggesting that, although famously an avid reader, his reading material was likely limited to such material Streicher’s Der Stürmer and a few similarly crude antisemitic pamphlets circulating in the dosshouses of pre-War Vienna. 

Hicks rightly rejects this view. From these quotations from Hitler’s Table Talk alone, it is clear that Hitler had read his Nietzsche.[8]

National Socialism and Socialism 

Another area where Hicks misinterprets Nazi ideology, upon which other reviewers have rather predictably fixated, is the vexed and perennial question of the extent to which the National Socialist regime, which, of course, in name at least, purported to be socialist, is indeed accurately described as such. 

Mainstream historians generally reject the view that the Nazis were in any sense truly socialist

Partly this rejection of the notion that the Nazis were at all socialist may reflect the fact that many of the historians writing about this period of history are themselves socialist, or at least sympathetic to socialism, and hence wish to absolve socialism of any association with, let alone responsibility for, National Socialism.[9]

Hicks, who, for his part, seems to be something of a libertarian as far as I can make out, has a very different conclusion: namely that the National Socialists were indeed socialists and that socialism was in fact a central plank of their political programme. 

Thus, Hicks asserts: 

The Nazis stood for socialism and the principal of the central direction of the economy for the common good” (p106). 

Certainly, Hicks is correct that the Nazis stood for “the central direction of the economy”, albeit not so much “for the common good” of humanity, nor even of all German citizens, as for the “for the common good” only of ethnic Germans, with this “common good” being defined in Hitler’s own idiosyncratic terms and involving many of these ethnic Germans dying in his pointless wars of conquest. 

Thus, Hayek, who equates socialism with big government and a planned economy, argues in The Road to Serfdom that the Nazis, and the Fascists of Italy, were indeed socialist

However, I would argue that socialism is most usefully defined as entailing, not just the central direction of the economy, but also economic redistribution and the promotion of socio-economic equality.[10]

Yet, in Nazi Germany, the central direction of the economy was primarily geared, not towards promoting socioeconomic equality, but rather towards preparing the nation for war, in addition to various proposed vanity architectural projects.[11]

To prove the Nazis were socialist, Hicks relies extensively on the party’s 25-point programme

Yet this document was issued in 1920, when Hitler had yet to establish full control over the nascent movement, and still reflected the socialist ethos of many of the movement’s founders, whom Hitler was later to displace. 

Thus, German National Socialism, like Italian Fascism very much began on the left, attempting to combine socialism with nationalism, and thereby provide an alternative to the internationalism of mainstream Marxism.  

However, long before either movement had ever even come within distant sight of power, each had already toned down, if not abandoned, much of their earlier socialist rhetoric. 

Certainly, although he declared the party programme as inviolable and immutable and blocked any attempt to amend or repudiate it, Hitler also took few steps whatever to actually implement most of the socialist provisions in the 25-point programme.[12]

Hicks also reports: 

So strong was the Nazi party’s commitment to socialism that in 1921 the party entered into negotiations to merge with another socialist party, the German Socialist Party” (p17). 

Hicks admits “the negotiations fell through”, but what he does not mention is that the deal was scuppered precisely because Hitler himself, then not yet the movement’s leader but already the NSDAP’s most dynamic organizer and speaker, specifically vetoed any notion of a merger, threatening to resign if he did not have his way. 

To further buttress his claim that the Nazis were indeed socialist, Hicks also quotes extensively from Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda (p18). 

Goebbels was indeed among the most powerful figures in the Nazi leadership besides Hitler himself, and the quotations attributed to him by Hicks do indeed suggest leftist socialist sympathies

However, Goebbels is, in this respect, something of an exception and outlier among the National Socialist leadership, since he had defected from the Strasserist wing of the Party, which was indeed socialist in orientation, but which was first marginalized then suppressed under Hitler’s leadership long before the Nazis came to power, with most remaining sympathizers, Goebbels excepted, purged or fleeing during the Night of the Long Knives

Goebbels may have retained some socialist sympathies thereafter. However, despite his power and prominence in the Naz regime, he does not seem to have had any great success at steering the regime towards socialist redistribution or other leftist policies

In short, while National Socialism may have begun on the left, by the time the regime attained power, and certainly while they were in power, their policies were not especially socialist

Nevertheless, it is indeed true that, with their centrally-planned economy and large government-funded public works projects, the National Socialist regime probably had more in common with the contemporary left, at least in a purely economic sense, than it would with the neoconservative, neoliberal free market ideology that has long been the dominant force in American conservatism. 

Thus, whether the Nazis were indeed ‘socialist’, ultimately depends on precisely how we define the wordsocialist’. 

Nazi Antisemitism 

Yet one aspect of National Socialist ideology was, in my view, left-wing and socialist in origin—namely their anti-Semitism

Of course, anti-Semitism is usually associated with the political right, more especially the so-called ‘far right’. 

However, in my view, anti-Semitism is always fundamentally leftist in nature. 

Thus, Marxists claim that society is controlled by a conspiracy of wealthy capitalists who control the mass media and exploit and oppress everyone else. 

Nazis and anti-Semites, on the other hand, claim that society is controlled by a conspiracy of wealthy Jewish capitalists who control the mass media and exploit and oppress everyone else. 

The distinction between Nazism and Marxism is, then, largely tangential. Antisemites and nazis believe that our capitalist oppressors are all, or mostly, Jewish. Marxists, on the other hand, take no stance on the matter either way and prefer not to talk about it. 

As a famous German political slogan had it: 

Antisemitism is the socialism of fools.’ 

Indeed, anti-Semites who blame all the problems of the world on the Jews always remind me of Marxists who blame all the problems of the world on capitalism and capitalists, feminists who blame their problems on men, and black people who blame all their problems on ‘the White Man’. 

Interestingly, Nietzsche himself recognized this same parallel, writing of what he calls “ressentiment”, an important concept in his philosophy, connotations of repressed or sublimated envy and inferiority complex, that: 

This plant blooms its prettiest at present among Anarchists and anti-Semites” (On the Genealogy of Morals: ii: 11). 

In other words, Nietzsche seems to be recognizing that both socialism and anti-Semitism reflect what modern conservatives often term ‘the politics of envy’. 

Thus, in The Will to Power, Nietzsche observes: 

The anti-Semites do not forgive the Jews for having both intellectand money’” (The Will to Power: IV:864). 

Nietzschean Antisemitism 

Yet Jews themselves are, in Nietzsche’s thinking, by no means immune from the “ressentiment” that he also diagnoses in socialists and antisemites

On the contrary, it is Jewish ressentiment vis a vis successive waves of conquerors—especially the Romans—that, in Nietzsche’s thinking, birthed Christianity, slave morality and the original transvaluation of values that he so deplores. 

Thus, Nietzsche relates in Beyond Good and Evil that: 

The Jews performed the miracle of the inversion of valuations, by means of which life on earth obtained a new and dangerous charm for a couple of millenniums. Their prophets fused into one the expressions ‘rich,’ ‘godless,’ ‘wicked,’ ‘violent,’ ‘sensual,’ and for the first time coined the word ‘world’ as a term of reproach. In this inversion of valuations (in which is also included the use of the word “poor” as synonymous with “saint” and “friend”) the significance of the Jewish people is to be found; it is with them that the slave-insurrection in morals commences” (Beyond Good and Evil: V: 195).[13]

Thus, in The Antichrist, Nietzsche talks of “the Christian” as “simply a Jew of the ‘reformed’ confession”, and “the Jew all over again—the threefold Jew” (The Antichrist: 44), concluding: 

Christianity is to be understood only by examining the soil from which it sprung—it is not a reaction against Jewish instincts; it is their inevitable product” (The Antichrist: 24). 

All of this, it is clear from the tone and context, is not at all intended as a complement—either to Jews or Christians

Thus, lest we have any doubts on this matter, Nietzsche declares in Twilight of the Idols

Christianity as sprung from Jewish roots and comprehensible only as grown upon this soil, represents the counter-movement against that morality of breeding, of race and of privilege:—it is essentially an anti-Aryan religion: Christianity is the transvaluation of all Aryan values, the triumph of Chandala values, the proclaimed gospel of the poor and of the low, the general insurrection of all the down-trodden, the wretched, the bungled and the botched, against the ‘race,’—the immortal revenge of the Chandala as the religion of love” (Twilight of the Idols: VI:4). 

Thus, if Nietzsche rejected the anti-Semitism of his sister, brother-in-law and former idol, Wagner, he nevertheless constructed in its place a new anti-Semitism all of his own, which, far from blaming the Jews for the crucifixion of Christ, instead blamed them for the genesis of Christianity itself—a theme that is, as we have seen, directly echoed by Hitler in his Table Talk

Thus, Nietzsche remarks in The Antichrist

“[Jewish] influence has so falsified the reasoning of mankind in this matter that today the Christian can cherish anti-Semitism without realizing that it is no more than the final consequence of Judaism” (The Antichrist: 24). 

An even more interesting passage regarding the Jewish people appears just a paragraph later, where Nietzsche observes: 

The Jews are the very opposite of décadents: they have simply been forced into appearing in that guise, and with a degree of skill approaching the non plus ultra of histrionic genius they have managed to put themselves at the head of all décadent movements (for example, the Christianity of Paul), and so make of them something stronger than any party… To the sort of men who reach out for power under Judaism and Christianity,—that is to say, to the priestly class—décadence is no more than a means to an end. Men of this sort have a vital interest in making mankind sick” (The Antichrist: 24). 

Here, Nietzsche echoes, or perhaps even originates, what is today a familiar theme in anti-Semitic discourse—namely, that Jews champion subversive and destructive ideologies (Marxism, feminism, multiculturalism, mass migration of unassimilable minorities) only to weaken the Gentile power structure and thereby enhance their own power.[14]

This idea finds its most sophisticated (but still flawed) contemporary exposition in the work of evolutionary psychologist and contemporary anti-Semite Kevin MacDonald, who, in his book, The Culture of Critique (reviewed here), conceptualizes a range of twentieth century intellectual movements such as psychoanalysis, Boasian anthropology and immigration reform as what he calls ‘group evolutionary strategies’ that function to promote the survival and success of the Jews in diaspora. 

Nietzsche, however, goes further and extends this idea to the genesis of Christianity itself. 

Thus, in Nietzsche’s view, Christianity, as an outgrowth of Judaism and an invention of Paul and the Jewish ‘priestly class’, is itself a part of what Macdonald would call a ‘Jewish group evolutionary strategy’ designed in order to undermine the goyish Roman civilization under whose yoke Jews had been subjugated. 

Nietzsche, a professed anti-Christian but an admirer of the ancient Greeks (or at least of some of them) would likely agree with Tertullian that Jerusalem has little to do with Athens – or indeed with Rome. However, Hicks observes: 

As evidence of whether Rome or Judea is winning, [Nietzsche] invites us to consider to whom one kneels down before in Rome today” (p70). 

Racialism and the Germans 

Yet, with regard to their racial views, Nietzsche and the Nazis differ, not only in their attitude towards Jews, but also in their attitude towards Germans. 

Thus, according to Hicks: 

The Nazis believe the German Aryan to be racially superior—while Nietzsche believes that the superior types can be manifested in any racial type” (p85). 

Yet, here, Hicks is only half right. While it certainly true that the Nazis extolled the German people, and the so-called ‘Aryan race’ in general, as a master race, it is not at all clear that Nietzsche indeed believed that the superior type of man can be found among all races. 

Actually, besides a few comments about Jews, mostly favourable, and a few more about the Germans and the English, almost always disparaging, Nietzsche actually says surprisingly little about race. 

However, on reflection, this is not at all surprising, since, being resident throughout his life in a Europe that was then very much monoracial, Nietzsche probably little if any direct contact with nonwhite races or peoples. 

Moreover, living as he did in the nineteenth century, when European power was at its apex, and much of the world controlled by European colonial empires, Nietzsche, like most of his European contemporaries, probably took white European racial superiority very much for granted. 

It is therefore only natural that his primary concern was the relative superiority and status of the various European subtypes – hence his occasional comments regarding Jews, English, Germans and occasionally other groups such as the French. 

Hicks asserts: 

The Nazis believe contemporary German culture to be the highest and the best hope for the world—while Nietzsche holds contemporary German culture to be degenerate and to be infecting the rest of the world” (p85). 

Yet this is something of a simplification of National socialist ideology. 

In fact, the Nazis too believed that the Germany of their own time – namely the Weimar Republic – was decadent and corrupt. 

Indeed, a belief in both national degeneration and in the need for national spiritual rebirth and awakening has been identified as a key defining element in fascism.[15]

Thus, Nietzsche’s own belief in the decadence of contemporary western civilization, and arguably also his belief in the coming Übermensch promising spiritual revitalization, is, in many respects, a paradigmatically and prototypically fascist model. [17]

Of course, the Nazis only believed that German culture was corrupt and decadent before they had themselves come to power and hence supposedly remedied this situation.  

In contrast, Nietzsche never had the chance to rejuvenate the German culture and civilization of his own time – and nor did he live to see the coming Übermensch.[16]

The Blond Beast’  

Hicks contends that Nietzsche’s employment of the phrase “the blond beast” in The Genealogy of Morals is not a racial reference to the characteristically blond hair of Nordic Germans, as has sometimes been interpreted, but rather a reference to the blond mane of the lion. 

Actually, I suspect Nietzsche may have intended a double-meaning or metaphor, referring to both the stereotypically blond complexion of the Germanic warrior and to the mane of the lion. 

Indeed, the use of such a double-meaning or metaphor would be typical of Nietzsche’s poetic, literary and distinctly non-philosophical (or at least not traditionally philosophical) style of writing. 

Thus, even in one of the passages from The Genealogy of Morals employing to this metaphor that is quoted by Hicks himself, Nietzsche explicitly refers to the “the blond Germanic beast [emphasis added]” (quoted: p78).[18]

It is true that, in another passage from the same work, Nietzche contends that “the splendid blond beast” lies at “the bottom of all these noble races”, among whom he includes, not just the Germanic, but also such distinctly non-Nordic (and stereotypically non-blond) races as “the Roman, Arabian… [and] Japanese nobility” among others (quoted: p79). 

Here, the reference to the Japanese “nobility”, rather than the Japanese people as a whole, is, I suspect, key, since, as we have seen, Nietzsche clearly regards the superior type of man, if present at all, as always necessarily a minority among all races. 

However, in referring to “noble races”, Nietzsche necessarily implies that certain other races are not so “noble”. Just as to say that certain men are ‘superior’ necessarily implies that others are inferior, since superiority is a relative concept, so to talk of “noble races” necessarily supposes the existence of ignoble races too. 

Thus, if the superior type of man, in Nietzsche’s view, only ever represents a small minority of the population among any race, it does not necessarily follow that, in his view, such types are to be found among all races. 

Hicks is therefore wrong to conclude that: 

Nietzsche believes that the superior types can be manifested in any racial type” (p85). 

In short, just because Nietzsche believed that vast majority of contemporary Germans were poltroons, Chandala, ‘beer drinkers’ and ‘herd animals’, it does not necessarily follow that he also believes that an Australian Aboriginal could be an Übermensch

A Nordicist Aryanist Milieu? 

Thus, for all his condemnation of Germans and German nationalism, one cannot help forming the impression on reading Nietzsche that he very much existed within, if not a German nationalist milieu, then at least a broader Nordicist, Aryanist and Völkisch intellectual milieu – the same milieu that birthed certain key strands in the National Socialist Weltanschauung

This is apparent in the very opening lines of The Antichrist, where Nietzsche declares himself, and his envisaged readership, “Hyperboreans”, a term popular among proto-Nazi occultists, such as the Thule Society, the group which itself birthed what was to become the NSDAP, and which had named itself after the supposed capital of the mythical Hyperborea

It is also apparent when, in Twilight of the Idols, he disparages Christianity as specifically an “anti-Aryan religion… [and] the transvaluation of all Aryan values” (Twilight of the Idols: VI:4). 

Apologists sometimes insist that Nietzsche, as a philologist by training, was only using the word Aryan in the linguistic sense, i.e. where we would today say ‘Indo-European

However, Nietzsche was writing at a time and place, namely Germany in the nineteenth century, when Aryanist ideas were very much in vogue, and it would be naïve to think that Nietzsche was not all too aware of the full connotations of this word. 

Moreover, his references to “Aryan values” and “anti-Aryan religion”, referring, as they do, to values and religion, clearly go beyond merely linguistic descriptors, and seem to envisage, not so much a scientific biological conception of race, including race differences in behaviour and psychology, as much as they anticipate the mystical, quasi-religious and slightly bonkers ‘spiritual racialism’ of his self-professed disciples, Spengler and Evola

Less obviously, this affinity for Nazi-style ‘Aryanism’ is also apparent in Nietzsche’s later extolment for the Law of Manu and Indian caste system, and his adoption of the Sanskrit term Chandala for those whom he disparages, since, although South Asians are obviously far from racially Nordic, Nazi esotericists nevertheless had a curious obsession with Hindu religion and caste, and it is from India that the Nazis seemingly took both the swastika symbol and the very word ‘Aryan’. 

Will Durant, in The Story of Philosophy, writes: 

Nietzsche was the child of Darwin and the brother of Bismarck. It does not matter that he ridiculed the English evolutionists and the German nationalists: he was accustomed to denounce those who had most influenced him; it was his unconscious way of covering up his debts” (The Story of Philosophy: p373).[19]

This perhaps goes some way to making sense of Nietzsche’s ambiguous relationship to Darwin, whose theory he so often singles out for criticism. 

Perhaps something similar can be said of Nietzsche’s relationship, not only to German nationalism, but also to anti-Semitism, since, as a former disciple of Wagner, he existed within a German nationalist and anti-Semitic intellectual milieu, from which he sought to distinguish himself but which he never wholly relinquished. 

Thus, if Nietzsche condemned the crude antiSemitism of Wagner, his sister and brother-in-law, he nevertheless constructed in its place a new antiSemitism that blamed the Jews, not merely for the crucifixion of Christ, but rather for the very invention of Christianity, Christian ethics and the entire edifice of what he called ‘slave morality’ and the ‘transvaluation of values’. 

Nietzschean Philosemitism?

Thus, even Nietzsche’s many apparently favorable comments regarding the Jews can often be interpreted as backhanded complements

As a character from a Michel Houellebecq novel 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, Nazi propaganda provides a good illustration of this. 

Thus, in claiming that Jews, who only ever represented only a tiny minority of the Weimar-era German population, nevertheless dominated the media, banking, commerce and the professions, Nazi propaganda often came close to inadvertently implicitly conceding Jewish superiority – since to dominate the economy of a mighty power like Germany, despite only ever representing a tiny minority of the population, is hardly a feat indicative of inferiority. 

Indeed, Nazi propaganda came close to self-contradiction, since, if Jews did indeed dominate the Weimar-era economy to the extent claimed in Nazi propaganda, this not only suggests that the Jews themselves are far from inferior to the German Gentile Goyim whom they had ostensibly oppressed and subjugated, but also the Germans themselves, in allowing themselves to be so dominated by this tiny minority of Jews in their midst, were something rather less than the Aryan Übermensch and master race of  Hitler’s own demented imagining. 

Meanwhile, Arthur De Gobineau, considered by many the ultimate progenitor of Nazi race theory, was, far from anti-Semitic, positively effusive in his praise for and admiration of the Jewish people.[20]

Thus, many antisemites have praised the Jews for their tenacity, resilience, survival, alleged clannishness and ethnocentrism, and, perhaps most ominously, their supposed racial purity

For example, contemporary antisemite Kevin MacDonald claims that, despite his reputation as an anti-Semite

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). 

Indeed, even Hitler himself came close to philosemitism in one passage of Mein Kampf, where he declares: 

“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).[21]

Many of Nietzsche’s own apparently complementary remarks regarding the Jewish people can be interpreted in the same vein 

Thus, Hicks himself credits Nietzsche with deploring the slave morality that was their legacy, but nevertheless recognizing that this slave morality was a highly successful strategy in enabling them to survive and prosper in diaspora as a defeated and banished people. Thus, Nietzsche admires them as: 

Inheritors of a cultural tradition that has enabled them to survive and even flourish despite great adversity… [and] would at the very least have to grant, however grudgingly, that the Jews have hit upon a survival strategy and kept their cultural identity for well over two thousand years” (p82). 

Thus, in another one of his many backhanded complements, Nietzsche himself declares:  

The Jews are the most remarkable people in the history of the world, for when they were confronted with the question, to be or not to be, they chose, with perfectly unearthly deliberation, to be at any price: this price involved a radical falsification of all nature, of all naturalness, of all reality, of the whole inner world, as well as of the outer” (The Antichrist: 24). 

Defeating Nazism 

In Hicks’s final chapter, he discusses how best Nazism can be defeated. In doing so, he seemingly presupposes that Nazism is, not only an evil that must be defeated, but moreover the ultimate evil that must be defeated at all costs and that we must therefore structure our entire economic and political system in order to prevent its reemergence. 

In doing so, he identifies what he sees as “the direct opposite of what the Nazis stood for” as necessarily “the best antidote to National Socialism we have” (p106-7). 

Yet, to assume that there is a “direct opposite” to each of the Nazis’ central tenets assumes that all political positions can be conceptualized on a single dimensional axis, with the Nazis at one end and Hicks’s own rational free market utopia at the other. 

In reality, the political spectrum is multidimensional and there are many alternatives to each of the tenets identified by Hicks as integral to Nazism, not just a single opposite. 

More importantly, it is not at all clear that the best way to defeat any ideology is necessarily to embrace its polar opposite. 

On the contrary, embracing an opposite form of extremism is often only provokes a counter-reaction and is hence counterproductuve. In contrast, often the best way to defeat extremism is to actually address some of the legitimate issues raised by the extremists and offer practical, realistic solutions and compromise – i.e. moderation rather than extremism. 

Thus, in the UK, the two main post-war electoral manifestations of what was arguably a resurgent Nazi-style racial nationalism were the National Front in the 1970s and the British National Party (BNP) in the 2000s, each of whom achieved some rather modest electoral successes, and inspired a great deal of media-led moral-panic, in their respective heydays before quickly fading into electoral irrelevance. 

Yet each were defeated, not by the emergence of an opposite extremism of either left or right, nor by the often violent agitation and activism of self-styled ‘anti-fascists’, but rather by the emergence of political figures or movements that addressed some of the the legitimate issues raised by the extremist groups, especially regarding immigration, but cloaked them in more moderate language. 

Thus, in the 2000s, the BNP was largely outflanked by the rise of the UKIP, which echoed many of the BNP’s concerns regarding mass immigration, but largely avoided any association with racism, white supremacism or neo-Nazism. In short, UKIP outflanked the BNP by being precisely what the BNP had long pretended to be – namely, a non-racist, anti-immigration civic nationalist party – only, in the case of UKIP, the act actually appeared genuine.

Meanwhile, in the 1970s, the collapse and implosion of the National Front was largely credited to the rise of Margaret Thatcher, who, in one infamous interview, empathized with the fear of many British people that their country being “swamped by people with a different culture”, though, in truth, once in power, she did little to arrest or even slow, let alone reverse, this ongoing and now surely irreversible process of demographic transformation

Misreading Nietzsche 

Why, then, has Nietzsche come to be so misunderstood? How is it that this nineteenth German philosopher has come to be claimed as a precursor by everyone from Fascists and libertarians to leftist postmodernists. 

The fault, in my view, lies largely with Nietzsche himself, in particular his obscure, esoteric writing style, especially in his infamously indecipherable, Thus Spake Zarathustra, but to some extent throughout his entire body of writing. 

Indeed, Nietzsche, perhaps to his credit, even admits to adopting a deliberately impenetrable prose style, not so much admitting as proudly declaring as much in one parenthesis from Beyond Good and Evil that has been variously translated as: 

I obviously do everything to be ‘hard to understand’ myself


I do everything to be difficultly understood myself”  (Beyond Good and Evil: II, 27).

Admittedly, here, the wording, or at least the various English renderings, is itself not entirely clear in its meaning. However, the fact that even this single seemingly simple sentence lends itself to somewhat different interpretations only illustrates the scale of the problem. 

In my view, as I have written previously, philosophers who adopt an aphoristic style of writing generally substitute bad poetry for good arguments. 

Thus, in one sense at least leftist postmodernists are right to claim Nietzsche as a philosophical precursor: He, like them, delights in pretentious obfuscation and obscurantism

The best writers, in my view, generally present their ideas in the clearest and simplest language that the complexity of their ideas permit. 

Indeed, the most profound thinkers generally have no need increase the complexity of ideas that are already inherently complex through deliberately obscure or impenetrable language. 

In contrast, it is only those with only banal and unoriginal ideas who adopt deliberately complex and confusing language in order to conceal the banality and unoriginality of their ideas. 

Thus, Richard DawkinsFirst Law of the Conservation of Difficulty states: 

Obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity.”  

What applies to an academic subject applies equally to individual writers – namely. as a general rule, the greater the obscurantism, the less the substance and insight. 

Yet, unlike the postmodernists, poststucturalists, deconstructionalists, continental philosophers and other assorted ‘professional damned fools’ who so often claim him as a precursor, Nietzsche is indeed, in my view, an important, profound and original thinker. 

Moreover, far from replacing good philosophy with bad poetry, Nietzsche is, besides being a profound and original thinker, also a magnificent prose stylist, the brilliance of whose writing shines through even in translation. 

Conclusion – Was Nietzsche a Nazi? 

The Nazis, we are repeatedly reassured by leftists, misunderstood Nietzsche. Either that or they deliberated misrepresented and misappropriated him. At any rate, one thing is clear – they were wrong. 

This argument is largely correct – as far as it goes. 

The Nazis did indeed engage in a disingenuous and highly selective reading of Nietzsche’s work, selectively quoting his words out of context, and conveniently ignoring, or even suppressing, those passages of his writing where he explicitly condemns both antiSemitism and German nationalism

The problem with this view is not that it is wrong – but rather with what it leaves out. 

Nietzsche may not have been a Nazi, but he was certainly an elitist and anti-egalitarian, opposed to socialism, liberalism, democracy and pretty much the entire liberal democratic political and social worldview of the contemporary west.

Indeed, although, today, in America at least, atheism tends to be associated with leftist, or at least liberal views, and Christianity with conservatism and the right, Nietzsche opposed socialism precisely because he saw it as an inheritance of the very JudeoChristianslave morality’ to which his philosophy stood in opposition, albeit divested of the very religious foundation which provided this moral system with a justification and basis.

Thus, in The Will to Power, he observes that “socialists appeal to the Christian instincts” and bewails “the socialistic ideal” as merely “the residue of Christianity and of Rousseau in the de-Christianised world” (The Will to Power: III, 765; IV, 1017). Likewise, he laments of the English in Twilight of the Idols:

They are rid of the Christian God and therefore think it all the more incumbent upon them to hold tight to Christian morality” (Twilight of the Idols: IX, 5).

While Nietzsche would certainly have disapproved of many aspects of Nazi ideology, it is not at all clear that he would have considered our own twenty-first century western culture as any better. Indeed he may well have considered it considerably worse. 

Thus, it is indeed true that Nietzsche was no National Socialist, but he was also far from a leftist or a liberal, and was far from politically correct by modern standards in his views regarding the Jews, for example. 

Indeed, the worldview of this most elitist and anti-egalitarian of thinkers is arguably even less reconcilable with contemporary left-liberal notions of social justice than is that of the Nazis themselves.  

Thus, if the Nazis did indeed misappropriate Nietzsche’s philosophy, then this misappropriation was as nothing compared to that of those leftists, post-modernists, post-structuralists and other such ‘professional damned fools’ who have vainly, and dishonestly, attempted to claim this most anti-egalitarian and elitist of thinkers on behalf of the left


[1] The claim that the foreign policies of governmental regimes of all ideological persuasions are governed less by their ideology than by power politics, is, of course, a central tenet, indeed perhaps the central tenet of the realist school of international relations theory. Indeed, Hitler himself provided a good example of this when, despite his ideological opposition to Judeo-Bolshevism and desire for lebensraum in the East, not to mention disparaging racial attitude to the Slavic peoples, nevertheless, rebuffed in his efforts to come to an understanding with Britain and France, or form an alliance with Poland, instead sent Ribbentrop to negotiate a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. It can even be argued that it was Hitler’s abandonment of pragmatic realpolitik in favour of ideological imperative, when he later invaded the Soviet Union that led to his own, and his regime’s, demise.

[2] Curiously missing from all such lists is Nietzsche’s own early idol, Arthur Schopenhauer. Yet it was Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, that Hitler claimed to have carried with him in the trenches in his knapsack throughout the First World War, and Schopenhauer even has the dubious distinction of having his antisemitic comments regarding Jews favourably quoted by Hitler in Mein Kampf. Indeed, according to the recollections of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler professed to prefer Schopenhauer over Nietzsche, Hitler being quoted as asserting: 

I can’t really do much with Nietzsche… He is more an artist than a philosopher; he doesn’t have the crystal-clear understanding of Schopenhauer. Of course, I value Nietzsche as a genius. He writes possibly the most beautiful language that German literature has to offer us today, but he is not my guide” (quoted: Hitler’s Private Library: p107). 

Somewhat disconcertingly, this assessment of Nietzsche – namely as “more… artist than philosopher” and far from “crystal-clear” in his writing style, but nevertheless a brilliant prose stylist, the beauty of whose writing shines through even in English translation – actually rather reflects my own assessment. Moreover, I too am an admirer of Schopenhauer’s writings, albeit not so much his philosophy, let alone his metaphysics, but more his theory of human behaviour and psychology.
Yet, on reflection, Schopenhauer is surely rightly omitted from lists of the philosophical influences on Nazism. Save for the antisemitic remarks quoted in Mein Kampf, which are hardly an integral part of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, there is little in Schopenhauer’s body of writing, let alone in his philosophical writings, that can be seen to jibe with National Socialism policy or ideology.
Indeed, Schopenhauer’s philosophy, to the extent it is prescriptive at all, advocates an ascetic withdrawal from worldly temptation, and championed art as a form of escapism. Although Hitler was indeed in later lifereportedly, a vegetarian, who also abstained from alcohol, and also an art lover who found escapism in both movies and the operas of Wagner, the latter himself a disciple of Schopenhauer. and seems, for most of his adult life, to have had little active sex life, nevertheless the NSDAP programme, like all political programmes, involved active engagement with the world, something Schopenhauer would likely have dismissed as largely futile and a waste of effort.
Indeed, Hitler himself aptly summarized why Schopenhauer’s philosophy could never be a basis for any type of active political programme, let alone that of the NSDAP, in a comment quoted by Hanfstaengl, where he bemoans Schopenhauer’s influence on his own former mentor Eckart, remarking: 

Schopenhauer has done Eckart no good. He has made him a doubting Thomas, who only looks forward to a Nirvana. Where would I get if I listened to all his [Schopenhauer’s] transcendental talk? A nice ultimate wisdom that: To reduce on[e]self to a minimum of desire and will. Once will is gone all is gone. This life is War” (quoted in: Hitler’s Philosophers: p24). 

Modern left-liberal apologists for Nietzsche often attempt to characterize Nietzsche as a largely apolitical thinker. This is, of course, deluded apologetics. However, as applied to Schopenhauer, the claim is indeed largely valid. 

[3] Hicks does not mention the figure who was, in my perhaps eccentric view, the greatest thinker associated with the NSDAP, namely Nobel Prize winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz, perhaps because, unlike the other thinkers whom he does discuss, Lorenz only joined the NSDAP several years after they had come to power, and his association with the NSDAP could therefore be dismissed as purely opportunistic. Alternatively, Hicks may have overlooked Lorenz simply because Lorenz was a biologist rather than a philosopher, though it should be noted that Lorenz also made important contributions to philosophy as well, in particular his pioneering work in evolutionary epistemology.

[4] It is true that Nietzsche does not actually envisage or advocate a return to the ‘master morality’ of an earlier age, but rather the construction of a new morality, the outline of which could, at the time he wrote, only be foreseen in rough outline. Nevertheless, it is clear he favoured this ‘master morality’ over the ‘slave morality’ that he associated with Christianity and our own post-Christian ethics, and also that he viewed the coming morality of the Übermensch as having much more in common with the ‘master morality’ of old than with the Christian ‘slave morality’ he so disparages. 

[5] Hitler exerted a direct impact on world history from 1933 until his death in 1945. Yet Hitler, or at least the spectre of Hitler, continues to exert an indirect but not insubstantial impact on contemporary world politics as a kind of ‘bogeyman’, whom we define our views in opposition to, and invoke as a kind of threat or form of guilt-by-association. This is most obvious in the familiar ‘reductio ad Hitlerum’. Of course, in considering the question of whether Hitler may indeed qualify as a ‘great man’, we are not using the word ‘great’ in a moral sense. Rather, we are employing the term in the older sense, meaning ‘large in size’. This exculpatory clarificiation we might aptly term the Farrakhan proviso

[6] Collectivists are, almost by definition, authoritarian, since collectivism necessarily demands that individual rights and freedoms be curtailed or restricted for the benefit of the collective, and this invariably requires coercion because people have evolved to selfishly promote their own inclusive fitness at the expense of that of rivals and competitors. However, authoritarianism can also be justified on non-collectivist grounds. Thus, Nietzsche’s proposed restrictions of the individual liberty of the ‘herd animal’ and ‘chandala’ are justified not by reference to the individual or collective interests of such ‘chandala’, but rather by reference to the interests of the superior man and of the higher evolution of mankind.

[7] The first of these is a pair of interviews that were supposedly conducted with Hitler by German journalist Richard Breiting in 1931, to which Hicks sources several supposed quotations from Hitler (p117; p122; p124; p125; p133). Unfortunately, however, the interviews, only published in 1968 by Yugoslavian journalist Edouard Calic several decades after they were supposedly conducted, contain anachronistic material and are hence almost certainly post-war forgeries. Richard Evans, for example, described them as having obviously been in large part, if not completely, made up by Calic himself (Evans 2014).
The other is Hermann Rauschning’s The Voice of Destruction, published in Britain under the title Hitler Speaks, to which Hicks sources several quotations from Hitler (p120; p125; 126; p134). This is now widely recognised as a fraudulent work of wartime propaganda. Historians now believe that Rauschning actually only met with Hitler on a few occasions, was certainly not a close confident and that most, if not all, of the conversations with Hitler recounted in The Voice of Destruction are pure inventions.
Thus, for example, Ian Kershaw in the first volume of his Hitler biography, Hitler, 1889–1936: Hubris, makes sure to emphasize in his preface: 

I have on no single occasion cited Hermann Rauschning’s Hitler Speaks [the title under which The Voice of Destruction was published in Britain], a work now regarded to have so little authenticity that it is best to disregard it altogether” (Hitler, 1889–1936: Hubris: pxvi). 

Similarly, Richard Evans definitively concludes:

Nothing was genuine in Rauschning’s book: his ‘conversations with Hitler’ had no more taken place than his conversations with Göring. He had been put up to writing the book by Winston Churchill’s literary agent, Emery Reeves, who was also responsible for another highly dubious set of memoirs, the industrialist Fritz Thyssen’s I Paid Hitler” (Evans 2014).

Admittedly, Rauschning’s work was once taken seriously by mainstream historians, and The Voice of Destruction is cited repeatedly in such early and still-celebrated works as Trevor-Roper’s The Last Days of Hitler, first published in 1947, and Bullock’s Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, first published in 1952.  However, Hicks’s own book was published in 2006, by which time Rauschning’s work had already long previously been exposed as a hoax. 
Indeed, it is something of an indictment of the standards, not to mention the politicized and moralistic tenor, of what we might call ‘Hitler historiography’ that this work was ever taken seriously by historians in the first place. First published in the USA in 1940, it was it was clearly a work of anti-Nazi wartime propaganda and much of the material is quite fantastic in content.
For example, there are bizarre passages about Hitler having been “long been in bondage to a magic which might well have been described, not only in metaphor but in literal fact, as that of evil spirits” and of Hitler “wak[ing] at night with convulsive shrieks”, and one such passage describes how Hitler: 

Stood swaying in his room, looking wildly about him. “He! He! He’s been here!” he gasped. His lips were blue. Sweat streamed down his face. Suddenly he began to reel off figures, and odd words and broken phrases, entirely devoid of sense. It sounded horrible. He used strangely composed and entirely un-German word-formations. Then he stood quite still, only his lips moving. He was massaged and offered something to drink. Then he suddenly broke out — “There, there! In the comer! Who’s that.?” He stamped and shrieked in the familiar way. He was shown that there was nothing out of the ordinary in the room, and then he gradually grew calm” (The Voice of Destruction: p256) 

Yet, oddy, the first doubts regarding the authenticity of the conversations reported in The Voice of Destruction were raised, not by mainstream historians studying the Third Reich, but rather by an obscure Swiss researcher, Wolfgang Haenel, who first presented his thesis at a conference organized by a research institute widely associated with so-called ‘holocaust denial’. Moreover, other self-styled ‘holocaust revisionists’ were among the first to endorse Haenel’s critique of Rauschning’s work. Yet his conclusions are now belatedly accepted by virtually all mainstream scholars in the field. This perhaps suggests that such ‘revisionist’ research is not always without value.

[8] It must be acknowledged here that the question of the religious views of Hitler is a matter of some controversy. It is sometimes suggested that the hostile view of Christianity expressed in Hitler’s Table Talk reflect less the opinion of Hitler, and more those of of Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, who was responsible for transcribing much of this material. Bormann is indeed known to have been hostile to Christianity, and Speer, who disliked Bormann, indeed remarks in his memoirs that:

If in the course of such a monologue Hitler had pronounced a more negative judgment upon the church, Bormann would undoubtedly have taken from his jacket pocket one of the white cards he always carried with him. For he noted down all Hitler’s remarks that seemed to him important; and there was hardly anything he wrote down more eagerly than deprecating comments on the church” (Inside the Third Reich: p95). 

However, Speer does not deny that Hitler himself indeed made such remarks. Indeed, it is hardly likely that Bormann, a faithful, if not obsequious, acolyte of the Fürher, would ever dare to falsely attribute to Hitler remarks which the latter had never uttered or views to which he did not subscribe. At any rate, the views attributed to Hitler in Table Talk are corroborated in other sources, such as in Goebbels’s diaries and indeed in Speer’s memoirs
It is also true that, elsewhere in Table Talk, Hitler talks approvingly of Jesus as “most certainly not a Jew”, and as fighting “against the materialism of His age, and, therefore, against the Jews”. This is, of course, a very odd and eccentric, not to mention historically unsupported, perspective on the historical Jesus.
However, it is interesting to note that, despite his disdain for Christianity, Nietzsche too, despite his more orthodox view of the historical Jesus, nevertheless professes to admire Jesus in The Antichrist. Indeed, in placing the blame for Christianity squarely on Paul of Tarsus, not Jesus himself, Hitler is therefore again following Nietzsche, who, in The Antichrist, similarly condemns Paul as the true founder of Christianity and of the Christian slave morality that infected western man.
Just to clarify, I am not here suggesting that Hitler’s views with respect to Christianity are identical to those of Nietzsche. On the contrary, they clearly differ in several respects, not least in their differing historical perspectives on the historial Jesus.
Nevertheless, Hitler’s religious views, as expressed in his Table Talk, clearly mirror those of Nietzsche in certain key respects, not least in seeing Christianity as the greatest tragedy to befall humanity, as inimical to life itself, and as a malign invention of or inheritance from Jews and Judaism. Given these parallels, it seems almost certain that the German Führer had read the works of Nietzsche and, to some extent, been influenced by his ideas.
Interestingly, elsewhere in his Table Talk, Hitler also condemns atheism, describing it as “a return to the state of the animal” and argues that “the notion of divinity gives most men the opportunity to concretise the feeling they have of supernatural” (Table Talk: p123; p61). Hitler also often referred to God, and especially providence, in a metaphoric sense. Indeed, he even himself professes a belief in a God, albeit of a decidedly non-Chrisitian Pantheistic form, defining God as “the dominion of natural laws throughout the whole universe” (Table Talk: p6).
However, this only demonstrates that there are other forms of theism, and deism, besides Christianity, and that one can be opposed to Christianity without being opposed to all religion. Thus, Goebbels declares in his Diary: 

The Fuhrer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian” (The Goebbels diaries, 1939-1941: p77). 

The general impression from Table Talk is that Hitler sees himself, perhaps surprisingly, as a scientific materialist, albeit one who, like, it must be said, no few modern scientific materialists, actually often knows embarrassingly little about science. (For example, in Table Talk, Hitler repeatedly endorses Hörbiger’s World Ice Theory, comparing Hörbiger to Copernicus in his impact on cosmology, and even proposing opposing the “pseudo-science of the Catholic Church” with the ‘science’ of PtolemyCopernicus, and, yes, Hörbiger: Table Talk: p249; p324; p445.)

[9] After all, socialists already have the horrors of Mau, Stalin, Pol Pot and North Korea among many others on their hands. To be associated also with National Socialism in Germany as well would effectively make socialism responsible for virtually all of the great atrocities of the twentieth century, rather than merely just the vast majority of them. 

[10] Interestingly, although dictionary definitions available on the internet vary considerably, most definitions of ‘socialism tend to be much narrower than my definition, emphasizing, in particular, common or public ownership of the means of production. Partly, this reflects, I suspect, the different connotations of the word in British- and American-English. Thus, in America, where, until recently, socialism was widely seen as anathema, the term was associated with, and indeed barely distinguished from, communism or Marxism. In Britain, however, where the Labour Party, one of the two main parties of the post-war era, traditionally styled itself ‘socialist’, despite generally advocating and pursuing policies that would be closer to what would be called, on continental Europe, ‘social democracy’, the word has much less radical connotations.

[11] Admittedly, reducing unemployment also seems to have been a further objective of some of the large public works projects undertaken under the Nazis (e.g. the construction of the autobahns), and this can indeed be seen as a socialist objective. However, socialists are, of course, not alone in seeing job creation as desirable and high rates of unemployment as undesirable. On the contrary, the desirability of job creation and of reducing unemployment is widely accepted across the political spectrum. Politicians differ primarily on the best way to achieve this goals. Those on the left are more likely to favour increasing public sector employment, including through the sorts of public works projects employed by the Nazis. Neo-liberals favour cutting taxes, in order to increase spending and investment, which they theorize will increase private sextor employment.

[12] It is possible Hitler’s own views evolved over time, and he too may initially have been more sympathetic to socialist policies. Thus, still largely unexplained is the full story of Hitler’s apparent involvement with the short-lived revolutionary communist regime in Munich in 1919, led by the Jewish communist Kurt Eisner. Ron Rosenbaum writes:

One piece of evidence adduced for this view documents Hitler’s successful candidacy for a position on the soldier’s council in a regiment that remained loyal to the short-lived Bolshevik regime that ruled Munich for a few weeks in April 1919. Another is a piece of faded, scratchy newsreel footage showing the February 1919 funeral procession for Kurt Eisner, the assassinated Jewish leader of the socialist regime then in power. Slowed down and studied, the funeral footage shows a figure who looks remarkably like Hitler marching in a detachment of soldiers, all wearing armbands on their uniforms in tribute to Eisner and the socialist regime that preceded the Bolshevik one” (Explaining Hitler: pxxxvii). 

If indeed Hitler was indeed a supporter of the Peoples’ State of Bavaria, which remains far from proven, and this was not mere opportunism, then it remains to be proven when his later antiSemitic and anti-Marxist views became crystalized. It is clear that, by the time he joined the nascent DAP, Hitler was already a confirmed anti-Semite. However, perhaps he still remained something of a socialist at this time. Indeed, this might explain why he was attracted to the German Workers’ Party, which, at that early time, indeed seems to have had a broadly socialist orientation. 

[13] In fact, Nietzsche is wrong to credit the Jews as the first to perform this transvaluation of values that elevated asceticism, poverty and abstinence from worldly pleasures into a positive value. On the contrary, similar and analogous notions of asceticism seem to have had an entirely independent, and apparently prior, origin in the Indian subcontinent, in the form of both Buddhism and especially Jainism

[14] The supposed proof of this theory in to be found in the state of Israel, where Jews find themselves as a majority, and where, far from embodying the sort of ideals of multiculturalism and tolerance that Jews have typically been associated with championing in the west, there is an apartheid state, the persecution of the country’s Palestinian minority, an immigration policy that overtly discriminates against non-Jews, not to mention increasing levels of conservatism and religiosity

[15] This is, for example, an integral part of the influential definition of fascism espoused by historian and political theorist Roger Griffin in his book, The Nature of Fascism.

[16] In fact, whether Nietzsche indeed envisaged the Übermensch in this way – namely as a real-world coming savior promising a new transvaluation of values and revitablization of society and civilization that would restore the warrior ethos of the ancients – is not at all clear. In fact, the concept of the Übermensch is mentioned quite infrequently in his writings, largely in Thus Spake Zarathustra and Ecce Homo, and is neither fully developed nor clearly explained. It has even been suggested that the importance of this concept in Nietzsche’s thought has been exaggerated, partly on account of its use in use in the title of George Bernard Shaw’s famous play, Man and Superman, which explores Nietzschean themes.
Elsewhere in his writing, Nietzsche is seemingly resolutely ‘blackpilled’ regarding the inevitability of moral and spiritual decline and the impossibility of any recovery. Thus, in Twilight of the Idols, he reproaches the conservatives for attempting to turn back the clock, declaring that an arrest, let alone a reverse, in the degeneration of mankind and civilization is an impossibility:

It cannot be helped: we must go forward,—that is to say step by step further and further into decadence (—this is my definition of modern ‘progress’). We can hinder this development, and by so doing dam up and accumulate degeneration itself and render it more convulsive, more volcanic: we cannot do more” (Twilight of the Idols: VIII, 43).

In other words, not only is God indeed dead (as are Zeus, Jupiter, Thor and Wotan), but, unlike Jesus in the Gospels, he can never be resurrected.

[17] Of course, another difference between Nietzsche and the Nazis is that the contemporary German culture that each regarded as decadent were separated from each other by several decades. Thus, while Hitler may have despised the German culture of the 1920s as, in many respects, decadent, he nevertheless admired in many respects the German culture of Nietzsche’s time and certainly regarded this Germany as superior to the Weimar-era Germany in which he found himself after the First World War. 
Nevertheless, Hitler did not regard the Germany of Nietzsche’s own time as any kind of ‘golden age’ or ‘lost Eden’. On the contrary, he would have deplored the Germany of Nietzsche’s day both for its alleged domination by Jews and the fact that, even after Bismarck’s supposed unification of Germany, Hitler’s own native Austria remained outside the German Reich.
Thus, neither Nietzsche nor Hitler were mere reactionaries nostalgically looking to turn back the clock. On the contrary, Nietzsche considers this an imposibility, writing:

It cannot be helped: we must go forward,—that is to say step by step further and further into decadence (—this is my definition of modern ‘progress’). We can hinder this development, and by so doing dam up and accumulate degeneration itself and render it more convulsive, more volcanic: we cannot do more” (Twilight of the Idols: VIII, 43).

Thus, just as Nietzsche does not yearn for a return to the master morality or paganism of pre-Christian Europe and classical antiquity, but rather for the coming Übermensch and new transvaluation of values that he would deliver, so Hitler’s own ‘golden age’ was to be found, not in the nineteenth century, nor even in classical antiquity, but rather in the new thousand year Reich he envisaged and sought to construct.

[18] Other English translations render the German as the “blond Teutonic beast [emphasis added]”. At any rate, regardless of the precise translation, it is clear that a reference to the ancient Germanic peoples is intended. 

[19] Nietzsche has an odd attitude to Darwinism and social Darwinism. On the one hand, he frequently disparages Darwin and Darwinism. On the other hand, his moral philosophy directly parallels that of the social Darwinists, albeit bereft of the Darwinian theory that provides the ostensible justification and basis for this moral philosophy
Interestingly, Hitler too has an ambiguous, and, in some respects, similar, relationship with both Darwinism and social Darwinism. On the one hand, Hitler, like Nietzsche, frequently espouses views that read very much like social Darwinism. For example, in Mein Kampf, Hitler writes:

Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live” (Mein Kampf).

Similarly, in his Table Talk, Hitler is quoted as declaring:

By means of the struggle, the elites are continually renewed. The law of selection justifies this incessant struggle, by allowing the survival of the fittest” (Hitler’s Table Talk).

Both these quotations definitely sound like social Darwinism. Yet, interestingly, Hitler never actually mentions Darwin or Darwinism, his reference to the law of selection” being the closest he comes to referencing the theory of evolution, and even this is ambiguous. Moreover, in a different passage from Table Talk, Hitler seemingly emphatically rejects the theory of evolution, demanding: 

Where do we acquire the right to believe that man has not always been what he is now? The study of nature teaches us that, in the animal kingdom just as much as in the vegetable kingdom, variations have occurred. They’ve occurred within the species, but none of these variations has an importance comparable with that which separates man from the monkey — assuming that this transformation really took place” (Hitler’s Table Talk: p248). 

What are we to make of this? Clearly, Hitler often contradicted himself and seemingly expressed contradictory and inconsistent views.
Moreover, both Hitler and Nietzsche didn’t really understand Darwin’s theory of evolution. Thus, Nietzsche suggested that the struggle between individuals concerns, not mere survival, but rather power. In fact, it concerns neither survival nor power as such – but rather reproductive success (which tends to correlate with power, especially among men,which is why men, in particular, are known to seek power). Spencer’s phrase, survival of the fittest, is useful only once we recognise that the ‘survival’ promoted by selection is the survival of genes rather than of individual organisms themsevles.
But we must recognize that it is possible, and quite logically consistent, to espouse something very similar in content to a social Darwinist moral framework without actually justifying this moral framework by reference to Darwinism.
In short, both Nietzsche and Hitler seem to be advocating something akin to ‘social Darwinism without the Darwinism’.

[20] Interestingly, even Gobineau’s successor and disciple, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, widely and rightly regarded as a virulent anti-Semite, at least with respect to the  Ashkenazim, nevertheless professed to admire Sephardi Jews. He did so primarily on account of their supposed ‘racial purity’, including their refusal to intermingle and intermarry with the Ashkenazim.

[21] The exact connotations of this passage may depend on the translation. The version I have quoted comes from the Manheim edition. However, a different translation renders the passage, not as The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew, but rather The Jew offers the most striking contrast to the Aryan”. This alternative translation has rather different, and less flattering, connotations, given that Hitler famously extolled Aryans as the master race. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honor Among Thieves – and Men of Honor? 

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

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

Yet Luciano was a serial traitor. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, this did not stop Bonanno boss Joe Massino:

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

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

Mafia Decline 

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

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

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

The real reason for Mafia decline is demographic. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) The perception that the Mafia threat is extinguished;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Abadinsky concurs that: 

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

Adabinsky therefore tentatively observes: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethnocentrism as Nepotism? 

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

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

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

Thus, van den Berghe contends: 

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

Ethnic Groups as Kin Groups?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, van den Berghe explains: 

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

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

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

Thus, van den Berghe concludes: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racism vs Ethnocentrism 

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

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

Thus, van den Berge concludes: 

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

As evidence, he cites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racism is also a decidedly modern phenomenon. 

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

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

This, van den Berghe explains, is because: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, van den Berghe observes: 

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

Thus, language barriers often break down within a generation. 

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

As van den Berghe observes: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Racism Always Worse than Ethnocentrism? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, he claims: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assimilation, Acculturation and the American Melting Pot 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, van den Berghe observes: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It takes two to assimilate” (p217).  

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

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

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

Passing’, ‘Pretendians’ and ‘Blackfishing’ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethnostates – or Consociationalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slavery and Other Recurrent Situations  

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

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

Nevertheless, the sociobiological model continues to guide his analysis. 

Take, for example, his chapter on slavery. 

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

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

In particular, van den Berghe argues that: 

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

This then partly explains, for example, why European settlers were far less successful in enslaving the native inhabitants of the Americas than they were in exploiting the slave labour of African slaves who had been shipped across the Atlantic, far from their original kin groups, precisely for this purpose. 

Thus, for van den Berghe, the quintessential slave is: 

Not only involuntarily among ethnic strangers in a strange land: he is there alone, without his support group of kinsmen and fellow ethnics” (p115)

Here van den Berghe seemingly anticipates the key insight of Jamaican sociologist Orlando Peterson in his comparative study of slavery, Slavery and Social Death, who terms this key characteristic of slavery natal alienation.[22]

This, however, is likely to be only a temporary condition, since, at least if allowed to reproduce, then, gradually over time, slaves would put down roots, produce new families, and indeed whole communities of slaves.[23]

When this occurs, however, slaves gradually, over generations, cease to be true slaves. The result is that: 

Slavery can long endure as an institution in a given society, but the slave status of individuals is typically only semipermanent and nonhereditary… Unless a constantly renewed supply of slaves enters a society, slavery, as an institution, tends to disappear and transform itself into something else” (p120). 

This then explains the gradual transformation of slavery during the medieval period into serfdom in much of Europe, and perhaps also the emergence of some pariah castes such as the untouchables of India. 

Paradoxically, van den Berghe argues that racism became particularly virulent in the West precisely because of Western societies’ ostensible commitment to notions of liberty and the rights of man, notions obviously incompatible with slavery. 

Thus, whereas most civilizations simply took the institution of slavery for granted, feeling no especial need to justify its existence, western civilization, given its ostensible commitment to such lofty notions as individual liberty and the equality of man, was always on the defensive, feeling a constant need to justify and defend slavery. 

The main justification hit upon was racialism and theories of racial superiority

If it was immoral to enslave people, but if at the same time it was vastly profitable to do so, then a simple solution to the dilemma presented itself: slavery became acceptable if slaves could somehow be defined as somewhat less than fully human” (p115).  

This then explains much of the virulence of western racialism in the much of the eighteenth, nineteenth and even early-twentieth centuries.[24]

Another important, and related, ideological justification for slavery was what van den Berghe refers to as ‘paternalism’. Thus, Van den Berghe observes that: 

All chattel slave regimes developed a legitimating ideology of paternalism” (p131). 

Thus, in the American South, the “benevolent master” was portrayed a protective “father figure”, while slaves were portrayed as childlike and incapable of living an independent existence and hence as benefiting from their own enslavement (p131). 

This, of course, was a nonsense. As van den Berghe cynically observes: 

Where the parentage was fictive, so, we may assume, is the benevolence” (p131). 

Thus, exploitation was, in sociobiological terms, disguised as kin-selected parental benevolence

However, despite the dehumanization of slaves, the imbalance of power between slave and master, together with the men’s innate and evolved desire for promiscuity, made the sexual exploitation of female slaves by male masters all but inevitable.[25]

As van den Berghe observes: 

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

Thus, he notes the hypocrisy whereby: 

Dominant group men, whether racist or not, are seldom reluctant to maximize their fitness with subordinate-group women” (p33). 

The result was that the fictive ideology of ‘paternalism’ that served to justify slavery often gave way to literal paternity of the next generation of the slave population. 

This created two problems. First, it made the racial justification for slavery, namely the ostensible inferiority of black people, ring increasingly hollow, as ostensibly ‘black slaves acquired greater European ancestry, lighter skins and more Caucasoid features with each successive generation of miscegenation. 

Second, and more important, it also meant that the exploitation of this next generation of slaves by their owners potentially violated the logic of kin selection, because: 

If slaves become kinsmen, you cannot exploit them without indirectly exploiting yourself” (p134).[26]

This, van den Berghe surmises, led many slave owners to free those among the offspring of slave women whom they themselves, or their male relatives, had fathered. As evidence, he observes:  

In all [European colonial] slave regimes, there was a close association between manumission and European ancestry. In 1850 in the United States, for example, an estimated 37% of free ‘negroes’ had white ancestry, compared to about 10% of the slave population” (p132). 

This leads van den Bergh to conclude that many such free people of color – who were referred to as people of color precisely because their substantial degree of white ancestry precluded any simple identification as black or negro – had been freed by their owner precisely because their owner was now also their kinsmen. Indeed, many may have been freed by the very slave-master who had been responsible for fathering them. 

Thus, to give a famous example, Thomas Jefferson is thought to have fathered six offspring, four of whom survived to adulthood, with his slave, Sally Hemings – who was herself already three-quarters white, and indeed Jefferson’s wife’s own half-sister, on account of miscegenation in previous generations. 

Of these four surviving offspring, two were allowed to escape, probably with Jefferson’s tacit permission or at least acquiescence, while the remaining two were freed upon his death in his will.[27]

This seems to have been a common pattern. Thus, van den Berghe reports: 

Only about one tenth of the ‘negro’ population of the United States was free in 1860. A greatly disproportionate number of them were mulattoes, and, thus, presumably often blood relatives of the master who emancipated them or their ancestors. The only other slaves who were regularly were old people past productive and reproductive age, so as to avoid the cost of feeding the aged and infirm” (p129). 

Yet this made the continuance of slavery almost impossible, because each new generation more and more slaves would be freed.  

Other slave systems got around this problem by continually capturing or importing new slaves in order to replenish the slave population. However, this option was denied to American slaveholders by the abolition of the slave trade in 1807

Instead, the Americans were unique in attempting to ‘breed’ slaves. This leads van den Berghe to conclude that: 

By making the slave woman widely available to her master…Western slavery thus literally contained the genetic seeds of its own destruction” (p134).[28]

Synthesising Marxism and Sociobiology 

Given the potential appeal of his theory to nationalists, and even to racialists, it is perhaps surprising that van den Berghe draws heavily on Marxist theory. Although Marxists were almost unanimously hostile to sociobiology, sociobiologists frequently emphasized the potential compatibility of Marxist theory and sociobiology (e.g. The Evolution of Human Sociality). 

However, van den Berghe remains, to my knowledge, the only figure (except myself) to actually successfully synthesize sociobiology and Marxism in order to produce novel theory.  

Thus, for example, he argues that, in almost every society in existence, class exploitation is disguised by an ideology (in the Marxist sense) that disguises exploitation as either: 

1) Kin-selected nepotistic altruism – e.g. the king or dictator is portrayed as benevolent ‘father’ of the nation; or
2) Mutually beneficial reciprocity – i.e. social contract theory or democracy (p60). 

However, contrary to orthodox Marxist theory, van den Berghe regards ethnic sentiments as more fundamental than class loyalty since, whereas the latter is “dependent on a commonality of interests”, the former is often “irrational” (p243). 

Nationalist conflicts are among the most intractable and unamenable to reason and compromise… It seems a great many people care passionately whether they are ruled and exploited by members of their own ethny or foreigners” (p62). 

In short, van den Berghe concludes: 

Blood runs thicker than money” (p243). 

Another difference is that, whereas Marxists view control over the so-called means of production (i.e. the means necessary to produce goods for sale) as the ultimate factor determining exploitation and conflict in human societies, Darwinians instead focus on conflict over access to what I have termed the means of reproduction – in other words, the means necessary to produce offspring (i.e. fertile females, their wombs and vaginas etc.). 

This is because, from a Darwinian perspective: 

The ultimate measure of human success is not production but reproduction. Economic productivity and profit are means to reproductive ends, not ends in themselves” (p165). 

Thus, unlike his contemporary Darwin, Karl Marx was, for all his ostensible radicalism, in his emphasis on economics rather than sex, just another Victorian sexual prude.[29]

Mating, Miscegenation and Intermarriage 

Given that reproduction, not production, is the ultimate focus of individual and societal conflict and competition, van den Berghe argues that ultimately questions of equality, inequality and assimilation must be also determined by reproductive, not economic, criteria. 

Thus, he concludes, intermarriage, especially if it occurs, not only frequently, but also in both directions (i.e. involves both males and females of both ethnicities, rather than always involving males of one ethnic group, usually the dominant ethnic group, taking females of the other ethnic group, usually the subordinate group, as wives), is the ultimate measure of racial equality and assimilation: 

Marriage, especially if it happens in both directions, that is with both men and women of both groups marrying out, is probably the best measure of assimilation” (p218). 

In contrast, however, he also emphasizes that mere “concubinage is frequent [even] in the absence of assimilation” (p218). 

Moreover, such concubinage invariably involves males of the dominant-group taking females from the subordinate-group as concubines, whereas dominant-group females are invariably off-limits as sexual partners for subordinate group males. 

Thus, van den Berghe observes, although “dominant group men, whether racist or not, are seldom reluctant to maximize their fitness with subordinate-group women”, they nevertheless are jealously protective of their own women and enforce strict double-standards (p33). 

For example, historian Wynn Craig Wade, in his history of the Ku Klux Klan (which I have reviewed here), writes: 

In [antebellum] Southern white culture, the female was placed on a pedestal where she was inaccessible to blacks and a guarantee of purity of the white race. The black race, however, was completely vulnerable to miscegenation.” (The Fiery Cross: p20). 

The result, van den Berghe reports, is that: 

The subordinate group in an ethnic hierarchy invariably ‘loses’ more women to males of the dominant group than vice versa” (p75). 

Indeed, this same pattern is even apparent in the DNA of contemporary populations. Thus, geneticist James Watson reports that, whereas the mitochondrial DNA of contemporary Columbians, which is passed down the female line, shows a “range of Amerindian MtDNA types”, the Y-chromosomes of these same Colombians, are 94% European. This leads him to conclude: 

The virtual absence of Amerindian Y chromosome types, reveals the tragic story of colonial genocide: indigenous men were eliminated while local women were sexually ‘assimilated’ by the conquistadors” (DNA: The Secret of Life: p257). 

As van den Berghe himself observes: 

It is no accident that military conquest is so often accompanied by the killing, enslavement and castration of males, and the raping and capturing of females” (p75). 

This, of course, reflects the fact that, in Darwinian terms, the ultimate purpose of power is to maximize reproductive success

However, while the ethnic group as a whole inevitably suffers a diminution in its fitness, there is a decided gender imbalance in who bears the brunt of this loss. 

The men of the subordinate group are always the losers and therefore always have a reproductive interest in overthrowing the system. The women of the subordinate group, however frequently have the option of being reproductively successful with dominant-group males” (p27). 

Indeed, subordinate-group females are not only able, and sometimes forced, to mate with dominant-group males, but, in purely fitness terms, they may even benefit from such an arrangement.  

Hypergamy (mating upward for women) is a fitness enhancing strategy for women, and, therefore, subordinate-group women do not always resist being ‘taken over’ by dominant-group men” (p75). 

This is because, by so doing, they thereby obtain access to both the greater resources that dominant group males are able to provide in return for sexual access or as provisioning for their offspring, as well as the superior’ genes which facilitated the conquest in the first place. 

Thus, throughout history, women and girls have been altogether too willing to consort and intermarry with their conquerors. 

The result of this gender imbalance in the consequences of conquest and subjugation, is, a lack of solidarity as between men and women of the subjugated group. 

This sex asymmetry in fitness strategies in ethnically stratified societies often creates tension between the sexes within subordinate groups. The female option of fitness maximization through hypergamy is deeply resented by subordinate group males” (p76). 

Indeed, even captured females who were enslaved by their conquerers sometimes did surprisingly well out of this arrangement, at least if they were young and beautiful, and hence lucky enough to be recruited into the harem of a king, emperor or other powerful male.

One slave captured in Eastern Europe even went on to become effective queen of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power. Hurrem Sultan, as she came to be known, was, of course, exceptional, but only in degree. Members of royal harems may have been secluded, but they also lived in some luxury.

Indeed, even in puritanical North America, where concubinage was very much frownded upon, van den Berghe reports that “slavery was much tougher on men than on women”, since: 

Slavery drastically reduced the fitness of male slaves; it had little or no such adverse effect on the fitness of female slaves whose masters had a double interest – financial and genetic – in having them reproduce at maximum capacity” (p133) 

Van den Berghe even tentatively ventures: 

It is perhaps not far-fetched to suggest that, even today, much of the ambivalence in relations between black men and women in America… has its roots in the highly asymmetrical mating system of the slave plantation” (p133).[30]

Miscegenation and Intermarriage in Modern America 

Yet, curiously, however, patterns of interracial dating in contemporary America are anomalous – at least if we believe the pervasive myth that America is a ‘systemically racist’ society where black people are still oppressed and discriminated against

On the one hand, genetic data confirms that, historically, matings between white men and black women were more frequent than the reverse, since African-American mitochondrial DNA, passed down the female line, is overwhelmingly African in origin, whereas their Y chromosomes, passed down the male line, are often European in origin (Lind et al 2007). 

However, recent census data suggests that this pattern is now reversed. Thus, black men are now about two and a half times as likely to marry white women as black women are to marry white men (Fryer 2007; see also Sailer 1997). 

This seemingly suggests white American males are actually losing out in reproductive competition to black males. 

This observation led controversial behavioural geneticist Glayde Whitney to claim: 

By many traditional anthropological criteria African-Americans are now one of the dominant social groups in America – at least they are dominant over whites. There is a tremendous and continuing transfer of property, land and women from the subordinate race to the dominant race” (Whitney 1999: p95). 

However, this conclusion is difficult to square with the continued disproportionate economic deprivation of much of black America. In short, African-Americans may be reproductively successful, and perhaps even, in some respects, socially privileged, but, despite benefiting from systematic discrimination in employment and admission to institutions of higher education, they are clearly also, on average, economically much worse-off as compared to whites and Asians in modern America.  

Instead, perhaps the beginnings of an explanation for this paradox can be sought in van den Berghe’s own later collaboration with anthropologist, and HBD blogger, Peter Frost

Here, in a co-authored paper, van den Berghe and Frost argue that, across cultures, there is a general sexual preference for females with somewhat lighter complexion than the group average (van den Berghe and Frost 1986). 

However, as Frost explains in a more recent work, Fair Women, Dark Men: The Forgotten Roots of Racial Prejudice, preferences with regard to male complexion are more ambivalent (see also Feinman & Gill 1977). 

Thus, whereas, according to the title of a novel, two films and a hit Broadway musical, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (who also reputedly, and perhaps as a consequence, have more fun), the idealized male romantic partner is instead tall, dark and handsome

In subsequent work, Frost argues that ecological conditions in sub-Saharan Africa permitted high levels of polygyny, because women were economically self-supporting, and this increased the intensity of selection for traits (e.g. increased muscularity, masculinity, athleticism and perhaps outgoing, sexually-aggressive personalities) which enhance the ability of African-descended males to compete for mates and attract females (Frost 2008). 

In contrast, Frost argues that there was greater selection for female attractiveness (and perhaps female chastity) in areas such as Northern Europe and Northeast Asia, where, to successfully reproduce, women were required to attract a male willing to provision them during cold winters throughout their gestation, lactation and beyond (Frost 2008). 

This then suggests that African males have simply evolved to be, on average, more attractive to women, whereas European and Asian females have evolved to be more attractive to men. 

This speculation is supported by a couple of recent studies of facial attractiveness, which found that black male faces were rated as most attractive to members of the opposite sex, but that, for female faces, the pattern was reversed (Lewis 2011; Lewis 2012). 

These findings could also go some way towards explaining patterns of interracial dating in the contemporary west (Lewis 2012). 

The Most Explosive Aspect of Interethnic Relations” 

However, such an explanation is likely to be popular neither with racialists, for whom miscegenation is anathema, nor with racial egalitarians, for whom, as a matter of sacrosanct dogma, all races must be equal in all things, even aesthetics and sex appeal.[31]

Thus, when evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa made a similar claim in 2011 in a blog post (since deleted), outrage predictably ensued, the post was swiftly deleted, his then-blog dropped by its host, Psychology Today, and the author reprimanded by his employer, the London School of Economics, and forbidden from writing any blog or non-scholarly publications for a whole year. 

Yet all of this occurred within a year of the publication of the two papers cited above that largely corroborated Kanazawa’s finding (Lewis 2011; Lewis 2012). 

Yet such a reaction is, in fact, little surprise. As van den Berghe points out: 

It is no accident that the most explosive aspect of interethnic relations is sexual contact across ethnic (or racial) lines” (p75). 

After all, from a sociobiological perspective, competition over reproductive access to fertile females is Darwinian conflict in its most direct and primordial form

Van den Berghe’s claim that interethnic sexual contact is “the most explosive aspect” of interethnic relations also has support from the history of racial conflict in the USA and elsewhere. 

The spectre of interracial sexual contact, real or imagined, has motivated several of the most notorious racially-motivated ‘hate-crimes’ of American history, from the torture-murder of Emmett Till for allegedly propositioning a white woman, to the various atrocities of the reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan in defence of the ostensible virtue of ‘white womanhood, to the recent Charleston church shooting, ostensibly committed in revenge for the allegedly disproportionate rate of rape of white women by black man.[32]

Meanwhile, interracial sexual relations are also implicated in some of American history’s most infamous alleged miscarriages of justice, from the Scottsboro Boys and Groveland Four cases, and the more recent Central Park jogger case, all of which involved allegations of interracial rape, to the comparatively trivial conduct alleged, but by no means trivial punishment imposed, in the so-called Monroe ‘kissing case

Allegations of interracial rape also seem to be the most common precursor of full-blown race riots

Thus, in early-twentieth century America, the race riots in Springfield, Illinois in 1908, in Omaha, Nebraska in 1919, in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 and in Rosewood, Florida in 1923 were all ignited, at least in part, by allegations of interracial rape or sexual assault

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, multi-racial Britain’s first modern post-war race riot, the 1958 Notting Hill riot in London 1958, began with a public argument between an interracial couple, when white passers-by joined in on the side of the white woman against her black Jamaican husband (and pimp) before turning on them both. 

Meanwhile, Britain’s most recent unambiguous race riot, the 2005 Birmingham riot, an entirely non-white affair, was ignited by the allegation that a black girl had been gang-raped by South Asians.

Meanwhile, at least in the west, whites no longer seem participate in race riots, save as victims. However, an exception was the 2005 Cronulla riots in Sydney, Australia, which were ignited by the allegation that Middle Eastern males were sexually harassing white Australian girls on Sydney beaches. 

Similarly, in Britain, though riots have yet to result, the spectre of so-called Muslim grooming gangs, preying on, and pimping out, underage white British girls in northern towns across the England, has arguably done more to ignite anti-Muslim sentiment among whites in the UK than a whole series of Jihadist terrorist attacks on British civilian targets

Thus, in Race: The Reality of Human Differences (which I have reviewed here, here and here) Sarich and Miele caution that miscegenation, often touted as the universal panacea to racism simply because, if practiced sufficiently widely, it would eventually eliminate all racial differences, or at least blur the lines between racial groups, may actually, at least in the short-term, actually incite racist attacks. 

This, they argue, is because: 

Viewed from the racial solidarist perspective, intermarriage is an act of race war. Every ovum that is impregnated by the sperm of a member of a different race is one less of that precious commodity to be impregnated by a member of its own race and thereby ensure its survival” (Race: The Reality of Human Differences: p256) 

This “racial solidarist perspective” is, of course, a crudely group selectionist view of Darwinian competition, and it leads Sarich and Miele to hypothesize: 

Paradoxically, intermarriage, particularly of females of the majority group with males of a minority group, is the factor most likely to cause some extremist terrorist group to feel the need to launch such an attack” (Race: The Reality of Human Differences: p255). 

In other words, in sociobiological terms, ‘Robert’, a character from one of Michel Houellebecq’s novels, has it right when he claims: 

What is really at stake in racial struggles… is neither economic nor cultural, it is brutal and biological: It is competition for the cunts of young women” (Platform: p82). 


[1] Actually, however, contrary to Brigandt’s critique, it is clear that van den Berghe intended his “biological golden rule” only as a catchy and memorable aphorism, crudely summarizing Hamilton’s rule, rather than a quantitative scientific law akin to, or rivalling, Hamilton’s Rule itself. Therefore, this aspect of Brigandt’s critique is, in my view, misplaced. Indeed, it is difficult to see how this supposed rule could be applied as a quantitative scientific law, since relatedness, on the one hand, and altruism, on the other, are measured in different currencies. 

[2] Thus, van den Berghe concedes that: 

In many cases, the common descent acribed to an ethny is fictive. In fact, in most cases, it is partly fictive” (p27). 

[3] The question of racial nationalism (i.e. encompassing all members of a given race, not just those of a single ethnicity or language group) is actually more complex. Certainly, members of the same race do indeed share some degree of kinship, in so far as they are indeed (almost by definition) on average more closely biologically related to one another than to members of other races – and indeed that relatedness is obviously apparent in their phenotypic resemblance to one another. This suggests that racial nationalist movements such as that of, say, UNIA or of the Japanese imperialists, might have more potential as a viable form of nationalism than do attempts to unite racially disparate ethnicities, such as civic nationalism in the contemporary USA. The same may also be true of Oswald Mosley’s Europe a Nation campaign, at least while Europe remained primarily monoracial (i.e. white). However, any such racial nationalism would incorporate a far larger and more culturally, linguistically and genetically disparate group than any form of nationalism that has previously proven capable of mobilizing support.
Thus, Marcus Garvey’s attempt to create a kind of pan-African ethnic identity enjoyed little success and was largely restricted to North America, where African-Americans, do indeed share a common language and culture in addition to their race. Similarly, the efforts of Japanese nationalists to mobilize a kind of pan-Asian nationalism in support of their imperial aspirations during the first half of the twentieth century was an unmitigated failure, though this was partly because of the brutality with which they conquered and suppressed the other Asian nationalities whose support for pan-Asianism they intermittently and half-heartedly sought to enlist.
On the other hand, it is sometimes suggested that, in the early twentieth century, a white supremacist ideology was largely taken for granted among whites. However, while to some extent true, this shared ideology of white supremacism did not prevent the untold devastation wrought by the European wars of the early twentieth century, namely World Wars I and II, which Patrick Buchanan has collectively termed The Great Civil War of the West.
Thus, European nationalisms usually defined themselves by opposition to other European peoples and powers. Thus, just as Irish nationalism is defined largely by opposition to Britain, and Scottish nationalism by opposition to England, so English (and British) nationalism has itself traditionally been directed against rival European powers such as France and Germany (and formerly Spain), while French nationalism seems to have defined itself primarily in opposition to the Germans and the British, and German nationalism in opposition to the French and Slavs, etc.
It is true that, in the USA, a kind of pan-white American nationalism did seem to prevail in the early twentieth century, albeit initially limited to white protestants, and excluding at least some recent European immigrants (e.g. Italians, Jews). This is, however, a consequence of the so-called melting pot, and really only amounts to yet another parochial nationalism, namely that of a newly-formed ethnic group – white Americans.
At any rate, today white American nationalism is, at most, decidedly muted in form – a kind of implicit white racial consciousness, or, to coin a phrase, the nationalism that dare not speak its name. Thus, Van den Berghe observes: 

In the United States, the whites are an overwhelming majority, so much so that they cannot be meaningfully conceived of as a ruling group at all. The label ‘white’ in the United States does not correspond to a well-defined ethnic or racial group with a high degree of social organization or even self-consciousness, except regionally in the south” (p183). 

Van den Berghe wrote this in 1981. Today, of course, whites are no longer such an “overwhelming majority” of the US population. On the contrary, they are already well on the way to becoming a minority in America, a milestone that is likely to be reached over the coming decades.
Yet, curiously, white ‘racially consciousness’ is seemingly even more muted and implicit today than it was back when van den Berghe authored his book – and this is seen even in the South, which van den Berghe cited as an exception and lone bastion of white identity politics.
True, White Southerners may vote as a solidly for Republican candidates as they once did for the Democrats. However, overt appeals to white racial interests are now as anathema in the South as elsewhere.
Thus, as recently as 1990, a more or less open white racialist like David Duke was able to win a majority of the white vote in Louisiana in his run for the Senate. Today, this is unimaginable.
If the reason that whites lack any ‘racial consciousness’ is indeed, as van den Berghe claims, because they represent such an “overwhelming majority” of the American population, then it is interesting to speculate if and when, during the ongoing process of white demographic displacement, this will cease to be the case.
One thing seems certain: If and when it does ever occur, it will be too late to make any difference to the ongoing process of demographic displacement that some have termed ‘The Great Replacement’ or a third demographic transition.

[4] Of course, a preference for those who look similar to oneself (or one’s other relatives) may itself function as a form of kin recognition (i.e. of recognizing who is kin and who is not). This is referred to in biology as phenotype matching. Moreover, as Richard Dawkins has speculated in The Selfish Gene (reviewed here), racial could conceivably have evolved through a misfiring of such a crude heuristic (The Selfish Gene: p100).

[5] Actually, I suspect that, on average, at least historically, both mothers and fathers may indeed, on average, have provided rather less care for their mixed-race offspring than for offspring of the same race as themselves, simply because mixed-race offspring were more likely to be born out of wedlock, not least because interracial marriage was, until recently, strongly frowned upon, and both mothers and fathers tended to provide less care for illegitimate offspring, fathers because they often refused to acknowledge their illegitimate offspring and had little or no contact with them, and mothers because, lacking paternal support, they usually had no means of raising their illegitimate offspring alone and hence often gave them up for adoption or fostering.

[6] On the other hand, in his paper, ‘An integrated evolutionary perspective on ethnicity’, controversial evolutionary psychologist Kevin Macdonald disagrees with this conclusion, citing personal communication from geneticist and anthropologist Henry Harpending for the argument that: 

Long distance migrations have easily occurred on foot and over several generations, bringing people who look different for genetic reasons into contact with each other. Examples include the Bantu in South Africa living close to the Khoisans, or the pygmies living close to non-pygmies. The various groups in Rwanda and Burundi look quite different and came into contact with each other on foot. Harpending notes that it is ‘very likely’ that such encounters between peoples who look different for genetic reasons have been common for the last 40,000 years of human history; the view that humans were mostly sessile and living at a static carrying capacity is contradicted by history and by archaeology. Harpending points instead to ‘starbursts of population expansion.’ For example, the Inuits settled in the arctic and exterminated the Dorsets within a few hundred years; the Bantu expansion into central and southern Africa happened in a millennium or less, prior to which Africa was mostly the yellow (i.e., Khoisan) continent, not the black continent. Other examples include the Han expansion in China, the Numic expansion in northern America, the Zulu expansion in southern Africa during the last few centuries, and the present day expansion of the Yanomamo in South America. There has also been a long history of invasions of Europe from the east. ‘In the starburst world people would have had plenty of contact with very different looking people‘” (Macdonald 2001: p70). 

[7] Others have argued that the differences between Tutsi and Hutu are indeed largely a western creation, part of the divide and rule strategy supposedly deliberately employed by European colonialists, as well as a theory of Tutsi racial superiority promulgated by European racial anthropologists known as the Hamitic theory of Tutsi origins, which suggested that the Tutsi had migrated from the Horn of Africa, and had benefited from Caucasoid ancestry, as reflected in their supposed physiological differences from the indigenous Hutu (e.g. lighter complexions, greater height, narrower noses).
On this view, the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi was originally primarily socioeconomic rather than racial, and, at least formerly, the boundaries between the two groups were quite fluid.
I suspect this view is nonsense, reflecting political correctness and the leftist tendency to excuse any evidence of dysfunction or oppression in non-Western cultures as necessarily of product of the malign influence of western colonizers. (Most preposterously, even the Indian caste system has been blamed on British colonizers, although it actually predated them, in one form or another, by several thousand years.)
With respect to the division between Tutsi and Hutu, there are not only morphological differences between the two groups in average stature, nose width and complexion, but also substantial differences in the prevalence of genes for lactose tolerance and sickle-cell. These results do indeed seem to suggest that, as predicted by the reviled ‘Hamitic theory’, the Tutsi do indeed have affinities with populations from the Horn of Africa and East Africa. Modern genome analysis tends to confirm this conclusion. 

[8] Exceptions, where immigrant groups retain their distinctive language for multiple generations, occur where immigrants speaking a particular language arrive in sufficient numbers, and are sufficiently isolated in ethnic enclaves and ghettos, that they mix primarily or exclusively with people speaking the same language as themselves. A related exception is in respect of economically, politically or socially dominant minorities, such as alien colonizers, as well as market-dominant or middleman minorities, who often resist assimilation into the mainstream culture precisely so as to maintain their cultural separateness and hence their privileged position within society, and who also, partly for this reason, take steps to socialize, and ensure their offspring socialize, primarily among their own group. 

[9] Some German-Americans were also interred during World War II. However, far fewer were interred than among Japanese-Americans, especially on a per capita basis.
Nevertheless, some German-Americans were treated very badly indeed, yet the latter, unlike the Japanese, have yet to receive a government apology or compensation. Moreover, there was perhaps justification for the differing treatment accorded Japanese- and German-Americans, since the latter were generally longer established and more integrated, and there was perceived to be a real threat of enemy sabotage.
Also, with regard to van den Berghe’s observation that nuclear atomic weapons were used only against Japan, they could not have been used against Germany, since, by the time of the first test detonation of a nuclear device, Germany had already surrendered. In fact, the Manhattan Project seems to have been begun with the Germans very much in mind as a prospective target. (Many of the scientists involved were Jewish, many having fled Nazi-occupied Europe for America, and hence their hostility towards the Nazis, and perhaps Germans in general, is easy to understand.)
Whether it is true that, as van den Berghe claims, atomic bombs were never actually likely to be “dropped over, say, Stuttgart or Dortmund” is a matter of supposition. Certainly, there were great animosity towards the Germans in America, as illustrated by the Morgenthau Plan, which, although ultimately never put into practice, was initially highly influential in directing US policy in Europe and even supported by President Roosevelt.
On the other hand, Roosevelt’s references to ‘the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Japanese’ might simply reflect the fact that there was no obvious name for the faction or regime in control of Japan during the Second World War, since, unlike in Germany and Italy, no named political party had seized power. I am therefore unconvinced that a great deal can necessarily be read into this.

[10] This was especially so in historical times, before the development of improved technologies of long-distance transportation (ships, aeroplanes) enabled more distantly related populations to come into contact, and hence conflict with one another (e.g. blacks and whites in the USA and South Africa, South Asians and English in the UK or the British Raj). Thus, the ancient Indian treatise on statecraft and strategy, Arthashastra, observed that a ruler’s natural enemies are his immediate neighbours, whereas his next-but-one neighbours, being immediate neighbours of his own immediate neighbours, are his natural allies. This is sometimes credited as the origin of the famous aphorism, The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

[11]  The idea that neighbouring groups tend to be in conflict with one another precisely because, being neighbours, they are also in close contact, and hence competition, with one another, ironically posits almost the exact opposite relationship between ‘contact’ and intergroup relations than that posited by the famous contact theory of mid-twentieth psychology, which posited that increased contact between members of different racial and ethnic groups would lead to reduced prejudice and animosity.
This, of course, depends, at least partly, on the nature of the ‘contact’ in question. Contact that involves territorial rivalry, economic competition and war, obviously exacerbates conflict and animosity. In contrast, proponents of contact theory typically had in mind personal contact, rather than, say, the sort of impersonal, but often deadly, contact that occurs between rival belligerent combatants in wartime.
In fact, however, even at the personal level, contact can take many different forms, and often functions to increase inter-ethnic animosity. Hence the famous proverb, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.
Indeed, social psychologists now concede that only ‘positive’ interactions with members with members of other groups (e.g. friendship, cooperation, acts of altruism, mutually beneficial trade) reduces animosity and conflict.
In contrast, negative interactions (e.g. being robbed, mugged or attacked by members of another group) only serves to reinforce, exacerbate, or indeed create intergroup animosity. This, of course, reduces the contact hypothesis to little more than common sense – positive experiences with a given group lead to positive perceptions of that group; negative interactions to negative perceptions.
This in turn suggests that stereotypes are often based on real experiences and therefore tend to be true – if not of all individuals, then at least at the statistical, aggregate group level.
I would add that, anecdotally, even positive interactions with members of disdained outgroups do not always shift perceptions regarded the disdained outgroup as a whole. Instead, the individuals with whom one enjoys positive interactions, and even friendships, are often seen as exceptions to the rule (‘one of the good ones’), rather than representative of the demographic to which they belong. Hence the familiar phenomenon of even virulent racists having friendships and sometimes even heroes among members of races whom they generally otherwise disdain. 

[12] However, Van den Berghe acknowledges that racially diverse societies have lived in “relative harmony” in places such as Latin America, where government gives no formal political recognition to racial groups (e.g. racial preferences and quotas for members of certain races) and where the latter do not organize on a racial basis, such that government is, in van den Berghe’s terminology, “non-racial” rather than “multiracial” (p190). However, this is perhaps a naïvely benign view of race relations in Latin American countries such as Brazil, which is, despite the fluidity of racial identity and lack of clear dividing lines between races, nevertheless now viewed by most social scientists, not so much the model racial democracy, so much as a racially-stratified pigmentocracy , where skin tone correlates with social status. It is also arguably an outdated view of race relations in Latin America, because, perhaps due to indirect cultural and political influence emanating from the USA, ethnic groups in much of Latin America (e.g. blacks in Brazil, indigenous populations in Bolivia) increasingly do organize and agitate on a racial basis.

[13] I am careful here not to refer to refer the dominant culture as that of either a ‘host population’ or a ‘majority population’, or the subordinate group as a ‘minority group’ or an incoming group of migrants. This is because sometimes newly-arrived settlers successfully assimilate the indigenous populations among whom they settle, and sometimes it is the majority group who ultimately assimilate to the norms and culture of the minority. Thus, for example, the Anglo-Saxons imposed their Germanic language on the indigenous inhabitants of what is today England, and indeed ultimately most of the inhabitants of Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well, even though they likely never represented a majority of the population even in England, and may have made only a comparatively modest contribution to the ancestry of the people whom we today call ‘English’.

[14] Interestingly, and no doubt controversially, Van den Berghe argues that blacks in the USA do not have any distinctive cultural traits that distinguish them from the white American mainstream, and that their successful assimilation has been prevented only by the fact that, until very recently, whites have refused to ‘assimilate’ them. He is particularly skeptical regarding the notion of any cultural inheritances from Africa, dismissing “the romantic search for survivals of African Culture” as “elusive” (p177).
Indeed, for van den Berghe, the whole notion of a distinct African-American culture is “largely ideological and romantic” (p177). “Afro-Americans are,” he argues, “culturally ‘Anglo-Saxon’” and hence paradoxically ”as Anglo as anyone… in America” (p177). He concludes:

The case for ‘black culture’ rests… largely on the northern ghetto lumpenproletariat, a class which has no direct counterpart. Even in that group, however, much of the distinctiveness is traceable to their southern, rural origins” (p177). 

This reference to “southern rural origins” anticipates Thomas Sowell’s later black redneck hypothesis. Certainly, many aspects of black culture, such as dialect (e.g. the use of terms such as y’all and ain’t and the pronunciation of ‘whores’ as ‘hoes’) and stereotypical fondness for fried chicken, are obvious inheritances from Southern culture rather than distinctively black, let alone an inheritance from Africa. Thus, van den Berghe observes:

Ghetto lumpenproletariat blacks in Chicago, Detroit and New York may seem to have a distinct subculture of their own compared collectively to their white neighbors, but the black Mississippi sharecropper is not very different, except for his skin pigment, from his white counterparts” (p177). 

Any remaining differences not attributable to their Southern origins are, van den Berghe claims, not “African survivals, but adaptation to stigma” (p177). Here, van den Berghe perhaps has in mind the inverse morality, celebration of criminality, and bad nigger’ archetype prevalent in, for example, gangsta rap music. Thus, van den Berghe concludes that: 

Afro-Americans owe their distinctiveness overwhelmingly to the fact that they have been first enslaved and then stigmatized as a pariah group. They lack a territorial base, the necessary economic, and political resources and the cultural and linguistic pluralism ever to constitute a successful nation. Their pluralism is strictly a structural pluralism inflicted on them by racism. A stigma is hardly an adequate basis for successful nationalism” (p184). 

[15] Thus, Elizabeth Warren was a law professor who became a Democratic Party Senator and Presidential candidate, and had described herself as ‘American Indian, and been cited by her University employers as an ethnic minority, in order to benefit from informal affirmative action, despite having only a very small amount of Native American ancestry. Krug and Dolezal, meanwhile, taking advantage of the one drop rule, both identified as African-American, Krug, a history professor and leftist activist, taking advantage of her Middle-Eastern appearance, itself likely a reflection of her Jewish ancestry. Dolezal, however, was formerly a white, blonde girl, but, through the simple expedient of getting a perm and tan, managed to become an adjunct professor of black studies at a local university and local chapter president of the NAACP in an overwhelmingly white town and state. Whoever said blondes have more fun? 

[16] It has even given rise to a popular new hairstyle among young white males attempting to escape the stigma of whiteness by adopting a racially ambiguous appearance – the mulatto perm

[17] Interestingly, the examples cited by Paddy Hannam in his piece on the phenomenon, The rise of the race fakers also seem to have been female (Hannam 2021). Steve Sailer wisely counsels caution with regard to the findings of this study, noting that anyone willing to lie about their ethnicity on their college application, is also likely even more willing to lie in an anonymous survey (Sailer 2021 ; see also Hood 2007). 

[18] Actually, the Northern Ireland settlement is often classed as centripetalist rather than consociationalist. However, the distinction is minimal, with the former arrangement representing a modification of the latter designed to encourage cross-community cooperation, and prevent, or at least mitigate, the institutionalization and ossification of the ethnic divide that is perceived to occur under consociationalism, where constitutional recognition is accorded to the divide between the two (or more) communities. There is, however, little evidence that centripetalism have ever actually been successful in encouraging cross-community cooperation, beyond what is necessitated by the consitutional system, let alone encouraging assimilation of the rival communities and the depoliticization of ethnic identity. 

[19] The reason for the difference in the attitudes of leftists and liberals towards majority-rule in Northern Ireland and South Africa respectively seems to reflect the fact that, whereas in Northern Ireland, the majority protestant population were perceived of as the dominant oppressor’ group, the black majority in South Africa were perceived of as oppressed.
However, it is hard to see why this would mean black majority-rule in South Africa would be any less oppressive of South Africa’s white, coloured, and Asian minorities than Protestant majority rule had been of Catholics in Ulster. On the contrary, precisely because the black majority in South Africa perceive themselves as having been ‘oppressed’ in the past, they are likely to be especially vengeful and feel justified in seeking recompense for their earlier perceived oppression. This indeed seems to be what is occurring in South Africa, and Zimbabwe, today. 
Interestingly, van den Berghe, writing in 1981 was wisely prophetic regarding the long-term prospects for both apartheid – and for white South Africans. Thus, on the one hand he predicted: 

Past experience with decolonization elsewhere in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe (which is in almost every respect a miniature version of South Africa) seems to indicate that the end of white domination is in sight. The only question is whether it will take the form of a prolonged civil war, a negotiated partition or a frantic white exodus. The odds favor, I think, a long escalating war of attrition accompanied by a gradual economic winddown and a growing white emigration” (p174). 

Thus, van den Berghe was right in so far as he predicted the looming end of the apartheid system – though hardly unique in making this prediction. However, he was wrong in his predictions as to how this end would come about. On the other hand, however, with ongoing farm murders and the overtly genocidal rhetoric of populist politicians like Julius Malema, van den Berghe was probably right regarding the long-term prognosis of the white community in South Africa when he observed: 

Five million whites perched precariously at the tip of a continent inhabited by 400 millions blacks, with no friends in sight. No matter what happens whites will lose heavily, perhaps their very lives, or at least their place in the African sun that they love so much” (p172). 

However, perhaps surprisingly, van den Berghe denies that apartheid was entirely a failure: 

Although apartheid failed in the end, it was a rational course for the Afrikaners to take, given their collective aims, and probably did postpone the day of reckoning by about 30 years” (p174).

[20] The only other polity that perhaps has a competing claim to representing the world’s model consociationalist democracy is Switzerland. However, van den Berghe emphasizes that Switzerland is very much a special case, the secret of its success being that:

Switzerland is one of those rare multiethnic states that did not originate either in conquest or in the breakdown of multinational empires” (p194).

It managed to avoid conquest by its richer and more powerful neighbours simply because:

The Swiss had the dual advantage in resisting outside conquest: favorable terrain and lack of natural resources” (p194)

Also, it provided valuable services to these neighbours, first providing mercenaries to fight in their armed forces and later specialising in the manufacture of watches and what van den Berghe terms “the management of shady foreigners’ ill-gotten capital” (p194).
In reality, however, although divided linguistically and religiously, Switzerland does not, in van den Berghe’s constitute true consociationalism, since the country, with originated as confederation of fomerly independent hill tribes, remains highly decentralized, and power is shared, not by ethnic groups, but rather between regional cantons. Therefore, van den Berghe concludes:

The ethnic diversity of Switzerland is only incidental to the federalism, it does not constitute the basis for it” (p196-7).

In addition, most cantons, where much of the real power lies, are themselves relatively monoethnic and monoliguistic, at least as compared to the country as a whole.

[21] Indeed, since the Slavs of Eastern Europe were the last group in Europe to be converted to Christianity, and it was forbidden by Papal decree to enslave fellow-Christians or sell Christian slaves to non-Christians (i.e. Muslims, among whom there was a great demand for European slaves), Slavs were preferentially targeted by Christians for enslavement, and even those non-Slavic people who were enslaved or sold into bondage were often falsely described as Slavs in order to justify their enslavement and sale to Muslim slaveholders. The Slavs, for geographic reasons, were also vulnerable to capture and enslavement directly by the Muslims themselves.

[22] Although this review is based on the 1987 edition, The Ethnic Phenomenon was first published in 1981, whereas Orlando Peterson’s Slavery and Social Death came out just a year later in 1982.

[23] In the antebellum American South, much is made of the practice of slave-owners selling the spouses and offspring of their slaves to other masters, thereby breaking up families. On the basis of van den Berghe’s arguments, this might actually have represented an effective means of preventing slaves from putting down roots and developing families and slave communities, and might therefore have helped perpetuate the institution of slavery.
However, even assuming that such practices would indeed have had this effect, it is doubtful that there was any such deliberate long-term policy among slaveholders to break up families in this way. On the contrary, van den Berghe reports:  

It is not true that slave owners systematically broke up slave couples… On the contrary, it was in their interest to foster stable slave families for the sake of morale, and to discourage escape” (p133). 

Thus, though it certainly occurred and may indeed have been tragic where it did occur, slaveholders generally preferred to keep slave families intact, precisely because, in forming families, slaves would indeed ‘put down roots’ and hence be less likely to try to escape, lest, in the process, they would leave other family members behind to face the vengeance of their former owners alone and without any protection and support they might otherwise have been in a position to offer. The threat of breaking up families, however, surely remained a useful tool in the arsenal of slaveholders to maintain control over slaves. 

[24] While acknowledging, and indeed emphasizing, the virulence of western racialism, van den Berghe, bemoaning the intrusion of “moralism” (and, by extension, ethnomasochism) into scholarship, has little time for the notion that western slavery was intrinsically more malign than forms of slavery practised in other parts of the world or at other times in history (p116). This, he dismisses as “the guilt ascription game: whose slavery was worse?” (p128). Male slaves in the Islamic world, for example, were routinely castrated before being sold (p117). 
Thus, while it is true that slaves in the American South had unusually low rates of manumission (i.e. the granting of freedom to slaves), they also enjoyed surprisingly high standards of living, were well-fed and enjoyed long lives. Indeed, not only did slaves in the American South enjoy standards of living superior to those of most other slave populations, they even enjoyed, by some measures, higher standards of living than many non-slave populations, including industrial workers in Europe and the Northern United States, and poor white Southerners, during the same time period (The End of Racism: p88-91; see also Time on the Cross: the Economics of American Slavery). 
Ironically, living standards were so high for the very same reason that rates of manumission were so low – namely, slaves, especially after the abolition and suppression of the transatlantic slave-trade (but also even before then due to the costs of transportation during the middle passage) were an expensive commodity. Masters therefore fully intended to get their money’s worth out of their slaves, not only by rarely granting them their freedom, but also ensuring that they lived a long and healthy life.
In this endeavour, they were surprisingly successful. Thus, van den Berghe reports, in the fifty years that followed the prohibition on the import of new slaves into the USA in 1908, the black population of the USA nevertheless more than tripled (p128). In short, slaves may have been property, but they were valuable property – and slaveholders made every effort to protect their investment.
Ironically, therefore, indentured servants (themselves, in America, often white, and later, in Africa, usually South or East Asian) were, during the period of their indenture, often worked harder, and forced to live in worse conditions, than were actual slaves. This was because, since they were indentured for only a set number of years before they would be free, there was less incentive on the part of their owners to ensure that they lived a long and healthy life.   
Van den Berghe concludes: 

“The blanket ascription of collective racial guilt for slavery to ‘whites’ that is so dear to many liberal social scientists is itself a product of the racist mentality produced by slavery. It takes a racist to ascribe causality and guilt to racial categories” (p130). 

Indeed, as Dinesh D’Souza in The End of Racism, and Thomas Sowell in his essay ‘The Real History of Slavery’ included in the collection Black Rednecks and White Liberals, both emphasize, whereas all civilizations have practised slavery, what was unique about western civilization was that it was the first civilization ever known to have abolished slavery (at, as it ultimately turned out, no little economic cost to itself).
Therefore, even if liberals and leftists do insist that we play what van den Berghe disparagingly calls “the guilt ascription game”, then white westerners actually come out rather well in the comparison. 

[25] Indeed, in most cultures and throughout most of history, the use of female slaves as concubines was, not only widespread, but also perfectly socially acceptable. For example, in the Islamic world, the use of female slaves as concubines was entirely open and accepted, not only attracting literally no censure or criticism in the wider society or culture, but also receiving explicit prophetic sanction in the Quran. For this reason, in the Islamic world, females slaves tended to be in greater demand than males, and usually commanded a higher price.
In contrast, most slaves transported to the Americas were male, since males were more useful for hard, intensive agricultural labour and, in puritanical North America, sexual contact with between slaveholder and slave was very much frowned upon, even though it certainly occurred. Thus, van den Berghe cynically observes:  

Concubinage with slaves was somewhat more clandestine and hypocritical in the English and Dutch colonies than in the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies where it was brazen, but there is no evidence that the actual incidence of interbreeding was any higher in the Catholic countries” (p132). 

Partial corroboration for this claim is provided by historian Eugene Genovese, who, in his book Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, reports that, in New Orleans slave markets:

First-class blacksmiths were being sold for $2,500 and prime field hands for about $1,800, but a particularly beautiful girl or young woman might bring $5,000” (Roll, Jordan, Roll: p416).

[26] Actually, exploitation can still be an adaptive strategy, even in respect of close biological relatives. This depends of the precise relative gain and loss in fitness to both the exploiter (the slave owner) and his victim (the slave), and their respective coefficient of relatedness, in accordance with Hamilton’s rule. Thus, it is possible that a slaveholder’s genes may benefit more from continuing to exploit his slaves as slaves than by freeing them, even if the latter are also his kin. Possibly the best strategy will often be a compromise of, say, keeping your slave-kin in bondage, but treating them rather better than other non-related slaves, or freeing them after your death in your will. 
Of course, this is not to suggest that individual slaveholders consciously (or subconsciously) perform such a calculation, nor even that their actual behaviour is usually adaptive. Slaveholding is likely an ‘environmental novelty’ to which we are yet to have evolved adaptive responses

[27] Others suggest that Thomas Jefferson himself did not father any offspring with Sally Hemmings and that the more likely father is Jefferson’s wayward younger brother Randolph, who would, of course, share the same Y chromosome as his elder brother. For present purposes, this is not especially important, since, either way, Heming’s offspring would be blood relatives of Jefferson to some degree, hence likely influencing his decision to free them or permit them to escape.

[28] Quite how this destruction can be expected to have manifested itself is not spelt out by van den Berghe. Perhaps, with each passing generation, as slaves became more and more closely biologically related to their masters, more and more slaves would have been freed until there were simply no more left. Alternatively, perhaps, as slaves and slaveowners increasingly became biological kin to one another, the institution of slavery would gradually have become less oppressive and exploitative until ultimately it ceased to constitute true slavery at all. At any rate, in the Southern United States this (supposed) process was forestalled by the American Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, and neither does it appear to have occurred in Latin America.  

[29] Another area of conflict between Marxism and Darwinism is the assumption of the former that somehow all conflict and exploitation will end in a future posited communist utopia. Curiously, although healthily cynical about exploitation under Soviet-style communism (p60), van den Berghe describes himself as an anarchist (van den Berghe 2005). However, anarchism seems even more hopelessly utopian than communism, given humanity’s innate sociality and desire to exploit reproductive competitors. In short, a Hobbesian state of nature is surely no one’s utopia (except perhaps Ragnar Redbeard). 

[30] The idea that there is “ambivalence in relations between black men and women in America” seems anecdotally plausible, given, for example, the delightfully misogynistic lyrics found in much African-American rap music. However, it is difficult to see how this could be a legacy of the plantation era, when everyone alive today is several generations removed from that era and living in a very different sexual and racial milieu. Today, black men do rather better in the mating market place than do black women, with black men being much more likely to marry non-black women than black women are to marry non-black men, suggesting that black men have a larger dating pool from which to choose (Sailer 1997; Fryer 2007).
Moreover, black men and women in America today are, of course, the descendants of both men and women. Therefore, even if black women did have a better time of it that black men in the plantation era, how would black male resentment be passed down the generations to black men today, especially given that most black men are today raised primarily by their mothers in single-parent homes and often have little or no contact with their fathers?

[31] Indeed, being perceived as attractive, or at least not as ugly, seems to be rather more important to most women that does being perceived as intelligent. Therefore, the question of race differences in attractiveness is seemingly almost as controversial as that of race differences in intelligence. This, then, leads to the delightfully sexist Sailer’s first law of female journalism, which posits that: 

The most heartfelt articles by female journalists tend to be demands that social values be overturned in order that, Come the Revolution, the journalist herself will be considered hotter-looking.” 

[32] A popular alt-right meme has it that there are literally no white-on-black rapes. This is, of course, untrue, and reflects the misreading of a table in a US departnment of Justice report that actually involved only a small sample. In fact, the government does not currently release data on the prevalence of interracial rape. Nevertheless, the US Department of Justice report (mis)cited by some white nationalists does indeed suggest that black-on-white rape is much more common than white-on-black rape in the contemporary USA, a conclusion corroborated by copious other data (e.g. Lebeau 1985).
Thus, in his book Paved with Good Intentions, Jared Taylor reports:

“In a 1974 study in Denver, 40 percent of all rapes were of whites by blacks, and not one case of white-on-black-rape was found. In general, through the 1970s, black-on-white rape was at last ten times more common than white-on-black rape… In 1988 there were 9,406 cases of black-on-white rape and fewer than ten cases of white-on-black rape. Another researcher concludes that in 1989, blacks were three or four times more likely to commit rape than whites and that black men raped white women thirty times as often as white men raped black women” (Paved with Good Intentions: p93). 

Indeed, the authors of one recent textbook on criminology even claim that: 

“Some researchers have suggested, because of the frequency with which African Americans select white victims (about 55 percent of the time), it [rape] could be considered an interracial crime” (Criminology: A Global Perspective: p544). 

Similarly, in the US prison system, where male-male rape is endemic, such assaults disproportionately involve non-white assaults on white inmates, as discussed by the Human Rights Watch report, No Escape: Male Rape in US Prisons


Brigandt (2001) The homeopathy of kin selection: an evaluation of van den Berghe’s sociobiological approach to ethnicity. Politics and the Life Sciences 20: 203-215. 
Feinman & Gill (1977) Sex differences in physical attractiveness preferences, Journal of Social Psychology 105(1): 43-52. 
Frost (2008) Sexual selection and human geographic variation. Special Issue: Proceedings of the ND Annual Meeting of the Northeastern Evolutionary Psychology Society. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2(4): 169-191 
Fryer (2007) Guess Who’s Been Coming to Dinner? Trends in Interracial Marriage over the 20th Century, Journal of Economic Perspectives 21(2), pp. 71-90 
Hannam (2021) The rise of the race fakers. Spiked-Online.com, 5 November. 
Hamilton (1964) The genetical evolution of social behaviour I and II, Journal of Theoretical Biology 7:1-16,17-52. 
Hood (2017) The privilege no one wants, American Renaissance, December 11.
Johnson (1986) Kin selection, socialization and patriotism. Politics and the Life Sciences 4(2): 127-154. 
Johnson (1987) In the Name of the Fatherland: An Analysis of Kin Term Usage in Patriotic Speech and Literature. International Political Science Review 8(2): 165-174.
Johnson, Ratwik and Sawyer (1987) The evocative significance of kin terms in patriotic speech pp157-174 in Reynolds, Falger and Vine (eds) The Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism: Evolutionary Dimensions of Xenophobia, Discrimination, Racism, and Nationalism (London: Croom Helm). 
Lebeau (1985) Rape and Racial Patterns. Journal of Offender Counseling Services Rehabilitation, 9(1- 2): 125-148 
Lewis (2011) Who is the fairest of them all? Race, attractiveness and skin color sexual dimorphism. Personality & Individual Differences 50(2): 159-162. 
Lewis (2012) A Facial Attractiveness Account of Gender Asymmetries in Interracial Marriage PLoS One. 2012; 7(2): e31703. 
Lind et al (2007) Elevated male European and female African contributions to the genomes of African American individuals. Human Genetics 120(5) 713-722 
Macdonald 2001 An integrative evolutionary perspective on ethnicity. Poiltics & the Life Sciences 20(1):67-8. 
Rushton (1998a). Genetic similarity theory, ethnocentrism, and group selection. In I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt & F. K. Salter (Eds.), Indoctrinability, Warfare, and Ideology: Evolutionary perspectives (pp. 369-388). Oxford: Berghahn Books. 
Rushton (1998b). Genetic similarity theory and the roots of ethnic conflict. Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, 23, 477-486. 
Rushton, (2005) Ethnic Nationalism, Evolutionary Psychology and Genetic Similarity Theory, Nations and Nationalism 11(4): 489-507. 
Sailer (1997) Is love colorblind? National Review, July 14. 
Sailer (2021) Do 48% of White Male College Applicants Lie About Their Race? Interesting, if It Replicates. Unz Review, October 21. 
Salmon (1998) The Evocative Nature of Kin Terminology in Political Rhetoric. Politics & the Life Sciences, 17(1): 51-57.   
Salter (2000) A Defense and Extension of Pierre van den Berghe’s Theory of Ethnic Nepotism. In James, P. and Goetze, D. (Eds.)  Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Conflict (Praeger Studies on Ethnic and National Identities in Politics) (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press). 
Salter (2002) Estimating Ethnic Genetic Interests: Is It Adaptive to Resist Replacement Migration? Population & Environment 24(2): 111–140. 
Salter (2008) Misunderstandings of Kin Selection and the Delay in Quantifying Ethnic Kinship, Mankind Quarterly 48(3): 311–344. 
Tooby & Cosmides (1989) Kin selection, genic selection and information dependent strategies Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12(3): 542-544 
Van den Berghe (2005) Review of On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny and Humanity in the Age of Mass Migration by Frank Salter Nations and Nationalism 11(1) 161-177 
Van den Berghe & Frost (1986) Skin color preference, sexual dimorphism, and sexual selection: A case of gene-culture co-evolution? Ethnic and Racial Studies, 9: 87-113.
Whitney G (1999) The Biological Reality of Race. American Renaissance, October 1999.

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. 


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. 


Is Farrell, then, successful in rehabilitating Il Duce

Well, yes, up to a point – the point in question being the latter’s disastrous decision to ally with Germany during World War Two. 

Up until that point, Mussolini had been, at least by twentieth century Italian standards, a relatively successful ruler and, by contemporary international standards, a not especially repressive one. 

Of course, he had, with the aid of his infamous Blackshirt militia, more or less bullied his way into power. Indeed, contrary to popular perception, his rise to power had actually been rather more violent than that of Hitler in Germany, albeit with violence on all sides not just on the part of the Fascists. 

Yet, after he had come to power, Mussolini was not especially repressive or draconian. There were no Gulags or concentration camps in Italy (at least prior to World War II), nor any Night of the Long Knifes or Stalinist purges

Of course, Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia was indeed brutal. Here, indeed, concentration camps were employed, among other brutal and draconian measures. 

However, Italian rule in Ethiopia was surely no worse than what preceded it, namely the rule of Haile_Selassie, under whom slavery was still both lawful and widely practiced, despite repeated promises by successive Ethiopian rulers to prohibit and eradicate the practice.[1]

Moreover, Mussolini had a point when he charged Britain and France with hypocrisy for opposing Italian expansion in Africa despite their own vastly greater African colonial possessions, acquired only a few years earlier, sometimes with comparable brutality. 

For example, during the Boer War of 1899 to 1902, which was fought by the British for transparently self-interested economic reasons, namely to gain control over the Boer Republics’ lucrative and newly-discovered gold and diamond reserves, was similarly brutal in nature. Here, the British themselves employed concentration camps, and indeed are even sometimes credited with having invented the concept.

Suppressing the Mafia

Today, there is a tendency to deny that the fascist regime had any positive impact on Italy, an implausible conclusion given both the popularity and endurance of the regime in Italy. 

Take, for example, Mussolini’s suppression of the Mafia in Sicily, an achievement to which Farrell himself devotes only a few paragraphs (p182-3). 

In most recent histories of the Sicilian Mafia, Mussolini and his regime are denied any credit whatever for this achievement. 

For example, historian John Dickie, in his books Blood Brotherhoods and Cosa Nostra, takes great pains to emphasize that, under Mussolini, the Mafia was not, in fact, finally defeated, but merely went underground and became inactive. Moreover, he insists, most of those mafiosi who were arrested and imprisoned or sent into internal exile during Cesare Mori’s clampdown on the Mafia were not Mafia bosses, but rather, at best, low-level soldiers and underlings. 

It is, of course, true that, under Mussolini, the Mafia was not finally defeated. Indeed, this was amply proven by the resurgence of the Mafia during the post-War period under the Allied occupation. 

Yet this view neglects to credit that merely forcing the Mafia to go underground and become inactive was an achievement in and of itself, and seemingly resulted in a massive decrease in serious violent crime, including homicide, in the Mafia’s traditional heartland of Palermo. 

For example, another historian of the Sicilian Mafia reports that, in the traditional Mafia stronghold of Palmermo:

Between 1924 and 1928 murders… dropped from 278 per year to 25, which, by any standard of crime prevention is impressive” (Mafia: Inside the Dark Heart: p92). 

Moreover, while leaving (some of) the mafia bosses untouched and focusing law enforcement attention on low-level soldiers may seem both unfair and inefficient, arresting and taking out of circulation a sufficiently large number of low-level soldiers is likely a highly effective method of suppressing a group such as the Mafia, since it is low-level soldiers who, on orders from above, are responsible for most of the day-to-day operation, crimes and violence of the group.[2]

Indeed, if the Mafia had indeed been made inactive in this way on a long-term, indefinite basis, then ultimately it would surely have died away and ceased to exist as a criminal network. 

Thus, it was only the overthrow of the Fascist regime and Allied occupation that permitted the resurgence of the Mafia in the post-War period, not least because imprisoned and exiled Mafiosi were, on their return to Sicily, able to use the fact of their imprisonment or exile under the fascist regime as proof of their supposed anti-fascist credentials, in order to pose as anti-fascists and hence secure appointment to high office under the Allied occupation.[3]

The Fascist campaign against the Mafia seems then, on balance, to have been quite successful.

Of course, methods employed by Mori and the Fascists to achieve this result were not always in accord with contemporary western notions of due process. On the contrary, they were often quite brutal and the Fascists been accused as employing to Mafiastyle intimidation against the Mafia – to out-mafia the Mafia, if you like.

One may then justifiably question whether the ends justified the means.

Indeed, on one view, Mussolini himself was a gangster whose thuggish blackshirts essentially used Mafiastyle violence and intimidation to bully their way into power. On this view, the cure was rather worse than the disease and, while the Sicilian Mafia was in abeyance, a rather worse Mafia now in power in Rome itself.

However, Mussolini’s, and Mori’s, achievement in, at least temporarily, defeating the scourge of the Sicilian Mafia, howsoever achieved, surely cannot be denied.

A Benevolent Dictator? 

The very endurance of the Fascist regime is, in one sense, a measure of its success. On this pragmatic definition, a politician or party are to be regarded as ‘successful’ if they successfully gain power, and successfully hold onto it.

Yet the endurance of Mussolini’s regime is also indirect evidence that, in terms of satisfying the demands of the Italian public with his policies and governance of the state, he was clearly doing something right.

Mussoini was not only popular at home, he was also widely respected abroad, and counted among his fawning admirers such politically diverse figures as Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and, of course, Hitler.

Mussolini is famously credited with making the trains run on time, a popular perception that surely had at least some basis in reality.

Certainly, the period of his rule up until the beginning of World War II constituted the most stable period of governance in Italy’s turbulent 20th century history, arguably right up to the present day. 

Moreover, in agreeing the Papal Accords and thereby resolving Roman Question which had dogged the Italian state from its birth, Mussolini produced a legacy that outlived both Fascism and Mussolini himself, since this agreement continues to govern the relationship between Church and State in Italy to this day. 

Thus, just as Hitler, with his annexation of Austria, could justifiably claim to have completed the unification of Germany that had begun under Bismark, so Farrell asserts: 

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 Naional Socialist regime in Germany, the coming of the Second World War and Mussolini’s disastrous decision to ally his regime with that of Hitler in Germany and hence tie its own fate, and that of Mussolini himself, with that of Hitler and Germany. 

While today we might think of Hiter and Mussolini as natural allies, the alliance between Germany and Italy was actually far from a foregone conclusion. 

Indeed, to his credit, Mussolini was initially wary of German National Socialism and indeed of Hitler himself, despite the latter’s professed admiration for, and ardent courtship of, the Italian dictator upon whom he had (partly) modelled himself. 

Fascism,” he famously declared, “is not for export” (p240). 

I should be pleased, I suppose, that Hitler has carried out a revolution on our lines. But they are Germans. So they will end by ruining our idea.” 

This notion, namely that Germans, by virtue of being German, would inevitably ruin the idea of fascism, even if it ultimately proved prophetic, is obviously crudely jingoistic. Yet such jingoism was entirely consistent with fascist ideology. 

After all, fascism was a nationalist ideology, and nationalist ideologies are intrinsically jingoistic.

Nationalist movements are also, by their very nature, necessarily limited in their appeal to members of a single nation or ethnicity.

A nationalist of one nation is no necessary or natural ally for the nationalist of another, especially if the nations in question share a border. On the contrary, nationalists of neighbouring nations are natural enemies.[4]

Moreover, the fact Italy was the chief ally and protector of the Federal State of Austria, whose annexation was a major priority of Hitler’s foreign policy, and had herself annexed German-speaking South Tyrol at the end of World War I, certainly did not help matters.[5]

Hitler, however, was to prove an ardent suitor. 

Mussolini would have preferred, Farrell reports, an understanding with the British. (So incidentally would Hitler himself.)

Moreover, initially the British political establishment was surprisingly favourably disposed.

Indeed, Mussolini even counted among his most ardent British admirers one Winston Churchill, who, though then out of office, had in 1933 extolled fascism as a bulwark against Bolshevism and Il Duce himself as “the Roman genius” and “greatest law-giver among living men” (p225). 

Indeed, Farrell reveals that, given his staunch anti-communist credentials, oratorical ability and personal charisma, Churchill was was even touted by some contemporaries as a potential fascist dictator in his own right, journalist, Clare Sheridan, writing in one contemporary piece that he was “talked of as the likely leader of a fascisti party in England” (quoted: p130). 

Yet three factors, Farrell reports, ultimately led to Mussolini’s estrangement from Britain. These were: 

  1. The Spanish civil war
  1. The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden
  1. Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia

Each of these factors strained Mussolini’s relationship with Britain, and precluded any possibility of an alliance, or even an understanding, between the two powers. Ultimately, this led Mussolini, reluctantly at first, into the German Führer’s fatal embrace. 


Hitler is also likely to blame for Italy’s anti-Semitic laws, introduced in 1938. 

True, Hitler, it seems, exerted no direct pressure on Mussolini with regard to this issue. However, given that Mussolini had been in power a decade and a half without feeling any need to enact such laws on his own initiative, and evidently changed his mind only after he had begun to allign with the Hitler’s newly-established National Socialist regime in Germany, it seems likely that this was the decisive factor. 

However, Farrell claims that the rapprochement with Germany was “not the reason”, only “the catalyst” for this decision (p304). 

The real reason, he claims, was that: 

Jews had come to epitomise Mussolini’s three enemies: Communism, the bourgeoisie and anti-fascism [since] Jews were prominent in all three” (p304). 

This may be true. However, Jews, it should also be noted, were also prominent among Fascists themselves. Indeed, Farrell himself reports: 

More than 10,000 Jews, about one-third of adult Italian Jews, were members of the PNF in 1938” (p303).

Thus, relative to overall population size, Jews were in fact overrepresented among members of the PNF by a factor of three (Italy’s Jews: From Emancipation to Fascism: p44).[6]

Perhaps most prominent and influential among Jewish Italian fascists was Mussolini’s long-term mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, a leading Italian intellectual in her own right, who had followed, or perhaps even led, Mussolini from socialism to fascism, and who plays a prominent role in the first half of Farrell’s biography.

In addition to being Mussolini’s mistress (or rather one of his many mistresses) and a confidante of Il Duce for almost thirty years, she is thought to have been a key and influential figure in the Fascist regime, helping shape policy and decision-making from behind the scenes. 

She was also, Farrell surmises, the only of Mussolini’s many mistresses whom his semi-literate peasant wife (who was also, Farrell reveals, possibly his illegitimate half-sister: p40) truly “hated” and regarded as a serious threat to her marriage (p73-4). 

However, as Sarfatti aged, Mussolini’s ardour seemingly faded in parallel to her looks, suggesting that her hold over him had always been primarily sexual rather than intellectual. The breakdown of this relationship was likely a key factor in paving the way for both the Pact of Steel and Italy’s race laws. 

Mussolini also, Farrell reports, saw the Jews as harbouring “secret loyalties that conflicted with Fascism”, much like the Freemasons, themselves less fashionable victims of persecution under both German National Socialism and Italian Fascism (p304). 

Farrell attempts to play down the extent of persecution to which Jews were subject in Fascist Italy and absolve Mussolini of any culpability in the holocaust. 

Thus, he insists, Italy’s anti-Semitic laws “did not involve violence at all” (p310), and he concludes: 

Although not anti-Semitic, Mussolini became increasingly anti-Jewish” (p304). 

However, Farrell never really explains what exactly is the difference between these two surely synonymous terms.

Farrell also emphasizes that Mussolini’s racism was not biological but “spiritual” in nature (p305). In other words, it was not Hitlerian, but rather Spenglerian and Evolian.

If this is intended as a defence of Mussolini, then it rings decidedly hollow.

That the Italian dictator’s dislike of them reflected not biological but purely cultural factors was presumably scant consolation those Jews expelled from their jobs on account of their Jewishness, even if the criteria for qualifying as a Jew was less inclusive, and more open to exemptions and corrupt interpretation, than in Germany. 

Indeed, personally, as long-term readers of this blog, or my amazon and goodreads book reviews (assuming any such people exist) may be aware, I am actually not, as such, entirely unsympathetic to biological theories of race and of race differences.

Of course, National Socialist racial theories were indeed nonsense. However, in purporting to be biological, and hence scientific (even if this claim was disingenuous), they at least had one benefit over so-called ‘spiritual’ theories of race, namely that they could, at least in principle, be the subject or testing and hence falsification.

Indeed, National Socialist claims regarding the inferiority of the Jews are not only in principle falsifiable, but have indeed been falsified, at least with respect to intelligence differences.

In contrast, the so-called ‘spiritual racism’ of Spengler, Evola and, it seems, Mussoini, which admits exceptions whereby an ethnic Jew can be ‘spiritually’ Aryan, and vice versa, seems to me to be wholly unfalsifiable mysticism.[7]

In conclusion, Farrell quotes historian De Felice, himself, incidentally, of Jewish ancestry, as observing: 

Mussolini’s campaign against the Jews ‘was more against the Italians than against the Jews’” (p304). 

This may be true. However, I doubt either Farrell or De Felice could ever deny that it was surely the latter who ended up paying the greater price.  

The Holocaust 

On the other hand, Farrell does a good job of absolving Italians as a whole from any culpability in the holocaust. 

Italian government officials, ordered to round up Jews for deportation, often refused to comply and were deliberately obstructive. Many Italians, including the Vatican, hid and protected Jews. 

Mussolini himself, however, emerges rather less unscathed. 

On the one hand, Mussolini did indeed order the rounding up and deportation of Jews in accordance with German orders in the last years of the war.

However, by this stage, he was little more than a nominal puppet leader, with little power to act independently of, let alone in defiance of, his German backers. Moreover, Mussolini also overlooked the refusal of many officials to comply with these orders. 

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

Certainly, even on the evidence presented by Farrell himself, his claim that “Mussolini did much to save Jews from Hitler” seems unwarranted (p363). 

The most Farrell manages to prove is that Mussolini was far less anti-Semitic than Hitler himself – faint praise indeed. 

World War II 

It is perhaps from World War II that the popular image of Mussolini as an inept and buffoonish figure emerged. Partly, this reflected allied propaganda. However, despite Farrell’s attempted rehabilitation of Il Duce, Mussolini’s conduct of the war does indeed seem inept from the start. 

Thus, before the War began, Mussolini made, arguably, his first mistake, agreeing the Pact of Steel with Germany, which obliged him to come to Germany’s aid even in the event of an aggressive war initiated by Germany herself (p317). 

Then, after the War had indeed begun in just this way, Mussolini conspicuously failed to come to Germany’s aid, in direct contravention of her newly acquired treaty obligations. 

Mussolini justified this decision on the grounds that Italy was not yet ready for war. In this assessment, he was right, as was proven tragically true when Italy did enter the war, with disastrous consequences, both for Mussolini’s own Fascist regime, and, arguably, for National Socialist Germany as well. 

To his credit, then, Mussolini had not, it seems, made the classic error of ‘falling for his own publicity’. He knew that his own militaristic braggadocio and podium strutting were mere empty bluff, and that war with Britain and France was the last thing that the Italian armed forces, or the Italian state, needed at this time.[8]

However, on witnessing Germany’s dramatic defeat of France, Mussolini suddenly decided he wanted to get in on the action – or rather in on the spoils.

Greedily and rather transparently anticipating a share of the territory of the conquered French, he suddenly and belatedly signed up for the war, albeit right about the same time that Hitler had already (seemingly) won it and hence had no further need of him. 

As a result, he got none of the territorial gains he so eagerly anticipated, the relevant parts of French territory having already been promised to the new French Vichy regime as part of the German-French peace accord of 1940 which brought an end to the fighting. 

Now, however, for better or worse, Mussolini had thrown in his lot with Hitler. Italy was now in for the long-haul and Mussolini’s own fate directly tied to that of the German war machine. Henceforth, Mussolini’s Italy would find itself relegated to the role of junior partner to the German behemoth, increasingly surrendering any capacity for independent decision-making. 

Mussolini did, however, make one last attempt to assert independence from the German war machine. Chagrined that Hitler kept invading foreign powers without consulting his ostensible ally, Mussolini decided to do the same for himself, aspiring to emulate his ally by invading Greece, and thereby shift the focus of the war towards the Mediterranean, where his own territorial ambitions were naturally, and quite sensibly, focused. 

The attempt to assert independence backfired disastously. His invasion easily rebuffed, Mussolini was forced to call in for help from the very Germans whose military successes he had so envied and sought to emulate.

Moreover, the delay to the proposed invasion of the USSR that Germany’s intervention on Italy’s behalf in Greece necessitated, has been implicated as a key factor that ultimately doomed Operation Barbarossa, and hence led, ultimately, to the fall of both both dictators.

Farrell does convincingly establish that, in his disagreements with Hitler regarding the conduct, strategy and overall direction of the war, Mussolini was, perhaps surprisingly, often more strategically astute than the Führer, who, despite his remarkable early military successes (or indeed because of them), had become increasingly detached from reality and inflexible in his strategic thinking.

Thus, most military historians would agree that shifting the focus of the war effort towards the Mediterranean, as Mussolini advocated, was a sound strategic policy, not only in Italy’s own strategic interests, but also that of Germany and the Axis as a whole. 

But, alas, it was to no avail. Hitler was no more willing to listen to the wise counsel of his Italian counterpart than he was to listen to that of his own senior generals and commanders.

Instead, Hitler had his sights firmly fixed on the invasion and conquest of the detested Soviet regime in Russia, and the perceived German geopolitical imperative of living space in the East, and would brook no delay or postponement, let alone cancelation, of these plans in order to secure his southern flank (which Churchill was later to identify as Europe’s vulnerable ‘soft underbelly’) and establish complete control of the Mediterranean. 

Ultimately, Farrell is successful in explaining why Mussolini did what he did in World War Two given the limited information available to him at the time and the difficult predicament in which he increasingly found himself. 

However, he fails to revise the established view that these decisions were, in the long-term, ultimately anything other than disastrous miscalculations. 

Ciano – Diarist and Dilettante

Not only was Mussolini more often more strategically astute than the Führer, he was also, Farrell shows, far more strategically adept than his foreign minister and son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano.

The latter plays a prominent role in the second half of Farrell’s biography, probably sue to the value of his famous diaries as an historical source regarding Mussolini’s thinking, and that of his inner-circle, during this critical time period.

From initially hero-worshiping his famous father-in-law, Ciano gradually became a firm critic of Mussolini, criticising the latter’s decision-making repeatedly in his diaries and ultimately betraying him.

Yet, in Farrell’s account, Ciano emerges as a political dilitante, a playboy, and a hypocrite – “the spoilt child of the regime” – who was always unpopular with the public (p322).

Thus, while, in his diaries, he criticizes Mussolini for his decision to ally with Germany, and, in the post-War period, according to Farrell, “a whole industry sprouted up on the basis of his famous diaries which would have us believe… that Ciano tried to srop the Pact of Steel”, the truth was that Ciano was no more than “the Duce’s yes man, however much whinging he did in private” (p316-7).

Moreover, though he was indeed often critical of the alliance with Germany, his views changed by the day. Thus, Farrell reports, despite his earlier criticisms, “as soon as Germany started winning easily in the west in the spring of 1940 he was all in favour of Germany again” (p322). He was also a main champion and proponent of Italy’s disastrous invasion of Greece (p340).

Indeed, Farrell does a far better job of showing that Ciano was even more incompetent, and inconsistent, in his strategic pronouncements than was Mussolini, than he does showing that Mussoini was himself in any way competent. 

History is written, it seems, not so much by the victors, or, at any rate, not only by the victors, but also by those with sufficient time on their hands, and sufficient inclination, to put across their own side of things in diaries or other writings that ultimately outlive them. As Churchill was to put it:

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”.

Was Mussolini a Socialist? 

What then of Farrell’s second claim: Did Mussolini really always remain a man of the Left until his dying day?

Certainly, both Fascism and Mussolini seem to have begun on the Left

Mussolini’s own journey from the Left began when he advocated Italian involvement in the First World War, contrary to the doctrine of the Second International. 

Yet, in this, Mussolini was merely following in the path trodden by socialists across Europe, who, caught up in the prevailing mood of nationalism and war-fever, abandoned the internationalism and pan-proletarian solidarity of the Second International en masse, to come out in support of, and march to their deaths in the service of, their respective nation’s war-efforts.[9]

Thus, as had occurred so often before, and would occur so many more times in the future, idealism and internationalism came crashing down in the face of nationalism, ethnocentrism and war fever. 

Mussolini himself thus came to believe in the power of nationalism to move men’s souls in a way that appeals to mere economic class interests never could. He came to believe that:

Nation had a stronger grip on men than class” (p61). 

As sociologist-turned-sociobiologist Pierre van den Berghe was later to put it in his excellent The Ethnic Phenomenon (which i have reviewed here): 

Blood runs thicker than money” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p243)

Thus, Mussolini and the early Fascists, like the pre-Hitler German Workers’ Party in Germany, sought to combine socialism with nationalism

In addition, 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.

Yet this was contrary to Marxist doctrine, and indeed ironically Leninist doctrine too, whereby the coming revolution was envisaged as both historically inevitable and as being brought about by the proletariat as a whole. 

In this assessment, Mussolini was surely right. The Bolshevik revolution would indeed surely never have occurred without Lenin as its catalyst and driving force.

Thus, 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, as were the Mensheviks, who despite their name, probably outnumbered the Bolsheviks, not to mention the Socialist Revolutionaries, who surely outnumbered either. Lenin was, at first, almost alone in advocating armed revolution. Yet this policy was ultimately to prove a success. 

Ironically, then, the much-maligned Great Man Theory of History’, as famously espoused by Thomas Carlyle, became perennially unfashionable among historians at almost precisely the moment that, in the persons of first Lenin and later Hitler, it was proven so tragically true.[10]

However, recognizing the need for an elite revolutionary vanguard also led Mussolini to question another key tenet of Leftism, namely belief in the equality of man

In other words, if an elite revolutionary vanguard was indeed necessary to bring about socialism, then this suggested that this elite vanguard represented a superior caste of men. This, ironically, undermined the entire basis for socialism, which presupposed human equality.

This led Mussolini to Nietzsche and ultimately to Fascism, Mussolini himself being quoted by Farrell as explaining to a visiting American journalist during the 1920s that: 

Nietzsche had ‘cured me of my socialism” (p30). 

Yet Farrell insists that Mussolini nevertheless remained, in some sense, a socialist even thereafter, and indeed throughout his political career. Thus, he writes:

Mussolini was never a democrat. But much of him was and remained a Socialist” (p39).

However, in making this claim, Farrell is not entirely consistent. Thus, explaining the adoption of the black Arditi flag by the fascist faithful, he explains:

Red was the colour of the enemy – Socialism” (p80).

However, on the very next page he claims:

Fascism was anything but a right-wing movement. The first Fascist programme… reflected the preponderance of the futurists and was very left-wing” (p81). 

These different claims, only a page apart, are difficult to reconcile with one another.

Perhaps, in referring to socialism as “the enemy”, Farrell has in mind ‘Socialism’ with a capital ‘S’ – i.e. the programme of the Italian Socialist party. On this view, the Socialists might be the enemy of Fascism precisely because both movements were left-wing and hence competed in the same political space for the same constituency of support.[11]

However, Farrell does not employ capitalization in any such consistent manner and also capitalizes ‘socialism’ when referring to Mussolini’s own beliefs (e.g. p39: quoted above).

Mussolini’s eventual return to his leftist roots, Farrell reports, comes only much later, after his overthrow and dramatic rescue by the Germans, with the establishment of the short-lived Italian Social Republic in Northern Italy under German patronage.

By then, however, Mussolini was a mere German puppet, and any socialist pretentions, or indeed pretentions to any sort of action independent of, let alone in defiance to, his German National Socialist patrons, were wholly ineffectual.

Defining Fascism

To decide whether Fascism was a left-wing movement, we must first define we mean by ‘fascism’. Unfortunately, however, the meaning of the word ‘fascism’ changed a great deal over time.

The word ‘fascism’ derives from the Italian word ‘fascio’, meaning ‘a bundle of sticks’, in particular the fasces, a symbol of power and authority in ancient Rome.

Amusingly, it seems to be cognate with the word faggot, now chiefly employed as a pejorative Americanism for a homosexual male, but which also originally meant a bundle of sticks

The political usage seems to derive from the notion that several sticks bound together are stronger than one stick alone, hence emphasizing the importance of collectivism and national solidarity. 

With regard to situating fascism on the left-right political spectrum, it is certainly the case that, like Mussolini himself, Fascism began on the left

Thus, among the first political groups to style themselves ‘fascist’ was the peasant Fasci Siciliani, who unsuccessfully fought for peasant land rights in Sicily in the late-nineteenth century.

Indeed, even the first incarnation of Mussolini’s own brand of fascism, namely the Fasces of Revolutionary Action, founded by Mussolini in 1914, was very much left-wing and revolutionary in orientation, being composed, in large part, of syndicalists and other disgruntled leftists estranged from the mainstream Italian left (i.e. the Italian Socialist Party).

Most left-wing parties are less radical in power than they promise to be while still in opposition. However, Mussolini’s (and Fascism’s) own move from the left began long before they ever even came within distant sight of power.

Thus, even as early as 1920, after humiliation at the polls during national elections the previous year, Farrell himself acknowledges:

Most of the Fascists of the first hour – especially those of left-wing origin – had gone… [and] fascism… moved right” (p95).

Thus, while fascism was initially anti-clericalist and associated with revolutionary Syndicalism and the Futurist movement, it ultimately came to be associated with Catholicism and traditionalism.

Thus, the meaning of the word ‘fascism’ evolved and changed with the regime itself. 

Fascism’ ultimately came to mean whatever the regime stood for at any particular point in time, something that both changed over time and never represented a coherent ideology as much as it did pragmatic realpolitik.

Defining the Left

To determine if fascism was truly leftist, we must also define, not only what ‘fascism’ means, but also what we mean by leftist. This is only marginally less problematic than defining ‘fascism’.

Hayek, in his celebrated The Road to Serfdom, equates the Left with big government and a planned economy. On this basis, he therefore classes both German National Socialism and Italian Fascism as leftist.

However, leftism is usually associated, not only with big government and a planned economy, but also with redistribution and egalitarianism. In this sense, fascism was not especially leftist.

On the other hand, anti-Semitism has always seemed to me fundamentally leftist.

Thus, Marxists believe that society is controlled by wealthy capitalists who control the mass media and oppress and exploit everyone else. Anti-Semites, on the other hand, believe society is controlled by wealthy Jewish capitalists who control the mass media and oppress and exploit everyone else.

The distinction between Marxism and anti-Semitism is therefore racial and largely tangential. Anti-Semites insist that our capitalist oppressors are largely or wholly Jewish in ethnicity. Orthodox Marxists, on the other hand, take no stance on this matter either way.

Hence the famous aphorism that states:

Antisemitism is the socialism of fools.[12]

In short, National socialism is a form of socialism. The clue’s in the name.

Defining the Right

If fascism cannot then unproblematically be described as a phenomenon of the left, can we then instead characterize it as a phenomenon of the right?

This, of course, requires a definition of ‘the right’. Unfortunately, however, defining the right is even more difficult than defining the Left. 

For example, Christian fundamentalist who wants to ban pornography and abortion has little in common with, on the one hand, a libertarian who wants to decriminalise prostitution and child pornography, nor, on the other, with a eugenicist who wants to make abortion, for certain classes of person, compulsory. Yet all three are classified as together as ‘right-wing’, even though they have no more in common with one another than any does with a raving, unreconstructed Marxist

The Right, then, is defined as, in effect, anything that is not the Left.

As Steven Pinker puts it, the Left is like the South Pole. Just as, at the South Pole, all directions lead north, so, at the Left Pole, all directions lead right.

Therefore, right-wing is itself a left-wing term – because it defines all political positions by reference to the extent to which they diverge from a perceived leftist ideal.

Therefore, debating whether Fascism was really an ideology of left or right simply exposes the inadequacy of this one-dimensional conception of the political spectrum, whereby all political positions are situated on a single left-right axis.

A Third Way?

Rather than self-identifying as of ‘the Right’, Fascists themselves often affect to reject any simplistic situation of their views as either being of the left or the right. Instead, they insist that they have moved beyond left and right, transcended the left-right political divide, and represent instead a Third Position or Third Way.

This leads Farrell to propose an even more provocative analogy in his Preface, where he writes:

Whereas communist ideas appear terminally ill, the Fascist idea of the Third Way lives on and is championed by the standard bearers of the modern Left such as New Labour in Britain” (pxviii).

Unfortunately, however, Farrell never really gets around to expanding on this single throwaway sentence in his Preface.

On its face, it at first appears to rest on little more than a curious convergence of slogans – namely, both Fascism and New Labour claimed to represent a Third Way.

However, each meant something quite different by this term.

Thus, for Mussolini the Third Way (or ‘terza via’), namely fascism itself, entailed nationalism, abrogation of individual rights to the needs of the nation, and totalitarian dictatorship.

In contrast, much though the notion of totalitarian dictatorship might have appealed to Tony Blair, the objectives of New Labour were altogether more modest in scale.

Indeed, the two regimes differed not only in what their respective ‘Third Ways’ were to involve, but also in their conception of the ‘First’ and ‘Second Ways’ to which they represented themselves as an alternative.

Thus, for Mussolini, the ‘Third Way’ represented an alternative to, on the one hand, Soviet-style communism, and, on the other, western liberal democracy.

For Blair, on the other hand, it was an alternative to, on the one hand, Thatcherite neo-liberalism and, on the other, the sort of unreconstructed socialism that the Blairites dismissed as Old Labour.

Defining that Blairism or New Labour itself actually entailed is, however, much more difficult, and even more difficult, perhaps, than defining ‘fascism’.

This, then, perhaps points to a deeper affinity between the two movements. Both were not so much coherent ideologies as glorified marketing campaigns – triumphs of spin over substance.

Defining what either actually stood for, as opposed to merely against, is almost impossible.

Fascism’ and New Labour represented, then, little more than catchy political slogans that tapped into the zeitgeister of the respective ages, new words for not especially new ideas.

Indeed, Mussolini, himself a former journalist (and a very successful one at that), can perhaps lay claim to being the first politician to successfully manipulate modern media to manage his own public image – the first truly modern politician.

As for Farrell’s comparison between Fascism and New Labour, this, one suspects, reflected little more than a marketing campaign of Farrell’s own.

Farrell, also a journalist, was using a provocative quote to attract media attention, publicity and hence, so he hoped, sales for his new book in Blair-era Britain.

Today, less than twenty years later, it already seems strangely anachronistic, as New Labour has itself gone the way of fascism, into the dustbin of history (at least for now), to be replaced, in the Labour Party at least, with a return to unreconstructed ‘Old Laboursocialism, albeit now buttressed with a new, even more moronic, cultural Marxist ‘wokeism’ and deranged feminism.

Indeed, on the evidence of some recent Labour Party leaders, even “communist ideals” may no longer be as “terminally ill” as Farrell once so confidently predicted.

This, however, merely reinforces my suspicion that any attempt to draw analogies between fascism and contemporary political movements or regimes is ultimately unhelpful and reflects little more than a version of guilt-by-association or what Leo Strauss aptly termed the reductio ad Hitlerum.

Fascism certainly has little in common with the contemporary Left, despite the efforts of some conservatives to prove the contrary. However, as a nationalist and fundamentally anti-individualist ideology, it arguably has even less in common with the individualist and globalist ethos of contemporary neoliberalism and neoconservatism, let alone libertarianism.

As George Orwell wrote only a year or so after the defeat of both National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy:

The word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.”

So let’s stop using the word ‘fascist’ as a slur against our political opponents and restrict its use to an historical context.[13]



[1] The continued practice of slavery in Ethiopia was indeed among the justifications employed by the Italians to justify their invasion and conquest. Moreover, the Italians did indeed pass the first laws formally abolishing the practice of slavery in Ethiopia, though the extent to which these laws were enforced, or represented a mere propaganda exercise, seems to be in some dispute.

[2] Imprisoning or exiling large numbers of low-level mafia soldiers and associates will not only have taken those individuals themselves out of operation but also likely have deterred others from taking their places. In contrast, arresting only a few leading bosses may only result in others eagerly taking their place.

[3] Other, more genuine, Italian anti-fascists, who had indeed fought against the fascist regime, tended to be communists, who the American (and British) occupying forces were hence loathe to promote to high office. In addition, whereas the stronghold of the Mafia has always been Sicily, and other powerful Italian criminal syndicates (e.g. the ’Ndrangheta and Cammora) are likewise each based in regions of the Southern Italian Mezzogiorno, the Italian communists were always strongest in heavily industrialized Northern Italy. This ‘unholy alliance’ between the Americans, the Mafia, and, later, the Catholic Church and conservative Christian Democratic Party soon came to be almost institutionalized in post-war Italian politics, as during the Cold War, the American government, together with Italian conservatives opted to ally with the Mafia as the ‘lesser of two evils’ against Italy’s powerful Communist Party.

[4] Thus, for example, Irish nationalists and British nationalists are natural enemies, as are Pakistani and Indian nationalists, and Turkish and Greek nationalists. Indeed, as far back as the third century BCE, Arthashastra, the ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, observed that next-door neighbours, by virtue of sharing a border, are natural enemies, whereas a state’s next-door neighbours but one, by virtue of sharing a border with one’s immediate neighbours, and hence one’s enemies, but not with oneself, are natural allies. Thus, France and Scotland combined against their common neighbour England in the Auld Alliance which lasted two and a half centuries, while in the First World War Russia and France allied against their common neighbour Germany. Arthashastra’s observation is sometimes cited as the origin of the famous aphorism, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

[5] It is interesting to note that, even when Mussolini did belatedly embrace the idea of a ‘fascist international’, he initially excluded National Socialist Germany from this alliance. Thus, at the 1934 Montreux Fascist International Congress, representatives of the German National Socialist government were conspicuous by their absence. Yet, in contrast, representatives of what was then Hitler’s principal enemy, the Federal State of Austria, then governed by the ‘AustrofascistFatherland Front, were invited and did indeed attend.

[6] This statistic is perhaps misleading and probably reflects the higher levels of political engagement of Jews as compared to non-Jewish Italians, rather than any especial affinity towards Fascism. Jews were thus likely overrepresented among almost all political movements (other than those which are overtly anti-Semitic, of course), and may indeed have been overrepresented among communists and other opponents of the Fascist regime to an even greater degree than they were overrepresented among Fascists themselves.

[7] For my own thoughts on more realistic biological theories of race, see here, here and here.

[8] Although remembered as a disciple of his compatriot Niccolò Machiavelli, Mussolini, with his militaristic braggadocio and strutting, had perhaps here imbued, or, more likely, independently hit upon, the teaching of that other great guru of military strategy and statecraft, Sun Tzu, who famously advised military leaders:

The most powerful tool of a leader is deception. Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Thus, just as a powerful commander should fake weakness in order to lull his enemies into a false sense of security before attacking them, or even thereby provoking them to attack first, so a militarily-weak power like Mussolini’s Italy is advised to feign military strength and power in order to deter potential enemies from attacking.
However, it is likely that Mussolini’s own militaristic braggadocio and strutting was intended at least as much for internal consumption within Italy as on the international stage. Certainly, few foreign leaders seem to have been taken in, except perhaps Hitler, who indeed sought out an alliance with Fascist Italy despite its military weakness.

[9] In this respect, Italy was, Mussolini and the nascent Fascist movement excepted, something of an outlier and exception, since, here, the leading socialist party, Partito Socialista Italiano, did indeed stand true to the ideals of the Second International by opposing Italy’s entry into the War, even though there was, by this time, no Second International left to which to remain true.

[10] To be clear, I do not here endorse the strong version of great man theory, whereby the impact of so-called ‘great men’ is viewed as, if not the sole, then at least the most important factor in determining the fate of peoples, nations and civilizations. On the contrary, the impact of ‘great men’ is, I believe, much less important than that of social, economic, ecological, environmental and biological factors.
The overemphasis on the impact of ‘great men’ in some popular histories has, I suspect, more to do with literary conventions, which require narratives to focus on the adventures and travails of heroes and villians and other human interest factors, in order to attract an audience, than with an objective appraisal of history. Such a focus is indeed, in my view, quite unscientific.
However, as the undoubted impact of such figures as Lenin and Hitler, and many others, on history amply demonstrates, ‘great men’ do indeed, at least sometimes, have a major effect on human history, and such factors cannot be entirely ignored or ruled out by the serious historian.
Of course, in referring to both Lenin and Hitler as I am not ‘great men’ I am not using the word ‘great’ in a moral, acclamatory or approving sense, but rather in the older meaning of the word, referring to the ‘great’ (i.e. massive) impact that each had upon history. This exculpatory clarificiation we might helpfully term the Farrakhan proviso.

[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 ‘fascists’ (nor indeed did they self-identify as as ‘Nazis’).

Meyer and the Myth of the American Mafia – Cutting Lansky Down to Size 

Robert Lacey, Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life (Boston: Little Brown & Co, 1991).

Robert Lacey’s biography of the infamous Jewish-American organized crime figure, Meyer Lansky, was originally published in 1992 with the title Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life, only to be reissued in 2016 with a new title, Meyer Lansky: The Thinking Man’s Gangster

This latter subtitle, ‘The Thinking Man’s Gangster’, perhaps accords more with the popular image of Lansky as a kind of nefarious criminal mastermind, and may therefore have helped boost the book’s sales. However, given that Lacey’s biography is actually concerned, to a large extent, with debunking that very image of Lansky, and indeed much of the popular mythology surrounding him, it is the earlier title, ‘Little Man’, that better reflects the book’s actual content.  

It is true that Lansky, despite his diminutive stature, was never, to my knowledge, known by the sobriquet, ‘Little Man’.[1]

However, in a metaphoric sense, Robert Lacey’s biography is indeed very much concerned with ‘cutting Lansky down to size’. 

Debunking Sensationalist Claims 

The history of organized crime in America is a subject that has rarely attracted the attention of serious historians or first-rate researchers. What literature does exist on the subject is largely to be found, not in the ‘history’ section, but rather in the much-maligned, and often justly maligned, true crime section of the library or bookshop, and is typically sensationalist in tone and often historically inaccurate. 

Indeed, Lacey coins a new and apt term for this literary subgenre – “Pulp Nonfiction” (p314).[2]

Thus, inevitably, much of Lacey’s text is concerned with debunking the many myths perpetuated in earlier Mafia histories.

One famous example is the so-called ‘Night of the Sicilian Vespers’, when, according to mafia folklaw, and countless previously published mafia histories, a whole succession of Mafia bosses across America were assassinated in a single night in the aftermath of the assassination of Salvatore Maranzano.  

Actually, however, despite being repeated as lore in countless mafia histories, the nationally-synchronized bloodbath never actually seemed to have occurred.  Thus, aside from the killing of Marazano himself, Lacey reports: 

systematic study of newspapers in eight major cities in the two weeks before and the two weeks following September 10, 1913, the date of Maranzo’s killing… [revealed] only three reports of similar gang- or racketeer-linked killings – two in Newark and one in Pittsburgh” (p65). 

Lucky Luciano and World War II

Another source of much “legend and exaggeration”, Lacey reports, has been the supposed role of then-imprisoned crime boss Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano in the Allied invasion of Sicily. Thus, Lansky reports how, in some of the more outlandish accounts: 

Lucky Luciano has been pictured hitting the beaches in person, waving triumphantly from atop a tank, and there have been dark tales of planes dropping flags and handkerchiefs bearing the letter L behind enemy lines – signals supposedly from Luciano to local Mafia chiefdoms” (p125).[3]

These claims are obvious make-believe. However, the real story of the cooperation between organized crime and the American government to forestall infiltration and sabotage on the New York docks, which cooperation likely gave rise to the more sensationalist rumours referred to above, is arguably almost as remarkable in its own right. 

The impetus was a fire onboard the SS Normandie, a French liner that had been commandeered for military use, and was being converted into a troop ship in a New York harbour. 

With the benefit of hindsight, it is today all but certain that the fire was simply an accident. However, authorities at the time, wary of the threat of infiltration, suspected enemy sabotage, and hence moves were made to establish contact with the underworld figures who were known to control the New York docks in order to forestall any possible recurrence.[4]

This search for underworld contacts on the docks led the authorities ultimately to Luciano, then serving a sentence for prostitution offences in a New York prison. Lansky’s own role in this process was to act as an intermediary, having been recommended for this role by Luciano’s Jewish lawyer Moses Polakoff. 

The result was a remarkable meeting between Luciano, Lansky and representatives of the US Navy in an interrogation room in Great Meadow Correctional Facility, at which Luciano somewhat reluctantly agreed to cooperate. 

Perhaps surprisingly, genuine patriotism seems to have been at least part of the reason both Luciano and Lansky agreed to help out.

Lansky, being Jewish, was obviously no friend to the Nazis; Luciano, meanwhile, may have been unsympathetic to Mussolini’s Fascist regime in his native Italy due to its crackdown on the Sicilian Mafia under Cesare Mori – both, however, also claimed to see themselves as patriotic Americans (though Luciano was soon to be deported).

Whether there was also some implicit quid pro quo agreement whereby Luciano would receive early release after the war in return for his cooperation is not clear. However, Luciano did attach at least one condition to his cooperation – namely, that it remain strictly a secret, lest he be subject to retribution after his envisaged deportation back to Sicily after the War (p119). 

Unfortunately for Luciano, however, after the war he was to discover that he was not the only one who wanted his secret agreement with US naval intelligence to remain very much a secret. On the contrary, with Mussolini’s regime now in tatters and the War very much won, it was now naval intelligence themselves who had every incentive to keep their disreputable secret dealings with organized crime elements very much out of newspaper headlines and the public domain, ultimately to the chagrin of Luciano himself. 

Thus, when Luciano’s attorney, the same Moses Polakoff who had played such an instrumental role in arranging the meeting, applied for a grant of clemency and commutation of sentence as recompense for Luciano’s wartime cooperation with the authorities, Naval Intelligence, contacted by the parole board for corroboration of Polakoff’s claims but loathe to admit their dealings with such a notorious figure, denied ever having been in contact with Luciano (p125-6). 

Polakoff did ultimately obtain evidence of his client’s wartime cooperation with the authorities, and, as a result, Luciano was indeed ultimately granted parole, albeit on condition that he not contest his immediate deportation to Italy, from where he was subsequently alleged to have orchestrated the international trade in heroin. 

However, the wartime cooperation between government and organized crime remained a tightly-guarded secret and it was probably this secrecy, combined with the inevitably leaking of “hints and half revelations” regarding what had occurred, that gave rise to some of the more outlandish claims of Mafia involvement in the invasion of Sicily (p119). 

History vs. True Crime 

Yet, if most true crime authors are indeed rightly to be criticized for the quality of their research, then the fault does not lie entirely with them. It also lies, according to Lacey, with the serious historians and researchers who have neglected this area of American history as somehow beneath them. 

Yet the history of organized crime is by no means a matter of peripheral importance in the history of twentieth century America. On the contrary, organized crime in America has had a substantial impact on America’s social, economic, legal, cultural and even its political history.  

Thus, Lacey rebukes his fellow-historians, declaring: 

There is a dire need for objectively analysed data on organized crime, an area which academics have too readily surrendered to the custody of popular entertainment” (p445). 

Gangster or Businessman? 

Unfortunately, however, in exhorting serious historians to research the history of organized crime in America, Lacey could almost be accused of failing to take his own advice, since the subject of his own biography, Meyer Lansky, was, at least in Lacey’s own telling, only really on the fringes of organized crime for most of his adult life.[5]

Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable revelation of Lacey’s biography of the most notorious Jewish gangster of the twentieth century, or perhaps of all-time, is that, for most of his adult life, Lansky apparently genuinely regarded himself as no such thing.

Rather, after youthful dalliances as, first, a shtark or “strong-arm man” and perhaps as a pimp, and then in his early adulthood as a prohibition-era bootlegger, Lansky thenceforth cultivated a respectable, or at least semi-respectable, image.  

In his own self-image, Lansky saw himself, not as a gangster, but rather as a businessman – albeit a businessman whose chosen line of business, namely casino gambling, happened to be unlawful. 

This makes large sections of Lacey’s biography rather less exciting in content than one might expect for a book ostensibly in the sensationalist ‘true crime’ genre of literature. Certainly, any reader who goes in expecting dramatic accounts of gunfights, gang wars and the like is liable to be disappointed.

Gang wars and assassinations occur only in the background, and Lacey discounts any notion that Lansky had any role in ordering such assassinations as those on Albert Anastasia or Bugsy Siegel with which he has sometimes been linked. 

Yet, unlike so many other prohibition-era bootleggers who took advantage of the repeal of prohibition to move into the lawful production and distribution of alcoholic beverages or other lawful business ventures, some of whom would ultimately establish themselves as respectable, and sometimes highly successful businessmen, Lansky never did quite ‘go straight’ (p80). 

Neither did he grasp the other main opportunity to ‘go legit’ that presented itself to him over the course of his career, namely in Las Vegas, Nevada, where casino gambling had been legalized in 1931 (p152). 

Instead, as an organizer of gambling activities, Lansky operated in an illegal and illicit industry. As such he could not turn to the police for protection, and had instead to rely on the muscle provided by organized crime. 

However, Lansky appears to have sought to distance himself from this side of the business, which he contracted out, mostly to Italians, and kept at arm’s length. Nevertheless, in Lacey’s eyes, Lansky ultimately remained ultimately a gangster: 

Ethically and practically, the perceived threat of muscle is the same as muscle itself, and all Meyer’s businesses rested ultimately on that threat” (p170). 

Gambling and Other Victimless Crimes 

In keeping with his respectable self-image, Lansky’s casinos were very much respectable institutions – or at least as close to respectable as casinos could be in a jurisdiction where casino gambling was illegal. 

One lesson he had learned in to the crap games of the Lower East Side was that the principal ingredient for long-term gaming success is not flashiness but probity. It is easy to fix a roulette wheel or to rig a game of craps… But such tricks can only yield temporary dividends. The moment that serious players sniff the slightest suspicion that the games are rigged against them, they will go elsewhere, and word spreads very quickly. A crap game or casino can be dead in a matter of hours, and once dead, it stays dead. So, as with his bootlegging, Meyer Lansky found himself in an illegal enterprise where enduring success depended on being honest” (p186). 

In short, in Lansky’s casinos, just like in the crooked ones, the high rollers would ultimately lose their money. But, unlike in the crooked casinos, they would be fleeced fair and square – and hence keep coming back eagerly for more. 

Lansky took pride in running a clean operation. For all their illegality, and the sinfulness of gambling, his carpet joints were essentially bourgeois establishments” (p143). 

Indeed, it was Lansky’s reputation for probity that led General Bastista, the then-dictator of pre-revolutionary Cuba, to invite Lansky to take control of the Cuba’s lucrative casino gambling operations so as to ensure that the games were fair and hence counter negative publicity in America that had resulted from the fleecing of American tourists. 

In accordance with his carefully-cultivated semi-respectable image, Lansky naturally sought to distance himself from other, less reputable, criminal activities besides his chosen vocation of gambling. 

Interestingly, this included not only victimful and violent crimes such as robbery and murder, but also other so-called victimless crimes besides gambling itself, such as prostitution and narcotics. Thus, Lacey reports: 

Throughout his adult career, Meyer Lansky was careful to distance himself from the ‘dirty’ crimes⁠—drugs, prostitution” (p159) 

I haven’t ever dealt in narcotics,” Lacey quotes Lansky as telling a journalist “with a mixture of pride and distaste” (p90).

 As for prostitution, not only did Lansky himself not profit from or involve himself in the trade, but he also strictly forbade prostitutes from frequenting and soliciting within his respectable ‘carpet joint’ casinos.[6]

Yet, ironically, Lansky adduces evidence to suggest that Lansky may have begun his criminal career as a pimp.

The evidence is tentative but tantalizing – each of Lansky’s first appearances before the courts related to violent assaults on women, who themselves, Lacey infers from their addresses, likely worked as prostitutes (p42-3). 

In other words, it appears that Lansky’s pimp hand was strong. 

Frank Costello and ‘Street Activities’ 

However, Lacey’s claim that Lansky was not involved in any other illegal activities besides casino gambling is perhaps brought into doubt by the fact that Lacey also makes a similar claim regarding Lansky’s friend and sometime business partner Frank Costello, claiming that, at least by the 1950s: 

There is no evidence that Frank Costello was involved in street activities like loan-sharking, drug-dealing, or pimping” (p189). 

This, however, in my view, puts the whole matter in some doubt, since, while this claim may indeed be true of Lansky, it cannot be true of Costello, since the latter was, at least according to the orthodox mafia chronology, at this time the ‘boss’ (or, in some versions, merely ‘acting boss’, accounts vary) of what is today known as the Genovese crime family

As boss, Costello probably had no need to directly participate in such activities, and almost certainly didn’t, having no wish to ‘dirty his hands’ or risk implicating himself in such a way. 

However, as boss of an American Mafia family, Costello would automatically be entitled to a cut of profits earned by members or associates of his crime family who did engage in such activities. 

Given that many Genovese family members no doubt did engage is such “street activities” as loan-sharking, and very possibly prostitution and drug-dealing as well, this would mean that Costello did indeed profit from, and hence involve himself, albeit indirectly and at arm’s length, in these activities. 

Lacey’s claim that Costello was wholly uninvolved in such activities is therefore doubtful. 

The Myth of the American Mafia? 

This leads to another topic on which Lacey has an interesting take – namely, the existence and nature of what we today habitually refer to as ‘the American Mafia’. 

A recurrent theme of recent histories of the Mafia, in both its Sicilian incarnation and its American offshoot, is that the Mafia was indeed a real criminal organization, and that those who denied the existence of the Mafia were, at best, naïve and misinformed, but, at worst, corrupt collaborators with, lackeys of and apologists for the Mafia itself. 

This, for example, is a recurrent theme in John Dickie’s history of the Sicilian mafia, Cosa Nostra, as well as its sequels, Blood Brotherhoods and Mafia Republic, where those who claimed that Mafia was not a criminal organization, but rather, in some versions, a mere ‘state of mind’, or ‘attitude of exaggerated individualism and defiance of authority’, come in for repeated condemnation as disingenuous mafia apologists. 

Similarly, in recent histories of the American Mafia, FBI boss J Edgar Hoover invariably comes in for criticism for having long denied the existence of the Mafia during the first half of the twentieth century, before being belatedly forced to change his tune after the much-publicized police raid on the Apalachin meeting of mafia bosses in 1957.[7]

For example, in Selwyn Raab’s long and ponderous history of the New York Mafia, Five FamiliesHarry Anslinger, the then-head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who is today mostly remembered for his hysterically exaggerated claims regarding the malign effects of cannabis, emerges as an unlikely hero, for recognizing the reality of the American Mafia while Hoover himself was still in denial, and not just about his sexuality

Lacey’s position regarding the existence, or non-existence, of the American Mafia is, however, more nuanced than that of most other mafia historians.

Certainly, Lacey does not deny the existence of the American Mafia. On the contrary, he readily acknowledges:

In the course of the last forty years countless law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have shown that America is riddled with local associations of Italian malefactors. Mafia is as good a name for them as any” (p203). 

However, Lacey does question what exactly we mean by the term Mafia.  

Thus, he argues that, contrary to popular perception, the American Mafia is not a nationally-organized criminal conspiracy, or, as it was popularly termed, a ‘national syndicate’, but rather a combination of many different local criminal conspiracies and syndicates.  

These disparate local criminal structures and networks may share a common culture, a common vocabulary and even a similar structure. For example, they may use similar terms to refer to one another (‘made guy’, ‘associate’, ‘boss’) and have similar or identical initiation rituals to induct new members.[8]

However, the American mafia is not and never was a single organization with a single nationwide hierarchal structure, as it was sometimes imagined as being. 

Thus, Lacy concludes: 

Hoover’s personal position, that the Mafia did not exist, has proved as erroneous as the Kefauver Committee’s belief in a national conspiracy” (p203). 

Defining ‘The Mafia’ 

Ultimately, then, whether the Mafia exists depends on what we mean by the term ‘the Mafia’. 

Indeed, FBI supremo J Edgar Hoover, long infamous for denying the existence of the American Mafia, took advantage of this semantic pedantry to assert that he had been right all along – ‘the Mafia’ did not exist but La Cosa Nostra very much did and indeed suddenly represented a serious nationwide threat (p293). 

This might sound like mere semantics, but it actually had an element of truth. Thus, as early Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi explained to a disbelieving Senate subcommittee: 

No one who was involved in what outsiders called the Mafia ever actually used the word” (p292).  

Instead, Mafia insiders in America referred, not to the Mafia, but to Cosa Nostra’which has been variously translated into English as either ‘Our thing’ or ‘This Thing of Ours’. 

However, to compound confusion, the FBI then decided to invent a new term of its own coinage – namely, not ‘Cosa Nostra’, but La Cosa Nostra, henceforth abbreviated to LCN in FBI documents (p293). 

Unfortunately, however, this was not only a term never actually used by mafia insiders (nor indeed, as far as I am aware, by anyone else prior to its adoption, or perhaps invention, by the FBI), but also made no grammatical sense whatsoever in the original Italian, translating to roughly ‘The Our Thing’ (Five Families: p136). 

The ironic result, Lacey observes, is that: 

After all the arguments, the FBI dedicated itself to the pursuit of an entity which literally did not exist” (p293). 

The Kefauver Committee and the Myth of the American Mafia 

Why then, in Lacey’s view, have American perceptions of Italian-American organized crime been so skewed and mistaken? 

Lacey places the ultimate blame primarily with the Kefauver committee, a Senate Committee set up to investigate organized crime in America in the 1950s, which, he argues, was responsible for several “fundamental and enduring misconceptions” about American organized crime, in particular the notion that American organized crime was a nationally organized criminal conspiracy (p203).  

Why then did the Kefauver Committee come to reach this strange conclusion, so contrary, at least in Lacey’s telling, to the evidence presented at its own hearings? 

Lacey proposes that the committee was itself institutionally predisposed to such a conclusion: 

As a national, federally constituted body… the committee was predisposed to a singular nationwide explanation” (p203). 

Indeed, not only was the Committee institutionally predisposed to just such a conclusion, it also, Lacey suggests, had a vested interest in depicting American organized crime in this manner. 

The Kefauver committee had no choice but to reach such a conclusion, for if organized crime was not fundamentally a matter of interstate commerce, then what business did an arm of the Senate have lavishing so much time and attention on the subject?” (p203). 

Thus, the Committee’s full title was The United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, and, if interstate commerce were not involved, then organized crime would properly be the province, not of the Senate and Federal government, but rather of individual state governments and legislatures. 

In other words, if the committee had not decided as it did, it would have undermined the very constitutionality of its own remit.

The Commission: Intergovernmental or Federal

Yet, as we have seen, even Hoover was belatedly changed to change his tune with regard to the existence of the Mafia (or, at least, of ‘La Cosa Nostra’) after the Appalachin meeting of gang bosses from across America of 1957. Did not this meeting, and other similar nationwide meetings between organized crime bosses from different parts of the country, prove that the Mafia did indeed exist as a nationwide criminal organization? 

Lacey thinks not. He acknowledges the abundant evidence that, at meetings such as that at Appalachin

Gang leaders [from different parts of the country] might meet from time to time for sit-downs at which they would sort out disputes over territory and common threats” (p66). 

However, Lacey is adamant in maintaining: 

While local groupings of mafiosi can generate quite active links between each other, they do not constitute, and have never constituted, a centrally, almost corporately structured organization such as the one the Kefauver Committee led America to believe existed” (p204). 

Thus, to draw an analogy with international relations, the Mafia’s so-called National Commission, though it certainly existed, seems to been more intergovernmental than federal, let alone unitary or centralized, in its powers and structure.[9]

In other words, it is more analogous to the United Nations or League of Nations than to, say, US federal government or even the European Union

Certainly, it had prestige and, in a world of illegitimate activities, even, within criminal circles, a certain perverse perceived ‘legitimacy’.[10]

However, as Stalin is said to have contemptuously remarked of the Pope, it commanded no divisions (nor any ‘crews’, capos or soldiers) of its own.[11]

Boss of Bosses’? 

What then of claims made that a single figure is boss of bosses throughout America? 

Various figures, at various times throughout the twentieth century are said to have attained this position, including, in chronological order Giuseppe MorelloJoe MasseriaSalvatore Maranzano and Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano. Yet, if there was no nationwide organization, then how could there ever be a single nationwide boss of bosses

Thus, some mafia authors have claimed that the very term capo di tutti i capi is a media invention, that has never actually been used by mafiosi themselves, let alone actually existed as a position in America or Sicily. 

Actually, however, the title capo di tutti i capi does not appear to have been entirely a myth. It does indeed appear to have been used by mafia insiders of certain influential figures during the history of twentieth century organized crime in America. 

For example, in his remarkable study of the early history of Italian-American organized crime in America, The First Family, historian Mike Dash reports that the title predates both Masseria and Maranzano and was first bestowed upon Giuseppe Morello at the dawn of the twentieth century. 

However, the meaning accorded by this title may have been rather different than that presumed by many popular historians and true crime writers. 

Thus, while the title capo di tutti i capi may indeed have been periodically claimed by, or bestowed upon, certain especially powerful and influential bosses, such a figure was, a best, first among equals vis a vis the bosses of other families.  

In this light, Lacey describes the differing approaches of, on the one hand, Salvatore Maranzano, and, on the other, Charles Lucky Luciano, when each was said, successively, to have assumed this position.  

Maranzano, Lacey reports, seems to have wanted to “extend his authority beyond the confines of New York City” and become, if not the nationwide head of the America Mafia, then at least “some sort of northeastern ‘boss of bosses’” (p66). 

Thus, like his rival, Joe ‘The Boss’ Masseria before him, Maranzano stood accused of attempting to demand a cut from the profits made by other bosses and crime families operating within New York City in return for his protection

However, Luciano’s intentions were, it seems, more modest. Thus, Lacey quotes Bonanno family boss Joe Bonanno as observing in his self-serving autobiography:  

Luciano… mainly wanted to be left alone to run his enterprises… He was not trying to impose himself on us as had Masseria. Lucky demanded nothing from us” (p66). 

Thus, Lacey concludes: 

The fundamental rule was live and let live – laissez-faire, the unstructured free market principle upon which the country’s legitimate business had long been founded” (p66). 

Luciano was, then, a true American laissez-faire capitalist. 

Mafia Ranks and Hierarchy?

Indeed, according to Lacey, ‘boss of bosses’ is not the only mafia title that has been misinterpreted by authors, senate committees and law enforcement. On the contrary, Lacey argues that the entire hierarchal structure of Cosa Nostra is in fact something of a myth. 

Thus, Lacey argues, just as the Kefauver committee, as a national legislative body, was predisposed to see a nationwide criminal conspiracy, so law enforcement were predisposed to seeing a hierarchical, bureaucratic and semi-military structure analogous to their own.

Thus, Lacey suggests that the hierarchal charts that famously adorn law enforcement walls in movies, television and real-life, and which attribute to Mafiosi such supposed Mafia ranks as ‘soldier’, capoconsigliere and underboss, reflected less real mafia ranks and relationships than they did: 

The bureaucratic and semimilitary cast of thought prevailing in the average police office. Everybody had a rank, and they did little justice to the confused, fluid, and essentially entrepreneurial character of most criminal activity” (p293). 

Thus, describing the criminal organization of Lansky’s ostensible model, and, according to Lacey, “the archetype of what would become known in America as organized crime” (p48), namely Arnold Rothstein, the man who is famed for supposedly fixing the 1919 World Series (even though, according to Lacey, he was not directly involved: p48; p460 n14), Lacey writes: 

The essence of organized crime as perfected by Arnold Rothstein was not structural organization as the conventional world knew it. It was, rather, the absence of structure… This was not the integrated empire of a czar or a JP Morgan. Such comparisons fail to grasp the secrecy and nimbleness necessary to success in organized crime… Each of Rothstein’s deals was separate, flexible, detached. His protegés and partners might operate individually or together. It was a question of what worked” (p50). 

In short, Lacey concludes: 

The secret of his organization was the lack of it” (p50). 

Like his early mentor, Lansky was to operate the same way: 

True to the example of his Arnold Rothstein, [Lansky’s] organization lay in the absence of structure… He kept the paperwork in his own head” (p54-5). 

Thus, in Lacey’s telling, what the authorities invariably failed to grasp about the nature of organized crime relationships was that they were based ultimately, not in hierarchy, but in partnership.[12]

As a consequence of this misunderstanding, Lacey notes the difficulty that early Mafia turncoat Joe Valachi had in explaining to senators that ‘soldiers’ received no salary from their boss or family, but rather, on the contrary, were expected to pay their boss a cut of what they themselves made (p293).
Lacey also notes the difficulty of fitting the non-Italian Lansky into this hierarchical scheme (p292). 

Ostensibly, Lansky, as a non-Italian and hence ineligible for membership, was a mere ‘associate’. However, even Lacey, who argues that Lansky’s power and importance in the American Mafia has been much exaggerated, admits that to describe Lansky as a mere ‘associate’ is not to do him justice.[13]

The Kosher Nostra?

Another mafia myth Lacey purports to debunk is the notion: 

The early thirties saw America’s gangsters became overwhelmingly Italian” (p65). 

In response, Lacey points out: 

This makes no allowance for the flourishing in New York City, throughout this period and beyond, of Dutch Schultz, Lepke Buchalter, Jake ‘Gurrah’ Shapiro, and Benny Seigel… who were responsible for more deaths between them than Lucky Luciano and all the Padrones in the Castellammarese Wars” (p65). 

It is certainly true that Italian-American organized crime has been much mythologized in the popular media at least since the latter part of the twentieth century, to the almost complete exclusion of organized crime involving criminals of other ethnicities. 

Jewish American organized crime, in particular, seems to have been largely ignored in Hollywood films, Sergio Leone’s masterful Once Upon a Time in America representing a notable exception. This is perhaps a reflection of the fact that so many Hollywood movie moguls were Jewish, and hence had little desire to feed into familiar anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as dishonest or as criminals.[14]

Yet, before the 1930s, organized crime in early twentieth century New York seems to have been, if anything, more Jewish-dominated then Italian-dominated, with figures such as Arnold Rothstein and Dutch Schultz representing perhaps the predominant prohibition-era bootleggers in New York City. 

Actually, however, I suspect that the popular perception which Lacey purports to debunk – namely that “the early thirties saw America’s gangsters became overwhelmingly Italian” – is not so much false, as about five or ten years premature. 

Thus, of the examples of Jewish criminals cited by Lacey in this passage, Schultz was assassinated in 1935, apparently on the orders of Italian organized crime figures who increasingly viewed him as a liability, and Murder Inc, the predominantly Jewish hitmen supposedly responsible for his assassination (and many others), not only took their orders from the Italian Albert Anastasia and the rest of the five families, but were, at any rate, themselves broken up by law enforcement in the early 1940s. 

Siegel, meanwhile, was assassinated in 1947, and, unlike the Italian-American mafia families that survived and flourished over several generations of leadership changes over the course of the twentieth century, the criminal organizations of Schultz and Siegel did not outlive their leaders.[15]

Meanwhile, looking outside of New York, the predominantly Jewish Purple Gang in Detroit imploded through internal warfare in the 1930s. 

Thenceforth, Jews like Lansky operated largely as adjuncts to Italian-American crime syndicates, not independent powers in and of themselves as Schultz and Rothstein had been.  

Only in Las Angeles, with a relatively small Italian-American population, and where the much-maligned Mickey Mouse Mafia was long perceived as weak, were Jewish racketeers like, first, Bugsy Seigel, and, later, Mickey Cohen, able to give the Italians a run for their money into the mid-twentieth century. 

This is a process known to sociologists and criminologists as ethnic succession theory, whereby, over the course of the twentieth century, successive waves of new immigrants replaced previous waves, not only in the urban ghettos where they resided, but also in the organized crime rackets that they successively inherited and came to control.[16]

Thus, in New York, organized crime was first dominated by the Irish in the nineteenth century, then, around the turn of the century, Jews started to attain dominance. Jews were then displaced by the Italians, who are now themselves now largely giving way to blacks and Latinos

This chronology, of course, represents a gross over-simplification.  

For one thing, the most recent incumbents in this chain of inheritance, namely American blacks, been resident in America rather longer than many of the Anglos, let alone most of the Italians, Irish Catholics and Jews. At most, they were internal migrants, having arrived in norther cities by fleeing the Jim Crow South in a series of so-called Great Migrations over the course of the twentieth century. 

Yet, even when Francis Ianni published Black Mafia: Ethnic Succession in Organized Crime in 1974, he was widely ridiculed for his claim that blacks, together with Latinos, were the rising force in organized crime in America.

In short, African-American dominance in organized crime has been long in gestation.[17]

For another thing, there have been people of many other ethnicities, besides Irish, Jews, Italians, blacks and Latinos, who have also been involved in organized crime over the course of the twentieth century.[18]

Finally, there has been considerable overlap in the periods of dominance of the different groups, and, of course, substantial geographic variation too, depending on the ethnic groups present in large numbers in any given area.

For example, the Irish-American Westies remained the dominant organized crime faction in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of New York until at least the 1980s, and, in other parts of America (e.g. Boston), Irish-American dominance may have lasted even longer.

As for Jews such as Lansky, their own period of dominance seems to have been especially short-lived if only on account of their exceptional levels of upward social mobility.

Thus, by the mid-twentieth century, Jews were already, one suspects, as likely to be lawyers, doctors and legitimate businessmen as organized crime figures. 

By the late-twentieth century, meanwhile, Jewish organized crime was all but extinct, only to belatedly re-emerge in the 1990s with a new wave of Russian Jewish immigrants to the Brighton Beach area

Las Vegas: A Gambling Oasis in the Desert 

Another Mafia myth debunked by Lacey is the notion that has Bugsy Siegel as the lone visionary single-handedly responsible for constructing the modern Las Vegas amid the Nevada desert. Actually, according to Lacey, Siegel was almost a latecomer:

In reality, Bugsy followed a trail pioneered by quite a few others. When he arrived in Las Vegas in 1941, there was already one luxurious hotel-casino in the desert… and in December 1942 [it] was joined by an even larger and more luxurious development” (p150). 

Indeed, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported as early as 1946: 

“‘I’m going to build a hotel’ was the stock comment of wealthy visitors to Las Vegas in the early months of peace” (p151). 

Instead, Seigel’s role was altogether more modest: 

Seigel did not invent the luxury resort hotel casino. He did not found the Las Vegas Strip. He did not [even] buy the land or first conceive the project that became the Flamingo. But by his death he made them all famous” (158). 

The conclusion is clear. Although Mafia figures certainly later bought, maneuvered and muscled their way in, the Las Vegas we know today, whether we love or hate it, would have come into being even without the involvement of the American Mafia, though its history may have been less colourful and bloody in the process. 

As for Lansky, Siegel’s friend and sometime partner, his own involvement in Las Vegas was, according to Lacey, even more modest. Thus, after the end of prohibition: 

Las Vegas offered the second great chance in [Lansky’s] life to go legit, but he made no special effort to take it” (p152). 

Thus, the extent of Lansky’s own investment in Vegas casinos was modest, and he remained largely a silent partner, with a minimal investment, allowing Siegel and others to take the leading role. 

Cuban Casinos and the Coming of Castro and the Communists 

Instead of investing heavily in Vegas hotel-casinos, Lansky chose to back a different horse – Cuba, constructing the massive, luxurious Havana Riviera hotel-casino in Havana, apparently in imitation of similar resorts in Vegas. 

At the time, and without the benefit of hindsight, Lansky’s investment actually made a great deal of sense. 

The then President-turned-military-dictator of Cuba, Fulgencio Bastista was indeed a visionary leader, being among the earliest Third World leaders to recognise the wealth and inward investment that a growing international tourist industry could bring to a country like Cuba, known for the beauty of its beaches, its women and its climate. 

Unfortunately, however, Cuba’s visionary leader was overthrown by puritanical communists opposed to gambling, as well as to prostitution, sex tourism and other such fun and healthy recreational activities.

Castro and communist Cuba were, of course, to become long-running headaches for the American government. Yet what is often forgotten is that the Cuban revolution was initially favourably received among most Americans.

Thus, on a visit to America soon after coming to power: 

In New York… Fidel Castro arrived in April 1959 to a hero’s welcome… The young guerrilla leader, charismatic in his beard and fatigues, was hailed as a liberator in the finest Latin American tradition – another Bolívar” (p253).  

Such naivity about incoming totalitarian despots is a recurrent feature of American politics. Previous generations of American journalists, such as John Reed and Walter Duranty, had hailed the Bolshevik revolution as a positive development, and Lenin and Stalin as benign and progressive leaders. Later generations of American journalists were to fall into the same trap again, when they hail Mugabe as a progressive and democratic liberator and freedom-fighter, and the so-called Arab Spring as motivated by support for western-style liberal democracy rather than for theocratic Islamic fundamentalism.

To misquote a famous (mis-)quotation from the philosopher Georg Hegel, we might observe:

The one thing we learn from history is that American left-liberals learn nothing from history’.

In respect of Cuba, among the first to see the writing on the wall was Lansky himself, perhaps because, unlike most Americans, he was present on the ground in Cuba attempting in vain to protect his investment and business interests. He could hardly afford to be as naïve and deluded as his fellow countrymen regarding the true nature of the new regime. 

Thus, it was that Lansky reluctantly took it upon himself to explain the truth about the new Cuban regime to the US government. The representatives of the US government to whom Lansky delivered his carefully prepared presentation were two FBI agents 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. 


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).[19]

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).[20]

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). 


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.[21]

Thus, 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).[22]

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).[23]

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).[24]

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.[25]

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).  


[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. This, for example, is the view espoused in in The Mafia Encyclopedia (Third Edition) by author Carl Sifakis (The Mafia Encyclopedia: p333-5). 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. As with the more outlandish tales of Luciano’s involvement in the US invasion of Sicily, this idea is therefore best dismissed as an implausible conspiracy theory.

[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, or of Lansky’s own Cuban establishments, and is used to distinguished such an establishment from a less-pretentious, downmarket ‘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, 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. Capone, in particular, was said to be mistrustful of the his nominal allies, the Terrible Gennas, who represented the closest thing prohibition-era Chicago had to a Sicilian organized crime family.

[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’ in this context may seem exaggerated or even absurd, but this is exactly how mafiosi themselves 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] Thus, even the earliest Hollywood gangster movies, the Warner Brothers gangster cycle of the 1930s, tended to ommit Jews. Thus, the two biggest stars of these movies were perhaps Edward G Robinson and James Cagney. The former, Edward G Robinson, made a career for himself being typecaste as an Italian gangster, while his rival 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.

[15] 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. 

[16] Not all immigrant groups to the USA have been associated with organized crime. For example, there is, to my knowledge, little history of German-American involvement in organized crime in America.
Instead, the three dominant groups in organized crime in New York during the early twentieth century – Irish, Sicilians and Jews – all have a history of living under the rule of foreign rulers, and hence a tradition of not trusting, or relying on, government or law enforcement to resolve their problems.
Indeed, the Jews even arguably have their own version of the Sicilian code of omertà, namely mesirah, a Talmudic law whereby Jews were forbidden to inform against, or turn fellow-Jews over to Gentile authorities. Of course, most Jewish organized crime figures were not religious. However, this rule against informing against fellow-Jews, nevertheless illustrates the general milieu in which Jewish crime figures would have been raised and grew up, with little trust in the government, law enforcement or the authorities, who were perceived as inherently anti-Semitic and corrupt, as indeed they often were.

[17] 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; see also Gangsters of Harlem). 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. 

[18] 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

[19] 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).

[20] 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). 

[21] 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.

[22] 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.

[23] 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). 

[24] 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 no 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.

[25] 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 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 principal 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.

Indeed, Macdonald goes further, arguing that the ultimate source of Nazi race theory was not WagnerChamberlain or Gobineau, let alone EckartRosenberg or Hitler himself, but rather ethnically Sephardic British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who, despite being a Christian convert and having married a Gentile, nevertheless considered the Jews a superior race, something he apparently attributed to their supposed racial purity. Thus, Macdonald quotes historian LJ Rather as claiming:

“Disraeli rather than Gobineau—still less Chamberlain—is entitled to be called the father of nineteenth-century racist ideology” (Reading Wagner: quoted in Separation and Its Discontents: p180).

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


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 we Europeans who are the WEIRD’ ones in this respect.[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 – but also, over time, threatens to divide the group into separate, inbred, endogamous lineages, with loyalty only to themselves. 

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 generational difference and hence likely the 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, Macdonald seems to be saying that 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. 

Middleman 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]


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. 


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 anti-Semitism, 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. 


[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.
Moreover, it is notable that, although ostensibly based on clothing not skin tone, even in the colour schemes outlined by Anthony and Mallory in the passages quoted above, it is the relatively higher caste groups that are associated with lighter colours (e.g. priests with white) and the lower status groups (e.g. herders/commoners) with darker colours (e.g. black or blue).
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. However, this idea first finds scriptural authority in the Mishnah, compiled in the Tannaitic period, i.e. the first couple of centuries of the Common Era. It therefore appears to be an innovation of Rabbinic Judaism, and hence of little if any relevance to the interpretation of the passages quoted by Macdonald from the Book of Numbers and of Dueteronomy, which, as part of the Pentateuch (i.e. the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) were composed many centuries earlier. Indeed, some evidence suggests that originally Jewish identity was passed down the male line, and that this was only later altered in the early Tannaitic era.

[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 trends 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 actually encouraged by the gentile authorities to own land and take up farming to facilitate 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 overrepre