May 8, 2008
The professor the anti-Semites love
Kevin MacDonald, Cal State Long Beach, and the downside of academic freedom
Kevin MacDonald had just completed the first in a series of books that would come to define him. Awaiting feedback from his publisher 15 years ago, MacDonald sent his manuscript to a colleague in the psychology department at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). The feedback was not encouraging.|
"What troubles me most is that your criticism of Jews may be taken seriously by groups and individuals who both fear and hate Jews," Martin Fiebert wrote in a 12-point reply. "Your manuscript, unintentionally perhaps, reinforces the stereotype that all Jews, be they assimilated or not, are clannish, deceptive, and exploitive. I'm sure you would be dismayed to find that your book has a treasured place in the bookcases of neo-Nazis along with 'Mein Kampf' and the 'Protocols of Zion.'"
How prophetic Fiebert's insight turned out to be.
MacDonald, 64, has been deemed America's "foremost anti-Semitic thinker" by civil rights experts. A tenured psychology professor who lent his expertise to Holocaust denier David Irving, MacDonald has suggested restricting college enrollment and increasing taxes for Jews to mediate what he perceives as inequities with non-Jewish whites.
For continuing updates on this story, keep reading The God Blog by Brad A. Greenberg
His three-volume critique of Judaism as a "group evolutionary strategy" -- known collectively as "The Culture of Critique" and published by Praeger in 1994, 1998 and 1998 -- claims the religion discourages inclusion, eggs on anti-Semitism and uses study of Talmud to thin the reproduction of less intelligent members. The books have become sacred scripture for white supremacists, and a growing number of MacDonald's colleagues have urged the university to denounce his writings.
"He is repackaging traditional anti-Jewish beliefs in contemporary pseudo-scientific language," said Jeffrey Blutinger, a history professor leading the push against MacDonald. "If you think of classic anti-Jewish tropes of Jews as clannish, conspiratorial, opposed to Christendom, a threat to the nation, using contemporary ideas as a way of undermining traditional beliefs -- all of these show up in his writing."
These are strange credentials for a man who in person seems every bit a slice of Midwest Americana. Part German, part Scottish, raised to be a traditional Catholic, though he is now agnostic, MacDonald was reared in a small Wisconsin town best known for the children's clothes that carry its name.
"Oshkosh was a great town to grow up in," MacDonald said in a recent conversation. "There weren't any Jewish families at all. I guess there was one; I knew one Jewish kid in high school. Nobody talked about Jews. There was no anti-Semitism in town. It was an unknown."
He first discovered his future research subjects as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He had a few Jews as roommates, and many more were fellow travelers in the anti-war movement. Almost three decades later, when MacDonald began connecting Jewish power and success to evolutionary strategies, he would identify his leftist years as the first time Jews used his gentile face to promote what he considered their group agenda. It wasn't until the '90s that MacDonald began to see Jewish communities as inimical entities slowly destroying their hosts.
"Jews are inevitably going to be an elite," he said. "They are smart; they are well organized. The problem, from my point of view, is that there is a hostility there, a fear and hostility, that over the past 40 years has resulted in some changes that have not been in the interest of people like me. As simple as that."
MacDonald's core complaint is Jewish influence on immigration laws. He blames passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, which abolished national origin quotas and made immigration easier for non-Westerners, on a Jewish desire to oust European Americans from the majority.
"European people in this country will be a minority in a few years," MacDonald said. "I don't think that would have happened if we had had a sense of ourselves as a culture worth defending. Now, everything is up for grabs."
He sat for the first of two interviews in his cramped office on campus. Tall and lanky, with white hair and a disarming smile, MacDonald hardly looks like America's scariest academic. He is affable, even in light of the vilification he's received, much of it from -- and this shouldn't surprise -- Jewish peers and organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
"Everybody who crosses them, they are going to have a price to pay," MacDonald said. "People won't be seen with me; they won't talk to me; they won't have lunch with me. I am pretty much a nonentity around here."
Until 2000, MacDonald was largely unknown on campus. Testifying for Irving in a lawsuit against Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt attracted a flurry of attention. But then the storm quieted, and MacDonald was left alone to develop and detail his theories on Jewish strategies to "destroy" Western culture, typing out page after page in his office on the fourth floor of CSULB's 1970s-era psych building.
"He is not the type of guy who is going to dress up in a KKK outfit or swastika armband. The truth is that with his Ph.D and this veneer of respectability, he's very dangerous," said Heidi Beirich, who directs SPLC's research and special projects.
"The Nazi types are reading his stuff like it is the Bible," Beirich continued, "and they're using it to say why Jews should be exterminated, why they should be thrown out of the country -- because he says Jews are responsible for all this immigration that is destroying white culture. His books are like the new Bible of the movement."
Last spring, Beirich wrote a scathing profile of MacDonald for SPLC's magazine, Intelligence Report, and the local chapter of the ADL became more active in raising awareness. Then earlier this year, the ground ruptured beneath MacDonald when a few uneasy colleagues from a range of academic departments coalesced and began to urge CSULB President F. King Alexander to distance the school from its infamous academic.
Alexander so far has declined all such requests on the basis of academic freedom. "Despite the fact that I personally disagree and even find deplorable some beliefs and opinions expressed by a few individuals on our campus, particularly those ideas that are hurtful of certain groups, I believe as Thomas Jefferson stated, that 'errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it,'" Alexander, who declined to be interviewed, said in a written statement.
"Universities should always ensure that good ideas always outweigh bad ideas," he continued. "Universities should also be firmly committed, even at times when it is against popular opinion, to freedom of thought, and when we act to restrict opinion from the far right or the far left, then it will not be long before we can no longer call ourselves a university."
But the pressure from the academic community to condemn MacDonald continues. During the past six weeks, the anthropology and history departments, as well as the Jewish studies program, all have issued statements denouncing MacDonald's work as "professionally irresponsible and morally untenable"; the psychology department voted to disassociate from his writings because of their popularity with "extremist groups."
"His approach to historical investigation is antithetical to our discipline in that he selects only those materials that support his preconceived thesis, while ignoring all evidence to the contrary," the history faculty's statement said. "MacDonald's misuse of historical methodology would be unacceptable in an undergraduate history paper; how much more disturbing, therefore, is the fact that in these writings he is identified as a professor at CSULB."
MacDonald's intellectual pursuits began innocently. In 1990, he'd been at Cal State Long Beach five years, teaching and researching child psychological development, when he read an article in the Los Angeles Times about the tight-knit 19th century Jewish community of Cheyenne, Wyo.
"They came with a distinct culture, community activities and forms of cooperation, and they practiced their religious rituals even in the most isolated conditions," the Times reported. "One child tells how before there was a rabbi in Cheyenne, his father dressed meat in the kosher tradition in the back of his furniture store."
The article made MacDonald think of animals.
He had graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1966 with a degree in philosophy and dreams of being a jazz musician. When reality sank in, MacDonald entered graduate school at the University of Connecticut in the mid-'70s, earning a master's in biology and then, four years later, a doctorate in biobehavorial science.
His research focused on the personalities of wolves, and by the time he left UConn in 1981 to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois, MacDonald was convinced that, like the lab wolves he'd studied, human behavioral tendencies also led back to specific genetic blueprints. And that is where his mind wandered when he read about Cheyenne's Jews.
"My adviser, Benson Ginsburg, wrote an article saying that wolves would be a better model for human behavior than chimpanzees, because of social bonds and their acting like a family," MacDonald said. "They have to police the boundaries and police in-group behavior; you can't have freeloaders. My earliest research on the behavior of Jews focused on that, and you see wolf packs do that."
MacDonald began to think of Judaism as the vehicle through which an evolutionary strategy was mechanized. He decided to read Paul M. Johnston's "A History of the Jews" and the Tanakh, or as MacDonald knew it, the Old Testament, and within short order, he was mentally outlining "A People that Shall Dwell Alone."
The book became the first in his series, "The Culture of Critique." "A People that Shall Dwell Alone" lays the foundation for MacDonald's theory of Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy and briefly discusses other groups that he believes employ similar strategies: Gypsies, the Amish, Chinese living abroad.
Jews, he pointed out, are taught they are different -- God's chosen -- and they are encouraged to live lives that benefit other Jews. They also marry within the Tribe, and more often their neighbors within their extended family, MacDonald wrote. Focusing on the Ashkenazim of Central and Eastern Europe, he argued that competition for resources benefited Jews who chose niche businesses, like trading and banking. And in one of his most controversial claims, MacDonald wrote that, over time Jews have grown increasingly successful because of a eugenics program built into the religion -- Talmud study, which helped determine which men got the prettiest wives, the best business opportunities and the most children.
"These documents contain a vast amount of material for which there are no practical functions at all," MacDonald wrote. "The incredible elaboration of Jewish religious law in these writings suggests that this mass of material is the result of intense intellectual competition within the Jewish community and that the resulting Torah then provided an arena for intellectual competition within the Jewish community."
The second volume, "Separation and its Discontents," offers an evolutionary explanation for anti-Semitism, from the late Roman Empire to modern Diaspora life, and discusses Jewish strategies for combating discrimination. The most controversial portion of this book, Chapter 5, compares Nazism to Judaism.
"The National Socialist movement in Germany from 1933-1945 is a departure from Western tendencies toward universalism and muted individualism in the direction of racial nationalism and cohesive collectivism.... It may be usefully conceptualized as a group evolutionary strategy that was characterized by several key features that mirrored Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy."
MacDonald concluded that Nazi ideology "may well have been caused or at least greatly facilitated by the presence of Judaism as a very salient and successful racially exclusive antithetical group strategy within German society."
His final volume in the series, "The Culture of Critique," focuses on Judaism as a culture of belittling non-Jews and makes broad claims about Jewish dominance in media and the social sciences, identification with radical leftist politics and influence over immigration laws. He argues in the preface to the paperback edition (2002) that Jewish intellectuals and influentials have discovered, and are committed to, the best strategy for "destroying Europeans": convincing them of their own moral bankruptcy. "And thus," he wrote, "the intense effort among Jewish intellectuals to continue the ideology of the moral superiority of Judaism and its role as undeserving historical victim while at the same time continuing the onslaught on the moral legitimacy of the West."
MacDonald's newest addition to this library, "Cultural Insurrections," was published last month by Occidental Press. The book is a compilation of his essays from the past few years, with topics ranging from "Stalin's Willing Executioners" to "What Makes Western Culture Unique." In the book's final essay -- "Can the Jewish Model Help the West Survive?" -- MacDonald embraces Jewish "hyper-ethnocentrism" as a strategy to fight the "onslaught" of immigration that he believes has increased ethnic competition for resources and threatens white European American culture. "We already see numerous examples in which coalitions of minority groups attempt to influence public policy, including immigration policy, against the interests of the European majority. And we must realize that placing ourselves in a position of vulnerability would be extremely risky, given the deep sense of historical grievance harbored by many ethnic activists toward Europeans," MacDonald wrote.
"This is especially the case with Jews, and of course Jews have shown a tendency to become part of the elite in Western societies. We have recently seen reports in the press of religious Jews spitting on Christian symbols in Israel, thereby resurrecting an age-old Jewish practice. Indeed, hatred toward all things European is normative among a great many strongly identified Jews."
In fact, there were reports from Ha'aretz and Christianity Today in 2004 of a spate of spitting incidents in Jerusalem, in which ultra-Orthodox Jews allegedly assaulted Christians. However, spitting, like the blood libel that claims Jews ritually slaughter Christian children and bake their blood into matzah, is not and never has been an "age-old Jewish practice."
Most of the essays for "Cultural Insurrections" appeared in The Occidental Quarterly, a Mount Airy, Md.-based journal that "unapologetically defends the cultural, ethnic, and racial interests of Western European peoples." In 2004, the journal awarded MacDonald a $10,000 prize.
"MacDonald's 'racism' is nothing more than the idea that European-descended peoples have as much right as any other people, including Jews, to preserve their people and their culture," Virginia Abernethy, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and, like MacDonald, an editorial adviser to The Occidental Quarterly, wrote in the book's foreword.
MacDonald's research rests on the assumption, based on interpretations of intelligence tests, that Jews are born with superior brains. The intelligence quotient sits on a sliding scale, with the average IQ at 100. The average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews, however, is a whopping 107 to 115, at the median higher than 70 percent of people, according to a few contested, though oft-cited, studies by Margaret E. Backman (1972), Julius S. Romanoff (1976) and Richard Lynn (2004).
The results have been dramatic: Freud, Einstein, Dylan. In the second half of the 20th century, Jews received 29 percent of the Nobel Prizes, while accounting for only 13 million of the world's 6 billion inhabitants -- about two-tenths of a percent.
"The profile of disproportionately high Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences since the 18th century, the reality of elevated Jewish IQ, and the connection between the two are not to be denied by means of data," Charles Murray, co-author of the controversial 1994 book, "The Bell Curve," which discussed the socioeconomic consequences of racial differences in intelligence, wrote in Commentary magazine last year. "And so we come to the great question: How and when did this elevated Jewish IQ come about?"
There is no accepted explanation. Some researchers have attributed higher IQ to medieval persecution, others to Jewish identity as the People of the Book and a few, maybe flippantly, to the fruits of being God's chosen.
But how researchers answer that same question depends heavily upon what school of thought they come from. Evolutionary psychologists like MacDonald credit better Jewish genes, while traditional biologists argue heightened IQ is the result of nurture, not nature.
"Jews may have been able to actualize their intelligence differently than other groups because we have an enormous, 5,000-year cultural history prizing learning and achievement," said Richard M. Lerner, a critic of MacDonald who directs the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University. "There is no innateness."
Few people would deny that Jews number strongly among the American elite, but very few American Jews want to talk about it. Among those who will is J.J. Goldberg, author of the authoritative 1996 book, "Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment."
"A lot of the politics of Jewish advocacy, minority advocacy in general, is victimhood," Goldberg said in an interview. "You can't do that if you are not actually a victim. There are some people who think Jews are powerless and others, like Kevin MacDonald, think that Jews control everything. In fact, the truth is somewhere in the middle."
Another journalist eager to discuss this topic is Philip Weiss, who writes the blog, Mondoweiss, and, unlike Goldberg, is an anti-Zionist who can be a brutal critic of his co-religionists. In December, MacDonald mentioned Weiss on his Web site, kevinmacdonald.net, where he links to his articles about Jews and Western culture and writes lengthy responses to critics. MacDonald praised Weiss as a fellow traveler. On his own blog, Weiss quickly rejected the embrace.
"He is trying to examine some important ideas. I just wish he wasn't racist about it," Weiss said in an interview, adding, "There was scrutiny of Jewish power in Central Europe when the Nazis arose. Therefore there is no ability to scrutinize Jewish power now because it makes you a Nazi. But I think that it is a legitimate intellectual and journalistic exercise to scrutinize Jewish power. I know MacDonald is engaged in that, and I respect that. But it is his generalizations about Jews that I find disturbing."
Broad brushing, a central criticism of MacDonald's work, is a professional hazard in evolutionary psychology, a field of study whose legitimacy has been fiercely contested. For its advocates, it is scientific research that applies Darwinian principles to human behavior. Opponents liken it to Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories, " which explained contemporary phenomena with fantastic ontological accounts that traced the maze backward.
Nevertheless, MacDonald was once a respected member of this community. His first book was fairly well reviewed, though the second less so and the third almost not at all. From 1995 to 2001, he served as the elected secretary-archivist of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. That organization's president would come to repudiate MacDonald as an "embarrassment." "The theoretical viewpoint expressed in MacDonald's books stands in the most extreme contradiction to nearly every contentful core claim of evolutionary psychology," said John Tooby, co-director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at UC Santa Barbara and a pioneer in the field.
Tooby's comment, which appeared on Slate.com, was prompted by MacDonald's decision on Jan. 31, 2000, to enter a British courtroom as an expert witness on Jewish behavior. On that day, MacDonald explained his belief that Jewish activists conspire against individuals who threaten the group interest, a model he alleged had been used to suppress, after publication, Irving's biography of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
"Yes, I think that anti-Semitism is, you know, a perennial problem, and Jewish organizations have developed very sophisticated ways of dealing with it," MacDonald said, in what ended up being a very short testimony. "This is one way of dealing with it. Anti-Semitism or any anti-Semitism is fought very, very intensely. They take it very seriously, and they do quite a job, obviously, of suppressing it, yes."
That statement surprised Irving, who didn't like being called an anti-Semite in court, and those few minutes have dogged MacDonald since. On his Web site and that of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), a Holocaust-denying organizatin based in Newport Beach, MacDonald presented a lengthy explanation for why he agreed to testify.
He claimed that Lipstadt, following a pattern of Jewish activism, had "attempted to prevent the publication of writings conflicting with their constructions of reality" and exaggerated Irving's Holocaust denial. MacDonald also appealed to the academic importance of Irving's book, "Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich."
"He had access to original documents in the Soviet Union that nobody knew about. It was the kind of thing that any historian would have to read. And yet it was rescinded; they actually took it off the shelf. I thought that was ridiculous, just activism stuff," MacDonald added in an interview. "It was just suppression of free speech."
In Lipstadt's memoir, "History on Trial," she recalled the surprise of learning an expert on anti-Semitism would be a witness against her.
"I could not fathom," she wrote, "how a specialist on anti-Semitism would voluntarily testify on Irving's behalf, unless, I thought -- facetiously -- somehow he's for it."
Cal State Long Beach's Jewish studies program is located about 100 yards from Psych 417 on the second floor of a collection of history and sociology offices that looks 70 years old and smells older. The program is identified by a corkboard adjacent to the office of co-director Jeffrey Blutinger, who teaches Jewish intellectual and cultural history and post-communist Holocaust memorialization. Waiting outside, visitors are entertained by the printed phrases of "Jewish Buddhists" -- "If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?" and "Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis." -- and satirical headlines from a backdated issue of The Onion -- "Furher's Slaughter of Millions Blamed on Serious Self-Esteem Issues."
Blutinger's office is stuffed with six bookcases full of Jewish history, from Heinrich Graetz to pioneer Jews of the American West. And lumped on a pile of binders beneath the Encyclopedia Judaica lay first editions of MacDonald's first two books, checked out from the university library, and borrowed copies of "The Culture of Critique" and "Understanding Jewish Influence," an Occidental Quarterly monograph containing three MacDonald essays.
A former lawyer who joined the faculty four years ago, Blutinger has emerged as a leader in the battle against MacDonald, urging colleagues across campus to join the fight and authoring the Jewish studies' program statement denouncing MacDonald's research and the appended 18-page explanation.
"It's important that we take a stand," Blutinger said. "I teach the Holocaust every fall, and the thing I always end the course with is that, God willing, we will never have to make the choice people did back then, but all of us face the choice between what's right and doing what is easy or convenient. I tell them that I hope they will do what is right."
"If we are not willing to stand up when the risks are small," he continued, "why would we be willing to take a stand when the risks are big?"
Unpopular as MacDonald's views are, there appears little the university can do. He is protected by his status as a tenured professor, which he achieved in 1994, the year the first book in his "Culture of Critique" series was published. MacDonald also received a distinguished faculty award in 1995, and there is no record of any student complaint about anything MacDonald has said in 23 years, the administration, ADL and Hillel all reported.
Cal Sate Long Beach has been down this road before.
Nearly 30 years ago, Reinhard K. Buchner, a physics professor who from 1980 to 1983 was an editorial adviser for IHR's now-defunct Journal of Historical Review, drew protests from the ADL and Simon Wiesenthal Center. The journal carried such Buchner essays as "The Problem of Cremator Hours and Incineration Time," which argued, using time-space calculations, that the number of Jews who possibly could have been killed at Auschwitz has been exaggerated.
Buchner eventually returned to Germany, but a former colleague on the editorial board, Arthur R. Butz, remains in American academia. A long-time associate professor of engineering at Northwestern University, Butz was an early Holocaust denier. In 1976, he wrote "The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry."
Many other tenured scholars, from the lowest to highest levels of academia, use their position to share unsavory opinions. The issue is one of academic freedom, designed to encourage bold research by protecting faculty from the political whims of capricious administrators. And even as it promotes experimental research in every discipline, it also frequently puts universities in uncomfortable positions.
MacDonald has publicly warned Cal State Long Beach administrators, responsible for the second-largest student body (population: 37,000) in the country's largest university system (23 campuses scattered from Arcata to San Diego), that the school could expect a lawsuit if he was terminated without just cause.
This is why faculty statements have urged only that the university distance itself from his theories about Jews and his support for ethnostates that create a haven for European American interests. Each of the four departmental statements professed a belief in his freedom to write about whatever he wants.
"We wish to make it clear that we do not seek to impede Kevin MacDonald's First Amendment rights," proclaimed the statement from the anthropology department, released April 28. "However, just as he has rights, we have the right, if not the obligation, to denounce his writings on race, ethnicity and intelligence that promote intolerance, as not only inaccurate, but as professionally irresponsible and morally untenable."
In the second of two recent interviews, MacDonald said he is not a fan of anti-Semitism. But he also described his opinions on a Palestinian American TV news program in 2005 as "rational" anti-Semitism and has joked that being branded a Jew hater was a "badge of honor," the knee-jerk reaction of a scared Jewish establishment.
The chief concern over MacDonald's writings about Jews is directed at his fan base: white supremacists like Stormfront.org and Vanguard News Network -- whose motto is "No Jews. Just Right." The members of these online communities have become his loudest defenders, often in language that is as offensive as possible.
"So the goddam Kikes are getting their way yet again, putting the thumbscrews to a White scholar whose ass they are not worthy to lick.... At least this oppression proves that Prof. MacDonald's great work is hitting the scum hard," a Vanguard commenter wrote in February below a republished story about MacDonald from CSULB's student paper.
"How much more of this humiliation is our race going to take? How long before this motherf---ing plague of repulsive, hook-snouted ticks is given a real Zyklon fumigation, as opposed to the fairy tale one?"
MacDonald repudiated such rhetoric as "crazy stuff" but said he supports the ideology behind it.
"White people have legitimate ethnic interests. To the extent that that is all they believe, then we are on the same page," he said. "I don't like to use words like white supremacists. You could say that Koreans in Korea are Korean supremacists if they want to maintain their culture. It is kind of a loaded word; it is a politically charged word of the left, basically, to pathologize any sense of having an ethnicity and culture by people like me. I reject that."
"I certainly reject the tactics and the rhetoric of these people. It's very crude," MacDonald added. "But to the extent that David Duke is trying to advance a white ethnic interest and so on, I don't have any problem with that."