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The Culture of Critique, Kevin MacDonald, 1stBooks, 466 pages
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One evening early on in my career as an opinion journalist in the USA, I found myself in a roomful of mainstream conservative types standing around in groups and gossiping. Because I was new to the scene, many of the names they were tossing about were unknown to me, so I could not take much part in the conversation. Then I caught one name that I recognized. I had just recently read and admired a piece published in Chronicles under that name. I gathered from the conversation that the owner of the name had once been a regular contributor to much more widely read conservative publications, the kind that have salaried congressional correspondents and full-service LexisNexis accounts, but that he was welcome at those august portals no longer. In all innocence, I asked why this was so. “Oh,” explained one of my companions, “he got the Jew thing.” The others in our group all nodded their understanding. Apparently no further explanation was required. The Jew thing. It was said in the kind of tone you might use of an automobile with a cracked engine block, or a house with subsiding foundations. Nothing to be done with him, poor fellow. No use to anybody now. Got the Jew thing. They shoot horses, don’t they?

Plainly, getting the Jew thing was a sort of occupational hazard of conservative journalism in the United States, an exceptionally lethal one, which the career-wise writer should strive to avoid. I resolved that I would do my best, so far as personal integrity allowed, not to get the Jew thing. I had better make it clear to the reader that at the time of writing, I have not yet got the Jew thing—that I am in fact a philoSemite and a well-wisher of Israel, for reasons I have explained in various places, none of them difficult for the nimble web surfer to find.

If, however, you have got the Jew thing, or if, for reasons unfathomable to me, you would like to get it, Kevin MacDonald is your man. MacDonald is a tenured professor of psychology at California State University in Long Beach. He is best known for his three books about the Jews, developing the idea that Judaism has for 2,000 years or so been a “group evolutionary strategy.” The subject of this review is a re-issue, in soft cover, of the third and most controversial of these books, The Culture of Critique, first published in 1998. Its subtitle is, “An evolutionary analysis of Jewish involvement in twentieth-century intellectual and political movements.” The re-issue differs from the original mainly by the addition of a 66-page preface, which covers some more recent developments in the field and offers responses to some of the criticisms that appeared when the book was first published. The number of footnotes has also been increased from 135 to 181, and they have all been moved from the chapter-ends to the back of the book. A small amount of extra material has been added to the text. So far as I could tell from a cursory comparison of the two editions, nothing has been subtracted.

The main thrust of this book’s argument is that Jewish or Jewish-dominated organizations and movements engaged in a deliberate campaign to delegitimize the Gentile culture of their host nations —most particularly the USA—through the twentieth century and that this campaign is one aspect of a long-term survival strategy for the Jews as an ethnicity. In MacDonald’s own words, “[T]he rise of Jewish power and the disestablishment of the specifically European nature of the U.S. are the real topics of CofC.” He illustrates his thesis by a close analysis of six distinct intellectual and political phenomena: the anti-Darwinian movement in the social sciences (most particularly the no-such-thing-as-race school of anthropology associated with Franz Boas), the prominence of Jews in left-wing politics, the psychoanalytic movement, the Frankfurt School of social science (which sought to explain social problems in terms of individual psychopathology), the “New York intellectuals” centered on Partisan Review during the 1940s and 1950s, and Jewish involvement in shaping U.S. immigration policy.

MacDonald writes from the point of view of evolutionary psychology—a term that many writers would put in quotes, as the epistemological status of this field is still a subject of debate. I have a few doubts of my own on this score and sometimes wonder whether evolutionary psychology may eventually turn out to be one of those odd fads that the human sciences, especially in the USA, are susceptible to. The twentieth century saw quite a menagerie of these fads: Behaviorism, Sheldonian personality-typing by body shape (ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph), the parapsychological reseaches of Dr. J.B. Rhine, the sexology of Alfred Kinsey, and so on. I think that the evolutionary psychologists are probably on to something, but some of their more extreme claims seem to me to be improbable and unpleasantly nihilistic. Here, for example, is Kevin MacDonald in a previous book: “The human mind was not designed to seek truth but rather to attain evolutionary goals.” This trembles on the edge of deconstructionist words-have-no-meaning relativism, of the kind that philosopher David Stove called “puppetry theory,” and that MacDonald himself debunks very forcefully in Chapter 5 of The Culture of Critique. After all, if it is so, should we not suppose that evolutionary psychologists are pursuing their own “group evolutionary strategy”? And that, in criticizing them, I am pursuing mine? And that there is, therefore, no point at all in my writing, or your reading, any further?

To be fair to Kevin MacDonald, not all of his writing is as silly as that. The Culture of Critique includes many good things. There is a spirited defense of the scientific method, for example. One of the sub-themes of the book is that Jews are awfully good at creating pseudosciences—elaborate, plausible, and intellectually very challenging systems that do not, in fact, have any truth content—and that this peculiar talent must be connected somehow with the custom, persisted in through long pre-Enlightenment centuries, of immersing young men in the study of a vast body of argumentative writing, with status in the community—and marriage options, and breeding opportunities—awarded to those who have best mastered this mass of meaningless esoterica. (This is not an original observation, and the author does not claim it as such. In fact he quotes historian Paul Johnson to the same effect, and earlier comments along these lines were made by Arthur Koestler and Karl Popper.) MacDonald is very scathing about these circular and self-referential thought-systems, especially in the case of psychoanalysis and the “pathologization of Gentile culture” promoted by the Frankfurt School. Here he was precisely on my wavelength, and I found myself cheering him on. Whatever you may think of MacDonald and his theories, there is no doubt he believes himself to be doing careful objective science. The same could, of course, be said of Sheldon, Rhine, Kinsey, et al.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Classic, Anti-Semitism 
John Derbyshire
About John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.