My paper “The Default Hypothesis Fails to Explain Jewish Influence” has generated considerable controversy. Springer Nature has put up the following statement at the beginning of the article:
04 January 2022 Editor’s Note: The Editor-in-Chief and publisher are aware of concerns raised with the content of this article and are investigating. Editorial action will be taken as appropriate once investigation of the concerns is complete and all parties have been given an opportunity to respond in full.
The good news, of course, is that they are saying that I will be able to “respond in full.” This could get very interesting.
Meanwhile, I have come across two media accounts of the controversy. Justin Weinberg’s The Daily Nous, described as “news for and about the philosophy profession, useful information for academic philosophers, links to items of interest elsewhere, and an online space for philosophers to publicly discuss it all. The site is maintained by me, Justin Weinberg, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina.” The article, “Philosophy Journal Hosts Debate on “Jewish Influence” (updated),” by Weinberg, begins with a quote from the hostile Wikipedia article on me where I am labeled an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, white supremacist, and evolutionary psychologist.” Weinberg:
Philosophia is edited by Asa Kasher (Tel Aviv). In response to questions about the publication of these articles, he wrote that the papers were refereed prior to publication, but that it was “a mistake” to publish them, explaining that he was “not aware of the general background of the debate” and that he is “sorry for treating the discussion as an ordinary philosophical debate.” He added that further comments from him may be forthcoming.
Yesterday, Moti Mizrahi (Florida Institute of Technology) who was until last night the associate editor of Philosophia, wrote on Twitter: “I had nothing to do with the publication of this [McDonald’s] paper in Philosophia. I’ve asked the EiC to reconsider its publication in Philosophia.” Later in the day, he announced his resignation from the journal.
Weinberg seems particularly interested in publicizing my brief section titled “Should Jews be welcomed in White advocacy?” The idea of White advocacy is so far beyond the pale at this point that such a discussion is sure to anger activist Jews—and so obviously anathema that Weinberg included a screen shot of the section. I knew that the passage would result in anger, and one reviewer suggested I delete it. But Cofnas had argued that it’s no mystery why Jews don’t join White advocate movements that take a dim view of the effects of Jewish activism, so I thought it was important enough to keep in.
There is a sort of irony here because I started out my academic career by majoring in philosophy and then becoming a graduate student in philosophy, both at the University of Wisconsin. At the beginning I loved philosophy but gradually, due to the upheaval of the 1960s and having developed the idea that philosophy was really irrelevant to the contemporary world, I dropped out. A very difficult decision at the time, but probably the right one in the long run because by the time I came back to academia several years later, I had decided that biological, evolutionary perspectives on human behavior were what I was really interested in. Anyway, publishing an article in an academic philosophy journal is kind of a homecoming for me, and I’d have to say that my article is hardly evidence that an article in academic philosophy journal is irrelevant to the real world. Irrelevant articles don’t ignite furious public debate among activists.
It’s interesting that one section of my article discusses my personal experience with the New Left as a philosophy grad student; another discusses the general rise of Jewish academics to positions in elite universities: ‘Hollinger (1996: 160) notes that “One force in this [culture war of the 1940s] was a secular, increasingly Jewish, decidedly left-of-center intelligentsia based largely . . . in the disciplinary communities of philosophy and the social sciences.’ Lipset and Ladd (1971), using survey data of 60,000 academics from 1969, show that the 1960s were a critical period for the rise of Jewish academics in elite universities who were in general well to the left of non-Jewish professors.” The influx of Jewish faculty and the retirement of non-Jewish faculty were certainly obvious at the University of Wisconsin during that period. I can’t find an official history of that period in the department, but I can think of around 10 Jews, including Haskell Fain (my advisor, a good guy!), including most of the younger faculty.
The other article appeared in The Algemeiner, “a global news destination published online and in print, serves as an independent media voice covering the Middle East, Israel and matters of Jewish interest around the world”: “Israeli Philosophy Journal Scolded for ‘Legitimizing’ Notorious White Supremacist by Publishing Article on ‘Jewish Influence.’”
An Israeli academic journal stirred controversy this week after its publication of a paper on “Jewish influence” by notorious white supremacist Kevin MacDonald, prompting the resignation of its associate editor and a condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
On Sunday, the peer-reviewed Philosophia: Philosophical Quarterly of Israel journal published the essay by MacDonald, a retired California State University-Long Beach professor and a virulently antisemitic figure influential in the US white supremacist movement.
Notice both articles use quotes around the word ‘influence.’ The Algemeinger article also baldly refers to my work as “antisemitic” and, like Weinberg, it emphasizes the section on Jews joining White advocacy movements, as in:
In a lengthy piece defending his earlier antisemitic work, MacDonald called Cofnas’ assessment of Jewish “influence” on US history “inadequate,” arguing among other things that “Jews should be allowed to join [pro-white] movements if they acknowledge the role and the power of the Jewish community in transforming America contrary to white interests and direct their efforts at converting the Jewish community to pro-white advocacy.”
And we hear from the predictably outraged ADL:
The report’s author, ADL Center on Extremism Senior Research Fellow Marilyn Mayo, told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that MacDonald’s body of work was “blatantly antisemitic,” and said that publishing his article was “not a mistake that can just be shirked off.”
“I think it’s disappointing that a journal based in Israel would publish the work of an antisemite,” Mayo said. “Promoting the work of an antisemite in an academic journal legitimizes it.”
But rest assured, the ADL’s attempt to have the article withdrawn is not about censorship. It’s about truth.
“It’s not about censorship, but looking at what someone is saying and whether you’re validating views that are antisemitic or racist or promoting ideas that have proven to be conspiratorial and not true,” she continued. “Of course, in academia there is understandably a drive to present all different kinds of views, and that’s understandable — but it is also incumbent upon institutions and journals to vet what’s put out there or put it in context.”
The phrase “ideas that have proven to be conspiratorial and not true” is a classic. Which ideas is she referring to? There are literally dozens of ideas discussed in my paper. Is she saying that the activist Jewish community didn’t really organize, lead, fund, and perform most of the work of the most important anti-restrictionist organizations active from 1945–1965? Is there no basis to my claim that they recruited prominent non-Jews, such as JFK and Hubert Humphry, as spokesmen for immigration? Did Jews own the three major television networks and Hollywood studios during that period? Did Jewish academics attempt to shape public views on race? Was the activist Jewish community hopelessly split between different perspectives so that in aggregate they had no influence—or were there virtual consensuses during particular times and places? To name a few.
Of course, there is no attempt to dispute my assertions on these matters. Nothing concrete that I could respond to. We’ll see if anyone else does. But rest assured, the vast majority of academics will be intimidated by such pronouncements and will stay inside their safe spaces. Being labeled an “anti-Semite” is the kiss of death for pretty much everyone these days.
I recently posted a blog item on the passing of E.O. Wilson. It was generally laudatory, and notes that he emphasized the roles of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin in the academic attacks on him. But one wonders if he was was intimidated from publicly nothing that their Jewish identities growing up in a radical Jewish subculture influenced their views, as discussed in Chapter 2 in The Culture of Critique. I recently came across an interview EOW did for Quillette in 2011 when elaborates on Gould and Lewontin. He singles out Gould and Lewontin among the many academics who had condemned Sociobiology:
Furious ideologically based opposition had built up in 1978. That opposition had been fanned by a small number of academics including [paleontologist] Stephen Jay Gould and [evolutionary biologist] Richard Lewontin and two or three others on the Harvard faculty who thought this was a very dangerous idea and said so. These people helped organize the so-called “Science for the People” movement, or the branch of it called the “Sociobiology Study Group.” Their purpose was to discredit me personally for having brought up such a dangerous and destructive idea. …
Even before the Internet, there were colleagues I’ve had to watch closely, out of self-defense. Gould and Lewontin could change your identity to evil. Until the end, Gould was continuing to speak out against studies on human genetics and the biological basis of human behavior. At every opportunity, he would put the needle in.
On the ease of academic publishing if you are on the left:
Gould and Lewontin could publish fast and easily. In the early days of forensic DNA analysis, Lewontin came out with a tremendous blast against it and, to my astonishment, he actually had a paper published in Science. He said that since the odds of making a mistake with an African American was greater than making a mistake with whites, forensic DNA analysis was racist and should not be used. He was talking about how the chances of making a false match by chance alone was one in, say, 150 million (I’m just making up numbers here to illustrate his point) in African Americans, while in whites it was something like one in 300 million, so we shouldn’t use the technology. Of course, soon afterwards we saw not people being unjustly convicted, but people being freed when their convictions were overturned, many of whom were African Americans who had been wrongly convicted!
On the other hand, as EOW noted in a 1994 book Naturalist (345), Lewontin imposed the highest scientific rigor on those attempting to publish ideas he disagreed with: “By adopting a narrow criterion of publishable research, Lewontin freed himself to pursue a political agenda unencumbered by science. He adopted the relativist view that accepted truth, unless based on ineluctable fact, is no more than a reflection of dominant ideology and political power.”
Going back to the Quillette interview, on Gould’s Machiavellian personality:
I have a certain cynical feeling towards Gould. Gould was going around attacking racists wherever he found them, especially in the early part of his career. He was the great anti-racism crusader. He acted as though other scientists were all racists or incipient racists. He almost implied that he was the champion who would step out of science as a scientist and fight racism everywhere. He had a technique. I knew him when he was a graduate student following me around. He used to be very polite and solicitous. I watched him develop into a very different kind of person.
So Gould was polite and solicitous as a graduate student and likely as an untenured faculty member, but as soon as he had power and security at an elite academic institution, he became a different person—probably a common phenomenon as second- and third-generation Jews were ascending the ladders to elite status in American society. Indeed, EOW notes “I knew [Gould] well enough to know he sought fame and riches. He sought that out.” Lewontin also enjoyed an upper-middle-class lifestyle:
Here was a guy who was an intense Marxist, who spent so much time rallying on behalf of the proletariat, who was all about the class struggle. And he struck me absolutely as a BMW-driving, Cambridge-living, Romance-language-phrase-dropping snob.
This contrasts with EOW’s description of Ruth Hubbard, another Harvard professor who rejected his work:
I always thought of [Hubbard] as burning with a pure fire. She believed all of this. She was dedicated in an honest way to all of this. She was doing other things, too. She was putting herself into civil rights movement, she was an early environmental activist. She was on the wrong side of the problem that culminated in [Napoleon Chagnon’s] difficulties, but at least she was sincere.
Hubbard seems to have been the sort of WASP idealist discussed extensively in Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition (Chaps. 6 & 7), but that was definitely not how EOP saw Gould and Lewontin. I am wondering if Wilson ever thought about their Jewish identities and how that impacted their work. He must have known they were Jewish and he must have known about the Jewish radical subculture they grew up in. From Chapter 2 of The Culture of Critique:
Gould learned his Marxism “at his Daddy’s knee” (see Gould 1996a, 39), indicating that he grew up as part of the Jewish-Marxist subculture discussed in Chapter 3. In a recent article Gould (1996c) reminisces fondly about the Forward, a
politically radical but also ethnically conscious Yiddish newspaper (see Ch. 3), stating that he recalls that many of his relatives bought the newspaper daily. As Arthur Hertzberg (1989, 211–212) notes, “Those who read the Forward knew that the commitment of Jews to remain Jewish was beyond question and discussion.”
Did he think their personalities had something to do with their Judaism? Their political commitments? We’ll never know, but it’s pretty clear that if he had mentioned these issues, his life would have been turned upside down once again, just like in the 1970s. I very much doubt he wanted to go there.