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Meritocracy: "Endangered Jewish Genius"
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Meritocracy As I had previously mentioned, the length and range of topics covered in my Meritocracy package resulted in a wide dispersion of responses, many of which seemed to contain almost no overlap in their discussions. Just as in the fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, a casual reader might almost assume that the reviews were referencing entirely different articles, with some of the writers focusing exclusively on my statistical evidence for the existence of Asian quotas, others on my claims that our top schools had become “hedgefundiversities,” and still others on my proposal for an admissions lottery to balance the competing goals of meritocracy and diversity while reducing favoritism and corruption.

For exactly these reasons, it is hardly surprising that many Jewish writers should focus primarily upon my findings regarding the recent trajectory of Jewish academic performance, and the evidence of its decline or even collapse over the last couple of decades. This certainly constituted the biggest personal surprise I had encountered in my research, and others seem just as shocked as I had been.

Just yesterday, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a professor of Talmud Studies at Yeshiva University, published a thousand word column entitled “Endangered Jewish Genius,” which has already attracted almost 400 Facebook Likes in just 24 hours. Unsurprisingly, he finds evidence of a Jewish intellectual decline to be “so depressing,” and reasonably attributes much of this dismal result to the replacement of a traditional focus on learning by American popular culture, seeing “Maimonides give way to Madonna” and “the people of the book” become the “people of the buck.”

Earlier, Arnold Kling, a prominent free market economist, had devoted two columns to my article, with the second also focusing on the same topic of Jewish intellectual decline

College Admissions, Merit, and Ethnicity, Arnold Kling/askblog

The Decline of Jewish Genius?, Arnold Kling/askblog

I suspect that this same aspect of my article had also drawn the attention of NYU’s Berman Jewish Policy center, which began featuring my article on its website within days of publication.

Similarly, Shmuel Rosner of the Jewish Journal, America’s largest Jewish newspaper outside NYC, had highlighted my article in his year-end column and urged people to take the time to read it

The Ivy League’s Jewish Problem, Shmuel Rosner/Jewish Journal

Journalist Philip Weiss had published a lengthy column on my piece, again with a focus on the Jewish aspects of my analysis

The Meritocracy Is Rigged, Philip Weiss/MondoWeiss

Even the Israeli press showed interest, with a columnist for Israel Hayom—established a few years ago by Sheldon Adelson and now Israel’s largest newspaper—devoting almost 1500 words to a detailed summary of my overall arguments, once again with a focus on the Jewish aspects of my analysis.

Jews, Asians and Affirmative Action, Richard Baehr/Israel Hayom


On a somewhat different matter, I’ve very pleased to announce that the Yale Political Union has asked me to defend my article at one of their large political debates on the evening of January 29th, while the Yale Law School has also invited me to make a presentation before their students and faculty members early on the afternoon of the 30th, co-sponsored by the Federalist Society and the Asian-Pacific American students association. Both these events are open to the public, and anyone interested in attending should contact the university for the precise times and locations.

Finally, one of the major texts I had relied upon in producing my article was Robert Klitgaard’s 1985 CHOOSING ELITES, often found on lists of the most influential books of the last few decades. As one of America’s leading experts on meritocracy, elites, and corruption, he had served as a Special Assistant to Harvard President Derek Bok, held professorships at Harvard and Yale, and most recently had retired as president of the Claremont Graduate University. Given such prestigious credentials, I was surprised and very gratified to discover he had sent out a highly favorable tweet on my article:

Robert Klitgaard ‏@RobertKlitgaard

You will be stunned by this analysis of Asian underrepresentation and Jewish overrepresentation at elite colleges.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Meritocracy 
The Meritocracy Series
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  1. Why at this point in History would one want to be associated with our “elites”? Which we’re not supposed to have, and the old elites who certainly ran things better would NOT have referred to themselves so…

  2. Thos. says:

    “… the Yale Political Union has asked me to defend my article at one of their large political debates …, while the Yale Law School has also invited me to make a presentation before their students and faculty members ”

    Count on old Eli to lend a hand in any endeavor that promises to besmirch the good name of fair Harvard.

    I’m a non-legacy WASP who (so far as I know) was admitted on entirely meritocratic grounds. I read your very long article front to back, and while I don’t agree with your prescriptions I found the analysis interesting and often compelling.

  3. Alex says:

    Congratulations on your article’s success in encouraging debate.

  4. On the “endangered Jewish genius”, in Aspects of Wagner (as part of a discussion of Wagner’s anti-Semitism), Bryan Magee advanced the theory (an extension of Wagner’s own ideas about genius) that the extraordinary explosion of Jewish genius in such a wide variety of fields might be attributable to the closing of the ghettos at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Jews faced the difficult problem of preserving their culture while assimilating into the broader society. Being caught between two cultures like that produces a great deal of tension and anxiety (even, as Woody Allen might say, neurosis), but also a great deal of creativity.

    He went so far as to speculate that as Jews have entered deeper and deeper into the mainstream, that creative burst would fade. The point being that perhaps this is just a natural progression.

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Omitted from discussion is the most important point in your article namely that Ivy League White Gentile discrimination is even more explanatory for Jewish over representaiton than Asian discrimnation. Todays elite is hostile to its majority population.

  6. Janet says:

    “Jewish genius” has NOT collapsed during the past 1-2 decades. Rather, what has collapsed is Mr. Unz’s ability to count these Jews by looking for ones with “Jewish-sounding names”. Most over-achieving Jews in the US are secular, Reform, or, at most, Conservative. While the ancestors of most of these Jews may have arrived in the US with Askenazic Jewish-sounding names, more and more of them over the past 1/2 century have Anglicized their names or inter-married. Thus, the percentage of them identifiable by Mr. Unz’s methods is what has plummeted, not their numbers. Nowadays, most of the Jews in the US with these names are Ultra-Orthodox, folks unlikely to participate in the competitions that he analyses in this article for Jewish-sounding names. Thus, for example, Mr. Unz claims that the percentage of Jews on the US Math Olympiad Teams from 2000-2009 was only 3% while I know for sure (by having asked them if they had Jewish ancestors) that it was, in reality, at least 16% (counting students with 1 Jewish parent as 1/2).

    Likewise, Mr. Unz’s counting of Asian-Americans is also way off due to “contamination” with foreign Asian students. For example, while he claims 37% College Putnam Math Winners were Asians during the 2000-2009 period, only 17% of them had attended high school in the US prior to matriculating to a US college. Given the foreign and US applicants to elite colleges are considered in different pools, this 17% number agrees well with the “quota” he claims the Ivy League colleges seem to have for admission of Asian-American students.

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