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December 1, 1998 -- Vol.3, no.4

This article refers to:
Kevin MacDonald: Separation and its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism by Robert Pois

Reply to Robert Pois
by Kevin MacDonald

Robert Pois provides a generally negative reading of Separation and Its Discontents based not so much on inaccuracies or omissions on my part, but, I think, on his perception that my book presents a not very flattering portrayal of Judaism. I do indeed view Judaism “as `strategies,' not only for self-preservation, but for advancement,” and in general I perceive the most egregious examples of anti-Semitism to involve real conflicts of interest between Jews and segments of the gentile population. In this regard, as Pois notes, my book reflects several themes found in Albert S. Lindemann's Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews. In general, Pois does not seriously critique my main proposals for conceptualizing anti-Semitism, my summaries of the content of 2000 years of anti-Semitic writings, my portrayal of major Western anti-Semitic movements fundamentally as collectivist responses to real conflicts of interests with Jews, my characterization of Jewish strategies for self-defense, my descriptions of the rationalizations, apologia and self-deceptions so central to maintaining ingroup pride and presenting Judaism to outgroups, or my characterization of the present state of Diaspora Judaism. His review contains a series of isolated criticisms of my scholarship, and there is an ad hominem tendency in Pois's remarks that finally cannot be contained. Many of his criticisms represent failures to distinguish my analysis from that of the anti-Semitic ideologies I describe--a discreditable project at best.

Pois overstates my position when he claims that “Varieties of anti-Semitism, as the author sees it, should not be seen as representing aggressive attitudes towards Jews. Rather, in whatever form it has emerged, anti-Semitism always has been a defensive strategy, in response to perceived threats posed by a group--in Christian times, to be sure, stigmatized as guilty of deicide--which was able do attain domination in whatever areas they chose to exert themselves.” In Chapter 1, I note that negative attitudes toward outgroups are very easily triggered and occur even in the absence of group conflict. In agreement with the findings of social psychology, Chapter 2 shows that Jewish clannishness and separateness have been sufficient conditions for at least moderate levels anti-Semitism, so that resource competition is not a necessary condition. In Chapter 6 I show that since the Enlightenment Jewish groups have been quite aware of this and have acted to lessen external signs of separateness (e.g., the Reform movement) while exhibiting great concern with the corrosive effects of these assimilative tendencies on group continuity. To be sure, I do believe that the great anti-Semitic movements that have periodically convulsed Western history have indeed been at heart collectivist responses to real, not illusory resource competition with Jews.

Similarly, I do not maintain that “Judaism is nothing but a series of group strategies, and that anti-Semitic `evolutionary' developments have been merely responses to them.” I would not attempt to deny, for example, that the subjective psychological content of being a Jew has often involved religious belief and that there are other facets of anti-Semitic movements as well, oftentimes including Christian religious belief. Nevertheless, I think that my emphasis on resource and reproductive competition and other conflicts of interest as well as my emphasis on the biological moment of Judaism (endogamy, consanguinity, eugenics, etc.) is necessary for understanding major anti-Semitic movements and, as I try to show, often gets at the heart of the concerns of those involved in these conflicts. (At critical junctures in representing my argument Pois places quotes around key concepts [e.g., “resources,” “gene pool,” “evolutionary,” “eugenics,” “crypsis” and even “individualism” and “universalism”] as if to suggest their illusory nature or to suggest that I am using the words in an unusual or idiosyncratic manner. But since no argument is given, it is difficult to know how to respond.)

Pois claims that “For all of his mining, at times, rather selectively, of a number of sources, e.g., the Talmud and Maimonides, MacDonald's grasp of why Jews, or at least large numbers of them, chose to remain at least identifiable as such, sometimes in rather dire circumstances, is rather weak.” Jewish identification is a vast and complex topic, and Pois only hints at a small part of my discussion, most of which occurs in Chapters 1, 7 and 8 and is continued as a major theme of the recently published The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998). Rather than emphasizing the Talmud and Maimonides, the focus throughout is on social identity processes and ethnocentrism. These processes in turn lead to self-perceptions as a persecuted but morally and intellectually superior group. They also quite often lead to a great deal of ambiguity in personal identity related to being Jewish in a modern Western society in which ethnic identification has only a precarious legitimacy. And there is a great deal of self-deception related not only to self-images of persecution and moral superiority but also to assertions of lack of Jewish identity. Pois seems to argue that the role of persecution in Jewish identity is in some sense justified because in fact there are historical examples (he mentions Austria) where Jews have been marginalized very quickly after assuming a very prominent position in society. I do not disagree with this assessment, and indeed in Chapter 6 I comment that despite the hypertrophied status of persecution and anti-Semitism in Jewish identity, Jews have had good reason to fear the wrath of the people they live among. In general, I think that Jews, far more than most people, see themselves as a link in a long chain going backwards in time and extending into the future. A critical component of this sense of historical peoplehood is the view that Jews have been repeatedly and unjustly victimized. Most European Jews are made to be aware that Jews were expelled from England, France and Spain, that the Crusaders conducted anti-Jewish pogroms, that the Catholic Church was often anti-Jewish, that anti-Semitism was a very powerful force in Eastern and central Europe in more recent times, and that anti-Semitism was a fairly powerful force even in the United States until after World War II. These phenomena are then filtered through the lens of the ingroup where they become tinged with powerful moral overtones and become a potent source of personal identity. My point however, is that there is every reason to suppose that these self-perceptions contain elements of distortion, particularly as they relate to the role of Jewish behavior in causing anti-Semitism. As I show in Chapter 7, such perceptions have had a strong influence on Jewish historiography written by Jews.

Pois claims that I have selectively mined the Talmud to find passages in which Judaism is portrayed as exclusivist, “a traditional approach of anti-Semites for some time.” This seems to imply that I am using the Talmud as an element of my attempt to characterize Judaism. However, characterizing Judaism is not the purpose of the volume under review. This topic is covered in A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy where the Talmud has a bit part at best. Most of my discussion of the Talmud in the volume under review occurs in sections where I discuss the long history of anti-Jewish writing centered around statements to be found in the Talmud. Thus in Chapter 2, I show that statements gleaned from the Talmud have been an issue in Jewish-gentile relations--that indeed it is “a traditional approach of anti-Semites,” along with other themes such as Jewish clannishness and allegations of Jewish disloyalty and economic and cultural domination. And in Chapter 7, I discuss the Talmud as a focal point of Jewish-Christian apologetics, the point being that Jews have vigorously defended the Talmud against its attackers, as Professor Pois does in his review. The major exception is in Chapter 1, where I use writings on gentile uncleanness to illustrate the general proposition that in-groups tend to develop negative views of outgroup members. Writings on gentile uncleanness appear in a wide range of canonical Jewish writing dating at least from the first century b.c., including the Mishnah, the Talmuds, Tosefta, the Books of Judith and Jubilees, and later in authoritative sources such as Maimonides. Maimonides may indeed have had negative experiences with gentiles and this may have influenced the tone of his writings, as Pois notes, but his rendering of the law of gentile uncleanness was squarely within the Jewish tradition. Since the publication of SEPARATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS, I have found a similar ideology of outgroup uncleanness among the Romany (Gypsies), another notable Diaspora group.

Professor Pois takes me to task for noting that Jewish accounts of the pogroms in Czarist Russia were exaggerated. In this regard I am merely utilizing the work of Professor Lindemann and other scholars such as E. H. Judge (EASTER IN KISHINEV: ANATOMY OF A POGROM; New York: NYU Press, 1992). This is not to claim that there was not a hostile environment in Russia toward Jews during this period or that the Czarist government had a benign attitude toward its Jewish population. I agree completely that anti-Semitism among large segments of the Russian population (which was, in my view, the main source of the pogroms), laws regulating Jewish mobility and Jewish economic behavior, and widespread poverty among Jews were important in stimulating Jewish emigration to the United States and elsewhere. There were also differences between the anti-Semitism of the ruling elites in Czarist Russia and that of the peasantry, with many of the latter viewing the Jews as instruments of the nobility in oppressing them.

Professor Pois also complains that my treatment of certain Jewish intellectuals, such as Benjamin Disraeli, Heinrich Heine, and Moses Hess, fails to present the nuances of their thought. These writers are profiled in a section on Jewish racialist writing in Chapter 5, and I do not claim to have portrayed all of their ideas and concerns. My point is that they did have racialist conceptions of the Jewish people and that the views of such well-known intellectuals may well have influenced gentile perceptions of Jews. Whatever “very profound, often anguished, concerns” drove these writers, all of them had a very high opinion of Jewish ability and accomplishments. As Lindemann (1997, 77) notes, Disraeli “may have been, both as a writer and even more as a personal symbol, the most influential propagator of the concept of race in the nineteenth century, particularly publicizing the Jews' alleged taste for power, their sense of superiority, their mysteriousness, their clandestine international connections, and their arrogant pride in being a pure race.” Beginning with Disraeli, it was common among intellectuals generally during this period to believe in the reality of racial/ethnic differences in ability.

I am also accused of misusing the concept of chosenness. I used this aspect of Jewish religious ideology to illustrate several ideas: that there is no requirement that beliefs about either the ingroup or the outgroup be true (p. 11); that it has sometimes figured in anti-Jewish writing (pp. 35, 213); that it has figured in apologetic arguments developed by Jews (pp. 211, 214) (e.g., Kaufman Kohler's comment that “Israel is the champion of the Lord, chosen to battle and suffer for the supreme values of mankind, for freedom and justice, truth and humanity; the man of woe and grief, whose blood is to fertilize the soil with the seeds of righteousness and love for mankind.”); that the idea of chosenness and the fear of exogamy are linked together in Deuteronomy 7:2–6; that (quoting Hannah Arendt) the self-deceptive idea that Jews are morally superior is a modern version of the idea of chosenness; and that statements that Jews are the chosen people are still endorsed by Jewish activists (p. 278n.5). Regarding the latter, I quote Woocher to the effect that “civil Judaism, like many modern Jews, often finds the traditional language of chosenness, and the implications of that language discomforting. For this reason, it is possible to lose sight of how critical the myth of chosenness really is, to fail to recognize that it is the glue which holds together the pragmatic ethos and the transcendent vision of civil Judaism.”. I agree with Pois that “From the prophets on, Jewish critics have upbraided their unhappy cohorts for not living up to such a designation and, because of this, being justifiably subject to divine opprobrium.” But this hardly exhausts the uses of the idea of chosenness in Jewish self-conceptions or in how gentiles have perceived Jews.

Pois then asserts that “that `racialism' which developed out of the notion of `chosenness was not `mirror-imaged' by that of the Nazis or their ideological predecessors who saw Aryanism as not merely providing an example for the rest of humanity, but in a non-transcendent world dominated by racial mysticism, calling for, if not proscribing [sic], domination.” I rather doubt that the concept of chosenness is a sufficient explanation of Jewish racialist theories. The summaries on pp. 148–160 and pp. 224–226 indicate that this body of theory was motivated by a desire to extol Jewish virtues, develop ingroup pride, maintain racial purity, and defend Jews against the charges of anti-Semites. Jewish racial superiority often went well beyond the belief that Jews were morally superior (“an example to the rest of humanity”, as Pois has it) to the ideas that Jews were intellectually superior and that they were genetically inclined to form elites (a form of domination; see, e.g., the comment attributed to Julian Benda in which he mentions the view among Jewish elite businessmen of the natural subjugation of non-Jews by Jews; p. 156). My view is that, apart from notions of Jewish ethical superiority (which Pois seems to subscribe to and which seems to me little more than ingroup glorification), these ideas have substantial empirical support. As has happened so often in the past, Jews have attained an elite status in contemporary Western societies, and there is very good evidence that an important contributing factor is superior Jewish intelligence resulting from the long history of eugenics within the Jewish community. Furthermore, there is nothing in Pois's comments that would lead me to retract my view that Chamberlain, Hitler, and other German racialists were deeply aware that Jews had always placed a very high premium on genetic purity and conceived themselves as a separate and superior race.

Pois then makes the following comment: “Professor MacDonald seems to think that if a people, whatever successes enjoyed by some, nonetheless confronted traumas imposed by persecution, expulsion and exile on a fairly regular basis, learned to live by its wits, it amounted to a kind of cheating. Indeed, it would seem that Jewish interest, at least those acceptable to MacDonald, would best have been served if Jews had remained kind of witless. But then, of course, they wouldn't have been Jews.” I take this to imply that I see Jewish strategies as in some sense immoral, that they involve cheating in the game of life. On the contrary, I have tried my best to refrain from moralism in my account, though I have encountered a great many examples of moralistic writing among Jewish historians and other intellectual activists (see p. 216ff), and I suppose that Pois falls into this camp. As an evolutionist I simply see strategies as successful or unsuccessful. I fully expect people, ethnic groups, and nations to behave in a Machiavellian manner. In my view moralism functions mainly to rally ingroup loyalty and develop guilt in outgroups, but such rhetoric plays no role in scientific analysis.

Pois then states that “For MacDonald, the Jew was and is the `plastic demon.' Jews . . . can assume any role or position they want . . . and still always be guided by a hidden agenda provided by phylogenesis.” Pois then provides a long list of ethnic Jews with a wide range of Jewish identification and very different Jewish agendas or no Jewish agenda at all, presumably in an attempt to show that such a disparate group could not conceivably be subjected to any kind of systematic analysis. My view is that Jewish identification and the adoption of a Jewish agenda by a particular person are empirical matters. I rather doubt that Bugsy Siegel had a Jewish agenda and I have no idea if he even considered himself a Jew. The Jewish status of several others in the list is complex and ambiguous, and there is no question that even those with a strong Jewish identification often had very different Jewish agendas. This is altogether a fascinating topic. In the recently published THE CULTURE OF CRITIQUE I discuss various 20th-century Jewish intellectual and political movements. In each case I am careful to evaluate the empirical evidence on these people's Jewish identification and the extent to which they viewed their work as advancing a specifically Jewish agenda, with no assumption that all Jewish agendas are likely to be successful in achieving their aims or that all Jews have the same agenda, much less an agenda determined by “phylogenesis.” My view is that humans are “flexible strategizers” rather than preprogrammed robots, with general purpose intellectual abilities able to respond to novel contingencies in an adaptive manner (see p. 177).

Pois concludes his review by stating that I am led to the conclusion that “Jews, after all, the original racists, will have to live with a continuously evolving, and, of course, justifiable, anti-Semitism, this time and forever more, world without end. One gets the feeling that the best way of avoiding another frustration-engendered fling at genocide, would be for Jews to engage in a massive act of self-negation.” As indicated above, I reject the moral overtones implied by the term “justifiable.” I would prefer the phrase “scientifically understandable.” Unlike some recent comments to the H-ANTISEMITISM list, I do believe that anti-Semitism is scientifically understandable rather than a phenomenon that should be permanently relegated to an area beyond rational investigation. (The mystification of anti-Semitism has its own political usefulness of course, leaving it solely in the realm of moralism and philosophical speculation--an agenda of the currently influential movement of postmodernism.) I do, however, think that a significant degree of anti-Semitism is likely to be chronic in societies where Jews reside in significant numbers. In saying this I am certainly not being mean spirited or even particularly original. Jewish intellectuals have long been deeply aware that anti-Semitism has been a chronic issue throughout history (see pp. 26–32), and it is common to believe that a low level of anti-Semitism actually benefits Jews (see pp. 177–181). However, as discussed in Chapter 6 of my book, Jews have developed a remarkable array of strategies to combat the more egregious forms of anti-Semitism, and I have no doubt that they will continue to successfully combat these threats to their group evolutionary strategy far into the foreseeable future.

This article refers to:
Kevin MacDonald: Separation and its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism by Robert Pois