[This review was published directly to this Web site in December 2003 rather than having been previously published in a journal.]
The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements
This is one of the more important books of our time, and deserves to be studied seriously by every student of modern life and by everyone who cares about whether Western civilization continues its slide into oblivion.
Kevin MacDonald, professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach, examines honestly, dispassionately and courageously the role that ethnically-conscious Jews have played during the past century in the many movements that have made up what I and others have called "the alienation of the intellectual" (against the mainstream of Western society). MacDonald doesn't speak of "alienation," but instead of a "culture of critique," which is the same thing.
So great has that Jewish involvement been that it constitutes a fact of major significance in understanding the alienation and its power. In Chapter 11 of my book Understanding the Modern Predicament, I examined several causes of the alienation. The discussion there is certainly incomplete without adding the details of MacDonald's study. The role of Jews in cultural alienation should be added as a major, and often central, ingredient.
At the same time, it
is important to notice that MacDonald is giving a conscientious rendering of
only one part of a much larger phenomenon.
His book in itself shows no awareness that the
"intelligentsia" has been alienated against the
"bourgeoisie" for thousands of years -- for many centuries on behalf
of aristocratic values and then, beginning in the early eighteenth century, on
behalf of whatever allies it could recruit in an ideological war against the
man of industry and commerce, and indeed against the entire way of life of an
"individualist" society. What
MacDonald says informs us that a great many Jews, pursuing ethnically-conscious
aims, have been part of that more recent phase of the alienation (although he speaks
only to the twentieth century and does not include the eighteenth and
nineteenth). But, we must add: so have a
great many non-Jews. The alienation, and
the ideological seeking of allies seriatum in all disaffected or
unassimilated groups, has been a much larger movement than one of
"evolutionary strategy on the part of Jews." It has encompassed the entire Left and the
anti-bourgeois Right, including fascism and Nazism and their progenitors, and
has claimed many fathers, gentile and Jew alike. (See Benda's famous The Treason of the
Intellectuals, where he tells of the flaming anti-bourgeois thinking of the
nineteenth century in
MacDonald says he started out on his three-volume series analyzing the history of Judaism "from an evolutionary perspective" as a scholar without ethnic consciousness of his own. By the time he finished the volume under review, which is the third and final volume, his scholarly objectivity had taken on a normative extension. His studies revealed to him the extent to which ethnically-conscious Jews had played a central role in much of the most destructive activity of the modern age ("destructive" if one uses the normative structure of the West and its interests as a basis for judgment). He came to see the immense danger the West is now in. Because of this, he developed an ethnic consciousness of his own, at odds with that of the many Jews he was studying. This introduces a valuational aspect into the book, which is otherwise purely descriptive.
MacDonald is accordingly profoundly critical of a large number of Jews who include many of the more prominent personalities in the intellectual and political context of the past century. But any charge that he is for that reason "anti-Semitic" misses the mark entirely. He is discussing, as a scholar must, the facts of a phenomenon of untold significance on the world stage; and that is legitimate no matter whom it criticizes. Never does he depart from a reasoned analysis, based on fact, into a generalized animus or into an expression of ethnic or religious prejudice. Predictably, there are those who don't like it that he has studied what he has, but the task is for them to refute it (if they will or can) by recourse to an equally accomplished scholarship.
MacDonald is aware that he needs to go to extraordinary lengths to make his lack of anti-Semitic prejudice clear to readers. He often repeats disclaimers that in other contexts would hardly seem necessary: that he is not positing that all Jews have been involved in the alienation, even though many have; or that all Jews have been bad social scientists, even though, again, many have been. And he thinks it important to recognize that modern Judaism has not been monolithic, but instead has featured much disagreement among Jews themselves.
These disclaimers, though valid in emphasizing the scope of what he is saying, inevitably render something of a disservice. If ethnically-conscious Jews have played and continue to play pivotal roles in the movements that threaten Western civilization, that is a fact of vital concern. To the extent that pointing out that not all Jews have been part of this detracts from our grasp of its importance, that is unfortunate. But this is no different from a great many other things in intellectual life: there is the paradox that both the message and the qualifiers are important, even though they in part cancel each other out, it least so far as rhetorical force is concerned. We need not buy into all of the allegations that have taken on mythical status about the Holocaust to realize that great human tragedy can arise out of a failure to dull, by appropriate distinctions, any message that is critical of Jews or of any other group of human beings.
The disclaimer that
not all Jews have been alienated and radical also should not obscure our understanding
that a culture of alienation did in fact predominate among American Jews
through much of the century following 1880.
Nathan Glazer told us in his autobiographical Remembering the Answers
that "the East European Jews... became, in the course of the great
migration between 1880 and 1924, the dominant part of American
Jewry." Glazer spoke of a
"Jewish ethnic culture" and admonished us that "we must remember
that a powerful strain in that culture, rivaling in its appeal and significance
for Jews the Jewish religion itself, was Jewish socialism, in a score of
variants." He said this was "a
cultural background in which socialism in one of its variants was as common as
the almost universal desire to send one's children to college." This tells us that the predominant Jewish
presence that came to exist in the
MacDonald sees his three-volume project as a work of science that applies an "evolutionary analysis." I, however, am not an anthropologist or evolutionary scientist by training, so I find the significance of this third book more in what it has to tell us about modern intellectual and political life, not in that analysis. I venture little opinion about the "evolutionary" thesis per se. What follows in this review will touch upon the other facets.
Movements in Which Ethnically-Conscious Jews Have Been Pivotal
1. Freudianism. Sigmund Freud retained a strong Jewish identity despite his rejection of religion. The psychoanalytical system he developed towered over much twentieth century thought and has only recently gone into decline. It has been called "the Jewish science" because of the great weight of ethnically-conscious Jews among its protagonists. Freud's theories sought a world "free of the neuroses produced by sexually repressive Western civilization"; and Freud himself "viewed psychoanalysis as subverting gentile culture."
Though widely honored as a form of science, Freudian psychology was very much the opposite, a form of secular religion. "Unlike in a real science, in psychoanalysis there is a continuing role for what one might term the sacred texts of the movement." MacDonald quotes Paul Churchland: "How such an elaborate theory could have become so widely accepted – on the basis of no systematic evidence or critical experiments, and in the face of chronic failures of therapeutic intervention in all of the major classes of mental illness... – is something that sociologists of science and popular culture have yet to fully explain."
2. Boasian anthropology. Franz Boas, himself a socialist and a Jew,
was for four decades a professor of anthropology at
3. The French structuralist movement. MacDonald tells us this movement was not as a whole Jewish, but that Claude Levi-Strauss "had a strong Jewish identity" and was described in F. Dosse "as ‘the common father' of Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Lucan."
4. Postmodernism. Foucault, one of Levi-Strauss's apostles, is described as "the enormously influential postmodernist." MacDonald says "postmodernism has opted for complete relativism and the lack of objective standards of any kind in the interests of preventing any general theories of society or universally valid philosophical or moral systems." This provokes a question on MacDonald's part: "Intellectually one wonders how one could be a postmodernist and a committed Jew at the same time." He says that "intellectual consistency would seem to require that all personal identifications be subjected to the same deconstructing logic."
The same point applies with equal force to the thinking of Jacques Derrida, "the premier philosopher of deconstruction," who "has a complex and ambiguous Jewish identity." (We are reminded that the important strategic role of relativisms of all kinds in the ideology of the Left has long been to "do away with the other fellow's commitment to what he believes," while at the same time asserting strong moral imperatives of its own. See the section on "Relativism and Pragmatism" in Chapter 8 of my Liberalism in Contemporary America.)
5. Cultural pluralism. Horace Kallen was one of the Jewish founders
of the Menorah Society, which was on the radical left in the 1930s. MacDonald speaks of Kallen as "the originator
of cultural pluralism as a model for the
Fromm and Marcuse were eventually excluded from the group when their views came to vary from the doctrine laid down by Adorno. Again, we see the pattern of mental authoritarianism as distinct from free intellectual inquiry. (I might add that this is not peculiarly a trait of ethnically-conscious Jewish movements; on the right, Ayn Rand's "objectivist" movement and the Austrian School of Economics both come to mind as movements that have long reacted harshly to heretics.)
As with so much of the Left's thinking, the Frankfurt School's ideas owed a great deal to Rousseau: that there is an underlying "natural" human nature that is sound but that has long been warped out of shape by the "authoritarianism" inherent in the various systems of "domination," including capitalism, that prevail within existing civilization. The effect with Rousseau was to stand outside all of civilization critiquing it as destructive. With the later Left, the effect has been to "pathologize" the values and social constraints that make up the fabric most particularly of bourgeois society.
The idea has been to sell bourgeois society on its own moral depravity. MacDonald observes that this is also a matter of pathologizing any gentile group allegiances. In place of those putatively depraved constraints, the School advocated the radical "do your own thing" sort of "individualism" that later became so popular within the New Left, while, MacDonald says, "at the same time retaining their own powerful group allegiance to Judaism."
7. Zionism. Little needs to be said about the
ethnically-conscious nature of this movement that pressed, beginning in the
late nineteenth century, for a Jewish national home and (over the objection of
many Jews) was the prime mover in the establishment of
8. Promoting "the Holocaust." The elevation of "the Holocaust" "to the level of the pivotal historico-cultural icon in Western societies" has been a major phenomenon since the mid-1960s. Even though totalitarian systems murdered tens of millions of human beings of all ethnicities during the past century, the accounts of the Holocaust focus entirely on the Jewish victims of Nazism, claiming that their experience was "unique."
It is not too much to say that the Holocaust has become the subject of a gigantic cult. Thoroughly protected by the insistence upon "political correctness" and by laws in major countries such as Germany, France and Canada that don't allow any questioning of the officially-recognized version, the cult's many voices condemn any dissent, no matter how scholarly, as morally perverse. Funded by massive governmental support and media contributions, the promotion has rightly come to be called "the Holocaust industry." There is rarely a time when there is not a first-rate movie, book or documentary before the public. Meanwhile, all those who died in the Gulags or under Mao or Pol Pot lie, in effect, in unmarked graves. Jewish victims have "survivors" who remember their relatives with continued anguish; the Ukrainians whose families went through the forced starvation of the winter of 1932-33 evidently do not. Or so it would seem in the context of what can only be understood as a contrived Jewish narcissism.
several purposes this decades-long propaganda campaign has served: it was used
to rally support for Israel after the 1967 and 1973 wars (just as it remains
the great moral legitimator of Israel and its actions today); it provides a
rallying-point for Jewish identity; it furnishes an antidote for anti-Semitism
(and, what's even more to the point, allows much that is not actually
anti-Semitic to be condemned as such); it makes possible a "victim"
status even for those who are among the wealthiest and most successful people
in a society such as that of the United States; and it fosters a "fortress
mentality" that helps so greatly to consolidate Jewish ethnic
consciousness. All of these are
important, but I would have us notice especially the Holocaust cult's role in
9. The "
10. Neo-conservatism. MacDonald describes this as "a Jewish movement,"
which seems well justified despite occasional objections by some to the
contrary. It arose from the fear of
leftist anti-Semitism, and actually traces its origins back to Stalin's
neo-conservative movement draws its inspiration from Leo Strauss rather than
from, say, Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and other traditionalists. It was extremely influential in fashioning
the foreign policy of President George W. Bush.
It urges the
11. The New Left. MacDonald quotes Lipset to the effect that
the original impetus of the 1960s student protest movement "almost
necessarily began with the scions of the relatively well-to-do,
liberal-to-left, disproportionately Jewish intelligentsia." "Jews constituted 80 percent of the
students signing the petition to end ROTC at Harvard and 30-50 percent of the
Students for a Democratic Society (
In Chapter 13 of my book Liberalism in Contemporary America, I listed several factors that contributed to the demise of the New Left after 1970 (although many residuals remain to this day). MacDonald brings to light a fact that is very important in understanding that demise: that most Jews abandoned the New Left after the 1967 Six-Day War to devote themselves entirely to Israeli and other Jewish causes. When we consider how important Jews were to the New Left, their withdrawal was necessarily catastrophic to it.
We are reminded of
the continuing significance of the New Left when MacDonald says "there is
a growing realization that the countercultural revolution of the 1960s is a
watershed event in the history of the
12. Communism. I have left this to the last only because I have wanted not to overshadow what MacDonald tells us about the Jewish role in the more obviously "intellectual" movements; but, of course, the central role that Jews played in early Soviet Communism and in the post-World War II Communism within Poland and Hungary is of such striking importance that it would be hard to overstate it. "The Soviet government killed over 20 million of its own citizens, the vast majority in the first 25 years of its existence during the height of Jewish power." During that period, "although individual Jews were caught up in the Bolshevik violence, Jews were not targeted as a group," as were such ethnic populations as "Ukrainians, Cossacks, Chechens, Crimean Tartars, Volga Germans, Moldavians, Kalmyks, Karachai, Balkars, Ingush, Greeks, Bulgars, Crimean Armenians, Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, and Khemshins."
Jews, MacDonald says,
"were prominently involved in the Bolshevik Revolution and formed an elite
group in the
Other Aspects of the Jewish Role
Many features need to be noted of the role Jews have played in recent intellectual and political movements, even though they don't fit exclusively into a discussion of any one of the individual movements.
1. The frequent abuse of science. We pride ourselves on living in an "age of science," but in a great many areas a scientific veneer is placed over intellectual efforts that fall far short on scientific method. In fact, it is precisely the case that science's high reputation attracts such imitators.
The abuse of science occurs much more broadly than just in the Jewish intellectual movements MacDonald discusses. Much of the work done within the social sciences in American universities must be considered, at best, pseudo-scientific; and the environmentalist movement has unfortunately, for the most part, chosen to thrive on the exaggerations an abuse of science makes possible. But the predominantly Jewish movements MacDonald discusses have certainly contributed to it. He writes of "the high degree of internal group cohesion characteristic of the movements considered in this volume" and says they took "the form of hermeneutic systems able to accommodate any and all events into their interpretive schemas. And although these movements sought the veneer of science, they inevitably controverted the fundamental principles of science as an individualistic inquiry into the natures of reality." At the root of it, there was the "implicit theory... that intellectual activities of all types may at bottom involve ethnic warfare."
2. "Jewish moral particularism." MacDonald speaks of this as "a general feature of Jewish culture." It amounts to the claim that Jews are "ontologically" exceptional, and shows up in a preoccupation with Jewish interests to the exclusion of others. MacDonald says "Jewish involvement with Bolshevism is perhaps the most egregious example of Jewish moral particularism in all of history. The horrific consequences of Bolshevism for millions of non-Jewish Soviet citizens do not seem to have been an issue for Jewish leftists – a pattern that continues into the present."
We see this moral narcissism in the claim that the Jewish experience under the Nazis was "unique." This claim helps support the double standard that the world intellectual and political elite has so long applied to the Nazi and Marxist-Leninist totalitarian regimes.
The particularism is
seen, too, in the unconcern that Zionists have had for more than a century
toward the feelings of the Arabs. Among
many other things, this resulted in placing the Jewish national home in
As with most of the other characteristics of Jewish intellectual culture, such "particularism" is not their exclusive possession. It is probably not too much to say that most peoples see themselves as the center of existence; and it is all-too-common to feel little empathy toward others. The growth of a widening circle of empathy is a mark of civilization, but humanity has only partly and episodically achieved civilization, as I argued in the first third of my book Understanding the Modern Predicament.
3. The strangling of dissent. I hesitated to use so strong a word as
"strangling," but anything less graphic falls short. MacDonald says that by the early 1940s "
Under the rubric of
"abolishing hate," "Jewish organizations have taken the lead in
attempting to censor the Internet."
MacDonald tells how "the Simon Wiesenthal Center distributes a
compact disc titled ‘Digital Hate 2001' that lists over 3000 ‘hate sites on the
Internet.'" (To have some idea of
how far the concept of "hate" is stretched to include legitimate
inquiry, we should recall that my own monograph on the history of lynching has
been barred from
The strangling of ideas appears in many contexts, but one of the most significant is pointed to by MacDonald when he says, in the context of the post-September 11 world, that "we are bogged down in a war with no realizable endgame largely because of influence of the Jewish community over one area of our foreign policy and because of how effectively any mention of the role of Israel in creating friction between the U.S. and the Arab world – indeed the entire Muslim world – is muzzled simply by the cry of anti-Semitism."
4. Long-standing dominance within the
American media. MacDonald supplies
detail about how greatly the American media are in Jewish hands. "The largest media company in the world
was recently formed by the merger of
This dominance goes back a long time. "In a booklet published in 1936, the
editors of Fortune magazine concluded that the main sources of Jewish
influence on the media were their control of the two major radio networks and
5. Social, economic and political prominence. "While constituting approximately 2.4
percent of the population of the
What MacDonald is describing is, in his own words, a people who have high intelligence, ambition, persistence, willingness to work, and ability to organize cohesively. Taken in themselves, these are eminently desirable traits. For reasons MacDonald has discussed, however, the result has been a culture of alienation toward the West.
What now is most needed is for MacDonald to study Western gentile society to analyze why it has, by contrast, been so effete. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." MacDonald wavers between an anticipation that eventually "the European-derived peoples of the United States will become increasingly unified," on the one hand, and on the other "the distinct possibility that in the long run European Americans will be fragmented, politically powerless, and without an effective group identity at all." I am pessimistic enough to think that the prospects of these two opposites are not equally balanced.
Dwight D. Murphey