NEW YORK—When I heard about it, my own inchoate feelings were confused. A party for Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Muammar Gaddafi, and the caller was Nat Rothschild, son of Lord Rothschild, a major donor to Jewish causes and Israel. What in Mohammed’s name was going on here? Nat Rothschild is no stranger to England thanks to his by now famous letter to the Times. He is less well known in America, but his Atticus fund, his G-5, his post-modern house in the West Village and his propensity for beautiful women of the Russian persuasion nevertheless make him a bold-face name.
Nat was quite funny on the telephone. ‘Will you promise to be nice to Gaddafi? He’s not a bad fellow.’ ‘Hasn’t he got blood on his hands?’ said I, trying to sound like a pompous Harvard lecturer. ‘I’m sure he does,’ said Nat laughing, ‘but the girls will be beautiful. Make sure you come, but please be polite.’ And I was, when Nat introduced me to a man who — how should I put it — was dressed in black, looked like a chic pimp, bald, shaved head, and quite friendly. ‘Are you for Hamas, or Abbas?’ was my first question to the man who is in New York offering to invest some of Libya’s $100 billion sovereign fund in U.S. companies. He did not hesitate. ‘Hamas.’ ‘Good for you,’ said I, ‘after all, Hamas did get elected.’ My next question went unanswered, as Gaddafi junior walked away and mingled with the bevy of beauties in Nat’s futuristic abode. ‘How much money is your father giving to the Palestinians?’ He obviously mistook me for an ardent Zionist and chose not to answer.
Oh well, the party was great. I hooked up with my old buddy Christopher Brooks, the painter, who used to be known as ‘Looks Brooks’ 25 years ago in London, when his sister Annabel tripped the light fantastic with Bryan Ferry and ‘Looks’ was making beautiful music with Lady Liza Campbell. More important is the fact that Nat Rothschild, scion to one of the most famous Jewish dynasties ever, can throw a bash and have one of the sons of an ex-major terrorist — now a reformed character due to … er, Uncle Sam’s forays in the Middle East — attend and actually mingle with the young and the restless. There were some major Brazilian beauties there, but for some strange reason the poor little Greek boy did not make an impression.
About 30 years ago, in this here space, I had suggested that the only way to Middle East peace was through commerce. I had noticed rich Arabs being awfully chummy with Jewish merchants of expensive trinkets, so in my simple-minded way I figured if the Arabs and the Jews could get along while bargaining over gold watches and necklaces in places like Gstaad and St Moritz, not to mention the unspeakable Riviera, why not down in places like Jericho, Jerusalem, even in Gaza?
So now we have a Rothschild and a Gaddafi breaking bread together in the Big Bagel, and although I’m puling a George Osborne, I’m doing it for the sake of Middle East peace. Seif Gaddafi is on a private visit to America, and by the time he was introduced to the greatest Greek writer since Aristophanes, he had already met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and many members of Congress. Stranger things have happened. Twenty two years ago Reagan was bombing Tripoli and calling his old man the world’s most dangerous terrorist. Now the guy is hanging out with Nat Rothschild and seeing Condi on the side.
What did I really think of him? Not much, I’m afraid. He had the kind of look about him that says my s*** doesn’t smell. His dress was appalling — mod, black, tight and ridiculous — but at least he didn’t pitch up a tent in the middle of Nat’s house like his old man did in the middle of Paris while Sarko and his wife were genuflecting and kissing his arse. What I think is that Nat Rothschild should be named ambassador plenipotentiary by Her Majesty’s Government, as he is obviously very well connected. A problem with Putin? Send Nat. Gaddafi making trouble? Dispatch Nat. Low circulation at the Times? Have Nat write a letter. Lack of beautiful girls at some party conference? Have Nat throw a party. You get the picture.
And speaking of parties, I flew over for The Speccie’s 180th anniversary, and it was well worth spending more money on a first-class round-trip ticket than the moolah The Spectator has paid me these last 31 years. It was a great idea. The party, that is. And a hell of an ego trip. For once I mingled and saw everyone before getting drunk, shook hands like a politician, spoke at length with Lucia, a young and beautiful reader whose parents have been subscribers since forever, and generally did my job. Anthony Osmond-Evans gave me his coffee table book on The Magic of Monaco, and asked me to make friends of his members of Pug’s Club. I misplaced my notes with their names, but all pugs are automatically members of the club, so there. (I think it’s Mo and Doe.) In fact, I had such a good time meeting long-time readers, I forgot to dance with my betrothed, Mary Wakefield, which she took so badly, she ran out in tears and disappeared into the Royal Hospital Gardens, Chelsea, SW3.
And then I discovered back at our Chairman’s place that Rod Liddle is as uxorious as Toby Young, but I’m holding this for next week.
Barack Obama and George W. Bush seem to have come away from their study of the Great Depression with similar conclusions:
To wit: After the Crash of 1929, the Federal Reserve did not move fast enough to save the banks and inject cash into the economy. Second, the New Deal, far from being wastrel deficit spending, was not bold enough. So it was that America wallowed in depression for a decade until the unbridled spending and mammoth deficits of World War II pulled us out.
Bush and Obama seem determined not to make the same mistake.
We are all Keynesians now.
Thus, we have the $700 billion Bush bank bailout, the $700 billion “stimulus package” Obama wants by inauguration to “jolt this economy back into shape” and the $800 billion fund Hank Paulson created to get consumers borrowing and buying again.
These come on top of Bush $455 billion deficit, the $29 billion bailout of Bear Stearns, the $105 billion in pork to grease the $700 billion bailout, the $100 billion to $200 billion to keep Fannie and Freddie afloat, the $140-billion-and-counting for AIG, the $25 billion for the greening of GM, Ford and Chrysler, the $25 billion more to save the Big Three and the $20 billion for CitiGroup.
Now much of this overlaps, and some will be retrieved. But we are still staring at a deficit that could approach $2 trillion.
How would this stack up historically?
A deficit of $1.4 trillion would be 10 percent of gross domestic product, dwarfing the postwar record 6 percent run by Ronald Reagan in the Jimmy Carter recession.
Bewailing the “Reagan deficits” has been a staple of Democratic oratory. This will stop. But the politics of this is not the point, the policy is.
Consider what we are about to do. Bush in 2008 spent 21 percent of GDP. States, counties and cities spent another 12 percent. Thus, one third of GDP is spent by government at all levels. Obama and Co. propose to raise that by another 10 percent of GDP. We may soon be north of 40 percent of gross domestic product controlled and spent by government.
That is Eurosocialism.
And where, exactly, are we going to get the money?
Americans save nothing. We spend more than we earn. Thus the levels of consumer debt, credit card debt, auto debt and mortgage debt. U.S. foreign-exchange reserves amount to a piddling $73 billion.
The only nation with the kind of cash on hand we need now—if we don’t print the money and invite another gigantic bubble—is China, with its $2 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves.
Will Beijing lend back the dollars it has piled up by selling to us?
China certainly has an incentive to keep Americans spending. For our purchases of Chinese-made goods have often been responsible for 100 percent of China’s growth. China does not want to kill the American goose that lays those golden eggs—until the goose can’t lay any more eggs. Then they won’t need the goose.
But should China decide to lend us the money, what will Beijing demand in interest rates and assurances that we will not default. After all, the U.S. debt is 70 percent of GDP, our savings rate is near zero, and our merchandise trade deficit is still running at 5 percent to 6 percent of GDP.
Unlike the 1950s, we are today dependent on foreigners for two-thirds of our oil and for much of our manufactured goods—toys, TVs, radios, cameras, cars, shoes, clothes, bikes, motorcycles—and for the $700 billion to $800 billion we borrow each year to pay for these imports.
With U.S. homeowners, consumers, companies and banks now going bust, why must the nation borrow trillions more to bail them out? So we can maintain our status and standard of living as the last superpower.
Bush and Obama are competing to shovel out trillions of dollars, so we can return to the good times of yesterday.
But wasn’t yesterday the root cause of today? Didn’t saving nothing and spending more than we earn, purchasing what we cannot afford in cars, consumer goods and houses, buying far more from abroad than we sell abroad—didn’t that cause this crisis and crash?
A family man in America’s condition, awash in debt, spending more than he makes, would cut back consumption, find a second job and get out of debt. Or declare bankruptcy, accept the shame and humiliation, change his wastrel ways and start anew.
Is it different for a nation?
Yet we seem to believe we can borrow and spend our way out of a swamp of unpayable debt into which borrowing and spending have plunged us.
We are headed either for default on our debts and bankruptcy as a nation, or something less honorable: a quiet cheapening of the debts we have incurred by inflating and destroying the dollar, robbing our creditors of what we owe them and robbing our own people of the value of what they have earned. And so it has come to this.
What would the Founding Fathers think of us now?
In the frantic post-election scramble for a plausible narrative of How Things Went So Wrong, we see the outlines of the future battle for what’s left of the conservative movement, and the party it fitfully influences. The spin could be decisive, as spin often is. The spin that prevailed in Germany after World War I—“We were stabbed in the back”—bore no relation to the truth. German arms were massively overwhelmed by America’s intervention. But the lie saved face, so it won the day, and it led Germans to a more catastrophic defeat and moral disgrace.
Few remember it, but Pat Buchanan’s eloquent 1992 convention speech—compare it to any delivered at this year’s festival of ass-covering and breast-beating—was an enormous popular hit. The convention crowd, which whooped and wept, and the general public (as measured by the overnight polls), were deeply moved by Buchanan’s heartfelt, carefully crafted words. It took several days for GOP commentators (like “virtue” addict Bill Bennett) to make the news circuit informing America that our nation had been frightened by Pat’s “extremism.” That shaped the consensus that Buchanan’s speech had spoiled the convention. When George I limped through the rest of the campaign, shrugging and shambling like he didn’t actually mean it, and lost to the brilliant demagogue Bill Clinton, the way had been prepared to blame Buchanan (and by extension, his populist supporters) for this defeat. Thus began the purges on the Right. Their results we can see all around us:
We are now in another 1992 moment, when the narrative that dominates in the wake of a catastrophe will determine whether we climb out of this hole, or dig to a depth of six feet and bury ourselves. It’s no surprise that a consummate opportunist like David Frum chose this occasion to blame the defeat of John McCain on… the only people who bothered to vote for the old senator, the religious right. Yes, the problem with conservatism is conservatives. We lost the war because the Christians stabbed us in the back. Frum’s callous treatment of over-the-top Christian Zionist Sarah Palin should teach the Christian Right a few things about the wisdom of crawling over broken glass to please the Israeli lobby. It earns you a kick in the face.
Karl Rove warned of dire consequences if Republicans continue to resist mass immigration. We might… hold your breath… forfeit the black and Hispanic vote. Which otherwise would have gone massively for McCain. I won’t rehearse Steve Sailer’s and Peter Brimelow’s devastating analyses of just how many shades of stupid this argument is. And let’s be fair to Rove: Perhaps he’s simply lying. Maybe he really has been bought by the cheap labor lobby. Otherwise, the architect of our “permanent Republican majority,” really is a Special Ed Machiavellian (Mongovellian for short).
David Brooks is sticking to his pre-election story, that Republican chances were ruined by… anti-intellectualism. Now there’s plenty of that floating around in GOP circles, as Brooks and his friends should know—since they’re its principal architects. To dismiss sophisticated conservative critiques of the cultural and economic impacts of immigration as “nativism,” and reluctance to start risky foreign wars as “isolationism” amounts to little more than teaching the sheep to bleat: “Four legs good, two legs bad.”
The victory of California’s Proposition 8 gives me one more chance to remind people of the infamous column in 2003 when Jonah Goldberg warned conservatives to back away slowly from losing issues like heterosexual marriage in favor of slam-dunk winners like… going to war in Iraq.
On all of this the verdict is clear: The neocons are wrong about everything. They’ve attained a negative infallibility that makes the papacy’s claims seem modest. If you have a question about empirical reality, politics, economics—even Thai cooking—just ask it of a neocon. Then do the opposite.
Neoconservatives afraid that a President Obama might even partially live up his promise to remove troops from Iraq have been warming up to the new administration and hedging their bets where they can. The sort of Republican who cheers for Hillary is the same sort who embraced Joe Lieberman, no matter how many liberal positions either held. So long as Hillary is prepared to continue sending U.S. troops around the world to continue the neoconservative mission of American global empire, Clinton would be their gal.
Those who cheer for Obama now are essentially cheering for nothing, as those who bash Obama are essentially bashing nothing. Obama has done nothing. But like a team mascot, a Mohawk haircut or the Cross, Obama the symbol creates a divide to which many feel compelled to take sides and defend or attack accordingly. They may not know why, but they certainly know how. Team Obama jerseys read “change!” Team Nobama’s read “charge! And two tribes go to war over nothing at all.
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The following address was given to the H.L. Mencken Club’s Annual Meeting; November 21-23, 2008
My study at home in Long Island has bookshelves on all four walls. When I originally stocked those shelves, I worked out a system for doing so. The shelves on the north wall, directly behind me as I sit at my desk, are all reference books. I am a great fan of reference books, and find that they have by no means been made redundant by Internet services like Wikipedia and the Google search engine, as some people say.
Then at the northeast corner of the study, at eight o’clock from me as I sit at my desk, are math books. As all good Aristotelians know, math is supposed to be the one subject whose propositions are indisputably certain. The angles of a plane triangle will add up to two right angles, now and forever, here or in the Great Galaxy M31 in Andromeda.
From math, the most indisputable type of knowledge, I then go clockwise round the study to the most disputable. So proceeding along that east wall from the math books are books on the sciences, with the so-called “hard” sciences”physics, astronomy, computer science”at the northern end, shading off into biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, religion”a branch of anthropology so far as I am concerned”economics, and linguistics.
Continuing clockwise round my study walls, the south wall is all history, advancing (or retreating, depending on your point of view) to political science and plain politics in the southwest corner “ continuing, you see, the descent from the pure certainty of math to topics softer and fuzzier.
Turning that southwest corner and now coming up the west wall, there I have my small collection of military books, my even smaller collection of philosophy books and courses”I mean, Teaching Company courses, as I find philosophy hard to digest off the printed page”and a lot of current-affairs opinionating by authors like Pat Buchanan and Laura Ingraham.
There is then a block of shelves given over to biography. Looking at them, I’m mildly surprised at how many biographies I have “ a good half of them I reviewed for someone or other. These tail off into books of diaries and letters, and some essays and belle-lettres. Having pretty much exhausted the world of fact, the remaining fifty feet or so of shelving are taken up by fiction, then poetry, and finally music, these being the least fixed of literary realms, the anti-math.
In any scheme like this, as a librarian will tell you, there are problems of classification. Should E. Royston Pike’s book Britain’s Prime Ministers from Walpole to Wilson be shelved in politics, or in history? Does a biography of Carl Friedrich Gauss belong among the biographies, or on the other side of the study among the math books? Never having made friends with the Dewey Decimal System, I resolve these knotty issues by whim, placing troublesome books according to my own estimation of how long it will take me to find them. This doesn’t work very well, as whatever algorithm I apply when shelving the book, I’ve completely forgotten six months later when I need the darn thing.
* * *
Recently a new class of books has started to come up that presents classification issues of this kind. The first was John Entine’s 2007 book Abraham’s Children, which I reviewed for VDARE. Then came Michael Hart’s book Understanding Human History. The first of those books is a history of the Jews, but informed by genetics. Because the Jews have been keeping pretty much to themselves for three thousand years, and writing down everything that happens to them, they form an ideal group for the study of inherited traits. The second, Michael Hart’s book, was more ambitious, attempting a history of the entire human race informed by genetics, and offering genetic explanation for problems like: why are conquests of southern people by northern people much more common than vice versa?
What are these books? How do I classify them? Are they history, or biology? I’m starting to think of them to myself as biohistory.
The issue got acute last week when Basic Books asked me for a blurb note on a book they will be publishing soon. The book’s title is The 10,000 Year Explosion. The co-authors are Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, names that I am sure will be known to some of those here today. I read the book at one sitting and fired off an adulatory blurb note with totally uncharacteristic speed and efficiency. It’s a very fine book, and I urge you to get a copy when it comes out. I can’t go into much detail about it, as it is very bad manners to publish a review of a book before the book is formally published. I’ll just describe the book’s theme in outline, and hope to make up for this slight trangression of etiquette by urging you to keep an eye open for the book and buying a copy when it does come out (in February, I think).
The 10,000 Year Explosion is yet another example of biohistory”history informed by genetics. It leans hard on the fact”and it indisputably is a fact, as the authors amply demonstrate”that not only is evolutionary change going on among human beings, it has been speeding up across human history, and is probably still accelerating right now.
In the present intellectual climate”outside the human sciences, I mean”this is a very shocking thing to say. State dogma in the Western World, clung to very tenaciously by our academic elites “ again, outside the human-science departments “ as well as by our media and political elites, says the exact opposite thing”and doesn’t merely say that opposite thing, but demands assent, and casts into outer darkness all who resist.
* * *
There is now not much disagreement that a small group”likely just a few hundred, perhaps less than two hundred”of our species, homo sapiens, left its home in eastern Africa 50 or 60 thousand years ago, and thereafter gradually spread across the whole world. There were other species of hominid in the world at the time, lineages that had separated from ours hundreds of thousands of years before. These other species “ the Neanderthals are the ones everyone knows about”became extinct, and homo sap. populated the world, though of course the process was very gradual, spread over tens of thousands of years.
The aforementioned state dogma asserts the following thing: That evolutionary change in our species ceased when that small group emerged from Africa fifty thousand years ago. There has been no further evolutionary change since that date. Observed difference in human beings and human groups are due to something called “culture.” They have nothing whatever to do with biology”and when I say “biology,” I include genetics as a sub-science thereof.
The reason why this dogma has such a grip on our non-scientific elites, and indeed even on some of the scientific ones, is that it preserves the “psychic unity of mankind.” This phrase, the “psychic unity of mankind,” was coined by a 19th-century German anthropologist, Adolf Bastian (though of course he coined it in German””die psychische Einheit des Menschen) and was then taken up enthusiastically by another German anthropologist of the following generation, Franz Boas. In 1887 Boas emigrated to the United States, and became the most influential American anthropologist of the early twentieth century.
This idea of the “psychic unity of mankind” is a sort of blank slate principle. It says that all human beings everywhere have the same physiological nature, most especially the same brains, and that all observed differences, both group and individual, are the result of “culture” acting on this infinitely plastic substratum”writing words on this “blank slate.”
“Blank slate” is in fact sometimes used as an identifier for this point of view”this belief in the psychic unity of mankind. It is also sometimes called a “Boasian” viewpoint in honor of Franz Boas”poor Bastian seems to have been forgotten. I have tried to float the word “culturist” as a descriptor for this viewpoint. I haven’t had much success there, but I keep trying, and shall use the words “culturist” and “culturism” in what follows.
Those of you who like to trace things back through the history of philosophy will recognize culturism as an extreme form of existentialism. In philosophical jargon your essence is what you are, as it might be put on a police WANTED poster: white male, 190 lbs, married two children, etc. Your existence is that you are”the fact of your being in the world. The old philosophical conundrum is: Which comes first, essence or existence? Do you come into the world with preset atrributes”the essentialist position? Or do you come in as a blank slate, and have to get some attributes for yourself, as the mid-20th-century Existentialists argued, or have them imposed on you by your social conditions, modes of production, and so on, as classical Marxism argued?
Well, our state dogma is an extreme existentialist one. This can be seen all over the place. Charles Murray, who is here among us today, brought out a book on education this summer. The New York Times sent an reporter to interview him about it. Here is a snippet from that interview, as reported in the Times. The interviewer was a lady named Deborah Solomon, so I’ll tag the speakers as “Deborah” and “Charles.”
Deborah: Europeans have historically defined themselves through inherited traits and titles, but isn’t America a country where we are supposed to define ourselves through acts of will?
Charles: I wonder if there is a single, solitary, real-live public-school teacher who agrees with the proposition that it’s all a matter of will. To me, the fact that ability varies”and varies in ways that are impossible to change”is a fact that we learn in first grade.
Deborah: I believe that given the opportunity, most people could do most anything.
Charles: You’re out of touch with reality in that regard.
Now, I would guess that most of the people present in this room would agree with Charles: Ms. Solomon has lost contact with reality. Yet her opinion on this “ that “given the opportunity, most people could do most anything” “ is official dogma. She is merely saying what everyone around her, all through her life, has been whispering in her ear: in a nutshell, that there is no such thing as human nature; in philosophical terms, that existence is anterior to essence.
* * *
“Dogma” is by no means too strong a word for the socio-political status of this belief. It is enforced with great ferocity. Harvard President Larry Summers found this out in January 2005, when he suggested to an academic gathering that the paucity of women in high-end science and engineering positions might have non-culturist causes. There was a terrific fuss, a vote of no confidence in Summers by the university’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Summers eventually resigned.
James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA’s structure, learned the same sharp lesson two years later when a British newspaper quoted him as saying he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours “ whereas all the testing says not really.” That is indeed what the testing says; but to voice the fact out loud is a gross violation of culturist protocols. Watson, like Summers, had to perform a full medieval-style recantation. If Africa isn’t doing well, that can only be because the infinitely plastic minds and personalities of Africans have not been acted on by the right forces. They have been acted on by wrong forces: colonialism, imperialism racism, and so on.
At a somewhat lower level, there is a great hunger for books about human nature that reinforce the state dogma”the dogma I call “culturism.” Jared Diamond has made a nice bundle for himself with books explaining human differences without breathing a word about human biology. Plenty of lesser lights have done the same. I picked up Harvard psychologist Richard Nisbett’s book The Geography of Thought with great expectations, but I found that the book was weakened by its punctilious culturism.
If, on the other hand, you publish a book that contradicts the “culturist” dogma, you had better get the wife and kids filling sandbags, beause you are going to take a lot of fire from the intellectual establishment. You could ask Charles Murray about this.
Geography is in fact a great friend to the culturists.
Question: Why is this human group over here different from that one over there?
Answer: Ah, because they’re different places, you see. Different fauna, different climate, so the inhabitants react differently.
Question: I see. But then, over a few hundred generations, wouldn’t the selection pressures from these different environments cause these two populations to diverge in average characteristics, as Darwin observed with lesser animals?
Answer: Guards! Guards!
* * *
It’s a bit odd that this “culturist” dogma should prevail here in the United States, the homeland of modern capitalism, for “culturism” shares many of its roots with Marxism. The great biologist E.O. Wilson pointed this out in his 1978 book titled On Human Nature. Wilson is best known for his advocacy of sociobiology”the project to find biological explanations for human behavior, including human social behavior. Well, here’s what he says:
Marxism is sociobiology without biology. The strongest opposition to the scientific study of human nature has come from a small number of Marxist biologists and anthropologists who are committed to the view that human behavior arises from a very few unstructured drives. They believe that nothing exists in the untrained human mind that cannot be readily channeled to the purposes of the revolutionary socialist state. When faced with the evidence of greater structure, their response has been to declare human nature off limits to further scientific investigation. A few otherwise very able scholars have gone so far as to suggest that merely to talk about the subject is dangerous.
Key figures in the establishment of the 20th century’s great Marxist despotisms were all adherents of a culturist view like the one I have sketched. Mao Tse-tung, for example, wrote the following thing in 1958 with the Chinese “masses” in mind: “On a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written.” Mao then put his Thought into action by launching the Great Leap Forward. Like all “culturist” projects, the Leap ended in tears. China’s industrial development was set back a decade and some 30 million Chinese people starved to death. In its extreme forms, “culturism” can be hazardous to your health.
* * *
So what is this peculiar doctrine”such a perfect fit for a revolutionary world-transforming ideology like classical Marxism”what is it doing as the state religion of a capitalist republic? I don’t know the answer, though I have pondered the question long and hard.
Is it just the promise of human equality there in the Declaration of Independence “ the founding assertion that “All men are created equal”? Hardly. It is plain if you delve into the minds and writings of the Founders that none of them believed the thing Deborah Solomon believes in that exchange with Charles Murray I replayed up above. The common 18th-century opinion was that while education and moral instruction might improve a person, there were incorrigible innate differences between persons. Everyone of that period believed, for example, that some of us are just “bad in the bone.” At any rate, if they did not believe that, it is hard to understand why their system of criminal justice and punishment was as it was.
And if our forefathers did not believe in individual equality of ability”of “parts,” as they would have said”neither did they believe in the equality of different races. Or if they did believe it, it is hard to explain their deep pessimism that black and white could live together in harmony, a pessimism shared by, for example, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
The Founders’ assertion of equality was in fact only a statement of intent that no system of hereditary ranks or privilege should take root on American soil, no formal aristocracy. They were in fact what we should nowadays call meritocrats. They did not believe that Joe and Steve, plucked at random from the population, possessed equal abilities, nor even the potential of acquiring equal abilities if raised up properly from birth. They only believed that if Joe and Steve were of equal ability, then neither of them should be held back behind the other by any disadvantage of birth or station.
All right: If this passion for the psychic unity of mankind does not spring from our founding ideals, why is it so dominant, and policed with such ferocity? Is it something to do with our being a multiracial society? Well, possibly, but the chain of cause and effect is not clear to me. The “culturist” dogma is held just as strongly in places like Scandinavia, which until recently were perfectly monoracial. If you were to write up a complete history of the culturist paradigm, you would need to give a prominent place to, for example, Gunnar Myrdal, the mid-twentieth-century Swedish economist and social scientist, who wrote a key book about America’s race problem, and was a signatory to the 1950 United Nations declaration The Race Question, a founding document of culturism. It’s all a bit of a mystery to me.
* * *
The culturist dogma is in any case false. We knew this a priori, once 19th-century biologists had established the basic principles of evolution. If you take some population of a uniform species, divide it in two, and arrange matters so that the two sub-populations don’t interbreed”for example by putting one sub-population over here and the other one far away over there“and if you then run the clock for a few hundred generations, the two populations will diverge. That’s biology 101. If you run the clock for tens of thousands of generations, the two groups will diverge so far, they won’t be able to interbreed “ and that is the origin of species! This is basic a priori stuff. It’s why there are different breeds of dogs. It’s why a room full of Australian Aborigines looks nothing like a room full of Hungarians.
The last line of defense for culturists is”or would be, if you could ever get them to engage in a conversation about biology”that the observable divergences among human groups are only in superficial qualities. Australian aborigines and Hungarians simply haven’t been separated for long enough to develop non-superficial differences. Your two roomfuls may not look like each other, but their thoughts, behavior, and social arrangements might be anything at all; and any behaviors or arrangements the one population might have, the other might equally well have, if appropriately trained.
This was never very plausible, and comparative analysis of the human genome proves it false. Our behavior, including our social behavior, issues from the brain; and the brain is an organ, like the liver or lungs. Populations who live at great heights for many generations”in Tibet or the Andes”develop lungs that can cope. In just the same way, a people who made the change from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a pastoral or field-agriculture lifestyle, will gradually change their personalities and ways of thinking to adapt to their new social circumstances”the higher population densities, more demanding work schedules, and more complicated social arrangements.
(After I had written about this on the internet one time, I had an email from a lady dog breeder, who said: “Duh. If I couldn’t breed for personality, I’d be out of business.” Dog breeds are not “socially constructed.” The great example here is the Russian breeder Dmitri Belyaev, who succeeded in developing a tame, domesticated breed of fox in only forty years.)
Not only is the culturist dogma false, it is also poisonous and divisive. Think of the racial composition of our prisons. According to the Department of Justice website, one in every 22 adult black males in the U.S.A. was in state or federal prison in June 2007. For Hispanic Americans, it was one in 57; for whites, one in 130. And think of those recurring newspaper stories about black and Hispanic test-takers failing to get jobs or promotion in the police or fire services, and black and Hispanic kids defying every effort to get their school test scores up to white and Asian averages, even in prosperous middle-class areas. What’s going on?
A culturist explanation would be that blacks and Hispanics are held back by “racism””basically, by malice on the part of white and Asian people.
A non-culturist explanation would be that a population whose ancestors went through some key transiton”say, from hunting-gathering to pastoralism”ten thousand years ago, if compared with a population whose ancestors passed through that transition only one thousand years ago, will have, on average of course, different gene sets conferring different abilities, personalities, and social skills. Natural selection can just get more done in ten thousand years than in one thousand. This is not scientifically controversial.
Now consider the effect on a black or Hispanic person of the two explanations. If he accepts the first, the culturist explanation, he will be mad as hell, and rightly so. He looks out at the world and sees people like himself stuck at the bottom of society. Why? Because of malice on the part of other groups. That’s what the culturist model tells him. He’s just the same as those other groups”the differences are only superficial. Why isn’t his group doing as well as their groups? Malice, the culturists tell him, wicked malice! Why wouldn’t he be mad as hell?
If, on the other hand, he accepts the biological explanation, there is no-one to blame. That’s just how human biology has shaken out across the deep history of our species. It isn’t anybody’s fault.
Thus, a culturist explanation of human group inequality”or of human individual inequality, for that matter”breeds rage and rancor. The true, biological explanation, by contrast, offers at least the hope of acceptance. We do, after all, accept our individual differences without pain. Everybody in this room is better than I am at something or other: playing tennis, appreciating music, writing, attracting the opposite sex. Many of you are undoubtedly smarter than I am. I don’t lose any sleep over this. Millions of American men and women go out and play golf every weekend, by no means sunk in listless despair at the knowledge that they will never be as good as Tiger Woods. If we can so placidly accept individual inequality, why can’t we accept group inequality”especially since it is supported by an ever-growing mountain of evidence? Perhaps we like rage and rancor, I don’t know.
* * *
Well, back to Cochran and Harpending, and this latest volume of “biohistory.” The authors take us through a number of great changes in the lives of human groups, through history and prehistory. There was the encounter with Neanderthals, and the tricky question of whether there was some interbreeding. Then there was the really big one, the hydrogen bomb of human evolutionary change: the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to pastoralism and settled farming “ “horn and corn” cultivation. Then there is a chapter on Ashkenazi intelligence, which these authors, and a couple of others, published a much-discussed paper on a couple of years ago.
The evidence is plain, and our ongoing investigation of the human genome confirms it: our evolution did not stop dead fifty thousand years ago. The “psychic unity of mankind” is a myth. The big old paleolithic populations of humanity differ”slightly, and of course statistically, but incontrovertibly. The evidence is right there in the genome; and we could anyway deduce it a priori from the known laws of biology. Now all we have to do is convert our nation’s cultural, political, and intellectual elites to these true facts.
I’m going to start up a new space on my bookshelves for this new discipline of biohistory. My guess is, though, that there’ll be a couple of dozen books in that space before I next hear the president of any Ivy League college, or the director of any prestigious genetics lab”let alone any politician or op-ed commentator!”speak out clearly and unapologetically against the poisonous, divisive, and false culturist myth.
John Derbyshire is a contributing editor of National Review and the author of, most recently, Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra.
With all due respect to Derek Turner and the authors of A Bridge Too Far, Philip Claeys and Koen Dillen, and the Vlaams Belang, the organization to which these excellent young men belong, I must dissent from their brief against Turkish entry into the European Union. The last reason I could imagine for keeping Turkey out of that cesspool of political correctness headquartered in Brussels is that the Turks are not sufficiently “democratic.” Supposedly, according to Derek Turner, Europeans would upset their model progressive civilization by letting in Turks. Indeed they would be welcoming a nation whose social views are so “ultraconservative” “that they have not been common in Europe since the early nineteenth century.” To make matters even worse, tourists in Istanbul now encounter “crocodiles of uniformed children marching with Turkish flags beneath AtatÃ¼rk banners.”
For most of the reasons Derek mentions in his review of A Bridge Too Far, I would beg the Turks to join the EU as quickly as they can. That is, if this patriotic doughty nation, which is imagined to resemble Europe in the early nineteenth century, would want to break bread with multicultural lunatics who are turning Europe into a politically correct graveyard. To hold up today’s Western and Central Europe as a model of communal living, one to which the Turks couldn”t begin to aspire, is absurd. The nation built by Kemal Mustafa, even with its threat of Muslim Fundamentalist takeover, looks a lot less contemptible than the Europe that Claeys, Dillen, and Turner intend to keep Turkey from joining politically if not economically. Moreover, I doubt my friends in the Vlaams Belang (May their numbers increase!) actually believe that Western European states are more “democratic” than the current Turkish government. If so, why do VB leaders complain constantly (and with justification), that the Flemish nation and its spokesmen are being oppressed by the Belgian regime? Note the object of their criticism is generally considered by the US media to be an admirable practitioner of democracy (it goes without saying, of the multicultural, reaching-out kind). Do the Turks wish to bring criminal charges against those who accuse their ancestors of carrying out “genocide” against the Armenians? Then Claeys and Dillen should look at France, where it is a criminal offense even to suggest the opposite. I would also urge them to read my books on multiculturalism and the European Left for a picture of how far the suppression of “fascist” opinions and authors has gone in Europe. Again I couldn”t imagine that the stifling suppression of dissenting views could be any worse in Turkey than in France, Germany, England, Belgium, Holland, Sweden or Spain, all authorized EU democracies.
There is only one reason that I would hesitate to let Turkey into the EU. It would further open the floodgates to Third World, Islamic immigration from Southeastern Anatolia and from the slums of Istanbul. The results would be enhanced social problems for the Europeans”and even something far worse. A self-confident, anti-Western and fecund population would supplant a decayed, demoralized, and sterile European one, and gradually Europe would sink into the kind of society from whence the immigrants came, a situation that already exists in postcolonial Africa. The Vlaams Belang and Derek Turner know this but somehow believe that by tickling the vanity of disgusting European “democrats” they may succeed in getting them to keep this from happening for “democratic” reasons. In my view, this can”t work. It is too clever by half. European democracy is in fact culturally and socially suicidal. One can only bring change (if that is still possible) by telling the ugly truth. Europe is too sick (and perhaps fatally so) to deal with more diversity.
The morning after Barack Obama’s election, the congratulatory message from Moscow was in the chilliest tradition of the Cold War.
“I hope for constructive dialogue with you,” said Russia’s president, “based on trust and considering each other’s interests.”
Dmitry Medvedev went on that day, in his first State of the Union, to charge America with fomenting the Russia-Georgia war and said he has been “forced” to put Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad to counter the U.S. missile shield President Bush pledged to Poland.
Medvedev had painted Obama into a corner. No new American president can be seen as backing down from a Russian challenge.
Three days later, Polish President Lech Kaczynski tried to box Barack in. His office declared that, during a phone conversation with Kaczynski, Obama had promised to deploy the anti-missile missiles.
Obama foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough denied it.
One week later, however, Medvedev wisely walked the cat back.
During the G-20 summit in Washington, he told the Council on Foreign Relations the issue of Russian missiles in Kaliningrad “is not closed. I am personally ready to discuss it, and I hope that the new president and the new administration will have the will to discuss it.”
President-elect Obama should not let this opportunity slip by, for a second signal came last week that Russia does not want the Cold War II that the departing neocons wish to leave on his plate.
Moscow offered Spain and Germany use of Russian territory to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. As our supply line from the Pakistani port of Karachi through the Khyber Pass to Kabul grows perilous, this has to be seen as a gesture of friendship by a Russia that shares, as a fellow victim of Islamic terror, the U.S. detestation of al-Qaida.
Opportunity also presents itself with the official report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the August war. According to The New York Times, the OSCE found, consistent with Moscow’s claims, that Georgia “attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.”
Russia’s response—running the Georgian Army out of South Ossetia, occupying Abkhazia and recognizing both as independent nations—may seem disproportionate and excessive. But, contrary to John (“We are all Georgians now!”) McCain, Moscow has a compelling case that Georgia’s Mikhail Saakashvili started the fire.
Medvedev is now on a four-nation Latin tour with stops in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. But this seems more like diplomatic tit-for-tat for high-profile U.S. visits to Tbilisi and other ex-Soviet republics than laying the groundwork for some anti-American alliance.
For, just as for Washington the relationship with Moscow is far more crucial than any tie to Tbilisi, so Moscow’s tie to Washington is surely far more crucial to Russia than any tie to Caracas or Havana.
With these opening moves, how might Obama test the water for a better relationship with the Russia of Medvedev and Vladimir Putin?
First, Obama should restate his campaign position that no anti-missile system will be deployed in Poland until fully tested.
Second, he should declare that, as this system is designed to defend against an Iranian ICBM with a nuclear warhead, it will not be deployed until Iran has tested an ICBM and an atomic device.
So long as the Iranian threat remains potential, not actual, there is no need to deploy a U.S. missile defense in Poland against it.
Third, he should invite Medvedev to Camp David to discuss what more they might do together to ensure that no such Iranian threat, to either nation, ever materializes. For if Iran does not test an ICBM or atomic device, what is the need for a missile defense in East Europe?
Fourth, invoking the principle of self-determination, Obama might propose a plebiscite in Georgia and Abkhazia to determine if these people wish to return to Tbilisi’s rule.
The second bone of contention between us is prospective NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine.
As NATO is a military alliance, at the heart of which is Article V, which obligates every ally to come to the defense of a member who is attacked, to bring Georgia in would be madness.
To cede to Saakashvili power to bring us into confrontation with Russia would be to rival British stupidity in giving Polish colonels power to drag the empire into war with Germany over Danzig, which is exactly what the Polish colonels proceeded to do in 1939.
Before the NATO summit next week, Obama should signal to NATO, and the Bush administration, that nothing irreversible should be done to put Ukraine or Georgia on a path to membership.
First, because the president-elect will decide himself about new war guarantees in Eastern Europe or the Caucasus. Second, because these are matters to be taken up at a Medvedev-Obama summit, not foreclosed for him by neocons now trooping home to their think tanks.
David Brooks thinks that the GOP is in decline because it embraced Sarah Palin—and it has nothing to do what so ever with that Iraq War business.
Neoconservatives afraid that a President Obama might even partially live up his promise to remove troops from Iraq have been warming up to the new administration and hedging their bets where they can. Not since Operation Chaos during the primaries have we seen some Republicans so anxious to jump off the “Stop-Hillary Express” and on the Clinton bandwagon. The sort of Republican who cheers for Hillary is the same sort who embraced Lieberman. No matter how many liberal positions either held, socialized healthcare, open borders, higher taxes, anti-2nd amendment, it didn’t matter. As with Lieberman, so long as Hillary is prepared to continue sending U.S. troops around the world to continue the neoconservative mission of American global empire, Clinton would be their gal.
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