The Culture of Critique
The Culture of Critique
An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements
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For 1,500 years Jewish society had been designed to produce intellectuals. . . . Jewish society was geared to support them. . . . Rich merchants married sages’ daughters; . . . Quite suddenly, around the year 1800, this ancient and highly efficient social machine for the production of intellectuals began to shift its output. Instead of pouring all its products into the closed circuit of rabbinical studies, . . . it unleashed a significant and ever-growing proportion of them into secular life. This was an event of shattering importance in world history. (A History of the Jews, Paul Johnson 1988, 340–341)

An important theme of Separation and Its Discontents (hereafter SAID) was the manipulation of ideology in the service of rationalizing specific forms of Judaism, interpreting history, and combating anti-Semitism. The present volume is in many ways an extension of these phenomena. However, the intellectual movements and political activity discussed in this volume have typically occurred in the wider intellectual and political world and have not been designed to rationalize specific forms of Judaism. Rather, they may be characterized in the broadest sense as efforts at cultural criticism and at times as attempts to influence the wider culture of the society in a manner that conforms to specific Jewish interests.

There is no implication here of a unified Jewish "conspiracy" to undermine gentile culture, as portrayed in the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Since the Enlightenment, Judaism has never been a unified, monolithic movement, and there has clearly been a great deal of disagreement among Jews as to how to protect themselves and attain their interests during this period. The movements discussed in this volume (Boasian anthropology, political radicalism, psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt School of Social Research, and the New York Intellectuals) were advanced by relatively few individuals whose views may not have been known or understood by the majority of the Jewish community. The argument is that Jews dominated these intellectual movements, that a strong sense of Jewish identity was characteristic of the great majority of these individuals, and that these individuals were pursuing a Jewish agenda in establishing and participating in these movements.

Thus there is no implication that Judaism constitutes a unified movement or that all segments of the Jewish community participated in these movements. Jews may constitute a predominant or necessary element in radical political movements or movements in the social sciences, and Jewish identification may be highly compatible with or even facilitate these movements without most Jews being involved in these movements. As a result, the question of the overall effects of Jewish influences on gentile culture is independent of the question of whether most or all Jews supported the movements to alter gentile culture.

This distinction is important because on the one hand anti-Semites have often implicitly or explicitly assumed that Jewish involvement in radical political movements was part of an overarching Jewish strategy that also included wealthy Jewish capitalists, as well as Jewish involvement in the media, the academy, and other areas of public life. On the other hand, Jews attempting to defuse the anti-Semitism resulting from the fact that Jews have played a predominant role in many radical political movements have often pointed to the fact that only a minority of Jews are involved and that gentiles are also involved in the movements. Thus, for example, the standard response of the American Jewish Committee (hereafter AJCommittee) during the 1930s and 1940s to the predominance of Jews in radical political movements was to emphasize that most Jews were not radicals. Nevertheless, during this same period the AJCommittee undertook efforts to combat radicalism in the Jewish community (e.g., Cohen 1972).1 The AJCommittee was implicitly recognizing that statements that only a minority of Jews are radicals may indeed have been true but were irrelevant to whether (1) Jewish identification is compatible with or facilitates involvement in radical political movements, (2) Jews constitute a predominant or necessary element in radical political movements, or (3) influences on gentile society resulting from Jewish predominance in radical movements (or the other Jewish intellectual movements reviewed in this volume) may be conceptualized as a consequence of Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy.

Similarly, the fact that most Jews prior to the 1930s were not Zionists, at least overtly, surely does not imply that Jewish identification was irrelevant to Zionism, or that Jews did not in fact constitute a predominant influence on Zionism, or that Zionism did not have effects on gentile societies, or that some gentiles did not become ardent Zionists. Political radicalism has been one choice among many available to Jews in the post-Enlightenment world, and there is no implication here that Judaism constitutes a monolithic unified group in the post-Enlightenment world. That Jews have been more likely than gentiles to choose radical political alternatives and that Jews have been a predominant influence in some radical political movements are therefore facts highly relevant to the present project.

That some gentiles were involved in these movements is not surprising either. At a theoretical level, my thinking is based once again on an evolutionary interpretation of social identity theory (see SAID, Ch. 1). Gentiles may be attracted to the political and intellectual movements that attract Jews and for many of the same reasons, that is, reasons related to social identification and ingroup-outgroup competition. For example, African American intellectuals have often been attracted to leftist intellectual movements and environmentalist explanations of racial group differences in IQ at least partly as a reaction to their perceptions of white animosity and the consequent implications of genetic inferiority. In the same way, I argue that anti-Semitism has been a motivating force for many Jewish intellectuals. Recall the motivating role of self-esteem as a theoretical primitive in social identity theory. A great many people who, for whatever reason, feel victimized by a particular sociopolitical system are attracted to movements that criticize the system, blame others for their problems, and generally vindicate their own positive perceptions of themselves and their ingroup as well as their negative perceptions of outgroups. In each of the intellectual and political movements I review, Jewish identification and a concern to combat anti-Semitism were clearly involved.

Moreover, once Jews have attained intellectual predominance, it is not surprising that gentiles would be attracted to Jewish intellectuals as members of a socially dominant and prestigious group and as dispensers of valued resources. Such a perspective fits well with an evolutionary perspective on group dynamics: Gentiles negotiating the intellectual status hierarchy would be attracted to the characteristics of the most dominant members of the hierarchy, especially if they viewed the hierarchy as permeable. Writer William Barrett, a gentile editor of Partisan Review, describes his "awe and admiration" of the New York Intellectuals (a group of predominantly Jewish intellectuals discussed in Chapter 6) early in his career. "They were beings invested in my eyes with a strange and mysterious glamour" (in Cooney 1986, 227). Partisan Review was a flagship journal of this very influential intellectual movement and had a decisive influence on success or failure in the literar

Kevin MacDonald is Professor of Psychology at California State University-Long Beach, Long Beach, CA 90840-0901, USA. His research has focused on developing evolutionary perspectives in history and developmental psychology. After receiving a Masters degree in evolutionary biology, he received a Ph.D. in biobehavioral sciences at the University of Connecticut working on behavioral development in wolves, and he continued developmental research during a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois performing research on human parent-child play. His research has focused on developing evolutionary perspectives in developmental psychology. He has also authored four books, Social and Personality Development: An Evolutionary Synthesis (NY: Plenum, 1988) and A People that Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994), Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism (Westport, CT, 1998), and The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Westport, CT, 1998).


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