Saturday, May 16, 2015

Age of reason

Rally in Sydney (Wikicommons). Antiracists see themselves as open-minded individuals at war with hardline ideologues.


The interwar years gave antiracism a new lease on life, thus reversing a long decline that had begun in the late 19th century. This reversal was driven largely by two events: the acrimonious debate over U.S. immigration in the mid-1920s and Hitler's rise to power in the early 1930s. Many people, especially academics, were convinced of the need for an uncompromising war on "racism"—a word just entering use as a synonym for Nazism.

The war on racism began in the social sciences, especially through the efforts of John B. Watson in psychology and the Boasian triad in anthropology (Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead). After initially holding a more balanced view, these social scientists began to argue that genes contribute little to differences in behavior and mental makeup, especially between human populations.

In addition to the political context, there was also the broader cultural setting. The 1920s brought a flowering of African and African-American influences on popular culture, as seen in the Harlem Renaissance, the emergence of jazz, and the infatuation with art nègre. African Americans were viewed no longer as an embarrassment but as a source of excitement and novelty. In this role, black singers, musicians, and artists would lead the way in mobilizing mainstream support for the war on racism, such as Marian Anderson in her concert at the Lincoln Memorial and Paul Robeson through his political activism.

Would things have turned out differently if the immigration debate of the 1920s had been less acrimonious or if Hitler had not come to power? The most widespread answer seems to be "no"—sooner or later, men and women of reason would have broken free of the ideological straightjacket imposed by racism, social Darwinism, and hereditarianism. Franz Boas said as much in an interview he gave in 1936: "I will try to clean up some of the nonsense that is being spread about race those days. I think the question is particularly important for this country, too; as here also people are going crazy" (JTA, 1942).

How true is this view? Was the war on racism a healthy reaction to a mad ideology?

First, the word "racism" scarcely existed in its current sense back then. Continuous use dates from the 1920s and initially referred to the integral "blood and soil" nationalism that was becoming popular, especially in Germany, the word "racist" itself being perhaps a translation of the German Völkisch. Its use in a broader sense is largely postwar and has rarely been positive or even neutral. It's an insult. The racist must be re-educated and, if necessary, eliminated.

If the racist is no longer an ignorant person but rather a villain, and if he is defined by his impulses or negative passions (hate, aggressive intolerance, etc.), then the evil is in him, and his case seems hopeless. The antiracist's task is no longer to lead the "racist" towards goodness, but rather to isolate him as a carrier of evil. The "racist" must be singled out and stigmatized. (Taguieff, 2013)

The term "social Darwinism" likewise came into use well after the period when it was supposedly dominant:

Bannister (1988) and Bellomy (1984) established that "social Darwinism" was all but unknown to English-speaking readers before the Progressive Era. Hodgson's (2004) bibliometric analysis identified a mere eleven instances of "social Darwinism" in the Anglophone literature (as represented by the JSTOR database) before 1916. Before 1916 "social Darwinism" had almost no currency whatsoever [...].

"Social Darwinism" did not acquire much greater currency between 1916 and 1943; a mere 49 articles and reviews employ the term. (Leonard, 2009)

The term did not become commonplace until 1944 with the publication of Social Darwinism in American Thought by Richard Hofstadter. Since then it has appeared 4,258 times in the academic literature. Like "racism" it has seldom been used positively or neutrally:

"Social Darwinism" had always been an epithet. From its very beginnings, reminds Bellomy (1984, p. 2), "social Darwinism" has been "heavily polemical, reserved for ideas with which a writer disagreed." (Leonard, 2009).

The term "hereditarianism" likewise entered common use long after its supposed golden age. According to Google Scholar, "hereditarian" and "hereditarianism" appear 0 times in the literature between 1890 and 1900, 6 times between 1900 and 1910, 8 times between 1910 and 1920, 18 times between 1920 and 1930, and 52 times between 1930 and 1940. In most cases, these terms seem to have been used pejoratively.

Thus, all three words entered common use when the beliefs they described were no longer dominant. More to the point, these words were more often used by opponents than by proponents, sometimes exclusively so.

Of course, an ideology doesn't need a name to exist. Many people engaged in racial thinking without bothering to label it. As Barkan (1992, p. xi) observes: “Prior to that time [the interwar years] social differentiation based upon real or assumed racial distinctions was thought to be part of the natural order.” It is difficult, however, to describe such thinking as an ideology, in the sense of a belief-system that seeks obedience to certain views and to a vision of what-must-be-done. William McDougall (1871-1938) was a prominent figure in psychology and is now described as a "scientific racist," yet his views showed little of the stridency we normally associate with ideology:

Racial qualities both physical and mental are extremely stable and persistent, and if the experience of each generation is in any manner or degree transmitted as modifications of the racial qualities, it is only in very slight degree, so as to produce any moulding effect only very slowly and in the course of generations.

I would submit the principle that, although differences of racial mental qualities are relatively small, so small as to be indistinguishable with certainty in individuals, they are yet of great importance for the life of nations, because they exert throughout many generations a constant bias upon the development of their culture and their institutions. (Mathews, 1925, p. 151)

Similarly, the anthropologist William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) is described today as a "social Darwinist," even though the term was never applied to him during his lifetime or long after. He did believe in the struggle for existence: "Before the tribunal of nature a man has no more right to life than a rattlesnake; he has no more right to liberty than any wild beast; his right to pursuit of happiness is nothing but a license to maintain the struggle for existence..." (Sumner, 1913, p. 234). He saw such struggle, however, as an unfortunate constraint and not as a normative value. Efforts to abolish it would simply transfer it to other people:

The real misery of mankind is the struggle for existence; why not "declare" that there ought not to be any struggle for existence, and that there shall not be any more? Let it be decreed that existence is a natural right, and let it be secured in that way. If we attempt to execute this plan, it is plain that we shall not abolish the struggle for existence; we shall only bring it about that some men must fight that struggle for others. (Sumner, 1913, p. 222).

Yet his belief in the struggle for existence was not associated with imperialism and “might makes right.” Indeed, he considered imperialism a betrayal of America's traditions and opposed the Spanish-American War and America’s subsequent annexation of the Philippines. A class of plutocrats would, he felt, come into being and foment imperialist wars in the hope of securing government subsidies and contracts (Wikipedia, 2015).

Herbert John Fleure (1877-1969), a geographer and anthropologist, is similarly described today as a "scientific racist" who saw racial differentiation taking place even at the micro level of small communities:

[...] Fleure accepted the reality of racial differentiation even in Europe, where all the populations exhibit types of diverse origins living and maintaining those type characters side by side in spite of intermarriage and of absence of any consciousness of diversity. These various types, each with mental aptitudes and limitations that are in some degree correlated with their physique, make diverse contributions to the life of each people. (Barkan, 1992, p. 60)

Nonetheless, he condemned the "folly" of confusing such differentiation with language and nation states (Barkan, 1992, pp. 60-64). He also became a strong opponent of Nazism and attacked anti-Semitism in his lectures and articles (Kushner, 2008).

I could give other examples, but why bother? There was a spectrum of racial thinking that encompassed a wide range of scholars, many of whom were sympathetic to the plight of minorities. This variability is hardly surprising, given that racial thinking of one sort or another was typical of most educated people who came of age before the 1930s. Indeed, we are regularly treated to the discovery that some respected person, like Winston Churchill or Albert Schweitzer, was, in fact, a racist. This historical reality is embarrassing not just because the people in question are still role models, but also because it undermines the notion that antiracism freed us from an ideological straitjacket.


Words like "racism," "social Darwinism," and "hereditarianism" create the impression that a single monolithic ideology prevailed before the triumph of antiracism. Actually, the truth was almost the reverse. There was initially a wide spectrum of beliefs, as is normally the case before one belief pushes out its rivals and imposes its vision of reality. Antiracism triumphed because it was more ideological than its rivals; it possessed a unity of purpose that enabled it to neutralize one potential opponent after another. Often, the latter were unaware of this adversarial relationship and assumed they were dealing with a friendly ally.

History could have played out differently. Initially a tool in the struggle against Nazi Germany, antiracism became critically dependent on a postwar context of decolonization and Cold War rivalry. Without this favorable context, it would have had much more trouble seizing the moral high ground and locking down normal discourse. Its revival would have likely stalled at some point.

A world without antiracism could have still brought in laws against discrimination, particularly for the basics of life like housing and employment. But such efforts would have been driven not by ideology but by a pragmatic wish to create a livable society, like modern-day Singapore. In this alternate world, rational people would act rationally. They would not, for instance, be blindly sticking to antiracist principles—and insisting that everyone else do likewise—in the face of the demographic tsunami now sweeping out of Africa.

Social scientists in particular would be acting more rationally. They would not have to assume human sameness and arrange the facts accordingly. They would not face the same pressure to ignore embarrassing data, to choose the less likely explanation, and to keep quiet until ... until when? They would be free to work within the earlier, and more fruitful, paradigm that viewed human differences as a product of genes, culture, and gene-culture interaction. 

Such a paradigm could have absorbed findings on learning and conditioned reflexes, perhaps even better than the one we have now. Indeed, the current paradigm has trouble explaining why the effects of conditioning disappear at different rates, depending on what one has been conditioned to do. For instance, people lose a conditioned fear of snakes and spiders much more slowly than a conditioned fear of electrical outlets, even though the latter are more dangerous in current environments (Cook et al., 1986; Ohman et al., 1986). Conditioning, like learning in general, seems to interact not with a blank slate, but rather with pre-existing mental algorithms that have modifiable and non-modifiable sections.
Of course, this is not how history played out. We are living under an ideology that claims to be an anti-ideology while demanding the sort of conformity normally found in totalitarian societies. In the past, this contradiction largely went unnoticed, perhaps because the full extent of the antiracist project remained poorly known. Or perhaps people chose not to know. Increasingly, however, even the pretence of not knowing is becoming difficult. As French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut wrote, "the lofty idea of the 'war on racism' is gradually turning into a hideously false ideology. And this anti-racism will be for the 21st century what communism was for the 20th century" (Caldwell, 2009).


Barkan, E. (1992). The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States Between the World Wars, Cambridge University Press.

Caldwell, C. (2009). Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, Penguin.

JTA (1942). Dr. Franz Boas, Debunker of Nazi Racial Theories, Dies in New York, December 23 

Kushner, T. (2008). H. J. Fleure: a paradigm for inter-war race thinking in Britain, Patterns of Prejudice, 42 

Leonard, T.C. (2009). Origins of the myth of social Darwinism: The ambiguous legacy of Richard Hofstadter's Social Darwinism in American Thought, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 71, 37-51

Mathews, B. (1925). The Clash of Colour. A Study in the Problem of Race. London: Edinburgh House Press.

Ohman et al. (1986). Face the Beast and Fear the Face: Animal and Social Fears as Prototypes for Evolutionary Analyses of Emotion, Psychophysiology, 23, 123-145.

Sumner, W.G. (1913). Earth-hunger and other essays, ed. Albert Galloway Keller, New Haven: Yale University Press. 

Taguieff, P-A. (2013). Dictionnaire historique et critique du racisme, Paris: PUF.

Wikipedia (2015). William Graham Sumner


N Seale said...

Based on your reference to "genes", I gather your view on the "demographic tsunami" of Africans is that Europe should resist African migration; not so much due to excessive quantity, but racial quality, or, properly, the lack thereof. If I missed something, please tell me.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

I read your article and yet there was no definition of "racism" in it. What is "racism"? The Oxford English Dictionary, the 20 volume series, defined it as "the knowledge of the difference between races".

How is that evil?

Now, if you show racial prejudice that is called racism. In modern sense of the word if means a whole host of things. Is that scientific? If you are a scientist, aren't you to use precise language?

Rainer said...

Dear Mr. Frost,
would you please leave out the embarassing speculation about "racism" as a translation of German "Volkismus"? There's no such word in German.

Peter Frost said...


For both reasons. See my earlier post:

On the issue of genetic differences in mental makeup, I would normally advise caution. The jury is still out, and the current data need to be scrutinized carefully. But these are not normal times. Europe's leaders, like the leaders throughout the Western world, are punch-drunk on antiracism and have thrown caution to the wind. In the current situation, "caution" means removing the current leadership from power and taking a hard line on immigration, especially the surge that is now pouring out of Africa.


Originally, "racism" was a synonym of Nazism, and that original meaning still permeates current use. The word is primarily an insult and, as such, is useless for people like me who want to understand what is happening. Arguing over the meaning of "racism" is like arguing over the meaning of "goddamn f***ing son of a bitch!!!" The word is not an instrument of lucid analysis. It's a weapon.


I've rewritten that part of my post. Continuous use of the word "racist" seems to have begun in French, where it was used "in the early 1920s to designate, with critical intention, the far-right nationalist doctrines and movements in the Germany of the 1920s [...] the adjective "racist" appeared in 1922 ("the racist far right") and the noun in 1925 ("the racists of Ludendorff"). The noun "racism" appeared between 1925 and 1927."

In short, "racist" seems to be a translation of "völkisch". The word "racism" was then constructed in French from that adjective.

Taguieff, P-A. (2013). Dictionnaire historique et critique du racisme, PUF, p. 1500

N Seale said...

Dr Frost,

Even if, somehow, northwards migration stopped immediately, there remains an already-bolted horse: millions of ‘subaltern’ peoples reside in Europe; many were born in Europe, and are citizens of European states. I wonder if and how ‘caution’ might apply to them.

I would also appreciate your perspective on patterns of sexual behaviour in these resident populations.

• Since Sweden introduced mass immigration, crime has shot up; rape and other sexual crimes have risen exponentially – 1472%.
• There are repeated cases of gang rape of young white girls in the UK.
• Beyond Europe: in the US there is a disproportionate pattern of black-on-white rape. crime facts that the white liberal media darent talk about/

Explanatory discourses on this issue include cultural deviance, genetic aggression, and even politically-motivated, anti-white violence. You will notice the pattern is of dark men perpetrating sexual violence against fair women. Perhaps your identified race-gender/sex dynamic (FWDM), exercised in extremis, plays some role. For instance, while other factors undoubtedly pertain, Swedish women are among the fairest in the world. Kindly share your views on this quandary.

Sean said...

Immigration can be only stopped by nation states, which are survival machines. If immigration was brought under control the current non European communities of the West could be lived with. Unfortunately, those in charge of nation states see immigration as making the state stronger.

Assuming the immigration enthusiasts came to accept racial adaptation differences and sheer numbers made immigration undesirable for practical reasons, they wouldn't see it as a legitimate reason to prevent immigration. I'm increasingly finding plausible Nowak's view that there is an innate desire to be known for altruism.

If a wish to be known as altruistic inspires much of antiracism, the more incapable those you are helping, the more of an altruist you are.

Whites will oppose nonwhites to protect animals (Inuit fur hunting, Collier's proposed factory in post earthquake Haiti halted because lizards would be disturbed) but not to help whites as such. Whites as such are seen as powerful so there is no cachet in sacrificing for them. Those who know the game best (affluent whites) will always attack whites as such. And if you try and advocate for Europeans, there isn't just a lack of advantage, there are personal costs. I suppose that indicates many antiracists are mainly concerned with their personal aggrandisement.

Peter, for what it is worth, I think you are a true altruist.

Anonymous said...

Peter, I noticed your articles are still being posted at the Unz Review. Will you be commenting there as well, or just here on your blog?

Peter Frost said...

N. Seale,

- If you realize you've been digging yourself into a hole, you should stop digging.

- It's not all darker-skinned men. Immigrants from East Asia and Southeast Asia show low rates of violent crime, often lower than that of the native population. The incidence of male violence seems to be particularly high among immigrants from places where, until recent times, the State exercised a weak monopoly on violence (clan-based pastoral societies are a good example). In such societies, all adult males are expected to use violence pre-emptively to defend themselves, their families, and their "honor." Such males also consider violence a legitimate means to gain power, prestige, and resources.

In their home societies, these men are somewhat held in check by a "balance of terror" -- if I kill so-and-so, his kinsmen will avenge his death. So I'll think twice. But there's no need to think twice with native Europeans. They don't fight back! And if they do, they won't do so collectively. They want to be individuals.

I've written on this topic. You might want to read the following:

Frost, P. and H. Harpending. (2015). Western Europe, state formation, and genetic pacification, Evolutionary Psychology, 13, 230-243.

Frost, P. (2010). The Roman State and genetic pacification, Evolutionary Psychology, 8(3), 376-389.


I am an altruist. If a moth flies into my home, I can't kill it. I'll catch it and take it outside. That's part of my nature, and I accept it because no harm is done. But if a thousand moths start flying into my home, I will act differently. My cold-hearted, intellectualism will take over and shove aside my altruistic side.


I've made it clear to Ron that I will not comment at The Unz Review unless I have full moderation control. It's important to stay on message, and staying on message means excluding certain people (keyboard Nazis and other twits) who feel their obsessions take precedence over everything else.

There are also legal considerations. Until two years ago, Canadian bloggers were held responsible not only for the content of their blog posts, but also for the content of their comment sections. That law could be brought back in one form or another. I'm willing to accept the risk of being prosecuted for what I believe, but why should I take the rap for something I don't believe?

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer and Razib Khan seem to have comment moderation privileges. Why doesn't Ron Unz let you have moderatoin control?

I like the comments format at the Unz Review, but the comment threads to your articles there are generally unreadable. They're too long, with many comments that are themselves too long, with content unrelated to your article.

Anonymous said...

Not saying you're not an altruist, but I don't know that that would be an example of altruism. There's no fitness cost to throwing a moth outside, while there are fitness costs to keeping thousands of moths inside one's home - it repels potential mates, could spread disease, etc.

Sean said...

Most things people do have a potential reproductive fitness pay-off. There's a fitness benefit to being known as the kind of person who would leave a moth alone. (Which can be a nuisance if like me you have to leave it hibernating in the corner of the bathroom ceiling for several months until it decides to leave.)

Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino appeared in a PETA ad campaign promoting the spaying and neutering of pets. Think about that.

chris said...

If costs of altruism > than benefits of altruism, altruistic behaviour should cease.

Think of ways to raise those costs and then implement them.

Cobalt said...

"They don't fight back! And if they do, they won't do so collectively. They want to be individuals."

Also in many countries they are forbidden legally as well as through misinformation from defending themselves. I ran into a reference to a UK police directive to not use spray dye defences because they might cause harm to your attacker. The migrants and immigrants must think we are all crazy defeated people.