Arthur Jensen (1923-2012) was one of the most prolific psychologists of the twentieth-century. He’s so famous that there is a word named after him: “jensenism.” Jensen is remembered for arguing that black people are stupider than white people and there wasn’t much you could do about it. What distinguished Jensen from your racist uncle was that Jensen dressed up his argument in statistics and published it in psychological journals. Another thing that might distinguish Jensen from your racist uncle (unless your racist uncle is much worse than he’s ever let on at Thanksgiving) is that Jensen palled around with neo-Nazis and admirers of Nazi racial thought. People who’s views were basically recapitulations of Nazi race theorist Hans F.K. Günther. The recent awful Quillette article cites Jensen as a reliable source as do many other “race realist” writers nonetheless.
I have better things to do with my time. I have other writing to do. I have laundry that needs to be folded. The catbox hasn’t been scooped today. There’s a hammer out in the garage I could be hitting my head with. Any of these things would be preferable to responding to this awful Quillette article on race science. Yet here I am.
I’m not the only one to find this article troublesome or to see that it is while it poses as a book review of Angela Saini’s new book Superior: The Return of Race Science it is really no such thing. Nor am I the first to make the argument that race science is the vampire science. Pronounced dead over and over and over it rises from the grave to shamble a while mumbling incoherently about “open questions” and “IQ scores” and “heritability” and “climate” despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that we have moved beyond race science. The Quillette article notes this consensus: “This contention is a common one, officially endorsed by a number of professional organizations and espoused by many celebrated intellectuals” but then dismisses it. The article then trots out a series of tired arguments as if they were new and novel and the professionals and intellectuals had never heard them before and found them wanting. Let’s look at some of these threadbare arguments, shall we?
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Box v. Planned Parenthood. The issues of the case can be found here. I want to focus on the concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas has long wanted to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut, a landmark 1965 case in which laws prohibiting the sale of contraceptives were declared unconstitutional. Griswold was an important case to establish a right to privacy, something Thomas simply does not think exists. What is new about Thomas’s concurrence in Box is that he is using the history of eugenics to do so. A really bad and dishonest history.
I’ve been recently named part of a “roving and ideologically motivated band of slime artists.” Please! I’m blushing: an artist? My prose has seldom been considered more than “craftmanlike” and now I’ve been declared an artist! Wait until I get to tell the rest of the roving band! In the same post my “expertise” was put into scare quotes, just so you’d know that I’m a poseur about these things. I earned these honorifics because of some comments I made on Twitter regarding a review of a book by Nathaniel Weyl published by economist Gordon Tullock. , Yes, this post is about a blog entry about a Twitter thread about a book review about a book published a half-century ago. Of such molehills in a teapot the internet is made. Not that the original poster needs my help.
That being said, this little dustup can teach us something about how scientific racism flourishes long after it should have been laid to rest. First, speaking in a scientific voice provides cover for ideas that would otherwise never survive in the public sphere. William F. Buckley often bragged about forbidding his writers to also write for the racist and antisemitic American Mercury. Yet, Weyl was a regular contributor to the equally racist and antisemitic Mankind Quarterly (MQ) and was never booted from the pages of National Review. Perhaps because MQ purported to be a scientific, not political, journal. Second scientific racists could be satisfied with playing to draw. In other words, rather than proving certain races were inferior, they could simply end by calling the question open, demanding more research and thus keep doubt in the public’s mind about racial equality.
In my last post I made what I thought was a straightforward argument: libertarians claim to be freedom’s ultimate defenders but their actions during the great freedom struggle for Civil Rights show them to be indifferent or perhaps hostile to racial justice as a component of freedom. This is a particular problem for them because they claim to be concerned with freedom. Some libertarians on my Twitter feed raised some objections and I thought I would address their points here since Twitter is hardly the place for a good discussion. So, let’s dive in, shall we?
In my continuing quest to discover libertarians concerned with Civil Rights in the twenty years following World War II I found Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader. The advertising copy tells us:
Race & Liberty in America explains the major themes of the anti-racist, classical liberal tradition of individual liberty and equality, demonstrating how it has inspired individuals to improve race relations in the United States. Rooted in the Judeo-Christian natural-law tradition, classical liberals have advocated freedom from governmental interference, abolition of prejudicial law, equality under a uniform rule of law guaranteed by the Constitution, and market-based entrepreneurial opportunity.
For those of you who aren’t up on all the libertarian lingo, “classical liberal” is a term preferred by some libertarians to, well, “libertarian.” Back in the New Deal era, many folks whom we would now classify as “libertarians” adopted the term to distinguish themselves from Roosevelt’s “liberals” who they thought distorted the real meaning of “liberalism.” The book’s introduction tells us the classical liberal tradition is informed by five core beliefs: Individual freedom, Christianity and Judaism, the Constitution, Colorblindness, and Capitalism. Of course many people hold these beliefs to some extent and apparently, one can completely reject some of them and still qualify as a “classical liberal” according to this book. Thus the outspoken atheist is listed as a “classical liberal” (p. 185) and the book reprints Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech even though, “King was a social democrat who rejected the classical liberal vision of limited government” (p. 215). (This is just one of endless examples of the right attempting to claim King as one of their own despite ample evidence to the contrary).
In any case, if we are to believe the ad copy, here are the essential readings needed to understand the libertarian position on racism during the Civil Rights era. While it does little to change my mind that libertarians did little or nothing to aid the fight against segregation, it makes for interesting reading because it shows what weird histories libertarians tell about themselves in matters racial. Continue reading
Libertarians portray the “State” as an alien entity that forces itself onto free individuals. It isn’t just that they believe the state is granted a monopoly on coercion, they often argue that the state is nothing but coercion and violence. It produces nothing, it uses violence to seize from productive individuals all that it has. We do not create the state; the state is them and they take what they want from us without regard to our wants or needs. In trying to trace the origins of this “othering” of the state I found myself reading a lot of nineteeth-century German social science, in particular the work of Franz Oppenheimer (1864-1943).
Franz Oppenheimer was a German/Jewish sociologist who published a short book in 1908 entitled Der Staat (translated into English as The State in 1922). Oppenheimer was perhaps the strongest critic of racial theories of statehood in turn-of-the-century German sociology (Stoetzler, 2014, pp. 121-2). In his own account of the origin of the state Oppenheimer argued that the origin of the state was one of war and conflict. He began his argument by claiming that there are only two ways of producing wealth:
There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. Robbery! Forcible appropriation! …
Both because of this, and also on account of the need of having, in the further development of this study, terse, clear, sharply opposing terms for these very important contrasts, I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.”
Politics, which is the essence of the state, is nothing but theft according to this view. And the state, as a political institution, cannot itself provide resources or be a source of wealth. The state can only acquire resources produced by the labor others by means of coercion. This is Libertarianism 101.
The word “eugenic” is an unquestionably negative adjective –tagging something eugenic is to disparage it, except in the rare case of someone who attempts to resuscitate some aspect of the vilified American eugenics movement. However, if asked, it is doubtful that those who employ the term to vilify something they object to can give an accurate definition of the term. Those who turn to the history of science to define the term are likely to be frustrated. The American eugenics movement was in fact so broad and historical scholarship on it has been so profuse that by the end of the twentieth century the word “eugenics” was applied to so many different activities that it was of little use in describing much of anything. And, since every industrialized country in the world had some kind of program under the rubric “eugenics” the problem becomes more acute if we move beyond the United States. Today, historians, activists, journalists and assorted political pundits can easily find evidence in the many activities associated with the word eugenics to support nearly any assertion they wanted to make. “What,” asked Philip Pauly a quarter century ago, “is then left of ‘eugenics’ apart from Francis Galton’s euphonious term and impressionistic images of semiutopian technocratic professionals?” (p. 133).
Unfortunately, outside the specialists in the history of biology, “eugenics” is often assumed to lead directly to the Nazi Final Solution. In a society that expressly values diversity and civil rights, the word “eugenicist” carries the same sort of weight that being labeled a pinko carried during the red scare. Diane Paul, who has extensively studied and written about both the history of the American eugenics movement and ongoing genetic research and interventions that are sometimes associated with the label eugenic, wrote, “I argue that efforts to demarcate eugenics from non-eugenics will prove as fruitless as analogous efforts to demarcate ‘science’ from non-science’ for the same reason; eugenics, like science, is simply much too heterogeneous. I believe that disputes about the meaning of eugenics are also unproductive. At present, the term is wielded like a club. To label a policy ‘eugenics’ is to say, in effect, that it is not just bad, but beyond the pale. It is a way of ending, not promoting, discussion.” (pp. 96-7)
Rhetorician Richard Weaver would call the word “eugenics” in our world a “devil term.” By this he meant a single term that stood for an idea or concept that was so repellent as to be universally rejected. Writing in the early 1960s, Weaver suggested that “un-American” or “Communist” or, significantly, “Nazi,” were a good examples of such “term[s] of repulsion” (p. 223). A devil term cuts of discussion. It stops inquiry. The use of them betrays a desire to eliminate any further discussion of the problem.
I bring this up because one of my Twitter frenemies keeps bringing up (even though no one asked) his belief that “Gunnar Myrdal was a hardcore-eugenicist!” if I mention Myrdal’s enormously influential book, An American Dilemma. Published in 1944, AAD set the stage for how Americans wrote and thought about race relations for two decades. It is widely considered one of the most important books of the twentieth century on race relations. What could it mean that this anti-racist classic was authored by a “hardcore eugenicist?” To answer that question, we need a clear understanding of “eugenics” which, as Paul noted years ago, is hard to come by.
Our scene opens as the sun sets on Washington DC. As the lights come up on the Oval Office, Trump sits with an aide trying to find a new Attorney General.
TRUMP: “Why not? I want him! He’s tough, he’s a real man!”
AIDE: “Yes, sir, I understand but….”
T: “So, get him in here first thing in the morning!”
A: “As I explained before, sir, Vlad the Impaler is dead and therefore unavailable.
T: “Dead, huh? Maybe he’s not as tough as I thought. OK, how about my #2 choice? Get him in here, first thing in the morning.”
A: “Ah, yessir, you see with #2…..”
T: “I’ve heard good things about him. He’s my choice.:
A: “Yes, but, you see, Klaus Barbie is also dead.”
T: “Goddammit to hell! Why are they all losers! Number 3?”
A: “Well, sir, Kim Jong-un is not technically an American so…..”
T: “Huh. I didn’t know that and I’m a smart guy. #4? He’s an American, for sure.”
A. “Well, sir, technically, The Grinch is fictional so I guess he *could* be an American….”
T: “Shit, fuck, goddam, fuck! Right, I’m going with Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Great guy. Tough guy. Not as tough or great as me, but still tough and great.
A: Are you sir, sir? He’s a terrible human being! You had to pardon him for many violations of human rights? He’s completely unqualified! I’m sure the Republicans in the Senate will balk at confirming him.
They lock eyes and we hold for several beats. Then they both break into uncontrollable laughter.
T: “That’s a good one kid, you are funny. Not as funny as me, of course, but funny.”
A: “Thank you sir, I’ll have Sheriff Joe here in the morning.”
I’ve been absent from these spaces since May. Sorry about that. This summer was busy; I’ve moved from Williamsburg VA and the College of William and Mary to take a new position at the James Madison College at Michigan State University in Lansing MI. Naturally none of these esteemed institutions get the blame for anything I write here.
This summer was spent packing and wondering why we own so many damn books and loading trucks and wondering why the damn books are so damn heavy and unpacking and wondering where we are going to put all these damn books. What with all that I didn’t have a lot of time to blog.
But now I’m a little more settled. I hope to back in the blogging saddle soon.