Arthur Jensen’s Racist Eugenics

Sketches of head showing "Varying Grades of Intelligence" by associating them with race

Arthur Jensen’s works simply recapitulated racist stereotypes of the 19th century.

For the last four decades of his career psychologist Arthur Jensen (1922-2012), was the most visible and vocal proponent for the claim that African Americans were genetically less intelligent than white people. He and many of his supporters trumpeted his statistical proficiency as proof he was simply an objective scientist asking hard questions and discovering uncomfortable truths. He continually claimed he was asking factual questions and not giving any policy recommendations.

That last bit is utter nonsense. Throughout his long career, Jensen warned about stupid Black people outbreeding smart white people. In his famous 1969 article he wrote:

Certain census statistics suggest that there might be forces at work which could create and widen the genetic aspect of the average difference in ability between the Negro and white populations in the United States, with the possible consequence that the improvement of educational facilities and increasing equality of opportunity will have a decreasing probability of producing equal achievement or continuing gains in the Negro population’s ability to compete on equal terms…..Is there a danger that current welfare policies, unaided by eugenic foresight, could lead to the genetic enslavement of a substantial segment of our population? The possible consequences of our failure seriously to study these questions may well be viewed by future generations as our society’s greatest injustice to Negro Americans. (p. 95)

Look out white Americans! Racial inferiors are putting your civilization at risk! Two years before his 1969 article, Jensen made this quite clear. He endorsed discouraging or preventing people of lower intelligence from reproducing, what is thought of as negative eugenics rather than trying to encourage smart people to reproduce, which would be postitive eugenics:

A lowering [of IQ] by as much as one standard deviation would probably make civilization impossible.

The reasonable answer I believe, is to think at present only in terms of negative eugenics rather than in terms of positive eugenics. That is to say, there are probably traits which have no conceivable survival value and which all humane persons would agree are human misfortunes which should be prevented if at all possible.

Jensen’s dysgenic nightmare was shared by the racist right of American politics, a fact that his admirers always chose to ignore. Hence, when the psychological journal Intelligence proclaimed Arthur Jensen, “A King Among Men” (seriously?), both American Renaissance and Vdare eagerly agreed with Jensen’s ascension to the throne.

I’ve written in this space before about how “eugenics” has become a devil term that shuts down inquiry rather than opening it up. Therefore I want to be clear about the form of eugenics Jensen advocated. Stefan Kühl distinguished among four groups of eugenicists that existed before World War II: mainline eugenicists, socialist eugenicists (which would include people like Gunnar Myrdal), reform eugenicists, and racial anthropologists. (p. 72-4). This last group included people like Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant who admired, and were admired by the Nazis. Racial anthropologists were concerned with eugenics at the level of group, specifically racial, competition. Their concerns were that racial inferiors were out breeding the superior races which would eventually lead to the collapse of civilization since civilization was a product of biological race. Jensen’s writings on eugenics most closely resembles those prewar racial anthropologists.

A very ugly man looking at himself in the mirror.

Jensen and Taylor: Mirror Image Twins

Jared Taylor is one of the leading white nationalist writer in the country and his online magazine, American Renaissance is an “intellectual” outlet for those wishing to preserve the white race against the supposed dangers of multiculturalism. In the 1980s Taylor became convinced that the white race was endangered by its racial inferiors by reading J. Philippe Rushton, Richard Lynn, and Helmuth Nyborg (p. 142) (Nyborg, in turn deeply admired Jensen and edited a volume praising King Jensen)American Renaissance often cites and republishes race scientists, many of whom I have written about in this space before. Taylor admired Jensen, whose academic pose of “objective scientist” suited the white nationalist’s need for intellectual cover perfectly. You would think that an objective scientist with no political agenda would avoid any connection with a far-right political activist like Taylor and you’d probably be right. Jensen, on the other hand, sat down for a long interview with Taylor in 1992. As the interview made clear: Jensen and Taylor shared many political concerns about the direction of the country; indeed their views were nearly identical.

The same year of his interview with Jensen, Taylor wrote that the country had tried to do too much to help lift black people out of poverty: “Visitors from Europe or Japan shake their heads in wonder at the squalor and barbarity of America’s cities. They could be forgiven for thinking that the country had viciously and deliberately neglected its poor and its blacks. Of course, it has not” (p. 331). Racism,Taylor argued, simply cannot explain why black people live like they do: “The theory of white racism carries an enormous, impossible burden-the burden of explaining black tragedy. It is a theory based not so much on evidence but on emotion, evasion, and guilt…The evidence for systematic racism is thin” (p. 85).

Jensen’s position in his published writings was much the same as Taylor’s. The year before his interview with Taylor, Jensen, who believed in g with almost a religious fervor, wrote that poverty and racism could not explain why black people lagged behind in education. Their inborn intelligence was inferior and therefore they simply could not be educated. This was his argument in the Oxford Review of Education concerning “g” which stands for “general intelligence:”

No explanatory variables besides g are necessary. Understanding the black-white difference in educational outcomes is tantamount to understanding the causal nature of g. Sociological hypotheses of blacks’ scholastic shortfall that invoke such notions as white racism, victimisation, discrimination, the culture of poverty, caste, linguistic differences, different learning styles, peer culture, poor self-esteem, alienation, and the like simply prove unnecessary. This is not to say that these things do not exist; but there is no evidence that they contribute to explaining the black deficit in educational achievement. (p. 173).

Taylor denied racism existed. Jensen thought whether racism existed or not was not a question worth asking since it was completely irrelevant to explaining black achievement. Both stances led to the same conclusion: White people were off the hook, it wasn’t their fault black people were so poor. Here’s Jensen on the idea, again in the Oxford Review:

It is virtually a social taboo in this day to bring g into public discussions of the current problems of education. Popular cause-and-effect explanations eschew it, and theories based exclusively on broad sociological factors without recognising the concept of ability have brought, and theories based exclusively on broad sociological factors without recognising the concept of ability have brought forth unworkable solutions. The very terminology of explanations promulgated by many professionals of the race problem in America consists of the rhetoric of victimisation and blame: white racism, caste thinking, oppression, discrimination, white supremacy, and appeals to white guilt. (p. 185)

When speaking with Taylor, Jensen simply repeated the arguments he had made in the educational psychology journals. For example, in this exchange, both men agreed that it was a shame that the Nazis gave eugenics a bad name and the Holocaust was clearly not about the racial inferiority of the Jews:

AR: There’s an aspect of this that’s particularly curious, and that’s the fact that at the turn of the century there was a very strong acceptance, it seems, or a very strong movement towards acceptance of genetic differences by men like Sir Francis Galton and Karl Pearson. Even in the United States, very reputable people became advocates of eugenics. Jensen: I think that World War II was really the main turning point in this. We’d been headed in that direction [egalitarianism], but the turning point, I think, was the revulsion against the Nazi Holocaust. People pointed to that as an example of what would happen if we recognized differences. Of course it’s very inapplicable really, because the group that was persecuted there was the group that was doing very well in Germany and around the world. It had a larger percentage of Nobel Prize winners and members of the National Academy of Sciences and Fellows of Royal Societies than any other group. AR: It’s my understanding that in fact there’s no record that Hitler even said that Jews were inferior anyway. Jensen: That’s right, yes. They had other reasons for their views. But this [the Holocaust] was still given as an example of the result of making racial or ethnic distinctions between groups.

[It is worth noting that the University College of London recently decided to rename the buildings named after Galton and Pearson, Jensen’s heroes, precisely because of their championing of eugenics.]

Jensen and Taylor shared the belief that Black people, on average, were too dumb to learn how to live in society. According to Jensen:

The rate of AIDS in the black population of the United States is increasing much more rapidly than in any other segment of the population. In the homosexual population, which is not differentiated from the rest of the population in intelligence, the rate of AIDS is going down. I mean the message has gotten to them, apparently.

The message is really, probably, getting to just about everyone, but people in the lower part of the distribution don’t seem to be able to have enough g to put messages together in a way that influences their behavior. This is one of the reasons why all methods of birth control, except sterilization, are dysgenic, because the effectiveness with which they are used is related to g. There’s no getting around it.

We already know that Jensen turned to the neo-Nazi, Robert Kuttner, when he needed a definition of genetic populations in his 1969 article. We also know that he happily provided an introduction to William Shockley’s essays on eugenics that was edited by another neo-Nazi, Roger Pearson. For decades, Pearson edited the notorious Mankind Quarterly known to be a haven for scientific racism. Jensen never wrote for Mankind Quarterly but he did write for a different journal edited by Pearson, the Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies. There he bemoaned that, because it would fall disproportionally on Black people, the eugenic option was not politically possible:

This problem is greatly magnified, socially and politically, by the marked disparities between the percentages of different subpopulations that fall below the critical threshold of g. This bare fact, much more than racial discrimination per se, is largely responsible for the unfortunate educational, social, and economic disparity between certain racial groups. (p. 174)

The one policy that has not been publicly discussed, undoubtedly because it seems too unfeasible and too unacceptable in the present Zeitgeist, is society’s open promotion of humane and voluntary measures and personal incentives to reduce the birthrate markedly in the sub-threshold segment of the population (of Course, regardless of race or ethnicity). But to voice the idea is now Utterly taboo, despite its being one policy for which real long-term benefits for the whole society could be virtually guaranteed. The racial disparity in proportions below the critical threshold of g is Probably the primary obstacle to the public consideration of any such policy. Yet it is hard to imagine any other policies that could more predictably promote true racial equality in socially valued achievement. (pp. 175-6)

Jensen, that objective scientist, lent his name to racists like Pearson and Taylor and it cannot be that he did not know that they were eugenicists who feared a “rising tide of color.” Their fears were Jensen’s fears. Apart from some subtle difference in wording, it is impossible to distinguish Jensen’s eugenic views as he expressed them in peer-reviewed literature from the eugenic views of white supremacists like Taylor and Pearson. Jensen was hardly an apolitical scientist; he made his politics quite clear but apparently his admirers would rather ignore those politics. It is easy to see why.

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2 thoughts on “Arthur Jensen’s Racist Eugenics

  1. You make such a good point: “He continually claimed he was asking factual questions and not giving any policy recommendations.” And: “Jensen was hardly an apolitical scientist; he made his politics quite clear but apparently his admirers would rather ignore those politics. It is easy to see why.”

    This has long bothered me. I saw this kind of defense in the Human Biodversity blogosphere. There were some HBDers like hbdchick who were smart and didn’t come across as mean-spirited, but she pretended to not know that she was advocating a specific ideological vision with political implications. She acted as if she was apolitical and merely theorizing based on the data.

    It came to feel dishonest. I suspect she simply lacked self-awareness of how her views perfectly fit into racist eugenics. It’s not how she self-identified and I had no reason to think she wasn’t being honest. Still, the greatest privilege is being oblivious to one’s privilege, such as the privilege to be mindlessly racist while denying it when being called out on it.

    In the end, being obliviously unaware is no better than cynical lies designed to manipulate. It’s irrelevant what Jensen or anyone else believes or rationalizes, even if the intentions were genuinely well meaning. The consequences of such obviously racist thinking is harmful in extreme ways. The denials of this is depressing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Watching the Whitewash | Fardels Bear

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