Darwinism, Democracy, and Race

Book cover for Darwinism, Democracy, and Race

This is the cover of my new book, just published with David Depew, the noted philospher of biology.  Writing a book with David has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my academic career. It has been a real pleasure to produce this book with him and I’m very proud of our work. Get your copy today!

Publisher’s Description:

Darwinism, Democracy, and Race examines the development and defence of an argument that arose at the boundary between anthropology and evolutionary biology in twentieth-century America. In its fully articulated form, this argument simultaneously discredited scientific racism and defended free human agency in Darwinian terms.

The volume is timely because it gives readers a key to assessing contemporary debates about the biology of race. By working across disciplinary lines, the book’s focal figures–the anthropologist Franz Boas, the cultural anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, and the physical anthropologist Sherwood Washburn–found increasingly persuasive ways of cutting between genetic determinist and social constructionist views of race by grounding Boas’s racially egalitarian, culturally relativistic, and democratically pluralistic ethic in a distinctive version of the genetic theory of natural selection. Collaborators in making and defending this argument included Ashley Montagu, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Lewontin.

Darwinism, Democracy, and Race will appeal to advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and academics interested in subjects including Philosophy, Critical Race Theory, Sociology of Race, History of Biology and Anthropology, and Rhetoric of Science.

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“They Wanted to Protest the Taking Down of a Statue”

Drawing of a rat with the legend

Getting rid of racism is much harder with Trump as President

Is it even newsworthy that Trump’s press conference about Charlottesville was misleading and disingenuous? Probably not. Trump is so dishonest that it is no longer an interesting question that he mislead us but rather to ask how and to what end he lied. Sometimes, of course, the answer seems to be “because he felt like it” or “because he is so unconcerned with truth that he doesn’t even know he’s lying anymore.” I’m not even going to bother with the nonsense about “both sides do it,” I’ll leave that to Driftglass. I’m more interested in Trump’s challenge to a reporter who dared ask him a question:

When you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead. Define it for me, come on, let’s go.

Trump claims he “never spoke to Mr. Bannon about” Charlottesville. Maybe when he bothers to do so, he can ask him to define “alt right” since Bannon knows all about it. Heck, he even published a whole guide about defining the alt right. Maybe an aide can make a pretty picture book about it so President Pop-Up-Book can understand it.

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Charlottesville and Racism

In 1998, when he was 23 years old, John William King and two friends beat an African-American man, James Byrd, Jr., behind a convenience store. King was the one who used a baseball bat. They then chained Mr. Byrd behind their truck and dragged him for 3 miles. The pathologist report, once they had reassembled the 81 pieces of Mr. Byrd’s body, told the court that the evidence indicated Mr. Byrd was alive for most of the dragging since the remains indicated he tried desperately to protect himself.  John William King, and his friends, were found guilty. At his sentencing, King issued a statement:

Though I remain adamant about my innocence, it’s been obvious from the beginning that this community would get what they desire; so I’ll close with the words of Francis Yockey: “The promise of success is with the man who is determined to die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.”

King is still on death row awaiting execution, forgotten by all. If he had done those actions even thirty years previously, he’s probably still be walking among us, a free man.

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Atheism and Racism

The New Atheists and the Alt-Right

A church in shambles

I’ve never liked the so-called “New Atheists,” those inspired by the “Four Horsemen” of Atheism: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.  When writing about atheism, those four have never impressed me as particularly deep thinkers. My co-author and I have a new book coming out soon that takes exception to the version of Darwinism put forth by Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins.  I lost a great deal of respect for the late Christopher Hitchens when he embraced Bush’s Iraq war. And Sam Harris is, in my opinion, a shallow and unimpressive thinker who feeds the bigotry of thinkers who are even shallower and unimpressiver then he is.

I mostly never liked them because of Jennifer Michael Hecht.  I got to know Jennifer a bit when I reprinted an essay of her’s in a volume I edited.  About the time those men in the previous paragraph started making waves, Jennifer published Doubt: A History a deeply-researched, wonderfully-written study of the history of those who have doubted the existence of God. While Hitchens and Harris were repackaging David Hume for the umpteenth time, and Dennett and Dawkins were offering their cramped understanding of Darwinism (as if it had anything to do with the existence of God), Jennifer’s wonderfully original contribution to atheism was swept aside, perhaps because she was a woman (which would not be surprising, given the misogyny in the movement), perhaps because she doesn’t call her intellectual opponents irrational or stupid. Whatever the reason, I always thought the movement chose third-rate thinkers when they could have chosen a first-rate one.

Phil Torres, in a recent post over at Salon, notes the unsettling similarities between the views of some of the so-called “New Atheists,” and the Alt-Right. His drophead nicely summarized the piece: “A movement supposedly committed to science and reason has decayed into racism, misogyny and intolerance.” Torres documents the increasing hostility the movement has towards feminism and the embrace of the “scientific” proof of an innate difference in intelligence between white and black people. All of this with a heaping dose of Islamaphobia that would make any alt-rightist happy.

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More Libertarians: Murray Rothbard and Competitive Racism

[NB: I quote a lot from Professor Peter Klein‘s comment on this thread regarding Murray Rothbard. I want to make quite clear that my comments about Rothbard are about Rothbard and not about Professor Klein. I thank him for raising Rothbard’s name in this context because he spurred me to write up my thoughts about Rothbard and racism. In no way do I want to impute Rothbard’s beliefs to Professor Klein. Just so we are clear on that.]
Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995), has been called “the most gifted libertarian writer of his generation” (p. 251). Rothbard prided himself as, in Nancy MacLean‘s words, libertarianism’s “most scathing guardian of libertarian orthodoxy” (p. 147). He was an “anarcho-capitalist” who believed that all governmental functions should be privatized, including national defense and police forces. Unlike someone like James Buchanan, or indeed, most academics, who often work within institutional structures with other like-minded researchers,  Rothbard worked alone for the vast majority of his career. Nonetheless he produced a staggering number of publications. His first writings, published when he was still a graduate student in economics in New York, were in Frank Chodorov’s analysis, by the end of his career he was championing libertarian politicians such as Ron Paul, paleo-conservatives such as Patrick J. Buchanan, and racist provocateurs such as ex-Klansman David Duke. Of this last’s run for the governorship of Louisiana, the Jewish Rothbard wrote of the most famous antisemite in the US:
It is fascinating that there was nothing in Duke’s current program or campaign that could not also be embraced by paleoconservatives or paleo-libertarians; lower taxes, dismantling the bureaucracy, slashing the welfare system, attacking affirmative action and racial set-asides, calling for equal rights for all Americans, including whites: what’s wrong with any of that?
Rothbard’s extremely rigid views, combined with these worrisome choices of allies, mean that many libertarians try to distance Rothbard from more respectable figures. For example, in our recent libertarian kerfuffle Phil Magness, properly distances James Buchanan from Rothbard’s radicalism. On that same thread I point out what I believe is the case: that there were no libertarians who spoke out against the discrimination or segregation of African Americans during the 1950s and 1960s (at this point, notably, Magness goes silent). At this point Professor Peter Klein brought Rothbard back from exile:
Libertarians such as Rothbard were keenly interested in the civil rights movement and had a quite a lot to say about it. Rothbard contributed a 5,000+ word article to New Individualist Review in 1961 on “The Negro Revolution,” describing the civil rights movement, with all its diversity, in great detail (http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/rothbard-on-the-black-revolution). The article is mostly descriptive and analytical but Rothbard concludes by describing the libertarian position as “oppos[ing] compulsory segregation and police brutality, but also oppos[ing] compulsory integration and such absurdities as ethnic quota systems in jobs.” (BTW on the question of racism and unions, referred to above in the context of W. H. Hutt, Rothbard adds: “some Negroes are beginning to see that the heavy incidence of unemployment among Negro workers is partially caused by union restrictionism keeping Negroes (as well as numerous whites) out of many fields of employment. If the Negro Revolution shall have as one of its consequences the destruction of the restrictive union movement in this country, this, at least, will be a welcome boon.”)
I promised Professor Klein a post on Rothbard’s embrace of Black Nationalism and here we are. The place to begin is with what Rothbard called it in his last public speech: the War for Southern Independence. Those of us who aren’t interested in defending the Confederacy tend to call it the American Civil War.

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Davidson and Buchanan: Why Phillip Magness Should Apologize to Nancy MacLean


Well, this has been exciting. My post on Nancy MacLean’s new book (Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America)—what a friend of mine has dubbed “the libertarian kerfuffle”has brought new readers to this normally quiet space, for which I’m grateful. I’ve been dubbed “not particularly compelling” by Jonathan H. Adler at the Washington Post! As wonderful as that is (I’m thinking of making it the new tagline for my blog) I feel we ended up spinning our wheels in the comments. So, I’ll try again here and perhaps we can make better headway.

To defend Buchanan, and to defend themselves as inheritors of his intellectual program, many have reacted with accusations that MacLean is a bad scholar, that her citation practices are shoddy, and that she should be sued for libel. It is all very exciting. Well, as exciting as academic arguments get anyway. I’m not saying this is Game 7 of the World Series or anything.

Let’s pick up the argument with the accusation that MacLean imagined a link between southern writer Donald Davidson and James. N. Buchanan.

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Was James Buchanan a Racist? Libertarians and Historical Research

Note: if you are here because of my discussions of Nancy Maclean’s book, I have several follow-up posts to this one:

This is the cover a new book by Duke historian Nancy MacLean. I was dreading reading it because MacLean is a terrific historian; I’ve long admired her history of the twentieth-century Ku Klux Klan, Behind the Mask of Chivalry. This new book appeared to be the history I am working on: its thesis is that the white south’s program of Massive Resistance to Brown v. Board of Education was the start of the right wing’s current attempts to disenfranchise voters and to undermine democracy in order to let the free market operate.

MacLean’s book turns out to be much different from the one I hope to write; her focus is on economist James M. Buchanan who moved easily in the corridors of power in Virginia and beyond. The folks I’m interested in consider Buchanan a pseudo-libertarian for these very reasons. In many ways, MacLean’s book is a story of the straightforward successes of libertarians and I hope my work can complement her achievement.

Needless to say, the libertarians, particularly those of Buchanan’s “Public Choice” school, are not happy. Not at all. They feel MacLean has misrepresented Buchanan and public choice theory and, worse, committed historical malfeasance by altering quotations and quoting out of context. There is a lot of dust in the air right now, and a lot of charges being thrown around. Rather than trying to sort out everything going on, I’ll focus on one particular question:

Was James M. Buchanan a Racist?

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Those Radicalized Immigrants: “Alternative Facts” From Fake Experts


This just in: the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of the Trump administration on the Muslim ban. Over at Breitbart, this news was greeted with the headline: “The Supreme Court Reinstates Trump Travel Ban from Muslim-Majority Countries!”  Well, not quite. First, calling it a “travel ban” is what got Trump into trouble with the Courts in the first place and the Administration tries hard to reign in The Donald when he foolishly tells the truth about it. Second, the Court did not “reinstate” the entire ban, indeed, they upheld parts the stay.. Finally, by the time this gets sorted out, the ban will have expired, the Administration will have to start all over again with a new order without passing GO and without collecting their 200 refugees at the border. In summation: apart from being wrong in nearly every single particular, Breitbart nailed it.

Let’s think about the line of reasoning the makes the Muslim ban so popular among the Alt-Right.  The basic argument looks pretty much like this:

Stop the illegal tide of immigration. Despite the secrecy of our Immigration Service and cooperating agencies on this subject—a secrecy utterly without justification and which could be desired only for concealing enormous irregularities—some of our Congressional spokesmen now claim that hundreds of thousands of immigrants, largely Muslim, are coming across our borders, legally and illegally. From my own studies of immigrants, I know that among them are many pro-Jihad. But all Muslim immigrants, Jihad and anti-Jihad, immediately after arrival are under strong pressure to side with the radical Muslim groups, and most of them will have to yield.

What can the history of the Alt-Right tell us about this line of reasoning?

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Virginia Is for (Same-Race) Lovers

Ok, my title isn’t precisely what it says on our license plates:


But until 1967, interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia, as it was in 24 other states. Fifty years ago today, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Today is Loving Day!

The case was Loving v. Virginia. If you wrote a novel whose centerpiece was a court case on marriage named “Loving v. Virginia” the editor would send the manuscript back to you with a note reading, “Contrived. Change the name.” But that was the name of the couple who challenged Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage.  As the kids say today, “For reals.” (The kids still say that, right?)

In the late 1950s, Richard, a white man, and Mildred, a black woman, fell in love and wanted to get married. Because it was illegal in Virginia for them to do so, they hopped on a train up to Washington, D.C. and got married there.


In Virginia, they were arrested. The case eventually reached U.S. Supreme Court which overturned Virginia’s miscegenation law in 1967.

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You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Racist

There is a brand new Pew Poll out that indicates that interracial marriage has increased five-fold  in the fifty years since the US Supreme Court found laws banning it unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. Of course, almost half of Republican voters in Mississippi think interracial marriage should still be illegal. Over at the Alt-Right site, American Renaissance they disapprove of interracial marriage (surprise!).


The rise in interracial marriage seems to belie an old racist idea summarized by the old cliché, “Birds of a feather flock together.” This idea is that it is natural for people of one race to separate themselves from those of a different race. Even today, scientific racists try to offer all kinds of arguments  about how natural race prejudice is. (I’ve published some criticisms of these kinds of arguments here and here.)

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