MacDonald’s central thesis is that Judaism is best understood not as a religion but as a blueprint for an experiment in eugenics–a “group evolutionary strategy,” he calls it–designed to maximize a single trait: intelligence. For thousands of years, he says, Jews have separated themselves from their neighbors, choosing to confine themselves to a closed society with strict rules against marrying outside the group. They have lived by policies of extreme group loyalty and obedience to rabbinical authority, which served to maintain their racial purity; and they practiced low-birth-rate, high-investment parenting, which is the royal road to a high group I.Q. They conferred social status (which brings along with it the most desirable women) on men according to their brilliance–indeed, says MacDonald, study of the Talmud was nothing more than a casuistic exercise meant to weed out the dim. Eventually, their highly developed genes for mental and verbal acuity, as well as their social aggression (also carefully bred-in), gave the Jews powerful tools that enable them to dominate neighboring ethnic groups in the endless war of all against all for food and resources.
In his second book, MacDonald explains why Jews have encountered so much anti-Semitism for so many years: It was justified. Gentiles reacted to Jews the way any group of animals on the veldt would when confronted with a group of superior animals likely to challenge them successfully for control of the available resources–they tried to destroy the Jews before the Jews destroyed them. Even the most extreme forms of anti-Semitism, such as Nazism, can be seen not as aberrations but as “a mirror image” of Judaism, with its emphasis on creating a master race. (MacDonald does not deny that the Holocaust occurred, but he appears to think it was rooted in an immutable biological chain reaction that the Jews set off.) Faced with the hatred of gentiles, Jews have often resorted to a “strategy of crypsis”–that is, they have pretended not to be Jews. Do the Jews themselves realize what they’re up to? MacDonald goes back and forth on this point; one moment he’ll chastise Jews for believing their own religious rationalizations, the next he’ll explain that they can’t help it–they’re genetically “prone to self-deception.”
In his third book, MacDonald takes on what he calls the “Jewish” intellectual movements of the 20th century, from psychoanalysis to Marxism to “Boasian anthropology” and “the Frankfurt School of social research.” His argument is that the ideas of secular Jewish intellectuals are merely a device to promote tolerance of the Jewish presence by gentiles–so that the Jews can more efficiently pursue their nefarious agenda of systematic breeding and control of resources. A good example of this is cultural anthropology: Its Jewish founder, Franz Boas, shifted the focus of anthropology away from Darwinism and eugenicism and toward the study of culture in order to bring an end to the criticism of Jews as a race. Even if an intellectual movement (such as liberalism) was founded by non-Jews, the minute Jews join it, they’ll take it over, because their ancestral history predisposes them to form “highly cohesive groups”: “Intellectual activity is like any other human endeavor: Cohesive groups outcompete individualist strategies.” Ideas that MacDonald identifies as Jewish, he invariably finds to be not only subtly self-interested but also repellent by any ordinary (which is to say gentile) moral or intellectual standard. Freud “conceptualized himself as a leader in a war on gentile culture.” When Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin expressed doubts about sociobiology back in the 1970s, their approach exemplified the kind of “skeptical thrust of Jewish intellectual activity” that results in Jewish “nihilistic anti-science.”
After a great deal of consideration, I decided to testify on behalf of
David Irving whose libel trial against Deborah Lipstadt has received a great
deal of international attention. My decision to testify resulted in a column by
Judith Shulevitz of Slate, the internet magazine, condemning me as
“Evolutionary Psychology’s Anti-Semite.” Shulevitz also invited John Tooby,
president of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society to comment on the
situation. In the following I provide the links to this discussion as well as a
defense of my actions. Here
are my reasons for testifying for Irving.
The following articles are archived on the website:
- Judith Shulevitz:
Evolutionary Psychology’s Anti-Semite, Jan. 24, 2000 This link also has
portions of my original reply to Shulevitz. Here is my entire
- Judith Shulevitz: On
Fighting Bad Ideas, January 25, 2001
- Judith Shulevitz: MacDonald
vs. Culturebox, Continued, January 27, 2000
& John Tooby: How To Deal With Fringe Academics, combined comments of February
official statement to the court, submitted in July 1999.
This is a German translation of
Here is a
statement that I wrote for distribution to the media at the trial. This
statement is a longer version of the official statement to the court.
The controversy produced a great deal of comment both pro and con in the
Fray section of Slate. Here are two comments, one from David Sloan
Wilson and one from
John Hartung, both of whom are prominent evolutionists who write on human
The following is the text of my reply to Shulevitz and Tooby as originally
posted to the Fray section of Slate in February 2000 with a few
post-trial updates and clarifications. Slate does not archive these
comments, so I reproduce my comment here, complete with footnotes omitted from
the version posted on Slate.
There has been something of a media event surrounding my agreeing to
testify in the libel suit brought by David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt.
Judith Shulevitz, the New York editor of Slate magazine (January 24,
2000, charged that I was “evolutionary
psychology’s anti-Semite” and invited John Tooby to write several columns
commenting on my ideas and on my position in the society. In the following I
discuss the charge of anti-Semitism, Tooby’s charge that I am not an
evolutionary psychologist, and the issue of enthusiasm for my books by white
nationalist groups. I then describe in detail why I agreed to testify for
The Charge of Anti-Semitism
Shulevitz claims that I am “evolutionary psychology’s anti-Semite” and Tooby demurs only because he claims I am not an evolutionary psychologist. Both of these points raise troubling issues. The charge of anti-Semitism is a serious one because of the long and tragic history of the Jews and because the reverberations of that history permeate contemporary life. I consider myself a student of Judaism and anti-Semitism and would like to think that I have attempted a fair-minded and accurate account of these phenomena. Nor do I have any reason to deny the reality of the Holocaust. In Separation and Its Discontents I define anti-Semitism as “negative attitudes or behavior directed at Jews because of their group membership” (p. 1). By this definition I am not an anti-Semite. I do not think ill of Jews simply because of their group membership. I am unequivocally not an anti-Semite. Unfortunately, some who may disagree with my scientific work evidently interpret my findings as indicative of personal prejudice. My science may be proven wrong. I welcome the standard scientific gauntlet. I reject the accusation of personal prejudice. By the same logic, I testified in the trial that I had no reason to suppose that David Irving is an anti-Semite, and it was this definition that I had in mind. At the same time, Irving is clearly quite hostile toward the Jewish organizations that have attempted to ruin his career, and I would be disingenuous if I denied that I am also deeply troubled by the tactics of some of these organizations. My testimony in the trial largely involved going over passages in a lengthy document provided by Irving that was filled with newspaper accounts and internal documents of Jewish organizations detailing this campaign against him. This testimony was not contested by the defense.
A post-trial aside: Having read the relevant section of Judge Gray’s opinion, I agree that Irving’s “words are directed against Jews, either individually or collectively, in the sense that they are by turns hostile, critical, offensive and derisory in their references to semitic people, their characteristics and appearances.” It is noteworthy that Judge Gray also made the following comment in his opinion:
I have more sympathy for Irving’s argument that Jews are not immune from his criticism. He said that he was simply expressing legitimate criticisms of them. Irving gave as an example what he claimed was his justified criticism of the Jews for suppressing his freedom of expression. [KM: obviously this was a major concern for me.] Another legitimate ground of criticism might be the manner in which Jews in certain parts of the world appear to exploit the Holocaust. I agree that Jews are as open to criticism as anyone else. But it appears to me that Irving has repeatedly crossed the divide between legitimate criticism and prejudiced vilification of the Jewish race and people. I can well understand too that, because of his perceived views, Irving and his family have from time to time been subjected to extreme pressure, for example when his flat house was besieged by rioters in 1994…. In the heat of the moment ill-considered remarks are often made. But it is in just such circumstances that racial prejudice manifests itself. s that racial prejudice manifested. In my view that is what occurred in 1994.
In other words, Irving’s attitude toward Jews was a mixture of legitimate grievances and illegitimate generalizations about Jews as a group. (I was not aware of the latter when I made my statement in court.) Perhaps he is a textbook case of the social identity theory of anti-Semitism presented in Separation and Its Discontents: a complex interplay between fantasy and reality in which real aspects of actual conflict become exaggerated and over-generalized as a result of evolved psychological mechanisms.
In any case, I am quite aware that subtle and unconscious biases may color anyone’s work and I do not exempt myself from this problem. Issues related to deception and self-deception and issues related to attributional biases in favor of self, relatives, and ingroup should certainly not surprise an evolutionist. As a result, my strongly held view is that we must always err on the side of not censoring people.
I should also say that I would gladly testify on behalf of Jewish interests where appropriate. The main issue for me has been Irving’s suit is in response to unfair persecution. I believe that in testifying for David Irving I am defending rights that are important for understanding and preventing future ethnic conflicts. Although my book deals with Judaism, I touch on a variety of other groups in different places and I believe that my books as a whole offer a general theory of ethnic conflict. My emphasis on Judaism and on Jewish-gentile conflict is not intended to be anti-Semitic in any way. I make these points in the Introduction and first chapter of A People That Shall Dwell Alone:
I believe that there is no sense in which this book may be considered anti-Semitic. This book and its companion volume are intended to stand or fall on their merits as scientific works. This implies an attempt on my part at developing a scientifically valid account of Judaism. Nevertheless, one cannot read very far in Jewish history without being aware that historical data do not exist in a theoretically pristine state in which they lend themselves to only one interpretation. While by no means always the case, the historiography of Jewish history has to an extraordinary degree been characterized by apologia and a clear sense of personal involvement by both Jews and gentiles, and this has been the case from the very earliest periods in classical antiquity. There is therefore considerable controversy about key issues in the history of Judaism which are of great importance to an evolutionary perspective. Jewish history, more so than any other area I am familiar with, has been to a considerable extent a social construction performed by highly interested parties intent on vindicating very basic moral and philosophical beliefs about the nature of Judaism, Christianity, and gentile society generally… (MacDonald 1994, vii-viii)
This book is likely to be highly controversial and troubling to many, since it depicts Judaism as a fundamentally self-interested group strategy which has often been in competition with at least some sections of gentile society. Bear in mind, however, that evolutionary theory is not a “feel good” theory. The theory of Judaism presented here implies that Judaism must be understood as exhibiting universal human tendencies for self-interest, ethnocentrism, and competition for resources and reproductive success. But an evolutionary theory must also suppose that these tendencies are in no way exclusive to Judaism. Indeed, the theory of anti-Semitism proposed in a companion volume, Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism … essentially states that gentiles also are self-interested, are ethnocentric, and engage in competition for resources and reproductive success.
The evolutionist is regarded in many circles as a nasty and unwelcome interpreter of ethnicity and ethnic conflict. But the evolutionist is also keenly aware of the ways in which our ideologies can rationalize our self-serving behavior. And, in a very real sense, we cannot afford to continue to hide our heads in the sand while ethnic conflict continues to escalate. A basic thesis of these volumes is that ethnic conflict can be greatly illuminated by evolutionary theory. But evolutionary and psychological theory also provides some strong suggestions regarding the mechanisms for ameliorating this conflict. Only by understanding the past can we attempt to change the future in an intelligent manner. (MacDonald, 1994, 1-2).
It was probably a naïve thing to write “I believe that there is no sense in which this book may be considered anti-Semitic.” In hindsight, it might have been much more productive and useful if the books had focused more on other cases of ethnic conflict.
Who can be an Evolutionary Psychologist?
Tooby states that I am not an evolutionary psychologist and that I am a fringe scientist. These are very troubling statements’highly reminiscent of typical behavior in political organizations, not scientific ones. They remind me of the tactics used in psychoanalysis where dissidents from important doctrines were expelled in highly publicized “show trials” accompanied by personal vilification and intimations of psychiatric dysfunction. Ironically, they remind me of the atmosphere within anthropology which resulted in the expulsion of the Darwinians early in the last century.
These tendencies are apparent to outsiders and they give the field a bad reputation. Steve Sailer, a prominent journalist and moderator of the Human Biodiversity email discussion list’a high-profile list that includes a large number of public intellectuals, stated on the list that “it looks like Tooby has rendered Evolutionary Psychology’s claim to be a legitimate branch of science kaput. Tooby appears to believe that it is his personal intellectual property. If so, he should not have given it the generic scientific name “evolutionary psychology”, but instead should have given it a personal or ideologically-descriptive name like “Toobyism” or “Politically Correct Darwinism.” Anyway, it was always excessively limiting to focus just on psychology, since the rest of the body is also molded by evolution and interacts in all sorts of ways with the mind. So, what should replace it? Should we go back to “scociobiology?” That term certainly has a more honorable history to it than evo psych.” (Feb. 4, 2000)
The comments of another outsider, Judith Shulevitz, also show that Tooby’s exclusionary tactics give the impression that evolutionary psychology is less a science than a cult: “First, I think you’re being even more devious than you say. You’re trying to define the MacDonald problem away. Your syllogism is: It is I who gets to say what an evolutionary psychologist is; I say Kevin MacDonald is not an evolutionary psychologist; therefore I am not responsible for Kevin MacDonald. This just doesn’t work. Even if you invented the term, John, that does not make your definition the only one, or even the right one. Definition is not something that occurs by fiat, particularly in a community of intellectuals. Even Freud didn’t get to say what Freudianism is, nor Darwin Darwinism’though God knows they tried” (Slate, Feb. 4, 2000). This, of course, is a libel of Darwin, but it is a quite accurate comment on Freud. I think the comparison of Freud and Tooby is quite accurate. (I discuss Freud and psychoanalysis extensively in The Culture of Critique.)
There are indeed deep intellectual issues dividing my perspective from theirs. Our differences long predate my study of Judaism (see, e.g., MacDonald, 1991; Chiappe & MacDonald, 2005; MacDonald & Hersheberger, 2005) and go to the heart of how to conceptualize evolutionary psychology. While Tooby and Cosmides focus exclusively on domain-specific psychological adaptations designed to solve recurrent problems in our evolutionary past, I emphasize in addition the importance of domain-general mechanisms, especially the g-factor of IQ tests, that facilitate the achievement of biological goals in complex, non-recurrent environments. While they concern themselves exclusively with a universal set of human psychological adaptations, I emphasize in addition the important role for genetic variation in adaptive systems, both as an adaptive response to niche diversity and as a resource environment in which humans make social evaluations. I do not deny the importance of human universality or of domain-specific psychological mechanisms. However, my view is that we must go well beyond this very narrow perspective in order to account for the data. (See references below.) I am far from the only person in HBES to subscribe to these notions, especially the notion that genetic variation is more than mere noise. HBES members with training in behavior genetics or personality psychology routinely make similar points.
So what are we dissenters from these core doctrines to do? Am I required to wear a “non-EP” badge of the fringe scientist? If I am a fringe scientist, where does it stop? Are all HBES scientists that have been abused by the media conventiently dismissed as “fringe”? Is Randy Thornhill, whose recent book on rape was greeted with hostility in some quarters, a fringe scientist? Bill Irons? David Rowe? Nancy Segal? I have published my work in a variety of mainstream psychology journals, including journals published by the American Psychological Association and by the Society for Research in Child Development’the main professional society for child developmentalists, and in evolutionarily oriented journals, including Ethology and Sociobiology, the forerunner of the society’s journal Evolution and Human Behavior. I have also published in Human Nature which is a semi-official journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. (HBES members receive a special discount on Human Nature and subscription forms for the journal are regularly included in the society’s newsletter. The editor of the journal, Jane Lancaster, is a prominent member of HBES.) In my Human Nature paper (MacDonald, 1997) I discuss Jewish life history data presented originally in A People That Shall Dwell Alone. The paper appeared some three years after A People That Shall Dwell Alone.)
My papers almost always have an evolutionary slant, but apparently using the term “evolutionary psychology” is tantamount to copyright infringement. Do I have to invent my own term to describe a generic field that encompasses evolution and psychology? I titled one of my papers “A Perspective in Darwinian Psychology”, but apparently there can be no papers titled “A Perspective in Evolutionary Psychology.”
In several of his comments Tooby attempts to link me with Richard Lewontin and S. J. Gould because we allegedly attempt to legitimize the idea that large groups of organisms function as biological competitors. There is massive irony in linking me with Lewontin and Gould that will be apparent to anyone who has read my book, The Culture of Critique. Lewontin and Gould have contributed nothing to the theory of groups; their position is little more than a vague warmed-over Marxism that characterizes their work generally. My views have much more in common with those of David S. Wilson, the cultural selection models of Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson, and the empirical work of Christopher Boehm. Tooby will have to do a lot more than simply issue ex cathedra pronouncements that between-group competition has not been an important aspect of human evolution and that historically between-group competition is irrelevant to understanding some examples of Jewish/gentile relations.
White Nationalist Support for My Books
Shulevitz correctly points out that my work has been enthusiastically embraced by white nationalist organizations. I have no control over who reads my books or who is attracted to them, and I certainly have no control over misinterpretations of my work. In fact, what little I have read of the favorable accounts of my work by white nationalists suggests that they tend to ignore the positive things that I say about Jews, particularly the idea that Jews have a high IQ, that they are high on the personality trait of conscientiousness, and that they invest a great deal in their children.
As indicated above, I have attempted a scientific account of Judaism and anti-Semitism that will stand or fall on its own merits. Is the harm that might be inspired by my books, despite the favorable things emphasized about Jews, a reason for self-censorship? This question strikes at the heart of the liberal tradition. I think an affirmative answer to this question would lead to a chilling effect on open discussion. Consider the consequences: All social scientists and philosophers who deal with class differences would have to silence themselves because of the terrible abuses committed by class warriors.
Scientists and intellectuals can never be certain of the effects of what they do; nor is it reasonable to hold them responsible. Einstein was recently named man of the century by Time magazine even though his ideas led to nuclear weapons. He is not held accountable for the deaths of the innocent in Hiroshima, Nagasaki or Chernobyl, nor would it be reasonable to hold him accountable. The Human Genome Project holds the promise of curing many diseases, but also leads to the possibility of ethnically targeted weapons. One could use my findings just as easily to attempt to find ways to defuse ethnic hostility as to find justifications for yet more bloodshed. The use that is made of scientific findings is a political decision (in my view underdetermined by evolutionary or psychological theory). There is always the possibility of misuse of findings but I am a scientist, not a politician, and my first duty is to the truth which I must report as best as I can. I have no policy recommendations to make. I neither condemn nor condone various politicians or policies that emanate from these findings.
My Decision to Testify for Irving
The decision to testify for David Irving was an agonizing one for me and I want to make clear exactly why I did so.
Irving approached me to testify in the trial because I had included the suppression of his book on Goebbels as an example of Jewish tactics for combating anti-Semitism in Separation and Its Discontents. Actually the suppression of Irving goes far beyond what I included in my book. Irving has been prevented from publishing his original archival research, from traveling to several countries, and even from giving lectures. The second defendant in the case, Deborah Lipstadt, has contributed to this effort at censorship. My statement to the court and my entire testimony in court involved this issue, not the Holocaust or the culpability of Hitler. Irving’s book on Goebbels was rescinded by St. Martin’s Press not because of its scientific merit. (It had passed their review process.) The effort to pressure St. Martin’s press was spearheaded by certain Jewish ethnic activist organizations, especially the Anti-Defamation League and by newspaper columnists, such as Frank Rich of the New York Times, who are not professional historians, and by people like Deborah Lipstadt who do not have the expertise to evaluate a manuscript on Goebbels. In other words, the effort occurred independently of the analytic content of the manuscript and was therefore an illegitimate intrusion on free speech. This is part of a pattern in which certain Jewish activist organizations have attempted to prevent the publication of writings conflicting with their constructions of reality, including books critical of Israel (see Wilcox, 1996; Separation and Its Discontents, Ch. 2 and 6), and they have condemned books, such as those by Hannah Arendt and Arno Mayer that take disapproved positions on certain aspects of the Holocaust (Guttenplan, 2000). (Guttenplan’s Atlantic Monthly article can be accessed by clicking here: ) I am completely unpersuaded by the argument that free speech issues only relate to government actions, not private corporations like St. Martin’s Press. Killing books by private organizations, while not government censorship, is blacklisting. This is exactly what McCarthyite groups did during the anti-Communist hysteria following W.W.II.
Despite the fact that David Irving contacted me because I had discussed the suppression of his book, I continued to be concerned that this issue was not really central to Irving’s case and that my purported expertise on Judaism was irrelevant. The link to the case was that Deborah Lipstadt had joined the effort at suppression despite her lack of scholarly expertise on Goebbels. The Washington Post of April 3, 1996 quoted Lipstadt as stating that “In the Passover Hagadah, it says in every generation there are those who rise up to destroy us. David Irving is not physically destroying us, but is trying to destroy the memory of those who have already perished at the hands of tyrants.” “They say they don’t publish reputations, they publish books…. But would they publish a book by Jeffrey Dahmer on man-boy relationships? Of course the reputation of the author counts. And no legitimate historian takes David Irving’s work seriously.” These comments were made in reaction to the St. Martin’s Press rescinding publication of Irving’s book, Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich, and were clearly intended to support that decision. The decision to sue Lipstadt came only after St. Martin’s Press had rescinded publication of the book, and only after Lipstadt’s public support for that decision (David Irving, personal communication; see also Guttenplan 2000, 53).
In the trial, the defense argued that my testimony was irrelevant and the judge seemed to agree but then changed his mind when the link with Lipstadt was made clear. Irving’s complaint goes beyond simple libel against him to the assertion of an organized campaign of suppression. Evolutionary theory did not enter into my testimony, and it only entered my written statement to the court in a general way’that I saw Jewish gentile relations as being examples of competition between ethnic groups.
David Irving is in many ways not an ideal person. There is no doubt in my mind that he has strongly held political views’although the extent to which this is a reaction to his demonization by Jewish activist organizations is at least open to conjecture. Whenever a person has strong political views, it is reasonable to assume that these views may color one’s perception of reality. Since I am not a professional historian, I am in no position to judge the validity of his archival research. I am very impressed by the fact that Irving is a recognized expert on certain aspects of W.W.II’recognized by several noted authorities for having made original contributions to knowledge in the field’none of whom are Holocaust deniers or revisionists. These include Gordon Craig, A.J.P. Taylor, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and John Keegan. (To read a column written by Keegan on his role in the case, click here: )
Post-trial comment: In his opinion, Justice Gray seems to concur with this evaluation:
As a military historian, Irving has much to commend him. For his works of military history Irving has undertaken thorough and painstaking research into the archives. He has discovered and disclosed to historians and others many documents which, but for his efforts, might have remained unnoticed for years. It was plain from the way in which he conducted his case and dealt with a sustained and penetrating cross-examination that his knowledge of World War 2 is unparalleled. His mastery of the detail of the historical documents is remarkable. He is beyond question able and intelligent. He was invariably quick to spot the significance of documents which he had not previously seen. Moreover he writes his military history in a clear and vivid style. I accept the favourable assessment by Professor Watt and Sir John Keegan of the calibre of Irving’s military history … and reject as too sweeping the negative assessment of Evans …. [Richard Evans, a historian who testified for the defense, had stated that Irving has had “a generally low reputation amongst professional historians since the end of the 1980s and at all times amongst those who have direct experience of researching in the areas with which he concerns himself”; although not noted by Judge Gray, Evans also reiterated Lipstadt’s charge that Irving was not a historian at all.] But the questions to which this action has given rise do not relate to the quality of Irving’s military history but rather to the manner in which he has written about the attitude adopted by Hitler towards the Jews and in particular his responsibility for the fate which befell them under the Nazi regime.
The judge is implicitly agreeing with me that Lipstadt libeled Irving by writing he was not a historian and by writing that “no legitimate historian takes David Irving’s work seriously.” I suppose that in the judge’s view this was far less serious than the accusation that he had manipulated data in order to exculpate Hitler, etc., and I have no objection to that judgment.
I also felt that Lipstadt exaggerated the extent to which Irving denied the Holocaust, since there are many places in his writings where Irving describes Nazis engaged in organized killing of Jews. I was also swayed by my knowledge that Irving’s Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich received a positive but critical review in The New York Review of Books (Sept. 19, 1996) by Stanford historian Gordon Craig who cautioned against censoring people like Irving. And finally, I had finished reading Goebbels myself and decided that, whatever faults a close analysis might reveal, it was highly informative on many points’an indispensable source of information on the man and the period. Obviously I would not trust only my own feelings on this issue; but in fact I had satisfied myself that indeed it was a major contribution to the field.
I was also swayed by finding that Lipstadt is a Jewish ethnic activist whose own writings have been criticized by a well-recognized historian as exaggerating the role of anti-Semitism in the Western response to the Holocaust during World War II. Lipstadt is thus part of a pattern discussed extensively in Separation And Its Discontents in which some (but by no means all) Jewish historians engage in ethnocentric interpretations of history. It is highly significant that Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust was written with extensive aid from various Jewish activist organizations, including the ADL. Lipstadt’s book was commissioned and published by The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In her acknowledgements, she credits the research department of the Anti-Defamation league, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Institute for Jewish Affairs (London), the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the American Jewish Committee’all activist organizations.
Lipstadt is the Chair of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University. Historian Jacob Katz finds that academic departments of Jewish studies are often linked to Jewish nationalism: “The inhibitions of traditionalism, on the one hand, and a tendency toward apologetics, on the other, can function as deterrents to scholarly objectivity” (p. 84). The work of Jewish historians exhibits “a defensiveness that continues to haunt so much of contemporary Jewish activity” (1986, 85). Similarly the preeminent scholar of the Jewish religion, Jacob Neusner, notes that “scholars drawn to the subject by ethnic affiliation’Jews studying and teaching Jewish things to Jews’ turn themselves into ethnic cheer-leaders. The Jewish Studies classroom is a place where Jews tell Jews why they should be Jewish (stressing “the Holocaust” as a powerful reason) or rehearse the self-evident virtue of being Jewish.” (Times Literary Supplement, March 5, 1999).
Perhaps the best indication of Lipstadt’s Jewish activism is that she serves as Senior Editorial Contributor at the Jewish Spectator, a Jewish publication for conservative, religiously observant Jews. Her column, Tomer Devorah (Hebrew: Under Deborah’s Palm Tree), appears in every issue and touches on a wide range of Jewish issues, including anti-Semitism, relations among Jews, and interpreting religious holidays. In her column she has advocated greater understanding and usage of Hebrew to promote Jewish identification, and, like many Jewish ethnic activists, she is strongly opposed to intermarriage. “We must say to young people ‘intermarriage is something that poses a dire threat to the future of the Jewish community.’ ” Lipstadt writes that Conservative Rabbi Jack Moline was “very brave” for saying that number one on a list of ten things Jewish parents should say to their children is “I expect you to marry a Jew.” She suggests a number of strategies to prevent intermarriage, including trips to Israel for teenagers and subsidizing tuition at Jewish day schools (Jewish Spectator, [Fall, 1991], 63).
In his recent book, The Holocaust in American Life, historian Peter Novick clearly thinks of Lipstadt as an activist, although not as extreme as some. He repeatedly cites her as an example of a Holocaust propagandizer. He notes that in her book Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust 1933-1945, Lipstadt says Allied Policy “bordered on complicity” motivated by “deep antipathy” toward “contemptible Jews.” Novick says that while there is no scholarly consensus on the subject, “most professional historians agree that “the comfortable morality tale … is simply bad history: estimates of the number of those who might have been saved have been greatly inflated, and the moralistic version ignores real constraints at the time” (Novick, 1999, 48). Novick characterizes Lipstadt as attributing the failure of the press to emphasize Jewish suffering as motivated by “willful blindness, the result of inexcusable ignorance’or malice” (p. 65) despite the fact that the concentration camp survivors encountered by Western journalists (Dachau, Buchenwald) were 80% non-Jewish. Lipstadt is described as an implacable pursuer of Nazi war criminals, stating that she would “prosecute them if they had to be wheeled into the courtroom on a stretcher” (p. 229). In a discussion of the well-recognized unreliability of eye-witness testimony, Novick writes: “When evidence emerged that one Holocaust memoir, highly praised for its authenticity, might have been completely invented, Deborah Lipstadt, who used the memoir in her teaching of the Holocaust, acknowledged that if this turned out to be the case, it ‘might complicate matters somewhat,’ but insisted that it would still be ‘powerful as a novel.’ ” Truth is less important than the effectiveness of the message.
The intrusion of ethnocentrism into historical scholarship is a well-recognized problem in Jewish historiography, discussed at length in Separation and Its Discontents. Historians such as Jacob Katz (1986) and Albert Lindemann (1997) have noted that this type of behavior is commonplace in Jewish historiography. A central theme of Katz’s analysis’massively corroborated by Albert Lindemann’s recent work, Esau’s Tears’is that historians of Judaism have often falsely portrayed the beliefs of gentiles as irrational fantasies while portraying the behavior of Jews as irrelevant to anti-Semitism. To quote the well-known political scientist, Michael Walzer: “Living so long in exile and so often in danger, we have cultivated a defensive and apologetic account, a censored story, of Jewish religion and culture” (Walzer 1994, 6).
The salient point for me is that Jewish historians who have been reasonably accused of bringing an ethnocentric bias to their writing nevertheless are able to publish their work with prestigious mainstream academic and commercial publishers, and they often obtain jobs at prestigious academic institutions. A good example is Daniel Goldhagen. In his written submission to the court on behalf of Deborah Lipstadt, historian Richard Evans, describes Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, as a book which argues “in a crude and dogmatic fashion that virtually all Germans had been murderous antisemites since the Middle Ages, had been longing to exterminate the Jews for decades before Hitler came to power, and actively enjoyed participating in the extermination when it began. The book has since been exposed as a tissue of misrepresentation and misinterpretation, written in shocking ignorance of the huge historical literature on the topic and making numerous elementary mistakes in its interpretation of the documents.”
These are exactly the types of accusations leveled by Lipstadt at Irving. Yet Goldhagen maintains a position at Harvard University; he is lionized in many quarters and his work has been massively promoted in the media while his critics have come under pressure from Jewish activist organizations (Guttenplan, 2000).
I should say, however, that after I agreed to testify on behalf of Irving, I was horrified to read the report written by Cambridge University historian Richard Evans and several research associates on Irving. This massive report, written on behalf of the defense, is a scathing summary of alleged misrepresentations and misinterpretations by Irving spanning over his entire career. I expressed my reservations to Irving and he assured me that he would be able to defend himself against these allegations (see Appendix). He stated that “I have a clean conscience, but I am not sure how to bring that across” and then provided me with several detailed examples where the Evans report misrepresented his writings. As a result, I felt that he was playing by the rules of scholarly discourse. Nevertheless, the judge clearly agreed with Evans that Irving had indeed engaged in scholarly malfeasance, and I have no reason to doubt his judgment on this matter.
Moreover, as indicated above, I was also aware of many examples in which the historiography of Jewish history has been influenced by the ethnic agendas of Jewish writers’I devoted an entire chapter to this sort of thing. Goldhagen is only the tip of a very large iceberg. I reasoned that even if the Evans report was correct, these facts could not have been known by Lipstadt when she made her claims against Irving, and in any case she went way too far when she asserted that “no legitimate historian takes David Irving seriously” and when she claimed that he was not a historian at all. Finally, I developed a reason to distrust Richard Evans after reading sections of his book, In Hitler’s Shadow. In her book, Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt cites Evans’ claim that Nazi anti-Semitism was gratuitous. The appropriate quote, from Evans’ In Hitler’s Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape the Nazi Past (NY: Pantheon, 1989, p. 40) is:
Nazi anti-Semitism was gratuitous: It was not provoked by anything, it was not a response to anything. It was born out of a political fantasy, in which the Jews, without a shred of justification, were held responsible for all that the Nazis believed was wrong with the modern world.
This is not the sort of nuanced treatment of anti-Semitism that one would expect from a prominent historian but rather a dogmatic statement that takes the behavior of Jews completely outside of their own history. There is no attempt to determine the factual basis — the truths, the half-truths and the pure fantasies — that have always been characteristic of anti-Semitism over the ages. Seeing passages such as this in Evans and seeing Lipstadt cite Evans reinforced my decision to testify for Irving.
During the same period I received the following message from a prominent mainstream historian regarding the Goebbels book.
I just re-read my own notes to Irving’s Goebbels, which strongly confirmed my memory that there is much more richness and less partisanship in that book than many would be willing to believe’and that few of his detractors seem to recognize. I’ll also have to say that Evans seems to be taking a strongly polemical position, whereas I would have preferred to see him recognize at least some of Irving’s strong points as well as his weak. But I have not read enough of Evans yet to determine if there are things he later covers that explain why he is so strongly against Irving, so unwilling to recognize anything of merit.
Having read almost the entire Evans report, I was convinced that in fact Evans had nothing positive at all to say about Irving. Indeed, Evans reiterates Lipstadt’s assertion that Irving is not a historian at all. Again, I was confirmed in my belief that testifying for Irving was entirely appropriate.
My view is that political, personal, and ethnic biases are ubiquitous in the social sciences. If the situation were reversed, I would be more than willing to testify on behalf of a Jewish historian suing an anti-Semite because there had been an analogous campaign of suppression against his work.
Chomsky, N. (1988). Language and Politics. Black Rose Books: Montreal-New York.
Guttenplan, D. D. (Feb. 2000). The Holocaust on trial. Atlantic Monthly, 45-66.
Katz, J. (1986). Jewish Emancipation and Self-Emancipation. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America.
Lindemann, A. S. (1998). Esau’s Tears. New York: Cambridge University Press.
MacDonald, K. B. (1991). A perspective on Darwinian psychology: The importance of domain-general mechanisms, plasticity, and individual differences. Ethology and Sociobiology, 12, 449-480.
MacDonald, K. B. (1994). A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy. Westport, CT: Praeger.
MacDonald, K. B. (1995). Evolution, the Five Factor Model, and Levels of Personality. Journal of Personality 63, 525-567.
MacDonald, K. B. (1997). Life History Theory and Human Reproductive Behavior: Environmental/Contextual Influences and Heritable Variation. Human Nature, 8, 327-359.
MacDonald, K. B. (1998). Evolution, Culture, and the Five-Factor Model. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 29, 119-149.
MacDonald, K. B. (1998). Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism. Westport, CT: Praeger.
MacDonald, K. B. (1998). The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements. Westport, CT: Praeger.
MacDonald, K.B. & Geary, D. C. The Evolution of General Intelligence: Domain-General Cognitive Mechanisms and Human Adaptation. Paper presented at the meetings of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Amherst, MA, June 8, 2000.
Novick, P. (1999). The Holocaust in American Life. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.
Wilcox, L. (1996). Crying Wolf: Hate Crime Hoaxes in America. Laird Wilcox Editorial Research Service, P.O Box 2047, Olathe, KS 66051.
Walzer, M. (1994). Toward a new realization of Jewishness. Congress Monthly, 61(4), 3-6.
On December 29, 1999 I sent David Irving the following letter:
Hi David: I managed to download the Evans report. I have read about 100 pages thus far, and it would seem to be quite damaging. How are you going to deal with it? I should think that even if you attempted to rebut the claims made, a court would be reluctant to award damages because the charges made by Lipstadt have at least a surface validity. Kevin
Irving’s first response:
I shall have to ponder how to deal with Evans. I have a clean conscience, but I am not sure how to bring that across. David Irving (now back in London with my family)
I then sent the following to Irving on December 30, 1999:
David: Having read about half of Evans report, it seems to me that it is devastating to your case for libel. It seems to me that you have to show that Lipstadt’s charge that you were irresponsible, etc. is wrong and to do so you will now have to plow through dozens of highly detailed charges brought by a highly respected historian that you were in fact irresponsible, dishonest, and/or incompetent…. My own interest in your case stemmed from the censorship over the Goebbels book. Evans now undermines the case that that book is free from problems in the use and interpretation of sources’that in fact there was dishonesty involved in the attempt to exculpate Hitler. This is very troubling to me. On the other hand, the suppression of the Goebbels book was not the result of the Evans report but the result of Jewish activism. If the Goebbels book had been rejected as a result of a reviewer like Evans employed by St. Martins Press, that would raise no issues for me. The fact that it was rejected in the end because of who you are and that Lipstadt publicly agreed that it should be suppressed remains troubling to me because at that time there was simply nothing that people pointed to in the book that should have caused it not to be published. The focus of my statement and my testimony will be on this issue, but if I am asked my opinion of the Evans report I will say that it seems devastating to your general case that you are a disinterested scholar. And the problem is that this sort of testimony cannot exonerate you from the charges of dishonesty brought by Evans. Perhaps you could argue that in general what Lipstadt says was irresponsible and libelous at the time she said it because she offers no real evidence for her charges and that what Evans says is therefore irrelevant because it is essentially an ex post facto buttressing of Lipstadt’s position. However, I don’t know if this tactic is allowable in a libel case.
Of course it bothers me that you are suffering for this when there are a great many Jewish scholars who essentially do the same thing in their work. Evans even makes some scathing comments on Goldhagen, indicating that he may be aware of how widespread this problem is in the area of Jewish studies…. Kevin
Irving replied as follows:
Dear Kevin: I am disturbed that you find Evans impressive; I think that you will find I can demolish his arguments one by one and as a whole. Have you read the message I sent yesterday on his first 50 pages? He has to stand in the box and be cross examined, and for that I have asked their lawyers to set aside four whole days at least. I am not the least bit disturbed by his arguments, and I shall keep you full informed of the progress of the counter attack on him (which will not be until February at the earliest: before that, I get in my full arsenal as I open the case, not they.) I am far more concerned by the ad hominem attacks on me by their other experts. Which allegations by Evans perturb you most? I will set your mind immediately at rest …. David Irving
I responded as follows:
David: The vastness of the Evans document makes it difficult to pick out a particular feature. However, I would appreciate it if you would give me some indication of how you will deal with the claims made regarding Reichskristallnacht that you manipulated evidence, disregarded evidence and invented evidence to support the idea that Hitler opposed the violence and didn’t know about it until after it had begun. Just one or two detailed examples would be nice. I just want to have some confidence that you are able to deal with these accusations.
Irving responded as follows:
Dear Kevin: On the Reichskristallnacht I am super-secure. It is something they are particularly sore about, as they are frantic that they can no longer pin it on Adolf. More on that when I reach that chapter of his report.
Irving then sent me the following:
Dear Kevin: O, ye of Little Faith! I have resumed reading the Evans report. The report is so shoddy and sloppy I can hardly wait to sink my fangs into him ….
Irving then went into a detailed example. Later, Irving forwarded me a letter he had sent to Lipstadt’s attorneys in which he raised thirteen specific issues regarding the Evans report.