Is Kevin MacDonald’s Theory of Judaism “Plausible”? A Response to Dutton (2018)

Nathan Cofnas writes:

Dutton (2018, p. 2) says that his argument reduces to six basic claims: (1) “[G]roup selection is a robust model.” (2) “[P]eople tend to act in their ethnic interests.” (3) “Jews are more ‘group selected’ than gentiles,” which means they are genetically disposed to possess traits that give them an advantage in group competition, including “positive and negative ethnocentrism.” (4) The thesis of CofC—that Jewish left-wing activism during the twentieth century was part of a group evolutionary strategy—is more “plausible” than the “default hypothesis.” (5) Jewish left-wing activism “has indeed been in Jewish group interests.” (6) “Jewish representation in intellectual movements that are not necessarily ‘good for the Jews’ simply reflects Jewish high intelligence.”

Regarding (1), Dutton (2018, p. 2) states that it does not matter whether Jews were subject to more group selection than (white) gentiles: “[I]t may be possible for Jews to have developed the qualities highlighted by MacDonald through individual selection alone so group selection does not actually have to be accepted for it to be argued that Jews have been selected for high positive and negative ethnocentrism.” Since, at least on Dutton’s interpretation, the theory of CofC does not stand or fall with group selection, but requires only that Jews are high on ethnocentrism, I will not address the question of whether Jews were subject to more group selection, or whether evolutionary explanations based on group selection are in general plausible.1

I will address claims (2)–(5) in turn. I will not address (6), because this is essentially a partial endorsement of the default hypothesis.

Do “People Tend to Act in Their Ethnic Interests”?
Dutton (2018, p. 3) cites only two studies in support of the claim that “people tend to act in their ethnic interests.” First, Rushton (2005) reported that the most successful beggars in Moscow were ethnic Russians followed by Moldovans followed by dark-skinned Roma. That is, the (primarily ethnic Russian) pedestrians were generous to the beggars in proportion to their genetic relatedness to them. Second, Irwin (1987) reported that intertribal relations between Inuit in Canada reflect genetic relatedness: More closely related tribes are more likely to engage in cooperative behaviors, and are less likely to be excessively destructive toward each other during war.

Even taking the claims of Rushton and Irwin at face value, it seems like a big leap to conclude that “people tend to act in their ethnic interests.” Was it in the ethnic interests of white Americans to fight a war over the slavery of Africans, which killed 600,000 white people? Rich philanthropists of all races donate money to hospitals, theaters, and parks. If people tended to act in their ethnic interests, wouldn’t rich people use their money to support the reproduction of members of their ethnic group? Yet this is hardly the norm except in some small religious communities.

Suppose it is true that, as Dutton (2018, p. 3) says, “[o]n average [people] are more attracted to [those] who are more genetically similar to themselves, they are more likely to invest more in such people even within families and they are more likely to be friends with such people (see Rushton 2005).” Still, most people seem to be primarily focused on themselves, their family, and their friends. The activities that most people are emotionally involved with—sports, music, films, and the like—have nothing to do with advancing their ethnic interests. It seems a much stronger argument than Dutton provides is needed to establish the principle that “people tend to act in their ethnic interests.”

Are Jews High in Ethnocentrism?
Dutton (2018) cites two sources of evidence that Jews are highly ethnocentric. First, MacDonald’s “historical and anecdotal evidence.” Second, Dunkel and Dutton’s (2016) analysis of data from Midlife in the United States 2 (MIDUS 2), a large national survey conducted in the 2000s.

Regarding MacDonald’s “historical and anecdotal evidence,” if the argument in Cofnas (2018b) is correct, then MacDonald’s evidence is based on misrepresentations, distortions of history, and cherry-picking. Dutton (2018, p. 2) appears to accept that I have identified problems with MacDonald’s scholarship.2 So even on Dutton’s view, we should not take what MacDonald says at face value.

Regarding the second source of evidence, Dunkel and Dutton (2016) constructed a “religious in-group favoritism scale…by adding the response to four items”: (1) “How important is it for you to celebrate or practice on religious holidays with your family, friends, or members of your religious community?” (2) “How closely do you identify with being a member of your religious group?” (3) “How much do you prefer to be with other people who are the same religion as you?” (4) “How important do you think it is for people of your religion to marry other people who are the same religion?” They found that Jews and Baptists obtained (similarly) high scores compared to Methodists and Catholics. To explain why Jews supposedly evolved to be higher in ethnocentrism, Dunkel and Dutton suggest that, during long periods of persecution in Europe, “less ethnocentric Jewish individuals would likely have married out into the general population” (p. 314). This comment is noteworthy, since it explicitly acknowledges the obvious fact that marrying out into the general population is a sign of being less ethnocentric. (Opposing intermarriage also contributes to a high score on Dunkel and Dutton’s “religious in-group favoritism scale.”)

Rather than indirectly gauging the commitment of Jews to marrying within their group, it seems better to directly measure their propensity to marry each other by simply looking at intermarriage rates. Intermarriage rates among Jews do not support the theory that Jews are highly ethnocentric. Reform Jews constitute 35%, and unaffiliated Jews 30% of the American Jewish population. Another 6% are affiliated with denominations similar to Reform (Pew Research Center 2013, p. 10). According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center (2013, p. 37), 50 and 69% of married Reform and unaffiliated Jews, respectively, report that their spouse is not Jewish. This is probably a significant underestimate of intermarriage among Reform Jews, because the spouses of many Reform Jews are gentiles who have undergone nominal Reform conversions, and they would be counted as Jewish in the survey—unfortunately, there are no reliable data on how common this is. An unknown percentage of unaffiliated Jews do not identify as Jewish at all, and these people, who are presumably unlikely to marry Jews, would be missed by the survey. These findings suggest that the intermarriage rate among the at least 71% of American Jews who are Reform (or associated with similar denominations) or unaffiliated is well over 60%, and may be greater than 70%. These are the secular, liberal Jews who participated in the movements discussed in CofC. Their marriage patterns suggest that they are, as a group, not particularly committed to associating closely with their co-ethnics or contributing to Jewish continuity. (The offspring of Jewish–gentile couples do not themselves become strongly committed Jews: 83% report being married to a gentile; Pew Research Center 2013, p. 37.) In fact, Jews have the highest intermarriage rates of any religious group in the USA (Riley 2013).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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