On the Kevin MacDonald–Nathan Cofnas Debate
Spencer J. Quinn
Part 4: Reassessing The Culture of Critique
Part 4 of 4
Part 1 here, wherein I provide an introduction to this debate, a brief history, a recap of Kevin MacDonald’s counter-Semitic opus The Culture of Critique (hereafter, CofC), a summation of Nathan Cofnas’ major arguments against CofC, and a section which calls into question Cofnas’ objectivity in this debate.
Part 2 here, wherein I discuss Cofnas’ first major strategy, his ‘universalist’ approach to challenging MacDonald. Part 3 here, wherein I discuss Cofnas’ second major strategy, promoting his Default Hypothesis.
Part 3 here, discusses some of Cofnas’ minor strategies as well.
Part 4 will suggest a way to slightly reassess MacDonald’s theories in order to protect them from attacks from people like Cofnas, as well as eliminate many of the complications Cofnas’ arguments introduce. It will also discuss the things Cofnas got right, and then conclude the analysis.
Reassessing The Culture of Critique
While reading all of the back and forth between Cofnas and MacDonald, I was struck by how tiresome this debate really is. I understand the importance of CofC as well as the danger it presents to today’s political and cultural status quo. Yet little of the debate addressed this, and instead got bogged down in boring details which may or may not be relevant to MacDonald’s original thesis. And this says nothing of all the accusations and insults. Regardless of whether MacDonald is right, bogging down the debate serves Cofnas’ unscholarly prejudice against him because he knows it will repel most readers. People will instead skim and take what they want to take from it. Mainstream academics will walk away more convinced than ever that MacDonald is a fraud. Dissident Rightists will walk away more convinced than ever that MacDonald is being suppressed. And, most importantly, those in between will remain just as confused as before. By addressing CofC so contentiously, Cofnas is effectively holding the line against the Right. This was more or less his stated purpose in on page 4 of his paper, and, I must say, he was successful.
But is there something inherent about CofC which makes it vulnerable to such attacks? Was there something MacDonald could have done differently that would have addressed this vulnerability? Is there any way we can reassess CofC in order to prevent the Nathan Cofnases of the world from bashing it with such abandon?
To answer these questions, we must look at what many or most of Cofnas’ objections have in common. One point to which he keeps returning in his paper and afterwards involves Israel. How can MacDonald claim that a particular Jew or Jewish movement is furthering Jewish evolutionary interests when that particular Jew or Jewish movement is hostile to or critical of Israel? Cofnas assumes that in order to further Jewish interests, one must not, at the very least, impede Israel’s; and this includes the Zionist settlements in British-controlled Palestine prior to the 1948 War of Israeli Independence. Of course, this is silly, tantamount to labeling American Renaissance founder and indefatigable white advocate Jared Taylor anti-white because he doesn’t call for a white ethnostate. But this doesn’t matter as long as Cofnas appears like he is contradicting MacDonald.
How often does Cofnas use Israel to undermine CofC? Often. In his PDF comments document, he states that “Jews are vastly overrepresented among leading anti-Israel activists” as if this were a mortal blow against MacDonald. He even gets mileage out of Jews who give or have given merely tepid or qualified support for Israel. Leaving aside Karl Marx, George Soros, and other counter-examples outside the timeline of the book (as well as Noam Chomsky, whom I agree should have had a greater presence in CofC), Cofnas makes note of the supposed anti-Zionist or anti-Israel attitudes of Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Herbert Marcuse, Hannah Arendt, Irving Howe, Erich Fromm, Alan Dershowitz, Judith Butler, and most notably, Sigmund Freud. Cofnas attests that because Freud refused to sign a document condemning the Arabs for initiating a 1929 riot in Hebron in which hundreds were killed, we can doubt that he attempted to pursue Jewish evolutionary interests. MacDonald responds by saying that it was by 1930 when Freud started to become strongly sympathetic to Zionism.
Am I the only one here who just doesn’t care?
How does the scant evidence we have of Sigmund Freud’s mercurial opinions about a Jewish state which didn’t exist in his lifetime matter in the least to the negative impact his school of psychoanalysis had on the West? I don’t think it does. And if it indeed doesn’t, then the following question must be asked: How relevant is Israel to the theoretical framework and methodology found in CofC? I will argue that it is not at all relevant. Sure, people can criticize Israel in the way MacDonald criticizes Jews, but that would require a separate theoretical framework to articulate. MacDonald himself gets at this when he parries Cofnas’ strikes along the Israel front.
Cofnas has a static, ahistorical conception of Jewish interests, assuming, for example, that supporting Zionism is essential to Jewish group interests and self-identity since the origins of political Zionism, or perhaps since the origins of the Diaspora (the traditional Jewish phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem”). On the contrary, as discussed in several places here, Jewish support for causes like Zionism, radical Leftism, or particular governments have a history—a beginning, a middle, and often an end. If it’s one thing that has characterized Jews throughout their history, it’s that they have been what evolutionary biologist Richard Alexander termed “flexible strategizers.”
Numerous times, MacDonald states that the Jewish community is not monolithic. Diversity of opinion among Jews may lead them to do conflicting things vis-à-vis Israel based on their differing assessments of what Jewish interests are. This is how he explains how some Jews support Israel and some oppose it.
There are two problems with this. One, as Cofnas correctly points out, it weakens MacDonald’s position, since pretty much anything now can be considered to further “Jewish interests.” In order to conform with the truth, MacDonald has to make the term “Jewish interests” less meaningful and his theory less pithy. Secondly, if Jews are not monolithic, then perhaps MacDonald should not always refer to them so monolithically. For example, in the Preface of CofC, MacDonald states the following as one of his goals (emphasis mine):
Determine whether the Jewish participants in those movements identified as Jews and thought of their involvement in the movement as advancing specific Jewish interests. Involvement may be unconscious or involve self-deception, but for the most part it was quite easy and straightforward to find evidence for these propositions. If I thought that self-deception was important (as in the case of many Jewish radicals), I provided evidence that in fact they did identify as Jews and were deeply concerned about Jewish issues despite surface appearances to the contrary.
As you can see, MacDonald uses the words “Jew” and “Jewish” a lot. On page 6 of his “First Reply,” he even uses the word “Jewish” as an adverb, as in “Jewishly.” Now, there is nothing wrong with this. But if he’s not talking about all Jews, shouldn’t he make that more clear in his language? Yes, MacDonald states unequivocally in CofC and in his replies to Cofnas that he’s not talking about all Jews, or even a majority of them. But if you take whole paragraphs of his work out of context (and, let’s face it, that’s what most people do), then he will seem like he is. Cofnas does exactly that when he brings up Israel, as if the interests of Israeli Jews are the same as those of diaspora Jews. After all, both are still Jews, right?
Wouldn’t it be better if MacDonald had a name for the kind of Jew he is talking about? Wouldn’t it be better if he drew a line between the kind of Jew he is talking about versus the kind he isn’t? Doesn’t it make sense that different kinds of Jews will have different group interests? And wouldn’t such a distinction help prevent people like Cofnas from inserting unnecessary complications when critiquing CofC?
In the past, I have used the term LDJs for “Liberal Diaspora Jews,” and have found it quite useful. Perhaps it could be useful here, too. It certainly describes most, if not all, of the Jews MacDonald includes in the CofC framework. They were all politically if not socially liberal. And they were all part of the diaspora. Boas and Freud died before Israel was formed, and many of the other Jews MacDonald focuses on (Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer) did their most important work during the pre-Israel era. Isn’t it possible that after thousands of years, a diaspora mentality had set in among Jews, resigning them to the belief that they would not return to the Promised Land in their lifetime? If indeed the Jews in CofC—or at least the ones discussed in the first five chapters—saw Israel as little more than a pleasant fantasy, i.e., as something they could hope for but nothing they could bank on, then why should conflicting Jewish opinions on Israel even matter? Further, after the formation of Israel, why shouldn’t diaspora interests be considered something separate from Israeli interests, even in an evolutionary sense? Perhaps when pursuing what MacDonald calls “Jewish interests,” these Jews of CofC were really pursuing Liberal Diaspora Jewish interests? After all, during the time frame of much of CofC, perhaps ninety-five percent of world Jewry was part of the diaspora, and until 1948 there was no guarantee that that was going to change. It is reasonable to assume that men such as Boas and Freud saw Jewish interests and Liberal Diaspora Jewish interests as one and the same. The formation of Israel makes this no longer the case, of course, but by the time that happened, most of MacDonald’s LDJs had already done their damage to the white, gentile West, or were still in the process of doing it. Israel had little to do with this, and therefore should have little to do with critiques of CofC.
Of course, these ideas will need more research to flesh out. But if we were to accept the basic idea of replacing “Jews” with “LDJs” or something similar throughout much of CofC, then we achieve the double purpose of not diluting the power of MacDonald’s original theory (since he explicitly stated that he was only addressing a subset of Jewry, anyway), as well as making it easier to fend off attacks from prejudiced reviewers like Nathan Cofnas.
Nathan Cofnas Strikes Back
Despite his anti-CofC agenda and argumentative approach, Cofnas does get a few things right. He complains that Chomsky was overlooked in CofC, and points out how hard it is to define MacDonald’s idea of “Jewish interests.” His most powerful attack on CofC, however, deals with intermarriage and how the Reform or unaffiliated Jews MacDonald discusses are losing their genetic distinctiveness and not growing as a population. On page 19 of “Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy,” Cofnas writes:
At the end of The Culture of Critique, MacDonald asks what the ultimate consequences of Jewish-instituted liberal policies are likely to be in America. He suggests: “An important consequence—and one likely to have been an underlying motivating factor in the countercultural revolution—may well be to facilitate the continued genetic distinctiveness of the Jewish gene pool in the United States” (1988a:318). It is difficult to square this claim with the fact that Reform and unaffiliated Jews—the ones who participated in these liberal/multicultural movements—have an intermarriage rate of 50% and 69%, respectively (Pew Research Center 2013:37). (This may be an underestimate of intermarriage rates since Reform converts were counted as Jewish in Pew’s survey.) In fact, it is only those Jews who, as a group, were much less involved in national politics—the orthodox—who have low intermarriage rates and high fertility.
In his PDF comments document, he writes:
There is little sense to the idea that intermarriage rates probably exceeding 70% among reform and unaffiliated Jews (the majority in the US), combined with very low fertility, contributes to a group evolutionary strategy. There can be no doubt that, if liberal, secular Jews had low intermarriage rates and high fertility, MacDonald would claim that this was strong evidence in favor of his theory.
I believe Cofnas makes a strong point, one that forces MacDonald to scramble a bit to defend. If MacDonald is promoting an “evolutionary analysis of Jewish involvement in twentieth-century intellectual and political movements” (the subtitle of CofC), then he’d better explain why the movements he analyzes do not encourage Jews to be fruitful and multiply with each other. Wouldn’t that confer evolutionary advantages as much as foisting psychoanalysis, racial egalitarianism, Left-wing ideology, and cultural criticism on the gentile population? And, like Cofnas, I believe that if a Franz Boas had ever written a letter to Sigmund Freud complaining about low Jewish fertility rates and conspiring with him on how to increase it, MacDonald would have included it as further evidence for his theories. And why wouldn’t he?
So then how does MacDonald get himself out of this little pickle? Well, in numerous ways, none of which are terribly convincing, I’m afraid. From his “First Reply,” page 34:
- There is low intermarriage and assimilation in Israel. [SJQ: Not consistent. MacDonald dismisses Cofnas when he brings up counter-examples of Jewish diversity of opinion. And here is MacDonald bringing up a counter-example of Jewish diversity of intermarriage and assimilation.]
- “The leadership of the American Jewish community remains ethnically Jewish.” [SJQ: So what? That’s a small number of people, a drop in the evolutionary bucket.]
- Jews benefit by “marrying into prominent non-Jewish families, such as the families of presidents Trump and Clinton—a centuries-old phenomenon.” [SJQ: See response to Point 2 above.]
- “Some authors have suggested that relatively high rates of intermarriage, low fertility, and the various levels of Jewish identification in the modern Western societies are highly functional for Judaism because they serve as a bridge to the surrounding culture because of family ties with non-Jews.” [SJQ: There’s good and bad in everything, but how do these benefits outweigh lower genetic distinctiveness and fewer numbers over time? As far as evolutionary benefits go, this seems like weak tea.]
- “Finally, there remains a highly fertile core of Conservative and Orthodox Jews who reject intermarriage.” [SJQ: See response to Point 1 above.]
From his “Second Reply,” page 38:
- “The Jewish population in the United States is not declining in absolute numbers, although it may not be keeping up with the immigration-fueled population growth of the U.S.” [SJQ: A weak argument that defeats itself.]
- “So far as I know, none of the figures I discussed intermarried.” [SJQ: See response to Point 2 above.]
MacDonald’s best response to this charge, and one to which I am sympathetic, is to simply say that intermarriage and assimilation are not relevant to the main focus of CofC (which he does at least twice in his “Second Reply”). What is relevant is to establish that the men who led influential intellectual and political movements had strong Jewish identities and had far-reaching negative impacts on white people in the West while pursuing what they perceived to be Jewish interests. And this is fine and good. But the fact remains that MacDonald promotes a theory of Jewish evolutionary strategy while eschewing an important aspect of evolution as most educated people who have never studied evolutionary psychology understand it: survival of the fittest. What’s the point of calling a strategy “evolutionary” if it allows for the fit to produce fewer progeny than the less fit, or for fit populations to interbreed with less-fit populations? Would Darwin have called such strategies “evolutionary”? MacDonald may have perfectly reasonable answers to these questions, and they may very well be correct. But to the skeptical or agnostic, any explanation he offers at this point will seem like hedging. Even worse, to those who are prejudiced against him, like Nathan Cofnas, simply declaring intermarriage and assimilation out of bounds will seem like a sign of weakness. And when they smell blood and attack, MacDonald will have no real defense.
So what to do about this?
One thing is to man up and move on. It’s not uncommon in the social sciences for authors to describe their studies’ limitations or shortcomings. No study covers all aspects of its subject matter, and no theory is perfect. If you drill down far enough into Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, you will find they don’t always hold up either. And if Newton could be wrong, anyone could be wrong. There’s no shame in admitting that your study explains some phenomena better than others. And what CofC does explain, it explains very well. Indeed, aside from this and a couple of other issues, MacDonald not only refutes Cofnas’ refutations, but he outclasses him as a scholar as he does so. Therefore, I believe, MacDonald loses little by admitting one of the shortcomings of CofC.
The other thing MacDonald can do is to put Cofnas’ point into perspective. And this, I believe, is where my De Facto Ranking may come in handy. From Part 1:
My take on MacDonald’s program, however, is to arrange (or rearrange) his findings in the following order of importance:
- The movements described in CofC were highly influential.
- These movements can reasonably be described as Jewish in nature.
- These movements had disastrously negative impacts on white society.
- These movements furthered Jewish evolutionary interests.
I really believe that if MacDonald had stopped at Point 3 and said absolutely nothing about Jewish evolutionary strategies, CofC would still have been a great book, and it would still have had the same influence. The most important, incendiary, and indeed revolutionary aspects of CofC are Points 1, 2, and 3. Proving that Jews were acting in their evolutionary interests all along is just icing on the cake.
So if Cofnas wishes to run victory laps over his objection that Jewish intermarriage and assimilation run counter to Jewish evolutionary interests, MacDonald need only remind him that he had just criticized the least important aspect of CofC. Not such a tremendous accomplishment and nothing that CofC can’t withstand.
As vast and intricate as the MacDonald-Cofnas debate is, it would be difficult for any analysis to encapsulate all of it. For example, Cofnas accuses MacDonald of cherry-picking his data and of constantly changing his theory to prevent it from being falsified. MacDonald responds to these charges, of course, and readers can investigate for themselves to see if he does so adequately. My goal, however, was to integrate as much of this fascinating yet frustrating debate as possible into an analytical framework which could then be easily understood and therefore useful in future debates. I made my pro-MacDonald perspective clear at the beginning, but at the same time, I gave credit to Cofnas when I felt he deserved it, and criticized MacDonald when I felt he deserved it. But the most important things I hope to demonstrate in these essays are:
- The historical importance of CofC to the Dissident Right.
- Cofnas’ unscholarly prejudice against MacDonald and CofC.
- Cofnas’ refusal to accept MacDonald’s stated parameters in CofC.
- How Cofnas focused on the least important aspects of CofC and ignored its most important aspects.
- How Cofnas’ Default Hypothesis can be refuted.
- How reassessing CofC with the De Facto Ranking and the concept of Liberal Diaspora Jews can help deal with some of the valid points Cofnas does make.
My last point, which I wanted to save for the conclusion, is that, on top of everything else, Cofnas’ critique of CofC reeks of cowardice. He challenges MacDonald to intellectual battle and then just doesn’t show up on the field where MacDonald is strongest. Cofnas never disputes that the movements analyzed in CofC were highly influential. As far as I can tell, Cofnas never tries to argue how Boasian anthropology, Freudian psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt School, or the Jewish Left were actually good for white people. Never does he argue that these movements weren’t loaded with Jews or that the sea changes they initiated had nothing to do with the 1965 immigration bill. In fact, when he had the chance to do exactly that, he chickened out. From MacDonald’s “Second Reply,” pages 32-33:
I claimed in my original reply that Cofnas did not dispute the central role Jews and Jewish organizations in the passage of the immigration law of 1965,
Cofnas: “Due to space constraints, I could not address every issue in my paper in Human Nature. The fact that I do not dispute something does not mean that I accept it.”
Fair enough, bur recall that, as I noted in the Introduction of my original reply, immigration policy is the most critical issue in the entire book. I’d be happy enough to have shown that, even if everything else in CofC was wrong.
Space constraints? This is astounding. The man claims to give MacDonald “a fair hearing,” yet ignores one of his most important points, all the while claiming that MacDonald is a dishonest and less than competent researcher. Who is Nathan Cofnas trying to fool here? Does he really believe he’s being at all convincing? Or is he just bouncing his shallow syllogisms off the walls of his academic echo chamber?
People in mainstream academia today might believe that this is enough to keep someone like Kevin MacDonald at bay. But as the Right continues to grow in response to the rapidly dwindling white majorities in the West, someday soon it won’t be.
Spencer J. Quinn is a frequent contributor to Counter-Currents and the author of the novel, White Like You.