On the Kevin MacDonald–Nathan Cofnas Debate
Spencer J. Quinn
Part 3: Refuting the Default Hypothesis
Part 3 of 4
[Updated: Nathan Cofnas correctly points out that I included remarks by MacDonald that had later been revised. I’ve corrected the relevant portions below.]
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 will deal with Cofnas’ second major strategy, promoting his Default Hypothesis as a more elegant alternative to what MacDonald offers in CofC. Part 3 will cover some of his minor strategies as well.
Cofnas’ Second Major Strategy: The Default Hypothesis
Cofnas posits that the phenomena MacDonald describes in CofC can be more parsimoniously explained by what he calls the Default Hypothesis. The Default Hypothesis basically states that high Jewish IQ and the high concentration of Jews in urban centers will necessarily make Jews overrepresented in all major intellectual and political movements that are not overtly anti-Semitic. So, it’s not about hard-to-prove things like ethnic self-identity, in-group evolutionary exigencies, crypsis, self-deception, and other fairly abstruse ideas MacDonald puts forth in CofC. Rather, it’s about easy-to-prove-things like natural intelligence and geographic consistency. (And for the record, MacDonald does not dispute either of these.)
This is an excellent tack and should be tempting for any disinterested observer of this debate. After all, why plop for a complicated solution when a simpler one will do?
Well, there are two major problems with the Default Hypothesis. First is that it assumes the existence of anti-Semitism and ignores the possibility it could be caused by Jewish behavior. This gives Cofnas a convenient way to explain why Jews almost never dominate Right-wing political movements. Such movements were anti-Semitic before the Jews came along, and thus Jews were discouraged from joining them. But isn’t it possible that people on the Right see what many influential Jews are up to and adopt anti-Semitism as a form of protection or reaction? Isn’t it also possible that people from the Left or center (or people with no political affiliation at all) see the same thing and join the Right as a result? In other words, aren’t there good reasons for Rightists (that is, race-realist, ethnocentric, traditionalist, blood and soil types) to be at least a little bit wary of Jews? All of these scenarios are of course plausible and have occurred many times throughout history. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn provides a more extreme example of this in chapter 16 of his 200 Years Together (emphasis mine):
In the beginning of 1919, the Soviets, under predominantly Jewish leadership, started revolutions in Berlin and Munich. The share of activist Jews was disproportionately high in the German Communist Party of that period, though that party’s support in the Jewish community at large was not signiﬁcant. Four out of eleven members of the Central Committee were Jews with a university education. In December 1918, one of them, Rosa Luxemburg, wrote: “In the name of the greatest aspirations of humankind, our motto when we deal with our enemies is: “Finger into the eye, knee on the chest!” The rebellion in Munich was led by a theater critic, Kurt Eisner, a Jew of “bohemian appearance.” Eisner was killed by a German nobleman who inﬁltrated his security cordon and shot him, but the power in conservative and Catholic Bavaria was then seized by a new government made up of leftist intellectual Jews, who proclaimed the Bavarian Soviet Republic (G. Landauer, E. Toller, E. Muhsam, O. Neurath). After one week the republic was overthrown by an even more radical group which declared the Second Bavarian Soviet Republic with Eugen Levine at the helm. Let’s read an article about him in the [Jewish] Encyclopedia: “Born into a mercantile Jewish family, he used to be a socialist revolutionary; he participated in the Russian revolution of I905, later became a German national, joined the Spartacist movement of R. Luxemburg and K. Liebknecht, and now he became the head of the Communist government in Bavaria, which also included the abovementioned E. Muhsam, E. Toller and a native of Russia, M. Levin.” The uprising was defeated in May 1919 by the Freikorps of German veterans returning from the Great War, the only loyal troops available to Germany at the time. The fact that the leaders of the suppressed Communist revolts were Jews was one of the most important reasons for the resurrection of political anti-Semitism in contemporary Germany.
If true, this is problematic for the Default Hypothesis because it implies something very important about the Jewish character: that they have a weakness for radical, Left-wing ideology and that they see themselves as distinct from gentiles. It’s baked in the matzo, so to speak. According to the Default Hypothesis, Jews aren’t particularly ethnocentric and will go any which way politically as long as avenues to success are open for them. The Default Hypothesis doesn’t account for Jews feeding the Right with their characteristic behavior. And since this has played out over and over again across multiple continents and over many time periods, it becomes reasonable to assume there is more than IQ and location at work here. This then opens the door for MacDonald’s admittedly more ambitious theories in CofC.
The second problem with the Default Hypothesis is that it is easily refuted. Yes, throughout the twentieth century the majority of Jews in the United States and Western Europe lived in or near cities. And yes, Jews (or the Ashkenazim, at least) have significantly higher than average IQs. (I am aware that Vox Day and others dispute this. But since both MacDonald and Cofnas accept it as true, I will too for the sake of argument). What’s also true, however, is that the ‘not overtly anti-Semitic’ clause in the Default Hypothesis refers only to white anti-Semitism. Non-white anti-Semitism on the other hand seems to be a weaker form of kryptonite. In America and in Europe, many influential Jewish thought leaders show an odd willingness to forgive or overlook anti-Semitism from non-whites, especially blacks and Muslims. A glance at the SPLC website reveals a powerful sensitivity towards racism or prejudice against blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims despite the fact that over thirty percent of blacks and Hispanics in America have ‘entrenched anti-Semitic views.’ Powerful Jews like George Soros and Barbara Spectre are doing everything they can to import Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East into Europe and to make white Europeans more accepting of multiculturalism. The fact that many of these Muslims come from overtly anti-Semitic nations and commit acts of violence against Jews on the streets (especially in France where Jews require police protection) seems to matter little to these people.
The BDS movement, however, is the silver dagger that slays the Default Hypothesis beast. BDS, in essence, wishes to destroy Israel as a Jewish state by giving Palestinians the right to return and the same political rights that Israeli Jews now enjoy. If BDS gets its way, Jews would ultimately become a minority in their own nation. Both the ADL and the Israeli government consider BDS to be anti-Semitic, yet, contrary to Cofnas’ Default Hypothesis, large numbers of Jews either support BDS, or ally themselves with it, or even actively empower it. In his PDF comments document, Cofnas himself claims that ‘Jews are overrepresented among the leadership’ of BDS. He can claim this is true or he can claim the Default Hypothesis is true. But he cannot claim both.
The evidence here suggests that anti-Semitism alone isn’t enough to deter Jews from certain political, intellectual, or cultural movements. If this is indeed the case, then Cofnas must add layers of complication to his Default Hypothesis in order to promote it as an alternative to CofC. And wasn’t its lack of complication the reason why it seemed so persuasive to begin with?
Also, isn’t it ironic that one of the counter-examples Cofnas brings up to refute CofC also refutes his own Default Hypothesis?
Cofnas’ Minor Strategies
Here are some other strategies which do little other than reveal Cofnas’ prejudice against MacDonald and CofC.
1. Inventing a point which MacDonald never made and then refuting it.
For example, on page 8 of Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy, Cofnas quotes MacDonald as saying:
Among these Boasians, cultural criticism crystallized as an ideology of “romantic primitivism” in which certain non-Western cultures epitomized the approved characteristics Western societies should emulate.
Cofnas then writes (emphasis mine):
This passage and others throughout the chapter suggest that Boasians were the first to romanticize primitive cultures as “idyllic” and not subject to the ills of Western civilization. In reality, by Boas’s time this had been a major theme among many gentile intellectuals for more than 150 years. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who popularized the romantic image of “savages” in the eighteenth century, is mentioned once in The Culture of Critique—in passing, in an endnote.
See Cofnas’ trick here? He adds ‘were the first’, pretends its central to MacDonald’s point, refutes it, and ignores what MacDonald was really trying to say. It seems strange to me that Cofnas would assume that a scholar of MacDonald’s stature would be ignorant of Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’ idea. It’s also strange that he makes such ado over such a trivial point (yes, Rousseau lived prior to Boas. Class dismissed?). Further, he didn’t read MacDonald very carefully. MacDonald is clearly saying that the Boasian school used romantic primitivism to inform their cultural criticism, not that they originated romantic primitivism. Prior to Boas, Darwinism dominated anthropology and the social sciences; after Boas, not so much. MacDonald’s statement attempts to explain why. That Cofnas either didn’t realize this or didn’t care belies his needlessly argumentative attitude towards CofC.
2. Raising the bar unreasonably high
Regarding the Frankfurt School, MacDonald promotes the idea of a double standard in which influential Jews such as Adorno and Horkheimer condemned ethno-nationalism among gentiles but not among Jews. He then theorizes these scholars engaged in ‘crypsis’ in order to disguise not only their Jewish identities but also this obvious double standard. Of course, this could be wrong or right, but for Cofnas, nothing short of a smoking gun on the level of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (i.e., explicit statements from members of the Frankfurt School or candid film or audio footage of them hashing out their nefarious schemes) will do. MacDonald refers to this as ‘hyper-purism.’ Cofnas, page 13:
Leaving aside the question of the scholarly merits of the Frankfurt School or The Authoritarian Personality, there is no positive evidence that members of the Frankfurt School were hypocrites who condemned collectivism in gentiles and promoted it for Jews.
Cofnas doesn’t seem to realize that this isn’t a court of law and no one is innocent until proven guilty. It’s not like MacDonald needs unimpeachable evidence with which to form theories about his subject matter. Isn’t it true that this almost never happens in the social sciences? What MacDonald does is what all social scientists do: make reasonable inferences from spotty data. There is nothing wrong with that, but Cofnas seems to think there is. Does he not realize that if all social scientists were held to the same standards to which he holds MacDonald, there would be very little social science?
3. Impugning MacDonald’s scholarship
On page 3 of Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy, Cofnas writes
In numerous places in The Culture of Critique, references are given to support a claim but no support can be found in the original source, or the original source is misrepresented. Because the present paper is focused on the argument of the book, it only reports some of these misrepresentations where they significantly affect the argument. Also, for considerations of length, it only reports cases of mishandling of sources where the problems can be clearly exposed in a reasonable amount of space. Despite the fact that only some instances of mishandling of sources are reported here, these cases alone raise serious questions about MacDonald’s research practices.
This was before MacDonald had a chance to respond, of course. Once he did, many of these supposedly misrepresented sources turned out to have been not misrepresented at all. Either that, or MacDonald provides reasonable doubt. For example, Cofnas calls into question MacDonald’s quote from R. Nevitt Sanford (a gentile) who penned a chapter in The Authoritarian Personality, a famous work produced by the Frankfurt School. According to Cofnas, MacDonald cites Sanford to show how The Authoritarian Personality is ‘anti-gentile’ but fails to mention that Sanford had positive views of Christianity and felt that ‘genuine Christians’ scored low on ethnocentrism. Thus MacDonald ‘cites Sanford out of context and totally misrepresents his conclusion’ since ‘Sanford identifies the values promoted by the Frankfurt School with Christianity, not Judaism.’ Okay, fine. But in the appendix of his First Reply, MacDonald spends a great deal of effort demonstrating how Sanford may have admired the ideal of ‘Christian humanism’ but in fact thought negatively of the majority of Christians in his day for not living up to this ideal. Therefore, despite what Cofnas says, MacDonald knew what he was doing when he quoted Sanford.
As for who is ultimately right here, I don’t know. Both have made interesting points, and one day perhaps another study will suss this issue out. But what I do know, based on MacDonald’s thorough response, is that there is room here for legitimate difference of opinion. As such, Cofnas was out of line for accusing MacDonald of ‘mishandling his sources.’
Yes, Cofnas did catch MacDonald misquoting historian J. Katz. It was an honest mistake and MacDonald admitted that he had made it. On the other hand, here is an example of Cofnas ironically making a mistake himself while accusing MacDonald of mishandling a source. Pay attention. This one’s a whopper. On page 22 of his Second Reply, MacDonald quotes a complaint from Cofnas:
MacDonald neglects to mention a significant error in CofC that I pointed out in my paper. In CofC he writes that Freud’s book Moses and Monotheism “contains several assertions that anti-Semitism is fundamentally a pathological gentile reaction to Jewish ethical superiority,” citing Freud (1967, pp. 114-117). However, as I note in my paper, pages 114-117 of this edition of Moses and Monotheism do discuss anti-Semitism, but say nothing about ethics/morality at all, let alone the ethical superiority of Jews or Judaism.
Here is MacDonald’s rejoinder (emphasis, mine):
My citation is to Freud (1939, pp. 114–117) so it was very confusing to see this reference to a 1967 version which turns out to be a reprint of the version I used: Freud, S. (1939). Moses and Monotheism, trans. by K. Jones. New York: Vintage. (Reprinted in 1955.)
Relevant to Cofnas’s comment, on p. 117 Freud describes Christians as having been forced to convert from pagan attitudes that never really disappeared: “One might say that they have remained ‘Badly Christened’; under the thin veneer of Christianity they have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic.” This is a claim to Jewish ethical superiority given that Freud attributes Jewish ethical superiority ultimately to their belief in monotheism: “In a new transport of moral asceticism the Jews imposed on themselves constantly increasing instinctual renunciation and thereby reached—at least in doctrine and precepts—ethical heights that had remained inaccessible to the other peoples of antiquity. … Our investigation is intended to show how it [i.e., ethical heights] is connected … with the conception of the one and only God” (173). Thus, their hatred toward Judaism stems from the fact that at heart they are still barbarians who resent the ethical superiority Judaism achieved long ago by accepting monotheism. Even the phrase “barbarically polytheistic” has the connotation that these barbarians are inferior to refined Jewish monotheism….
So yes, Freud did believe in the ethical superiority of Judaism compared to the Christians whose “polytheistic barbarism” lurks beneath a thin veneer of monotheistic Christianity, making them unable to scale the ethical heights of Judaism and that this deficiency was a cause of anti-Semitism.
So it seems that Cofnas accused MacDonald of making a ‘significant error’ in CofC simply because what MacDonald had ascribed to Freud in Moses and Monotheism did not appear on pages 114-117 of the edition of the book that MacDonald did not use. So who made the mistake here? MacDonald used the 1939 edition (reprinted in 1955), as stated in the bibliography of CofC, and Cofnas criticized him using the 1967 edition. Further, Cofnas did not look past pages 114-117 of the 1967 edition as if only those four pages mattered in rebutting MacDonald. Supposing they had both used the same edition of Moses and Monotheism, and MacDonald’s money quote appeared between pages 14 and 17 instead of 114 and 117. Would such a minor error mean that MacDonald’s overall claim about Freud is wrong? Cofnas’ niggling and legalistic approach to this debate would suggest so. This, to me, indicates that Cofnas is arguing in bad faith.
Here’s another blunder from our Oxford University graduate student. On page 12 of Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy, he writes:
The naive reader of The Culture of Critique would think that 11 of 15 top Jewish intellectuals were using Freudianism to attack the traditions of gentile culture while promoting separatism for Jews in the US and in Israel. MacDonald makes this conclusion fairly explicit:
Of these [15 Jewish intellectuals], only Noam Chomsky could possibly be regarded as someone whose writings were not highly influenced by his Jewish identity and specifically Jewish interests. The findings taken together indicate that the American intellectual scene has been significantly dominated by specifically Jewish interests and that psychoanalysis has been an important tool in advancing these interests (1988a:154, n. 15—partially quoted earlier).
Note that ‘[15 Jewish intellectuals]’ had been inserted into the MacDonald quote by Cofnas. However, in CofC, that particular passage reads as follows:
The four elite Jewish intellectuals in this study who were apparently not influenced by Freud were Hannah Arendt, Noam Chomsky, Richard Hofstadter, and Irving Kristol. Of these, only Noam Chomsky could possibly be regarded as someone whose writings were not highly influenced by his Jewish identity and specifically Jewish interests.
So that’s four, not fifteen. Perhaps this is not a terribly important point, but if Cofnas is going to place every one of MacDonald’s sources under a microscope and accuse him of scholarly malfeasance whenever something doesn’t seem to add up, we can certainly do the same with him.
On the other hand, how can a reasoned exchange of ideas even exist when scholars constantly nitpick each other’s work so maliciously? Sadly, this seems to be the world Nathan Cofnas wants to live in.
Spencer J. Quinn is a frequent contributor to Counter-Currents and the author of the novel White Like You.