Kevin MacDonald’s Individualism & The Western Liberal Tradition Part 7: White Maladaptive AltruismRicardo Duchesne
The white race is uniquely altruistic. Why? This is a very difficult question to answer. It is easy to understand altruistic behavior for the benefit of one’s family members. This is common among animals. Mother bears will put their lives in danger to protect their cubs from attack. Sacrifices for one’s relatives and ingroup ethnic members are also common. The difficult question is: why are whites singularly motivated to perform actions that benefit members of outgroups when such actions harm their ingroup members and families? This is known in dissident circles as “pathological altruism.”
The Antislavery Movement
One would think that the existence of a huge literature on the subject of altruism would have provided us with definite answers about the unique nature of white altruism. Not really. Since any discussion about racial differences is prohibited in academia, this behavior is invariably framed as if it were a disposition among humans in general. White academics habitually project their altruistic behaviors to humans as humans. Kevin MacDonald is one of a few evolutionary psychologists who understand that whites are singularly altruistic outside their kin-group, and that explaining this behavior requires a Darwinian approach that is wedded to the history of whites. This is the subject of chapter 7 of his book Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition. He argues that the “moral idealism in the British antislavery movement,” which led to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and slavery in 1833, offers an excellent case study of the nature and historical origins of white pathological altruism.
Without overlooking other psychological motivations which generally come into play among leaders in all movements, such as ambition and personal gain — including the satisfaction of being praised as a selfless individual — MacDonald carefully goes over the antislavery sentiments expressed over many decades, starting in the eighteenth century, by Quakers, Evangelical Anglicans, and Methodists. The leaders of the antislavery movement were sincerely empathetic individuals moved by the suffering of others. The influential Marxist explanation that the campaign against slavery occurred only when it was no longer advantageous for capitalism to exploit slave labor is seriously flawed.
One would expect an evolutionary psychologist to be drawn to an explanation that emphasizes the economic self-interests of whites. But as we have seen in our multipart review of MacDonald’s book, this type of explanation misses out the singularity whites have exhibited throughout history in creating communities with ideological norms that encouraged trust beyond one’s family network. As we saw in Part 3 of my extended review, whites exhibited weird behaviors early on in their history. Back in the age of hunting and gathering, they were more inclined to extend their trust to members of outside tribes (because this was a naturally advantageous strategy in the climes of northwest Europe). In contrast, trust in the non-Western world was restricted to ingroup members. In the course of time, whites came to exhibit more weird traits, such as monogamous behaviors among powerful men despite their natural instinct for polygamy. The Catholic Church nurtured norms inside the “higher” frontal parts of the brain capable of inducing guilt and fear of godly punishment among powerful men who failed to control their sexual drives.
By the 1800s, as we saw in Part 6, we witness Puritan-descended transcendentalists believing that humans could transcend their biological drives and become purely selfless moral beings caring for strangers as much as for family members. The abolitionist movement was also a descendant of this egalitarian and universalist tendency within Protestantism. In this case, the major activists were Quakers. The Quakers were “highly principled and deeply Christian, with a powerful sense of fairness and egalitarianism.” They had, in MacDonald’s words, a “genuine empathy for the slaves,” morally outraged by “acts of great injustice done to their fellow human beings.” The Quakers were also “highly egalitarian” in their institutional organization; “there were no bishops or ordained ministers, and any person (including women) could speak.” They emphasized the “intellectual and moral equality of African slaves.” Although the Methodists were more into self-help, diligence, and hard work, they too believed that all humans were equally valuable, and that’s why they opposed slavery.
MacDonald’s point is not that whites were wrong to seek the abolition of slavery. His aim is to understand the excessive moral preoccupation whites exhibited about the plight of Africans coupled with their current pathological empathy for aggressive immigrants occupying their lands. In light of this reality, and the complete indifference Muslims have to this day about their thousand-year-old enslavement of Africans, these Puritan-descended movements do seem incredibly naive, child-like, and devoid of realism. What is there to admire about this?
I will make the argument that the eighteenth century was period of “radical change” in the conception of the Western self, the first time Europeans began to write about an “authentic self” residing in each person, in contrast to the more stereotypical character types of the past when individuals tended to perform the “roles” ascribed to them. This “new self” was a continuation of the liberation of the Western mind from the “otherness” of norms, impulses, and structures which have not been ascertained, approved, or authenticated by the self, encouraging a new cultural reality in which the “I” came to obey its “inner voice” and aesthetic judgments.
This period also saw the spread of the nationalist idea that all peoples have an authentic identity and that each ethnic group should enjoy national self-determination. Only when a people have their own homeland, in awareness of their own traditions, history, and ethnic heritage, will they fulfill themselves as individuals in control of their destinies. This nationalistic movement was associated with the idea that a liberal state should promote the positive liberty of its citizens so they can bring out what is best in them rather than allowing the state to be dominated by the negative liberties of the private sphere. But this conception of positive liberty would be hijacked by the left after WWII to mean not the nationalistic cultivation of the higher nature of citizens but the promotion of multiculturalism.
The Making of the Modern “Authentic” Self
MacDonald is aware that the period of the abolitionist movement included a “wider context,” a period some have identified as “The Age of Benevolence,” a time when Europeans showed themselves to be “kinder and gentler,” building hospitals, insane asylums, nursing care for the infants of paupers, and educational facilities for the poor. MacDonald alludes to this authentic self when he writes about a “new sensibility” among Europeans, an “affective revolution.” He mentions Samuel Richardson’s Pamela as an example of many “sentimental” novels of this period. This “new sensibility” has been associated with the “Rise of the Novel.” Numerous “sentimental” novels were written in the eighteenth century emphasizing personal experience and feeling, a spirit of non-conformity towards rigid and “insincere” conventions, a fascination with the inner depths of the affective self.
Since the West has always been in a state of discontinuity, we can’t envision this new sentimentality as a sudden product of the eighteenth century. In the seventeenth, one already sees a “new valuation of commerce,” the idea of “le doux commerce,” the observation that a bourgeois lifestyle makes life more “polished,” peaceful, and “gentle,” replacing the warrior virtues of the old aristocracy, honor, and heroic fame. Protestantism has also been associated with a new emphasis on the role of mothers and the eventual idealization in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century of marriage based on sentiments, true companionship between husband and wife, and a new concern for children and for childhood as a distinctive phase in the life cycle. In the pre-seventeenth century world, parents and kinship groups continued to exert a powerful influence on the choice of marriage partner. The rise of the “companionate marriage” brought a higher degree of personal choice in a marriage partner along with a new concern for privacy within the family, and new houses built with private rooms.
The rise of sentimental novels was part of a broader cultural movement known as Romanticism, which included such writings as Rousseau’s Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), the poetry of Coleridge, Wordsworth, Hölderlin, and others. It also included English philosophers who developed the theory of moral sentiments: Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, Lord Shaftesbury, and others. These philosophers identified morality with actions done by the right affections based on one’s inner sense of right and wrong. Morality is not about following socially prescribed norms; it is about being true to oneself, to one’s nature, or the voice of nature within. This idea was articulated by Rousseau in a very idealistic way in his claim that human beings were naturally authentic and inherently good and that socialization was responsible for instilling artificial conventions.
Some say it is really late in the eighteenth century when we see a movement characterized by “expressive individuation.” It is then that we see a generalized public culture emphasizing what is original and different in each person, the importance of allowing one’s “inner voice” to speak out — in art, painting, music, and poetry. Each artist sought to express his own individuated nature; novelists sought genuine characters who would reveal their true feelings, not the type of characters one tended to see in earlier novels, with “painted like” personalities, “one of a genus,” what a person had in common with others.
But I believe there is something incomplete and even misleading about the existing scholarship on these movements. Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (1989), Michael Mascuch’s Origins of the Individualist Self: Autobiography and Self-Identity in England, 1591-1791 (1997), and Dror Wahrman’s The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England (2006) — all identify the emergence of this “new self” using the same language of “man” and “nature” that the European originators of this self used. The thinkers of the eighteenth century wrote as if they were discovering a natural disposition in man as such, a trait that was “innate” or intrinsic to the “essentiality of man.” This same mistake has been continued by current academics. Even though they know, in Taylor’s words, that the authentic or expressive self is a “recent idea in human history,” they explain this movement as if entailed a discovery of the existence of an inner self naturally present in all humans.
There is no space here to elaborate, but another weakness in the current scholarship is the absence of any attempt to contrast this new Western self with the rather undeveloped sense of identity in the modern non-Western world. As far as I know, no one has written about this: to this day, one sees in the non-Western world humans with more stereotypical personalities; as I read recently from a traveler: “if you meet a few South Koreans, you will have met most South Koreans.” It is true, and a complex discussion, that in the current Western world we are seeing a process of standardization — but it is still a subject worthy of investigation whether there has been a profusion of differentiated personalities, complex motivations, or richer psychologies in the modern West in ways that are unparalleled before and outside the West. It has been noted, I might add, that an “undifferentiated state of being” is an ideal in Eastern philosophies “for the development of a complete and harmonious personality.”
Structuralist Denial of the Self and Marcel Mauss
It is very difficult for Europeans to accept their unique individuality. Most theories in the social sciences tend to downplay the role of individuals. There is a school of “methodological individualism” which says that social phenomena must be explained in terms of the intentional states that motivate individual actors, rather than in terms of class or group dynamics. But this methodology is applied to all humans across the planet in terms of their self-interests or “rational choices.” It has nothing to do with “inner depths” and the differentiation of personalities. This denial is pervasive, and it prevails in the same Leftists who talk about the right of individuals to choose their own sex. The impact of structuralists in this respect can’t be underestimated — from Marx to Freud, from Ferdinand Saussure to Roman Jacobson, from Levi-Strauss to Michel Foucault. All these thinkers, and there are quite a few more, deny the existence of a “real subject” with a conscious ego. The human subject is de-centered, constituted by structures and forces beyond his control, unconscious motivations, linguistic structures, capitalist “laws of motion,” under which the subject is subsumed rather than in charge. They argue that what requires understanding are the structures that have shaped history and that continue to be in charge of human motivations and behaviors. As Foucault put it: “It’s not the assertion of identity that’s important; it’s the assertion of non-identity.”
But this line of thinking is rather odd. If we have become aware of these structures, should we not conclude that our cognition has imbued them with consciousness and that these structures have lost their otherness? Was not the cognitive goal of structuralist knowledge to unveil/reveal the logic of these structures in order thereby to free us from their blind control? It is true that some structuralists insisted that one can’t step out of these structures since each discursive interpretation carries its own structures. I take this to be true in the degree to which humans can never be in control of the nature of things and in complete charge of their identities and the many forces of nature that control our destinies. But one should not deny out of hand that there are substantial differences in the degree to which cultures have understood the forces of nature and, in this respect, minimized the “otherness” of these forces and structures, and thus their blind determination over humans.
The insights of structuralists would have been impossible without the level of self-consciousness reached in the Western world. In cultures where the psyche is subsumed, barely explored, enveloped by nature, trapped within mystical beliefs from which it cannot step outside in a state of critical reflection, you can’t have such self-conscious studies as semiotics, for example, which entail a clear-headed attempt to explain the relationship between a sign, an object, and a meaning. This is why all structuralists were educated in the West. The self, as the anthropologist Marcel Mauss noticed back in the 1930s, is “a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures.” It emerged only in the West.
I should say a few things about Mauss’s seminal lecture, “A Category of the Human Mind: The Notion of the Self,” published under a slightly different title. Mauss distinctly conveys how unusual the Western concept of the self is, and how it evolved historically. He observes that the category of self” was a “recent” category, an “aberration” in history. It was only in India, due to the influence of Indo-Europeans, that one sees outside the West some “notion of the individual, of his consciousness,” “the “creation of the ‘I’.” In India, the word aham means “I.” This word is “the same Indo-European word as ‘ego.'” However, “in contrast to Hindus and the Chinese, the Romans, or perhaps rather the Latins, seem to be the people who in part established the notion of ‘person’ personne.” Only with the coming of Roman law do we have “the right to the persona. . . established.” The slave is excluded from it, he has no “personality,” but all Roman citizens are legally identified as persons with a capacity to be individually responsible for their actions and to engage in legal contracts as individuals. The Stoics added a “voluntarist and personal ethics,” which enriched “the Roman notion of the person.” Christianity added a “metaphysical foundation” to the notion of the person. Man as man was now seen as substantially a “persona — substantia rationalis individua.”
This was not the end of the history of the self in the West. As Mauss continued:
The notion of the “person” (personne) was still to undergo a further transformation to become what it has become over less than one and a half centuries, the “category of ‘self'” (moi). Far from existing as the primordial innate idea, clearly engraved since Adam in the innermost depths of our being, it continues here slowly, and almost right up to our own time, to be built upon, to be made clearer and more specific, becoming identified with self-knowledge and the psychological consciousness.
Mauss said next to nothing about the history of the self after Christianity, during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation, but it is worth quoting another paragraph about how German idealist philosophers were the ones
who finally gave the answer that every act of consciousness was an act of the “self” (moi), the one who founded all science and all action on the “self,” was Fichte. Kant had already made of the individual consciousness the sacred character of the human person, the condition for Practical Reason. It was Fichte who made of it as well the category of the “self,” the condition of consciousness and of science, of Pure Reason.
Mauss is hardly the only scholar who noticed this fundamental contrast between the West and the Rest. I have cited other authorities in prior publications who have written about how the self began to appear during ancient Greek times, or how the concept of the self came to be historically, rather than presuming that awareness of the self is a naturally given disposition among humans as such. Some of these authorities include Eric A. Havelock, Bruno Snell, Julian Jaynes, and Hegel. What is identified in the eighteenth century, the authentic self, which has been attributed to Rousseau as well, builds on earlier forms of individualism, the aristocratic individualism of Indo-Europeans, the Greek civic concept of freedom, the concept of libertas of the Romans, the monogamous individualism reinforced by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, the individualism that Jacob Burckhardt observed in the Renaissance, the “I think, therefore I am” of Descartes, the political individualism of Locke, and, during the early 1800s, the “I that posits itself as self-positing” in Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s philosophy.
Authentic Freedom and Ethnic Nationalism in Herder and Fichte
Another interesting — and seemingly paradoxical — novelty that stands out during this period is the spread of the idea that all peoples have an authentic identity and that each nationality should enjoy self-determination. The age of nationalism took off during the late eighteenth century and intensified in the nineteenth century. We have seen in prior parts of this extended review that the same individualism MacDonald sees as the core value of Western cultures became the basis for the formation of collective ingroups based on moral norms rather than kinship ties. The issue is not between Eastern collectivism and Western individualism. It is between groups based on bloodlines and groups based on norms. This is not to detract from MacDonald’s additional observation that the moral communities created by Europeans have been inclined to be open to members of outside groups willing to exploit white altruism to pursue their own ethnocentric interests, as Jewish intellectuals did in twentieth-century America.
Since MacDonald’s focus is on American moral communities, including Sweden’s extreme individualism, I would like to bring up the possibility that individualism could have co-existed with nationalistic communities based on a strong ethnic identity. The WASP version of America as a moral community is one version among others witnessed during this period. There was also a Germanic version with a stronger collectivist outlook based on the principle of “positive liberty” — as contrasted to the Anglo version which was heavily based on the principle of “natural liberty.” This Germanic version was heavily influenced by the Romantic concept of authenticity.
The idea of authenticity found a nationalistic expression in Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803). Herder belonged to a generation of Germans struggling to reconcile the freedoms enunciated by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution with a growing sense of German national identity. He argued that each nationality was unique in its own authentic way, its own particular language, religion, songs, gestures, legends and customs. The individuals of different nations should not imitate the individuals of other nations since different Volker have a particular way of being human. Individual self-fulfillment was inseparable from the fulfillment of the national culture to which the individual belonged. Humans need to belong, and the group/nation within which this need can find satisfaction can be none other than the group/nation within which individuals grew up and acquired their languages and beliefs.
Herder cherished the variety of races and cultures he saw in different regions of the earth. He rejected a universal history of humanity in which the unique national and ethnic character of peoples would disappear as every nation came to adopt the same “correct” values. Each nation was a unique “family writ large,” an organic community rooted in a particular soil. Out of this soil, each people nurtured its unique identity and “its own ideals” of perfection. Since each nation developed its culture out of its own needs and unique soil, its cultural standards could not serve as a model for other nations. Each culture had to be judged by its own standards.
Herder was also a liberal who believed in freedom of expression. This freedom was essential to the realization of the individuality of each citizen. In this respect, he was a typical Western liberal in post-Enlightenment Europe. He believed that an open contest between contrasting ideas was a prerequisite to the advancement of knowledge. He was also an advocate of the extension of the vote. While Herder was certainly not a modern progressive who rejected inequalities of properties, he was egalitarian in his opposition to fixed hierarchies and his call for the education of the poor to realize their authentic selves.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), the same thinker who said that philosophy must commence from the “I” that “posits itself absolutely,” called for a German nation-state based on ethnicity and liberal principles. He is known both as a father of German nationalism and an ardent supporter of Kant’s liberal idea that moral concepts must be derived from the free deliberation of rational human beings, rather than from values mandated by priests or kings. His Reden an die deutsche Nation (Addresses to the German Nation) is ranked as a foundational text of nationalist political thought. In the Anglophone world, Fichte tends to be condemned for his “proto-racist,” “anti-semitic” nationalism, but in France, he is championed as a liberal or cultural nationalist who believed that Germany should be based on cultural values in alliance with the liberal principles of the French Revolution of 1789.
The French school says that Fichte expressed his “conception of a people qua nation in explicitly linguistic-cultural terms.” “Purity of descent” was “insignificant” for determining membership into Fichte’s German nation. This school also says that he welcomed an “open nation” capable of educating outsiders into becoming good Germans. But I get the impression that this school is trying to assimilate Fichte to a post-WWII civic conception of nationalism. I agree with Arash Abizadeh that Fichte was an ethnic nationalist who wanted Germans to realize their potential and “higher freedom” as an ethnic group in contradistinction to the universalist ambitions of the French imperial armies. Fichte spoke of German nationals as those who have a “common descent.” He believed, in the words of Abizadeh, that the nation requires a “natural anchor,” a living and original language, in order to have a “single continuous national identity over time,” “the original language of one’s ancestral people.”
This ethnic nationalism troubles Abizadeh, who thinks that only a civic conception is consistent with liberal values. In truth, Abizadeh wants a Germany that is open to millions of Africans and Muslims, a Germany that is illiberal in its suppression of open debate about the merits of diversity. Fichte was more open-minded than the current cultural Marxists controlling Germany. What he advocated, although he did not use this term, was a nation based on “positive rights.” He believed that the state should play a strong collectivist role in the cultivation of the “higher freedom” of Germans, a concept that is akin to Herder’s idea that the nation should educate its citizens to realize a potentiality that is their own. We can call this higher freedom, in the language of today, “positive liberty.”
Positive liberty encourages individuals to act in such a way that they are not controlled by their lower appetites, but are instead rational masters of their actions. This positive liberty in combination with ethnic nationalism speaks of individual freedom within the context of a nation-state that encourages its members to express what is highest in their nature. As Abizadeh puts it:
Expressive, or authentic freedom requires the historic language of one’s ancestral people, organically linked with (indeed, arising out of) the people’s ‘own’ historical experiences, uncorrupted by foreign influences. . . Infiltrated by foreign elements, the national language would lose its anchor in the nation’s history…thereby becoming a corrupt and dead language incapable of harboring expressive freedom.
It is only within the context of a nation dedicated to “higher freedom” that individuals can express their full potential as self-determining beings. Each individual embodies “the spiritual law of nature of his nation” while in turn the nation’s law is influenced by the individual’s contribution. It should be added that Fichte believed that the state should guarantee the right to work of its members; and that Kant’s vision of a peaceful federation of constitutional republics would only become feasible if the nation-states of Europe were largely self-sufficient national economies disentangled from the competitive and warlike relations common to open capitalistic states. (I will add parenthetically that the ideas of Herder, Fichte, Hegel, and other German thinkers identified as conservatives, would find a thorough reflection in the German political economy of nationalism exemplified in Friedrich List’s writings and other economists; and in actual policies associated with the rise of Germany to economic supremacy in Europe from the 1850s on).
Multiculturalism = Hijacking of Western Positive Liberty
This ethnic nationalism found expression in many Western nations, including in the Anglo-Saxon world, as embodied in the strict immigration rules of the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand against non-Europeans until the 1960s/70s, notwithstanding the emphasis of these states on the “negative” rather than the “positive” liberty of citizens to choose their own way of life and happiness. But after WWII, this ethnic nationalism was decisively discredited in its identification with Nazism. A thoroughly civic conception of Western nations, which had been developing over the interwar years, took over. The main exponents of civic nationalism were Jewish immigrant refugees from central Europe: Hans Kohn, Karl Deutsch, Ernest Gellner, and Eric Hobsbawm. They argued that the modern nation-states of Europe were not rooted in primordial ethnic ties but were instead “artificial historical constructs,” “invented traditions,” designed by political elites to create states with a cohesive population, a national infrastructure, one official language, and uniform laws. The ethnic nationalism of Europeans, in the words of Hobsbawm, was based on “demotic xenophobia and chauvinism” rather than any factual ancestral ties.
While Hobsbawm was a communist who called for international revolution and the abolition of nations, Kohn, Deutsch, and Gellner called for Western nation-states based on negative liberties or individual rights alone, private property, and equality under the law, without any reference to ethnicity. The implicit political message of the otherwise-academic writings of these Jewish intellectuals was that a Western nation-state could only be true to liberalism insomuch as the identity of its citizens was conceived without any collective reference to their ethnic identity. Ethnicity should be a matter of individual choice and the state should not be identified with any ethnicity.
In fact, if I may conclude briefly with this observation, this civic conception would eventually come to advocate a lot more than the negative liberty of citizens, with the rise of what is known as “liberal communitarianism.” A major exponent of this new communitarian liberalism was Charles Taylor, a student of Isaiah Berlin, but later a critic of Berlin’s argument that the West should be based on the principle of “negative liberty.” Berlin argued that negative liberty, the right of individuals to decide for themselves the good life, was incompatible with the idea of positive liberty, which in his view gave state officials the power to dictate to citizens what they should do with their freedom. Taylor countered that humans are generally not in charge of their decisions but are influenced and controlled by a whole host of external influences and powers — unless they are socialized and educated to take charge of their lives, to think critically, and cultivate their “authentic selves.”
Taylor, in order words, took over Herder’s concept of authenticity to argue that Westerners were “narcissistic” and “disenchanted” due to the fact that their lives were consumed with the satisfaction of private wants without a higher purpose. Humans need standards, and these standards can’t be formulated by isolated individuals, but come from their cultural horizon, in dialogue with others and within a state-community. From here, Taylor went on to argue that multiculturalism is the best way to enhance and nurture the social horizons of individuals, because Western nations are diverse and no one culture should be imposed on a multicultural community. Blacks, Indigenous peoples, and immigrants would be deprived of pursuing “authentic” lifestyles in a nation in which they were compelled to assimilate to the “dominant” cultures of whites. The state must play a role in promoting multiculturalism, celebrating the “authentic” cultures of “oppressed minorities” rather than reducing culture to a private decision.
Taylor was articulating intellectually a general trend in the Western world led by progressives to create moral communities dedicated to multiculturalism within which no dissent would be allowed; no true negative liberty on the question of the merits of diversity. Multiculturalism was inherently good: it provided whites with a more “enriched” cultural horizon beyond their world of negative liberties. The task of the communitarian liberal state was to ensure the acceptance of this good. Today, diversity is not an individual choice but a mandated policy across the West, a totalitarian world view permeating every market, school, government institution, policy, and business. The conception of the authentic self and of “positive liberty” originated by German nationalists would thus be hijacked by an establishment dead set to diversify the West against the “inauthentic” world of whites.
This article originally appeared at the Council of European Canadians.
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