Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition: Evolutionary Origins, History, and Prospects for the Future – a review


Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition: Evolutionary Origins, History, and Prospects for the Future [1] by Kevin B. MacDonald,  September 2019

The Frankfurt School, or Institute for Social Research, received a sympathetic review on Quillette:

    As the full horror of Nazi crimes became ever more apparent, they adapted their philosophical synthesis of psychoanalytic and Marxist theory in an effort to understand why millions of Germans and European collaborators submitted with very little resistance to what Hannah Arendt would call “the banality of evil.” Their conclusions are sobering. – The Frankfurt School and the Allure of Submission, Matt McManus [2].

In his most well-known work, The Culture of Critique [3], professor Kevin MacDonald is less sympathetic.

Having read The Culture of Critique several times, I acquired a copy of the magnum opus of the School’s “philosophical synthesis of psychoanalytic and Marxist theory”, The Authoritarian Personality [4], published in 1950, and I had to admit that MacDonald’s critique of it has merit. The Frankfurt School didn’t just oppose fascism, it pathologized ordinary American families. And his criticisms of other intellectual movements, such as the Franz Boas school of anthropology, appeared to have some truth in them. One of the reasons Boas’s student Margaret Mead produced a fantasy about sexual relations among teenagers in Coming of Age in Samoa [5], published in 1928, was the school’s political bias in favor of non-Western societies. Whether his claim, that the fact that the founders of these movements are self-identified Jews, is relevant, I find more controversial.

It was twenty years before The Culture of Critique received its first serious review, from Nathan Cofnas – Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy – A Critical Analysis of Kevin MacDonald’s Theory, March 2018 [6]. Then Amazon deleted MacDonald’s book from its catalogue. But it hasn’t removed MacDonald’s new book, Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition, yet. It is superficially as impressive as the Culture of Critique – reasonably argued, well-referenced, and its assertions tested by showing that they predict the known facts better than the alternatives. For example, the Indo-Europeans did not convert collectivist cultures they conquered to their own individualism, but individualism, uniquely on earth, flourished in the Western Europe they also conquered.

Individualism’s central argument is that the superiority of Western civilization is the result of natural selection. The specific environment of Western Europe selected for individualism, objectivity, fairness, guilt, marriage based on personal attraction, and moral communities, as opposed to most of the world, which suffers from collectivism and the assumption that truth is what is good for the collective.

    As described below, the Western world remains the only culture area characterized by all of the markers of individualism. Taken together, these tendencies are unique to the Western European culture area and the argument here is that they have an ethnic basis. I do not suppose that Western Europeans have any unique biological adaptations, only that we differ in degree in adaptations characteristic of all humans and that the differences are sufficient to enable the evolution of a unique human culture. – chapter two, page 91

And no society outside the West developed a “deductive method of rigorous demonstration according to which a conclusion, a theorem, was proven by reasoning from a series of self-evident axioms.” – chapter five, page 212

So the professor thinks Western civilization is worth defending. And because he thinks many of its virtues are genetically-based, he thinks it’s worth defending against what he calls “replacement-level migration”.

In chapter five, “The Church in European History”, in the middle of a passage explaining the effect of Christianity on Western civilization, via leaders who mostly practiced what they preached, referring to the moral standards derived by Paul from Jesus, and championed by Augustine and Kant, MacDonald says

    In any case, moral perfection becomes the ultimate measure of a person’s worth – something that should be kept in mind in the present age when subscribing to a multicultural ideology and replacement-level migration has been successfully propagated as a moral imperative throughout the West. – chapter five, page 199

Chapter five defends the claim that the Catholic Church – which I’ve always regarded as a bastion of reaction – helped develop the basis of the modern Western liberal world, because its interests countered various forms of collectivism, and helped the genetically-based nuclear-family-plus-individualism characteristics of the West to survive and thrive.

Relative monogamy and sometime celibacy, even for the powerful, were essential for the success of the West, in contrast to its competitors. Obviously, societies which allow rich men to accumulate wives contain serious conflicts. For every extra wife a man has, another man has none. And the ladies didn’t like it either. One sultan of Morocco sired over eight hundred children, according to the Guinness Book of World Records [7]. Polygyny would be highly adaptive, except that most people have a genetic interest in abolishing it.

The basis of ability to control sexual desire originates in the female of the species. To put it simply, a man can have many children in one year, but a woman cannot. It’s not adaptive for a woman to “just have sex”. The female strategy “playing hard to get” evolved as a solution to the widely divergent reproductive abilities and interests of the two sexes. This is one of the adaptations which distinguishes homo sapiens from the other ape species, and contributes to its overwhelming success in contrast to all the others. But it required the development of culture to condition men, too, to respect, and even to practice, restraint.

Christianity is a late example of one of these cultures. But according to MacDonald, the record also shows that Germanic tribes, who took over the Roman Empire after its conversion to Christianity, already had achieved some of the elements of advanced sexual restraint.

MacDonald sometimes gratuitously inserts his political viewpoint. But he usually backs it up. An example is this, in chapter seven, “Moral Idealism in the British Antislavery Movement and the ‘Second British Empire’”:

    Further, if Charles Dickens is to be believed, Exeter Hall was quite similar to the contemporary left, which typically ignores the wage-lowering and community-destroying effects of mass non-White migration on the native working class, particularly the White working class. It also illustrates how contemporary academic historians, some likely motivated by ethnic animosity toward traditional White majorities and acting similarly to the Jewish intellectuals discussed in ‘Culture of Critique’, are committed to inducing guilt over the Western part among White people. To the extent that such campaigns are successful, they depend on pre-existing tendencies toward guilt and empathy that characterize an important subset of Western Europeans – tendencies deriving from the unique evolutionary history and culture of the West, as discussed elsewhere in this volume. – chapter 7, page 351

“Exeter Hall” was an informal group of wealthy individuals identified in the public mind “with what Charles Dickens described as ‘platform sympathy for the Black and … platform indifference to our own countrymen’”.

Some of this may be true, but not all of it. I believe it is possible to remove the racial politics from the above conclusion and end up with a more rigorous analysis. For example, it’s not “particularly the White working class” which is negatively affected by mass immigration from poorer countries. It is in the economic interests of Mexican Americans to oppose illegal immigration from Mexico. Afro-Caribbean Britons have an economic interest in reducing immigration from Poland. One needn’t oppose the racial identity politics of the left with more racial identity politics. But MacDonald’s work does help us understand the genetic and cultural bases of white guilt and related pathological tendencies in Western peoples.

The author tries to test his theories by asking “is there a simpler explanation?”, sometimes successfully, but one case he omits is the notion that the elites work against their own ethnic group because class trumps race. In chapter eight, “The Psychology of Moral Communities”, he describes a meeting of part of the British establishment, apparently exhibiting “a greater obligation to someone in Burundi than to someone in Birmingham”, and repeats Dickens’ description of educated elites’ sympathy for foreigners and indifference to their own countrymen, parodied in the person of Mrs Jellyby, who neglected her own daughter in favor of distant Africans (pages 383-384).

But the high-ups don’t neglect their daughters – they don’t live in Rotherham. Mass immigration is in their material interests, because it produces cheap labour. MacDonald doesn’t consider whether this class analysis is the solution for the “evolutionist”, who he says “can only marvel at the completely unhinged – pathological – altruism on display here, given that the people making these policies are presumably native White British themselves”. If you “can only marvel” at the fact that your theory fails to predict the data, it’s worth reexamining the theory. And the masses have class interests too:

    One might suppose that this resulted in East Anglians having a tendency toward ‘insurrections against arbitrary power’—the risings and rebellions of 1381 led by Jack Straw, Wat Tyler, and John Ball, Clarence’s rebellion in 1477, and Robert Kett’s rebellion of 1548, all of which predated the rise of Puritanism. – chapter 6, page 228

Tyler’s rebellion actually began in Kent, and Ball was from St. Albans, but in any case, surely the worldwide phenomenon of struggles like the Peasant’s Revolt, cannot most parsimoniously be explained by genetics.

Neither can criminality in non-white communities. MacDonald cites a study showing how, in one generation, the payment of reparations to Native Americans, by allowing their communities to profit from casinos, reduced drug abuse, violence and so on. In this example, poverty is the main driver of crime, not race. A black comedian asked humorously “can we have casinos too?” Well, why not?

Finally, MacDonald’s conclusion.

On the basis of the evidence of anti-Western media [8], mass immigration, and his genetically-based theory of Western history, he states that creating a whites-only homeland in North America would be “possible” (page 507), though he mentions it would involve the forceful transfer of millions, like the ethnic cleansing of Germans by the Red Army at the end of World War II, and the partition of India and Pakistan. Both of these involved the mass murder of men, women and children. I don’t believe that is what it will take to preserve Western civilization, and if that is what it would take, it wouldn’t be worth preserving.

There were until recently political parties in the UK which called for non-whites to be “sent back”, including those born in the UK. They regarded people of Sikh, Hindu and Muslim backgrounds from the Indian subcontinent, and their descendants, as the same. But it’s only the third of these groups which has contributed the majority of mass murderers and mass child-rapists in the country. In this case, culture is the driver, not race.

One is not obliged to choose between the racial identity politics of the left, and of the right. The former has been taken care of in other articles. I hope this helps deal with the latter.

1. Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition: Evolutionary Origins, History, and Prospects for the Future, Kevin B. MacDonald, September 2019

2. The Frankfurt School and the Allure of Submission, Matt McManus, Quillette, September 2019

3. The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements Kevin B. MacDonald, 1998

4. The Authoritarian Personality, T Adorno, E Frenkel-Brunswik, DJ Levinson, RN Stanford, 1950

5. Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead, 1928

6. Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy – A Critical Analysis of Kevin MacDonald’s Theory, Nathan Cofnas, March 2018

7. Greatest number of descendants, The Guinness Book of World Records –

8. The 1619 Project, the New York Times

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