Jerry Z. Muller’s
Foreign Affairs article,
Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic
(March/April, 2008), is a grim and timely reminder of the
ethnicity in human affairs. It has explosive implications for the
future of the United States and the West.
that, over the last 150 years or so, the general trend in Europe and
elsewhere has been has been toward the creation of ethnically-based
This trend did not end with the close of World War II. In Europe,
the war was followed by a forced resettlement of peoples—mainly
Germans—to create ethnically
homogeneous states. Indeed, the high point of ethnic homogenization
in Europe was in the two generations in the immediate aftermath of
World War II.
“As a result of this massive process of ethnic unmixing, the
ethnonationalist ideal was largely realized: for the most part, each
nation in Europe had its own state, and each state was made up
almost exclusively of a single ethnic nationality. During the Cold
War, the few exceptions to this rule included Czechoslovakia, the
Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia. But these countries' subsequent fate
only demonstrated the ongoing vitality of ethnonationalism.”
This point is crucial.
While the recent spreading of the European Union imperium has given
rise to a great deal of “post-nation”
rhetoric, it has in fact been accompanied by an astonishing
multiplication of ethnostates, split out of
and the former
USSR — not to
mention, of course, the
Ethnic conflict is apparent
as well throughout the developing world, and will likely lead to
more partitioning and nation-creation. As Muller notes: “In areas
where that separation has not yet occurred, politics is apt to
But a huge anomaly has
arisen. Recently, Western societies have embarked on a public policy
project in which the ethno nationalism of
is officially proscribed as an unadulterated evil.
only is encouraged and viewed as morally superior. As Muller notes:
“Americans … find ethnonationalism discomfiting both
intellectually and morally”.
As a social scientist
who takes the biological
ethnicity seriously (although I readily agree that there is a
cultural component as well), I can speak from personal experience
hostility and moral disdain
one faces from other academic social scientists when one points to
these unfashionable facts.
Although World War II marked
the defeat of the ethnonationalist National Socialist movement,
Muller is clearly correct that it resulted in a Europe that was more
accurately divided into ethnostates than ever. But World War II
also saw the triumph of the political and cultural Left. These two
cultural facts have been at odds ever since.
Socialists remain the
the political and cultural Left to this day. The Left is utterly
eradicating any vestiges of European ethnonationalism. Opponents of
immigration are routinely labeled “racists” or “Nazis”
for advocating policies that are, in fact, the norm in the rest of
the world. Thus Israel favors Jewish immigrants, Spain favors people
from its former Latin American Empire, India its
(NRIs), China favors the Overseas Chinese.
As Muller notes:
“In a global context, it is the [Western] insistence on
universalist criteria [for
that seems provincial.”
And, Muller points out, the
anomaly whereby Western nations have sought to turn their backs on
ethnic homogeneity is quite modern:
“The ethnonationalist view has traditionally dominated through
much of Europe and has held its own even in the United States until
recently. For substantial stretches of U.S. history, it was believed
that only the people of English origin, or those who were
Protestant, or white, or hailed from northern Europe were real
Americans. It was only in 1965 that the reform of U.S. immigration
law abolished the system of national-origin quotas that had been in
place for several decades. This system had excluded Asians entirely
and radically restricted immigration from southern and eastern
In attempting to
account for this trend in opposition to ethnonationalism in Western
societies, my own writing has emphasized the triumph of the Left and
particularly the role of some Jewish intellectual and political
movements and certain elements of the organized Jewish community as
of the left and
the most important force in passage of the
1965 immigration law (PDF). As
Muller’s essay observes, Jews were major victims of the
ethnonationalism of others. Anti-Semitism was a general force
throughout Eastern and Central Europe, culminating in the slaughters
of World War II. And Muller notes that a prime motivation was that
Jews dominated areas of the economy and segments of the social class
structure to which others aspired—a principal theme of my book
Separation and Its Discontents.
This history of loss
as a result of others’ ethnonationalism doubtless goes a long way
toward explaining the main thrust of Jewish intellectual and
political movements in the 20th Century—a principal theme
of my book
The Culture of Critique.
For example, the
Jewish opposition to immigration policies favoring the European
majority of the US dates back to before the immigration
the 1920s and spans the entire mainstream Jewish political spectrum,
from the far left to the
to this day.
opposition to the ethnonationalism of Europeans and European-derived
peoples is in remarkable contrast to their unswerving support for
the Jewish ethnonationalist state of Israel —
a rather glaring double standard,
to say the least. There is a rather straightforward analogy of Jews
as victims of nascent ethnonationalism in Europe and Palestinians as
victims of nascent Jewish ethno nationalism in Israel. (And
ex-President Carter, in his recent Peace
by noting the similarities between the policing techniques of Israel
and the Afrikaner ethnonationalist state of pre-1990 South Africa.)
As Muller notes: “Social
scientists go to great lengths to demonstrate that
[ethnonationalism] is a product not of nature but of culture,
often deliberately constructed. And ethicists scorn value systems
based on narrow group identities rather than cosmopolitanism. But
none of this will make ethnonationalism go away.” (My
Indeed, a mainstay of
the intellectual left since
and his disciples came to dominate
beginning in the 1920s has been a rejection of any theories that
allow for biological influences on culture. A corollary is that
different peoples and different cultures do not, therefore, have
legitimate, biologically-based conflicts of interest.
But the data are quite
are genetic distances between different peoples and different
peoples therefore have legitimate conflicts of interest.
And: there are
deep psychological roots to ethnocentrism that
make us attracted to and more trusting of genetically similar others.
realities will not simply disappear, no matter how fervently social
scientists and other political and cultural elites
wish they would.
But that does not mean
that these realities cannot be repressed—at least temporarily. The
response of the Left has been to entrench a culture of “political
correctness” in which expressions of ethnocentrism by Europeans
are proscribed. Organizations such as the
Southern Poverty Law Center
and the Anti-Defamation League seek draconian penalties against such
expressions by Europeans—and only Europeans. Many European
savage legal penalties that enforce intellectual conformity on these
issues. In America the sanctions are more
nevertheless similarly effective.
Whatever the drawbacks to
ethnic nationalism (and the most obvious is the bloodshed that
sometimes accompanies the creation of ethnostates), it has at least
three overriding advantages expressed or implied by Muller:
- As also noted by Frank
because of closer ties of kinship and culture, ethnically
homogeneous societies are more likely to be open to
redistributive policies such as social welfare.
- Sociologists such
have also shown that ethnic
is associated with greater trust of others and greater political
- And finally, as noted
also by historians of European modernization, ethnic homogeneity
may well be a precondition of political systems characterized by
democracy and rule of law.
in the West cannot be maintained without constantly ratcheting up
the social controls on individual thought and behavior. Western
societies will experience increased ethnic conflict. Their
governments will increasingly be obliged to enact
from political correctness. And probably also to “correct”
ethnic imbalances in social status and political power—much as the
Hapsburg and Ottoman empires of old were forced in their declining
years to constantly bargain with rising ethnic pressure groups.
Democracy, representative government, and freedom will be likely
Finally, Muller’s essay is
interesting in that it highlights how normal ethno national
strivings are, even among Europeans.
In a very short
period, Europe and European-derived societies, which had achieved an
unprecedented level of ethnic homogeneity following World War II,
have developed a stifling
in which any tiny vestige of ethnocentrism on the part of Europeans
with all the power the ruling elites can muster. This is taking
place while the rest of the world continues to undergo modernization
via the creation of ethno states. Muller’s essay makes one realize
that this multicultural fad really may be just a phase—and a
backwardly echoing phase at that, recalling the failed multicultural
empires of the pre-modern era.
The climate of
anti-ethnocentrism in the West is utterly anomalous, and set against
the rest of the world. In my own writing, I have emphasized
biologically-based European tendencies toward
individualism and relative lack of ethnocentrism
as flaws that have predisposed European whites to these tactical
blunders. And I have emphasized
how political correctness works at the
psychological level (PDF) to
suppress the legitimate ethnic aspirations of Europeans.
However, Muller’s essay
reminds us that Europeans have a long history of ethnic conflict.
Ethnic nationalism was a precondition of European modernization. It
also reminds us that, whatever their tendencies toward
individualism, Europeans certainly also have sufficient levels of
ethnocentrism to assert their interests and to establish ethnically
homogeneous states of their own.
As Muller points out,
though, the process is can be ugly. Just ask the
Finally, as Muller notes,
ethnic homogeneity is compatible with—perhaps conducive to—liberal
democracy. At a theoretical level, this is because ethnic conflict
produces deep, frequently irreconcilable divisions within a society
and ultimately, causes group-based competition for resources and
political power. These can be very hard to mediate.
The difficulty of
establishing democracy and the rule of law in societies divided by
ethnic conflict is a major theme of the contemporary world.
So is the campaign
European-stock whites, alone of all the world’s groups, to forswear
ethnocentric politics and consequently to
disable themselves in an unchangingly ethnocentric world.
Kevin MacDonald [email
him] is Professor of Psychology at California State University-Long
For his website, click