of Higher Education|
June 23, 2000 Vol. 46 Issue 42, pA19,
State Professor Is Attacked for His Defense of a
By Alison Schneider
AFTER DEFENDING the academic freedom of a
Holocaust denier, an evolutionary psychologist at
California State University at Long Beach says his
own academic freedom is on the line. Last month, a
vocal group of colleagues demanded that Kevin
MacDonald, the Cal State psychologist, publicly
defend his views connecting Judaism, positive
eugenics, and the rise of anti-Semitism.
Mr. MacDonald found himself on the hot seat
after he testified in January in a controversial
libel suit in Britain on behalf of David
Irving, an independent scholar who has
challenged the existence of gas chambers at
Auschwitz and suggested that only one million Jews
were killed by Nazis.
Mr. MacDonald said he testified for Mr. Irving
in the name of academic freedom. The independent
scholar -- who sued Deborah E. Lipstadt, a
professor of religion at Emory University, for
calling him a "Holocaust denier" -- argued that
various Jewish groups were trying to silence him by
squelching his publishing opportunities. Mr. Irving
thought Mr. MacDonald, who has written that some
Jewish organizations have fought anti-Semitism by
crushing critiques of the religion, could help
bolster his claim.
A TRIAL'S IMPACT The testimony didn't
help. Mr. Irving lost the case, and now, Mr.
MacDonald claims he's losing out as well -- on
academic freedom and a comfortable work
environment. In the wake of the trial, the New
Times Los Angeles, an alternative weekly, published
a cover story detailing Mr. MacDonald's views on
Judaism. The psychologist's colleagues didn't like
what they read, namely that Mr. MacDonald accuses
Jews of being responsible for the Holocaust and
fomenting a race war in the United States.
After the article appeared, a group of Mr.
MacDonald's colleagues called on him to defend his
views in a public forum. The professor, fearful of
a hostile media spectacle, requested an e-mail
discussion instead. A slew of e-mail exchanges,
some of them fairly pointed, have been flying back
and forth ever since. Those messages as well as
other documents relating to the Long Beach
controversy can be viewed on Mr. MacDonald's Web
The longest messages, by far, were from Mr.
MacDonald himself, who was eager to set the record
straight. For starters, Mr. MacDonald said in an
interview, "I am not a Holocaust denier." And he
doesn't blame the Jews for the Holocaust, either,
he added. What he does argue in his trilogy --
A People That Shall Dwell
Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy
(Praeger, 1994); Separation and Its Discontents:
Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism
(Praeger, 1998); and The Culture of Critique: An
Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in
Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political
Movements (Praeger, 1998) -- is that
anti-Semitism can be understood as a natural
byproduct of a Darwinian strategy for Jewish
Here's how his theory works: Jewish canonical
writings encourage eugenic marriages between
wealthy Jewish daughters and successful Jewish
scholars, Mr. MacDonald asserts. Those marriages
have led to a Jewish population with higher I.Q.'s.
As a result of those higher I.Q.'s, Jews have
achieved extraordinary levels of success.
That success, coupled with a Jewish tendency
toward self-segregation, has been at least partly
responsible for anti-Semitism among non-Jews. Mr.
MacDonald does not rule out the role that
irrational fears and half-truths play in the rise
of anti-Semitism, he said. But he does insist that
Jewish behavior must be part of any adequate
explanation of the recurrent persecution of Jews.
As for theories about Jews inspiring a race war,
"that's way off the map," Mr. MacDonald said. "I do
think that we may be heading into a period of
increasing ethnocentrism on all sides resulting
from ethnic diversity." And he does think that some
Jews have combated anti-Semitism by using
intellectual movements, like the Frankfurt school
of psychoanalysis, to critique Christian culture.
But that's not the same as predicting ethnic
warfare, he maintained.
IMPLICATIONS OF HIS WORK Some of his
colleagues disagree. "MacDonald may not say
outright that the Holocaust never happened," said
Sharon Sievers, the chairwoman of Long
Beach's history department. "He doesn't say
outright that Jews were responsible for the
discrimination they faced. But that's the
implication of all his work. The implications of
the three volumes that he wrote are so incredible
that I think it clearly needs some response from
That's why Ms. Sievers, backed by other
professors, began pushing in early May for a public
forum to air Mr. MacDonald's views. She thinks the
forum will occur next fall, with or without Mr.
MacDonald's participation. Ms. Sievers said she's
not seeking to oust the psychologist from the
institution or to censure him. And she's not aiming
to trample on his academic freedom. "But my own
view of things is you are responsible for what you
write. And the more objectionable the implications
of your work, the more likely you'll have to defend
them. That's part of the responsibility academics
Mr. MacDonald isn't trying to wriggle out of
that responsibility, he said, but he has no
intention of participating in a public forum which
will "only lend itself to sound bites and
hostility. This seems more like an inquisition than
an attempt to find out the truth about anything."
And, what's worse, he added, "it sets a terrible
precedent" for academic freedom.
CALLS FOR DISMISSAL Long Beach faculty
members aren't the only ones seeking an accounting
from Mr. MacDonald. The Human Behavior and
Evolution Society held a forum on his writings in
early June at its annual meeting. Meanwhile, the
president of Long Beach has received letters
seeking his dismissal, the professor added. And a
particularly vicious note by a Long Beach lecturer
was posted on the New Times Web site, stating that
the writer hoped Mr. MacDonald would lose tenure
and "be thrown into the street" and that "it would
also be good if everyone on campus pissed on him as
he walked by."
"It is a pretty hostile environment," Mr.
MacDonald said wearily. The university has stayed
out of the fracas, merely issuing a statement
upholding the right of faculty members "to express
themselves freely under the First Amendment" and
asserting that Mr. MacDonald's personal and
academic opinions "do not necessarily represent the
opinion or beliefs of the university or the
Mr. MacDonald would be only too happy to keep
quiet himself. "I'm done with Jews," he said. "I
don't think I have any more to say about them."
By Alison Schneider