Race Realism has a Past. Does Race Denialism Have a Future?

John Derbyshire, VDare, August 8, 2017

John Derbyshire’s talk at the 2017 American Renaissance conference.

With all the chatter about the Alt Right that came up in last year’s election season, Jared Taylor has been doing some interviews recently.  The interviewer—this one, for example—generally opens by asking: “What is your organization, this American Renaissance, all about?  What do you stand for?”

Jared commonly gives a two-part answer.

  • First, he says, we are a white advocacy group, speaking up on behalf of the collective interests of white Americans and pushing back against the anti-white rhetoric that pervades our culture.
  • Second, we are race-realist, seeking to promote honest, open discussion about race differences and their implications for social policies, especially immigration, education, and law enforcement.

You have heard, or will be hearing, white advocacy from Jared himself and from other speakers at this conference.  In this talk I am going to turn my plow into the other field.  I am going to talk about race realism, and about the opposite thing: race denialism.

Let me define these two positions:  race realism and race denialism.

Race realism is the point of view that:

  • Like any other widely-distributed species, Homo sapiensis divided into local varieties—races—that differ in their biology.
  • Where races show different statistical profiles on heritable traits—physiognomy, metabolism, disease susceptibility, and the BIP traits (Behavior, Intelligence, Personality)—it is reasonable to infer that biological differences are causal factors.
  • Biological race differences work together with adscititious factors (history, geography, epidemiology) to shape social outcomes.

The opposite of race realism is race denialism.

Race denialism is the point of view that:

  • Observed group differences between local varieties of Homo sap. are superficial and inconsequential, like the hair color of individuals.
  • The different statistical profiles of races on BIP traits and social outcomes are entirelycaused by historical and social factors. Biology plays no part.

My approach here will be chronological.  I’m going to take a look at the present of both race realism and race denialism; then at the past; then I’ll offer some speculations about the future.

The Present Situation, West and East

The intellectual climate in the West today is one of guerilla race realism.

  • The commanding heights of Western societies—media, schools, politics—are held by race denialists.
  • Race denialism is a social dogma. All respectable people are required to affirm it.

Meanwhile, in the maquis:

  • The biological and human sciences (especially genetics, psychometry, paleoanthropology) uncover ever more race-realist facts—“hatefacts.”
  • Ever more educated, thoughtful citizens observe persistent patterns in group social outcomes that contradict official dogma. (The thoughtcrime of Noticing.) They conclude that the race-denialist Emperor has no clothes.

The guardians of race denialism are obliged to conduct counter-guerilla operations.  Here is a representative one from—yes!—The Guardian, May 1, 2015.  The occasion here was the publication of Nicholas Wade’s race-realist 2014 book A Troublesome Inheritance.

Guardian reviewer Adam Rutherford [Email him] cracked the race-denialist whip.

We now know that the way we talk about race has no scientific validity. There is no genetic basis that corresponds with any particular group of people, no essentialist DNA for black people or white people or anyone . . . There are genetic characteristics that associate with certain populations, but none of these is exclusive, nor correspond uniquely with any one group that might fit a racial epithet.

Race doesn’t exist, racism does. But we can now confine it to opinions and not pretend that there might be any scientific validity in bigotry.

Indeed.  Some sub-Saharan Africans, of entirely local ancestry, have white skin.  They are albinos.

So white skin is certainly not exclusive to non-Africans.

So . . . there is no such thing as race?

Rutherford here is retailing an argument put forward by Marxist ideologue Richard Lewontin in 1972, an argument since debunked so often and comprehensively it commonly appears in reference sources as “Lewontin’s Fallacy.” [PDF] Wade deals with it in his book (Chapter 5).

So much for the Western world of today.  What about the East?

The advanced nations of East and South Asia are broadly race-realist.  Race denialism is not a social dogma in China, India, Japan, or Korea.

These nations are, however, monoracial (or in India’s case long, long accustomed to the racial mix they have), and apparently wish to remain so.

Race realism and race denialism are therefore not salient topics in the current intellectual climate of Eastern Civ.

The Salience of Race

When discussing the past of race realism and race denialism, as always with historical topics, some effort of imagination is necessary.

From the beginnings of science in the 17th century to the rise of the U.S.A. in the late 19th, the center of Western intellectual activity was in Europe.  For Europeans of this period, race in the modern understanding was not salient.  It occupied very little space in their minds.

“Race” to them generally meant “nationality.”  A character in Benjamin Disraeli’s 1847 novel Tancred says: “All is race, there is no other truth.”  He was referring to the Anglo-Saxon-Celts of the British Isles, in the context of the rise and fall of nations within Europe.

Similarly with Winston Churchill’s 1964 (!) book The Island Race, also about the British.  The race referred to in the title of Madison Grant’s 1916 bestseller The Passing of the Great Race was the Nordics, a subset of white Europeans.

As a dabbler in the history of mathematics, my favorite in this line comes from a speech with the title “Mathematics Knows No Races” (Die Mathematik kennt keine Rassen) prepared by David Hilbert for the International Congress of Mathematicians in Bologna, 1928.

Mathematics Knows No Races. If we look — even superficially — at the history of our science, we see all nations and peoples, the big as well as the small, taking successful and equal part in it. Let us think of Descartes, Fermat, Pascal, Huygens, Newton, Leibniz, Bernoulli, Euler, d’Alembert, Lagrange, Monge, Laplace, Legendre, Fourier, Gauss, Poisson, Möbius, Chasles, Lamé, Steiner, Abel, Jacobi, Dirichlet, Hamilton, Riemann, Clebsch, Cantor, Poincaré, Darboux, Klein — these names are thrown wildly among the nations, as a dice-cup couldn’t do more thoroughly and less biased [gründlicher und unparteiischer].

“Race” in this usage is distinctly monochromatic.

For one more example of the weak salience of race in Europe until recent decades I bring forward my grandfather’s 1922 Atlas-Guide to the British Commonwealth of Nations and Foreign Countries.  From which:

1922 populations

  • British Isles: 47.31 million.
  • British West Africa: 22.48 million.
  • Ratio: 2.10.


2015 populations

  • UK + Irish Republic: 68.97 million.
  • Nigeria + Ghana + Sierra Leone + Gambia: 215.74 million.
  • Ratio: 0.32.

“Numbers are of the essence”—Enoch Powell.

Race Realism Has a Past

Before the 17th-century scientific revolution, ideas about race were inchoate and unsystematic—“Folk anthropology.”

To the degree they included notions we would now consider biological, those notions came from:

From these, by the time methodical science arrived on the scene, civilized peoples had a fair, but unorganized, stock of knowledge about inheritance and genetic similarity.

With the Enlightenment, systematic biological classification was attempted, most persuasively by Linnaeus.  Philosophers also took an interest—Kant, for example.

Race in the modern sense wassalient in the 18th-century Americas and the Caribbean, which had long made use of black African and (to a much smaller degree) local indigenous peoples as slave labor.  It was salient, too for the small minority of Europeans who had first-hand experience of Europe’s overseas empires.

This did not lead to much scientific theorizing, but it did cause a lot of noticing.  Thomas Jefferson can be taken as representative.

The “long” 19th century (i.e. to 1914) saw the end of race slavery in the civilized world, and the rise and acceptance of evolutionary biology.  There was much theorizing about race, most of it not very scientific.  Charles Darwin was of course an outstanding exception—a great scientist.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

The 20th century saw the rise of population genetics (Wright, Fisher, Haldane), the neo-Darwinian synthesis (Dobzhansky, Mayr) in evolutionary biology, the molecular structure of DNA (Watson & Crick), and rigorous psychometry (Burt, Eysenck, Jensen).

All these developments had implications for the understanding of race as a feature of the human world.

Race Denialism Has a Past, Too.

Race denialism has a past at least as long and respectable as race realism’s.

Pre-modern civilizations often had race-denialist themes.  Most interpretations of Christianity have been race-denialist.  Missionary endeavors by white Christians among other races were usually inspired by race-denialist ideas about the Brotherhood of Man.  There were similar strains in the other big old religions.

(This didn’t stop the pre-moderns practicing race slavery.  At least one medieval Pope accepted a gift of African slaves as tribute to the Holy See.  Devoutly Muslim Saudi Arabia did not abolish slavery until 1962.)

The European Enlightenment brought a new style of moral universalism that was implicitly race-denialist.

You see this in, for example, Dr. Johnson’s preface to Fr. Lobo’s Voyage to Abyssinia (1735):

The reader will … discover, what will always be discovered by a diligent and impartial inquirer, that, wherever human nature is to be found, there is a mixture of vice and virtue, a contest of passion and reason.

Johnson famously remarked at the time of the American Revolution: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”  He employed a black manservant, Francis Barber, whom he treated kindly and to whom he left a bequest in his will.  Barber’s descendants still farm in Staffordshire.

The most important legacy of Enlightenment universalism today is found in college departments of Economics (in some ways the quintessential Enlightenment discipline), where human beings and human populations are treated as perfectly interchangeable units without biological essence.

There has, though, been some low-level guerilla activity in those departments in recent years.  Presumably Behavioral Economics will at some point have to seek terms from Behavioral Genetics; but that point is a couple of decades away, at least.

As the Enlightenment made room for the Romantic era, a strain of “romantic primitivism” came up, with the Noble Savage as a stock figure.  Jean-Jacque Rousseau is generally blamed here; but in fact some related notions can be traced all the way back to the pastoralism of ancient poets (Hesiod, Vergil), and are present in other civilizations (e.g. in Taoism).

Enlightenment universalism did not always get on well with romantic primitivism, its illegitimate offspring.  When James Boswell ventured an admiring remark about Polynesians, Johnson slapped him down with: “Don’t cant in defence of savages.”

Romantic primitivism evolved naturally into phenomena of our own time:  white ethnomasochism and reverence for the “magic Negro.”

Race Denialism’s Past (Cont.): After the Enlightenment 

During the “long” 19th century, elite Protestant universalism in the U.S.A. was implicitly race-denialist.  Most Abolitionists were race-denialists.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example, closed out her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin with a plea to fellow Christians to educate and improve freed slaves so that when shipped to Liberia (as most white Americans, including most Abolitionists, wanted), they could build a successful modern country over there.

The subsequent history of Liberia suggests that either the author’s plea was not heard—remarkable, for such a colossally-bestselling book—or that the race-denialist premises underlying it are false, or both.

A more consequential development in race denialism was the anthropology of Adolf Bastian and his acolytes.

In 1859, the year Darwin published On the Origin of Species, Bastian coined the phrase “the psychic unity of mankind” (die psychische Einheit des Menschen).

Bastian’s most important follower, in the next generation, was Franz Boas.  Boas brought Bastian’s universalism to the U.S.A., where it took over the social and human sciences in the decades after WW1.

“Culture” became the standard rationale for group differences—a sort of all-explanatory phlogiston or luminiferous aether.

This modern race denialism got a mighty boost from WW2—what Peter Brimelow calls “Hitler’s Revenge.”

Yet at the same time, biology was staging something of a recovery in the human sciences, at least at the guerilla level.  Carl Degler tells the story in his 1991 book In Search of Human Nature.  Degler tracks the beginnings of the revival to post-WW2 psychologists, dissatisfied with the cold mechanics of Behaviorism.

A key event was the publication in 1975 of E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology, which, as its title plainly tells, sought to apply biological principles to human society.

Forty-two years on from that, you can still get yourself into major trouble by mentioning sociobiology in an academic journal of the Humanities, as Professor Wolters discovered recently.

So the revival of biology in the social and human sciences remains at the guerilla level.  Carl Degler, writing in 1991, did not foresee this.  Indeed, the 1990s proved to be a time of remarkable openness in those sciences.  I had a go at quantifying this once.  Peter Brimelow calls that period an “interglacial.”

The ice-sheets have since returned.

Race Realism’s Future

What then is the future of race realism?

At the level of research into the rigorous sciences, race realism is established fact.

The human genome and its many varieties are now the subject of massive, lavishly-funded research.  A person’s self-identified race can be read off from the genome with 99 percent accuracy.

China is a big player here, but genomic research is happening all over: in Ireland, for example.

Deeper understanding of the genetic architecture of BIP traits, and of race differences in that architecture, will inevitably emerge as a by-product of this research.

Mapping that genetic architecture is, however, harder than we thought 20 years ago.  Thousands of genes are involved, each with a tiny effect (and possible side-effects).

That is no excuse for race denialism: “You don’t need to know the name and job description of every worker in the factory to know that the factory produces widgets.”

It does, though, mean that race denialism has plenty of life in it yet.

Race Denialism’s Future

It may well be that while race denialism disappears from the rigorous sciences, it maintains its grip on the social sciences, and on the liberal-arts elites who control the cultural heights of Western nations.

Understandings from the rigorous sciences can take an awfully long time to be accepted outside the labs.

As I have written myself:

More important, especially in this supremely un-PC area, is the power with which the human mind resists science. When the boffins deliver some irresistible amenity—a drug, a plane, a light switch—there is grudging acceptance that the underlying principles must have some epistemic content. In other cases, nobody much is convinced. Forty-six percent of Americans deny the truth of evolution.

The collective death-wish that seized the European-derived civilizations sometime in the second half of the 20th century has hardened from mere wish to near-fanatical determination. The dogma of utopian egalitarianism, that has been used to justify the opening of white nations (with a very few exceptions) to mass immigration from regions with very different civilizational attainment, or none, waxes stronger by the hour.

And if you doubt that race denialism can persist in the teeth of obvious fact and proven science, consider sex denialism.

Here was Nicholas Matte, Lecturer in History at the University of Toronto; speaking on The Agenda (a Canadian TV program), October 2016:

Basically, it’s not correct that there is such a thing as biological sex.  And I’m a historian of medicine; I can unpack that for you accurately at length if you want, but in the interests of time I won’t.  So that’s a very popular misconception.

Once again: That is a licensed, credentialed academic in the Humanities speaking.

If we can deny the reality of sex, what aspect of human biology can we not deny?

The White Queen, speaking to Alice in Through the Looking-Glass:

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

That’s what human beings are like—other than the few freaks and misfits who take the empirical sciences seriously.  As a very wise man once wrote:

The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, social, and personal. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the approval of those around us; we want to get even with that s.o.b who insulted us at the last tribal council. For most people, wanting to know the cold truth about the world is way, way down the list.  (We Are Doomed, Chapter 7.)

Let’s not get our hopes up.  Race denialism will be around for a while yet.

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John Derbyshire
John Derbyshire is a novelist, pop-math author, reviewer, and opinion journalist living on Long Island, New York. His most recent book is the essay collection From the Dissident Right.
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