Excerpt- MacDonald on European Individualism and Altruism

The following is taken from the Preface to Kevin MacDonald’s 1998 book The Culture of Critique (free download here). Here MacDonald lays out the basic theory behind the European penchant for pathological altruism. Note that the epicenter – Nordic and Germanic Europe – excludes Celtic Britain and Ireland, the erstwhile source of much of Southern culture. Contrary to the more Germanic North, the South developed an anti-individualistic society (I hesitate to use the word collectivist, though it fits with MacDonald’s usage below), where close extended families, and suspicion of outsiders, were the rule rather than the exception – a major reason for the South’s historical resistance to overly-altruistic strains of Progressivism.


THE basic idea is that European groups are highly vulnerable to invasion by strongly collectivist, ethnocentric groups because individualists have less powerful defenses against such groups. The competitive advantage of cohesive, cooperating groups is obvious and is a theme that recurs throughout my trilogy on Judaism. This scenario implies that European peoples are more prone to individualism. Individualist cultures show little emotional attachment to ingroups. Personal goals are paramount, and socialization emphasizes the importance of self-reliance, independence, individual responsibility, and “finding yourself.” Individualists have more positive attitudes toward strangers and outgroup members and are more likely to behave in a pro-social, altruistic manner to strangers. People in individualist cultures are less aware of ingroup/outgroup boundaries and thus do not have highly negative attitudes toward outgroup members. They often disagree with ingroup policy, show little emotional commitment or loyalty to ingroups, and do not have a sense of common fate with other ingroup members. Opposition to outgroups occurs in individualist societies, but the opposition is more “rational” in the sense that there is less of a tendency to suppose that all of the outgroup members are culpable. Individualists form mild attachments to many groups, while collectivists have an intense attachment and identification to a few ingroups. Individualists are therefore relatively ill-prepared for between-group competition so characteristic of the history of Judaism.

Historically Judaism has been far more ethnocentric and collectivist than typical Western societies. I make this argument in Separation and Its Discontents and especially in A People That Shall Dwell Alone, where I suggest that over the course of their recent evolution, Europeans were less subjected to between-group natural selection than Jews and other Middle Eastern populations. This was originally proposed by Fritz Lenz, who suggested that, because of the harsh environment of the Ice Age, the Nordic peoples evolved in small groups and have a tendency toward social isolation rather than cohesive groups. This perspective would not imply that Northern Europeans lack collectivist mechanisms for group competition, but only that these mechanisms are relatively less elaborated and/or require a higher level of group conflict to trigger their expression.

This perspective is consistent with ecological theory. Under ecologically adverse circumstances, adaptations are directed more at coping with the adverse physical environment than at competing with other groups, and in such an environment, there would be less pressure for selection for extended kinship networks and highly collectivist groups. Evolutionary conceptualizations of ethnocentrism emphasize the utility of ethnocentrism in group competition. Ethnocentrism would thus be of no importance at all in combating the physical environment, and such an environment would not support large groups.

European groups are part of what Burton et al. term the North Eurasian and Circumpolar culture area. This culture area derives from hunter-gatherers adapted to cold, ecologically adverse climates. In such climates there is pressure for male provisioning of the family and a tendency toward monogamy because the ecology did not support either polygyny or large groups for an evolutionarily significant period. These cultures are characterized by bilateral kinship relationships which recognize both the male and female lines, suggesting a more equal contribution for each sex as would be expected under conditions of monogamy. There is also less emphasis on extended kinship relationships and marriage tends to be exogamous (i.e., outside the kinship group). As discussed below, all of these characteristics are opposite those found among Jews.

The historical evidence shows that Europeans, and especially Northwest Europeans, were relatively quick to abandon extended kinship networks and collectivist social structures when their interests were protected with the rise of strong centralized governments. There is indeed a general tendency throughout the world for a decline in extended kinship networks with the rise of central authority. But in the case of Northwest Europe this tendency quickly gave rise long before the industrial revolution to the unique Western European “simple household” type. The simple household type is based on a single married couple and their children. It contrasts with the joint family structure typical of the rest of Eurasia in which the household consists of two or more related couples, typically brothers and their wives and other members of the extended family. (An example of the joint household would be the families of the patriarchs described in the Old Testament) Before the industrial revolution, the simple household system was characterized by methods of keeping unmarried young people occupied as servants. It was not just the children of the poor and landless who became servants, but even large, successful farmers sent their children to be servants elsewhere. In the 17th and 18th centuries individuals often took in servants early in their marriage, before their own children could help out, and then passed their children to others when the children were older and there was more than enough help.

This suggests a deeply ingrained cultural practice which resulted in a high level of non-kinship based reciprocity. The practice also bespeaks a relative lack of ethnocentrism because people are taking in non-relatives as household members whereas in the rest of Eurasia people tend to surround themselves with biological relatives. Simply put, genetic relatedness was less important in Europe and especially in the Nordic areas of Europe. The unique feature of the simple household system was the high percentage of non-relatives. Unlike the rest of Eurasia, the pre-industrial societies of northwestern Europe were not organized around extended kinship relationships, and it is easy to see that they are preadapted to the industrial revolution and modern world generally.

This simple household system is a fundamental feature of individualist culture. The individualist family was able to pursue its interests freed from the obligations and constraints of extended kinship relationships and free of the suffocating collectivism of the social structures typical of so much of the rest of the world. Monogamous marriage based on individual consent and conjugal affection quickly replaced marriage based on kinship and family strategizing.

This relatively greater proneness to forming a simple household type may well be ethnically based. During the pre-industrial era, this household system was found only within Nordic Europe: The simple household type is based on a single married couple and their children and characterized Scandinavia (except Finland), British Isles, Low Countries, German-speaking areas, and northern France. Within France, the simple household occurred in areas inhabited by the Germanic peoples who lived northeast of “the eternal line” running from Saint Malo on the English Channel coast to Geneva in French-speaking Switzerland. This area developed large scale agriculture capable of feeding the growing towns and cities, and did so prior to the agricultural revolution of the 18th century. It was supported by a large array of skilled craftsmen in the towns, and a large class of medium-sized ploughmen who “owned horses, copper bowls, glass goblets and often shoes; their children had fat cheeks and broad shoulders, and their babies wore tiny shoes. None of these children had the swollen bellies of the rachitics of the Third World.” The northeast became the center of French industrialization and world trade.

The northeast also differed from the southwest in literacy rates. In the early 19th century, while literacy rates for France as a whole were approximately 50%, the rate in the northeast was close to 100%, and differences occurred at least from the 17th century. Moreover, there was a pronounced difference in stature, with the northeasterners being taller by almost 2 centimeters in an 18th century sample of military recruits. Ladurie notes that the difference in the entire population was probably larger because the army would not accept many of the shorter men from the southwest. In addition, Laslett and other family historians have noted that the trend toward the economically independent nuclear family was more prominent in the north, while there was a tendency toward joint families as one moves to the south and east.

These findings are compatible with the interpretation that ethnic differences are a contributing factor to the geographical variation in family forms within Europe. The findings suggest that the Germanic peoples had a greater biological tendency toward a suite of traits that predisposed them to individualism— including a greater tendency toward the simple household because of natural selection occurring in a prolonged resource-limited period of their evolution in the north of Europe. Similar tendencies toward exogamy, monogamy, individualism, and relative de-emphasis on the extended family were also characteristic of Roman civilization, again suggesting an ethnic tendency that pervades Western cultures generally.

Current data indicate that around 80% of European genes are derived from people who settled in Europe 30–40,000 years ago and therefore persisted through the Ice Ages. This is sufficient time for the adverse ecology of the north to have had a powerful shaping influence on European psychological and cultural tendencies. These European groups were less attracted to extended kinship groups, so that when the context altered with the rise of powerful central governments able to guarantee individual interests, the simple household structure quickly became dominant. This simple family structure was adopted relatively easily because Europeans already had relatively powerful psychological predispositions toward the simple family resulting from its prolonged evolutionary history in the north of Europe.

Although these differences within the Western European system are important, they do not belie the general difference between Western Europe and the rest of Eurasia. Although the trend toward simple households occurred first in the northwest of Europe, they spread relatively quickly among all the Western European countries.

The establishment of the simple household freed from enmeshment in the wider kinship community was then followed in short order by all the other markers of Western modernization: limited governments in which individuals have rights against the state, capitalist economic enterprise based on individual economic rights, moral universalism, and science as individualist truth seeking. Individualist societies develop republican political institutions and institutions of scientific inquiry that assume that groups are maximally permeable and highly subject to defection when individual needs are not met.

Recent research by evolutionary economists provides fascinating insight on the differences between individualistic cultures versus collectivist cultures. An important aspect of this research is to model the evolution of cooperation among individualistic peoples. Fehr and Gächter (2002) found that people will altruistically punish defectors in a “one-shot” game—a game in which participants only interact once and are thus not influenced by the reputations of the people with whom they are interacting. This situation therefore models an individualistic culture because participants are strangers with no kinship ties. The surprising finding was that subjects who made high levels of public goods donations tended to punish people who did not even though they did not receive any benefit from doing so. Moreover, the punished individuals changed their ways and donated more in future games even though they knew that the participants in later rounds were not the same as in previous rounds. Fehr and Gächter suggest that people from individualistic cultures have an evolved negative emotional reaction to free riding that results in their punishing such people even at a cost to themselves—hence the term “altruistic punishment.”

Essentially Fehr and Gächter provide a model of the evolution of cooperation among individualistic peoples. Their results are most applicable to individualistic groups because such groups are not based on extended kinship relationships and are therefore much more prone to defection. In general, high levels of altruistic punishment are more likely to be found among individualistic, hunter-gather societies than in kinship based societies based on the extended family. Their results are least applicable to groups such as Jewish groups or other highly collectivist groups which in traditional societies were based on extended kinship relationships, known kinship linkages, and repeated interactions among members. In such situations, actors know the people with whom they are cooperating and anticipate future cooperation because they are enmeshed in extended kinship networks, or, as in the case of Jews, they are in the same group.

Similarly, in the ultimatum game, one subject (the ‘proposer’) is assigned a sum of money equal to two days’ wages and required to propose an offer to a second person (the ‘respondent’). The respondent may then accept the offer or reject the offer, and if the offer is rejected neither player wins anything. As in the previously described public goods game, the game is intended to model economic interactions between strangers, so players are anonymous. Henrich et al. found that two variables, payoffs to cooperation and the extent of market exchange, predicted offers and rejections in the game. Societies with an emphasis on cooperation and on market exchange had the highest offers—results interpreted as reflecting the fact that they have extensive experience of the principle of cooperation and sharing with strangers. These are individualistic societies. On the other hand, subjects from societies where all interactions are among family members made low offers in the ultimatum game and contributed low amounts to public goods in similarly anonymous conditions.

Europeans are thus exactly the sort of groups modeled by Fehr and Gächter and Henrich et al: They are groups with high levels of cooperation with strangers rather than with extended family members, and they are prone to market relations and individualism. On the other hand, Jewish culture derives from the Middle Old World culture area characterized by extended kinship networks and the extended family. Such cultures are prone to ingroup-outgroup relationships in which cooperation involves repeated interactions with ingroup members and the ingroup is composed of extended family members.

This suggests the fascinating possibility that the key for a group intending to turn Europeans against themselves is to trigger their strong tendency toward altruistic punishment by convincing them of the evil of their own people. Because Europeans are individualists at heart, they readily rise up in moral anger against their own people once they are seen as free riders and therefore morally blameworthy—a manifestation of their much stronger tendency toward altruistic punishment deriving from their evolutionary past as hunter gatherers. In making judgments of altruistic punishment, relative genetic distance is irrelevant. Freeriders are seen as strangers in a market situation; i.e., they have no familial or tribal connection with the altruistic punisher.

Thus the current altruistic punishment so characteristic of contemporary Western civilization: Once Europeans were convinced that their own people were morally bankrupt, any and all means of punishment should be used against their own people. Rather than see other Europeans as part of an encompassing ethnic and tribal community, fellow Europeans were seen as morally blameworthy and the appropriate target of altruistic punishment. For Westerners, morality is individualistic—violations of communal norms by free-riders are punished by altruistic aggression.

On the other hand, group strategies deriving from collectivist cultures, such as the Jews, are immune to such a maneuver because kinship and group ties come first. Morality is particularistic—whatever is good for the group. There is no tradition of altruistic punishment because the evolutionary history of these groups centers around cooperation of close kin, not strangers (see below).

The best strategy for a collectivist group like the Jews for destroying Europeans therefore is to convince the Europeans of their own moral bankruptcy. A major theme of CofC is that this is exactly what Jewish intellectual movements have done. They have presented Judaism as morally superior to European civilization and European civilization as morally bankrupt and the proper target of altruistic punishment. The consequence is that once Europeans are convinced of their own moral depravity, they will destroy their own people in a fit of altruistic punishment. The general dismantling of the culture of the West and eventually its demise as anything resembling an ethnic entity will occur as a result of a moral onslaught triggering a paroxysm of altruistic punishment. And thus the intense effort among Jewish intellectuals to continue the ideology of the moral superiority of Judaism and its role as undeserving historical victim while at the same time continuing the onslaught on the moral legitimacy of the West.

Individualist societies are therefore an ideal environment for Judaism as a highly collectivist, group-oriented strategy. Indeed, a major theme of Chapter 5 is that the Frankfurt School of Social Research advocated radical individualism among non-Jews while at the same time retaining their own powerful group allegiance to Judaism. Jews benefit from open, individualistic societies in which barriers to upward mobility are removed, in which people are viewed as individuals rather than as members of groups, in which intellectual discourse is not prescribed by institutions like the Catholic Church that are not dominated by Jews, and in which mechanisms of altruistic punishment may be exploited to divide the European majority. This is also why, apart from periods in which Jews served as middlemen between alien elites and native populations, Middle Eastern societies were much more efficient than Western individualistic societies at keeping Jews in a powerless position where they did not pose a competitive threat.

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One thought on “Excerpt- MacDonald on European Individualism and Altruism

  1. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/05/31) | The Reactivity Place

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