In May 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump promised, “Five, 10 years from now—different party. You’re going to have a worker’s party.” In the presidential and midterm elections since 2016, the GOP has picked up more working-class black and Hispanic voters, while losing more college-educated whites to the Democrats, in defiance of progressive predictions. But it will be impossible for the Republican Party to win over more working-class white and nonwhite voters by adopting pro-worker policies—as long as a substantial share of GOP donors, journalists, think-tankers, and activists structure their politics around hereditarian theories that claim that the patterns of class and race in America and the world are the result of unalterable DNA.
Call them the eugenic conservatives, or “eugenicons.”
The term “eugenics” was coined by Francis Galton (1822-1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin, who urged superior people to breed with one another. His theories seemed to offer scientific support for the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who assailed Christian and egalitarian ideals, arguing that most human beings were of little value compared to the highly evolved Übermensch, or “overman,” who would eventually transcend traditional moral categories (fit for slaves) and pursue, instead, his own creativity and vitality beyond good and evil.
A century ago, social elites on both sides of the Atlantic embraced eugenics because it supplied a new rationale—Darwinian fitness—to replace the medieval chain of being in explaining why the ranking of social classes and races was rooted in “nature” and shouldn’t be tampered with. To prevent what she called “the decay of the American race,” Mary Harriman, the widow of the railroad baron E. H. Harriman, funded Charles Davenport, a professor of zoology at Harvard with an illustrious Puritan pedigree, who advocated preventing inferior races from migrating to the United States. Another upper-class eugenics campaigner was Madison Grant. A pioneer of environmentalism, Grant was also the author of The Passing of the Great Race: Or, the Racial Basis of European History (1916), in which he recommended “a rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit—in other words, social failures.”
Some on the left in the 19th and early 20th centuries believed in blending eugenics with socialism or progressivism. Still, the leaders of American eugenics were largely conservative Anglo-American Protestants from the Northeast. It was they who provided the endowments, the leadership, and the volunteer advocacy to stave off what they saw as the displacement or pollution of the Anglo-Saxon-Nordic-Aryan American race by Jews, Irish, Italians, blacks, Mexicans, and assorted other allegedly inferior groups.
Eugenic ideology was used to justify quotas limiting Jewish and nonwhite immigration to the United States in the 1920s. It was also invoked in support of the compulsory sterilization by state governments of more than 60,000 Americans. Later, the same ideology legitimated the genocide of millions of Jews and Romani people by Hitler’s Germany. Discredited after World War II by association with Nazi racial-hygiene theories, ideas about superior and inferior races, and explanations of social phenomena in terms of heredity, disappeared from academic thought and public discourse and survived only on the outer fringes of the right.
Today, however, if you spend any time on Twitter—or whatever it’s now called—you are bound to run into users who throw around phrases like “bell curve” and “cognitive elite” that were given wide currency by Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein in their 1994 book, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Murray and Herrnstein made sweeping assertions about genes, IQ, and racial disparities. As critics, including yours truly, demonstrated at the time, the authors relied on publications by figures like the late J. Philippe Rushton, originator of the brain-to-penis-ratio theory of intelligence, some of them sponsored by the eugenicist Pioneer Fund. Not just liberals and leftists, but also many conservatives and neoconservatives like Thomas Sowell and Nathan Glazer pointed out the flaws in the book.
Murray has enjoyed an influential career in the decades since. Today, he is the F. A. Hayek Chair Emeritus in Cultural Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he conducts research on “society and culture, universal basic income, [and] genomic social science,” as the institute puts it. Murray has done some valuable research, as in the 2012 book Coming Apart, which empirically documented the stark bifurcation of American society along class lines. And after a vicious leftist mob attacked Murray during a speaking engagement at Middlebury College in 2017, he came to be seen as a martyred champion of science and free speech.
Today’s woke left does indeed use its dominance of the academy, scientific associations, and the media to suppress legitimate viewpoints—for example, censoring the lab-leak theory of Covid’s origins—and to promote absurd claims like “some women have penises.” Unfortunately, such practices lend credence to the claims of today’s eugenicons that they, too, represent a valid school of science unjustly censored by the left. Moreover, they can appeal to conservative opponents of the woke left on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Last but not least, when people see legitimate nonracist viewpoints being stigmatized by the left as “racist,” it is natural that some will give the benefit of the doubt to anyone accused of racism.
But claims to intellectual martyrdom can be made by adherents of any pseudoscience, from flying-saucer theorists to believers in Atlantis. It is significant, therefore, that the hereditarians who have gained wide audiences on the American right aren’t credible, academically trained geneticists, but rather amateurish, sometimes pseudonymous influencers who, instead of writing scholarly books or doing serious reporting, win over audiences by cracking wise on Twitter or rambling on Substack.
Perhaps the most influential is Steve Sailer, a businessman-turned-journalist who popularized the term “human biodiversity.” Sailer publishes his musings in Taki’s and VDare, the latter named after the first white child born in Britain’s American colonies, and is the author of a book published by the VDare Foundation, America’s Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama’s “Story of Race and Inheritance.” Half-breed, get it?
Another is Richard Hanania, who has gathered a large audience relatively recently. On Aug. 4, Hanania was exposed by The Huffington Post as the pseudonymous “Richard Hoste,” who for years wrote things like: “If the races are equal, why do whites always end up near the top and blacks at the bottom, everywhere and always?” Other insights included “women’s liberation = the end of human civilization.”
Hanania, who is Arab-American, also declared that Hispanics lack “the requisite IQ” to function in US society, and that “the ultimate goal should be to get all the post-1965 nonwhite immigrants from Latin America to leave.” He pseudonymously advocated involuntary government sterilization of low-IQ people, renewing a policy prescription long stained by Nazi infamy. Said Hanania: “There doesn’t seem to be a way to deal with low-IQ breeding that doesn’t include coercion.”
His exposure surprised few who have followed Hanania’s career, because his current reputation is founded on making similar arguments, only slightly more circumspectly. Following his unmasking, Hanania dashed off an apology on Substack, headlined “Why I Used to Suck, and (Hopefully) No Longer Do.” Heartfelt repentance should always be welcome, but Hanania’s record doesn’t support his claim that he has outgrown the immature race-baiting of his distant youth. Here is Hanania, under his own name, on Twitter on March 23, 2023: “I don’t have much hope that we’ll solve crime in any meaningful way. It would require a revolution in our culture or form of government. We need more policing, incarceration, and surveillance of black people. Blacks won’t appreciate it, whites don’t have the stomach for it.”
And here is Hanania, again under his own name, as recently as July 5, 2023, writing on Substack: “Even in a world without any social advantages based on class background, you would expect rich kids to be overrepresented at Harvard and [the University of North Carolina], because qualities like intelligence and conscientiousness are highly heritable.” For the startling proposition that “conscientiousness” is “highly heritable,” Hanania cites another hereditarian, Gregory Clark, an economist who argues that the Industrial Revolution launched in Britain because the higher fertility of the British ruling class spread their genes throughout the whole population, rendering the British biologically preadapted to industrialism and capitalism, unlike other nations. One wonders if even more potent proto-industrial genes explain why Germans, Americans, Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese have long since left the British behind when it comes to industry, commerce, and technology.
It can be true that the left’s “blank-slatism” is wrong to minimize or deny any genetic differences between the sexes and among different ethnic and regional populations. It can be true at the same time, however, that most neo-hereditarian writings fall into an opposite trap, presenting race as the master-key for understanding every social and political issue. Neo-hereditarians are the type of people the cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt condemned as “terrible simplifiers.” Their generalizations flatten, and falsify, reality.
Eugenicons abuse statistics in much the same way that the “antiracist” left does. For instance, consider the standard progressive claim that white Americans as a group own vastly more wealth than black Americans. But when you control for class, it turns out that working-class whites aren’t that much wealthier than working-class blacks.
In the same way, eugenicons write about the IQ scores of “whites,” “blacks” and “Hispanics,” using conventional US Census categories or similarly loose definitions of the races. For example, drawing on his 2009 dissertation, “IQ and Immigration Policy,” the conservative commentator Jason Richwine argued for changing American immigration policy to admit fewer Hispanics on the basis of a Hispanic “immigrant IQ deficit.”
The problem is that terms like “non-Hispanic white” and “Hispanic,” even when used by the Census Bureau, are decidedly arbitrary and unscientific. Lumping together a Greek-American with a Norwegian-American to get a generic “non-Hispanic white” IQ score, and then lumping together, say, a Mayan from Yucatan with an Argentine of wholly Italian ancestry to get a generic “Hispanic” IQ score, and then comparing the two numbers as though the results tell you anything significant about “races,” is an exercise that confirms nothing except the old adage of computer programmers: Garbage In, Garbage Out.
Indeed, the predecessors of today’s eugenicons, American eugenicists of the 1920s, would have objected to the very idea of a pan-white category. Many of them believed that there were three European “races”—the Nordic, the Alpine, and the Mediterranean—and that Jews and people of Arab descent like Hanania weren’t white people at all, but “oriental” Semites who should be kept from immigrating lest they pollute the American gene pool. In a 1921 Good Housekeeping essay titled “Whose Country Is This?,” soon-to-be Vice President Calvin Coolidge declared: “There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons. Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides.” For Coolidge, coding Italians or Poles as the amalgamated “white” equal of the distinctly Nordic race would have been a category error.
As they made sweeping pronouncements about supposed racial characteristics and the dangers of race-mixing, the eugenicists of old scarcely took notice of the sheer arbitrariness of their supposedly “scientific” categories, which were, in fact, often little more than aesthetic judgments. The early race theorist Johann Blumenbach, for example, to whom we owe the “scientific” identification of the “Caucasian” race, said he took “the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus … because its neighborhood … produces the most beautiful race.”
The attempts of today’s “race realists” to come up with evolutionary explanations for real or alleged differences among today’s populations are as pseudoscientific as their statistical legerdemain. Rushton, when not theorizing about the brain-to-penis ratio, also speculated that Africans were inherently lazier and less organized than Europeans because the “cold winters” of the European Ice Age equipped Europeans with superior genes for social cooperation. Rushton died in 2012, but his “cold-winters” theory lives on. Here is another eugenicon, Bo Winegard, in “Human Biodiversity: A Moderate’s Manifesto,” published in the journal Aporia in March: “And suppose that humans have occupied cold environments for many thousands of years (a hundred generations or more). Under such conditions, those humans who were slightly more predisposed to, and better at, cooperating would likely have had better reproductive success.” Hunting wooly mammoths on the tundra required advanced planning, you see, but on the savannah you could just reach out and grab a gazelle as it ran by.
A sense of the scholarly rigor of the “race-realist”/human-biodiversity movement is provided by a 2000 exchange in VDare between the writer Razib Khan and Sailer. Khan wrote:
Most of the evidence also seems to point to New World Indians’ scoring slightly below whites. Thus, Mestizos (white-Indian mixes) would have slightly lower IQs than whites, while Eurasians (white-East Asian crosses) would have slightly higher IQs. The correlation between the increasing blondeness of high-IQ Eurasians would be somewhat mitigated if the less intelligent Eurasian men happened to import intelligent East Asian women to make up for their competitive disadvantage on the marriage market, while the more intelligent Eurasians would marry less intelligent blondes (i.e., European derived females).
To which Sailer replied: “If white women don’t wise up to [the] rewards of marrying geeks, the Eurasian kids of the future will tend to do extremely well on the math portion of the SAT and thus will be well set to prosper in the increasingly technology-dominated economy.”
Science at work, ladies and gentlemen.
As all of this shows, race-realist “science” seldom rises above the level of stereotypes: Westerners are disciplined by nature, Africans aren’t, Asians by nature are math nerds, blond women are dumb. In the decades and centuries to come, all sorts of group differences in biology, including perhaps group differences in various kinds of intelligence, may well be identified. But this will be done in laboratories and other controlled settings by actual scientists, by geneticists and biologists and physicians. It won’t be done by right-wing shock jocks poring over statistical tables and publishing their “research” in trade-press books and club newsletters written and edited by their fellow true believers.
In today’s era of left-wing suppression of legitimate topics of discussion, eugenicons lure readers by claiming that they alone dare to discuss taboo questions. Among these: Why do black Americans as a group commit proportionally more violent crimes than some other ethnic and racial groups with similar levels of poverty? And why have Jews been so successful in many professions in Europe and the United States since the 18th century? The eugenicon tells us that we must choose between only two approaches: woke leftism, which attributes all disparities among groups to ongoing white racism, and hereditarian “realism,” which teaches that black people have “criminogenic” bodies, while there are other mysterious genes that explain why so many Jewish-Americans are accomplished violinists, academics, and standup comedians.
But theories invoking class and culture provide a third and more plausible set of answers. In his 2005 book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, Sowell argued persuasively that black Southerners took the honor-conscious, violence-prone culture that they shared, and share to this day, with Southern whites to Northern cities during the Great Migration. Supporting this thesis, Barry Latzer in The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America, published a decade later, compared the criminal histories of the black Southern diaspora in the North with that of other honor-based immigrant cultures, including the Scots-Irish, Sicilians, and Mexicans. Scholars have shown that aggression triggered by insults accounts for the higher rates of violence by honor-conscious white Southerners. This suggests that America has a Southern (white and black) violence problem, based in a unique regional culture of honor spread by migration to other regions, rather than a “black-violence problem” rooted in African genetics.
Economics matters, too. In 1996, William Julius Wilson proposed in When Work Disappears that deindustrialization had a role in producing or exacerbating many social pathologies among the black urban poor. A decade later, a wave of offshoring and deindustrialization produced similar effects among working-class and poor whites in the Midwest, including an increase in what Angus Deaton and Anne Case called “deaths of despair.” In their 2015 study, Deaton and Case noted: “The midlife mortality reversal was confined to white non-Hispanics; black non-Hispanics and Hispanics at midlife, and those aged 65 and above in every racial and ethnic group, continued to see mortality rates fall.”
Unless we believe that between the 1990s and the 2020s, there was a massive uptick of deleterious mutations in white Americans in former Midwestern manufacturing towns, or a relative increase in genetic fitness among black and Hispanic Americans, we must score this as Environmentalism 1, Hereditarianism 0.
As for high-achieving ethnic groups, Sowell, Amy Chua, and Joel Kotkin, among others, have demonstrated that “middle-man minorities” like European Jews, overseas Chinese, diaspora Armenians, Parsees, Phanariot Greeks, and others were preadapted by culture for success in modern, industrial, urban societies in which the skills and values of premodern landlords, warlords, and peasants were anachronistic. Often members of specialized diasporas have achieved more than their fellow ethnics of all classes and occupations have done in their own homelands, which suggests that their success is the result of environment and culture, not genes.
The intellectuals I have cited can’t be dismissed as woke leftists. Sowell is a celebrated conservative, whose work on ethnicity and race is far more rigorous than that of Murray. Latzer writes for conservative publications, and his book was canceled before publication by Columbia University Press and denounced by radical leftists, who reject not only genetic, but also cultural explanations for group disparities. Yet Latzer appears to be all but unknown to the numerous conservatives who read Murray, Sailer, and Hanania. Meanwhile, many on the right revere Sowell for his free-market economics but seem to ignore his debunking of hereditarian theories. This can’t simply be because Sowell is black, while Murray and Sailer and Hanania are white (by the standards of the 2020s, if not of the 1920s). Instead, a certain kind of conservative seems to find reductive explanations of group disparities based on race more palatable than complex ones that include culture and class.
If the eugenicons were without influence, they could safely be ignored. The problem is that the they have a large and apparently growing influence within the conservative establishment, and are even finding a sympathetic hearing in New York’s so-called post-left scene: some former Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialists of America types who—owing to bitterness over cancellation, publicity-driven addiction to épater les bourgeois, or both—now increasingly toy with “race realism.”
Even as Hanania tweeted statements as crude and contemptuous as any he made in his earlier career as “Richard Hoste,” anonymous right-wing donors showered him with money, allowing him to set up a non-profit, the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology. He was also made a fellow by the University of Texas’s Salem Center for Policy, a group endowed by the Republican donor Harlan Crow among others, and invited as a 2023 lecturer at the new “heterodox” University of Austin. This fall, Hanania is scheduled to deliver a presentation at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, the academic epicenter of the tech industry.
Telling right-wing donors and tech bros that the rich are genetically superior turns out to be an effective way to obtain gigs and grants.
Apart from the fact that the supposed genetic elite is now “non-Hispanic whites” (including Jews, Arabs, Irish, and others who were once coded as Untermenschen), American eugenic conservatism has hardly changed at all from the 1920s to the 2020s. Social Darwinism went underground after the Holocaust. But its catechism—now more than a century old and consisting of both axioms and policy prescriptions derived from the axioms—is finding new and faithful devotees.
- Human races are few, identifiable, discrete, and enduring through time.
- The existing hierarchy of education and wealth within a race corresponds to the genetic fitness of individuals and families in that race.
- Just as some individuals are genetically superior to others within a race, so some races are genetically superior to other races.
- Most economic growth and scientific and cultural progress in history are the result of genetic endowments of superior individuals, families, and races.
The policy prescriptions:
- Taxing the eugenic elite hurts both them and the dysgenic majority, by redistributing resources that the creative rich can put to best use for the long-term benefit of the benighted majority.
- Antipoverty policy, beyond establishing a floor of basic income for the poor, a proposal of Milton Friedman and Charles Murray, is doomed to fail, because poverty has a genetic basis.
- Public policy should encourage the limitation of the numbers of the genetically unfit, by voluntary or involuntary contraception, abortion, and euthanasia.
- Immigration by inferior races and intermarriage between members of superior and inferior races should be discouraged to prevent the reduction of the genetic fitness of superior races.
- One-person, one-vote democracy is dangerous and intolerable, because the genetically inferior majority might vote to tax and redistribute the income and wealth of the genetically superior minority.
A systematic eugenicon program, then, would combine economic (not civil) libertarianism with promotion of birth control (for the inferior masses, not the superior classes, whose propagation should be encouraged) and rule by the numerically small cognitive elite, disguised if necessary by meaningless elections.
The overlap between libertarianism and eugenic conservatism can be considerable. In public, libertarians usually defend their anti-statist creed in terms of individual rights or Benthamite utilitarianism, arguing that a minimal state would produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Yet eugenic conservatism and libertarianism have often complemented each other. For libertarians at a loss to explain why wealth and power are concentrated in market societies, eugenicons have an answer: Rich people and rich families are genetically superior. And for eugenicons in search of a political program short of radical “ethnostate” proposals, libertarianism provides a second-best solution. The danger that resources will be redistributed from the productive, eugenic rich to the parasitic, dysgenic masses can be minimized by shrinking the state and lowering taxation. So can transferring functions from the government, where numbers count, to the market, dominated by a small number of wealthy capitalists defined as “the cognitive elite.” When Hanania, outed as “Richard Hoste,” declared that he had seen the light and abandoned eugenic racism and classism for “classical liberalism,” that is, libertarianism, this was just flipping the same coin over to the other face.
From all of this it follows that the Democratic left’s nightmare vision of rural states filled with inbred, knuckle-dragging, white-nationalist Neanderthals plotting to overthrow democracy is ludicrously wrong. The eugenicons are no friends of workers. I would guess that most democracy-despising ideological hereditarians in the United States today are well-educated professionals, investors, and heirs to family fortunes. Many live and work in the Beltway, and much of the remainder is concentrated in Silicon Valley and Wall Street, with a few in Austin. “Dissident” scenes in Miami and Lower Manhattan form their cultural meccas.
This raises an interesting question, now that affluent Americans are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. As the result of a process that began in the 1990s and accelerated under Trump, according to Yale researcher Sam Zacher, the “top 1 percent, in addition to stock-owning and high-income-occupation voters in recent decades, have all increased their allegiance to the Democratic Party.” By the logic of race realism, if the Democrats become the party of the allegedly genetically well-endowed, then the eugenicons should favor the Democrats. And indeed, on April 22, Hanania called for a new “Enlightened Centrism,” or “EC.” His list of EC thinkers consisted mostly of libertarian-leaning pundits. Those on the center left in his list included Matthew Yglesias and Noah Smith, who share conventionally libertarian views of trade and immigration; and his candidates for the EC right consisted mostly of eugenicons like Steve Sailer, with a few conventional libertarians like Megan McArdle and Virginia Postrel mixed in.
It isn’t hard to imagine neoliberal centrists in the years ahead being attracted to some hereditarian themes, scrubbed of unsavory white-supremacist associations. Indeed, there might be an alliance on antipoverty policy between eugenicon supporters of a universal basic income as a stipend for the dysgenic poor, like Charles Murray, and many left-liberals who favor targeted redistribution over class-based empowerment of the kind championed by the old left. Race-realist proposals for eugenic abortion and euthanasia are also more likely to find a receptive audience on the neoliberal left than on the still-forceful Christian right.
One needn’t be a genetically superior genius descended from generations of aristocrats to understand that “race realism,” and the libertarianism that is frequently its natural political expression, are utterly incompatible with broadening the appeal of the Republican Party to working-class Americans of all races. From the standpoint of the eugenicons, “the multiracial working class” is doubly damned—it is working class and multiracial: two forms of dysgenic inferiority rolled into one. The eugenicons can have no policy program for the working class, other than encouraging its members to consider availing themselves of contraception, abortion, and assisted suicide to ensure that there are fewer of them on their side of the “bell curve” to drag down the high-IQ elite on the other end.
Beyond partisan politics lies civilizational politics. In this century, the ultimate struggle will be between the religious and secular heirs of the Abrahamic tradition of ethical monotheism, on one side, and the believers in eugenics, transhumanism, and other pseudoscientific new faiths, on the other. The former will be disproportionately working-class and possess fewer educational credentials, and the latter will be disproportionately wealthy and powerful and schooled at prestigious universities. In the interwar American South, the greatest opposition to involuntary eugenic sterilization came from evangelical Protestants, and in Nazi Germany, the most potent resistance to National Socialism was mounted by Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with social democrats and communists. In the coming battles over eugenics and human dignity, let us hope that the sons and daughters of Father Abraham defeat the heirs of Nietzsche.