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Should Philosophers Censor Kevin MacDonald?

Nathan Cofnas
Nathan Cofnas
6 min read

According to the mainstream narrative about race, “white supremacy” is an all-controlling social force responsible for bad outcomes such as racial disparities. According to an alternative narrative popular on the far-Right, Jewish influence is a similarly powerful force, which explains outcomes disliked by those on the Right, such as multiculturalism and mass immigration.

Last year, I published a paper in the Israeli philosophy journal Philosophia arguing that both the woke and the far-Right narratives are wrong and rooted in similar errors. I focus on the work of Cal State Long Beach psychologist Kevin MacDonald. MacDonald argues that Judaism is a “group evolutionary strategy,” and that Jews were a necessary condition for the triumph of liberalism, which he sees as bad for white gentiles. His approach is similar to that of MSNBC anchors who cherry-pick (real or imagined) examples of racism and then spin fanciful stories about how these isolated cases illustrate a “system” of “white supremacy.” MacDonald points to examples of prominent Jews promoting liberalism, ignores prominent liberal gentiles, and claims to find evidence that Jewish liberals are secretly motivated to undermine gentile society for the benefit of their co-ethnics.

In my paper I address three specific false claims made by MacDonald and other advocates of the anti-Jewish narrative: Jews (a) are highly ethnocentric, (b) hypocritically promote liberal multiculturalism for gentiles/Western countries but not for Jews/Israel, and (c) were responsible for liberalism and mass immigration to the US.

Why bother refuting MacDonald? Why not just dismiss him as an antisemite? There are at least three reasons to engage with him. First, some respected scholars have (publicly or privately) endorsed his ideas. Second, Jewish influence is a legitimate topic for scientific investigation, and his theory cannot be dismissed a priori. Third, he has been enormously influential on the far-Right, and many of his readers interpreted the lack of a refutation as proof that there are no good arguments against his views. So both scholarly and political considerations dictate that he should be given a fair hearing.

On January 1st, MacDonald’s reply to me, “The ‘Default Hypothesis’ Fails to Explain Jewish Influence,” appeared online in Philosophia. I strongly agree with the decision to publish this. If there are compelling reasons to publish my side of the debate, then the other side should be given a chance to make its case. MacDonald’s response meets the normal standards of publishability, ergo it should be published. Mainstream scholarship in all areas with which I am familiar (philosophy, psychology, nutrition, etc.) often distorts sources, cherry-picks facts, and the like. The fact that MacDonald’s scholarship displays these flaws does not, therefore, seem like a sufficient reason to deny him (but no one else) the right to reply to criticism.

But many philosophers do not think that controversial ideas should be discussed—let alone defended—in academic journals. And so the backlash swiftly followed. On January 2nd, Philosophia’s associate editor Moti Mizrahi called on the editor-in-chief Asa Kasher to “reconsider” the publication of MacDonald’s paper, then resigned in protest.

The next day, University of South Carolina philosophy professor Justin Weinberg, who runs a popular philosophy blog called Daily Nous, wrote a post attacking Philosophia, MacDonald, and me.

When I first started writing on conspiracy theories about Jews, I thought this would win me some political correctness points. After all, I say there is not a Jewish conspiracy! But, as I discovered, that’s not how it works. The only way you’re allowed to criticize a politically incorrect idea is to call its proponents a slur ending in “-ist,” “-ite,” or “denier.” If you try to provide evidence against it then you are guilty of taking the evil idea seriously and therefore just as doubleplusungood as someone who actually believes it. Luckily, I don’t care about gaining political correctness points, or I would live my life very differently.

The original version of Weinberg’s post (archived here) begins with the calumny that both MacDonald and I agree that “Jews insinuated themselves into positions of power and influence, ‘transforming America contrary to white interests.’” This is of course the opposite of what I argue. As I say in the abstract, one of the three main points of my paper is to refute the claim that “Jews are responsible for liberalism and mass immigration to the United States.” And I have never framed my critiques of leftism in terms of “white interests.” After I complained, Weinberg revised his opening sentence slightly. But his post still says that the fact that an Israeli journal published these papers must pose a challenge to “presumptions of [the] debate” that both MacDonald and I accept—as if I, too, believe in a Jewish conspiracy to censor discussion of Jews.

This is not the first time Weinberg has spread such lies about me after I crossed an ideological red line. In 2020, for example, he published a guest post falsely claiming that I support racial segregation in education. Once again, thousands of philosophers will read an outrageous lie about me. Weinberg did this without even providing a link to my paper where people could see what it actually said and quickly discover that he was misrepresenting it.

Nor did Weinberg provide a link to MacDonald’s paper, which he portrayed as a mad, nonacademic, antisemitic rant. (I will say more about this misrepresentation in a moment.) Many philosophers in the Daily Nous comments section and on social media have said that MacDonald’s paper should be retracted and/or that this isn’t a legitimate topic for discussion in an academic journal. But no one produced good arguments for these positions.

In one of the most upvoted comments on Daily Nous, SUNY Buffalo philosophy professor Lewis Powell notes that MacDonald’s work “has been roundly rejected by his own former institution, at the level of his department all the way up to the entire academic senate.” For Powell, this is an important reason “why we shouldn’t engage [MacDonald] academically.” If you’re looking for an idea that’s not worth considering, I cannot think of a better example than we shouldn’t discuss X because X has been rejected by some faculty senate. (After I pointed out how ridiculous this is, Powell denied saying what he clearly said.)

Powell also blames me for “elevating [MacDonald’s] non-serious non-academic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories into more serious academic venues by engaging them.” Other commenters similarly compare MacDonald’s work to theories like flat-earthism that do not merit serious discussion. But here’s the thing: MacDonald’s work is not like flat-earthism, nor is it “non-academic.” I have suggested that his arguments are based on “systematically misrepresented sources and cherry-picked facts.” But, as I mentioned earlier, so is a great deal of mainstream scholarship that is published without controversy. MacDonald provides quotes and evidence—most of which are not completely made up—that on the face of it seem to support his case. An intelligent, informed reader cannot immediately know what’s wrong with his arguments. If MacDonald had employed his talent for misrepresentation and cherry-picking in the service of wokism—if he concluded that whites rather than Jews are the source all of the world’s problems—he would have had a distinguished career publishing in leading journals.

Lingnan philosophy professor Derek Baker suggests that “a journal could adopt ‘We’ll publish any controversial idea—except Nazi conspiracy theories’, as its editorial policy, and that would work fine.” Although this might sound good in theory, such a policy might not be so fine in practice. Virtually all conservatives have views that would be considered in some broad sense to be “Nazi conspiracy theories” by many liberal academics. Every Republican president and presidential nominee since World War II has been compared to Hitler by many on the Left. (It didn’t start with Trump.) The 2024 Republican nominee, as well as everyone who votes for him or her, will no doubt be seen by many academics as “literally Hitler.” Even liberals who deviate slightly from woke orthodoxy—such as Kathryn Paige Harden, who acknowledges that genes play a role in individual differences in ability and personality—are sometimes accused of holding Nazi views. Who is going to decide what views count as “Nazi conspiracy theories” that are disqualified from discussion in journals?

Under the editorship of Asa Kasher, Philosophia has been one of the few respected journals in the field that is open to publishing work defending genuinely controversial views. Not coincidentally, it has also featured some of the most interesting philosophy papers in recent years. The fact that it is an Israeli journal run by Jewish editors makes the publication of MacDonald’s paper a particularly bold statement: all sides of a debate should be heard, and we are not afraid of Kevin MacDonald’s arguments.

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Nathan Cofnas recently graduated from the University of Oxford with a DPhil in philosophy.