Kevin MacDonald, Ph.D.
In the Hot Seat
Cal State Long Beach faculty members are trying to force Professor Kevin MacDonald to publicly defend his controversial views on Judaism.
By Tony Ortega
Martin Fiebert has long been friends with fellow Cal State Long Beach psychology professor Kevin MacDonald. In fact, the two are tennis partners. But two weeks ago, Fiebert did something he knew would make his old friend very unhappy.
Fiebert proposed to other members of the university's psychology department that MacDonald's controversial views on Jews and Judaism be made the subject of a public campus forum. Members of the department's advisory committee, however, put off a decision on Fiebert's proposal until the fall semester.
MacDonald predicts Fiebert's suggestion will never fly. "It ain't gonna happen," says MacDonald, and added that other Long Beach professors calling for him to make a public defense of his views won't get their way.
Since a New Times cover story last month described MacDonald's theories and his decision to testify on behalf of Holocaust denier David Irving in a London libel trial that attracted global media attention, professors at Cal State Long Beach have been burning up a campus computer network with strongly worded e-mails. Both Jewish and non-Jewish professors say they were stunned to learn that MacDonald purports to use evolutionary theory to describe Judaism as a eugenics program and predicts that a Jewish conspiracy to wreck Gentile culture will result in an American race war.
MacDonald, meanwhile, complains that New Times mischaracterized his views, and vows that he won't be forced to speak publicly about his theories. Instead, he's devoted himself to long e-mail bouts with other faculty members from Cal State Long Beach's history, political science, philosophy, and other departments.
"What MacDonald wants to do is contain this discussion to his Web site," says History Department chair Sharon Sievers. But she says various campus forces are pushing for a public forum, and she predicts it will happen. Embarrassed that a fellow Long Beach faculty member would have freely aided Holocaust denier Irving, Sievers says it's up to the Long Beach school to make something happen.
"This is the campus that has the responsibility to speak to this issue," she says.
The school's spring term ended last week, and several professors say they'll be reading MacDonald's trilogy of books on Judaism over the summer to prepare for a showdown of sorts in the fall semester.
In his books, MacDonald uses an approach called evolutionary psychology to argue that Judaism is not merely a religion; it is also a Darwinian strategy that serves to raise Jewish IQ, and that anti-Semitism can be understood rationally as a by-product of natural selection. He writes that Jews have reacted to anti-Semitism by taking over intellectual movements and attacking Gentile culture to promote Jewish interests. The result, he warns, is a "present decline of European peoples in the New World." He also asserts that Jews protect their interests by suppressing criticism of Judaism, and cites David Irving as an example of a writer whose work has been suppressed by Jewish groups.
Irving asked MacDonald to testify in his libel suit against Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt, who, in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust, accused Irving of distorting the historical record to promote Holocaust denial. In his books and speeches, Irving denies that gas chambers existed at Auschwitz or that Hitler knew about the Final Solution. MacDonald agreed to help Irving prove that he was the victim of a Jewish plot to shut down his views, and he testified in London on January 31. Judge Charles Gray found for Lipstadt, however, and labeled Irving a racist and an anti-Semite.
Several Cal State Long Beach professors say they were shocked to learn that one of their own had testified for Irving, but there was little controversy on campus until MacDonald's views were described in New Times. Now, MacDonald finds himself immersed in intellectual warfare with his colleagues. His critics are careful to point out that they believe firmly in MacDonald's academic freedom, and don't question his right to research what he wants and to continue teaching at the university. But, says Sievers, professors are determined to make MacDonald answer for the implications of his theories.
"Faculty can make him uncomfortable. And I think we've made him very uncomfortable. And we're not done yet," she says.
History professor Don Schwartz has been one of the most vocal. "Academic freedom protects the kind of research that MacDonald is doing. But he's been asked to explain and defend his ideas, and that's a perfectly reasonable expectation," he says. No one, Schwartz says, is calling for some kind of action that would result in MacDonald's censure or expulsion.
MacDonald complains that asking him to present his views publicly is not an appropriate thing to ask a tenured professor to do. His theories are too complicated, he argues, for him to present them orally to an audience that is likely to be hostile.
And he isn't happy that his old friend Martin Fiebert proposed just such a forum to the psychology department. Fiebert says the proposal was met with skepticism. Some professors complained that holding such a forum would only legitimize MacDonald's work. Others, Fiebert says, complained that MacDonald's books had already passed peer review, and so it was inappropriate to subject them to further inquiry. With only a few weeks left in the semester, however, the committee decided to put off making any decisions.
For those familiar with the sleepy nature of Cal State Long Beach and its psychology department, it was not a surprising decision. Psychology department chair Keith Colman acknowledges that, in 1994, an examination of the department by an external reviewer found that "the department did seem devoid of open discussion of tough issues."
Among psychology professors, few seem to have been aware of MacDonald's work on Jews. Except, that is, for his tennis partner.
Fiebert says that several years ago MacDonald showed him a manuscript for what would become his trilogy on Judaism. Fiebert says he told MacDonald he had serious reservations about the work and warned MacDonald that it would provide "theoretical underpinnings and a defense for neo-Nazi groups."
"He wasn't responsive," Fiebert says, "because he believed he was using a scientific model that would go where it would go."
Fiebert says he was also distressed by his friend's decision to testify on behalf of Holocaust denier David Irving. "And I don't think he's quite disowned yet Irving's views that not many people were killed in the Holocaust and that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz."
MacDonald has repeatedly stressed that he agreed to testify in Irving's trial to support Irving's right to publish, and not because he holds similar views about the Holocaust. In fact, MacDonald says, he has never doubted the Holocaust took place, but because he has not studied its history he describes himself as an "agnostic" on the subject.
Responds Fiebert: "I don't think one can be an agnostic about the Holocaust. There's enough historical information out there that you either accept the horrific reality of those events or you're in denial, either for psychological or ideological reasons."
Fiebert isn't alone in pressing for a public forum on MacDonald's ideas. Sievers predicts that some sort of discussion will take place in the fall, with or without MacDonald's presence.
One person who is thinking about showing up at such an event is UC Santa Barbara professor John Tooby, who, along with his wife and colleague Leda Cosmides, gave the new field of evolutionary psychology its name in 1992.
Tooby admits that he doesn't like the bad image MacDonald is giving to evolutionary psychology, but he's more concerned by what MacDonald has to say about Judaism. Tooby is busy writing a lengthy refutation of MacDonald's trilogy, which will begin to appear on his Web site in about a month (www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/).
While Tooby is investing a lot of time to counter MacDonald, he says other evolutionary psychologists -- who look for Darwinian explanations of human behavior -- shouldn't have to answer for MacDonald's incorrect use of their field. Blaming the new science for MacDonald's views, Tooby says, is like asking doctors, "What do you physicians have to say about Josef Mengele?"
MacDonald, meanwhile, complains that New Times misled readers when it said that he "blames Jews for a coming race war in America." MacDonald said this was "far too strong" a conclusion and that his books suggest only that the rise of multiculturalism will result in "increased ethnocentrism."
The language in his books goes much further. Here's what Culture of Critique predicts, after MacDonald has spent nearly 1,000 pages in his trilogy describing the Jewish "evolutionary strategy," which includes denigrating Gentile culture through Jewish-dominated intellectual movements:
"I believe that in the United States we are presently heading down a volatile path -- a path that leads to ethnic warfare and to the development of collectivist, authoritarian, and racialist enclaves."
In April, MacDonald was asked if this meant he really believed a race war was coming to the United States. His answer: "That's right, exactly. I think that's a real possibility. We're entering a brave new world here, and we really don't know what's going to happen."
After his views were printed in New Times, MacDonald told his colleagues that he had been misinterpreted. Professors from many different departments at the school peppered MacDonald with questions about his ideas, and were amazed at how quickly the psychology professor fired back with voluminous replies. Invariably, MacDonald answers his critics with turgid recitations from his first two volumes, which are thick with the jargon of social science. He's much less likely to quote from his third volume, Culture of Critique, in which MacDonald provides his dire warnings about the future of an increasingly nonwhite America. "The incorporation of non-European peoples, and especially peoples derived from Africa, into peculiarly Western cultural forms is profoundly problematic," he writes.
Last week, MacDonald indicated that he's tired of the onslaught. He tells New Times that he's hoping the controversy will simply go away.
"I think we need to encourage Kevin to present his views publicly," says Fiebert, who adds that MacDonald is a shy man who does not enjoy the spotlight he finds himself in, several years after actually writing his trilogy (it was published between 1994 and 1998).
"I think he was really disappointed that he'd written these books and nobody read them," Fiebert says, and he guesses that this lack of attention may have motivated MacDonald to take part in the Irving trial. But now that his participation has generated so much heat, MacDonald isn't celebrating.
"I am hoping that this ends soon," MacDonald says.
[This photo of me appeared with the article:]