Race scientists re-enter mainstream

Eddie Ford reviews The Race Gallery: the return of racial science by Marek Kohn (Jonathan Cape London 1995, pp322)

As capitalist society slips further into crisis and decay, it is inevitable that the “old crap” (Marx) will start to resurrect itself. Then again, it never really went away - just hid itself for a bit. Now it sees the light of day again and is gaining confidence. What exactly is “it”? The old notion of a racial hierarchy is what we are talking about, only this time it has the power of the gene behind it - or possibly the ‘science’ of IQ results or psychometric testing.

This excellent book is as an outstandingly level-headed antidote to this poisonous ideology, which is seeping into the mainstream almost unnoticed. In The Race Gallery Marek Kohn issues a clarion call, warning us of the dangers of complacency. The old racist ideologies, and the ‘sciences’ that accompanied them, can reinvent themselves - if we let them. As Kohn reminds us,

“The old racial categories were just the suitcases, not the whole of the baggage. What mattered were the contents, and these may find new niches within any of the scientific fields associated with the division of humankind into groups.” (p8)

Quite correctly, Kohn locates the return of racial science within the wider political and social context - ie, the collapse of ‘official’ communism and the perception among the masses that the “market paradigm now appears universal” (p281). Given the bleak nature of our epoch, “the decline of popular faith in science” (p283), it is only to be expected that “pessimistic and deterministic ideas from science will then feed back into lay discourse, which will become more pessimistic, and will feed its pessimism back into science, and so on” (p282). Kohn believes, therefore, that the racist right will continue to “exert a strong influence upon the mainstream, with which it will to some extent merge” (p283).

One of the “new niches” which Kohn identifies as a major conduit for racist science is the whole field of so-called intelligence testing, otherwise known as IQ or psychometric testing. He places particular stress on The Bell Curve, the infamous text by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein. Kohn thinks it would be a mistake to underestimate The Bell Curve’s impact - ‘it is too nutty to be taken seriously’. On the contrary, the significance of The Bell Curve

“was the zeitgeist of the moment at which it appeared. It was a consummately judged attempt to mould itself to prevailing opinion, in order to effect a major change in public discourse.” (p111)

In this case, the “public discourse” taking place in America was over welfare spending - and how  it ‘corrupts’ the nation and its citizens. This was reflected in The Bell Curve, which “tiptoes off to an idealised small-town America which can be regained, it promises, if welfare is abolished” (p114) - and if blacks are kept out, needless to say. This is the real significance of the book, which is the “result of Herrnstein’s obsession with race and Murray’s obsession with the welfare system” (p116). Here we can see the fusion between the mainstream and the extreme which Kohn warns about.

To really scare us, Kohn cites the example of Roger Pearson, founder of the Northern League and author of Blood Groups and Race, which affirmed that the Nordics were the highest form of life that nature had ever produced and advocated the revival of ‘racial hygiene’ and eugenics. His efforts for the conservative cause, especially in the World Anti-Communist League, earned him a letter of congratulation from President Reagan himself in 1982.

We must lead the attack now, as the “race concept may now be poised at the threshold of acceptability” (p27). Kohn’s book provides high-explosive ammunition against the race scientists.

Eddie Ford