Failed Intellectuals: The Sad Attempt by The Burkean to make Eugenics Sound Smart
I have only come across the fledgling conservative magazine The Burkean a handful of times. Thus far I have been less than impressed with the content, which first struck me as an attempt to create an Irish equivalent of American publications like the National Review. The rehashing of old reactionary views under the veneer of counter culture is a tired trope, and one I dealt enough with back in the US. They seemed to have crossed a line recently, however, with the article called “Not All Are Born Equal”, which argues that despite our discomfort, we should be taking a serious look at racial or biological factors when determining why the third world is underdeveloped compared to the west. As I was reading, I found it to be unconvincing in its arguments and incorrect in its historical analysis. The scope in which the article makes errors and judgements based on little to no evidence became truly staggering, and even now I struggle to catalogue all its falsehoods.
My first impressions of the article were that it appears the author, Mr. Michael O’Dwyer Connolly, just discovered the works of Charles Murray, and has become so taken with it that he was compelled to copy his ideas into the article without first doing any critical thinking or background research. Perhaps if he did, he might have read some of the countless criticisms directed at Murray’s hypothesis and evidence. Eric Siegel wrote in a 2017 article for Scientific American “Astonishingly, this tome’s hundreds of pages never actually specify what one is meant to do with the information about racial differences, and never attempt to steer readers clear of racial prejudgment. That’s an egregious, reckless oversight, considering this is a pop science bestseller that comprehensively covers great numbers of subtopics and caveats, maintaining a genuinely proficient and clear writing style throughout. So, we must call this book what it is: racist”.
Likewise, I found myself familiar with the points being made in the article and saw no reason in their arguments to reconsider my current position that eugenics is a pseudoscience. The article does not refer to the Flynn effect or the jump in IQ scores in Sub-Saharan Africa since the 80s and 90s, which occurred at a rate which would discount any sort of genetic argument. In Kenya, for example, in a study conducted by Tamara Daley and others, showed an average IQ increase of around seven points in rural Kenya over a 14-year period. Studies like this would seem to go counter to the hypothesis of Murray and others that IQ is primarily genetic, and it would be good if such evidence was taken into consideration by the author. Unfortunately, the article contains no mention of this.
Despite the fact the article is about IQ and genetics, Connolly makes several passing jabs at Marxism. Being a Marxist myself, I found the article’s characterizations of the old USSR and the failure of its economic system to so lacking in context that I can only assume he has not researched the USSR prior to writing this. Connolly says of modern Russia “After two devastating world wars and communist genocides that left the better part of 70 million Russians dead over a thirty-year or so year period (1914-47), followed up by another forty years of Communist economics, it still managed to emerge a superpower in the 21st century”. I am firstly unaware of where he has gotten any of these numbers, as no source I have read has ever given a figure of 70 million from 1917-1947, unless he includes the Holocaust and the Nazi induced famines, which I doubt most would consider the fault of communism. Besides tossing around made up numbers, he also gets the basic economic effect of communism on eastern Europe and Russia wrong. The Soviet Union in its history experienced massive economic growth and industrialization, taking what was previously the underdeveloped backwater of Europe into an economic powerhouse that by 1989 boasted the second largest economy in the world and a higher per capita food consumption than America. Conversely, after the capitalist restoration in 1991, the economy collapsed and living standards went into free fall. Millions either died or emigrated from Russia and other post-Soviet countries, and the ensuing chaos nearly brought the Communist Party back into power in 1996, only to be stopped by American election tampering. The article makes many references to communism and its supposed detriments, which again seems out of place for an article about genetic inheritance and poverty. These asides seem more like pandering to the conservative audience, which needs to be constantly reminded that socialism is evil. This highlights another issue with the article; Connolly bombards the reader with information, not all of it necessary to his point. As well, much of the information provided is either entirely refutable or is missing key context.
Post-Soviet Mortality Crisis
Connolly’s description of economic aid and its effects on a nation seem to lack any nuance or even understanding of how modern aid works. He compares the success of the Marshall Plan in restoring the economies of Western Europe and compares it to the failure of economic aid to Africa to produce any long-lasting changes. In this, he neglects several things. Firstly, Western Europe already had a highly developed economic base prior to the war. France, England, Germany and Italy were already industrialized nations with a fair amount of wealth and infrastructure built up. It would be much easier for an industrial nation devastated by war to recover and become economically prosperous than an agrarian colony devastated by centuries of abuse and neglect. Thus, comparing the outcomes of aid to the already developed west to the underdeveloped post-colonial nations is already a faulty premise.
Secondly, Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands were still in possession of resource wealthy colonies after the war, which had the dual effect of boosting their economies while further devastating their subjects. India, for example, suffered a massive famine in 1943 after England ordered its grain exported to support the war effort. Despite Connolly’s insistence that India “inherited excellent economic traditions from the British”, history shows this to be an absurd falsehood. In fact, the entire history of British colonization of India can be summarized as an unrelenting theft of any natural resources the subcontinent had to offer, while simultaneously destroying any attempts at self-rule or economic justice. Famines inflicted in part by Britain’s religious devotion to free market principles and Malthusian economics were responsible for the starvation deaths of tens of millions of people. Even after colonization ended, the legacy of Britain’s disastrous “two nations theory”, which partitioned the area into a separate Muslim and Hindu nations, caused decades of political violence and racial strife. According to the book Late Victorian Holocausts, “As Indian historians have emphasized, this staggering death toll (1.25 million in northwest provinces) was the foreseeable and avoidable result of deliberate policy choices” (Davis, 2000).
Let us now examine aid to Africa, and why it failed to produce economic prosperity seen in other nations. Connolly cites the fact that, adjusted for inflation, almost five trillion dollars have been sent to Africa in economic aid. The fact that this massive amount of money did little to change the economic condition for Africans would suggest that economic factors are not holding Africans back, but instead another factor like genetics. This is, again, an infuriatingly stupid line of reasoning that demonstrates the author did little research besides finding numbers that seemed to fit his worldview. The reality is that aid sent to Africa has been staggeringly ineffective at solving the continent’s issues. While using Africa in its entirety as an example is fallacious, the experience of many African nations when dealing with western aid and the aftermath of colonialism is similar. Practically speaking, economic aid from the west, at best, is well intentioned but fails to understand the context and factors behind the economic woes of target nations, and at worst is a tool of control over resource rich nations. Take clothing donations as an example. Each year, charity groups send massive amounts of clothing to develop countries. Far from benefitting these nations, this aid destroys local textile manufacturers, who are unable to compete with the cheap clothing flooding domestic markets. Some charities are aware of this but continue to sell the clothes as it makes them a profit. Other well-intentioned projects fall flat on their face, as the outside world struggles to grasp what African nations want or need for development. The East German government built nearly 10,000 apartments for rural communities in Zanzibar. This project failed as only a fraction were built, and even less occupied. While of course I appreciate the effort on their part, the East Germans and Zanzibar’s own government failed to consider the needs of the people on the island, and what changes they desired to see. In other words, aid often assumes demand will follow supply, and does not consider the economic ramifications or the actual wishes of the populace. Factors like this, as well as criticism of the “aid industry” can perhaps explain better why the five trillion dollars sent to Africa failed to deliver real change. This would however require Connolly to do some background reading, which he seems uninterested in.
American interventionism, which other Burkean writers have condemned, also plays a key role in the underdevelopment of the global south. A prime example is the Congo. Despite being fabulously wealthy in mineral reserves and rubber, it remains one of the poorest nations in the world. The reasons for this are multifold but share the common trait of being the result of western imposed economic conditions and the enduring legacy of colonialism. In the late 1800s the Congo Free State was created and placed under the direct control of Belgian King Leopold II. Leopold then proceeded to pillage the nation of its material wealth and cause the deaths of an estimated 10 million Congolese. Despite his death, the nation continued as a colony of Belgium and the old economic order persisted, exporting Congolese resources to enrich Europe at the detriment of the natives. In 1960, the Congo gained independence and a popular leftist politician, Patrice Lumumba, was elected as the new Prime Minister. The former Belgian authorities as well as the United States, seeing his anti-colonialism and socialist leanings as a threat, undermined his administration until eventually sponsoring his assassination. After this, Mobutu Sese Seko came to power as a western backed autocrat. He received billions in economic aid from the United States, most of which he embezzled into personal accounts. He provided favorable deals to western companies for mineral exploitation, allowing for the easy export of natural wealth at a fraction of its value. This robbed the Congolese people of untold billions that could have funded development and stalled any economic progress. Before one could even hope to approach the idea of inherent differences causing the economic conditions observed in the Congo and Africa as a whole, the exploitation of their resources and economies, as well as meddling in domestic affairs must cease, and these nations must be allowed to manage their own affairs. Only after imperialism ends can anything Connolly discusses even hope to be considered. However, Connolly seems to have the idea that all racism and imperialism has ended, and any failures in developing nations are due to innate characteristics when he says “Worryingly, when an underperforming nation fails to develop, someone must be scapegoated for this failure – usually Europeans – because the egalitarians cannot accept the possibility that the failure might be innate”. The fact he refuses to acknowledge any elements of modern imperialism, continued subjugation of the third world by America, or any of the long-lasting effects of colonialism, shows the startling lack of research Connolly did in preparation for his thesis.
While I could argue about the continued effects of European imperialism for hundreds of pages, plenty of authors already have and I would also be guilty of rehashing ideas without contribution. Instead, I want to focus on something at the end of the piece I find most disturbing. Despite the insistence by the author on Twitter and in the subheading of the article, there is very clearly a racialist/eugenicist intent in this work. Evidence of this can be seen in who Connolly cites as the source of “many ideas in this piece”, Anatoly Karlin. I am already somewhat familiar with this name, as Karlin is a notorious anti-Semite and confidant of American white supremacist Richard Spencer. He has previously made statements like “The most vitriolic and obsessive Russia-bashing journalists in the media are mostly Jewish. The publications which push these writers most energetically are ALL Jewish-owned, and as a publisher, I know very well, that is where the buck stops. On the policy side, the neoconservative movement, Russia’s harshest foe, was conceived of, is led by, and consists mostly of, Jews”. The fact Connolly credits him as the source for many of the ideas written in this article is deeply disturbing and shows the dangerous ideologies that this article attempts to sanitize. The connections to neo-fascists do not stop there, however. Several articles, including one penned by Connolly, promote the National Party, arguably Ireland’s farthest right political group. Its leader, Justin Barrett, has been somewhat notorious for collaborating with European neo-Nazis under the group Youth Defence. Other articles contain things like a defense of disgraced academic James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize by stealing his work from Rosalind Franklin, after he made several racist comments also relating to genetics and IQ. Palingenetic ultra-nationalism, or ultra-nationalism focused on achieving national rebirth, abounds in various pieces. This quality is cited by political theorist Robert Griffin as the basis for most fascist movements, from the Nazi Party’s fetishization of pre-Christian Germany to Mussolini’s designs on a Neo-Roman Empire. The magazine itself has articles calling for Irish national rebirth that could very well have been written by Eoin O’Duffy himself.
The hyper-reactionary rhetoric combined with racialism can only indicate one thing: the writers of the Burkean are or have significant sympathies towards fascists and are attempting to bring the ideas of fascists into the mainstream. While It is somewhat heartening to see mainstream Irish conservatives readily disavow this piece, and for Burkean staff to frustratedly call said conservatives cucks over Twitter, these beliefs have a real danger of spreading, as they have done in my home country. My hope is that these conservatives will keep their distance from The Burkean’s motley crew of neo-reactionaries, fascists and eugenicists, and perhaps realize their own role in creating the social attitudes present in Burkean articles.