European Genius

The following is a book review.

Very Important People – American Renaissance

  • Charles Murray, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences 800 B.C. to 1950
  • a mammoth examination of world history and the people Dr. Murray believes are its most important intellectual figures. His purpose is to determine who has “accomplished” the most and why they did so.
  • Surprisingly and disappointingly, Dr. Murray has little to say about the role of genetics in determining or facilitating “human accomplishment,” and virtually nothing (with one exception) to say about the heritability of intelligence. Instead, the bulk of his book is devoted to formulating a list of 4,002 individuals from around the world who lived between 800 BC and 1950, who “have achieved great things.” Namely, as he writes on the first page of his introduction, “They have discovered truths about the workings of the physical world, invented wondrous devices, combined sounds and colors in ways that touch our deepest emotions, and arranged words in ways that illuminate the mysteries of the human condition.”
  • the results of his survey are predictable. White European men predominate, especially in the last few centuries: “from the middle of 15C [Dr. Murray’s rather contrived abbreviation for “15th century”] to the beginning of 20C, almost everything came from Europe,” and, “What the human species is today it owes in astonishing degree to what was accomplished in just half a dozen centuries by the peoples of one small portion of the northwestern Eurasian land mass.”
  • Of the 4,002 important people Dr. Murray surveys, women constitute a mere 88, and nearly half are in literature. There are a number of non-Westerners like Arabs, Indians, and Chinese on his list, but Africa and the Negro race are not even a blip.
  • For the remainder of his book, the co-author of The Bell Curve doesn’t mention IQ, race, or genetics — except with reference to one group: Ashkenazi Jews. As he explains:The rapid pace at which they entered the inventories as soon as the barriers were even partially lifted is astonishing. The period 1870-1950 saw the addition of 1,277 significant figures to the Western inventories. If Jews had produced significant figures strictly in accordance with their representation in the population, about 28 of those 1,277 should have been Jewish. The actual number was at least 158 (data on ethnicity were not available for many of the less prominent significant figures, and some Jews have doubtless been missed).
  • Dr. Murray names only 11 Jews in his inventories before “19C.” If Jews are so smart, why didn’t they invent logic, the calculus, or the steam engine or
  • Dr. Murray’s answer is that they were persecuted and excluded, and no doubt that’s part of it, but a good deal of Jewish culture discouraged innovation and scorned interaction with the gentile world, whether it was receptive to non-Christians or not. Spinoza, after all, was excommunicated by the Jewish community in Amsterdam for his philosophy.
  • Dr. Murray in fact resorts to a purely cultural explanation as to why the West — the white race from ancient Greece to modern times — has accomplished most of what has been worth accomplishing.
  • “A major stream of human accomplishment,” Dr. Murray writes, “is fostered by a culture in which the most talented people believe that life has a purpose and that the function of life is to fulfill that purpose.”
  • But purpose itself, he says, is not enough; there must also be “autonomy,” the belief that one is able to achieve the purpose of his life, a belief that involves a high degree of individualism. The non-West lacks or even rejects such beliefs.
  • Dr. Murray’s argument is plausible as far as it goes, and he is hardly the first to make it. But he never wonders why it was only the West that formulated and adopted philosophies, ethical systems, and a religion that postulated purpose and autonomy.
  • Kevin MacDonald has argued that Western individualism itself has genetic and racially particular roots, and if Dr. Murray’s theory about the importance of belief systems of purpose and autonomy holds any water, the genetic and racial foundations of such systems ought to be examined.
  • Dr. Murray concludes Human Accomplishment on a pessimistic note. Human accomplishment as he has defined and measured it has been declining in both science and the arts for the last century or so.
  • Murray concludes, “Western European culture had a coherence in its values and institutions that did in fact begin to come apart during 18C [the 18th century], prompted by the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.” The disruption of Western cultural coherence helped undermine the belief systems of purpose and autonomy, and the intellectual legacy of the late 19th and 20th centuries in what he calls “nihilism,” the denial that life has a purpose or that human beings can achieve it. The thought and influence of figures like Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Jean Paul Sartre helped finish off what coherence remained.

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