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The Jewish Century
Yuri Slezkine
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004
$29.95 (cloth)
x + 438 pages
Reviewed by Kevin MacDonald
persistent theme among critics of Jews—particularly those on the
pre-World War II right—has been that the Bolshevik revolution was a
Jewish revolution and that the Soviet Union was dominated by Jews.
This theme appears in a wide range of writings, from Henry Ford’s International
Jew, to published statements by a long list of British, French, and American
political figures in the 1920s (Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, and David
Lloyd George), and, in its most extreme form, by Adolf Hitler, who wrote:
Now begins the last great revolution. By wresting political power
for himself, the Jew casts off the few remaining shreds of disguise
he still wears. The democratic plebeian Jew turns into the blood Jew
and the tyrant of peoples. In a few years he will try to exterminate the
national pillars of intelligence and, by robbing the peoples of their
natural spiritual leadership, will make them ripe for the slavish lot of a
permanent subjugation. The most terrible example of this is Russia.1
This long tradition stands in sharp contradiction to the official view,
promulgated by Jewish organizations and almost all contemporary historians,
that Jews played no special role in Bolshevism and indeed were specifically
victimized by it. Yuri Slezkine’s book provides a much needed resolution
to these opposing perspectives. It is an intellectual tour de force, alternately
muddled and brilliant, courageous and apologetic.
One of the muddled elements, apparent at the beginning and present
throughout The Jewish Century, is Slezkine’s claim that the peoples of the world
can be classified into two groups. The successful peoples of the modern world,
Vol. 5, No. 3
The Occidental Quarterly
termed Mercurians, are urban, mobile, literate, articulate, and intellectually
sophisticated. Distinguished by their ability to manipulate symbols, they pursue
“wealth for the sake of learning, learning for the sake of wealth, and both
wealth and learning for their own sake” (p. 1). Since Slezkine sees Jews as the
quintessential Mercurians, he regards modernization as essentially a process
of everyone becoming Jewish. His second group, which he calls Apollonians,
is rooted in the land and in traditional agrarian cultures, and prizes physical
strength and warrior values.
Slezkine conceptualizes Mercurianism as a worldview, and therefore a
matter of psychological choice, rather than as a set of psychological mechanisms, the most important of which is general intelligence.2 As a result of this
false premise, he exaggerates the similarity among Mercurians, underestimates
the power of ethnocentrism as a unifying factor in Jewish history, and fails to
understand the roots of Western social and economic institutions.
Slezkine views Judaism as one of many Mercurian cultures—peoples that
dwell alone in Diasporas, living among strangers and often acting as economic
middlemen: the Overseas Chinese, Indians, and Lebanese, and the Gypsies and
Irish Travelers. Their common denominator, in Slezkine’s view (and mine3), is
their status as strangers to the people they live among—sojourners who, above
all else, do not intermarry or socialize with the locals. Their interactions with the
local Apollonians involve “mutual hostility, suspicion and contempt” (p. 20) and
a sense of superiority. Moreover, a “common host stereotype of the Mercurians is
that they are devious, acquisitive, greedy, crafty, pushy, and crude” (p. 23). The
Mercurians possess greater kin solidarity and internal cohesion than the people
they live among; they are characterized by extended families and patriarchal
social organization.
So far, so good, although I would stress that the family organization of such
groups derives more from the long-term adaptation to the culture areas they
originate from than from an adaptation to the nomadic, middleman niche.4 But
Slezkine maintains that Mercurians are above all smarter than the people they
live among: They are said to possess “cunning intelligence,” but it is surely a
mistake to consider such disparate groups as Jews (or the Overseas Chinese)
and Gypsies (or the Irish Travelers) as having in common a particular set of
intellectual traits. After all, the Jews, as Slezkine shows, have repeatedly become
an academic, intellectual, cultural, and economic elite in Western societies,
while Gypsies have tended toward illiteracy and are at best an economically
marginal group.
Slezkine imagines that the Gypsies and literate middleman groups like the
Jews or Overseas Chinese differ not in intelligence but only in whether they
express their intelligence through literacy or an oral culture: “Businessmen,
diplomats, doctors, and psychotherapists are literate peddlers, heralds,
healers, and fortune-tellers” (p. 29)—a formulation that will not stand the test
of current psychometric data. In fact, the general patterns of Gypsies are the
Fall 2005 / MacDonald
opposite of Jews: a low-investment, low-IQ reproductive style characterized
by higher fertility, earlier onset of sexual behavior and reproduction, more
unstable pair bonds, higher rate of single parenting, shorter interval of birth
spacing, higher infant mortality rate, and higher rate of survival of low birth
weight infants.5 Intelligence, for Slezkine, is a lifestyle choice, rather than a set
of brain processes underlying information processing and strongly influenced
by genetic variation. As we shall see, this formulation is very useful to Slezkine
as he constructs his argument later in the book.
In his attempt to paint with a very broad brush, Slezkine also ignores
other real differences among the Mercurians, most notably, I would argue,
the aggressiveness of the Jews compared to the relative passivity of the
Overseas Chinese. Both the Jews and the Overseas Chinese are highly intelligent and entrepreneurial, but the Overseas Chinese have not formed a hostile
cultural elite in Southeast Asian countries, where they have chiefly settled,
and have not been concentrated in media ownership or in the construction
of culture. We do not read of Chinese cultural movements disseminated in
the major universities and media outlets that subject the traditional culture of
Southeast Asians and anti-Chinese sentiment to radical critique, or of Chinese
organizations campaigning for the removal of native cultural and religious
symbols from public places.6 Slezkine paints Jews as deeply involved in the
construction of culture and in the politics of the host societies, but the role of