I’ve been asked a number of times about my thoughts on the paper produced by someone calling himself Nathan Cofans, examining Kevin McDonald’s theories on Jewish exceptionalism. I had skimmed it prior to last week’s epistle to the anti-Semites and gave a good read the other day, with the idea of treating it as a serious set of arguments. Going back and re-reading it, I kept thinking that it was not produced with the goal of expanding the stock of human knowledge or with the goal of shedding light on McDonald’s claims.
Instead, I kept getting the image of the abbot, marshaling his monks to craft the latest defense of the faith and the realm. I was never a big Moldbug fan, but he picked a good word when describing the prevailing orthodoxy as a “cathedral.” It’s not so much that it is an accurate label, but that it conjures the right sort of image. The people in charge of us, have a set of beliefs that serve as a secular religion, justifying their actions and their position. They respond to challenges the same way the Church responded to heretics.
The two people behind this orchestrated campaign to denounce the heretic McDonald and his followers, are a member of the clerisy and a novice. Jonathan Anomaly is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona. His novice, Nathan Cofnas, is a graduate student at Oxford. They have collaborated on this article at Quillette, which is mostly a way to promote this long critique of Kevin McDonald’s book, The Culture of Critique, which has become the textbook of modern anti-Semites.
The reason for describing Anomaly and Cofnas this way is for accuracy. If you work in the academy, you must defend the orthodoxy. In the West, particularly America, universities are theological centers, more like madrassas than places for open debate. If an academic starts talking frankly about observable reality, especially when it comes to the human sciences, they are either committing career suicide, headed for retirement or having a breakdown. Honesty gets even the best scholars hurled into the void.
Cofnas is working his fingers bloody promoting his paper on social media, even getting into slap fights with defenders of McDonald. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is clearly an elaborate effort to counter-signal the alt-right. He has written for legacy-right outfits like The Weekly Standard and National Review, so it is safe to assume he is hostile to modern right-wing movements. Again, there is nothing wrong with it, but it means we should not treat his paper as anything other than polemic on behalf of his team.
Now, I’ve already said I am a skeptic of Kevin McDonald’s theory of group evolutionary strategy. It could be brilliant, but it could be nonsense too. In the human sciences, it is a good idea to be cautious of bespoke theories that define one very narrow set of observations. A million years ago, John Derbyshire hit the nail on the head when he wrote that “There is a whiff of teleology about this whole business.” It’s intelligent design, except the Jews themselves were the designers. That strikes me as implausible.
With all the caveats, qualifications and disclaimers done, what about the Cofnas paper?
The first thing worth noticing is under the second section, titled “Jewish High IQ and Geography” where he posits an alternative theory for Jewish achievement. He points out that the concentration of Jews in urban areas may be the missing piece of the puzzle, with regards to the over-representation in intellectual endeavors. This is not a new idea, but it is something McDonald ignored in his argument. The error Cofnas makes is in declaring it the “default hypothesis” as if it is manifestly obvious or accepted science.
This is the sort of intellectual base stealing that McDonald would point to as an example of Jewish cultural habits. It also strikes me as signalling. The point of doing it early in the paper is to let the people in charge know who is on the side of light in this thing. This is one of the central themes of neo-reaction. Debate is not an argument about facts and reason, for the purpose of discovering truths. Instead, it is about defending the dominant orthodoxy, which supports and legitimizes the people currently in power – The Cathedral.
The other thing that struck me is that Cofnas falls down the same hole we see all the time in modern political debate. He defines Right and Left as a debate over hustling commas around the tax code. That means a “right-wing” movement like libertarianism is the flip side of some left-wing movement like Marxism. It’s also how you end up with Adolph on the same side as Von Mises. The conventional political scale is not a reflection of intellectual reality, but a rejection of it in favor of defending the current liberal order.
A point that cannot be made enough is that America has been dominated by the Yankee ruling elite since Gettysburg. As a result, our politics have operated entirely within the sphere of Progressive orthodoxy. After World War II, this extended across the West as the American empire imposed its cultural norms onto the provincial ruling elites in the territories. In America, Progressives have had a long lovers quarrel with themselves, in the form of spats between conservatives and liberals, Democrats versus Republicans.
This is why the paper amounts to nothing more than a laundry list of picked nits and mindless hairsplitting. This scene kept coming to mind. Cofnas is a young person trying to please his masters, so he is going to great lengths to prove he has studied the material, by offering up an exhausting list of granular criticism. That’s probably a good career move, one that anyone familiar with the Imperial Examination System would appreciate. Fans of McDonald, however, will see this as confirmation of their beliefs about Jews.
Does Cofnas “debunk” McDonald, as he claims?
Not in the least, as far as I can see. That’s mostly because he never bothers to take on McDonald’s central thesis. Instead, he nibbles around at tertiary arguments in an elaborate effort to counter-signal. That’s most likely the point of the exercise, so he probably achieved what he set out to achieve. He is a young defender of the faith and will be given a post on the walls, lending his credentials to de rigueur arguments at legacy publications like National Review and The Weekly Standard. The Cathedral has another guard.