Neither Content Nor Character
THE END OF RACISM: PRINCIPLES FOR A MULTIRACIAL SOCIETY
The Free Press, 1995, xi + 724 pp.
D'Souza's massive tome is structured by a simple message.
Relations between whites and blacks in the contemporary
United States are deep in crisis, but a way out exists. The
crisis stems from the practices of large numbers of blacks,
whose lives D'Souza describes in scathing terms that have
already led to accusations of racism against him.
What prevents adequate measures to deal with such
problems as crime, drug use, and illiteracy in the black
community? D'Souza locates a surprising villain: cultural
relativism. This doctrine, taught by the early twentieth-
century anthropologist Franz Boas and his many disciples at
Columbia University, holds that cultures cannot be ranked as
superior or inferior. Values are relative to culture rather
than universal, and all cultures are in essence equal.
The doctrine arose as a salutary reaction to racism, an
ideology of racial superiority that D'Souza maintains began
in Enlightened Europe. But continued adherence to it now has
calamitous consequences. If all cultures are equal, blacks
should do as well economically and socially as whites. Since
they do not, discrimination must be at fault.
Hence, the merit principle, on which a free society
rests, has been abandoned in favor of quotas. Further,
measures cannot be taken to combat the deleterious practices
of the black community. To do so would imply that these
practices are bad, and this cultural relativism forbids.
Owing to these practices, racism has in some circles made a
comeback; but this view ought to be rejected. Thoroughly
dispose of cultural relativism, and all will be well.
I have so far described D'Souza's thesis in (I hope)
neutral terms. This I have done with great difficulty, and I
now cast neutrality to the winds. The book is utterly bad,
one of the worst I have read in many years. Its principal
arguments fail, but that is the least of its problems.
D'Souza's level of inaccuracy and the incompetence of his
arguments are staggering.
Let us first have a look at D'Souza as historian. He
devotes one section of the book to the controversy over
whether all humans form part of the same species. He informs
us that the "polygenist position [the view that humans
consist of more than one species] gathered strength in the
early nineteenth century. . . . Moreover, European
freethinkers such as Voltaire, Saint-Simon, and Giordano
Bruno seized on the idea of separate creation and intrinsic
black inferiority as a polemical weapon against the
Christian churches" (p. 125). It is a bit difficult to
fathom why Bruno is listed as an early nineteenth century
thinker: he was burned at the stake in 1600. At least with
Voltaire, who died in 1778, D'Souza is not so far off. Henry
Home, who adopted the judicial title Lord Kames, becomes
"Henry Homer Kames" (p. 125).
A few pages later, D'Souza informs us: "The controversy
between monogenists and polygenists was settled in favor of
the former with the publication of Darwin's The Origin of
Species and The Descent of Man" (p. 128). Really?
The Origin of Species does not discuss human
evolution at all. It is quite true that Darwin wrote with
favor of monogenesis in The Descent of Man; but why
does D'Souza think that Darwin's discussion settled the
issue? One of D'Souza's sources, George Stocking's Race,
Culture, and Evolution, argues that it did not: has
D'Souza read his own source? And if D'Souza thinks that the
controversy was settled in the nineteenth century, why does
he later remark: "it is no longer clear that all human
beings have a recent shared origin. In a fascinating revival
of polygenism, the Eve' hypothesis has been strongly
contested by what scientists call the candelabra'
hypothesis which holds that the races may have evolved
separately" (p. 467)?
I fear that the history of biology is not D'Souza's
strong suit. He states: "Darwin showed that evolution
occurred not through the inheritance of acquired traits but
through the elimination of the unfit" (p. 129). Not quite;
Darwin thought natural selection the main mechanism of
evolution, but inheritance of acquired characters is an
explicit part of his account. D'Souza is even unable to
state correctly the subtitle of the Origin of
Haeckel's biogenetic law, a principle of embryology, is,
incredibly, taken to hold "that the development of children
from infancy through adolescence to maturity directly
parallels the development of societies from primitivism
through barbarism to civilization" (p. 133). On the same
page, he includes Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an Englishman
who became a naturalized German, in a list of fevered
nativists concerned with restricting immigration to the
Have I unfairly picked out for abuse a few atypical
pages? Not at all; D'Souza's ineptitude is wide-ranging. He
states: "Although Hobbes argued for absolute monarchy, his
philosophy broke with the ancients in asserting that the
wisdom of the king is only legitimate when it is ratified by
the consent of the governed; all else is tyranny" (p. 104).
Just the opposite; those who enter the social contract agree
to obey the sovereign unconditionally.
Locke fares little better: "As Locke and Hobbes have it,
man enters into a social contract in which he exchanges his
natural rights for civil rights" (p. 535). No; in Locke, one
gives up the right to enforce the law of nature, not one's
According to our author, Herbert Spencer argued "that
promises of human rights and equality were absurd attempts
to regulate the laws of evolution that would end up
restricting human progress" (p. 133). Has D'Souza even
glanced at Social Statics or The Principles of
Ethics? The basis of Spencer's ethics is his "law of
D'Souza has a remarkable penchant for getting things
exactly backwards. Another instance he writes: "Justice
Taney's argument in Dred Scott, that the American
founders were hypocrites who produced a pro-slavery regime .
. . rests on the apparent contradiction between stated
ideals and actual practice [of slave holding] . . . This is
the force behind Taney's insistence that these men could not
have meant what they said" (p. 107). But Taney's argument is
(in part) that since the founders were not
hypocrites, the equality clause does not accord equal rights
So much for D'Souza as historian. Let us watch him as he
dons the mantle of philosophy. Cultural relativism, his main
target, must be refuted. Contrary to the relativists, there
may well be ethical truths "Western in origin but universal
in their application" (p. 385). In reply, the relativist
will probably invoke the fact-value distinction. "According
to this view . . . we can through scientific techniques know
facts, but we have no rational basis for preferring the
values of one culture (or individual) to those of another.
Yet the fact-value distinction also contains serious
problems. Is the distinction itself a fact or a value? If it
is a value, then we must conclude that it is arbitrary and
there is no scientific basis for believing it" (p. 385). And
what happens if the distinction is a fact? D'Souza's
argument at once collapses.
D'Souza's own view of ethics is incoherent. He asks us
not "to dismiss the possibility that political or moral
propositions may be considered as permanent and universal
(although not necessarily absolute) truths" (p. 386). How
can a truth be permanent and universal without being
But what of D'Souza's central argument? No doubt the
failings of Boas's cultural relativism are many, but I do
not think that contemporary racial problems can be blamed on
its adoption. The doctrine, first, has to do with
comparisons among different societies: it rules out judging
a society by the values of another. Yet nothing prevents a
cultural relativist from saying that in our society, high
crime rates and illegitimacy are bad.
Further, cultural relativism does not imply trait
relativism the view that no trait of any culture may be
judged by other than its own standards. A cultural
relativist can consistently maintain, for example, that
Aztec human sacrifice is objectively bad, so long as he
thinks that Aztec culture as a whole cannot be rated better
or worse than others.1 To get the consequences D'Souza
wants, one would have to adopt trait relativism and then
widen it so that it applies to groups within a society.
Then, indeed, one would be blocked from saying that high
rates of crime among blacks are bad. But who holds so
implausible a view?
And even if someone did hold the extreme version of
group-trait relativism just sketched, D'Souza's argument
would still fail. Relativism is a position about ethics: it
does not prevent anyone from holding that those who practice
certain forms of behavior will be apt to have low incomes,
or suffer other disabilities. How then does cultural
relativism prevent anyone from seeking change in the black
In spite of his very negative characterization of many
blacks, D'Souza insists that he is not a racist. What better
way to show this than to find scholars of note that he can
stigmatize as racists, and then condemn them? How then can
critics possibly accuse D'Souza of racism? Does he not
The tactic is a clever one, but by this point in his
analysis, there is nothing left of the author's credibility.
The "racists" he elects to condemn Jared Taylor, Samuel
Francis, and Michael Levin are, unlike D'Souza, meticulous
journalists and serious scholars of remarkable intelligence.
I have been told that D'Souza's account of them had to be
amended at the last minute in order to avert legal action,
and I regret that the many other thinkers he misrepresents
do not have access to the courts. I hope that D'Souza's
effort to extend the boundaries of human stupidity does no