Reprinting/reposting guidelines

Full text from The Last Ditch,
Whole Number 14, October 28, 1996,

slightly revised.


Editor's (and author's) note

This article, first appearing in 1996, seemed to puzzle some readers who lacked a Randian episode in their youth, but it may interest individualists, "post-neo-Randian" or otherwise, who toss and turn because of an uncomfortable awareness of racial differences. It will surely offend those who are still orthodox Objectivists and have accidentally stumbled into The Ditch. In any case, it remains my most systematic treatment of racial issues, so I believe it deserves to be posted.

— NS

Sweeping Rand's barnyard:
Racism and individualism



In the good old days I recoiled, as a rational-individualist, from treating matters of race and ethnicity. According to my intellectual hero Ayn Rand, racism was the most primitive and barbaric form of collectivism: she referred to it, unforgettably, as "a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism." [1] Despite Rand's own epistemological work on the nature and necessity of concept formation, an Objectivist would have felt that he was mincing out upon thin ice if he attempted to formulate substantially dependable concepts of human racial groups, i.e., if he investigated what individuals share ethnically and biologically, and the implications thereof. Instead, almost all of us stayed safely on shore, with Rand.

Randians, like other individualists — indeed, like everybody — did speak of human groups, of course. We often preferred to adduce archetypes rather than refer, straight out, to collectivities: thus, "the second-hander," "the muscle mystic," "the altruist," and so forth. But the collectivities were there. What made it legitimate to refer to them — to predict their behavior, to evaluate it ethically, to warn of its consequences — was that each member had chosen to join his group by adopting evil premises and rejecting reason. He was a self-made villain.

Randians could even speak of racial groups (although in practice we almost never did); we did not fall into the absurdity of denying that human races exist, as many racial liberals and egalitarians do today. But one legitimately spoke of race only for trivial purposes of identification or description, based on appearance and ancestry. In my college days in the 1960s — that heady time when the movement was headquartered in the Empire State Building — I never heard from my intellectual confreres two minutes' talk about any wider significance of race.


Stuck with egalitarianism

One sticking-point for us was that, unlike the concrete referents of the concepts "table" and "tree," every human individual possesses free will. The only biologically defined human group of which we dared formulate a concept that was not trivial (as "the one-armed" or "the red-haired" are trivial) was homo sapiens itself. And the only shared attributes worth commenting on with respect to the species were free will and the ability to reason. Conceiving of smaller human groups, founded on shared genetic traits with implications for ethical or intellectual behavior, seemed to risk undermining our belief in free will and reason. For us, such unchosen traits were beneath the dignity of comment; if man has free will, such characteristics can have no significance for behavior —

— but wait. Concerning this matter of what the Objectivists did and did not believe, I must interpose a pesky "however." The fate of Eddie Willers in Atlas Shrugged reveals that Rand did — then and there, at least — accept the truth that however sterling a man's character is, however sound his self-esteem, however firm his attachment to reason, he may yet fail — perish, even — if he simply isn't smart enough to make the grade. Willers (an assistant to Dagny Taggart, one of Rand's major heroes) is honorable, loyal, and rational, but his intellectual gifts are modest. As a result, when the train he is riding breaks down without — drat the luck — any of Rand's "men of the mind" aboard, Willers can do nothing to save himself and his fellow passengers from dying stranded on the desert. Among some thoughtful Randians, that pregnant predicament is known as the "Eddie Willers Question." [2]

Rand intended the fate of Willers to be a sort of inverted testament to the heroic "men of the mind" and their indispensability. [3] But she did not plumb the other implications of what she was saying. That is forgivable: we allow a novelist the limitations of his theme; but in other Objectivist fora, the Willers Question was evaded altogether, and less forgivably. I recall reading in the old Objectivist magazine a rave review of Montessori programs — which in those days were first gaining widespread publicity in this country — that maintained that intelligence is significantly malleable if the subject is exposed to the right cognitive stimuli from infancy. The subtext was: native intelligence isn't worth talking about.

More recently, upon talking this over with an Objectivist friend, I learned that the assumption still exists that an individual's inherited intelligence is relatively unimportant because proper training and intellectual habits can enhance his "operational" intelligence. I would like to believe such enhancement is possible, but it has little relevance to the characteristic biological inheritance of long-standing human racial groups and the comparison of their average intelligence. Whites can take Montessori classes, too, and they have an equal right to take them. [4]

The Willers Question aside, the Objectivists, and I among them, consistently rejected determinism with respect to the content of our thinking. Do our ideas proceed from our genes? Are there, then, different truths for different racial groups? including different ethical truths? Of course not. Such a notion contradicts the whole idea of truth discoverable by reason. Determinists had some gall in employing reason and logic to argue for the idea that ideas are determined and not the result of reason and logic! [5] Philosophically we rejected determinism.

We were right to do so, but in retrospect, I see that even that understanding of determinism wanted refining. Anyone who has spent time in Objectivist circles knows that the Randian philosophical idiom is uneasy with such forces as influence and probability — the formulation of which is necessarily imprecise as those forces relate to individual human action. They are slippery things, and there is a danger that, in the hands of the intellectually clumsy, they will become a slippery slope toward determinism. That danger scared us off. (As you would expect, the above assumptions and fears placed severe limits on Objectivist social analysis. I feel safe in saying that there are no Objectivist sociologists; none, at least, whom Rand in the full flower of her fury would not have cast into the outer darkness.)

Another sticking-point was the difficulty of identifying the common attributes of individuals that would justify building a concept such as "Negro" or "Caucasian." It is much easier with tables and trees. With races of men, the only common attribute it is easy to name is that of ancestry; and while that is the starting point, it does not take us far, except, perhaps, all the way 'round in a circle.

To be fair, I must admit that in the old days we lacked much of the data necessary to construct more-heuristic concepts of race. Now, however, J. Philippe Rushton and other investigators have given us the key. [6] They have demonstrated a statistically robust clustering of traits characteristic of people who, by ancestry, are members of one or another of the great human racial groups — traits such as stature, timbre of voice, and musculature; onset of puberty, subsequent sex drive, and fecundity; cognitive development and creative gifts; hormone-influenced qualities such as impulsiveness, excitability, extroversion, and physical activeness; incidence of certain diseases; brain size; and on and on. Although we may never find an individual who expresses all the characteristic traits of his race, especially if he is of mixed blood, we can now conceive of a "typical Negro" or "typical Caucasian," and predict with a high degree of confidence how successfully (by our lights) a group of such people will live among themselves and interact with others. We have the basis for a concept we can reliably use for predictive, sociological, and prudential purposes.

A final sticking-point, at least for me, was the apparent unimportance in the old days of thinking of people in terms of racial groups. It didn't seem vital for understanding what was happening in American society and culture. As a lover of freedom, I naturally opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar unjust impositions; but it was not yet clear how far our rulers would go in assigning, by law, the entire population to more- and less-favored racial groups. It wasn't clear how all-encompassing the attack on white Western civilization would be. It wasn't clear how grave would be the impact on our lives, and on our children's future. I insist that we have the right, 30 years later, to examine that state favoritism and cultural destruction, and the premises they are based on. In doing so, we have to talk of race and consider whether our rulers' proposition of racial egalitarianism is true.

In this connection, let me adduce Rand's Razor: "Concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity — the corollary of which is: nor are they to be integrated in disregard of necessity." [7] That is to say, since the context of our knowledge has changed since the 1960s, we can no longer legitimately integrate and thus "take off the table" possible concepts of large groups of people with differential traits — the races.

Beginning, as we can see now, with Brown vs. the Board of Education, the Permanent Regime has mounted an effort of Pharaonic proportions ostensibly aimed at equalizing the material and intellectual environment of "oppressed minorities," especially blacks, with that of white Americans. Questions of justice and state-driven racial favoritism aside, it is obvious that if the average Negro possesses a genetic endowment less suited than that of the average white to success in an advanced Western society, those coercive-egalitarian policies must fail in achieving their purported aim.

A number of brilliant thoughtcriminals, including Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray, and Michael Levin, have pointed that out in various writings.


Rules of thumb

Given our sturdy racial concepts, based on the clustering of traits, we can predict certain kinds of behavior and ability on the part of a given individual who exhibits one obvious trait (typically skin color) but who is otherwise a stranger to us. [8] This approach is neither deterministic nor irrationally collectivistic. Instead, call it rationally probabalistic.

Although each individual's genetic endowment will express a particular — indeed, unfathomably unique — complex of traits, once the great cluster of traits characteristic of his race is known we have to ask which state of affairs we may more readily expect when we meet a given individual in uncontrolled circumstances: that he will reflect the average characteristics of his race, or that he will be an exception. But to ask the question is to answer it.

As any individualist knows, on the street we never encounter "groups" or "races" as a physical entity; we encounter only individuals. Let us consider the proverbial "racist cab driver" who will not accept male Negro youths as fares. It is easy for academics in leafy college towns and journalists in their security-barricaded newsrooms and studios to denounce such cabbies as evil and benighted men; but they do not drive cabs for a living. They have not earned and do not have the cabbie's "street smarts" (a quality that liberals are willing enough to allow Negroes themselves to display). A male Negro youth who is a graduate student in chemistry and lover of Mozart, peace, and order certainly will feel the sting as a cab driver ignores his hail and sweeps past at 40 mph; and we may forgive him for thinking ill of the cabbie. But, as Rand taught us, benevolence and charity are voluntary. That goes double when one's life and limb are at stake. The cabbie knows that he is far more likely to be assaulted, robbed, and killed by a male Negro youth than by — for instance — an old Oriental gentleman or even a Negro woman (and by the way, both white and black cabbies know it). On the street, such rules of thumb prevail. And notions of determinism do not come into play; only probabilities and experience.

Those of us uncomfortable with that sort of thing as it relates to individual members of certain races may deliberately resist its application, and, depending on where we live and travel, may escape injury. But as a policy, that is not just rash, it is — if I may unleash the all-purpose anathema of Randians — altruistic (not to mention irrational).

All of us, including Objectivists, observe rules of thumb in other cases. When we see men with sawn-off shotguns and ski masks departing a bank, we fear we are in the presence of violent criminals — even though it may only be that Brink's has adopted new gear for its employees, in which case we are being unfair to men doing an honest day's work. We respond not according to any notion of determinism but, instead, according to the odds as we roughly calculate them, on the basis of our experience and credible reports of others' experience.

And we must do so, if we have a care for our own interests. We live in a world of scarcity, including information scarcity; and in that real world of men, time, and events (if I may yet again exploit James Burnham's pithy phrase), we depend on partial evidence, on quick estimates, on rules of thumb — in short, on what writers before me have called "rational prejudice." [9]

Lest anyone detect an insufficiency of plain speaking here, let me divulge how one of my personal rules of thumb works in practice. I have as little as possible to do with strange Negroes — that is, Negroes whose departure from the least constructive traits of their race has yet to be demonstrated to me. [10] I freely admit it. There have to be millions of liberals out there, swirling their martinis at suburban cocktail parties and murmuring comfortable bromides, who privately observe the same rule but won't admit it. Actually, many do admit it, and not only by where they choose to live and send their children to school. Nowadays the bromides at those cocktail parties are often punctuated by caustic racial jokes that 20 years ago would have gotten one read right out of liberaldom.


Prisoners of race?

The conventional Randian emphasis on the malleability of intelligence does not refute rational racism, but the general question is still interesting: How far is it possible for an individual to depart, through an act of mental (including ethical) focus, from racial traits he was born with? And if we can answer that question, does the answer hold any significance for individualists?

I will indulge in no japes about Michael Jackson and plastic surgery. Facial features and skin color are an important variable for the legibility of facial expression and, of course, are important clues for the probable presence of other traits; but it is those other traits that I am interested in, traits much more relevant to behavior and ability than skin color. Many important racial traits cannot be changed at all, short of Dr. Moreau-type surgery or some pretty risky chemotherapy: for example, skeletal structure, cranial size, brain weight, onset of puberty, testosterone production, and the speed with which the brain metabolizes glucose. Let us call such traits "first-order" traits, and traits such as temperament and intelligence "second-order" traits. Second-order traits depend in some way on the biological equipment described by reference to first-order traits, but the relationship between the two orders of traits is mediated by consciousness. To what extent?

The libertarian philosopher Roy Childs once commented (in a conversation circa 1971 that was innocent of any racial applications) that our free will is absolute within its scope but that that scope is much smaller than most of us would like to believe. Thus, our context circumscribes the range of decisions open to us; I think we may fairly infer that that context includes the context of our genetic inheritance.

When revealed through absurd examples, we all recognize the truth of that. Unlike the John Travolta character in the movie "Phenomenon," we cannot start conversing fluently in Portuguese after 20 minutes' study, although everyone capable of reading this article could eventually learn some Portuguese. Speaking Portuguese is a purely mental, voluntary behavior — yet the ultimate limitation on that behavior is almost certainly centered not in our mind or in our will, but in our brain. We all could learn some Portuguese — especially as children — but with the best teachers, the best will in the world, and the most heroic mental focus, some of us would still learn less of it, or learn it slower, than others.

Likewise, when confronting individual genius we all concede that hardly any of us can expect to grow up to sing like Pavarotti, fiddle like Heifetz, or dance like Nureyev. It is highly likely that our inability to do so rests not just on an absence of early training and a lack of inclination; surely it rests also on a biologically based inferiority.

Even cultural traits — traits, that is, that are usually assumed to result wholly from one's early environment — can be extremely difficult to cast aside. People often equate changing one's cultural traits with cultivating a taste for Mexican food or Russian music. Such behavior modifications are little more difficult than switching from Coke to Pepsi. But when we proceed to "deeper" cultural traits such as our tolerance for noise or our tastes in human beauty or sexual desirability, we see that it is not nearly that simple. We know that it is possible to change such traits radically, or at least suppress them, from the example of postcivilized white youths who eagerly listen to "Rap" instead of music and who do not think twice about interracial dating — but we must reflect that that particular Rome was not unbuilt in a day.

We find still less room for maneuver when we penetrate to traits nearer the cultural/biological frontier — our tolerance for certain odors, our sexual expressiveness, or the limits to our athletic conditioning and our sharpening of certain athletic skills.

In passing, I will note that even Objectivists and other racially unconscious individualists do not hesitate to talk of the pervasive influence of culture when it serves their broader arguments. For example, one of the country's two leading Objectivist philosophers, Leonard Peikoff, in accounting for the growing racism among blacks (the sort of blanket racial enmity that both he and I consider irrational), concludes that blacks are the victims of white philosophers who laid the foundations of our "Kantian culture." As an individualist, I think his argument would benefit from an explicit stipulation that blacks, as rational beings with free will, could have rejected those evil ideas, particularly since the ideas are purely a matter of intellectual culture and may be presumed to lie far from any cultural/biological frontier. All of that aside, I am pleased that henceforth I will be able to cite Leonard Peikoff on the power of culture to influence great groupings of men. [11]

In the realm of economics, too, individualists do not hesitate to premise their analysis on the probable behavior of groups. Indeed, they — we — speak of "iron laws" of economics, such as the law that men will act to maximize utility, the law of supply and demand, and so on.


Now to the main event, intelligence. On which side of the cultural/biological frontier does it lie, and how malleable is it? [12] In discussions of race, liberals and egalitarians take intelligence to be a variable purely of one's cultural environment. But in everyday life, and outside a racial context, they would consider the pure "environmentalist" idea crazy if applied to the individuals they actually know and interact with. Listen to them talk about the "interbred gene pool" and "extra chromosomes" of the group toward whom they feel free to act as racists: white hillbillies. Appalachians aside, liberals also admit (with much greater sympathy) the genuineness of biologically based mental retardation. If they were willing to confront modern investigations of the subject, they would discover that scientists such as Rushton have established a high correlation between average intelligence and a wide range of unquestionably inherited traits, clustered by race. [13] They would also discover, in the results of twin studies, that while extraordinary environmental interventions — the adoption and raising of Negro children by wealthy, highly educated white parents — can produce a modest rise in IQ above the control level, such improvements are only temporary.

Whether or not racially correlated differences in temperament and intelligence are environmentally or genetically caused, a resolute individual can mediate such second-order traits to some extent. Just as a hothead can learn to control his temper, and an alcoholic his alcoholism (typically by total abstinence), so also can a typical Negro male, albeit testosterone-poisoned by white standards, moderate his sexual aggressiveness through a continuing act of focus or by diverting his energies into work or sports.

That is not an especially tragic plight, or so hideous that we must avert our face from it. Surely all of us, of whatever race, face internal as well as external challenges. Surely we all struggle with problematic inherited traits that we must overcome if we wish to live honorable, productive, civilized, and satisfying lives. We should remember that such challenges cannot be met unless they are first identified. Blanking out on racial differences is a disservice to blacks, because it leaves them helpless against internal challenges that are not identified. Identifying internal challenges is a matter of special moral urgency for those whose natural drives, when left unmediated, predispose them toward violent or otherwise antisocial behavior. Each of us is responsible for controlling his urges, whatever their source.

Moreover, as was suggested above, by learning effective habits of mind and keeping in full focus — by adhering to reality as one's only context and reason as one's only guide, as some Randians are wont to put it — one may be able to produce in himself an "operational intelligence" superior to that of one's better-endowed fellows who choose to be scatterbrained or irrational.

Yet when we treat the great racial groups — when scientists grind out their statistical averages, and the street-smart formulate their rules of thumb — the efforts of those exceptionally strong-willed, highly focused individuals have already been discounted; they, too, have added their mite to the averages. While we remain alert to the inevitability of individual variances, and while we may, in protected situations, choose to give individuals the benefit of the doubt, the law of probability remains iron. Even for individualists.


"White Rights"

I am a rebel soldier and far from my home.

— "The Rebel Soldier," a folksong of Virginia

Finally, what should an individualist make of war cries such as "White Rights" and injunctions such as "We must fight for our race"? Both phrases stink of movement activism, especially the latter, but instead of ringing the expected TLD changes on the futility of activism in an era of Polite Totalitarianism, I will focus primarily on the question of their moral legitimacy.

In the modern reflex-mind, "White Rights" entails the denial of equal rights to nonwhites, just as "racism" evokes images of gas chambers, unjust lynchings, and, more recently, church burnings. [14] Now, many of my co-conspirators propose "racialism" or "racial realism" to describe our approach, and I suppose tactical and prudential considerations may recommend those tags; so I do not insist on "racist." Still, it is accurate — it describes correctly an intellectual position that recognizes, among human racial groups, biological differences that are important for (please forgive me) "public policy" as well as for individual action. Using the word "racist" is therefore morally legitimate for those who hold reality as their context, including their ethical context.

The same is true with respect to "White Rights." There is nothing in the phrase that denies equal Black Rights or Yellow Rights or Brown Rights. I concede that in polite debate, the proper rejoinder to claims of special Black Rights (or — what amounts to the same thing — of "civil rights") is "Equal Rights for Everybody." But we are not engaged in polite debate with our adversaries. Rather, we are now engaged in a great racial war, low in intensity like most postmodern wars but fought on many fronts. White criminal masterminds (both Jewish and non-Jewish) and their Negro henchmen deny us — through the initiation of both state and private violence — our equal rights on the streets, in our workplaces, in our schools, and in our neighborhoods. They rob us blind, within and without the law. They deny us the freedom of choosing whom we will associate with and whom we will spurn — a freedom rooted in the natural and primeval bedrock of kinship, friendship, and heart-sprung hospitality. Their police robots murdered Randy Weaver's wife and son after the Weavers tried to exercise that freedom of association. And their robot outlaws murdered young Michael Westerman for displaying the preeminent symbol of the attempt to exercise that same freedom: the Confederate Battle Flag.

Black supremacists, none of whom to my knowledge quite qualify as libertarians, may well confuse our declaration of White Rights with a demand for state-enforced white supremacy, because they themselves have no understanding of equal liberty. But one thing they will not mistake, when we use the slogan, is our refusal to give up one more inch of ground to them, morally or intellectually.

However, there is a danger in admitting "White Rights" to our vocabulary, particularly when it becomes a slogan that we use unreflectively. We may forget the rule of equal liberty and seek to control things we have no right to control. Often when racists or "racialists" refer to "our" country, "our" culture, or even "our" neighborhoods, they forget that they do not, as individuals, own those things.

I refer the reader to my "Pride in the ruins" series for discussion of how meaningful it is for us to associate ourselves with the achievements of our ancestors. But the issue of prideful association aside, it is indisputable that "our" race built this country; and indisputable also, by definition, that it built Western civilization. [15] Certainly we need not apologize for our desire to preserve those things, insofar as they are good things, in recognizable form. And for that to happen, the white race must certainly survive and must resist enslavement. The question is how far we may morally go in seeking those ends.

We conceive of our homes as ours in a proprietary sense (not merely in the attributive sense of "our" race), and rightly so. It is moral to protect them against interlopers, whether we use rottweilers, shotguns, or main strength. But conceiving of the country as "ours" in the same sense will surely lead us to support a great state apparatus with powerful and intrusive police forces. It will lead us to violate the rights of those who, however unfortunately, are as American as we are. I refer principally to American Negroes, who were born here and have their own homes, ancestry, and traditions on this soil. Their homes are as much theirs in the proprietary sense as our homes are ours. (I except from the foregoing all those, of whatever race, who live in "public" housing or receive housing subsidies extorted from their countrymen.)

"Fighting for the white race" presents even deeper pitfalls for the individualist. Before I enlist to fight for my race, I need to know whose orders I will have to take — a bullying clan patriarch's? a flat-Earther's? a socialist's? I also need to know whether I can quit and go home whenever I want. Kind things have been written about Robert E. Lee in this journal, and apparently he was indeed a man of knightly honor and saintly character. And his enemies are our enemies. But any individualist who "jined up" to fight under Marse Robert may well have had second thoughts when he found himself on the outskirts of a small town in Pennsylvania — miles from his homeland — under orders to participate in Pickett's Charge. He may have wondered how moral it was to toss his life away in a dubious effort to reach the Clump of Trees. And how moral it was to shoot down Pennsylvanians who (at that point, at least) were only defending their homes. And how moral it was to order any of it.

What then is the honorable stand for white individualists as — in the words of the poet — "The color of our skin / Becomes our uniform of war"? [16] Not being collectivists, we have not chosen it as a uniform of war. Not being aggressors, we have declared no racial war (nor did we start the wider war that is being waged against all decent human society). But we wear our uniform nonetheless. Whatever we do — whatever action we deem practical and moral — it is bootless and immoral to deny the fact and the importance of our ethnic identity.

That denial is peculiar to Majority whites. It is virtually unknown among our unchosen rivals — blacks, Hispanics, and anti-Majority Jews. I do not propose that we imitate those blacks and Hispanics who identify with their race in an irrational, self-sacrificial way. From an Objectivist perspective, it appears likely that unreason and (spiritual) self-sacrifice are bound up inextricably with the fact that the race-warriors among the Official Minorities are on the offense — they are initiating force, propagating untruth, wreaking injustice, and that is injurious to their own souls. [17] But we are on the defense; reason and justice are with us. Insofar as our individual well-being depends on the survival of the white race and culture, there is one rational, moral, race-conscious rule that individualists can observe, in that ever-narrowing scope of choice open to us:


Let us not strip ourselves of our identity and enter no man's land naked, crying, "We are not your enemy!" If our fate is to be shot down, let us, at least, deny our killers a reason to smile.

Posted November 14, 2001


Published 1996, 2001 by WTM Enterprises.

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