The Misguided Case for Indigenous Recognition in the Constitution (Part II)

The Expert Panel’s irrationality is compounded by its slavish devotion to the United Nations, an organisation compromised by cultural Marxism from its early days. The Report points out that the Whitlam government ratified the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) and that signatories are obliged to legislate accordingly.[1] However, it does not report that in signing the Convention, the Whitlam government regretted that it could not criminalise all the acts covered by Article 4(a) of the Convention, such as expressing opinions likely to promote racial discrimination, but undertook to do so “at the first suitable moment”.[2] Neither does the Report acknowledge the obvious threat this article poses to civil liberties. Although the panel recommended a constitutional prohibition only of government discrimination, in its discussion it implied that individual discrimination should be suppressed, again based on the UN: “The Charter of the United Nations … provides a clear foundation for the international prohibition of racial discrimination.”[3] The Report respectfully cites several UN documents, including the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Expert Panel sought out principles it considered authoritative—and sometimes mandatory due to treaty obligations—as guides and spurs to recognising indigenous peoples in the Constitution.

Ideological irrationality has not been properly savoured until one has read UNDRIP, signed by Australia in 2009. The Expert Panel’s Report was clearly influenced by UNDRIP, referring to it respectfully—never critically—on thirteen pages.[4] UNDRIP was a master document to the Report, just as the UNCERD was the master document to Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act of 1975.[5] The latter reproduced the UN’s absurd definition of discrimination, as discussed below. UNDRIP extends rights to language, culture and land. Its thrust is to build indigenous sovereignty and undermine national sovereignty. Ideological and ethnic agendas make the document awash with contradictions.

UNDRIP declares indigenous rights which entail discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or descent.[6] This runs counter to the spirit of UNCERD, which was meant to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination, though that document does allow for exemptions. Although there is formal protection of state sovereignty (UNDRIP Article 46(1)) and affirmation of the rule of law (Article 46(2)), no countervailing national rights are acknowledged that would limit indigenous demands.

UNDRIP privileges indigenous ethnic solidarity. For example, Article 17(3) disallows discrimination against indigenous individuals regarding labour, employment or salary. But Articles 16(1) declares the indigenous right to “establish their own media in their own languages” while enjoying full and equal access to non-indigenous media. This right must involve discrimination in forming organisations along ethnic lines, preferentially employing indigenous people and determining media content.

Article 20 declares the right of indigenous peoples to “maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions”. Article 23 declares the indigenous right to determine their development priorities and to administer their health, housing and other economic and social programs “through their own institutions”. These rights mean nothing if they do not allow indigenous discrimination in favour of their own people in employment and associations.

Articles 35 to 37 come close to demanding state sovereignty for indigenous peoples. Article 35 declares the right of “Indigenous peoples … to determine the responsibilities of individuals to their communities”. Authoritative prescription of responsibilities of people is normally a state power. That power cannot be ethnically directed without differential treatment, including excluding people from employment and right of membership. That would seem to constitute racial discrimination as defined by UNCERD. Article 37 goes further in the direction of statehood by entitling indigenous peoples to recognise, observe and enforce treaties and agreements made with states and to have the latter honour those arrangements. The converse of indigenous sovereignty is erosion of existing state sovereignty, primarily that of New World Western societies.

Article 21(2) declares that governments shall “ensure continuing improvement of [indigenous peoples’] economic and social conditions”, if necessary using “special measures”. Such special treatment entails discrimination—identifying people by ethnicity and making special laws or actions for them. This article resembles the Expert Panel’s recommended section 51A for the Australian Constitution (quoted in Part I), that requires governments to advance Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in perpetuity.

Other articles of UNDRIP evoke the Aboriginal industry’s open-ended ethnocentric goals. Article 26 declares the indigenous right to “lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired”, without reference to the rights or interests of other citizens individually or collectively. Article 27 declares the indigenous right to state recognition of their “laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems”. Article 28 declares the right to restitution or compensation for land that was “confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged” without consent.

Like the Australian proposals, the UN Declaration does not limit indigenous rights by time or culture. No mention is made of accepted international laws of possession in past centuries. The declared rights are not limited to peoples recently colonised or who retain their indigenous traditions and attachment to the land. The latter proviso was set down by the High Court in its Mabo decision, making Australian legal precedent an obstacle to the UN’s radical indigenous claims. Viewed thus, the Expert Panel’s recommendations—especially the proposed section 51A’s claim about “continuing” indigenous culture, traditions and ties to the land—would circumvent Mabo using a legalistic device that removes most restrictions on indigenous sovereignty. This is another trap laid in the Report.

The anti-Western thrust of UNDRIP is clear. There were no delegates from Western Europe at the 2013 congress of indigenous peoples, an extraordinary oversight by the UN. It seems the Declaration is not intended to assist Europeans but is aimed at them as the sole perpetrators of colonialism against indigenous peoples. This overlooks millennia of conquest by non-European powers, some quite recent. The absurdity of this bias is illustrated by applying UNDRIP’s criteria objectively. Doing so would classify much of the Bantu majority of southern Africa as settlers on roughly equal footing to the Dutch Boers, leaving only the Bushmen and other ancient populations as indigenous.

Similarly Torres Strait Islanders are indigenous only in their ancestral islands. Those who live on the mainland are immigrant communities with less claim to being mainland natives than many Anglo families. The same applies to Aborigines in the absence of a pan-Australian identity. Because the indigenous rights movement presents a united front, non-indigenous people are not generally aware of divisions. But the sentiments of ordinary Aborigines may be more parochial than the overview embraced by indigenous leaders and not at all beholden to the multicultural Left.

Evidence of ethnic divisions within indigenous Australia comes from the experience of conservative Aboriginal leader Bess Price. Price is presently a Country Liberal MP in the Northern Territory parliament and an outspoken critic of domestic violence in Central Australian Aboriginal communities. In 2007 she won the enmity of leftist indigenous intellectuals when she supported the Howard government’s intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, an attempt to curb high levels of child sexual abuse and neglect. One critic was indigenous lawyer Larissa Behrendt, a graduate of Harvard Law School. Another critic was the indigenous support unit at Griffith University in Brisbane, which barred Price from visiting its offices. When Price hit back at Behrendt she alluded to her European appearance and big-city parochialism, consistent with divisions among indigenous Australians. Price called Behrendt a “white blackfella” who was out of touch with Central Australian Aborigines.[7]

As long as regional identities persist among Aborigines, a Koori is indigenous only in New South Wales and Victoria, a Murri only in southern Queensland, and a Palawah only in Tasmania. Without a pan-Aboriginal identity Palawahs would be foreigners everywhere on the continent, a reasonable designation after 15,000 years’ absence.

How did Australia came to sign a declaration as subversive of national interests and common sense as UNDRIP? To its credit the Howard government refused to sign. How did the Rudd Labor government come to approve it in 2009? What led Jenny Macklin, the relevant minister, to state that the declaration set principles nations should aspire to?[8] Did anyone think to strike a balance by proposing a declaration for the rights of nations or majorities?

The UN declarations, UNCERD and UNDRIP, formed the doctrinal background to the Expert Panel’s recommendations to alter the Australian Constitution. But neither declaration is in the Western political tradition of consistency of principle and natural justice. Neither do they accord with Anglo-Saxon tradition of civil liberties, in which freedom to discriminate is an unstated presumption, not an exemption from a general prohibition.[9] The case advanced by the Expert Panel belongs very much in the UN ideological swamp, into which Australia has been sinking for some time. The Report approvingly quotes a UN-style recommendation made by the 1988 Constitutional Commission appointed by the Hawke Labor government. The commission recommended that the following be added to the Australian Constitution:


124G (1) Everyone has the right to freedom from discrimination on the ground of race, colour, ethnic or national origin, sex, marital status, or political, religious or ethical belief.

(2) Sub section (1) is not infringed by measures taken to overcome disadvantages arising from race, colour, ethnic or national origin, sex, marital status, or political, religious or ethical belief.[10]


The Report did not define “discrimination” in this quote, giving the impression that the term means differential treatment, which captures a great deal of human interaction. In that case the 1988 recommendation would have empowered government to police natural discriminations made by everyone while conferring privileges on classes it designated. The opt-out clause resembles that exemption for affirmative action recommended by the Report in section 116A.

The 1988 recommendation and the Expert Panel’s approval of it appear extreme in the light of the naturalness and adaptiveness of discriminatory behaviour. Discrimination on the basis of group identity is what humans are evolved to do, and it has become a vital capacity in adjusting to the mass anonymous societies that emerged over the last few centuries. The same applies to segregation, another radical and UN obsession. Segregation due to government-mandated discrimination was rightfully opposed by the civil rights movement, especially in the USA. But that pejorative meaning has become decoupled from those special conditions and is often applied to voluntary arrangements. Overwhelmingly segregation is natural and morally neutral. People spontaneously are drawn to similar others, whether the criterion be culture, ethnicity, language or religion.[11] In the United States residential segregation by class and race is as pronounced as ever, despite the policing of discrimination.[12] Australians show the same tendency, immigrants often congregating in particular suburbs[13] and school composition indicating some “White flight”, though only the latter are singled out for criticism by multiculturalists.[14]

Voluntary segregation is a product of diversity in open societies. John Stuart Mill remarked that freedom means nothing without the ability to choose among whom we live.[15] The philosopher Hannah Arendt took this further when she argued—from a libertarian multicultural perspective—in support of the right of local communities to ethnic segregation in public schools. Arendt, a critic of nationalism, denied any special status for Anglo Americans. Yet she agreed with the US novelist William Faulkner that “enforced integration is no better than enforced segregation”. With regard to voluntary segregation, Arendt believed that “without discrimination of some sort, society would simply cease to exist and very important possibilities of free association and group formation would disappear”.[16]

Both the UN’s convention on indigenous rights and the Report by the Expert Panel would have benefited from adopting a more principled universal position. Extra sections could have declared the right of all to discriminate positively, in everyday life, in favour of their people, whether defined by religion, ethnicity, nationality or race. Both should have declared a universal right to free expression of ethnic affiliation and to form associations to advance collective interests.

From the classical liberal perspective there should be a presumption of the right of individuals and small businesses to discriminate in any way they choose. The need to make presumption explicit and binding is growing as society diversifies and multiculturalist lobbies grow stronger and more extreme in their demands. Unrestricted immigration has become a major threat to civil liberties as multicultural states attempt to suppress natural discriminations. As early as the 1970s, Arthur Calwell, the architect of Australia’s post-Second World War immigration program, saw the race-relations bureaucracy as a government reaction to the majority ethnic group’s attempt to assert itself in a diversifying society.[17] Social control of Western majorities is a prime goal of the anti-discrimination infrastructure. As a result, in many Western societies liberties won through centuries of political evolution are being rapidly constrained as diversity rises.


The only time the Expert Panel departs from the UN is when the UN is reasonable. The 1965 UN Convention against racial discrimination (UNCERD), Article 1 defines racial discrimination more narrowly than the dictionary definition of unequal treatment. Discrimination is unequal treatment on the basis of “race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origins” that impairs “human rights and fundamental freedoms” in public life (my emphasis). So discrimination in the sense of differential treatment is okay so long as no one has his basic rights reduced. As the overwhelming majority of social discriminations do not impact rights basic or otherwise, the UN in effect exonerates most of them. In choice of spouse, friends, neighbours, schools, doctors and business partners, discrimination is normal and unremarkable. (Having special affection for one’s own children is also permissible.) The UN allows that racial discrimination is not usually wrong. This is not to suggest that the Convention is normative. An example of it being compromised is the following qualification:


[D]ifferentiation of treatment will not constitute discrimination if the criteria for such differentiation … are legitimate … In seeking to determine whether an action has an effect contrary to the Convention, it will look to see whether that action has an unjustifiable disparate impact upon a group distinguished by race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.[18]


This clause is intended to allow wide discretion in providing special measures (“affirmative action”) for designated groups. The criteria are so imprecise that the discretion in favouring minorities is open to abuse, as multiculturalism and the subsequent UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples have demonstrated.

The UN definition of discrimination is unstable. The definition construes discrimination to be evil because it violates human rights. But the construct is so abstract and unwieldy that even its own adherents cannot stick to it. They keep drifting back to the neutral meaning of differential treatment, which would be clarifying except that they retain the pejorative content of the rights-based definition. This is the source of much confusion. It is what the Expert Panel did. By omitting the distinctions made by the UN it gives the impression that normal, moral behaviour is questionable. The effect of the oversight is to invalidate much of the Report’s claims about discrimination. An example is its pivotal statement that: “The prohibition of racial discrimination is recognised in all the major human rights instruments that have been adopted under the auspices of the United Nations.”[19] This is true only in the context of the UN’s esoteric definition of discrimination, which as we have seen forbids only those few discriminations that constrict human rights. The panel should have been aware of the UN’s definition because it is repeated in Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act of 1975, section 9(1). If the Panel had reported this definition, it would have been apparent to careful readers that most occurrences of racial discrimination, in the form of differential treatment, were acceptable to the UN General Assembly in 1965.

Additionally, the UN declarations leave state sovereignty mostly alone, at least formally. States are allowed much rein in discriminating as they wish in regulating interactions between citizens and non-citizens. Again, the Expert Panel broke with the UN where it should not, failing to include an exemption for external affairs and immigration in its proposed section 116A prohibiting racial discrimination. As a result, its recommended anti-discrimination clause would hinder the Commonwealth, for example in selecting immigrants compatible with Australia’s needs.

The Report is one big booby trap. It also ignores UNCERD where it forbids special measures that establish separate rights for any race or ethnic group or measures that continue after their objectives have been reached (Article 1(4)). But there is no sunset clause in the Expert Panel’s recommended section 51A, which states the need to advance indigenous peoples. Once installed in the Constitution this ethnic privilege could only be removed by referendum.[20]

One place the Expert Panel was misled by the UN, if they needed misleading, was in denying the biological reality of race.


The race concept

The Expert Panel recommended that the word race be removed from the Constitution. In support the Report claims without qualification that the race concept is “outdated” and scientifically discredited.[21] It devotes several pages to criticising the concept, heavily relying on statements by UNESCO. The UN statements consist of testimonials from selected scientists. Both of the UN declarations discussed above—regarding racial discrimination and the rights of indigenous peoples—deny the existence of race superiority. Actually they show no interest in the fascinating subject of human biodiversity, only matters of superiority and inferiority. It is the politics, not arcane matters of fact, that matter: “any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere”.[22] (Notice the chilling assumption that racial superiority, if demonstrated, would help justify violating someone’s human rights.)

The Report, like the UN statements, presents no arguments or evidence. The case is legalistic and rhetorical, not scientific. It aims at establishing by authority one of the key empirical premises that it uses to argue for the removal of any mention of race from the Constitution.

Space does not permit an exhaustive review of the long-standing debate on race, but suffice it that continental populations of contrasting appearance show multiple biological differences on a scale greater than that seen between races in many other species, such as subspecies of chimpanzees and gorillas.[23] To illustrate the weakness of the Expert Panel’s case I shall discuss the first authority cited in the Report,[24] anthropologist Ashley Montagu (1905–99). To be discussed are the quote provided by the Report[25] and Montagu’s most famous book on the subject, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race.[26]

The Report quotes Montagu claiming that races are not populations “whose physical differences are innately linked with significant differences in mental capacities” reflected in different cultural achievements and IQ tests. This reflects Montagu’s long-standing opposition to notions of innate racial superiority. The quote’s relevance to recognising indigenous peoples is not explained. In Australia citizens are free to acquire property and vote without passing a test of intelligence or personality. Likewise, families include individuals of diverse talents, yet all are embraced. The Montagu quote is a non sequitur where it is placed in the Report. An appropriate place would be where alternate theories of indigenous disability were discussed. But there is no such section.

Let us imagine that such a section was included, and that Montagu’s statement had been quoted to advance an environmental (non-genetic) theory as a counter to the theory that genes contribute to Aboriginal disability. The statement is too confident to be credible science. Research is not yet conclusive in this highly complex field. The precise causes of individual and group differences have still not been pinned down, though much progress has been made. We do know that races have differed greatly in cultural achievements over the last two millennia[27] and that contemporary populations show differences in intelligence.[28] Populations evolved in Eurasia have made most cultural advances and have the highest IQs. But the causes of such differences remain to be comprehensively explained.

What is the mix of environmental and genetic factors that cause group differences? The scientific debate continues, though the evidence supporting the hereditarian side is strong and growing.[29] This is not generally known because Montagu’s radical egalitarianism predominates in the mainstream media and education system as the result of its victory in the cultural cold war. Friendly to or silent in the face of this view are almost all public intellectuals and university professors in the humanities and social sciences. An example is the American evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond, who argues that Eurasia’s leading role in developing science and industry had nothing to do with characteristics of its populations but was caused by the continent’s benign environment and resources. He contends that Papuans have higher genetic intelligence than Europeans, which has not translated into material culture.[30] The opposite view, genetic determinism with no environmental input, is not advanced by any expert or public intellectual, though it has played a major role as straw man.[31] In the middle are scientists such as the psychologist Richard Lynn, who point to causes in both environment and population, the latter evolved in temperate Eurasia over tens of millennia. This hereditarian theory is a form of interactionism, the generally accepted idea that organisms are the result of genes interacting with their environment. For traits involving many genes such as intelligence, interactionism has been mainstream for a century, while monocausal arguments, whether emphasising genes or environment, are suspect. Extreme ideologies are drawn to singular explanations, whether genetic or cultural/economic determinism. The mass crimes of the twentieth century were committed by regimes that combined singular theories with totalitarian power. Lynn’s interactionism looks not only more plausible but benign as well, though his work is ignored by the soft social sciences.

One final note about racial superiority, the bête noire of Montagu and the United Nations. A problem for those who oppose notions of racial superiority is that it not only exists but is rather common. That is because group differences are common, and it is difficult to imagine a difference that cannot be seen as an advantage for one side or the other. Another problem for the bête noire mindset is that two populations can both be superior to one another. It depends on the characteristics being compared. Another problem is that the pioneers of race science developed methods, such as classification techniques, IQ tests and the like, that do not always award first place to their own peoples. For example, populations derived from North-East Asia generally have higher IQs than those derived from Europe.[32] Such objectivity is beyond the imagination of ideologues.

Montagu’s book Man’s Most Dangerous Myth is perhaps the most famous of many anti-racist publications. The original edition was published in 1942 at the height of the Second World War. I shall discuss just one argument made in a late edition, which comes with the highest academic pedigree. Montagu reports the Marxist geneticist Richard Lewontin’s 1972 genetic argument for the irrelevance of race differences.[33] This endlessly repeated argument has had considerable influence. It is used by panel member Marcia Langton, Professor of Australian Indigenous Studies at Melbourne University, and quoted in the Report.[34] Lewontin found that only 15 per cent of genetic variation occurs between populations, while 85 per cent occurs between individuals. He, and Montagu, concluded that race has “virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance”. Yet physical anthropologists, geneticists and tourists can racially classify races from bones, genes and appearance. The taxonomic dimension of “Lewontin’s fallacy” contradicted long-known principles of classification and was formally refuted in 2003 by the Oxford geneticist Anthony Edwards.[35] The argument about genetic significance has also fared poorly. Fifteen per cent variation among populations might seem small but within a population there is only 25 per cent variation among families. Are families also biologically irrelevant? Lewontin thinks so, even rejecting the view that twins resemble one another for genetic reasons. But of course there is family resemblance in a large number of heritable characteristics, just as there is resemblance between members of populations. Our Expert Panel wants to change the Australian Constitution based on such reasoning.

Fifteen per cent variation among populations is substantial for another reason. Recent analysis based on data from the Human Genome Diversity Project shows that ethnic groups are large pools of kinship. Members typically share as many genes as do cousins,[36] making Australian Aborigines a very large ethnic family indeed. Each Aboriginal is a stakeholder in the continuity and welfare of his people. The racial component of ethnic identity is another reason to respect their fellow feeling.

The Expert Panel makes two further claims about race, both dubious. The first is that Australians are coming to reject the concept of race. No survey evidence is presented. Instead, the claim is supported with a quote from panel member Noel Pearson, who claims that racial classification is harmful and “should not matter”.[37] This says nothing about public perceptions. Also, it appears to be the naturalistic fallacy in reverse, deriving an “is” from an “ought”.

Leaving that aside, is Pearson correct to claim that race is never a legitimate criterion on which to base legislation? That is a broad proposition that goes well beyond the Report’s subject of indigenous recognition. Ethnicity is a concept closer to that subject, partly because it deals with self-identity and because many indigenous people are of mixed race. Many Aborigines are of white appearance. As ethnic identity is belief in shared ancestry, someone of mixed descent can feel Aboriginal, and many do. Does it follow that “race” should be removed from the Constitution?

There are two difficulties with Pearson’s argument. First, it fails to account for the change in meaning of “race” since 1901. Until the 1930s “race” had a variety of meanings associated with descent groups: a physically distinguishable population; an ethnic group; and a nation. When Theodor Herzl applied the term to the Jewish people in advocating Zionism he meant ethnicity.[38] The latter term entered usage only in the 1930s, and took time to become widely accepted. This means that “race” in the Constitution can be interpreted widely without changing the wording. Differently put, the Constitution does not contain the race concept as presently understood but only the word race, which allows several meanings including that of common descent, preferred by the panel. The second difficulty is that the United Nations, from which the Report seeks legitimacy, uses the race concept widely. The 1965 Convention against “racial discrimination”, to which Australia remains a signatory, uses that term to mean discrimination on the basis of “race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin”,[39] indicating that as late as the 1960s “race” was still a useful shorthand for a range of descent categories.

Not only can “race” practically remain in the Constitution, it should, because the term as used in that document has broad meaning and because even in the narrow modern sense it is a valid biological and taxonomical concept and is often an important ethnic marker. The Expert Panel, which adopts the cultural Marxist criticism of the race concept, is careful to allow for affirmative action based on racial criteria. The proposed section 116(A) subsection 2 allows for government to discriminate to “overcome [the] disadvantage … of any group”.

In this section I have discussed many examples of irrationality in the Report, which falls below the scholarly and scientific standard expected of a government commission. This is reason enough to suspect its proposals.

The Report’s failure to recommend any recognition of the historic Australian nation in the Constitution is reminiscent of the national civics curriculum being introduced to schools across the country. This was advanced by the same Labor government that appointed the Expert Panel. Indigenous cultures are a major theme of the curriculum but Australia’s British and European heritage is barely mentioned.[40] Both documents are end products of a long process of cultural warfare in the field of ethnic studies.


The culture wars over ethnicity

Much about the century-old culture war over race can be understood by examining the Expert Panel’s favourite scientist. Ashley Montagu was a political radical who left his native England for the United States following the crushing of the 1926 General Strike. He became a prolific advocate for radical egalitarianism, arguing for the cultural determination of human behaviour. He criticised theories that linked human behaviour to biology, such as Konrad Lorenz’s book On Aggression in the 1960s and Edward O. Wilson’s book Sociobiology in the 1970s. One exception he allowed was his own theory that women are biologically superior to men.[41] Nothing exercised him as much as the concept of race.

Montagu was part of the far-Left school of anthropology founded by Franz Boas. He completed his doctorate under the supervision of Ruth Benedict, herself a student of Boas. The Boasians had captured the institutional high ground of academic anthropology in American universities by the end of the 1930s.[42] The movement’s signal achievement was to discredit the theory that population (including race) is an influence on culture. The doctrine spread to other social sciences, promoted by intolerant leftist ideologues such as Montagu. What had been a widely accepted theory became a taboo. The effective promotion of Boas’s politically motivated ideas on race helped separate the social sciences from the life sciences. The doctrine’s founding document was a 1912 study conducted by Boas in which he claimed that the head shapes of immigrants changed to match those of Anglo Americans. This was not inconsistent for Boas because, although trained as a physical anthropologist, he was a Lamarckian, who accepted that acquired characteristics are passed on genetically to offspring. By 1930 this theory had been rejected by anthropologists, except in the Soviet Union. Boas’s data were reanalysed in 2002 and found to yield the opposite conclusion.[43] Montagu favourably cited the head study in Man’s Most Dangerous Myth.[44]

The taboo on attributing cultural differences to biology is still policed. In 2007 the Nobel laureate James Watson, an early leader of the Human Genome Project and perhaps the most famous and revered living scientist for his co-discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, lost his job for claiming that sub-Saharan Africans have low IQ. He also stated that this would slow their economic development. Both claims are supported by a considerable body of research.[45] The referees of Big Science adopted UN-style intolerance in attacking Watson. For example, an editorial in the peak science journal Nature unreservedly condemned Watson’s views as “beyond the pale” for making “distasteful” and “crass” remarks.[46] In so doing the journal put tone before truth. Watson himself bent under the pressure and begged forgiveness. He even denied the existence of evidence for his views, despite consistent IQ data from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and Israel.[47] As already noted, the evidence for substantial race differences in intelligence is strong, though the causes and prospects for change are not yet fully determined. The cultural establishment’s censorious mindset has long been promoted by ideologues such as Montagu, though expert findings do occasionally get through to the public.[48]

Montagu shared Boas’s attitude to race and to the Soviet Union. Boas had pro-Soviet credentials, withholding criticism at the height of Stalinist repression.[49] In the first editions of Man’s Most Dangerous Myth Montagu wrote: “Soviet Russia is the outstanding example of perfect management of ethnic group relations under … unusually difficult economic conditions.”[50] This was a decade after the well-known Ukrainian genocide. The Holodomor of 1932–33 took millions of lives and was directed in part at suppressing Ukrainian nationalism. Montagu had still more praise for communism:


In the Soviet Union a determined stand has been taken against race discrimination. The rational belief in the complete equality of all races has become the official creed, and energetic educational efforts are being made to raise the social and economic conditions of the underprivileged races. Whereas in many parts of the world ruling classes or imperialist governments instigate or refrain from suppressing race conflict for reasons of hegemony or exploitation, communism helps to organize backward races in their struggle for political and economic advancement and liberation.


Montagu also adopted the Frankfurt School critique of the white working class as insufficiently radical: “[communism] contrasts with the attitude of many white labor and socialist groups among whom race interests are stronger than class interests”. Resentment of patriotism and anti-communism motivated cultural Marxists to abandon the white working class and promote revolution through immigration, an attempt to elect a new people worthy of socialism.

Man’s Most Dangerous Myth impressed Left intellectuals, including Julian Huxley, who wrote a foreword to the 1945 edition. Huxley was also UNESCO’s first director-general, doing much to establish that organisation’s enduring group culture. Montagu was invited to serve with the organisation to help develop educational programs. As a result, he drafted the UNESCO Statement on Race published in 1950, aided by notable social scientists such as Claude Levi-Strauss and E. Franklin Frazier. The Statement was heavily criticised, not the least because it emulated the Soviet practice of meddling in scientific debates using political manifestoes. Nevertheless, the Statement contributed to the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which influenced the Expert Panel’s Report.

Montagu was politically active, agitating for liberal and humanitarian causes such as principles of child rearing, the rights of native Americans, abortion rights, childbirth methods, animal welfare and humanism.[51] In the 1950s he publicly criticised Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign to purge communists from the US government. This combined with his far-Left associations finally attracted accusations of communist subversion.[52] In 1955 he was forced to retire early from Rutgers University.[53] He was soon brought in from the cold, his career as a public intellectual being aided by frequent invitations to lecture at prestigious universities and appear on popular television programs, including Johnny Carson’s and Phil Donahue’s.

McCarthyism barely dented Montagu’s campaign because it defended a narrow target. We are taught now that the US Senate’s House Committee on Un-American Activities was a manifestation of bigotry, when it was something much worse—a final convulsive spasm of the body politic against a threat it barely perceived. The anti-communists fought against Montagu’s ideology but Montagu, like Boas before him, was also waging a more fundamental battle, against the intellectual defences of Western peoples.

Montagu’s writing in Man’s Most Dangerous Myth was rhetorical, interspersed with vilification of the West and tropes borrowed from Marxist ideology. He mixed scientific argument with such claims as that colonialists invented the race concept to justify their theft of native land and that in 1836 “the English were busily exterminating the Tasmanian aborigines”. This will be familiar territory to many Australian students.

The culture wars of the time pitted Boasian anthropology against the older, biologically-based discipline of physical anthropology. One of Montagu’s many targets was Carleton Coon, a Harvard physical anthropologist whose books on racial classification and evolution contradicted Boasian doctrine of universal equality. Coon’s theory—though not his data—was to lose support as new genetic evidence supported the “out of Africa” theory. But it was his data on racial differences that rankled. Coon was seen as representing the conservative Anglo establishment and became a prime target of the intellectual Left. For example, the first issue of the New York Review of Books in 1963 carried an attack article aimed at Coon, titled “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes”.[54] Montagu was embroiled in the end stages of the academic culture wars over who would occupy the intellectual high ground in the United States. The fight was between representatives of the historic American nation and the new class of radical multiculturalists. In his book The Rise and Fall of Anglo America, Eric Kaufmann records how by the 1960s the pro-Anglo forces were isolated and defeated by radicals such as Montagu and his media-connected allies.

Denial of group differences has been a core doctrine of cultural Marxism since the early twentieth century and has been invested in by countless tracts and curricula. It has been highly successful in spreading radical influence. The cohesive movement-like character of this new class—Kaufmann notes its pseudo-ethnic character[55]—helped leftist intellectuals overpower their more individualist conservative opponents. Their influence extended to the UN bureaucracy.

Science long ago caught up with Montagu’s and Boas’s arguments, though that is not apparent from media reports and university curricula. A major study of the US race–IQ debate in 1988, by Mark Snyderman and Stanley Rothman, found that the mass media had misled the public by giving the impression that science rejects any genetic influence whatsoever. But the researchers could find only one expert out of the scores interviewed who took this view, the Boasian Leon Kamin. The false impression was conveyed by selective reporting of anti-hereditarian opinions from intellectuals not expert in the subject.[56] Ashley Montagu was one of those passionate non-experts reported in the mainstream media. This has also been common practice by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. A decade later the treatment was given to Herrnstein and Murray’s book The Bell Curve despite its proposals on IQ, heritability and group differences being mainstream among cognitive psychologists.[57] A recent victim, Jason Richwine, describes how the media have repeatedly enforced the left-liberal taboo on discussion of population differences.[58]

The asymmetry in influence of the opposing sides of the debate over population differences reflects continuing fallout from the West’s loss of the cultural cold war regarding ethnicity, fought mostly with domestic radicals. The Expert Panel was a casualty of the resulting irrationality, as reflected in its reliance on Ashley Montagu, an enemy of the West and a well-connected practitioner of agitprop within the social sciences.


Frank Salter is an urban anthropologist and ethologist who studies organisations and society using the methods and concepts of behavioural biology. His books include On Genetic Interests and Emotions in Command. A footnoted version of this article appears on Quadrant Online. Part I of this article appeared in the December issue; Part III will appear in March.


[1] Report, p. 160.

[3] Report, p. 160.

[4] Report, pp. 49, 59, 60, 104, 130, 147, 164, 180.

[5] The preamble to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 states that the Act is in response to the UN Convention.

[7] Christian Kerr, “Uni body bans outspoken indigenous leader as ‘unhealthy’ for staff”, The Australian, 19 July 2013, p. 3.

[8] Howse, Legally invisible, p. 15.

[9] As commentator Angela Shanahan recently lamented regarding restrictions of Church freedom by anti-discrimination laws: “Once upon a time in Australia we had implicit religious freedom; now we have to rely on exemptions.” Shanahan was discussing an unseemly manoeuvre by Government Senate leader, Senator Mark Dreyfus, “Distracted MPs destroy religious freedom”, Weekend Australian, 29-30 June 2013, Inquirer, p. 20.

[10] Report, p. 34.

[11] McPherson, M., L. Smith-Lovin and J. M. Cook (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual Review of Sociology 27: 415-444.

[12] Bishop, B. (2009). The big sort: Why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart. Boston, Mariner Books.

[13] Recent evidence of immigrants preferring to live among their own ethnic groups comes from real estate agents selling to overseas Chinese. Among other preferences such as good views and educational facilities, living near an established Chinese community was a recurring theme. “Chinese precise on where to buy”, The Australian, 19-20 Oct. 2013, p. 7.

[14] “Sydney should embrace Asia, says O’Farrell”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Nov. 2011, p. 1.

[15] Mill, J. S. (1960). Chapter XVI: On nationality. Representative government. Three essays by John Stuart Mill. J. S. Mill. London, Oxford University Press: 380-88, p. 381.

[16] Arendt, H. (1959). “Reflections of Little Rock [http://learningspaces.org/forgotten/little_rock1.pdf].” Dissent: 45-56, pp. 49, 51.

[17] Calwell, A. A. (1978). Be just and fear not. Adelaide, Rigby, p. 118.

[18] CERD General Recommendation 14: Definition of discrimination (Article 1, paragraph 1). http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/%28Symbol%29/d7bd5d2bf71258aac12563ee004b639e?Opendocument, accessed 18 July 2013.

[19] Report, Section 6.3, p. 160.

[20] CERD article 1(4) states that special measures for racial groups are permissible, as long as they do not “lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different racial groups and that they shall not be continued after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved”.

[21] Report, pp. v, 139.

[22] International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965, Preamble. http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?mtdsg_no=IV-2&chapter=4&lang=en.

[23] Sarich, V. M. and F. Miele (2004). Race: The reality of human differences. Boulder, Colorado, Westview, pp. 170-77.

[24] Report, p. 139.

[25] The cited book, The Concept of Race does not turn up in online searches of Montagu’s books. He did publish a paper by that title in 1962, in American Anthropologist 64(5:1), 919-28, which does not contain the quotation in the Report (p. 139). http://www.americanethnography.com/article.php?id=36#.UeipXKyTu_c, accessed 18 July 2013.

[26] Montagu, M. F. A. (1997/1942). Man’s most dangerous myth: The fallacy of race. New York, Columbia University Press. http://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=tkHqP3vgYi4C&oi=fnd&pg=PA7&dq=ashley+montague&ots=apeK3A_wu9&sig=7b3MFARDGUWorU3MEErQbFCRRvM#v=onepage&q=Kleptomaniac&f=false, accessed 18 July 2013.

[27] Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. New York, W. W. Norton.

Murray, C. (2004/2003). Human accomplishment: The Pursuit of excellence in the arts and sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950. New York, Harper Perennial.

[28] Lynn, Race differences in intelligence.

[29] Rushton, J. P. and A. R. Jensen (2005). “Thirty years of research on race differences in cognitive ability.” Psychology, Public Policy and Law 11(2): 235-294.

[30] Diamond, Guns, p. 20.

[31] Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Human ethology, p. 572.

[32] Lynn, Race differences in intelligence, World Intelligence Map, p. vii.

[33] Montagu, Man’s most dangerous myth, p. 45.

[34] Report, p. 142.

[35] Edwards, A. W. F. (2003). “Human genetic diversity: Lewontin’s fallacy.” BioEssays 25(8): 798-801.

[36] (In outbred populations.) Salter, F. K. and H. Harpending (2012). “J. P. Rushton’s theory of ethnic nepotism.” Personality and Individual Differences http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886912005569.

Harpending, H. (2002). “Kinship and population subdivision.” Population and Environment 24(2): 141-147.

[37] Report, p. 139.

[38] Jews are described as a “race” in Herzl’s address to the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897. Herzl, T. (1907-1903). The Congress addresses of Theodor Herzl. Miami, FL, HardPress, p. 7.

[39] UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 1(1).

[40] Also not mentioned in the curriculum: England, Britain/British, Christian/Christianity, First Fleet, Captain Cook, and Arthur Phillip. http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Shape_of_the_Australian_Curriculum-__Civics_and_Citizenship_251012.pdf, accessed 19 July 2013;

Kevin Donnelly, “PM’s school reform flawed”, The Australian, 19 June 2013, p. 12.

[41] Montagu, M. F. A. (1999/1953). The natural superiority of women, 5th edition, Sage.

[42] Kaufmann, E. (2004). The rise and fall of Anglo-America. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, p. 108.

[43] Boas, F. (1912). Changes in the bodily form of descendants of immigrants. New York, Columbia University Press.

Sparks, C. S. and R. L. Jantz (2002). “A re-assessment of human cranial plasticity: Boas revisited.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science www.pnas.org 99(23): 14636-9.

[44] Montagu, 1945/1942, Man’s most dangerous myth, p. 4.

[45] Lynn and Vanhanen, IQ and the wealth of nations.

[47] Lynn, Race differences in intelligence, pp. 29-53.

[48] E.g. Nicholas Wade (2006). Before the dawn: Recovering the lost history of our ancestors. New York, Penguin. Wade was the long-term science editor for the New York Times. In his book he discusses evolutionary scenarios for population differences in intelligence, paying attention to genetic difference between Europe and Australia (pp. 96-99).

[49] Stocking, G. W. (1992). Anthropology as Kulturkampf: Science and politics in the career of Franz Boas. The ethnographer’s magic and other essays in the history of anthropology. G. W. Stocking. Madison, WI, University of Wisconsin Press: 92-113, pp. 108-9.

[50] Montagu, 1945/1942, Man’s most dangerous myth, p. 82. http://archive.org/stream/mansmostdangerou032948mbp/mansmostdangerou032948mbp_djvu.txt, accessed 26 July 2013.

[52] The left political climate of UNESCO from its early days was indicated by its first director-general, Julian Huxley, praising Lenin’s propaganda methods for “overcoming the resistance of millions” in the context of UNESCO’s educational mission. Huxley, J. S. (1947). UNESCO: Its purpose and its philosophy. Washington, DC, Public Affairs Press. Huxley was not a Communist. After WWII he criticised the Lamarckian theories and Stalinist politics of Trofim Lysenko.

[54] Maddocks, J. (1963). “Anglo-Saxon attitudes.” The New York Review of Books 1(1).

[55] Kaufmann, Rise and Fall, p. 151.

[56] Snyderman, M. and S. Rothman (1988). The IQ controversy: The media and public policy. New York, Transaction Books.

[57] Herrnstein, R. and C. Murray (1994). The bell curve. Intelligence and class structure in American life. New York, Free Press.

Gottfredson, L. S. (1997). “Mainstream science on intelligence: An editorial with 52 signatories, history, and bibliography.” Intelligence 24(1): 13-23.

[58] Richwine, J. (2013). “Why can’t we talk about IQ?” Politico http://www.politico.com/story/2013/08/opinion-jason-richwine-95353.html, accessed 19 Aug. 2013.

Leave a Reply