A Libertarian Icon’s Descent Into Racist Pseudoscience
Editor's Note: I decided to publish the piece below for two personal reasons. One is that I think I may have appeared as a guest on one of Stefan Molyneux's podcasts some years ago (during his libertarian phase). So I wanted to alert readers to his ideological transmogrification. The second reason is that I want to encourage my readers to take seriously the recent resurgence of racism under new guises and with new rationalizations—a topic to which I will be returning soon. Stuart has done some great, thorough work in exposing this, and I couldn't agree more with his concluding paragraph.—RWT
On September 2, the Washington Post published an article claiming that the same "alt-right" rallying around Donald Trump arrived at its racist conclusions through the help of an unlikely source: libertarians. Specifically, such rhetoric was largely popularized in the early 1990s by Murray Rothbard and his cadre of loyal anarchist followers.
Although I was not impressed by the article's name-dropping of Ayn Rand or its assumption that free-marketers in general have been historically supportive of such demagoguery, it is accurate in describing Rothbard's behavior and his connections to Ron Paul and the Ludwig von Mises Institute. It is also correct in its observation that the alt-right has adopted the rhetoric of nativists who frequented the same circles as Rothbard in the 1990s. Yet not even the article's author seems cognizant of the extent to which many people who consider themselves part of the liberty/free-market movement are presently repeating this error of associating themselves with a brazen racist. Consider Stefan Molyneux, an Irish-born podcaster based in Canada who boasts of having received 100 million views on YouTube.
In February of this year, The Daily Beast introduced readers to Molyneux, noting that he has dedicated several episodes of his podcast, titled Freedomain Radio (FDR), to trying to rationalize away assorted legitimate grievances directed toward Trump. When it comes to being the main apologist on the Web for Trump and his antics, Molyneux is second only to Milo Yiannopoulos. It is therefore unsurprising that Molyneux is cited occasionally in essays contributed to Breitbart News and frequently in its comments section.
And despite being considered relatively obscure in left-wing circles, Molyneux has been able to land interviews with some heavy-hitters on the right, such as Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the late traditionalist activist Phyllis Schalfly, and the up-and-coming alternative media sensation Dave Rubin (a favorite among atheist critics of Islam, such as Sam Harris).
Though this was probably the first that Daily Beast readers had heard of Molyneux, the podcaster's latest turn as Trump apologist was particularly flabbergasting for those of us in the liberty movement who have been familiar with Molyneux's podcast for the past decade. How is it that a man who once consistently advocated "market anarchy"—not coincidentally, similar to Rothbard's—has rebranded himself as an apologist for a political candidate strongly associated with the expansion of government power to restrict immigration and international trade?
The Daily Beast delves into the matter that first raised red flags for Molyneux's detractors. It goes into detail over concerns that Molyneux is utilizing his online reach to create a worldwide cult. Since Freedomain Radio's founding in 2006, its listeners have tended to be on the young side—in their teens and twenties. Despite later denials to the contrary, online videos document Molyneux telling these fans that if their parents do not support anarchy, it means that their parents do not love them and ought to be disowned completely. A number of young fans have followed this advice and joined Molyneux's cause, pledging their lives and money to him.
It seems that the attention that these concerns drew indirectly influenced Molyneux to place his anarchism advocacy aside in favor of reinventing himself as an evangelist for Trumpism.
Throughout 2014, a woman calling herself "TruShibes" had become Molyneux's most vocal critic. To demonstrate how relentless Molyneux has been in urging his young fans to disown their families, TruShibes took a multitude of clips from various FDR episodes where Molyneux does this in the most explicit terms, and uploaded them onto YouTube. Ostensibly to silence TruShibes, FDR flagged her uploads as being in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. As DMCA claims have legal force behind them, Molyneux the self-proclaimed anarchist was caught in the position of relying on government force. Longtime anarchist allies of Molyneux's grew disillusioned and publicly rebuked him for his hypocrisy in their own podcasts. Humiliated, anarchists abandoned Molyneux. By his own admission in a video from September 2014 that addressed this issue in veiled terms, he experienced a "dip" in the level of donations. With but a dwindling number of anarchists standing by him, it seemed that either Molyneux would have to end his podcast series or find a new target audience.
Thereafter Molyneux drifted from one vaguely right-wing ideological hobbyhorse to another, briefly trying to make inroads in the "Men's Rights Movement." But by the middle of 2015 he finally found a new movement he could grab onto—the alt-right and its white nationalism. Since then, Molyneux has depicted modern society as a struggle between native-born whites and brown-skinned aliens threatening Western traditions. As Donald Trump's rhetoric energized the white nationalist movements—finally a presidential candidate said what they wanted to hear—it was natural for them to gravitate to someone who would repeatedly deliver rationalizations for Trump, even if these rationalizations were convincing to no one other than those already in Trump's corner. That is how a former libertarian icon became a hero to the alt-right.
Unlike Trump, Molyneux prefers to sound intellectual. To make his predictions of impending race war sound more compelling, Molyneux cites terribly old-fashioned racist pseudoscience.
Since the early 1900s, the Pioneer Fund has financed academics who purport to provide evidence that differences in behavior between different people is mostly explained by genetics, particularly differences in genetics related to race and ethnicity. At least as early as May 2015, Molyneux has voiced strong agreement with this viewpoint and has repeatedly cited academics in the Pioneer Fund’s orbit. According to Molyneux and the Pioneer Fund, what race you are strongly influences your IQ number, and your IQ number strongly influences how economically successful or criminally violent you are. This is their roundabout way of saying that your race is what determines whether you are economically successful or criminally violent.
Molyneux ranks the races in the same hierarchy provided by the Pioneer Fund. As Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ test scores, Molyneux places them at the top. Second-place are East Asians—Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. In the middle are non-Hispanic whites and Sephardic Jews. Every other category consists of people whom Molyneux has castigated as human undesirables. The first are Mediterranean people—Arabs and North Africans. Lower than Mediterranean people are Latinos. Molyneux and the Pioneer Fund place blacks on the bottom.
Hence Molyneux's insistence on referring to Middle-Eastern ethnicities as "low-IQ cultures." If one believes, as Molyneux proclaims, that genetics accounts for somewhere between 50 to 80 percent of IQ, then it initially seems strange that anyone would say that a population having a lower-than-average IQ would directly relate to its cultural practices. We understand that cultural customs are subject to choice and are changeable, whereas, if IQ is determined by race, then it is not subject to choice and is unchangeable. Yet the term "low-IQ culture" makes sense to someone who believes that minute genetic differences between separate racial categories provides the ultimate explanation for variation in customs among these separate racial categories.
When addressing these topics, Molyneux normally disavows the eugenics label. Following World War II, people stopped identifying their ideas as "eugenics," as the term came to be associated with Nazism. From the 1990s onward, adherents to this system of thought have adopted the tags "race realism" and "Human Biodiversity," the latter being the one Molyneux prefers. Early into his sojourn on this topic, Molyneux avowed, "Nobody's talking eugenics; we're just talking freedom, but freedom has a eugenics component to it inevitably." Incidentally, Rothbard would agree—near the end of his life, he adopted this race/IQ fetish.
In a video-recorded joint teleconference between Molyneux and PJ Media commentator Bill Whittle, Whittle announces that he is aware of Molyneux's interest in these Human Biodiversity theories and that he knows Molyneux intends no malice against the brown-skinned minorities he deems genetically prone to poverty and violence. "When we talk about these things," Whittle says to Molyneux and the audience, "it's not 'cause we hate these people and it's not 'cause we want to see 'em go away. On the contrary. I have listened to your shows on this. We are willing to take the kind of abuse we are going to take by talking about some of this stuff specifically because we would like to see everybody live better. I am certainly speaking for myself here, and I know you are, too" (emphasis Whittle's). To that, Molyneux replies, "Without a doubt, there is certainly no animosity."
One wonders which specific FDR videos Whittle bothered to watch, as perusing just a few recorded exchanges between Molyneux and his callers demonstrates that Molyneux has frequently described brown-skinned people in blithely scornful terms.
Memorable is Molyneux's reaction to German president Joachim Gauck, who stated, "To understand the opportunity of immigration, more Germans need to say farewell to their image of a nation that is very homogeneous, predominantly German-speaking, Christian, and fair-skinned.... I think we need to redefine 'nation' as a community of diverse people who accept common values."
To this, Molyneux shoots back:
Well, they all have to accept "common values." I would ask this guy: is it easier for white, Christian Germans to have white, Christian babies and to teach them German values and have them grow up speaking German, and have them have the same IQ, ethnicity, and so on—is it easier to do that, or is it easier to import low-IQ, rapey people from north Africa, who don't speak your language, pay them on welfare, have them sit on ghettos, not integrate into the community? Is that how you get them to accept common values? Because you have a choice. Every migrant who comes in is a European who won't be born. [Emphasis Molyneux's.]
Elsewhere Molyneux laments,
London is now majority nonwhite in England.... People are like, "It's uncomfortable to talk about this stuff." Well, you know, it's also uncomfortable for high levels of criminality and rape in your society. That's kind of uncomfortable. [Emphasis Molyneux's.]
Note the presumption that if there are high levels of "criminality and rape" in London, the cause of this must necessarily be London being "majority nonwhite" per se.
Despite long being a professed atheist himself, he faults most atheists for having "not embraced the clear science of racial inequalities.... So the atheists are significantly responsible for the undoing of Europe as it stands."
He does an unflattering impression of imaginary critics. "People: 'Stef has identified empirical facts about racial differences. He's a racist!'" Molyneux's serious reply: "No, Mother Nature is a racist. I'm just shining the light."
Anticipating that he will eventually be called out on his rhetoric, Molyneux preemptively rebuts, "Screaming 'racism' at people because blacks are collectively less intelligent—screaming 'racism' at people because Asians are collectively shorter—is insane."
Is there anything to what Molyneux is saying? Molyneux and the Pioneer Fund invoke academic consensus in putting forth these claims. They propound that an academic consensus accepts the following propositions.
1. IQ is a strong predictor for how economically successful or violently criminal a person will be.
2. There are discrepancies in average IQ between members of different groups, ranked in the order that Molyneux gave.
3. Race-related genetics is the primary cause of one's IQ.
4. Therefore, race-related genetics causes someone to be economically productive or a violent criminal.
Propositions 1 and 2 are indeed widely accepted in the social sciences. It is true that a person's IQ normally correlates with his or her income level and marital stability. IQ also does predict criminality, with most convicted felons having IQ scores falling between 75 and 90. And there are indeed disparities in average IQ between different ethnic groups; the ethnic groups' respective average IQs are ranked in the same order in which Molyneux lists them. Yet Propositions 3 and 4 are not widely accepted among social scientists.
Consider a study by Klaus Eyferth. At the end of World War II, Allied troops—black and white alike—occupied Germany and had children with German women. When these children grew up and were given IQ tests, the ones who were part black scored no worse than those who were all-white. James Flynn, whom Molyneux interviewed for purported “balance,” also conducted studies with results contradicting Molyneux's racialism. He found that as living standards improved for blacks, the IQ test results of the youngest generation of blacks were correspondingly better than those of prior generation of blacks who took these same tests. Here, some Human Biodiversity theorists concede that improvements in living standards might partially account for the rise in blacks' IQs, but then they insist that there is an inherent limit to this, and there will come a point where gains will cease.
Yes, IQ and economic productivity do correlate, but it does not follow that the level of average IQ causes the level of productivity. Likelier is that as any ethnic group gains more liberty, its living standards improve, and the improvements in both the material and political-economic environment boosts both IQ and economic productivity. Likewise, people in ghettos having IQs ranging from 75 to 90 is probably not the cause of the poverty and high crime rate. Rather, it is likelier that the poverty and high crime rate reinforce one another, and they both produce an environment that adversely impacts IQ.
Moreover, it is fallacious for Molyneux and other Human Biodiversity advocates to conflate IQ and sound judgment. Psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West administered tests in formal logic to a group of people that scored high on the SAT and a group that scored low on it. They found that the group that scored high on the SAT was more prone than the low-scoring group to fall prey to particular fallacies in formal logic, such as the conjunction fallacy. Moreover, while raw cognitive ability cannot be improved, tests conducted by a team led by Carey Morewedge demonstrated that people can be trained successfully to avoid logical fallacies. As psychologists David Hambrick and Alex Burgyone observe in the New York Times, a distinction must be made between intelligence and rationality. This is a distinction that Molyneux elides.
Molyneux frequently proclaims that East Asians having high IQs must explain why East Asians are prone to save their money, obtain high-paying jobs, and maintain marital stability. In a fawning interview that Molyneux conducts with Jared Taylor, the founder of the white-separatist propaganda magazine American Renaissance, Taylor propounds, with Molyneux's tacit approval, "The way we find north Asians living—in terms of illegitimacy [birth] rates, per-capita income, crime rate—in all of those respects they have built societies that are, frankly, objectively superior to those of whites, which does not necessarily mean that we wish to turn Japanese or be replaced by Japanese or Koreans. But along those standards they are different and they can be described as superior to us." A common tactic of white supremacists is to preface their denigration of blacks and Hispanics with praise for Asians, as if that praise makes them seem less racist.
Yet when Molyneux, Taylor, and other Human Biodiversity theorists associate these particular traits with East Asians and north Asians, they are relying on racial stereotypes that arose in relatively recent history.
Consider this example from Canadian journalist Doug Saunders. The leaders of an impoverished country invited an Australian management consultant to observe their places of business and to advise them on how they could improve productivity. The consultant reported back to them that the situation was hopeless: "My impression as to your cheap labor was soon disillusioned when I saw your people at work. No doubt they are lowly paid, but the return is equally so; to see your men to work made me feel that you are a very satisfied and easy-going race who reckon time is no object."
This was in the year 1915, and the slothful employees the consultant was reporting on were Japanese. From the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, East Asians held a reputation among English speakers for being lazy. For his part, Fabian socialist writer Sidney Webb—a pioneer in the eugenics movement—wrote to fellow socialist eugenicist George Bernard Shaw in 1911, "The Koreans are 12 millions of dirty, degraded, sullen, lazy and religionless savages who slouch about in dirty white garments of the most inept kind and who live in filthy mudhuts."
During the late 1860s and early 1870s, scores of white Californians saw Chinese immigrant laborers in terms similar to those that Trump and Molyneux have used to describe Mexicans. The Chinese were reviled for forming ghettos and not being able to assimilate into American culture. They were blamed for bringing in drugs, particularly opium. They were hated for engaging in crimes such as prostitution. And Chinese men were presumed to be rapists. Jacob Sullum writes of the popularity of the era's "image of the sinister Chinaman who lured white women into his opium den, turning them into concubines, prostitutes, or sex slaves." To use Molyneux's term, the same East Asians whom Molyneux now ostensibly admires as industrious and family-oriented were the ones prior generations of "race realists" presumed to be "rapey people."
Unless Molyneux wants to argue that some drastic genetic mutation altered the behavior of East Asians within a span as short as a century, it does not follow that an ethnic group's genes are sufficient to give it a reputation for being economically productive and prone to abstaining from crime.
When it comes to arguing that race-related genetics makes some racial categories more prone to violence than others, Molyneux is not harsh merely toward north Africans, but to the descendants of Africans in general. In his December 2015 video "The Truth About Crime," Molyneux makes it a special point to bring up MAOA-L. Nicknamed "the warrior gene," MAOA-L comes in two variants—the 2-repeat and 3-repeat—that are associated with physical aggression. Everything else being equal, a man having either the 2-repeat or 3-repeat variant will be more physically aggressive or, to be more precise, slower in the dissipation of anger than are men who do not possess these variants.
Citing criminologist Kevin Beaver, Molyneux announces that the 2-repeat variant of MAOA-L shows up more frequently in blacks, whereas it is extremely rare in those of East Asian descent. He says that it is not the case that someone who possesses the 2-repeat will necessarily turn to a life of crime. What he does say is that if a child possesses the 2-repeat variant, it follows that if this child is subjected to spanking or other forms of corporal punishment—and Molyneux considers spanking a form of domestic violence and child abuse—this will trigger the 2-repeat variant in that child and cause him to grow up to be a violent criminal. Then Molyneux proclaims that because the 2-repeat variant is more common in blacks than in other ethnic groupings, this means that spanking causes blacks to grow up to be criminals whereas spanking does not have the same effect on whites or East Asians.
Say to the black families, "Look, when you abuse your children you are setting events in motion—if they have this genetic susceptibility, [and] when you look at these ratios, it's huge—you are setting events in motion that are going to result in increased criminality, in your population. You already have higher testosterone according to many measures." If you have this genetic susceptibility to being triggered by [parent-imposed] violence into becoming a violent person... You know, maltreat an Asian child—I don't know what do you get; I don't know—a great pianist? I don't know. Maltreat a Caucasian kid—I don't know—you get some Goth. But maltreat a black kid—and the prevalence of this "warrior gene" sequence, particularly this 2-repeat—and you're going to get a very different kind of person.
It is especially convenient that Molyneux talks about the 2-repeat variant and not the 3-repeat, despite the 3-repeat also being associated with aggression. Rod Lea and Geoff Chambers find that the warrior gene's 3-repeat variant shows up most often in Chinese men and least often in Hispanic men, despite Molyneux's intimations that Hispanics are second only to blacks in being genetically programmed to commit violence. Even the very chart that Molyneux cites to show that the 2-repeat variant is most common in blacks says that it is found in less than 6 percent of blacks. That raises the question, then, of why Molyneux judges it necessary to convey that blacks in general are violent.
Anticipating that viewers will interpret these claims as racist, Molyneux shouts at the end of this same video that his bringing to light these claims is what will truly save blacks from self-destruction.
While Molyneux claims to have compassion for blacks, it seems that whenever tensions arise between whites and nonwhites, he immediately assumes that the nonwhites started it and that any accusation that a white person was racist in the matter is necessarily false. He frequently claims that brown-skinned immigrants from the Third World just go around bullying white men and raping white women until the oppressed whites strike back at last.
White people are very, very accommodating and very, very appeasing until they're not. And then, when they're not, people remember why whites had the biggest empire in history. Because white people will bend over backwards to accommodate you, but when they finally get that they're just being taken advantage of [by brown-skinned people], well, then you will see a backlash, and that backlash will be quick, decisive, and brutal.
After putting out videos on an almost daily basis about blacks and Latinos and North Africans posing an existential threat to whites for genetic reasons, Molyneux implausibly declares that a race war is precisely what he is trying to stave off. Then he adds that it is only by embracing the totality of his ideological doctrine that people can prevent the ascension of what he calls "Hitler 2.0."
That raises the question of exactly where Molyneux places his priorities when such violence breaks out. An unnerving indication of this arrived when a young man by the name of Nick called into Molyneux's podcast in December of 2015. During the call, Nick explained that it was important to him that he have access to a gun to defend himself and his neighbors. Molyneux explained that Nick should not consider his Californian neighbors to be of the same tribe: "I get the big glob of goo in your brain called 'America,' but America is not chock full of people like you anymore." So that we are sure that by "people like you," Molyneux means white people, he brings up race in the very next sentence he utters. "In America in the 1950s and 1960s when it was still—what?—90-plus-percent white, kids could take guns to school for target practice at recess. Nobody cared. Now you gotta go through a metal detector just to get into one of these prison-like hellholes of miseducation." The implication is that government schools have become so dangerous precisely because America is no longer "90-plus-percent white."
He concludes that message, "Figure out who is in your tribe and fight to the death for your tribe. But giving nothing to the enemy! No succor to the enemy. Not a cup of water, not a bowl of gruel, no, not shelter, not kind words, not conciliation, not forgiveness, because the only way to increase the tribe of the thinking is to be merciless to the anti-thinkers."
That seems to be the popular appeal of FDR—it reinforces prejudices that its audience would otherwise be ashamed to hold. Molyneux says, "If we think we're alone in our darkest thoughts, we experience shame. When we recognize we are not alone in our darkest thoughts, we gain solidarity, a tribe."
Given how inflammatory Molyneux's podcasts have been for over a year, one might think that much more respectable, mainstream psychology researchers and conservative commentators would steer clear of Molyneux. Yet, on the unusual occasions when he covers a topic other than Human Biodiversity, he invites experts to discuss such issues as GMOs and national government spending. On August 29 Freedomain Radio's YouTube channel uploaded an interview with Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board on "How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech." As these guests do not raise the topic of Molyneux's Human Biodiversity fetish in their interviews, it appears that they have not watched many of Molyneux's videos and that they go on the program unaware that the series has revolved around Human Biodiversity for over a year. For his part, while interviewing these mainstream conservatives, Molyneux does not mention Human Biodiversity directly. In one case, however, he brought it up indirectly.
Duke Pesta is a Catholic conservative who gained media attention as he publicly criticized Common Core and what he judges to be politically correct indoctrination in government schools. Given that Catholic writers have voiced their distaste for eugenics ever since Sir Francis Galton coined the term, it would appear that Dr. Pesta would be exactly the sort of person to take issue with Molyneux's Human Biodiversity rhetoric. Yet Pesta was interviewed on two separate FDR podcasts, and in neither instance did not Molyneux explicate on Human Biodiversity fully, though in the latter interview he did make a sly, veiled allusion to it.
In the interview, Molyneux stated that in the United States, persons of East Asian descent very often do better, academically and commercially, than do blacks, and Molyneux attributes this to a difference in "culture" between the two groups. Pesta seems to take this at face value, and states agreement with Molyneux. Pesta then implies that this situation is changeable. He complains that too many students are handled with kid gloves, their instructors being afraid to tell them bluntly that their work is sub-par and in need of improvement. Molyneux lets Pesta go on and on without mentioning that his other videos vociferously proclaim that "culture," being the result of IQ, comes from genetic programming and not from human choices.
Molyneux attributing differences in "culture" to explain differences in academic success between Asian-Americans and blacks therefore comes across as a double message. Pesta seems to interpret Molyneux's statement about culture with the conventional definition, so he does not challenge Molyneux directly, whereas Molyneux's hardcore fans, who listen to FDR podcasts daily, know what Molyneux actually means about differences in "culture."
I e-mailed Dr. Pesta twice about this—on August 28 and August 31—asking him if he knew about Human Biodiversity being FDR's regular theme for over a year. I provided some of the same quotations provided in this essay, and asked him if he had any opinion on this. As of this writing, Dr. Pesta has not replied to me. But later Pesta made a third appearance on Molyneux’s podcast, one that the FDR website says took place on September 6.
When respectable psychologists and conservative commentators go onto Molyneux's show, as if the contents are controversial but nonetheless intellectually respectable, these guests elevate the program's reputation even as they diminish their own. They are inadvertently normalizing something I doubt they want normalized. We have an opportunity to repudiate Molyneux, letting people of all political stripes know that we reject this racism.
Human beings have struggled with racism for millennia. It has been present, historically, in every major culture, and anthropologists theorize that racism, in some form, was even prevalent in the Paleolithic Era, when separate hunter-gatherer clans looked upon one another in mutual distrust and often lingering animosity. One of the greatest achievements of the United States in the late twentieth century was removing the stigma against other races and placing the stigma on racism itself. Open racial hostility became more of an exception, not the norm. It would be a tragedy if we allowed Molyneux and the rest of the alt-right to make brazen racism seem normal once again.
Stuart Hayashi is the author of Hunting Down Social Darwinism.