Situating Standpoint Magazine: Conservative Journalism and Eugenic Ideology

Logo of the Second International Congress of Eugenics, 1921, (Wikimedia Commons)

David J. Garrow’s recent article “The Troubling Legacy of Martin Luther King” ignited a firestorm of debate. After its May 30th publication in Standpoint, historians grappled with Garrow’s puzzling trust in FBI records, given the FBI’s documented harassment, slander, and murder of freedom fighters. Alongside these reflections, it is critical to consider the context of the publication where the article appeared. Standpoint is a conservative online publication in the United Kingdom with articles spanning a spectrum of political opinions while “celebrating debate and freedom of speech.” However, in addition to legitimate discussion of topics such as Brexit and globalizationStandpoint provides a platform for eugenic ideology and genetic determinism.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, eugenics, or the science demarcating “fit” and “unfit” reproduction, advanced theories of genetic determinism and racial difference to forecast social development. Eugenicists’ belief that hereditary genetics exerted a decisive influence on individuals’ social capability influenced policies on everything from sterilization to criminal justice.

Among eugenics organizations, the Pioneer Fund was notorious. Founded in 1937 to finance the education of children “descended predominately from white persons” and to “study and research into the problems of heredity and eugenics,” the Pioneer Fund’s first project was the distribution of Nazi propaganda. After exposure of Nazi sterilization and genocide programs in the name of eugenics, existing eugenics organizations such as the Pioneer Fund sought to distinguish themselves from “Nazism.”1 By the 1960s and 1970s, the group shielded its funding processes from public view. Guided by insular personal and professional networks, the Pioneer Fund quietly funded segregationist groups violently dedicated to resisting racial integration in the United States.

As Civil Rights Movement gains eroded Jim Crow segregation, eugenic literature on “fertility differentials” and “racial difference in intelligence” replaced rhetoric about “fit” and “unfit” reproduction.2 In the Pioneer Fund controlled journal Mankind Quarterly, this terminology provided another mechanism for grouping people into racial and economic hierarchies. Though the phrasing changed, its conclusion in favor of white supremacy was the same.

New linguistic costumes gave eugenic ideas life outside the pages of Mankind Quarterly. Beginning in the 1970s, Pioneer Fund members worked to fuse eugenic terminology with the political ethos of the New Right. Pioneer Fund grantees successfully published with less ideological publications on the far-right such as the Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies (JSPES). While JSPES discusses eugenics less often, its editor in chief Roger Pearson was a frequent Pioneer Fund grantee with his own ties to fascist political movements.3 Pearson maintains his commitment to eugenic ideology in other publications, including Mankind Quarterly. The relative absence of eugenic theories in JSPES allowed the journal to cultivate an international readership and solicit articles from prominent New Right politicians including Jesse Helms and Jack Kemp.

The endurance of eugenic ideology is again evident in the recent resignation of UK journalist Toby Young from the US-UK Fulbright Commission. In his public writings, Young advocated using IQ tests to increase social mobility. By design, Young’s commentary avoided open discussion of eugenics. His professional associations did not. Young’s covert attendance at International Society for Intelligence Research conferences, where previous guests included Pioneer Fund leaders and other avowed eugenicists, places his proposals in conversation with today’s eugenics movement. Furthermore, Young’s description on the Fulbright site of his own Fulbright year as an exercise in “egalitarian dogma” parrots civil rights era eugenic literature. “Egalitarian dogma” was first coined by avowed segregationist and Pioneer Fund grantee, Henry Garrett. Amongst international Pioneer Fund grantees, “egalitarian dogma” or related “egalitarian” and “equalitarian” labels were popular monikers for Pioneer Fund critics.

In addition to Young’s reflections on “egalitarian dogma,” his articles in Standpoint give credence to eugenic theories that attribute human variation to genetic determinism. In “The Ted Who the Left Don’t Want to Talk,” Young asserts, “There cannot be much doubt that some broad-brush gender differences are innate,” and he attributes opposition to genetic explanations for “BIP traits (behaviour, intelligence and personality)” to an “attempt by well-intentioned liberals to suppress science and data that poses a challenge” to environmentalist explanations. Under cover of the magazine’s commitment to “free speech,” Young places discredited genetic determinism on par with legitimate research on individuals’ systemic and environmental experiences.

He is not the only Standpoint contributor to do so. Fellow Standpoint journalist Douglas Murray also provides a platform to biological determinism. In “Signs of the Times,” Murray critically remarks that media efforts to “contain” Professor Jordan Peterson’s skepticism regarding “equality of outcome” are the consequence of Peterson’s role as “someone telling you that you are not oppressed” which “can deal a terrible blow to your self-esteem.” Though “Signs of the Times” offered only veiled criticism of Peterson’s opponents, Murray’s media content outside Standpoint directly endorses Peterson and his belief in the veracity of racial differences in IQ.

In a podcast titled “IQ, Politics, and the Left,” Murray states, “What we would really like would be for there to be no important differences in important function across all the groups that people are put in or identify with. But it doesn’t work out that way.” An affirmative belief in eugenic theories of racial difference is present in Murray’s other reflections, including a dialogue with Stefan Molyneux who the Southern Poverty Law Center links with the alt-right and Pioneer Fund members.

While these political activities are certainly not true of every writer in Standpoint, Murray and Young’s less-publicized associations with eugenic theorists sheds new light on their work there. What their Standpoint articles present as neutral scientific inquiry is in fact eugenic ideology rephrased, and the editorial board permits it. Given eugenic theorists’ successful forays into conservative journalism, when the same editorial board eschews “the most basic elements of historical thinking,” it bears asking, to what end?

  1.  The Editor, “The Mankind Quarterly Under Attack,” Mankind Quarterly 2 no. 2 (October 1961): 79.
  2.  Daniel R. Vining Jr., “Fertility Differentials and the Status of Nations: A Speculative Essay on Japan and the West,” Mankind Quarterly 22, no. 4 (Summer 1982): 311; Richard Lynn, “Racial Differences in Intelligence: A Global Perspective,” Mankind Quarterly 31, no. 3 (Spring 1991): 255.
  3. Paul Valentine, “The Fascist Specter Behind the World Anti-Red League,” The Washington Post, May 28, 1978.
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Alexandra Fair

Alexandra Fair is a graduate student in history at Miami University. Her research interests include U.S. History, Reproductive Justice History, African American History and Women's History. Follow her on Twitter @alexandrakfair.