Thomas Sowell

Editor's note: This is Part III in a series. Part I can be found here. Part II can be found here.

The desire of intellectuals for some grand theory that will explain complex patterns with some solitary and simple factor has produced many ideas that do not stand up under scrutiny, but which have nevertheless had widespread acceptance -- and sometimes catastrophic consequences -- in countries around the world.

The theory of genetic determinism which dominated the early 20th century led to many harmful consequences, ranging from racial segregation and discrimination up to and including the Holocaust. The currently prevailing theory is that malice of one sort or another explains group differences in outcomes. Whether the lethal results of this theory would add up to as many murders as in the Holocaust is a question whose answer would require a detailed study of the history of lethal outbursts against groups hated for their success.

These would include murderous mob violence against the Jews in Europe, the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, and the Ibos in Nigeria, among others. Class-based mass slaughters of the successful would range from Stalin's extermination of the kulaks in the Soviet Union to Pol Pot's wiping out of at least a quarter of the population of Cambodia for the crime of being educated middle class people, as evidenced by even such tenuous signs as wearing glasses.

Minorities who have been more successful than the general population have been the least likely to have gotten ahead by discriminating against politically dominant majorities. Yet it is precisely such minorities who have attracted the most mass violence over the centuries and in countries around the world.

All the blacks lynched in the entire history of the United States would not add up to as many murders as those committed in one year by mobs against the Jews in Europe, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire or the Chinese in Southeast Asia.

What is there about group success that inflames mobs in such disparate times and places, not to mention mass-murdering governments in Nazi Germany or the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia? We can speculate about the reasons but there is no escaping the reality.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate