Confusing Overrepresentation with Domination

An especially pernicious common fallacy is the assumption that if a given group is overrepresented in some field, that must mean that they dominate it, and are using their supposed “domination” to promote the group’s interests. My better half quotes this example described by historian Paul Johnson in his book Modern Times:

Of course underlying and reinforcing the paranoia [of the Nazis about Jews] was the belief that Weimar culture was inspired and controlled by Jews. Indeed, was not the entire regime a Judenrepublik? There was very little basis for this last doxology, resting as it did on the contradictory theories that Jews dominated both Bolshevism and the international capitalist network.

In the 1920s, Jews were indeed overrepresented (relative to their percentage of the general population) among both Bolshevik leaders and international capitalists. At the same time, non-Jews still greatly outnumbered Jews in both groups. A closely related fallacy was the assumption that overrepresentation in a field proved that the Jews involved in it were using it to promote some specifically Jewish interest. In reality, Jewish capitalists tended to behave much like gentile ones, focusing primarily on maximizing their profits. Jewish communists such as Leon Trotsky were brutal totalitarians. But their gentile counterparts, such as Lenin and Stalin, were much the same. There was no real evidence that either Jewish capitalists or Jewish communists were promoting specifically Jewish interests in any systematic way. Indeed, Jewish communists in the USSR actually supported the regime’s suppression of Jewish culture and religion.

At this point, readers may be tempted to say that the crude errors of 1920s anti-Semites don’t have any relevance to us. After all, we are a lot smarter and more sophisticated than they were. Perhaps so. But similar fallacies in modern discourse aren’t hard to find, and are certainly not limited to a few anti-Semitic extremists. For example, some 25% of American gentiles believe that “the Jews” deserved at least “a moderate amount” of “blame” for the financial crisis. This view is likely based in large part on extrapolation from the overrepresentation of Jews among prominent bankers and financiers.

Similarly, as co-blogger David Bernstein points out, many people (including prominent scholars such as Mearsheimer and Walt), believe that neoconservatism is a Jewish movement that promotes specifically Jewish interests. As David explained, this belief is primarily based on fallacious deductions from the overrepresentation of Jews among neocon intellectuals. He correctly emphasizes that it ignores key facts: that the views of Jewish neoconservatives differ little from those of gentile ones, that neocon hawkishness on the Arab-Israeli conflict is just one facet of their hawkishness on other foreign policy issues unrelated to Israel (and therefore not likely to to be a specifically Jewish agenda), and that the overrepresentation of Jews among neocons is similar to that in many other intellectual movements (including plenty that were opposed to neoconservatism on most issues). As in Weimar Germany and early 20th century Russia, Jews tend to be overrepresented in numerous intellectual movements because a higher percentage of Jews than gentiles are intellectuals. It’s hard to find a major intellectual movement of the last 100 years where Jews were not overrepresented relative to their percentage of the general population, with the obvious exception of movements that were anti-Semitic or centered around a non-Jewish religion such as Catholicism. For similar reasons, Jews tend to be overrepresented in many occupations that require higher education and intellectual skills, which helps explain why they were and are overrepresented among finance capitalists.

In sum, the fact that Jews are overrepresented in a given field does not prove either that they dominate it or that they are using their supposed domination to advance specifically Jewish interests. No doubt, one can find similar examples involving groups other than Jews. The more general lesson is that such logical fallacies are not limited to Nazis and other long-discredited extremists, and that we should take more care to avoid them.