For an Ethnic Group That Likes To Think of Itself as Smart,

we Jews can be pretty dumb where politics is concerned. (See also The Tale of the Two Brothers.)

UPDATE: Just to make clear, I'm referring — as the links suggest — to what strikes me as the disproportionate Jewish propensity for Socialism (see the Related Posts below), which I'm quite willing to call a dumb idea, and to what is generally seen as the fairly dysfunctional Israeli style of government (see the Tale of the Two Brothers).

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. For an Ethnic Group That Likes To Think of Itself as Smart,
  2. The Return of Israeli Socialism?
  3. Bad News from Israel's Elections--The Revival of Israeli Socialism:
the real Eric:
Intelligence and wisdom are two different things didn't you ever play roleplaying games Eugene?
3.29.2006 2:13am
3.29.2006 6:31am
I think "the real Eric" is talking about dungeons &dragons type stuff. Intelligence and wisdom are also different from endurance, strength, charisma, agility, dexterity, and luck.

3.29.2006 6:36am
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):
This panic by the conspirators over the Israeli elections is becoming amusing. I see they've coopted the timeless Democratic party strategy of blaming the public for being too stupid to know what's good for them.

Perhaps Bibi &The Likudniks, stripped of their power to demagogue on Palestenian issues &blame unemployment on "laziness", were exposed as having little to offer the State. Especially after the sane members of the party bolted for Kadima.

Let's hope a sensible, centrist Kadima party, united with a renewed Israeli Labor party, can take the pragnatic &just steps to lead to an Israeli future, &leave the tired Likud , who can offer nothing to Israel, in the dust.

It would appear the data about the cognitive abilities of Ashkenazi Jews, seem to bear out after this most recent election.
3.29.2006 7:25am
I'm not sure whether it's grammatically incorrect, but "politics" construed as a singular noun always bugs me. "Where politics are concerned" sounds much better, and one definitely wouldn't say something like, "the politics of the region is complex."
...sorry, couldn't resist.
3.29.2006 8:40am
Defending the Indefensible:
Good one, Prof. Volokh. It's so refreshing to see an insightful recognition that those who disagree with one's political point of view are probably dumb. If we were all as smart as you, we'd surely all vote the same way as you would. It's inconceivable that someone might just have a different set of values.
3.29.2006 8:50am
mariner (mail):
I've long marveled at the Jewish propensity to make excuses for sworn enemies (1) and support politicians who make common cause with them (2).

(1) See Arafat, Yasir
(2) See Clinton, William Jefferson
3.29.2006 8:51am
Walk It:
I like to learn through the use of parables, ProfessorV.

Thanks for the link, and keep it up!
3.29.2006 8:51am
For a group that can be pretty dumb where politics is concerned, we Jews have somehow managed to survive in a world where many wish to see us dead or exiled.

I think it speaks very well of one's intelligence to refuse, in the face of external threats, to respond by electing the most reactionary government one can find. Many others in recent history have not followed that example.
3.29.2006 8:58am
johnt (mail):
I tend to think that the cohesiveness of the Jewish people, their unity and mutual support thru the years, plays a part in this. In addition, and pehaps connected to that, there does seem to be a proclivity to socialism in smaller countries, Sweeden, as well as those countries with a more homogenous population, France for example. Granted that populations and things in general can change you are still left with the unsavory tendency of democracies to tilt to collectivism, or put more kindly, the regulated welfare state. The Israeli Jews have plenty of company and the question of intelligence in a open society can be asked on a broader geographical and political level.
3.29.2006 9:13am
I agree it is rather tone-deaf to view every world election as nothing more than an affirmance or repudiation of libertarian free-market principles, but still, it's pretty rude to take a cheap shot at Prof. Bernstein like this.
3.29.2006 9:24am
My father used to believe in the Israeli Conspiracy. After I spent a year in Israel, I came home and laughed at him.
3.29.2006 9:37am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
In one of the most politically incorrect book of the 1990s, "The Bell Curve", Jews were the only group evaluated that, on average, scored significally above the population mean on IQ tests. My memory was that the Jewish mean was somewhere around one standard deviation above the norm - about where the mean of those with doctorates of all types, except for education, scored.

So, with that, why do the bulk of the Jews in this country routinely vote against their economic and political interests and in favor of such programs as affirmative action, which has harmed them more than most throughout our history? Why routinely vote for candidates who would raise, not lower taxes? For public education
instead of vouchers? For the party that has traditionally been a weaker supporter of Israel? For the party that opposes the War in Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was one of Israel's biggest foes, going so far as trying to move an army corp towards Israel shortly before being deposed? For the party that favors group entitlements instead of individual merit and achievement?
3.29.2006 9:37am
Luke R. (mail) (www):
Isn't the simplest answer that you haven't correctly divined what the economic and political interests of "the bulk of the Jews" really are?
3.29.2006 9:53am
3.29.2006 9:55am
"'The Bell Curve', Jews were the only group evaluated that, on average, scored significally above the population mean on IQ tests."

I think there are two things wrong with this statement. I believe the Bell Curve's findings were only true for Ashkenazic Jewish people.

And, if I recall correctly, eastern Asians (Chinese and Japanese) also did. I don't think their difference in scores from the average population was as high as for Ashkenazic Jewish people, but it was higher.
3.29.2006 9:59am
Justin (mail):
You mean, see Eugene Volokh, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Bremer, Joe Lieberman, David Bernstien, William Kristol, et al?

I mean, Israeli socialists didn't invade a country by mistake. So I guess you're talking about Bush supporter Jews.
3.29.2006 10:04am
trotsky (mail):
Bruce Hayden,

It's a possibility at least worth considering that they vote as they do because they're so smart. I.e., they're right.

Worth considering, anyway.
3.29.2006 10:13am
Davebo (mail):
Wow, I certainly hope you're joking here. Assigning ingorance to those who disagree politically is a time honored tradition in America.

And it practically proves it's own point. As seen here.
3.29.2006 10:15am
Given the events of the past week in LA, I think
those of us living in California should be more
concerned about how Jews will fare in the
People's Republic of Aztlan. Are Mexican immigrants and
their children the new Italians? Or the new Ukrainians? Many of the
photos across the Internet are not very comforting,
e.g. see
3.29.2006 10:16am
JosephSlater (mail):
Oh for gosh sake, I thought we beat this horse into the ground in the "I can't believe so many [American] Jews are liberals!" thread a while back.

First, there's the obvious point that attributing different politics to stupidity, mental disorder, etc. is lazy, ad hominem, and otherwise unconvincing (and yes, I made the same point on one of the 67 threads about the study of what types of children become liberals or conservatives).

Second, one would think that the American right would have a bit of humility now about what claiming to know what is obviously best for the Mid-East. I say all this, by the way, as a Jew and supporter of Israel.
3.29.2006 10:18am
Davebo (mail):

Second, one would think that the American right would have a bit of humility now about what claiming to know what is obviously best for the Mid-East.

One might think that. But it requires much less thinking to just toss 63% or so of our population into the "can't understand what's best for them" category.

Some might call such an act intellectually lazy, but frankly I'd prefer they be intellectually lazy than have to deal with another set of their swell ideas to save us from ourselves.
3.29.2006 10:36am
Bryon Gill (mail) (www):
Groups can think?
3.29.2006 10:51am
Dylanfa (mail) (www):
Bruce Hayden:
So, with that, why do the bulk of the Jews in this country routinely vote against their economic and political interests and in favor of such programs as affirmative action, which has harmed them more than most throughout our history?
I hate, hate, hate this argument when applied to blue collar GOP voters, and I'm not going to let you get away with it here. I would be voting for my "economic interests" if I supported the decriminalization of stealing from people shorter than I. (I'm tall.) I, and every other white person, would be voting for our "political interests" if we supported candidates who promised to take the vote away from blacks.

Shockingly, I support neither law, even though both would benefit me. Try to guess why.
3.29.2006 10:55am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Back to the (sometimes lacking) intelligence of Jews: In my completely uninformed opinion, I believe that while genetics certainly play a role in intelligence, including group intelligence, experience tells us that politics are shaped by environment.

Jewish immigrants from Russia in the early 20th Century were people shaped by their time. Many embraced socialism, and worse. Recent Jewish immigrants from Russia, such as myself, are equally creatures of our time. Many of us harbor strong resentment toward communism, and any other heavy-handed paternalistic ideologies. Most young Jews from the SovBloc, in my experience, are libertarian/conservative. I don't think our IQ's are lower (or higher) than our predecessors.
3.29.2006 11:00am
Everyone gets to strike their own balance between voting for their own economic interests and voting to promote the common good, to the extent the two values diverge. One is even allowed to go completely to one extreme or the other if they like. That's what's great about democracy.

I am unimpressed by any argument that says, because someone else strikes the balance differently than you, they must be less intelligent.
3.29.2006 11:09am
Justin (mail):
Mike, your opinion was correct in one way: it is uninformed.

Jewish Russian immigrants part ways with their nonjewish Russian-American comrades in the sense that the latter are REACTIONARY towards socialism, and are amongst the most conservative political subgroups in NY.

As someone who actually IS Jewish, our liberal roots go back centuries, to at least the time of the Italian Ghettos, where we were unable to survive without mutual reliance due to the Jewish Restrictions. That, combined with longstanding Jewish cultural emphasis on education, charity, and community, led Jews to come to America far more liberal. Coming here and facing much discrimination (remember Father Charles Caughlin (sp) was the biggest thing on radio in the 1930s), we found natural alliances with other discriminated groups, and found natural allies in the Republican and non-Southern Democratic parties. We also became heavily involved in the NAACP (think Jack Greenberg and Charles Black). When Goldwater (not Jewish) formulated the 1964 Southern Strategy and started the road towards unifying the GOP and the Southern Democrats, the Jews-as-liberal-democrats transformation was pretty much completed.
3.29.2006 11:10am
Justin (mail):
PS First and second generation Russian Jews, particularly Orthadox ones, are the groups most likely to be conservative. That's why the Volokh family's political beliefs (as well as Judge Kozinski's) are not particularly surprising - certainly not to the degree David Bernstien's might be to some people.
3.29.2006 11:17am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Justin, I'm glad that you took an opportunity to sound pithy at my expense, despite our apparent agreement. If we were having a Talmudic pissing contest - you would have out-jewed me, it seems.

But how is what you said, not in accord with what I said? Jews in Tsarist Russia, as I heard first-hand growing up, were persecuted something awful. Naturally, many of the communist revolutionaries were Jews, since Jews seemed to have the most to gain from displacing the tsarist regime. That's why a lot of Jews were communists back then.

Having experienced the other side of the coin, Jewish immigrants from Russia - not just in NY, but also in Boston, (I can get you the WSJ article if you like), are relatively conservative - ever to the dismay of local Jewish liberal leaders.

And why shouldn't we be conservative? We've seen that state paternalism does little good. AA hurts us more than most. Those of who are Zionists, should by all means support the Republicans - by far the stronger supporter of Israel. I could go on and on.
3.29.2006 11:19am
Joel B. (mail):
Well, historically, self-government didn't work very well for Israel in the age of the Kings either. Throughout Israel's history, there was not a single good king, of whom it was written "Who did right in the eyes of the Lord." That's not to say that things seem to go that well in Libertarian utopia either (the age of the Judges) where "each did what was right in his own eyes."

Judah was at least blessed with a few kings who "followed in the footsteps of their father David," but of course that was distressingly the exception rather than the rule. Note of course, that it was the people of Israel themselves who asked for a king and so rejected the leadership of the Lord.

But hey, that's just the Bible's history, but still interesting I suppose. Government, for Jew and Gentile is always something that is bound to be frought with problems that makes Israel no different, they just have such a richly recorded history of their governments and leaders.
3.29.2006 11:21am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
3.29.2006 11:21am
VFB (mail):
--- First and second generation Russian Jews, particularly Orthodox ones, are the groups most likely to be conservative. ---

That's true now, but it was most definitely not that case in the late 1800's and early 1900's when the substantial majority of the Jews of Russian descent came to this country.
3.29.2006 11:24am
Justin (mail):
Mike, I misread your original post and apologize. Sorry.
3.29.2006 11:32am
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):
Compare this post with Professor Volokh's post on March 21, 2006 criticizing the assumption that blacks should never vote Republican:

Caring about moral or patriotic matters that go beyond one's own selfish interests, or one's identity group affiliations, is usually seen as a mark of nobility, not of folly, self-deception, or betrayal. Even if a black person supports a position or party that you think is bad for blacks, why not show him the same respect that you'd show anyone else? Why not assume that he must think that on balance some important consideration, perhaps an important moral principle that even rises to the level of life or death -- even if it's a consideration that you disagree with -- might outweigh what he sees as more parochial concerns?
3.29.2006 11:32am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Justin, no sweat.
3.29.2006 11:33am
Neal R. (mail):
Wouldn't it be more persuasive, not to mention a bit nicer to the majority of Israeli voters, to offer substantive reasons why you think the election came out wrong?

As a wise man once said, "After all, if you're one of the few who sees the world clearly, then surely it's especially important that you frame your arguments in a way that is persuasive and as unalienating as possible, even to fools."
3.29.2006 11:37am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Just thought I would throw a bit of gasoline on the fire. Sorry. It seemed to work.

That said, my theory on Jewish politics here in the U.S. is that, yes, Jews were somewhat socialistic when they came here, had to stick together and associate with other minority groups for political power, etc. And, I think that the history of modern Israel bears a lot of this out. But I think that 2,000 years of political oppression is really the biggest reason for Jewish solidarity on the left now. The Jewish people survived as a people so long in a sea of gentiles because they stuck together. Because of this, I see enormous peer pressure for those whose ancesters came over here before the exodus from Communism to conform to the group. I should note that I see a similar dynamic with the African-American community, for similar reasons. Indeed, I think the pressure there is even greater - with those straying to the right being termed race traitors, and worse.

In any case, that is just a theory - and I am as much a result of my ancestors as anyone else here.

As to the Bell Curve, my memory is that east (Oriental) Asians on average scored a couple points higher on math questions, and correspondingly lower on verbal questions, with the cumulative results being close to a wash (and ignoring statistical error). Of course, if they had stopped at there, with the White, Asian, and Jewish figures, they probably would have been ok. But they didn't - they went on to find that African-Americans on average scored significantly lower than the population mean, and Hispanics somewhat lower. In short, they said the unthinkable and unsayable.
3.29.2006 11:43am
Per Son:
As for Jewish Socialism - it is very much in the heart of Israel's origins. Look at the Kibbutz movement or the Jewish Labor Bunds.
3.29.2006 12:05pm
Hans Bader (mail):
In some ways, Israel reminds me of France, which also has talented citizens who are prisoners of narrow socialist ideologies.

The French private sector is quite productive (a bit more so than in England), and its citizens have long life expectancies (substantially longer than in England) and are fairly well-educated.

But the slightest efforts at free-market reforms trigger riots, and France's economic growth lags behind England's because of its government's statist policies. And France spends tons of money on overpaid bureaucrats, burdening its private sector and squandering its natural advantage over competitors in neighboring countries.

My French in-laws, who all work in the private sector, are at least as socialist in their political philosophy as the average Israeli.
3.29.2006 12:17pm
Joel B. (mail):
While Socialism may be tied up with some aspect of present day Israel, let's not equate that with being at the heart of Israel's origins.

After all, Israel's rebellion against Rehoboam was predicated on the high taxes imposed by Solomon.

I suppose one could make a case with Joseph, as his care eventually led to the Pharoah owning all of Egypt and a perennial income tax system. So maybe there is a point. But his taxes didn't seem to be socialistic in terms of conferring public service benefits, more providing for the Egyptian consquests seems more likely.
3.29.2006 12:20pm
Per Son:
I'd be willing to argue that without the socialist-wing of the Zionist movement in the early part of last century - there would not have been a strong enough movement toward the State of Israel. Imagine if there would have never been any Kibbutzniks.
3.29.2006 12:21pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
The unfortunate distinction between France and Israel, assuming what you say in your post is otherwise correct, is that an economic depression in France can be very unpleasant, while an economic depression in Israel can precipitate a military collape and its inevitable death. (Not to be a huuuuuge downer, but I think that's realistic).
3.29.2006 12:22pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Sorry - that post is addressed to Hans.
3.29.2006 12:22pm
Per Son:
Lets be serious here. We are talking about the State of Israel formed in 1948. Not Eretz Yisrael or Israel of yore.
3.29.2006 12:23pm
Joel B. (mail):
Oh, I didn't mean to be too difficult, but I do think that the current state of Israel is bound up with its ancient predecessor. If one chooses not to believe in the G-d of the Bible, than certainly some of the history may be suspect.

That being said I think it is almost impossible to imagine the state of Israel existing without the existence of the Bible, regardless of one's belief in its veracity. Had the Bible not existed, it seems very unlikely that Jews would have maintained their distinct identity through the many centuries and empires that have come and gone. The Babylonians, Persians, etc. didn't. Why should Judah/Israel. It's also worth noting that Israel, which didn't appear to record as was done in Judah, did get lost in history, as we could have expected Judah to have done, had it not at least been for the Bible.
3.29.2006 1:10pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Compare this post with Professor Volokh's post on March 21, 2006 criticizing the assumption that blacks should never vote Republican:
The two statements aren't contradictory. Eugene didn't criticize (to the extent such a mild post could be termed "criticism" at all) Jews for voting against the narrow parochial interests of Jews. He criticized Jews for voting for bad ideas/policies.

That's different than black people being criticized for voting for Republicans because Republicans are bad for black interests, as if black people should base their vote on different criteria than white people should.
3.29.2006 1:39pm
Christopher C (mail):
I must say I find the implicit criticisms of Israeli voters for not voting "pro-capitalist" enough for some amusing.

A sizeable portion of the Israeli voting public, but not a majority (right now) will consistently vote for Labor (just like a sizeable portion will vote for the Democrats here), which means Labor usually gets the second largest vote. The formation of Kadima essentially split the "right" into two groups, the center-right becoming Kadima and the hard right becoming Likud. That is all that happened. The other groups are typical one-issue groups, such as the party seeking larger payments to Russian immigrants, or a Pensioners party. Think of them as special interest lobbies that, because of Israel's parlimentarian government, elect representatives instead of lobbying Labor or Likud one direction or another. I hardly find this outcome to be a comment on the intelligence, or lack thereof, of the average Israeli voter.
3.29.2006 1:46pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Prof. Volokh, of course your update clarifies your point, but I wonder likewise how so many erstwhile libertarians prefer fascism to socialism. The political choices that are presented for vote are not between good and bad, but alternative evils. Which one you would rather suffer (or impose) does not make those who prefer the other less intelligent than you.
3.29.2006 1:47pm
Justin (mail):
I don't think EV's clarification of his post was necessary - I think it was clear EV was arguing that supporting liberal economic policies was "dumb", despite no support and all historic evidence to the contrary. I assume that when EV means "Socialist" he does not mean "Communist" - that Labor, Kadima, and their supporters support dictatorship, collectivism, and gulags - to which I find no evidence supporting such claim.

As a Judeo-Russo-American, I understand that EV has self--identity ties to Russia, the United States, and Israel. That Israel has rejected the economic structure of the United States - and that Russia has followed it much to their own suffering - and instead Israel has adopted the successful policies of all other Western countries should hardly be surprising. His argument that such a response is "dumb" would indicate that the people of Europe and Asia are also dumb - a rather dubious allegation.
3.29.2006 2:08pm
amechad (mail) (www):
Israelis supported unilateral withdrawl and socialism (or maybe not socialism but the welfare state, which is just as bad).

See my blog for more info.
3.29.2006 2:11pm
theCoach (mail):
Perhaps Jews should take being called dumb from someone who posts Something the Iranian Government and I Agree on as a badge of honor and good sense.
3.29.2006 2:15pm
Neal R. (mail):
The original post and the clarification say the same thing: it is "dumb" for Isrealis to vote for socialist candidates. Why? Because it's "dumb."

"Sticking with substance will make the comments more helpful to other readers, and more pleasant."
3.29.2006 2:22pm
the real Eric:
Intelligence and Wisdom are seperate. Smart people can have different opinions but you'd expect a collection of truly wise people to be in general agreement.
3.29.2006 6:54pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Not all Jews are economically lame.

Take Milton Friedman for instance. Too bad more Jews don't read him.
3.29.2006 7:09pm
Socialism is, writ large, the same system that got us through life in the ghettos of Eastern Europe. Whether it is wise to write it large is a good question, but it's not surprising that we cling to it.
3.29.2006 11:52pm
ja (mail) (www):
The story of the two brothers is apocryphal. See:
3.31.2006 8:35am