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Why are some races more ethnocentric than others?

The following is a brief excerpt from the first chapter of Race Differences in Ethnocentrism (Arktos, 2019), by Edward Dutton.

Ethnocentrism, argued the American economist William Sumner (1840–1910), is ‘the view of things in which one’s own group is the centre of everything and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it … Each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exalts its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders’ (Sumner, 1906, p. 13). This kind of attitude is epitomized in words attributed to Socrates: ‘He thanked Fortune for three things’, it was said, one of them being, ‘that I am a Greek and not a barbarian’ (quoted in Coleman, 1997, p. 175). It is also very clear in the way that the British Empire produced maps with Britain at the centre, and longitude continues to be measured in degrees east or west of Greenwich in London (Benson, 2002, p. 37).

National pride means being proud of your country simply because it is your country.

‘Ethnocentrism’, then, comes in two forms. On the one hand, ‘positive ethnocentrism’ involves taking pride in your ethnic group or nation and being prepared to make sacrifices for the good of it. Soldiers who regard their nation as being the best in the world and are prepared to risk their lives to defend it are ‘positively ethnocentric’. In England, at the start of World War I, a huge propaganda campaign successfully persuaded thousands of young men to fight for their country, appealing to this kind of ethnocentrism. Recruitment posters included John Bull, the symbol of Britishness,1 standing in front of uniformed soldiers and asking the reader, ‘Who’s absent? Is it you?’ (see Messinger, 1992).

On the other hand, ‘negative ethnocentrism’ refers to being prejudiced against and hostile to members of other ethnic groups. The English soldier who is motivated by hatred of the Germans and is prepared to brutalize German civilians because they are German is high in negative ethnocentrism. During World War I, anti-German feeling in England reached such extremes that there were anti-German riots, assaults on suspected Germans, and the looting of stores whose owners had German-sounding surnames (Panayi, 1989). The British Royal Family, who are of German descent, were even forced to change their surname from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor due to the anti-German hysteria generated by the War (Baldick & Bate 2006, p. 303).

‘Ethnocentrism’ combines these two dimensions. A person is ‘ethnocentric’ if they take pride in and make sacrifices for their country and are prejudiced against other countries, although, as we will see, there are people and groups who are high in one aspect of ethnocentrism but not in the other. Criticisms might be levelled against this division between positive and negative ethnocentrism. For example, it might be argued that people in many Western European countries – influenced by ideologies such as Multiculturalism – may profess a low level of national pride but will, nevertheless, hold to a view in which their own country is at the centre of the world and believe that everywhere should want to be like their own country, in the sense of being Multicultural.2 ‘Multiculturalism’ generally refers to the promotion of a culturally diverse society combined with the view that all cultures are of equal value and their members should have equal status,3 so it is, on the surface, inconsistent with ethnocentrism. However, it can be countered that, in this case, the sense of pride is in their country’s ideology and if their country had a different ideology, such as a highly nationalistic one, then the same people would have far less pride in their country. Equally, people who adhere to such an ideology seem to be prejudiced against genuinely ethnocentric countries, such as Israel (Jayanetti, 17th April 2017), precisely because they reject Multiculturalism. National pride means being proud of your country simply because it is your country.

In this book, then, we aim to understand the causes of ethnocentrism and the reasons why there is variation in the degree to which different races and ethnic groups are ethnocentric. Put simply, we want to answer the question: ‘Why are some races more ethnocentric than others?’ and, indeed, ‘Why are Europeans currently so low in ethnocentrism?’ As we will see, there has been considerable discussion of the possible reasons for individual variation in levels of ethnocentrism. However, there exists no systematic attempt to understand why different ethnic groups may vary in the extent to which they are ethnocentric. Understanding the reasons for group differences in ethnocentrism is particularly salient during a period of mass migration (see Salter, 2007). Europe, in particular, has been experiencing this since the 1960s and it started to become particularly acute in the summer of 2015, when the mass movement of people from the Middle East into Europe, often via Turkey, was referred to as the ‘Great Migration’ (e.g. Nelson, 3rd September 2015). As many of the immigrants claimed to be ‘refugees’, supposedly fleeing violence in Syria at the hands of ISIS (Islamic State), the European Union instituted a policy whereby each nation should take ‘refugee quotas’ (BBC News, 22nd September 2015). The crisis evoked a fascinating array of responses from different countries.

The governments of the northern European countries, such as the Scandinavian nations and particularly Germany, were, initially at least, extremely welcoming, with Germany processing 1.1 million asylum seekers (Peev, 31st December 2015). Indeed, some national leaders used the crisis as a means of playing for moral status by virtue signalling.4 The Finnish Prime Minister, Juha Sipilä, offered to take ‘refugees’ into his home (Withnall, 6th September 2015). However, attitudes soon hardened (Boztas, 5th February 2016), especially once the behaviour of some of the migrants came to light. This included the gang-raping of teenage girls (e.g. in Finland, YLE, 24th November 2015), the raping of children (e.g. in Austria, Dunn, 6th February 2016), the groping and widespread sexual assault of women (such as in large mobs on New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne where approximately 1000 women were sexually assaulted; Richards, 11th February 2016), masturbating and defecating in public swimming pools (Wyke, 24th January 2016), and general threatening and criminal behaviour towards locals. The suicide bombings and a massacre in Paris on 13th November 2015 by ISIS terrorists hardened attitudes further. Some of the terrorists were French citizens of Moroccan descent who had gone to Syria to train as terrorists and had then re-entered Europe as ‘refugees’ that summer (Phipps & Rawlinson, 14th November 2015). 130 people were killed in the Paris attack. This was followed, on 22nd March 2016, by ISIS terrorists (Belgian nationals of Moroccan descent) suicide bombing Brussels Airport and a Brussels metro station, killing thirty-two people. Nevertheless, the initial reaction of Northwestern European governments can be summarised with the virtue-signalling Facebook meme ‘Refugees Welcome’.

The response of Eastern European governments and their people was very different. There were quickly huge protests in former Eastern Bloc EU countries against letting in any of the overwhelmingly Muslim and male migrants whatsoever (e.g. in Poland, Gander, 13th September 2015). Leading politicians from these countries, such as the Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico (BBC News, 19th August 2015) and the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán (Traynor, 3rd September 2015) spoke out strongly against letting any Muslims into their nations at all. Countries bordering Syria, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, refused to let in any supposed ‘refugees’ even though they are far more culturally and ethnically similar to the immigrants than are Europeans (Akbar, 4th September 2015). Israel also refused to admit any of them (Burrows, 6th September 2015). Furthermore, across Western Europe there were huge outpourings of public sympathy for the people killed in the Paris and Brussels attacks, with people changing their Facebook profile pictures to the flags of France or Belgium, for example, despite the fact that precisely these kinds of people had previously shared the ‘Refugees Welcome’ meme. However, interestingly, there was no such reaction among Europeans to ISIS bombings in Turkey, which happened around the same time (D’Angelo, 14th March 2016).

Historical Observation of Differences in Ethnocentrism

Group and individual differences in ethnocentrism have always been an issue of significant concern, though I am not aware of any systematic historical analysis. During the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’ from the Renaissance until the nineteenth century, European explorers came into contact with many different ethnic groups with whom they had previously had no contact at all. Some of these groups were immediately friendly, others immediately hostile, while others still sat between these extremes and their attitudes noticeably altered according to the behaviour of the explorers. A fully comprehensive historical analysis of this area would be a fascinating study for any historian. But, to give a few examples, the natives of Hawaii were widely understood, when they were first contacted in the mid-eighteenth century, to be extremely ‘friendly’ (Wood, 1999, p. 30) until Captain James Cook (1728–1779) provoked their wrath by taking their king hostage. This geniality, however, was perhaps significantly because they thought that the white men were gods. But even putting aside the religious element, the Inuit have long been described by explorers as being very amiable to outsiders (e.g. Graburn, 2012). By contrast, the negrito tribes of the Andaman Islands, near India, have a reputation for being extraordinarily unfriendly and hostile to outsiders, to the extent that they are simply left alone by the Indian government. There is also intense inter-tribal warfare on these islands (Singh, 1994).

Group and individual differences in ethnocentrism have always been an issue of significant concern.

In terms of positive ethnocentrism, many descriptions of the Japanese by Early Modern European missionaries commented on the extent of their bravery in the service of their nation and the surprising degree of harmony in Japanese society; the degree to which they were prepared to co-operate with each other (e.g. Hawkes, 2016). By contrast, descriptions of the Yanomamö tribe of Venezuela portray a group characterized by extreme violence and lawlessness, unable to maintain a group membership of any significant size without splitting into rival clans. Known as the ‘fierce people’ even by neighbouring groups, the Yanomamö have also gained a reputation for being profoundly unpleasant to outsiders (Chagnon, 1968). These differences, in the extent of ethnocentrism, would appear to have resulted in observable differences in the fates of the different societies. The societies which are highly welcoming to outsiders, such as the Hawaiians and the Inuit, have both been substantially colonised by Europeans. The societies which are hostile in the extreme to outsiders, by contrast, are generally left alone. But they do not benefit, in either material or intellectual terms, from contact with outsiders so they do not develop into larger groups. Japan has developed a highly complex society with a very high standard of living, although, interestingly, its levels of genius – of innovating new inventions – appear to be much lower than in Europe and it has been suggested that its extreme cooperative nature may be a reason for this (Dutton & Charlton, 2015). Even so, the Japanese seem to have intense pride in themselves and their nation. By contrast, the Yanomamö remain in the Stone Age and are so internally divided into warring clans that it is unlikely that they could realistically mount a united front, let alone develop into a larger society. Group differences in ethnocentrism were even of interest to Charles Darwin (1809–1882) who commented in The Descent of Man: ‘A tribe including many members who, from possessing a high degree of the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes, and this would be natural selection’ (Darwin, 1871).

In much the same way, some individuals can be said to be more ethnocentric than others. In the UK, perhaps the most striking examples of positive ethnocentrism can be seen in those who have received the Victoria Cross. The Victoria Cross is the highest medal for valour in the face of the enemy that can be bestowed upon a British soldier or soldier fighting for a country of whom the British monarch is the head of state. Since 1857, when it was established, the medal has only been awarded just over 1350 times and it has only been awarded fifteen times since World War II (Smith, 2008). Recipients include Private Edward Barber (1893–1915) who, on 12th March 1915 at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in France:

ran speedily in front of the grenade company to which he belonged, and threw bombs on the enemy with such effect that a very great number of them at once surrendered. When the grenade party reached Private Barber they found him quite alone and unsupported, with the enemy surrendering all about him (London Gazette, 19th April 1915).

Private Barber lost his life due to this singular act of suicidal gallantry. By contrast, other people can be so low in positive ethnocentrism that they are prepared to spy for the enemy in return for payment or due to some shared ideology. In Britain, Guy Burgess (1911–1963), along with other members of the so-called ‘Cambridge spy ring’ (a reference to the university where they originally met), was a diplomat who passed information to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, making him a traitor to his country (see Lownie, 2016). By the same token, it is clear that some people are higher than others in negative ethnocentrism. Some people would be horrified by having someone of a different race as a neighbour, let alone a family member. In the UK, in the 1940s, a father threw his daughter out of his house because she insisted on marrying a man from Trinidad (Appleyard & Goldwin, 5th February 2016). Others will fall in love with and marry a person of a different race. It was not uncommon, for example, for British soldiers stationed in India during the Raj to marry local women. The products of these marriages were generally raised as Christian, and themselves married other mixed-race people, with the result that there remains a distinct Indian ethnic group known as ‘Anglo-Indians’ (see Muthiah et al., 2014). A famous example was Lt. Col. James Kirkpatrick (1764–1805), a soldier with the East India Company, who married Khair un-Nissa, an Indian noblewoman who was the grand-daughter of the Prime Minister of Hyderabad, in 1801. Indeed, he adopted Indian culture more generally. He wore Mughal-style costumes at home, smoked a hookah, and converted to Islam (Dalrymple, 2004), this being the religion of much of the Indian nobility at the time.

So, these differences in the level of ethnocentrism – at both the individual and group level – have long been observed, but what are their causes? What are the environmental and genetic factors which mean that some people are so much more ethnocentric than others? And are there different explanations for the same levels of ethnocentrism between different people and different groups? In this study, we will attempt a comprehensive examination of this area in order to answer these important questions.


1 For a discussion of the history of John Bull see Hunt (2003).

2 I am grateful to Guy Madison for this observation.

3 See Dutton (2012) for more detailed discussions of the nature of this ideology.

4 In a highly social species, emphasizing that you are generous is a way of playing for status because generosity is a likeable quality. This leads to a kind of competitive altruism. In addition, such behaviour can be seen to advertise one’s qualities, including genetic qualities, rather like a peacock’s tail. Your qualities are such that you have excess resources and you can survive despite giving away your resources. We will discuss the ‘peacock’s tail’ in detail in the section on sexual selection.

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