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{See also HERE for a later comment on Billig's extremist meanderings}

Ethnic & Racial Studies, 1985, 8, 441-443.

RACISM AND RATIONALITY: a reply to Billig



John J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia

Michael Billig has rightly won acclaim as one of Britain's leading researchers into the psychological bases of racism -- a field in which I also specialize. I was greatly perturbed therefore to find that in one of his more obscure publications (a book published only in French) Billig (1981) has made a scathing personal attack on me accusing me of being a racist. Before this allegation receives wider publicity some reply is needed and I hope that the pages of this journal provide a suitable forum for such a reply.

Particularly grievous is Billig's allegation: 'However, Ray is not really ignorant of Nazi ways. As he describes in his unpublished article, he had belonged to several Australian Nazi parties when he was a student in the sixties, then remained involved in Nazi political activities for seven years' (my translation).

This statement is an utter perversion of the truth. Billig is referring to a program of research into antisemitism that I carried out some years ago. As a sociologist, I saw participant observation as a powerful way of investigating this phenomenon. Participant observation is of course the normal research method of anthropology and has an honourable and acclaimed role in sociology too (Bruyn, 1966). Billig takes the correct statement that I at one time joined Nazi parties and, by omitting the context that I did so for the purposes of unobtrusive data gathering, creates the impression that I am a Nazi sympathizer! The paper Billig gathered his information from is one of four I wrote reporting the results of that particular research program and was sent by me to one of Billig's colleagues at the Department of Psychology at the University of Birmingham. The paper made clear the research context of' my interest in Nazism so Billig's omission is deliberate. That the impression Billig tries to create is also absurd is shown by the fact that the other three papers in the series have all been published in Jewish journals (Ray, l972a and b, 1973)! Is Billig asserting that serious Jewish academic journals would promote antisemitism? The very question is ludicrous.

For the record, let it be stated that I am so far from being of Nazi sympathies that I almost disappear in the opposite direction. I am what is technically known as an anarcho-capitalist. I believe that all government is Fascist and reprehensible. My one value is for individual liberty. How absurd, then, to say that I sympathize with any collectivist philosophy.

That accusations such as Billig's are dangerous can be seen in two ways: (1) It discourages social scientists from doing difficult research by adding on the extra burden of guilt by association. Is the sociologist who studies juvenile gangs by participant observation methods to be dismissed as a juvenile delinquent? In Billig's world he would be. (2) One can make anything at all out of reasoning such as Billig's. While it is true that I joined the Nazi party in Australia at one time, it is also true that at the same time I joined the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society. Am I therefore also a Communist? The truth, of course is that my curiosity sometimes overcomes my caution.

The second leg of Billig's criticism of me is mainly based on excerpts from my book Conservatism as Heresy. This is a book in which I show (or endeavour to show) how various conservative ideas can be defended from a libertarian perspective. There is no doubt that any social scientist who defends conservatism in any way will be something of a pariah. I knew that when I wrote the book but still thought that in the interests of balance I should put the arguments forward. The generally Leftist inclinations of most social scientists hardly require proof but I, nonetheless, was of the view that genuine differences of opinion should not impede the search for truth among those truly committed to scholarship. I did such dreadful things as predict that a precipitous attainment of majority rule in Rhodesia (as it then was) would lead to vast inter-tribal bloodshed. Can anyone who knows anything of recent events in Matabeleland dispute that I was right? Those who would be inclined to trust Billig's judgments should instead read what I wrote. Conservative ideas may be uncongenial but to equate them with Fascism or racism is totally one-eyed. Was it not the great Conservative, Winston Churchill, who was Hitler's most unrelenting foe? Stalin made a pact and co-operated with Hitler! Only Hitler's attack on Russia made Stalin go to war! Churchill, on the other hand, declared war on principle. So which is the anti-Fascist? Facts can be troublesome.

Billig is right in finding that both my book and the unpublished paper he quotes share a common perspective on racism as 'rational'. In my account of racism I endeavour to apply the principles of Victimology and look for ways in which racism is an interaction between both victim and victimizer. I believe that people like best those who are most similar to themselves and that genuine differences between people can therefore explain the dislike people feel for one another. Billig regards such a theory as a 'vulgar justification of racial Prejudice' (my translation) but in so doing ignores the fact that Jewish scholars produce similar explanations for antisemitism. Stein (1977 and 1984) even finds that Jews need their persecutors and hence provoke persecution. Glock et al. (1975) found that antisemitism is low where Jews are few and high where Jews are frequent. He concludes, therefore; that antisemitism is an outcome of culture-conflict, i.e. that it has something to do with Jews themselves. Although Stein goes a lot further than I would, it should be clear that both Stein and the Glock group are arguing very much as I do. Are these respected Jewish scholars then giving 'vulgar justifications of antisemitism? Billig would have to say that they are but the absurdity of so saying is surely apparent. No-one has to agree with the type of explanation attempted by these authors and myself but let us agree that it is a genuine attempt to understand and not mere racist propaganda. Perhaps, however, the facts always have the last laugh. The highest correlation I know of in the entire social science literature is a correlation of .9 reported by Ian Mitchell (presently Australia's High Commissioner in Bangladesh) in 1968 in his study of the results of Australia's constitutional referendum designed to give the vote to Australian blacks (Aborigines). Although two-thirds of Australians voted to confer such rights, Mitchell found a correlation of .9 between the percentage of 'No' votes and the density of the Aboriginal population in any given area. The more Australians of Anglo origin get to know Aborigines, the less they respect them. Could there be any clearer proof of my contention that racism is a victim/victimizer interaction? Mitchell got his present post at least in part because of his record as a caring person vis-a-vis minorities and his data were simply official statistics so I also think that his results even Billig would find hard to impugn.

So why is it that an obviously able researcher such as Billig has stooped so low in his comments on my work? The only theory I can come up with is that Billig himself has what might be described as a 'hard Left' orientation. His association with the Trotskyist Searchlight publication certainly suggests it. Ideology has simply overcome good sense.

References

BILLIG, M. 1981 L 'internationale raciste de la psychologie a la science des races. Paris: Maspero.

BRUYN, S. 1966 The Human Perspective in Sociology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

GLOCK, C. Y., WUTHNOW, R., PILIAVIN, J. A., and SPENCER, M. 1975 Adolescent Prejudice. New York: Harper & Row.

MITCHELL, I.S. 1968 Epilogue to a referendum. Australian Journal of Social Issues 3 (4), 9-12.

RAY, J.J. (1972a) Is antisemitism a cognitive simplification? Some observations on Australian Neo-Nazis. Jewish J. Sociology 15, 207-213.

RAY, J.J. (1972b) What are Australian Nazis really like? The Bridge 7(2), 15-21.

RAY, J.J. (1973) Antisemitic types in Australia. Patterns of Prejudice 7(1), 6-16.

RAY, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

STEIN, H. F. 1977 The binding of the son: psychoanalytic reflections on the symbiosis of antisemitism and anti-Gentilism. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 46 (4), 650-83.

STEIN, H. F. 1984 The holocaust, the uncanny, and the Jewish sense of history. Political Psychology, 5, 5-36.




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