Gene of the Week: American Exceptionalism

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on June 20th, 2008

Alexis de Tocqueville, an early student of American exceptionalism

In a column from a few weeks ago, conservative pundit Michael Medved asserted that various peculiar American cultural characteristics, including our economic success, are due to genetic differences. Citing two recent books, he claimed that  risk-taking among immigrants to America likely had a genetic component, one that is shared by their descendants here today. I've not read the books, but from my vantage point there are numerous significant flaws with this logic. Hypoid Logic covered many of the bases. At the very least, a cultural reinforcement of risk-taking seems an adequate and potentially superior explanation - particularly considering that a process like migration is unlikely to be a sufficient founder effect or population bottleneck for such a complex behavior.

But I can see the appeal of this logic to people such as Medved and Gregory Clark, author of A Farewell to Arms. It not only assuages successful Caucasians, whom many conservatives feel are the real victims of postmodernity. It even offers a guilt-free explanation of why dark-skinned people often remain poor. Thus, the current conditions for Native Americans and blacks are not due to the genocide or slavery carried out by the ancestors of contemporary American whites, but instead due to the absence of voluntary migration in their histories.

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Posted in Jesse Reynolds's Blog Posts, Race


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