Michael Hart and the role of IQ in human history

From the work of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, we know that IQ—the measurement of a person’s ability to process information—is an important determinant of outcomes in the lives of individuals. From the work of Richard Lynn, we know that IQ is an important determinant of outcomes in the lives of societies, namely of national wealth. In Understanding Human History, Michael H. Hart applies these truths to human history and civilization as a whole. Starting with the exodus of Homo sapiens out of Africa 60,000 years ago, he traces the role of intelligence as a leading factor in the rise and differentiation of civilizations.

As an intriguing example of Hart’s speculative but fact-based approach, he takes the average IQ of modern day sub-Saharan Africans, which is 70, as an indication that the average IQ of all humans 60,000 years ago, when the exodus from Africa occurred, was 70. Then, based on the fact that the IQ of modern day Europeans and Asians is substantially higher than 70, he traces the upward graph of the IQ of the peoples of the respective geographical regions over the last 60,000 years. He explains the rise of IQ on the grounds of the theory advanced by Richard Lynn and Philippe Rushton—which makes a lot of logical and intuitive sense, though it’s still a theory—that the cold winters in the northern hemisphere selected for higher intelligence. To apply the “cold weather produces higher IQ” theory to the entire history of mankind and to all human societies makes for a new and exciting approach to the human story, ranging from the branching out of Paleolithic hunter-gatherer tribes across Eurasia, to the reasons for the Neolithic Revolution (primarily that the IQ of certain groups had risen to the level required for the invention of agriculture, pottery, the domestication of animals, etc.), to the achievements of modern science (ditto), and everything in between.

While Hart is a self-described atheist and materialist, his approach is not reductive in that he does not claim that IQ is the only force driving the advance of civilizations. He considers a variety of factors. For example, he looks at the industrial revolution, which occurred first in Britain, and notes several factors that would be conducive to that event, including high IQ, and finds that Britain was the only country in which all of those factors were present. Or he looks at the epochal transition to modern times around the year 1500 (an event he says is equaled in importance only by the Neolithic Revolution), and asks why did it occur in Europe not China, notwithstanding the fact that the Chinese IQ is equal to or slightly higher than the European, and he notes several factors that helped push Europe past China despite its lack of IQ superiority over China. For one, Europe had a vast coastline with many peninsulas, so that the development of seamanship and exploration was a pressing need for the Europeans, while China was a vast self-sufficient inland country with a short coastline and no need for exploration. For another, China had ethnic homogeneity and a united government, and so did not have much need for innovation in weapons, while Europe with its many warring countries was in a “perpetual arms race” leading to the invention of improved firearms. Or he looks at the fact that agriculture was invented independently in three different parts of the world—the Near East, China, and Meso-America—and identifies the factors that made this possible, among which is IQ. Or he asks why agriculture was invented in the Near East (which he calls the Middle East, a term not normally used for the ancient world), by people with average IQ of 88, rather than by Indo-Europeans with average IQ of 100, and he says that the fertile soil and long growing season of the Near East was so favorable to crop growing that it enabled the people there to develop agriculture notwithstanding their lower IQs. He adds that if their IQ had been lower than 88, they could not have invented agriculture. Along the way, he punctures Jared Diamond’s theory that geography and the availabiltiy of domesticable plants and animals were the determinative factors in the invention of agriculture and the beginning of civilization, and that intelligence had nothing to do with it. But as a further illustration of Hart’s absence of dogmatism, even as he rejects Diamond’s rejection of intelligence, he applies Diamond’s theory where it applies. Thus he argues that the pre-Columbian peoples of Mexico and South America developed agriculture and civilization more slowly than Old-World peoples of similar intelligence because the Diamondesque factors of north-south orientation and relative lack domesticable plants and animals made those developments harder.

Here’s another example of the way Hart combines the general intelligence factor with local and specific factors. Why did the ancient Greeks surpass all other peoples in cultural achievement? While the Greeks had the high Indo-European IQ, they were no more intelligent than other Indo-European peoples. The answer Hart gives is fascinating. The Greeks’ proximity to the ancient, advanced civilizations of Egypt and the Near East made them the first Indo-European people to come into contact with those civilizations. This gave them a school to learn from—in the fields of architecture, the visual arts, the alphabet, and so on—and this, combined with their high intelligence, sparked their unique intellectual achievements. I’m reminded of Camille Paglia’s important account of how the Egyptian “Apollonian” representation of the human form as beautiful and harmonious—godlike—inspired the beginnings of Greek art. Hart points out that in 600 B.C., when the Greeks had been in contact with Egypt and the Near East for centuries and had a fully functioning written language with an alphabet based on the Phoenician alphabet, the Indo-European Celtic, Teutonic and Slavic peoples living to the north of Greece, who had never come into contact with the Near East, were totally illiterate.

While Hart often treats intelligence as one factor among several in the rise of civilizations, in some cases he makes intelligence the sole explanation. A deeply interesting case in point is the Indo-European expansion. According to the most widely accepted view, the Indo-Europeans began as a single tribe living north of the Black and Caspian seas around 4,000 B.C. They then branched out geographically and linguistically, becoming distinctive peoples, which over the course of two millennia conquered all of Europe, as well as Northern India, Iran, and Turkey, then later Mesopotamia and North Africa. What enabled the Indo-Europeans to overcome every people they encountered?

After considering several explanations, Hart concludes:

The simplest explanation is that the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European possessed, on average, considerably higher intelligence than most of the peoples they defeated (including the Egyptians, Babylonian, Assyrians, Carthaginians, Phoenicians, Pelasgians, Tartessians, Iberians, Etruscans, Berbers, and Dravidian-speaking peoples), all of whom had evolved in milder climates than had the ancestors of the Indo-Europeans.

Among those conquered by the Indo-Europeans we should also add the inhabitants of Greece, Italy, France, and the British Isles.

The problem I have with this explanation is as follows. Let us agree with Hart that six thousand years ago, the Proto-Indo-Europeans were a single tribe occupying one area of Eurasia, and, further, that their IQ had been boosted by the last Ice Age which had ended four thousand years earlier. The Proto-Indo-Europeans were just one tribe. That means that the rest of Eurasia was occupied by many other tribes, many of whom, we must presume, had also gone through the last Ice Age. But, Hart’s argument implies, of all the tribes and peoples in the areas the Indo-Europeans ultimately conquered, the Proto-Indo-European tribe was the only one that had been through the last Ice Age. Of course, as indicated by the above list, many of the peoples the Indo-Europeans conquered had originated further to the south; even the Neolithic inhabitants of Britain are thought to have originated in the south of Europe. But the Indo-Europeans also conquered such areas as Germany, France, Southern Scandinavia, the Baltic region, and parts of Russia. Had the indigenous peoples in those areas not gone through the last Ice Age?

Again, if we are to accept the idea that cold-weather-induced higher intelligence was the reason the Indo-Europeans defeated everyone they met, then it must be the case that of all the tribes living in the vast territories conquered by the descendants of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, the Proto-Indo-Europeans were the only tribe that had been shaped by the last Ice Age. And that’s impossible.

To put it another way, there must have been many peoples west of the Urals who experienced the Ice Age and were IQ-boosted by it. What happened to them all? Why had they all disappeared by 4,000 B.C., except for the Proto-Indo-Europeans?

(Note: Michael Hart has answered the above objection in person. See below.)

Here is another instance in which I think Hart relies too heavily on northern intelligence as an all-purpose explanation. He notes that most conquests in history have involved invasions from the north, and attributes this to the cold-weather origin of higher IQ. Northern people are more intelligent than southern people, and so they beat them in war. But I do not find this at all a satisfactory theory. If colder weather is the cause of higher IQ, peoples living in proximity to each other are not going to differ that much in IQ. Would a difference of, say, three IQ points be the main reason why a northern, pastoral, constantly moving people conquers a settled, agricultural, complacent people living directly to their south? Wouldn’t factors other than IQ—I’ve just suggested a couple—be more important?

One of Hart’s examples of this theory is India, which, he says, has always been invaded from the north, while India has never invaded the lands to its north. But couldn’t this also be due to the fact that India is flat and the lands to its north are mountainous, in other words, that hardy, barbarian highlanders tend to invade soft, cultivated lowlanders?

Hart also tends to reduce civilization to a list of achievements. This is seen in his surprisingly dismissive treatment of India, in which he says that India was of little importance and did not add much to human civilization in terms of innovations, inventions, etc. Maybe he is correct on those specific points. But he is failing to see the extraordinary reality of India. He is seeing the parts, not the whole. The society that created the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, that created the ancient temple sculptures with their archetypal images of man and woman, and that also taught the idea of a divine truth beyond the phenomenal world, is not to be treated as of little importance.

The reason for Hart’s low opinion of India become evident from his similarly (and unfashionably) low opinion of ancient Egypt. Egypt, he tells us, was not nearly as important a civilization as everyone thinks. This is because Egypt was relatively poor in the sorts of inventions and innovations that are influential and useful for other civilizations. In other words, Hart’s criterion of the worth of a civilization is its material contributions to general human progress. Which means that the internal structure and inner life of a society, what it is subjectively for its own members, is of no interest to him. Because the Egyptians did not add a great deal to civilizational advance (a view contradicted by Hart’s idea that the Greeks excelled civilizationally because of the things they learned from the Egyptians), they are of no importance to him, even though, as many other observers and students of Egypt have seen it, the Egyptian society achieved a kind of perfection. The Egyptians experienced their earthly life as so beautiful, pleasant, harmonious, and stable (as one can glean from their paintings), that their idea of the afterlife was to continue in that experience forever. Once we understand this, the Egyptian cult of the afterworld, with its mummies and monumental tombs and pyramids, starts to make sense in terms of the Egyptians’ own experience of life and of eternity. Seen from this perspective, the pyramids are not just very large and very impressive structures, they are representations of the cosmos. Of course this Egyptian culture with its focus on eternity was not as innovative as, say, fifth century Athens; indeed, it led to a static conception of society with little room for human freedom and creativity. But at the same time it represents an awe-inspiring human achievement, which explains Egypt’s continuing hold over men’s imagination.

In other words, Hart misses the Egyptians’ experience of order. Every society and civilization is an attempt to create order, an orientation of men’s lives toward nature, society, and the divine, which will be different in each society. But to grasp a civilization’s order, we must attempt to see the civilization whole, and this is impossible if we reduce its meaning to a comparative list of its material and even its intellectual achievements. What was most remarkable about the Egyptians—and what still draws us to them today, even if we can’t explain the nature of the pull—was not this or that achievement, but the underlying vision of order that each of those achievements expressed. A materialist will have little interest in all this. It doesn’t come within his ken. He wants solid, useful accomplishment and that’s that.

Hart’s materialist premises lead him into a more substantive error. In his first chapter, he summarizes the Darwinian theory of evolution, presenting it as the foundation for his entire work. This is most odd, since the rest of his book has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution and barely mentions it. The book deals solely with variations in intelligence within a single species, man. The Darwinian theory of evolution says that new species come into being as a result of random genetic mutations and natural selection. And Darwin’s famous work on evolution, The Origin of Species, dealt with, ahem, the origin of species.

Therefore, for a phenomenon to fit the definition of evolution in the Darwinian sense, it must involve three factors:

- Random mutation
- Natural selection
- A new species

The only one of these three factors that Hart actually discusses in his book is the second one, natural selection. It is natural selection that, in his view, improved the IQ of the human groups that had left Africa and ended up in the very cold climates of northern Europe and northern Asia. Because surviving cold winters requires a high degree of planning, social organization, and restraint of impulse, individuals with higher intelligence were more likely to survive. The more intelligent members of a group thus produced more offspring than the less intelligent, and the average IQ of the group accordingly increased. Note that this process does not involve any random genetic mutation; nor does it involve the appearance of a new species or a new life form or even of a new organ; it simply involves the competitive selection of traits that were already present in the population.

Therefore the rise of mankind’s intelligence over the past 60,000 years due to the selective pressures presented by challenging physical environments—an entirely plausible theory that may well be true—has nothing to do with the Darwinian theory of evolution. It neither proves the Darwinian theory nor disproves it. Darwinians are so accustomed to thinking of Darwinian evolution as not only an established fact but as the master concept of the universe, that they make it their organizing idea even when it is irrelevant to the subject at hand.

This is not a serious flaw in the book, since, as I said, Darwinian evolution is discussed only in the first chapter and is not intruded into the book thereafter. It is nevertheles problematic that Hart uses Darwin to frame his entire thesis, when he has no basis for doing so.

Another reductivist element in the book, though it is subtle, is the cover illustration. When you first look at it, it seems to be a semi-abstract drawing. I half-thought it was a cave drawing of an animal with antlers, with some kind of leafy arrangement branching off from it. Only when I looked at it more closely did I realize that it was a picture of a human brain. Now please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the human brain. The brain is the material instrument and organ of human thought and consciousness, and the physical differences between the brains of different individuals are known to correlate with intelligence: a larger brain with more folds will have more capability than a smaller brain with fewer folds. But the brain is no more the source of human thought and intelligence than the transistors in a TV set are the source of the TV program you’re watching. Yes, if you remove the transistors, the TV show goes dark. But the transistors are not the source of those images. Their source is invisible (and, to us, immaterial) electromagnetic waves which move through buildings and human bodies. And those electromagnetic waves, and the images they carry, in turn originate not in anything material, but in mind. The TV set is the physical instrument of something that is non-material. The human brain is the physical instrument of something that is not non-material. The cover illustration of Hart’s book conveys the idea that man is nothing but a biological entity. But if there’s one thing that we know is true about human history, it is that man throughout the ages and in every culture (except some sectors of our own culture) has not understood himself as nothing but a biological entity; nor do the civilizations he has built—with their architecture, their art, their religions, their laws, their myths and customs—convey such an understanding. Therefore the cover illustration of Understanding Human History, by portraying the physical human brain as the protaganist of human history, falsifies and subverts the reality of human history in the name of a theory that is foreign to man’s actual experience.

It would be as if, in an old-fashioned American public library, instead of classical figures on the walls and ceiling representing Learning, Art, Commerce and so on, there were bas reliefs of the human brain. The organ inside our skull is indispensable to us, but it remains a physical organ, it does not represent our humanity.

* * *

Of particular interest to VFR readers will be Hart’s discussion of Arabs/Moslems.

After systematically listing the accomplishments of the Arabs in exploration, geography, history, philosophy, literature, visual arts, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, medicine, physics, engineering, and law, he concludes: “The set of achievements listed above clearly surpasses those of most other civilizations.” (p. 253.)

But having said that, Hart then engages in a surprising reversal:

In order to assess the overall contribution of the Arabs to world civilization, we should remember that until modern times the Arabs were not interested in drama, epic poetry, or the novel, and they produced virtually nothing in those fields. Nor did they produce any significant works of music, nor any great paintings. They made no major discoveries in mathematics or science, nor did they make any major advances in applied sciences such as medicine and engineering. In fact, there was not a single important invention that originated in the Arab world. (pp. 253-54.)

And what about other achievements, such as democracy, the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, the rise of religious tolerance, and the establishment of freedom of speech? “Here too … the contribution of the Arabs was negligible…. indeed, in most of these matters the Arabs have remained behind most other regions of the world.” (p. 254.)

He notes the “backwardness of the Arab world, relative to Europe, and the sparseness of its achievements…. That backwardness is particularly striking because the geographic location of the Arabs gave them the opportunity to learn from a wide variety of other cultures.” (p. 254.)

So, according to Hart, the achievement of the Arabs “clearly surpasses those of most other civilizations,” AND the Arab world’s achievements “have remained behind most other regions of the world … showing a “backwardness” that is “particularly striking.”

If that’s not confusing enough, consider the fact that in the section under consideration Hart repeatedly switches back and forth between “Arabs” and “Moslems,” using the two words interchangeably. For example:

[I]t was not until about 750 … that the Arab world had clearly drawn ahead [of Europe]. And, as we shall see … during the last portion of the Middle Ages (1300-1500) the cultural level of Western Europe was more advanced than that of the Moslem world. (p. 253.)

I don’t know why he does this. He knows that the great majority of Moslems are not Arabs. Yet he acts at times as though he doesn’t know it.

Hart’s contradictory statements about the civilizational backwardness of Arabs and Moslems are a minor problem compared to his attempt to explain it. He writes:

Few attempts have been made, however, to explain that backwardness. The most common explanation is that the natural talents of the Arabs have been thwarted by the triumph of conservative fundamentalism. (p. 254.)

If we change Hart’s euphemistic phrase, “the triumph of conservative fundamentalism,” to the more accurate words “Islam” or “sharia,” then Hart would be close to the truth spoken by Andre Servier in his 1922 work Islam and the Psychology of the Musulman (the entire book is online here). As Servier puts it in his first chapter, as soon as Islam takes over a country, all the former intellectual and cultural life of that society shuts down. “After a century of Arab domination [over a society],” he continues, “there is a complete annihilation of all intellectual culture.”

Strangely, Hart doesn’t consider Islamic law and custom as a possible cause for low Arab and Moslem achievement. Without criticizing or even discussing what he has just described as the “most common explanation” for Arab backwardness, he immediately drops the subject and applies the IQ theory:

A simpler explanation is that the average intelligence in Arab countries was significantly less than it was in Europe…. [W]e would expect the average IQ of the Arabs to be only about 88, or perhaps a bit lower. [This IQ] was high enough to permit a commercial civilization to flourish, it was not high enough to generate a significant number of truly great geniuses…. This is consistent with the historical record. (p. 254.)

Ok, the Arabs’ average IQ is 88, and this could well explain their civilizational backwardness. Unfortunately, Hart has left a huge hole gaping in his argument. Remember that he’s looking not just at Arab culture but Moslem culture as a whole, which of course includes ethnically Indo-European Moslems. As already mentioned, Hart is not blind to the fact that many Moslems are Indo-European; indeed he has a table in this chapter showing how the Islamized Indo-European peoples, unlike other Islamized peoples, maintained their own languages and rejected Arabic. Yet Hart ignores the IQ of these Islamized Indo-Europeans, which in other chapters he says is about 100, and simply asserts that it is low native intelligence (and the 88 IQ of the Arabs is the only Moslem IQ figure he gives in this chapter) that explains “why the Arabs—even at the peak of the power and prosperity—produced so little in the way of major cultural achievements.”

To see the flaw in this argument, consider Afghanistan. The Afghanis are an Indo-European people whose ancestors were IQ-boosted during the cold winters of the last Ice Age according to Hart, who were converted to Islam within a century of Muhammad’s death, and whose society became and remained one of the most backward on earth. Doesn’t that argue for the exact opposite of Hart’s theory—namely that it is Islam, not low IQ, that explains the poor achievement of Islamic societies? Doesn’t Afghanistan—with its Indo-European people, its strict adherence to Islam, and its primitive customs and way of life—support Servier’s argument that Islam “annihilates all intellectual culture,” and disprove Hart’s argument that Islam’s low civilizational level is due to low IQ?

Also, the Arabs dramatically disprove Hart’s theory that throughout history, it was always IQ-boosted northerly people who invaded and conquered lower-IQ southerly people. The Arabs, of course, came out of the Arabian Peninsula, and all the vast territories of which they quickly made themselves the masters—including lands inhabited by higher-IQ Indo-Europeans such as Spain (ruled by Visigoths), Iran, Afghanistan, and the Punjab—were to the north of Arabia.

Well, then, if the Arabs didn’t conquer as a result of higher IQ, what is the explanation? It’s the same factor that Hart, possibly because of his secular materialism, keeps ignoring, namely the religion of Islam, which filled its followers with the ardent conviction that by battling the infidel they were joining themselves with Allah, being blessed by his holiness, and assuring themselves of eternal happiness in the life to come. Thus it was Islam, not IQ, which drove the Moslem conquests, and it is Islam, not IQ, which is the main reason for Moslem backwardness.

In this connection, see the e-mail I sent to Steve Sailer in 2004 and posted at VFR under the title, “Is low IQ the source of the Muslim menace?” Sailer, a materialist like Hart, makes the same mistake: when writing about Moslem behaviors, he completely ignores the history and doctrines of Islam. The subject doesn’t interest him, and he’s rather talk about the subject that does interest him, genetics. And so, like so many Western intellectuals today who look at Islam through familiar, Western filters rather than trying to understand it on its own terms, Hart and Sailer come up with their own non-Islamic explanations of what is uniquely Islamic behavior.

(See Mr. Hart’s response to my objection, which shows that he is not closed to religious explanations after all.)

* * *

The sometimes haphazard quality of Hart’s argumentation is partly caused by the way he has organized the book. Perhaps because he is covering such an immense field, he divides the book into many short chapters, most of them no more than seven or eight pages long, each consisting of several numbered sections, many of which consist of only one paragraph. (His shortest chapter is on “The Rise of Christianity,” just two pages long, divided into four sections.) The result is that the book sometimes has the feel of an outline rather than a book. Also, Hart sometimes gives important subjects the most superficial treatment before jumping to the next subject. Yet, even as he scants key topics, his “everything plus the kitchen sink” approach to human history leads him to include a great deal of material that contributes little or nothing to his thesis. For example, his chapter on the French Revolution and Napoleon lists in a rote manner the familiar events and personalities of the period, but none of this is connected with the questions of why these things happened or what is the role of intelligence and other factors in human history. There is no reason for this chapter to be there. The book would be better if it and others like it had been left out, leaving Hart to focus on his real themes.

At the same time, the short chapters and outline organization make the book more accessible, enabling the reader to jump in anywhere he wants. One handy way of going through the book is to read only the last section of each chapter, where Hart provides his explanation of the achievements (or lack thereof) of the society or people discussed in that chapter.

Looking over this article, I see that I may have overstressed the negative at the expense of the positive, which was not my intention. Even when one disagrees with his reasoning process and his conclusions, Hart’s book is filled with fascinating discussions on a huge variety of subjects, of which I’ve only given a small sample. Despite its occasional sketchiness and lapses in argumentation, it is a worthy, thought-provoking, and enjoyable contribution to our understanding of the human world.

- end of initial entry -

For a different kind of look at Michael Hart’s book, see Steve Sailer’s review at Vdare.

Simon N. writes from England:

I thought this was a very interesting and valuable work. However Hart’s IQ figures taken from “IQ and the Wealth of Nations” should be treated with a degree of caution. He postulates a roughly 35 point IQ gap between highest (north-east Asia ‘105’, Europe ‘100’) and lowest (Africa ‘70’) as a driving force behind human history up to the year 1500 AD. However it’s well known that recorded IQs have been rising by about 3 points per decade throughout the 20th century, probably from a more IQ-stimulating environment—the “Flynn effect.”

So European median IQs in 1500 AD were much lower than today; African median IQs were likely a good deal lower also, but the difference may have been less than the modern 30-35 point gap (Lynn’s more recent work puts median African IQ at 68, where 100 is the UK median).

Furthermore, Hart calculates that eg a median population IQ of 88 is necessary to develop agriculture, but this is based on a model where European median IQ in 1500 AD was 100; ie this is a 1500 AD ‘88’, not a 2007 AD ‘88’.

This is not to dispute Hart’s important point, that IQs in much of the world in 1500 AD were apparently not high enough to develop agriculture; rather, that Hart’s IQ figures for 1500 AD need to be lowered to take into account the Flynn effect. If the Flynn effect has caused perhaps a 30 point IQ increase since 1500 AD in Europe, world median IQs in 1500 AD probably were in the (2007-equivalent) 50-75 range; the actual ‘2007 AD” median IQ necessary for the development of agriculture is probably closer to 60 than 88.

LA replies:

If the Flynn effect were true, then 50 years ago the white population had an IQ of 85. A hundred years ago it had an IQ of 70. A hundred and fifty years ago it had an IQ of 55. It’s amazing to me that people keep treating the Flynn effect seriously.

If there is the documented rise in IQ over decades, it has some other meaning that has not been understood. In any case, it is impossible that 50 years ago the average white IQ was what would now be 85 IQ. Since the Flynn effect cannot be true, there is something mysterious here that is yet to be explained.

Charles G. writes:

I’ll have to get that book. I also recommend a book written in the mid seventies called “Why Civilizations Self-Destruct” by Elmer Pendell.

Mark P. writes:

Steve Sailer has an article on this Flynn effect that you may want to read. To quote:

“This is very strange. One of the more dubious-sounding implications is that if you go far enough back into the past, the average person would have been a complete dolt, and the greatest genius of that earlier age would have been no smarter than George W. Bush or John Kerry.

Paul K. writes:

I think it’s clear that northerly people are smarter on average than southerly people, and certainly imperialism was a northern conquest of the south. However, the idea that “most conquests in history have involved invasions from the north” is one of those things that’s true except when it isn’t. First Hart first has to dismiss the obvious exception, Rome. And there are others: the Persian empire extended mostly northwest and northeast of Persia Islam conquered northward, eastward, and westward; Genghis Khan conquered countries to his west and north as well as south; the Ottoman Empire extended northward as well as southward; Napoleon conquered countries to his east and north as well as south.

Also, while (for example) the Vikings conquered nations to the south of them, does that necessarily mean they were more intelligent than the Irish, English, or Normans? Certainly the Mongols did not conquer the people to the south of them because they were smarter—they just enjoyed the natural advantage in war that nomadic horse-archers of the Steppes enjoyed over settled agriculturally based societies.

LA replies:

A quick check of Wikipedia confirms what Paul says about Persia, which I didn’t know: Cyrus the Great’s first conquests were of Asia Minor, which is west by northwest of Iran, and Central Asia, which is northeast of Iran. Of course Cyrus also conquested Mesopotamia, to the east and south of Persia. (Those directions are rough approximations from memory, I’m not looking at a map.)

Paul’s example of the Vikings shows how doubtful Hart’s theory is. The Vikings were Germanic people like the Anglo-Saxons; the IQ of both groups would have been formed thousands of years earlier by the Ice Age experience, which also preceded by thousands of years the time when they split off from each other and ended up in slightly different locales in northern Europe, with the Angles and Saxons in Denmark, then England, and the Vikings in Norway and Sweden. The fact that by 900 A.D. the Vikings lived a bit more northerly than the Anglo-Saxons does not mean that their IQ was formed by a more northerly climate. So their more-northerly residence in 900 A.D. would be largely irrelevant to Hart’s theory (though not necessarily entirely irrelevant since one could argue that the colder lands of Scandinavia were still exerting some comparative selective pressures for higher IQ right up to the time of the Viking invasions, though it would presumably be slight compared to the much greater selective pressures of the Ice Age that had formed the IQ of both groups together). For Hart’s theory to hold, it is not sufficient that the invaders happen to be coming from the north at the time of the invasion, it must be that the invaders’ IQ was formed in a more northerly clime than that of the invadees.

Kristor L. writes:

There are several other factors of cultural survival or predominance, such as diet. When the Vikings busted out of Scandinavia, they were giants, compared to their Anglo-Saxon prey. First generation oriental and Latino kids in the U.S. tower over their parents. The American Indians were a foot taller than the Pilgrims. Probably all boils down to the amount of animal protein in the diet. Settled agriculturalists tend to be short, nomadic hunters tend to be tall and big. Not a rule, just a tendency. So it’s not so much that most invasions are from the north, as that most invasions are from the relatively wilder parts of the world where people are bigger and stronger, because their more precarious economy makes that necessary, and attack the relatively more agricultural, settled territories where people are smaller and weaker, because their economy makes that possible.

Another factor is that urban populations are far more subject to plagues than nomads, montagnards, etc. When urban/agricultural civilizations have been decimated by plague, so that their tax revenues collapse, so too then do their military budgets. That’s when the nomads and wild men from the periphery—Persian, Viking, Akhaian, etc.—pounce. There is an argument that a plague circa 500-600 AD, carried up from East Africa by Arab traders, was a factor in the fall of Rome.

But there are also wars of invasion between settled urban/agricultural powers. Here, differentials of technology, social organization, etc., are more decisive than intelligence (ditto for conflicts between nomads, as between Sioux and Blackfoot). Thus as soon as Islam became a settled agricultural civilization, it started losing battles with the West.

Then of course there are cases where settled agricultural societies colonize territory formerly held by nomads, as with the U.S. and Australia. Here, despite the superior diet, physique, and woodcraft of the Indians, the European advantages in technology and social organization were overwhelming. Same holds for the Roman invasions of Gaul and Britain: the Romans were cowed by the godlike build of the Gauls, but the Gauls had a habit of rushing into battle naked, crazed, and chaotically.

The difficulty in parsing all these factors and arriving at a general theory, such as Hart is trying to do, is that both diet and social organization/technology interact with IQ, and they all feed back to each other. Good diets, especially in the early years of life, improve performance in every aspect of physiological performance, including intelligence. But as with the musculo-skeletal system, intelligence is also enhanced by increased demand for its exercise. So the higher the civilization, the more the pressure on young and old alike to keep mastering new intellectual skills. High civilization is to its denizens as cold weather is to Northerners: a spur to careful thought and effective cooperation. The more effective the civilization, the wealthier its average citizen, and the better his children’s diets, and the wealthier and more effective their civilization, compared to that of their father.

NB that, no matter how effective it may be in most respects, any culture can be vitiated by the spread of false or lethal ideas. Legal cheap abortion and valorization of homosexuality are obviously demographic disasters. In many respects, Liberalism is a meme lethal to its cultural host.

LA replies:

“The difficulty in parsing all these factors and arriving at a general theory, such as Hart is trying to do…”

But does Hart have a general theory? It seems to me he has added intelligence to the list of possible factors, which no historian has done before, but in each individual case he must still try to figure out what the factors are, and I don’t think he has an overall theory for that.

“Settled agriculturalists tend to be short, nomadic hunters tend to be tall and big….So it’s not so much that most invasions are from the north, as that most invasions are from the relatively wilder parts of the world where people are bigger and stronger.”

Exactly. H.G. Wells in An Outline of History stressed that a recurrent event of history was the invasions coming from the vast steppes of Eurasia into more settled regions. It was not a matter of higher IQ beating lower IQ, but of vigor, energy, elan, and brutality overwhelming settled custom and peaceable ways. Look at our situation today. Look at the Muslims and some other immigrant groups, filled with vigor and confidence, while enervated whites, especially white men, walk around like ghosts. Do the Muslim have higher IQs than Europeans and European-Americans? No, but they have spirit. In a football game, what’s the deciding factor? It’s which team has the greater spirit, not the greater IQ.

So, while it is great that Hart has finally included intelligence as a key factor in the story of man, that idea can easily be overplayed. That’s why I am so much on the alert against reductionism, by which we say that a certain phenomenon is nothing but IQ, or nothing but sex, or whatever the favored explanation may be. Not that Hart is doing that, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out. But there is a tendency in that direction.

Simon N. writes (10-7-07):

You write: “it is Islam, not low IQ, that explains the poor achievement of Islamic societies”

Part of the problem for Hart’s thesis is that he ignores the effect of culture, including religion, on IQ. Our cultures are just as much an environmental factor as is the physical environment. An obvious example—cousin marriage depresses IQ of the offspring by seven points on average, so cultures where cousin marriage is widespread will have lower IQ. Cultures where critical thinking is discouraged will have less critical thinking, and IQ tests measuring that will record lower scores.

It’s highly likely that Islam lowers IQ, that Judaism raises IQ, that different sorts of Christianity may raise or lower IQ, and so on. The same holds for political orthodoxies like Communism, Confucianism and neo-liberalism. All will affect the median IQ of the population within their cultures.

LA replies:

Yes, but let’s not overstate it. Further distinctions need to be made here. Cousin marriage really would lower IQ, as it affects the inherited genetic make-up of the population. Islam would lower people’s intelligence and civilizational abilities while not necessarily affecting their inherited genetic make-up. We need to keep in mind the idea that IQ is in part cultural (and thus changeable by cultural means), and in part genetic (and thus not changeable by cultural means).

Simon N. replies:

“Islam would lower people’s intelligence and civilizational abilities while not necessarily affecting their inherited genetic make-up”

If in Islamic culture the less intelligent have more children, while in Judaism the more intelligent have more children, then Islam will indeed affect the inherited genetic make-up, and result in a population of genetically lower intelligence. There seems to be fairly strong evidence that Judaism has affected the inherited genetic makeup of its adherents in just this manner.

LA replies:

Good point, but it doesn’t change my point that a distinction must be made between cultural influences that do not affect inherited genetic make-up, and cultural influences that—by becoming embedded in the life of a people and so affecting patterns of reproduction—do affect inherited genetic make-up.

LA writes (10/7/07)

I talked with Michael Hart this afternoon at a party in Manhattan in honor of his book. He was not offended by my criticisms of his book and he provided interesting answers to two of the questions from my article which I posed to him.

On my question of how the Indo-Europeans could have higher IQ than all the peoples they conquered, since the peoples they conquered had been formed by the same cold-weather conditions and had the same high IQ as the Indo-Europeans, Mr. Hart explained that around 7000 BC there was a migration out of the Near East into Europe introducing agriculture into Europe, which, paradoxically enough, even as it spread agriculture, lowered the IQ of Europe through the demographic expansion into Europe of Near Easterners with lower IQ than the cold-weather-formed Europeans. And this explains how, at the time of the Indo-European invasions 5,000 years later, the Europeans had lower IQs than the Indo-European invaders. This is pretty complicated, since the people bringing the epochal innovation of agriculture to Europe have lower IQs than the people to whom they are bringing it (!), but it is an answer.

The spread of agriculture from the Near East into Europe (as well as into India and Northern Africa) is discussed in chapter 22 of Mr. Hart’s book, but the specific connection that came out in his conversation with me, that the Near Eastern migration into Europe in 7000 B.C. made the European population less intelligent than the later Indo-European invaders and thus allowed the Indo-European expansion to occur, is not made in the book.

On my point that the Arab conquests disprove his theory that northern people always conquer southern people, Mr. Hart conceded that the Arab conquests were a major exception to his theory and that the Moslem conquest was empowered by factors other than higher IQ, such as religious ardor, the use of horses, and military and cultural enervation in the areas invaded, such as the Byzantine and Sassanid empires which had been fighting each other to the point of exhaustion.

Below is an exchange with a liberal reader. I’m copying it because my answer to him goes into the basics of the “cold-weather-creates-high-IQ” thesis which may be helpful to some readers who are not familiar with it.

Reader writes:

I can’t read the review and certainly not the book now. You might imagine I’m skeptical of putting too much store in IQ testing, and particularly in trying to extrapolate back native intelligence (of whatever kind) based on current scores on a test devised by one ethnic group. And if you want to equate IQ to success (I know, you seem to be equating it to civilization, not success), let me guess that your high school wasn’t terribly different from mine. Remember the total dunderheads who went into the fathers’ insurance business or they became garmentos? They made a ton of money, became respected members and leaders of their communities, are the elder statesmen sought out for the judgment and opinions. They learned a lot along the way—though many are probably no more cultured than they were in high school—and are VIP’s. Then there’s the likes of us. Pretty smart, all things considered, but just schlepping along, not the titans of anything.

However, perhaps you’ve heard me say from time to time, basically since college, that it’s hard to find one major advance of human civilization that occurred between the tropics. Pre-Columbian Central America could be an exception, but remember that the advanced civilizations there were often in the mountains, where average temps were probably cool. It could indeed be natural selection for intelligence when your climate forces you to protect yourself from cold and adapt to seasonal changes in available foods, or it could just be the natural torpor in hot climates.

LA replies:

Re your first point:

No one ever said that uncultivated people with average IQ cannot be very successful in life. Even people with what we regard today as lower IQs can do a lot. Hart says that agriculture was invented in the Near East by peoples with average IQ of 88 (though of course the people doing the actual inventing had to be much smarter than that). If those peoples’ average IQ was 80, however, it wouldn’t have happened, as they would have lacked both the very smart people at the top to do the inventing and the sufficient average intelligence to execute the invention.

Your uncultivated brash types still need some IQ. If they had low IQ, they would not be successful.

Re your second point:

That is in fact the view put forward in Hart’s book and elsewhere (the theory was first proposed by Richard Lynn and then Philippe Rushton in the 1990s): In hot climates, living doesn’t take a great deal of effort. In cold climates with long cold winters, exceptional efforts, organization, self-discipline, planning, group cooperation is needed. People who had those traits would have survived and produced more offspring, leading to a marked increase in the average IQ of the population. The result is, e.g., northern Asians, who developed in extremely cold climates during the last Ice Age and have high average IQs. People who developed in sub-Saharan Africa have average IQ of 70.

In brief, living in northern latitudes during the last Ice Age produced marked selective pressures for higher intelligence. Living in tropical climate does not produce selective pressures for higher intelligence.

This is a plausible explanation for the fact that African blacks have average IQ of 70, while Northern Europeans have average IQ of 100, and northern Asians a bit higher than that.

What about Jews, you will ask. That’s a more involved story. According to Hart, as of 586 B.C., the Jews had average IQ of 88 like the rest of the Near East. But the Babylonian exile in effect turned the Jewish population into an elite population, greatly raising the average IQ. Subsequent selective events in Jewish history raised it higher.

Charles Murray’s article in Commentary from last year, “Jewish Genius,” goes into this, but takes a different view from Hart, placing beginnings of high Jewish IQ further back in history. I summarized his arguments here.

LA continues:

I wrote: “This is a plausible explanation for the fact that African blacks have average IQ of 70, while Northern Europeans have average IQ of 100, and northern Asians a bit higher than that.”

Furthermore, in Hart’s view, 60,000 years ago, when man began to leave Africa, the average IQ for all homo sapiens was 70. The people who stayed in Africa did not face cold-weather selective pressures, and so their IQ remained the same. The people who ended up in northern climates (and remember that the last Ice Age was going on during this entire period), experienced selective pressures which raised their IQ substantially.

So, all mankind started out from the same base, and it was cold-weather living that raised some of them above that base.

That’s the theory.

What do we know for a fact? People who come from the north have higher IQs, people who living in tropical Africa have lower IQs. We know that certain features that are not present in southern latitudes are present in higher latitudes. For example, pale, thin skin lacking melanin does not exist in tropics. It exists in high latitudes. If people in high latitudes had dark skin they would not have gotten enough Vitamin D from sunlight.

We also know that mankind migrated from the south to the north.

So, we know that darker-skinned peoples migrated from the south to the north, and, once there, in order to survive, they acquired a distinct feature, melanin-less skin, that their ancestors in the tropics did not have.

Since we also know that people in high latitudes have high average IQ that people in tropics lack, the idea becomes plausible that lower-IQ people migrated from the south to the north, and, once there, in order to survive, acquired a distinct feature, higher intelligence, which their ancestors in the tropics did not have.

Bob B. writes:

Thank you sir, for a realistic and truthful article on one of the biggest, if not the biggest, problems in the United States today. I believe it is the most forbidden topic of the day also. Since the War any attempt to talk freely about this issue has been put down to RACISM. The lower economic whites of the USA suffer the most. This sad, evil story is put aside with quotas and so-called affimative action. Then the fact that poor whites are forced to live with more crime, racism and fear than most groups on this earth. All this is a shame, but the real shame is not to face it and try to correct it with the truth. Look at America’s public schools even after “trillions” of bucks spent on the wrong programs. Some groups just cannot make it. Again thanks for your good work for freedom and taking on issues that may really help all people get along better and find a way to true peace.

Ben W. writes:

In your explorations of IQ, intelligence, race and history, you might be interested in how God factors into the development of our brain. See this and this.

The relationship between brain and mind is complex. Ditto the relationship between wisdom and intelligence. Now scientists are examining the correlation between the physical organ (brain) and spiritual experience (“the God spot”). [LA replies: The God spot!]

There just may be a real link between IQ, intelligence and wisdom, brain, mind and spirit that informs civilization.

Ben continues:

Regarding research into IQ, intelligence, the brain and the mind, we tend to look at secular history and earthly geography as possible components for IQ determination.

Given recent explorations of the brain-God neural correlation, an alternative approach might be to view the history of intelligence and its development through the Abrahamic line of descent. This is the family and lineage that endowed Western civilization with Judaism and Christendom (and subsequently modern science and commerce). Augustine in “City of God” traces spiritual history and its impact on social development through this line of descent. Einstein stated that science for him was the effort to reach into God’s mind.

Both R.H. Tawney and Max Weber looked at Western societies—their developments of science, technology, industrialism and commerce through the lens of the Protestant Reformation.

Indian programmers are known to be quite adept at computer science. Not a mystery given the metaphysics of Hinduism.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 30, 2007 06:00 PM | Send

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