âThe middleman and the host society come in conflict because elements in each group have incompatible goals. To say this is to deny the viewpoint common in the sociological literature that host hostility is self-generated (from psychological problems or cultural traditions).â
Edna Bonacich, âA Theory of Middleman Minorities,â 1973.
An interesting accompaniment to Nathan Cofnasâs 2018 attempted debunking of Kevin MacDonaldâs work on Jews was the subtle resurfacing of Steven Pinkerâs claim that a more plausible theory of the Jewish historical experience can be found in âThomas Sowellâs convincing analysis of âmiddleman minoritiesâ such as the Jews, presented in his magisterial study of migration, race, conquest, and culture.â Pinker first involved himself in criticism of MacDonaldâs work in a letter to Slate, in January 2000, where he made the above comment. A mere teenager in January 2000, it was only in the wake of the Cofnas affair that I first discovered and read Pinkerâs initial response to MacDonaldâs theory. It goes without saying that I disagreed with almost everything Pinker had to say, but I was especially vexed by his invocation of the âmiddleman minorityâ theory, something Iâve been familiar with for over a decade and always found strongly lacking. Pinker himself, of course, has relatively little expertise in the area, his only comment on the theme coming from a quasi-memoir on Jewish intelligence written for New Republic. Additionally, his gushing use of persuasive language (âconvincing,â âmagisterialâ) to describe Thomas Sowellâs extremely derivative and now rather dated Migrations and Cultures: A World View (1996) struck me as a wholly contrived inflation of what isnât really a rival theory at all, and certainly not a Sowell innovation. In fact, the history of âmiddleman minorityâ theory, and especially its application to the Jews, has a patchy, chequered, and ambiguous history that is worth exploring in its own right. The following essay is intended to provide such a history, as well as to broadly assess the merits and inadequacies of exploring Jewish history through this lens, and also the ways it complements, and falls short of, Kevin MacDonaldâs theory.
History of the Theory
The comparing of Jews with other sojourning or diaspora trading peoples is far from new,