Who Is Lee Silver? Ask Anders Breivik
by David Klinghoffer
Our local NPR station here in Seattle plays the BBC Newshour after lunch and I happened to be in my car listening when the interview with Robert came on, startlingly all but crediting him as special mentor or private tutor to Anders Breivik. Well, the media see what they want to see, I thought. Little did I realize just then how true that is in this case.
Breivik in his manifesto cites Robert Spencer, and this fact was picked up and trumpeted around the world because it suits a particular imagined narrative that pleases a certain crowd of people who edit prestige news sources. That Breivik’s mixed bag of writings reflects, explicitly and conspicuously, the thought of a distinguished Princeton University professor, Lee Silver, has so far gone almost totally unacknowledged.
Not totally because my Discovery Institute colleague John West picked it up and has written about it searchingly. Who is Lee Silver? He’s the evolutionary biologist and fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science who invented the term and concept of “reprogenetics,” a new spin on the old idea of eugenics as a means to perfect the human race. In his manifesto, Breivik goes on about this idea, citing Silver by name along with his book Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family, copying passages from Wikipedia that elaborate on Silver’s proposed scheme.
Breivik likes that in contrast to the old pseudoscience of eugenics, which resulted in forced sterilizations, the new pseudoscience of reprogenetics proposed by Silver relies on voluntary methods -- though it’s hardly less chilling in its way, envisioning a race of near god-men, which Silver calls “cognition-enhance GenRich.” Breivik, however, also drew on earlier influential eugenicists like Madison Grant (cited, again, by name) in theorizing about the superior virtues of the “Nordic” race, being lost through “race-mixing.”
Why does it matter? Because even if you were to imagine an anti-Jihadi running absolutely wild, getting really, really upset about Islam’s being the world religion least inclined to pacifism, just taking that view to a crazy extreme, what do you think someone like that might do? Sneak into Pakistan or Saudi Arabia on a mad mission as a Christian missionary, seeking to win over Muslims to a different faith? Perhaps.
But what of the sinister scientism to which Breivik, in fact, subscribed and that he wrote about in detail? He expounds on the importance of government funding for science, that feeding the poor must not take precedence over science, that feeding the Third World poor is in fact a bad idea, that the size of the human population needs to be halved (through voluntary means!), that “social Darwinism” got a bum rap, that “[t]he never-ending collective pursuit for scientific evolution and perfection should become the benchmark and essence of our existence.”
From the self-interview section of Breivik’s manifesto:
“Q: What should be our civilizational objectives, how do you envision a perfect Europe?
“A: ‘Logic’ and rationalist thought (a certain degree of national Darwinism) should be the fundament of our societies.”
This dark vision is not his invention. It’s a spin-off of what he aptly calls “National Darwinism,” which got its start in the writing of Charles Darwin. While a gentle soul in person and wishing no harm to anyone, Darwin envisioned a picture of the world that equates “extermination” (a favorite word of Darwin’s) with biological advancement. I’ve written elsewhere about the historical, moral consequences of Darwinism, quite apart from any explanatory value of natural selection in biology.
No one sane would blame Lee Silver or Charles Darwin for Breivik’s rampage, but it’s a historical reality that views like theirs, in the hands of madmen and not-so-madmen, have inspired some very evil deeds. This fact, because it suits no liberal or progressive narrative, unlike the irrelevant citation of Robert Spencer, is not something you will ever hear as the subject of an aggressive, obnoxious interview on the BBC.
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute.