The Occidental Quarterly
termed Mercurians, are urban, mobile, literate, articulate, and intellectuallysophisticated. Distinguished by their ability to manipulate symbols, they pursue“wealth for the sake of learning, learning for the sake of wealth, and bothwealth and learning for their own sake” (p. 1). Since Slezkine sees Jews as thequintessential Mercurians, he regards modernization as essentially a processof everyone becoming Jewish. His second group, which he calls Apollonians,is rooted in the land and in traditional agrarian cultures, and prizes physicalstrength and warrior values.Slezkine conceptualizes Mercurianism as a worldview, and therefore amatter of psychological choice, rather than as a set of psychological mecha-nisms, the most important of which is general intelligence.
As a result of thisfalse premise, he exaggerates the similarity among Mercurians, underestimatesthe power of ethnocentrism as a unifying factor in Jewish history, and fails tounderstand the roots of Western social and economic institutions.Slezkine views Judaism as one of many Mercurian cultures—peoples thatdwell alone in Diasporas, living among strangers and often acting as economicmiddlemen: the Overseas Chinese, Indians, and Lebanese, and the Gypsies andIrish Travelers. Their common denominator, in Slezkine’s view (and mine
), istheir status as strangers to the people they live among—sojourners who, aboveall else, do not intermarry or socialize with the locals. Their interactions with thelocal Apollonians involve “mutual hostility, suspicion and contempt” (p. 20) anda sense of superiority. Moreover, a “common host stereotype of the Mercurians isthat they are devious, acquisitive, greedy, crafty, pushy, and crude” (p. 23). TheMercurians possess greater kin solidarity and internal cohesion than the peoplethey live among; they are characterized by extended families and patriarchalsocial organization.So far, so good, although I would stress that the family organization of suchgroups derives more from the long-term adaptation to the culture areas theyoriginate from than from an adaptation to the nomadic, middleman niche.
ButSlezkine maintains that Mercurians are above all smarter than the people theylive among: They are said to possess “cunning intelligence,” but it is surely amistake to consider such disparate groups as Jews (or the Overseas Chinese)and Gypsies (or the Irish Travelers) as having in common a particular set ofintellectual traits. After all, the Jews, as Slezkine shows, have repeatedly becomean academic, intellectual, cultural, and economic elite in Western societies,while Gypsies have tended toward illiteracy and are at best an economicallymarginal group.Slezkine imagines that the Gypsies and literate middleman groups like the Jews or Overseas Chinese differ not in intelligence but only in whether theyexpress their intelligence through literacy or an oral culture: “Businessmen,diplomats, doctors, and psychotherapists are literate peddlers, heralds,healers, and fortune-tellers” (p. 29)—a formulation that will not stand the testof current psychometric data. In fact, the general patterns of Gypsies are the