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 "Robert Ardrey: The Current Scheherazade",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, October 11 1970,
of a book:
THE SOCIAL CONTRACT: A Personal Inquiry into the Revolutionary Sources of Order and Disorder,
by Robert Adrey.
New York: Atheneum, 1970



"Robert Ardrey, the Current Scheherazade"



THE SOCIAL CONTRACT: A personal inquiry into the revolutionary sources of order and disorder.
By Robert Ardrey.
Atheneum, New York. $10.

Carroll Quigley teaches history at Georgetown University.
He is the author of TRAGEDY AND HOPE: The World in Our Time. (Macmillan, 1966.)


   People seem to have strong feelings about Robert Ardrey. A great many think he is wonderful; quite a few think he is terrible; some even think he is dangerous and should be silienced. If you want entertainment, Ardrey has some merits, depending on the level of your personal taste. But if you want science, that is another matter. Unfortunately, Ardrey pretends to be a scientist, or at least a science reporter; but in this book there is no more science than there is in a comic strip.

   As an entertainer, Ardrey is the Scheherazade of the present day, telling tales about strange animals, in far off places and in remote times, with every assurance that they are true, but, like the Arabian Nights, it is foolish to worry about how true they are, they are so unbelievable and so glib. For my taste, his style is often clotted and obscure, too ornate, and too full of metaphors and other figures, but I suppose we should expect verbal arabesques from a modern Scheherazade.

   Above all, he loves to tear down people with big names and build up people he believes he has just discovered. In doing this, he constantly assures us that he is giving us not the science of today but the science of tomorrow, and he constantly hints that the reason this science of tomorrow is not already here today is because these Big Names are in a tacit conspiracy to keep the truth from the people. The reasons for this conspiracy are not stated, but it seems to be partly because the established don't want these brilliant young researchers, whom Ardrey has found, to eclipse them and show them up for the old fuddy-duddies that they are. Partly also for more secret political reasons related to Ardrey's idea that there is a profoundly unscientific liberal establishment which is based on a number of lies like equality, democracy, and freedom which makes it necessary for them to want to suppress the scientists that Ardrey is reporting on.

It's Nonsense

   The trouble with this is that it is nonsense. Ardrey's brilliant discoveries (who are numerous) are, as often as not, people we have known about for years, and who, in many cases, have done a few good things, but are far from being the Newtons, Darwins, and Galileos that Ardrey insists they are; or they are really young unknowns who haven't done anything very significant, even if Ardrey thinks they have.

   It is true that Ardrey has read a great deal about animal behavior, but he never seems to grasp what it all means, and his biases prevent him from seeing what is really there. For example, he gives the impression that he is constantly exploring Africa, watching lions with George Schaller, or chatting with the world's greatest experts about elephants. He tells us that he "made a general survey of predatory communities" in Africa in 1968, but his ignorance of lions is so great that he misunderstands most of what he sees, reads, or is told. For example, one afternoon, Ardrey and his wife roused a lioness "a few hundred yards" from a herd of browsing impala. Two of the impala came over to see the lioness as it sought another sleeping place, while the others "never for a moment stopped eating." Ardrey was amazed at this, but decided that he could not say that the impala were "suicidal" since the lioness was so sleepy. Then he adds, "Nevertheless, one can state in very nearly mathematical terms the survival value of approaching or fleeing the presence of a lion of unknown antagonism if you are an impala."

   This is typical of the ponderous way Ardrey covers his ignorance. Despite his claims of intimacy with Schaller, who studied lions in Africa over three years, 1966-1969, Ardrey apparently does not know that killing by a lion (1) is not motivated by "antagonism"; (2) almost never takes place in the middle of the day; (3) is never directed at an animal which is looking at the lion; and (4) the attack never is made from a distance of over 40 to 50 yards. Ardrey will find these rules stated by R. D. Estes in Natural History for February and March 1967 or by Schaller in National Geographic for April 1969. The latter says, "The lion must stalk to within a few feet of a potential victim before its rush has much chance of success. Prey animals are fully aware of the lion's limitations. They have learned how near to a lion they may wander without danger of attack—usually to within about 120 feet. This leads to ludicrous situations . . . A visible lion is a safe lion." Need I add that Ardrey's "suicidal" impala were about 500 feet from danger.

   Ardrey tells us that he watched elephants for years and could not discover what was their alarm call: "The problem, I found, had bothered others less innocent than I, and Irven Buss had solved it in a European zoo. . . . The elephant's alarm call is silence." This is typical of Ardrey's great contemporary scientific discovery. Buss "solved" nothing; the zoo keeper told him that the elephant, when alarmed, simply stops his regular, internal physiological noises. Any elephant keeper or circus trainer or elephant hunter in history could have told them this fact. I, who am younger than Ardrey, learned it in 1925 from elephant watchers like Carl Akeley and Martin Johnson. It is recorded, with the additional fact that the elephant does have a very audible alarm call, in Akeley's "In Brightest Africa."

   On the basis of this rather shaky understanding of animal behavior, Ardrey tries to tell us what man is like. He insists that man is simply an animal (which implies that animals are simply men). This is, of course, contrary to general scientific belief, which holds that man evolved from an animal when his survival shifted from dependence upon inherited behavior to dependence upon learned behavior. Of course Ardrey does not accept this, although almost all students of men do, which is convenient for him because it means that he can write on human society and human behavior without making any effort to examine what serious students of man have written on the subject. For example, Ardrey has a very unenlightening discussion here on the role of play in human development, a subject on which there is an extensive literature headed by J. Huizinga 's "Homo Ludens" (1949), which is still available in paperback; but all Ardrey has to say is based on Carpenter's studies of the howler monkeys.

   Similarly, when Ardrey wants to define human society he comes up with three definitions (one his own), all from animal behaviorists. One of these is from Wynne-Edwards, another of Ardrey's infatuations, whose book on animal dispersion is "revolutionary" (Ardrey's life is full of "revolutionary books written by quiet little men), "a slim, softly speaking man of utmost distinction, as unlikely a bomb-thrower as ever showed up at an anarchists' drinking party." This great man's definition is "a society can be defined as a group of individuals competing for conventional prizes by conventional means." The lack of merit in that definition will be seen if we merely replace the word "society" by any other collective term, such as "high school" or "football game." Then, a football game is a society — obvious nonsense.

   Just as Ardrey insists that man is an animal and nothing more, so he insists that human society is exactly the same as animal societies and nothing more. He justifies this on the ground that both have need for their fellows (gregarious). But, he ignores that the needs are very different because most of animal actions are genetic, while almost all of human actions are learned. Thus human society has artifacts, symbols, speech, and organizational structures which often take on life and drives of their own, outside of and beyond the drives and needs of the individuals who make them up.

   Moreover, this slovenly thinking, which ignores the distinction between animal societies and human societies, also ignores the distinction between social acts and biological actions. Thus he says that "the social life" of a leopard is "limited to a few occasional hours of copulation;" copulation is biological, not social, just as parturition is. The whole book is filled with his confusions of quite distinct things in this way. Thus he confuses needs with desires and both with drives, and by continuous confusions of this kind, says that the drive to live by developing our potentialities is "aggression," that war is the same as games or seeking higher grades, and that gregarious need is the same thing as xenophobia. He does not go so far as to say that love is the same thing as hatred, but it is implied throughout the book.

Defining Society

   Ardrey's own definition of "society" is in the first sentence of the book: "A society is a group of unequal beings organized to meet common ends." The inequality is assumed and is based on his belief that each individual is the consequence of the union of a single ovum and a single sperm cell ("the accident of the night"). Thus each is unique and thus all are unequal. Further, he assumes that what each person becomes is determined by this accident of the night.

   Unfortunately, Ardrey is such a confused thinker and confusing writer, that he gives in the book evidence that his assumptions are not true, by referring to the Dionne quintuplets as "identical, developed from a single fertilized egg," and then admits, as we all know, that these five girls grew up with quite different personalities and intellectual levels (p. 109). So his persistent attacks on what he calls "the environmentalists" are destroyed by this admission.

   Fundamentally, Ardrey is a racist, devoted to a belief in human inequality and unfreedom, an enemy of social "disorder" which must be suppressed by authority because man is a predatory, violent, aggressive creature, compelled by irresistible hereditary compulsion to war over territory. These are fascist ideas, and, in this book, Ardrey is doing for America what Treitschke, H. S. Chamberlain, Alfred Rosenberg, and others did for Germany: preparing an intellectual basis for fascist political action. Unfortunately, there is not space here to show this in detail, but a few brief points will show the trend.

   Ardrey speaks of 6 to 7 million mentally deficient Americans as an example of "the accident of the night," when he must know perfectly well that a considerable part of these have nothing to do with inheritance but are the result of virus infections or other events of an environmental nature which occurred after conception.

   Negro intelligence, which he renames "capacity to learn," he insists, is inferior. To soften the blow, he says that Negroes have "superiority of anatomical endowment and neurological coordination," then asks, "If racial distinction on the playing field is to be accepted, then can there exist theoretical grounds for banishing distinctions in the classroom? In the United States the evidence for inferior learning capacity is as inarguable as superior performance on the baseball diamond." He bases this of course, on the Coleman Report and, equally naturally, runs into a conspiracy to prevent him from getting a copy of this explosive document: "After some eight months of trying, I pried a copy out of the U.S. Government Printing Office. Why it had become unavailable became evident only after long exploration of its 700-plus pages of statistics. The Negro had failed in American schools catastrophically, beyond statistical doubt or sentimental apology. . . . Worse still for the black was the record of the Oriental-American, subjected in American life to discrimination certainly as rigorous as the Negro, who consistently equalled and in areas excelled the records of white students." Naturally, Ardrey finds Arthur Jensen's article "on the genetic inferiority of Negro intelligence" a persuasive document and calls those who reject it hysterical.

   I can answer Ardrey simply by pointing out that his ignorance totally disqualifies him from writing on the subject. If he had compared Chinese-Americans with Negro-Americans from several points of view (crime rate, educational achievement, recourse to violence, mental ill-health, need for government social and economic relief), he would have discovered that the Chinese record is far superior to the Negro on all of these. He would also have discovered that the Chinese family is probably the most stable of any American minority, just as the Negro family is the most unstable, and that most students of these matters would attribute the difference in various social indicators to the factor of family stability, rather than to race or skin color.

   Moreover, if Ardrey had taken time to compare the family life of the 15 percent of Negroes who do as well as the upper 50 percent of whites, he would have found that the higher achieving group came from more stable Negro families. The Moynihan Report, despite its obvious weaknesses, is as quotable as the Jensen paper, but Ardrey, who constantly doctors his evidence by selection, does not mention Moynihan. Ardrey's bigotry appears when he says that Chinese-Americans are "subjected in American life to discrimination certainly as rigorous as the Negro." This is nonsense.

   Forty-five years ago, about 1925, writers like Ardrey were arguing the genetic inferiority of Negroes by using the intelligence tests of draftees in World War I. These bigots were silenced only when it was pointed out that the same tests which showed the whites did better than Negroes also showed that Northern Negroes did better than Southern whites. In Ardrey's case, as usual, he can be refuted from his own book. He admits that the Coleman Report tests were "culture-bound" and intended to be so. In that case, to use them to indicate genetic (that is, non-cultural) differences reveals Ardrey for what the whole book shows: that he is a writer who has no concern with scientific procedures.



Scans of original review

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