In 1994, over the objection of many staff members, The New Republic's then-owner Marty Peretz and then-editor Andrew Sullivan decided to publish an excerpt of The Bell Curve. The staff members' responses, as well as those of prominent social scientists and thinkers, were published alongside the excerpt.
Base Data, Dante Ramos
Murray and Herrnstein raise and dismiss analyses that say tests can be valid, but can still be affected by other environmental factors. One such analysis is John Ogbu's distinction among autonomous, immigrant and castelike minorities; the third type, Ogbu suggests, score low on tests because of intense discrimination. In these pages, Jeff Hoffman and Ray Hammond suggested a mechanism: expectations of failure hamper intellectual competition and development, among blacks (see "Rumors of Inferiority," September 9, 1985).
Murray and Herrnstein introduce Ogbu's theory as another notion easily punctured by reality. But the authors' choice of contrary data is bizarre. While the black I.Q. mean of 85 falls far below the average for whites, black Africans, who suffer from no caste status, have, according to Murray and Herrnstein, an average I.Q. of at most 75. Think about what this means. If black African I.Q.s are distributed in a bell curve similar to that among Americans, there are as many certifiably retarded African blacks as there are African blacks with the same intelligence as an average American white. Are they kidding? The ridiculousness of this should lead anyone to question at least the interpretation and probably the data themselves. Surely one key piece of The Bell Curve's logic -- that by process of elimination, we can rule out most environmental sources of I.Q. differences among races -- collapses.
Granted, the caste explanation isn't savory. But caste explains why the difference between environmental and genetic factors does matter deeply, and why Murray and Herrnstein's clan pride is a perfectly destructive recommendation. Even if they're right about a substantial genetic component of the black-white difference, the environmental component is still large; a clan pride based on revering Michael Jordan -- and rejecting intellectual role models -- would only increase the environment-based black-white differential. (If you consider how the existence of genetic differences would intensify caste status, the environmental piece would grow even more.) Worse, if the genetic component is small, Murray and Herrnstein's conservative multiculturalism would make the black-white difference skyrocket. Empirically minded neoliberals should cringe at a cultural construct that would produce more perverse effects than the worst work disincentive ever devised. Talk about losing ground.
Caste Aside, Walter Lippmann
The danger of the intelligence tests is that in a wholesale system of education, the less sophisticated or the more prejudiced will stop when they have classified and forget that their duty is to educate.… Readers who have not examined the literature of mental testing may wonder why there is reason to fear such an abuse of an invention that has many practical uses. The answer, I think, is that most of the more prominent testers have committed themselves to a dogma which must lead to just such abuse. They claim not only that they are really measuring intelligence, but that intelligence is innate, hereditary and predetermined. They believe that they are measuring the capacity of a human being for all time and that this capacity is fatally fixed by the child's heredity. Intelligence testing in the hands of men who hold this dogma could not but lead to an intellectual caste system in which the task of education had given way to the doctrine of predestination.… If the intelligence test really measured the unchangeable hereditary capacity of human beings as so many assert, it would inevitably evolve from an administrative convenience into a basis for hereditary caste.
-- The New Republic, November 15, 1922
Dumbskulls, Alexander Star
Unlike the rest of us, Murray and Herrnstein are certain they know just what intelligence is. But do they know whether we ought to be paying more attention to it, or less? In The Bell Curve, they write that "intelligence has taken on a much higher place in the pantheon of human virtues than it deserves." Yet they also prescribe measures that would place intelligence even higher in that pantheon. They want to steer government money away from remedial education to meet the needs of gifted students; they imply that employers ought to be allowed to use I.Q. tests to make hiring decisions; and they recommend redesigning immigration policy to slow the influx of groups with substandard I.Q.s. Murray and Herrnstein preach compassion toward those who "aren't very smart"; but this is a compassion without consequences. Their favorite policy proposals would bestow still more advantages onto "the cognitive elite."
When it comes to the importance of ethnic differences in I.Q., their conclusions are no clearer. Do these differences matter? The answer depends on the kind of argument they are trying to make. In the present article, where they want to ensure that "clans" feel good about themselves, they contend that it is "foolish" to worry about those variations. Yet in their book, when they want to argue for new immigration policies, they warn that "the nation badly needs narrowing differences." Of course, the whole question might be moot if I.Q. is not all that it's claimed to be, as many psychometricians believe.
Murray and Herrnstein disclaim any "fascination" with genes and race; yet their article automatically gravitates toward that subject. Of course, they are not the first to view America as a caste society. Most previous writers, however, have been more troubled by the discrepancy between the American reality of racial division and the American creed of universalism and equality. Murray and Herrnstein have a different worry: "The ideology of equality has done some good," they argue in The Bell Curve, "… but most of its effects are bad." In any case, there's a distinct unreality to their discussion of race. They are right that it is irrational, and immoral, to judge people "by the size of their I.Q.s." But white Americans have rarely been constrained by reason, or morality, when it comes to asserting their superiority. Prejudice may no longer be the primary cause of our racial ills, but it works its way in more stealthy guises. Only by evading the legacy of racism can Murray and Herrnstein innocently wonder why black Americans might possibly feel "threatened" by "group differences."
Murray and Herrnstein like to portray themselves as brave men, confronting hard truths. But they also long to reassure. In his previous book, In Pursuit, Murray insisted that people are fundamentally "benign" when left to themselves. And in the proposal for The Bell Curve, he said that he hoped to make whites "feel better about things they already think but do not know how to say." This is a partly callous, partly therapeutic conservatism. Murray and Herrnstein's advice to blacks is to look on the bright side: once you've acknowledged your collective intellectual inferiority you can get on with establishing more appropriate bases of self-esteem. Their advice to affluent whites is to abandon all concern for those less comfortable than yourselves, and to get on with the pursuit of happiness. If there's a single sentiment driving their masses of data, that sentiment is, why bother?
A Class Thing, Marty Peretz
Few readers of TNR will know the work of I.L. Peretz. Among the classical masters of Yiddish prose, he also wrote poetry for children. Here is one simple quatrain (roughly translated):
Red, yellow, black, white Mix the colors up together. All the people are brothers From one father and one mother.
It's a variant on Schiller's "Ode to Joy." I first heard it sung by tinny voices to the otherwise sonorous choral movement of Beethoven's Ninth. This is what I was taught, and it is what I still believe -- not literally, of course, but not just metaphorically either. Men and women of faith take these sentiments more seriously than others in our society, and the erosion of faith, especially among the elites, has sapped the idea of equality and its force as an aspect of creed.
Nothing in my life, however, has ever diminished my experience across racial and ethnic lines of essential equality as both a palpable reality and an unfolding promise. I am a university teacher. Some of my black students have had incandescent minds, and a few were truly brilliant. Most were Harvard-smart, like other Harvard students. None was any more unprepared for college work than any other student. Trying to order my impressions over three decades I find that the intellectual range of black students is very much like that of the range among Jews, other whites and Asians.
The fact is that it is hard to order one's impressions -- at least it is hard for me to do so -- by color because the dynamics of the classroom are not those of the politics of identity, not even now in the urgent atmosphere of interracial suspicion so common on the campus. But we are fast learning, we are being forced to learn, to see behind every face and behind every phrase the group from which it emerges. This is a sad development. It was not so long ago that one's race or religious beliefs or ethnic origins could fully block even the most remarkable individuals from the paths of achievement.
In the early '60s, inroads were made against the received bigotries of the American past. The ascription of inborn virtues and faults to definable groups was no longer how the culture wanted to do its business. Institutions and corporations could no longer afford to recruit and live with their own dominant genealogies as the norm. It was one of the elevating, albeit short-lived, paradoxes of statist intrusion on civil society that it insisted -- or seemed to insist -- that individuals be judged as individuals. That was the meaning of the disappearance from college and job applications of the customary photograph. Of course, the revolution was not quickly completed. But it was begun, and America was better for it.
Now, again, there is a new norm in place, and it is one that is particularly prevalent where society's most coveted prizes are awarded. It is this: the prizes are not only given to individuals on the basis of merit but, when they go to blacks and to members of other designated minority groups, they are presented as a group right, as an entitlement, to the gifted and the less gifted, equally.
The regime of racial and ethnic set-asides in education and employment makes victims of others who, on simple standards of merit, would have won the places reserved now by custom and law for members of particular groups. We have thus far been spared the historically laden nightmare of having legislatures and courts decide what constitutes membership in these groups. Our luck, however, may not hold out. In an economy in which good jobs and scholarships are ever scarcer, someone will finally have to decide: What constitutes being black? Will one grandparent do?
The new mechanisms assume that, were fairness to rule, blacks would be represented at about 10 percent in all of the preferred professions and schools. But the fairest distributive patterns of society would have had more random results than the notion of representation suggests. Many discernible groups are "under-represented" in the advantaged places. How many Slavic-Americans are on the faculty of the University of Chicago in a city where their numbers help define the character of urban life? Are the right number of Irish-Americans partners in Boston's tony law firms? Needn't there be more Arab-American curators?
Where proportionality is the norm it will not long be tenable for half the students at the Julliard School of Music to be of Asian descent. So their surplus will simply have to make way for those who are inadequately represented. It would be preposterous -- wouldn't it? -- if we were to establish set-asides in medical schools for, let us say, Greeks and Italians. But that is precisely what society does on behalf of blacks and a few other groups. To those groups not favored and also not much numerically present in prestige schools and positions, these preferences are especially unfair instances of social engineering. That this social engineering does not actually succeed in producing many more black scientists is scarcely consolation to those who are left out. But what it does do is sharpen the sense of group differences. No surprise.
There is, however, pace Murray and Herrnstein, some grounds for practical hope. The ingathering of exiles in Israel was not an altogether unprecedented venture. The migrations to the United States also resulted in a grand mixing of different racial types and ethnic histories. This mixing was not nearly so inclusive as it has been in Israel. But its signs are everywhere apparent around us. Almost no one is pure anything, and the process continues. When, finally, we are all mixed up together we will be a wiser, warmer, more witty, more lyrical, more beautiful people. And, then, all the standard measurements will be able to tell us about individuals only. God willing, the time is not far off. Let's hope science doesn't get there before us.
Tom Cat Blues, Stanley Crouch
Ours is a country in which the responses to failure are often nearly the same as the responses to excessive success: low-boiling resentment and explanations of why the other guy without as much or the one with more should either stay down there where he is or be debunked for getting so much better a line of comforts.
The truth is hard to swallow as a fat piece of broken glass if you ask me and besides I heard tell that if you just look at it and don't mess around and just be honest about things and don't let anybody push you until you keep your mouth good and shut especially when it comes to the truth and let everybody know that it doesn't matter how much you try it can't amount to anything more than what it is which is something we all just have to face up to and let the chips keep on keeping on because it couldn't be any kind of way different than it is and trying to say something else won't even come close to making it so because there happen right now to be people who go to the schools way up yonder and they study this kind of stuff and you couldn't even get them to lie about something if you paid them because being honest is what the hell they spend all their damn time trying to be as it is. I mean Jesus H. Christ and the angel that tickled the hyena out of heaven!
The other side is, perhaps, somewhat different.
You mean to tell me I should take them serious when they try to tell me that just because they can afford this and they can afford that we should be willing to bow down to them and kiss whatever they put in our faces when it stands to reason that if they were all that why are their kids as bad as cancer and how come their wives are always laying down and looking up at somebody else and besides that let me tell you some people who are friends of the family who have a son working out of town in one of those real expensive hotels will give you the chapter and the verse on what the so-called Mr. Man of that big fancy house does when he goes to town and besides which if you put the entire bunch of them out here in the wind with the rest of us they'd get knocked over and roll away before you could say I told you so.
The panoramic lyrics of W.C. Handy's Beale Street Blues refer to a class-mixing world of secret lives, illegal celebration, potential disorder and nostalgia. They formed the basis of the themes F. Scott Fitzgerald rendered in The Great Gatsby, a masterpiece that continues to clarify just who we are. In a fat book Tom had read -- Oh, Lord! -- that the lower races were going to rise up in cannibalism, licking their chops and ready to gnaw those at the top into a dead and bloody mess. Something had to be done about it. In his fantasy, Jimmy Gatz thought that upper-class identity could easily be achieved through name changes, claims to social pedigrees, expensive emblems and big parties.
Neither the nightmares nor the dreams were right. Mistakes of one sort or another caked up the blood. It all came down to paranoia, counterfeit elegance, the corruption of national ideals and athletic games, the endless stomach the masses have for rot and gore, and our stubborn belief that we should be able to sit in our sandboxes and strike those next to us or those at the edge with the costly shovels and buckets that were made way up in high places. Even so, as the blind man on the corner sings in Beale Street Blues, "I'd rather be here than any place I know. It's going to take the sergeant for to make me go."
White on White, Andrew Hacker
I will, for present purposes, accept Murray and Herrnstein's finding that the aggregate of Americans with European forebears score better than fellow citizens having African ancestries. And I will also, for present purposes, agree with them that the capacity for doing well on standardized tests is "substantially heritable." So much of what we call I.Q., as measured by the multiple-choice method, has a genetic basis. At the same time, the authors warn us that while individuals get their genes through their parents, this does not entitle us to generalize on a racial basis. "That a trait is genetically transmitted in individuals does not mean that group differences in that trait are also genetic in origin."
Really? I would have thought that what we know about gene pools suggests that if groups of humans live and procreate for a considerable period, certain traits will come to predominate and be reproduced. After all, black people are apt to mate with one another, as are French-Canadians and Koreans. If this passes on physical features, why not also the breadth and depth of cognitive capacities?
My aim here will be quite modest. It is to take the authors' premise a step further, and apply it to the generic race they call "white." However, here we are talking of nearly 200 million people, far too many to treat as an undifferentiated group. Taken together, they exceed the combined populations of Austria, France, Greece, Italy, Sweden and Spain.
Given the range of tested intelligence among white Americans, it seems appropriate to ask if these variations have genetic causes similar to those underlying the black-white differences that receive so much emphasis. Unfortunately, the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, the Armed Forces Qualifications Test and the Scholastic Aptitude Test -- all of which are drawn on in The Bell Curve -- are not helpful. The reason should be clear. For the past half-century, this country has had an unstated understanding that it will not draw genetic distinctions among Americans who identify themselves as white. Whether their forebears came from Stockholm or Sofia or Salerno, all enjoy equal status in the Caucasian category. We may cite disparities in status, but even underclass whites are not given a diminished designation (Epithets like "redneck" and "white trash" have all but disappeared). This decision of whites to stand together has an obvious relevance to the race-based analysis in The Bell Curve.
Earlier in this century, social scientists such as Henry Goddard and Carl Brigham spoke of the superiority of persons of Nordic stock, while noting the stunted faculties of Mediterranean and Alpine strains. That they rated African Americans even lower goes without saying. They also drew attention to families like the Jukes and Kallikaks to show how the ills of inbreeding could fall even on Anglo-Saxons.
Murray and Herrnstein believe that the cognitive abilities measured by I.Q. tests are necessary for success in modern life. And on the whole they are right. The kind of cleverness they cite is necessary for getting into and through college, since success there depends on passing even more tests. Most middle-class careers now expect a bachelor's degree, though it should be added that this is not a demanding requirement, given that 2,157 schools are able to confer this credential.
Due to our agreement not to sort out white I.Q.s by national origin, I will have to use Census information on the number of people who have entered and completed college. The following figures refer to the proportion of American-born men and women of various European ancestries who have received bachelor's degrees. While it is true that some nationalities have been here longer, the groups I list are at least third-generation, which should be time enough to enter the college cohort:
Irish 21.3 percent; Italian 21.9 percent; German 22.1 percent; Polish 23.4 percent; Swedish 27.5 percent; English 28.6 percent; Scottish 33.4 percent; and Russian 51 percent.
True, it takes ambition, discipline and family encouragement to get to and through college. Still, a certain kind of mental capacity is minimally necessary; and Murray and Herrnstein tell us that favorable heredity plays a major role. The figures just given suggest that even today Americans of European ancestry do not possess a single "white" gene pool, but a series of separable pools with varying cognitive capacities. Yet no one really wants to discuss the question of inherited intelligence as it might apply, say, to individuals of Irish and Italian stock. And when Americans of Russian origins (who are predominantly Jewish) place a premium on higher education, it is attributed to cultural roots rather than an inborn aptitude for this kind of endeavor.
Better, for white sensibilities, to focus on presumed black deficiencies. But this is neither surprising nor new.
Andrew Hacker teaches political science at Queens College and is the author of Two Nations: Black & White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal (Ballantine).
Neo-Nazis! Jeffrey Rosen and Charles Lane
The New Republic does not include footnotes, which is unfortunate in the case of Murray and Herrnstein. For by examining the citations in Chapter 13 of The Bell Curve, from which much of this article is adapted, readers can more easily recognize the project for what it is: a chilly synthesis of the findings of eccentric race theorists and eugenicists. Murray and Herrnstein cannot be held to account for all the views of these scholars. It is useful, however, to examine the sources, which are disclosed in their book but not in these pages.
Murray and Herrnstein's discussion of white-Asian I.Q. differences is drawn largely from data cited in a 1991 article by Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster that appeared in Roger Pearson's neo-eugenicist journal Mankind Quarterly. (In a 1966 article Pearson argued that "if a nation with a more advanced, more specialized or in any way superior set of genes mingles with, instead of exterminating, an inferior tribe, then it commits racial suicide.") Lynn and Hans Wilhelm Jurgens, a German anthropologist who has advocated the internment sterilization of hereditary "anti-socials," served as associate editors of Mankind Quarterly.
Lynn's 1991 article, "Race Differences in Intelligence: A Global Perspective," reviews the "world literature on racial differences in intelligence" -- beginning with studies of "pure African Negroids" carried out in South Africa in 1929 -- and concludes that "Mongoloids have the fastest reaction times" and the highest I.Q.s, "followed by Caucasoids and then by Negroids." After examining "1,500 of the most important technological and scientific discoveries which have ever been made," Lynn reaches this conclusion: "Who can doubt that the Caucasoids and the Mongoloids are the only two races that have made any significant contribution to civilization?"
Lynn includes an exotic explanation for the racial differences he purports to discover: the ancestral migrations of groups of early hominids from the relatively benign environments of Africa to the harsher and more demanding Eurasian latitudes. Similar theories, Murray and Herrnstein note without irony, "were not uncommon among anthropologists and biologists of a generation or two ago." The 1991 article is not the only instance of data that Murray and Herrnstein draw from Lynn's summaries of the field. In the acknowledgments to The Bell Curve, Murray and Herrnstein say they "benefited especially from the advice" of Lynn, whom they later identify only as "a scholar of racial and ethnic differences."
In The Bell Curve, Murray and Herrnstein also introduce readers to the work of J. Phillipe Rushton, a Canadian psychologist. Rushton has argued that Asians are more intelligent than Caucasians, have larger brains for their body size, smaller penises, lower sex drive, are less fertile, work harder and are more readily socialized; and Caucasians have the same relationship to blacks. In his most recent book, Race, Evolution and Behavior, Rushton acknowledges the assistance of Herrnstein; and Murray and Herrnstein return the compliment, devoting two pages of their book to a defense of Rushton. Among the views that Herrnstein and Murray suggest Rushton has supported with "increasingly detailed and convincing empirical reports" is the theory that, in their words, "the average Mongoloid is toward one end of the continuum of reproductive strategies -- the few offspring, high survival and high parental investment end -- the average Negroid is shifted toward the other end, and the average Caucasoid is in the middle."
Murray and Herrnstein go out of their way to say that "Rushton's work is not that of a crackpot or a bigot." In fact, Rushton was censured by the University of Western Ontario for paying 150 participants at a local mall -- one-third were black, one-third white and one-third Asian -- to answer such questions as: "How far can you ejaculate?" and "How large is your penis?" Interviewed in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, Rushton summarizes his research agenda: "Even if you take things like athletic ability or sexuality -- not to reinforce stereotypes -- but it's a trade-off: more brain or more penis. You can't have everything." And in a 1986 article in Politics and Life Sciences, Rushton suggested that Nazi Germany's military prowess was connected to the purity of its gene pool, and warned that egalitarian ideas endangered "North European civilization."
Anticipating Murray's celebration of "clannish self-esteem," Rushton devotes an entire chapter of his book to a genetic explanation for ethnocentrism: "According to genetic similarity theory, people can be expected to favor their own group over others." And Rushton speculates that "favoritism for one's own ethnic group may have arisen as an extension of enhancing family and social cohesiveness." The Bell Curve, too, flirts with the notion that enthnocentrism is hereditary.
Murray's racialist notion of American blacks and whites as culturally and genetically distinct "clans" seems especially implausible in an era when the healthy growth of ethnic intermarriage promises to undermine the concept of coherent racial classification entirely. It's not surprising to discover, after scratching the surface of Murray's footnotes, the shabbiness of the tradition on which he has staked his reputation.
Blue Genes, Richard Nisbett
Murray and Herrnstein have written a book that deals with extraordinarily important issues, many of which have been considered too explosive to discuss in the public arena yet need to be aired. There are, however, three assertions made about race and I.Q. that do not reflect the consensus of scholars.
First, although Murray and Herrnstein do not deny that racism and structural factors play a role in producing some of the I.Q. differences between blacks and whites, they also claim that racial differences in intelligence may be genetically influenced as well. This argument is based in large part on the fact that the races produce different "profiles" of ability patterns, with blacks performing relatively better, for example, on arithmetic and immediate memory and whites scoring higher on spatial and perceptual abilities. The authors note that socioeconomic status could not plausibly account for such profile differences, and imply that this leaves genetics as the most likely explanation.
This is a breathtaking leap. It presumes that the only relevant way groups might differ is in socioeconomic status. But groups differ in all sorts of other ways that might produce ability profile differences. For example, Stanford anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath compared the way working-class whites and blacks in a North Carolina town socialized their children for literacy. White parents regarded it as their job to teach literacy skills in preparation for school, reading to their children from an early age and showing them how to extract information from the printed page. Black parents assumed the school would handle the literacy issues and focused on social matters. They did not read to their children, indeed did not even "teach" them language. (Black babies were, however, bathed in words and verbal play, perhaps explaining in part the new prominence of black novelists, playwrights and poets.) To invoke different patterns of abilities as evidence of a genetic basis for group differences is utterly unfounded.
The claims that cognitive abilities are little modifiable and that the differences between blacks and whites are not likely to be significantly reducible are different. Here Murray and Herrnstein interpret masses of evidence in ways that are eccentric to say the least.
Head Start and similar programs often produce large I.Q. or achievement gains in preschool children, but Murray and Herrnstein call these programs failures, since once children return to their relatively impoverished environments, the gains fade. But if social scientists know anything, it is that the immediate situation is of utmost importance. People are capable of a wide range of behavior depending on their peers, their role models and the reward structure of the world they confront. Malcolm X was the top-ranking child in his Midwestern elementary school (and the only black). He then spent several years in bad company in Boston, and estimates that by the end of this period his effective vocabulary was less than 1,000 words. "Use it or lose it" is the relevant adage for cognitive abilities.
And some preschool programs do produce dramatic and enduring change in I.Q. or other achievement-related attributes, even well after termination of the program, as Murray and Herrnstein admit. They explain away these results on dubious technical grounds that do not accord with the consensus of experts. Intervention has been shown to work at every age level. James Comer of the Yale psychiatry department and others have shown that the academic performance of inner-city elementary school children can be made to exceed national averages. A week's worth of studying will raise scores of high school students on the math portion of the SAT by one-third of a standard deviation (thirty-three points); the renowned teacher Jaime Escalante can do far better with East Los Angeles barrio youths. Experiments at my university and others show that relatively small, inexpensive interventions can improve grades of blacks in particular subjects and can even produce significant improvements in grade point averages.
What has happened to the black-white gap after decades of concerted effort to improve black ability and achievement test scores? Murray and Herrnstein review the evidence and correctly note that the studies range from showing a slight convergence of black and white scores in the past twenty to twenty-five years to indicating that as much as one-half of the difference has been eliminated. The median change reported is somewhere between one-quarter and one-third. Yet they summarily dismiss this extraordinarily hopeful evidence: "too soon to pass judgment."
Such coolness about evidence that contradicts their position together with uncritical warmth shown toward supporting evidence is found throughout the painful sections of the book dealing with race and the modifiability of I.Q. This is not dispassionate scholarship. It is advocacy of views that are not well supported by the evidence, that do not represent the consensus of scholars and that are likely to do substantial harm to individuals and to the social fabric.
Richard Nisbett is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
The Lying Game, Nathan Glazer
Five years ago Richard J. Herrnstein reviewed a National Academy of Sciences report on the condition of American blacks in The Public Interest. He objected to the report for using a "discrimination" model to explain differences between blacks and whites in income, earnings, schooling, health and a host of other factors. He proposed what he called a "distributional" model, which, he made clear, refers to differences in the distribution of one key trait, intelligence.
If discrimination was the explanation, then further disruptive legal interventions in the American economy and society were called for to close the gaps between the conditions of blacks and whites. If the "distribution" model explained things -- and if one added further, as Herrnstein did, that individual differences in intelligence could not be changed much by environmental influences -- then the conclusions were even harsher: blacks were doomed to a permanently inferior condition. I wondered at the time at Herrnstein's selection of the term "distributional" to characterize his model: I believe in retrospect he was trying to avoid stating (though all the necessary evidence was in his article) an explanation of black-white differences that simply leaves men of good will helpless.
Clearly, the present article, and the book it is based on, will come in for some serious counterattack on scientific as well as other grounds. The only question I can go into is the more general one: Should we be talking about this at all? Of course we will be talking about it: Charles Murray was on the most recent cover of The New York Times Magazine, and there is a full-page ad in the Times Book Review for The Bell Curve. But to what end? The only justification for making this case is that it is true, and I believe that is primarily what motivated Herrnstein and Murray.
For this kind of truth, however, one can also ask, what good will come of it? Truth-seekers insist one never knows what good will ensue -- the good results will emerge over time; truth always produces good. And in any case, the truth is its own reward. We don't ask searchers after the origin of the universe what good it will do. But in this case, I wonder whether we can discern any good results immediately or in the long run.
Initially, this truth throws into question most public efforts to overcome black-white differences. The Murray-Herrnstein thesis would not necessarily argue against efforts to improve the education of blacks: improvement is possible. The authors note that there is an increase over time in I.Q. scores generally, owing to environmental changes. But this improvement does not overcome differences; whites' I.Q. scores improve along with (or more than) blacks'. In a few cases, in our large cities in particular, greater resources are put into the education of blacks than whites. But the kind of difference that might help close the gap is hardly imaginable. And politically, it would be impossible. How could one argue that the holding back of improvement in white intelligence so that blacks could catch up is morally legitimate, or would improve society?
The authors project a possible utopia in which individuals accept their places in an intellectual pecking order that affects their income, their quality of life, their happiness. It may be true that we do not commonly envy the intellectual capacities or accomplishments of others -- we allow Albert Einstein and Bobby Fischer their eminence -- though I think even at this level, the authors underplay the role of envy and rancor in human affairs. But how can a group accept an inferior place in society, even if good reasons for it are put forth? It cannot.
Richard Wollheim and Isaiah Berlin have written: "If I have a cake, and there are ten persons among whom I wish to divide it, then if I give exactly one-tenth to each, this will not … call for justification; whereas if I depart from this principle of equal division I am expected to produce a special reason." Herrnstein and Murray have a very good special reason: smarter people get more and properly deserve more, and if there are more of them in one group than another, so be it. Our society, our polity, our elites, according to Herrnstein and Murray, live with an untruth: that there is no good reason for this inequality, and therefore society is at fault and we must try harder. I ask myself whether the untruth is not better for American society than the truth.
From P.C. to P.R., Alan Wolfe
What's the difference between thinking that the black male next to me is dumb and thinking there's a 25 percent chance he's dumb? Either way, I doubt he'd be pleased, since my feeling would not be directed toward him as an individual, but based on a probability established by the group to which he belongs.
Murray and Herrnstein insist that the association they find between race and intelligence applies only to groups, not to individuals. This is just one case where they try to have it both ways. They claim to be courageous in bringing to light what others only mutter about in the privacy of homes. Yet they also want us to believe they are not unfair, not judgmental and certainly not racist.
It doesn't work. Murray and Herrnstein may not be racists, but they are obsessed by race. They see the world in group terms and must have data on group membership. If, in the anger over affirmative action, all racial classifications were abolished, it would no longer be possible to design congressional districts or college admissions to account for race. But nor would it be possible to measure the relationship between race and I.Q. Would the authors cheer such a result? Unlikely. Their entire approach demands that race be reified.
They also try to bypass previous controversies over race and intelligence by attempting to repose the nature/nurture distinction. Those earlier controversies featured genetic determinists on the side of white superiority and environmentalists on the side of black progress. Knowing the dangers of being assigned to the kooky fringe, Murray and Herrnstein strive for a middle position -- actually a 40 percent to 80 percent position -- those parameters defining, in their view, the contribution that genes make to intelligence. Having given the reader just enough information to conclude either that genes cause most differences in intelligence or that they cause less than half of them, they then argue that the point hardly matters. Spend all the money you want, intervene early, but any I.Q. increase will be small and will disappear.
Yet by itself, I.Q. means nothing. It means something only because it predicts something else, such as one's chances in life. The proper question is whether intervention improves not I.Q., but life chances. If it does -- and there is some evidence that it does -- who cares about I.Q.? Murray and Herrnstein, actually, for just as they reify race, they have to reify I.Q.
Third, Murray and Herrnstein respond to the previous controversies by becoming conservative multiculturalists. Endorsing the sillier aspects of Afrocentrism, they talk about "a distinctive black culture." Forget that pluralism has not been one of the defining features of American conservatism: I welcome their conversion to a liberal virtue. But remember that Murray and Herrnstein, in The Bell Curve, take great pains to show that lower I.Q. is associated with social pathologies. Should we celebrate teenage pregnancy as a way of enhancing black self-esteem? Has their libertarianism won out over their concern with moral order? Murray and Herrnstein are communitarians in assigning people to categories and libertarians when those categories have consequences. My left-wing friends who countenance self-destructive behavior are merely misguided. I do not doubt their commitment to racial progress, only their judgment. Murray and Herrnstein endorse multiculturalist fantasies so that the two nations will remain two nations, forever.
There is a historical irony. I.Q. testing began as an attack on privilege. Urged by those who believed in merit, the test would undermine the undeserved monopoly on power enjoyed by hereditary elites. So long as people were divided by brains, they never would be divided by ascribed characteristics. But in the hands of Murray and Herrnstein, I.Q. reintroduces caste into American life. Meritocracy may remain for individuals, but groups are condemned to castelike difference.
It is hard to know whether Murray and Herrnstein are moved by P.C. or P.R. "It is far healthier that this debate be conducted in the open than behind closed doors," they write. Yet how open are they? It is true that if they said what they meant, their ideas would come across as not only racist, but also nutty. Yet their alternative fails. On the one hand, they are open to the charge of insincerity; I hope I never see Charles Murray write a critique of political correctness -- unless it is his own. On the other, they cannot hide their true feelings. In the book, they portray themselves as reporting on data, not offering, until the end, their own opinions. But in this article, Murray could not restrain himself. The bad news, he enthuses, is not bad news at all. Let black Americans take pride in whatever gives them pride; it is hardly our concern, for we whites will retain control over the means of knowledge. These sentiments are inegalitarian, ungenerous and as reactionary as anything I have read in years. In blowing his cover, Murray reveals the nasty side that invariably characterizes efforts of this sort -- and he does so despite prodigious efforts to keep the nastiness under control.
Murray and Herrnstein sound like two people who have found a way for racists to rationalize their racism without losing sleep over it. One could call what they are facilitating Racist Chic.
That this issue would be resurrected at a time when plenty of whites are tired of black people isn't surprising. But it conflicts with the hard-earned accomplishment of this society, wherein, despite the continued potency of racism, there are plenty of whites who will acknowledge that they have encountered very intelligent black people, and plenty of black people (not enough yet, to my mind) who are confident enough in their abilities that they wouldn't think of clipping their wings just because a few people still think most blacks are stupid.
To protect the liberty and aspirations of such individuals, at the end of their article Murray and Herrnstein add that their findings should in no way cause whites to assume that every black person they encounter is less intelligent than they are. But if the two researchers were being remotely realistic, they must have realized that blacks are in no position to assure that, despite the implications of the findings, opportunities to prosper will remain available and continue to expand for African Americans. The white elites the authors speak of retain an inordinate degree of control over our economy. If a high percentage of them already suspect that blacks are less intelligent than everyone else, then we risk the chance that some of them will use the findings to close off opportunities.
If Murray and Herrnstein owe their greater allegiance to scientific inquiry, rather than to the white elites they worry about, then why did their investigation stop with simply analyzing the intelligence of those who fit under the nebulous characterization black, versus the nebulous characterizations white and Asian? As they imply in their essay, there has never been a rational basis for classifying people in this country racially. The "one drop" rule has long determined the makeup of the entire African American "race." Thus to get even uglier in their analysis, the researchers could have tried to determine what an increasing percentage of European ancestry does to the I.Q. results of African Americans (it is estimated that at least 75 percent of blacks in America have European blood; 40 percent are said to have Native American blood as well). Are the lightest skinned among us the most intelligent blacks of all? Do those of us whose ancestry is equal parts black and white possess an I.Q. midway between the average for those whose ancestry is totally black and those whose ancestry is totally white?
To serve the interest of science even better, they could have investigated theories about the intelligence of various white ethnicities. For instance, it has long been theorized that Italians have black African blood. To comprehend the possible validity of such a theory, all a person needs to do is compare the features of a Sicilian to the features of a child who is the offspring of a light-skinned black person and a person of pure Nordic ancestry. Are Italian-Americans less intelligent than other ethnic varieties?
Based on what they have concluded about their findings, Murray and Herrnstein must have been aware of what I'm driving at. Yet that awareness didn't appear to affect their methodology or their concern about the ultimate usefulness of their inquiry. Suppose I, an African American who was entered into a national high school writing contest in my home state of Indiana, only to end up the sole student of any color in my sector of the state to win an award, had been informed that black I.Q.s are naturally lower than white I.Q.s. Would I have retained enough self-confidence to compete for the award to the best of my abilities, or would my psyche have been too damaged by the news for me to have done so?
All of us are aware that certain talents stand out among different groups of people, but that within each group are plenty of people who are talented in ways that are different from the group norm. How are we to accommodate that in a multicultural society? Does a lower I.Q. even for one individual versus another absolutely mean that the person with the lower I.Q. won't be the one to discover the cure for aids or the most efficient solution to how we can stop depleting our ozone? If a person lacks the same degree of virtuosity in repeating a sequence of numbers backward that another person possesses, does that foreclose the possibility that the slower performer will accomplish more in life? There are no definite answers.
But that doesn't mean that black youths shouldn't aim to meet the same standards of excellence as everyone else. We should still strive to reach the point in our society at which blacks on average are uniformly admitted to the best colleges and professional schools with the same grades and test scores as Asian and white students. And for those who can't gain admission (just as is true for whites who can't qualify), attending second-tier schools shouldn't foreclose any opportunities. There are plenty of successful whites who never attended prestigious universities, and plenty of them who don't harbor exceptional I.Q.s.
Alan Wolfe is author of The Human Difference: Animals, Computers and the Necessity of Social Science (California).
Taboo You, John B. Judis
In their book, but not in this misleading essay, Murray and Herrnstein make a case that I.Q. is anything but a passing attribute no more important than athletic skill. Lower I.Q. contributes, they argue, to greater crime, poverty, illegitimacy, welfare dependency and unemployment. And because blacks and Latinos have lower average I.Q.s and reproduce faster than whites or Asians do, their proliferation has brought down and will continue to bring down the average I.Q. of Americans -- thereby contributing disproportionately to the country's worst social problems.
To alleviate this "dysgenic pressure," the authors favor eliminating welfare subsidies to women with children, making birth control readily available (presumably to the low-I.Q. poor) and adopting measures that will have the effect of reducing the flow of low-I.Q. Latinos to the United States. Their recommendations are vague, but their thrust is toward eugenics.
Their analysis and these recommendations are not based on science, but on a combination of bigotry and metaphysics, where, in Wittgenstein's phrase, "language goes on a holiday." Let me give two examples:
(1) Correlation and cause: Murray and Herrnstein acknowledge the difference between demonstrating correlation and proving causation, but consistently use the language of causation when they merely have demonstrated correlation. They repeatedly describe low I.Q. as "a factor in," "a significant determinant of" and "a strong precursor of" various social maladies. For instance, they ascribe the growing disparity in income to the growing disparity in I.Q. -- ignoring such other factors as the decline in unions, competition from low-wage developing countries and, in the case of high CEO salaries, the identification of income and status. A distorted picture of social change emerges.
Their causal ascriptions sometimes seem plausible because they perform a linguistic sleight of hand on the term "intelligence." While acknowledging that "measures of intelligence … are a limited tool for deciding what to make of any given individual," they identify what I.Q. tests measure as intelligence in the broadest sense, including thoughtfulness, prudence and wisdom. That makes it easier to attribute a causal role to I.Q. scores. For instance, after having merely shown that individuals who score poorly on I.Q. tests are more likely to be unemployed, they conclude that "intelligence and its correlates -- maturity, farsightedness and personal competence -- are important in keeping a person employed and in the labor force." Fine, but I.Q. tests don't measure these qualities.
(2) Race and genes: Are the roots for low I.Q. scores genetic or environmental? Though the authors claim agnosticism, their analysis is heavily weighted toward genetic causes. They suggest, for example, that the "balance of the evidence" puts even a 60 percent genetic factor "on the low side." That seems way too high an estimate: there are a rash of studies -- most recently by psychologist Craig Ramey -- showing that child development practices can raise I.Q. as much as thirty points. In addition, no gene for intelligence has ever been identified. At best, what some scientist might discover is a gene or set of genes that make one person more likely to perform well or poorly on particular tasks required by I.Q. tests.
The authors also make illicit use of the concept of race. As they acknowledge, neither American blacks nor Latinos represent distinct races, but are a composite of different nationalities, ethnic groups and races. Yet they proceed to describe American blacks as a race and to talk about "genetic differences between the races." It's another sleight of hand, establishing a point without proving it, because if American blacks or Latinos were a distinct biological group, then it would be more plausible to ascribe certain longstanding genetic traits to them. That was the tack taken by the infamous racial theorists of England and Germany. The authors would have to conclude, incredibly, that it is unimportant whether the cause of blacks and Latinos' lower intelligence is genetic or environmental. "We cannot think of a legitimate argument why any encounter between individual whites and blacks need be affected" by a genetic basis for intelligence differential. Where have these guys been?
The past 400 years provide ample reason to believe that imputing innate inferiority to a group will affect its "encounter" with other groups. In the United States, theories of racial inferiority were the justification for slavery and for restrictions on American immigration. In Europe, these theories were a justification for Nazi genocide. If Murray and Herrnstein's views gain currency, they will deepen the chasms separating whites and blacks and whites and Latinos.
Murray and Herrnstein claim this is a price we must pay for violating irrational taboos. Let's be clear, however, on what taboo is being violated. It is not some product of Stanley Fish and the academic new left, but of the great war against Nazi Germany. It's not the tabooagainst unflinching scientific inquiry, but against pseudo-scientific racism. Of all the world's taboos, it is most deserving of retention.
Freedom is Slavery, Ann Hulbert
In 1984, in a piece for TNR called "Affirmative Racism: How preferential treatment works against blacks," Charles Murray concluded by warning of an imminent and dangerous convergence of "old" segregationist racism and "new" affirmative action racism:
The old racism has always openly held that blacks are permanently less competent than whites. The new racism tacitly accepts that, in the course of overcoming the legacy of the old racism, blacks are temporarily less competent than whites. It is an extremely fine distinction. As time goes on, fine distinctions tend to be lost. Preferential treatment is providing persuasive evidence for the old racists, and we can already hear it sotto voce: "We gave you your chance, we let you educate them and push them into jobs they couldn't have gotten on their own and coddle them every way you could. And see: they still aren't as good as whites, and you are beginning to admit it yourselves." Sooner or later this message is going to be heard by a white elite that needs to excuse its failure to achieve black equality.
Now Murray himself has fulfilled his own dire prophecy. To be sure, the tone in The Bell Curve is neither sotto voce nor crudely hostile. On the contrary, the authors emphasize that their crucial contribution is to make sure that the news on this "most sensitive" subject in America is conveyed in a form that looks as authoritatively scientific and sounds as sedulously honest as possible. That, they assure us, will make it more salutary and less frightening.
How authoritative does the science look? Some of the experts whose psychometric data Murray and Herrnstein draw on are not as reputably credentialed as they imply. And when they encounter one, such as J.R. Flynn, whose data is less congenial, they don't hesitate to disparage his findings as "magic." Surely the "Flynn effect" -- the existence of a pervasive upward drift in I.Q., so that "on average, whites today may differ in I.Q. from whites, say, two generations ago as much as whites today differ from blacks today" -- undermines Murray and Herrnstein's conviction about the "intractability" of I.Q. more seriously than they let on. Moreover, it points to the reductive inadequacy of relying, as they do so heavily, on studies -- and tests -- that claim to have meticulously controlled for all environmental influence on intelligence.
Murray and Herrnstein's tone bears as much scrutiny as their numbers, since their real claim to originality lies in the earnestly informative way they purport to dispense the "difficult" material, the honorable intentions with which they break one of "polite society's" central taboos. They themselves pointedly raise the question of their honesty in this essay, the purpose of which is to give their bona fides a last-minute, pre-publication boost. Instead, their pre-emptive defense serves to expose the "would-that-it-weren't-so" tone of The Bell Curve as completely disingenuous.
In counseling not just calm clarity but celebration in the face of what they admit in their book is an "apocalyptic vision," Murray and Herrnstein betray a mentality altogether comfortable with Orwellian "doublethink." And they insist that everyone else (white) can happily share it. Thus they make the tortuous case that once we're all thoroughly versed in their account of group differences in intelligence, our embrace of open-minded individualism will be strengthened, not weakened -- especially if those fears they assume everyone has about black genetic inferiority are dispelled. How best dispel them? Why, by confirming the preoccupation with permanent black incompetence by a different route: with the blithe claim that environmentally caused incompetence is just as intractable. Anyone who pretends that branding one race with unalterable inferiority will have anything but a divisive, corrosive impact among groups is not leveling with the public, or with himself. It is worth recalling that Murray himself said as much back in 1984, when he heard all those soft voices: now he's revealed as a man with a fixation that, far from dispelling, he's impatient to spread.
Perhaps sensing their "ratiocination" is strained, Murray and Herrnstein relax with some "speculations" in the closing section of their essay. The result is doublethink (now for blacks, too) on display in its most surreally developed form. Did they emphasize liberation from group constraints through "uncompromising recommitment to individualism"? Now they bow down before the insular confines of clan pride. (FREEDOM IS SLAVERY) Did they insist that I.Q. was all-important to social success? Now they praise black athletes and insist that those "who rank lower on that particular dimension are [not] required to be miserable about it." (ignorance is strength) Did they imply that group inequities in intelligence were a central cause of poverty, racial fear and hostility? Now they counsel complacence, and more -- that those inequities "be not only accepted but celebrated." (war is peace) Murray and Herrnstein's soothing Newspeak about racial inferiority could almost induce nostalgia for the crude Oldspeak.
The Phony War, Randall Kennedy
I should like to make three points in response to the essay by Murray and Herrnstein, their book, The Bell Curve, and the controversy surrounding the authors and the aforementioned writings. The first concerns intellectual marketing; the second focuses on the quality of their efforts; and the third has to do with the way in which people ought to respond to the well-orchestrated hoopla that is already giving their work a visibility -- and an influence -- that is probably undeserved.
Murray and Herrnstein (and their supporting cast of public relations consultants, advertisers and ideological allies) know how to make the most of controversiality. They have already succeeded in transforming their latest work into a profitable news item. They have done so by proclaiming that they have revealed something hidden and new. In the second sentence of their essay, the authors assert that they are offering a scoop: the real story of white elites' perception of blacks -- the private attitudes as opposed to the staged, public stances. Later they hint that they are going to give the reader the skinny on "a taboo issue, filled with incendiary potential for hurt, anger and divisiveness [that] lurks just beneath the surface of American life." Many editors, book publishers and reporters are attracted to this sort of talk -- even when it is highly exaggerated. They are attracted because it sells. The Free Press's advertisements for The Bell Curve highlight its carefully nurtured status as a "controversial" book. The dust jacket states that The Bell Curve "is certain to ignite an explosive controversy."
In all too many quarters, controversiality is viewed as a good in and of itself. And it probably is for those interested only in selling goods in the cultural marketplace. For those interested in the overall health of our culture, however, the fixation on mere controversiality is a problem. We ought to distinguish between work that is usefully controversial because it opens up new avenues of thought and work that is controversial merely because it provides an occasion for shouting about pre-formed views. The Murray and Herrnstein project falls in the latter category.
The creation of controversiality often involves striking a pose of risk-taking. Murray and Herrnstein do this in their essay when they claim that the bigshots with whom they conversed as they wrote their book -- "scholars at the top-ranked [of course] universities and think tanks, journalists from the leading [what else] media, high [not low] public officials, senior [not junior] lawyers, financiers and corporate executives" -- tended to be "scared stiff" about the answers to the authors' questions. But Murray and Herrnstein are not "scared stiff." They fearlessly pursue the Truth no matter where it leads. (Interestingly enough, it leads to answers that advance the ideological positions both men have long held.) A recent profile of Murray in The New York Times Magazine also shows him cultivating his image as a courageous intellectual. Explaining to reporter Jason DeParle his reasons for writing The Bell Curve, Murray is quoted as saying: "Here was a case of stumbling onto a subject that had all the allure of the forbidden. Some of the things we read to do this work, we literally had to hide when we were on planes and trains. We're furtively peering at this stuff." This is, I think, largely a pose: the intellectual as Indiana Jones. I cannot imagine Murray and Herrnstein consulting a source so inflammatory that they literally had to hide it while traveling. Later in the profile, DeParle notes that Murray requested that the reporter refrain from naming the Maryland village where he lives, out of fear of threats of physical harm.
Murray's pose, however, reflects on more than just himself; he probably wouldn't engage in it if a large enough section of his audience rebuffed him. But the idea of "intellectual courage" has grown quite popular. As frequently used, the term is misleading or inappropriate. The people to whom it is applied typically risk little by taking the positions they articulate. Controversiality, even utter outrageousness, pays well. In other instances, the term is inappropriate because it fails to illuminate the intellectual quality of the ideas set forth. It might take "courage" for a would-be astronomer to argue that the sun circles the earth. But his courage should not obscure the erroneousness of his view or dissuade his colleagues from considering whether he ought to be allowed to teach.
There is another aspect of the pose of courageousness that warrants comment. Murray and Herrnstein inveigh against the alleged "pariah status of intelligence as a construct and I.Q. as its measure for the past three decades." This alleged pariah status is a function, they claim, of "political fashion, not science." Unlike their fashionable antagonists, Murray and Herrnstein are immune to the blandishments of chicness and are unafraid to confront a blasphemous topic. Their publisher suggests much the same. According to the dust jacket, the authors "break new ground in exploring the ways that low intelligence … lies at the root of many of our social problems" and "demonstrate the truth of another taboo fact: that intelligence levels differ among ethnic groups." This is hype. In fact, over a long period of time, a substantial number of investigators have asserted relationships between intelligence and social differences, including racial differences. These data form the basis of Murray and Herrnstein's speculations. They don't design and conduct experiments and otherwise extract primary information. They leave those chores to obscure, moderately paid academics. Murray and Herrnstein synthesize and repackage this material and bring it to a larger, more lucrative market. Their publisher acknowledges this on the book's jacket copy. Immediately after proclaiming that The Bell Curve demonstrates the taboo "fact" that intelligence levels differ among ethnic groups, the publisher writes that while "this finding is already well-known and widely discussed among psychometricians and other scholars," Murray and Herrnstein "open this body of scholarship to the general public." Contrary to the impression they sometimes give, Murray and Herrnstein are not intellectual pioneers; they are popularizers who have a keen sense of how to make a big splash among people who read opinion magazines and op-eds and purchase big books like The Bell Curve (for $30 a copy), which they either shelve without reading or lightly skim.
Four brief observations. First, there are notable outcroppings of disingenuousness in the Murray-Herrnstein essay, the most blatant of which is its claim that "our limited objective is to warn readers who come to the discussion [black-white differences in I.Q.] with firmly held opinions on either side." Surely the authors and their backers are seeking to do more than this. One of the things they are seeking to do is to keep alive the long-standing claim that, on average, whites are intellectually superior to blacks not only in terms of educational attainment but in terms of cognitive capacity.
Second, Murray and Herrnstein create straw men. They write, for instance, that "many people have a fuzzy impression that if cognitive ability has been depressed by a disadvantaged environment, it is easily remedied." Who says this? The people to whom Murray and Herrnstein refer do not typically claim the baleful consequences of a disadvantaged environment can be easily repaired. To the contrary, they usually acknowledge the tremendous difficulty of countering the bad effects of poor living conditions. That is why they plead for more funding to transform the disadvantaged environments that generate problems that are hard to undo.
Third, Murray and Herrnstein display a nostalgia for good old days that never existed. "We argue," they write, "that the best and indeed the only answer to the problem of group differences is an energetic and uncompromising recommitment to individualism. To judge someone except on his or her own merits was historically thought to be un-American, and we urge that it become so again." Although I am sympathetic to one of the impulses behind this comment -- an impulse prompted by the cages of racial and gender differences being created by some ideologues of "diversity" -- the reference to a lost golden age of meritocracy is laughable. American history has been characterized by invidious racial oppression far more than it has been characterized by race-neutral equal opportunity.
Fourth, I hope that African Americans and others will eschew Murray and Herrnstein's invitation to indulge in what they describe as "wise ethnocentrism." The suggestion appears to me to be merely another marketing device, a way to make more palatable the Murray-Herrnstein claim that blacks, on average, are inferior intellectually to whites. Being part of a group that is collectively inferior in intellectual capacity is not so bad, the authors appear to contend, so long as the group recognizes its own accomplishments. Indeed, the authors later maintain with a gush of apparent enthusiasm that "it is possible to look ahead to a world in which the glorious hodgepodge of inequalities of ethnic groups genetic and environmental, permanent and temporary, can be not only accepted but celebrated." This ridiculous appeal to non-judgmental relativism is one part reactionary racialism and one part 1990s political correctness -- a strange brew indeed. Furthermore, apart from the matter of motive, the substance of the advice is dubious. We have enough ethnocentrisms in our nation without adding a new variety or creating a fresh justification for those already in existence.
Finally, a word about how to respond to the Murray-Herrnstein production. Those who strongly disagree, as I do, with their analysis and prescriptions should not attempt to prevent Murray from stating his, and his late collaborator's, views. Attempting to muzzle him will only give the book additional, bankable publicity. Nor should critics feel that they must disagree with everything the authors say. Sometimes the authors make good points, as when they discuss anxieties surrounding the question of environmental versus genetic determinants of alleged racial differences in intelligence. Readers interested in evaluating seriously the Murray-Herrnstein enterprise should show patience by engaging in and waiting for careful siftings of its intellectual merits and demerits. They should resist having their agendas set and their minds made up on terms prescribed by cultural entrepreneurs who exploit controversiality for the purpose of financial and political profit.
Randall Kennedy, a Harvard law professor, is editor of Reconstruction magazine.
The Lowerers, Leon Wieseltier
Murray and Herrnstein protest that "the fascination with race, I.Q. and genes is misbegotten," but a few pages later they mutter, about the "environment/genetic debate," that "the question, of course, is fascinating." The question, of course, is not fascinating. It is old, dreary and indecent, philosophically shabby and politically ugly.
The only drollery in Murray and Herrnstein's essay is their praise of themselves for their own courage. They seem genuinely to believe that they are going boldly where no man has gone before. A little less statistics and a little more history would show that Murray and Herrnstein are perpetrating, you might say, a rather standard deviation. The Western panic about heterogeneity is ancient, and in its modern versions, in Europe and in America, one of the central representations of this panic has been made by science. Indeed, the "sciences of man" were established in the eighteenth century not least to secure the inequalities and the incongruities of the time with the authority of the natural sciences. Our psychometrically intoxicated conservatives are not the sons of Burke, they are the sons of Buffon (and Taine, and Lombroso, and the awful, impudent, naturalistic rest).
"Here is what we hope will be our contribution to the discussion [of race, I.Q. and genes]," write Murray and Herrnstein. "We put it in italics; if we could, we would put it in neon lights: The answer doesn't much matter." With this, they think that they have acquitted themselves of responsibility for the revival of one of the more deplorable legacies of the Enlightenment. And here is what I hope will be my contribution to the discussion. I put it in italics; if I could, I would put it in neon lights: Their answer doesn't much matter. For they are still searching furiously for a scientific foundation for generalizations about groups. Murray and Herrnstein may believe that "the fascination with race, I.Q. and genes is misbegotten," but there remains the fascination with race and I.Q., which they have in a bad way begotten; and the latter fascination does not differ in any essential way from the former. Murray and Herrnstein prefer psychological measurements to biological measurements. The inquiry is the same. Only the science is different.
The scientism of Murray (I will refer only to him, since he is the principal author of what this magazine has published, and de mortuis nil nisi bonum) is a little quaint. "The pariah status of intelligence as a construct and I.Q. as its measure," he writes, "for the past three decades has been a function of political fashion, not science." As if it were science that drew Murray to the subject! This distinction between "political fashion" and "science" is too innocent. The frontiers between the fields are notoriously porous, as the long history of the scientistic study of the races grimly shows. Murray, too, is hiding the hardness of his politics behind the hardness of his science. And his science, for all I know, is soft. You do not have to speculate about the possibility of certainty in science to speculate about the certainty of Murray in his science. The occult entity known as "g" is not exactly the sturdy stuff of, say, molecular biology.
Or so I imagine. I am not a scientist. I know nothing about psychometrics. Before Murray, I had never made the acquaintance of "visuospatial abilities" or "the digit span subtest." I do not doubt that there is such a thing as intelligence, and that there are better and worse methods of measuring it. But Murray's enterprise collapses, theoretically and morally, long before he gets to his graphs. For the question of the bearing of science on life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. There is not a graph in the world that will explain the place of graphs in the world.
The belief that the fate of individuals is determined by their membership in a group, however that membership is defined and measured, contradicts the belief that the fate of individuals is determined by the freedom that is the essential characteristic of all individuals, regardless of their membership in a group. There is no way to elide this contradiction. But it is important to be clear about the belief in human freedom. It is not a belief in the unconditioned nature of human life. Quite the contrary. It proceeds from a vivid appreciation of the conditions, and proposes that the conditions are not where one ends but where one begins, and that the individual, given the opportunity to make use of powers that he has been given and to come into possession of powers that he has not been given, has the freedom of soul, or mind, or will, to master the conditions, and to deny them the last word about his life.
The belief in freedom recognizes the differences in endowments that distinguish individuals from each other (and those endowments include intelligence and membership in a group). The recognition of these inequalities is banal, a common observation of ordinary life. But the belief in freedom, which may be a religious belief or a secular belief, does not quit at the discovery of these inequalities. From its standpoint, rather, it is false to say that all men are equal and it is false to say that all men are not equal. We are, all of us, equal and not equal. We are divided by the specificities of our coming into the world and united by the capacity to neutralize or to modify or to transcend the specificities. We may choose, of course, also to affirm them; but there is no basis in science for such a choice, either. All that science can provide is information about the specificities. The rest is conviction. Empirical inequality cannot erase moral equality. Either you believe in human freedom, and in the universality of human freedom, or you do not.
I have no way to judge Murray's statistics, but I have a way (and so does every one of his readers who has made a thoughtful decision about what is possible in human affairs and in America) to judge his view of human agency. It is grossly deterministic and grossly materialistic. In Murray's view of human agency, ought no longer implies can. Can forever dictates ought. To be sure, Murray makes a hasty disclaimer. "This is not to say," he writes at the outset of his essay, "that I.Q. is destiny." But this is followed by his most unattractive euphemism. "In each of these instances, I.Q. is merely a better predictor." Oh, merely.
Here, as elsewhere, Murray offends most when he is trying to be inoffensive. Is it really the purpose of Murray's tome, and of his article in this magazine, only to find a place for I.Q. on the list of the conditions and the specificities, only to establish intelligence in its relation to race as a variable among variables? Surely Murray's argument is that the explanatory force of this variable is greater than the explanatory force of the other variables, that the influence of the inherited is more formative than the influence of the acquired, that the tangle of the given ("the reality of a difference versus its source") cannot be transcended.
There are, as I say, precedents for this scientistic fatalism. They are not flattering. "All the progress of modern science," wrote Renan in 1854, "leads us to envision each race as confined to a characteristic type that it may or may not achieve, but from which it cannot escape." A few years later Renan remarked about Joseph Salvador, a French scholar of religion who was a descendant of Spanish Jews, that "he brought to his task what we may call an endowment of race, that sort of political insight which has rendered the Semites alone capable of great religious combinations." It will be obvious that this is the sort of philo-Semitic compliment that only an anti-Semite could make.
I am not suggesting, of course, that Murray is an anti-Semite. Still, when I read, on page 275 of The Bell Curve, that "Jews -- specifically, Ashkenazi Jews of European origins -- test higher than any other ethnic group," I am repulsed. I am repulsed not only because I would like to believe that what I will achieve in my life will be owed to myself and not to my group, though I am honored by my membership in my group; but also because there have been many scientistic comparisons of Jews and non-Jews during the past two centuries in which Jews did not "test higher," and the consequences were catastrophic. What if the conclusions that Murray takes from the study that he calls "Storfer 1990" had turned out differently? How would he explain my failure to express the limitations of my group? Or would it be more appropriate, in the event of psychometric embarrassment, that I stop pretending and start tailoring?
These are not unintelligent questions. I am, after all, an Ashkenazi Jew of European origins. More to the point, a retreat to tailoring is precisely what Murray would prescribe for a Jew who discovered, as the result of some new "definitive" measurement, that he was a member of the cognitive underclass. Murray calls his prescription "wise ethnocentrism." It is, in truth, a proposal for pacification. The task, for Murray, is not to teach the low to rise high, since it has been "proven" that they cannot rise high, but to teach the low to find happiness in lowliness. They must learn a strange mixture of resignation and self-love, and abandon any ideal of advancement, and reject all standards of intellectual strenuousness, and subsist in a condition of dreamlessness bordering on mindlessness.
What is keeping the psychometrically disadvantaged down, in Murray's account, is not their psychometric score (or the political manipulation of psychometrics). No, what is keeping them down is their desire to do better. Since they cannot do better, their desire to do better eats away at their self-esteem. They have internalized the standards of others, and so they are judging themselves unfairly. In a fair world, however, inequality will be celebrated. "Given a chance, each clan will add up its accomplishments using its own weighting system, will encounter the world with confidence in its own worth and, most importantly, will be unconcerned about comparing its accomplishments line-by-line with those of any other clan. This is wise ethnocentrism." (Or, as Renan declared, "the life that disgusts our workers would make a Chinaman or a fellah happy. Let everyone do the work he is intended to do, and all will be well.")
It is odd, in this age of ethnic and tribal and racial conflict, for Murray to rhapsodize about "clans," and promote "clannishness" into the source of social peace. But enough theory. "Wise ethnocentrism" is addressed to a particular group in American society: to the blacks, to the stupid and wretched (or rather, the stupid and therefore wretched) "B" in "the B/W difference." African Americans are the ones who must accept the dissociation of fairness from equality. For, as Murray writes moistly, "the experience of slavery perverted and stunted the evolution of the ethnocentric algorithm that American blacks would have developed in the normal course of events." Of course, a stunting of the ethnocentric algorithm of American blacks also might be a result of Murray's racial science; but Murray insists that he is a friend of the losers.
Having delivered African Americans to inferiority and inequality, he tells them to have a nice day, observing sunnily that "the concern about racial inferiority" among American blacks is "diminishing as African Americans define for themselves that mix of qualities that makes the American black clan unique and (appropriately in the eyes of the clan) superior. It emerges in fiction by black authors and in a growing body of work by black scholars. It is also happening in the streets." Why, then, all the melancholy Negroes? That they are dumber should not make them sadder. They may not have a shot at a unified field theory, but they enjoy "the dominance of many black athletes." And that is not all. African Americans differ from "the prevailing Eurocentric model" in many lovely ways. Murray adduces the work of an academic consultant named Wade Boykin to remind us, and more importantly to remind them, that blacks are highly spiritual ("essentially vitalistic rather than mechanistic"), and develop "personal styles" that are distinguished by "verve" and "affect," and share an "emphasis on the importance of movement, rhythm, music and dance." It is time, he proclaims, to put the rhythm back in algorithm.
Is Murray aware that he has landed himself in the bosom of the most bizarre Afrocentrists? On reflection, though, they deserve each other. They are, all of them, anti-egalitarians and anti-integrationists. They peddle, all of them, cheap stereotypes. They aspire, all of them, to the assurances of biology: the Afrocentrists dabble in melanin and Murray dabbles in genes. They, the Afrocentrists, wish to be done with "the prevailing Eurocentric model," and he, the social scientist confident of having demonstrated that their minds are not designed for "the prevailing Eurocentric model," takes it off their hands. They, fighting the superstition that they are inferior, devise theories of black superiority, and he, peddling the superstition that they are inferior, agrees that they should. What exactly is the difference between the "cultural differences" articulated by Boykin, the educational expert admired by Murray, and the multiculturalist prejudice of the educational expert who maintains, in Richard Bernstein's Dictatorship of Virtue, that there is an epistemological distinction between Africans and Europeans, since "Africans know through symbols, imagery and rhythm, while Europeans know through counting and measuring?"
Murray's avenue of approach toward the modern history of African Americans is utterly unable to account for the rise of a black middle class on the morrow of the civil rights revolution; but he seems altogether aloof from the reality of the people whom he is treating. Thus he remarks about what is "happening in the streets" that it is "normal and healthy." This boosterism about the streets is foolish or wicked. What is happening in the streets, or in an alarming number of them, is not normal and healthy. This is what is happening in the streets: guns, drugs, rape, rats, demagogues, babies, a collapsing pit of dependence and despair.
The village (I mean, the inner city) is burning. And here comes Murray with his blessing. The corollary of his reflections on "the glorious hodgepodge of inequalities of ethnic groups" is complacence: complacence for blacks, since they are denied the ability to intervene in the crisis of black America, and complacence for whites, since they are denied the right to intervene in the crisis of black America. Who are whites to tell blacks that the destruction of families will damage them for an entire era? Don't the bleeding hearts understand that "the mixes are too complex, the metrics are too different, the qualities are too numerous to lend themselves to a weighting scheme that everyone could agree upon"?
Murray's delight in the street betrays also a profound ignorance of African American culture. He reminds me of the rap apologists of The New York Times. He, too, wants African Americans to make do with authenticity. He is the hip-hop Herder of the American Enterprise Institute, exalting in the incommensurability of the cultures of America and warning away the hoary liberals who would judge all the cultures of America by universal notions of truth, goodness and beauty. And so Murray does not see that he is encouraging the "ethnocentric algorithm" of African Americans in a direction of decline. When Snoop Doggy Dogg commands the attention that Johnny Hodges once commanded, there has occurred a decline. When Toni Morrison commands the attention that Ralph Ellison once commanded, there has occurred a decline. And this decline is owed not least to an admiration of the street. As the street rises, the culture falls. Murray is dead to all this. He is just an enemy of promise. After his psychometrics, his lack of pessimism is a little inhumane.
And after his psychometrics, there will be other psychos and other metrics. The panic will not go away; and it is no longer only a panic about heterogeneity. It is also a panic about the futility of social action. The underclass in the inner city may be the first problem in the history of American society toward the solution of which the traditions of American idealism and American ingenuity will profit nothing. A really frightening failure has taken place. The temptation to look upon this development as historically or scientifically inevitable, and therefore to look away, will grow. Murray's work is a surrender to that temptation, and it is not the last one. For this reason, it will be necessary to remind ourselves, again and again, that the differences between values and the differences between groups never coincide; that there is diversity within communities and not only among communities; that there are human types even as there are racial types, and that all the human types may be found in all the racial types; that all the human types will reach when they think that they can grasp. "When the whole training of life is to make us fighters for the higher," William James wrote angrily on the last page of his copy of Herbert Spencer, "why should it be extraordinary or wrong to protest against a philosophy the acceptance of which is the acceptance of the defeat of the higher?"
Brave New Right, Michael Lind
Suddenly, hereditarianism is back on the American right. "RACE, PATHOLOGY AND I.Q.," read the headline of one of two excerpts from The Bell Curve in The Wall Street Journal on October 10. "RACE, INTELLIGENCE, AND SCIENCE," was the rubric that glowed on the sleeve of the September 12 issue of National Review. The latter contained a rave review of a different book, by Canadian psychologist J. Phillipe Rushton, titled Race, Intelligence, and Behavior. Rushton's book offered far-out views about differences in intelligence, work habits and genital size among whites, blacks and Asians.
The rehabilitation of would-be scientific race theory on the right -- cautious in the work of Murray and Herrnstein, blatant in the writings of Rushton -- raises an interesting question: Why now? After all, there is nothing new about the claim that I.Q. scores prove that blacks are inherently inferior to whites in intelligence. Arthur J. Jensen and William Shockley stirred controversy by promoting it in the 1960s and 1970s, as did Roger Pearson and Rushton in the 1980s and early 1990s. Much of this debate, moreover, has taken place in public. Rushton's views on race have made him a figure of controversy in Canada for years. And he is not unknown in this country (he has appeared on "Geraldo"). Herrnstein himself set off a firestorm with his article "I.Q." in The Atlantic Monthly in December 1971. Why have these theories about race become respectable on the right for the first time since the civil rights revolution?
The change in the conservative line on race, I.Q. and inequality does not mirror any change in mainstream scientific thinking on these subjects. To be sure, speculation about the influence of biology on human nature has become more respectable since the 1970s, when radical leftists at a public speech threw blood on one of America's leading sociobiologists, Edmund O. Wilson. Both radical environmentalism and the crude kind of sociobiology that tried to directly connect specific behavioral traits with genes appear to be giving way in the scholarly community to a nuanced consensus view that human potential is flexible but constrained at the margins by heredity. There has even been interesting research done into the connection between language families and genetic groups, by Luigi Cavalli-Sforza and other scholars.
These recent developments in mainstream genetics and anthropology have been utterly ignored by the conservative press, and have apparently played no part in the revival of hereditarian theory on the right. As a group, the neo-hereditarian thinkers look less like a school of dissident experts than like an eccentric and impassioned sect. None of the well-known hereditarian theorists has been formally trained in mathematical genetics, population biology or ecology. They tend to be amateurs who turn to armchair speculation about race and eugenics after careers in other fields (Shockley was a physicist, Herrnstein and Rushton were trained in psychology, Murray has a degree from mit in political science). They rely extensively and sometimes uncritically on one another's work. Rather in the manner of creationists, they are inclined to portray themselves as victimized martyrs of a "liberal" or "Marxist" scientific establishment. And -- by far the most important point -- almost all of the leading hereditarians have been supported financially by the same institutional benefactor.
Since the late 1960s, a little-known institution called the Pioneer Fund has been the major financial sponsor of the research of the major neo-hereditarian theorists. Among the recipients of Pioneer Fund grants (often hundreds of thousands of dollars) have been Jensen, who has argued that I.Q. tests prove the genetic inferiority of blacks; Shockley, promoter of a "sterilization bonus plan" deterring low-I.Q. people, disproportionately black, from reproducing; Robert Gordon, who argues that black-white differences in crime are closely correlated to black-white I.Q. differences; Ralph Scott, an educational psychology professor at the University of Northern Iowa who opposed busing on the basis of "genetic aspects of educability"; and Pearson, who, since the mid-1980s, has received more than $200,000 from the Pioneer Fund. Between 1986 and 1990, Rushton received more than $250,000.
In addition to supporting the research of scholars who argue for the innate intellectual inferiority of blacks, the Pioneer Fund has also subsidized the Federation for American Immigration Reform (fair), which supports immigration restriction, and an English-only advocacy group called U.S. English. (Former U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Linda Chavez resigned as president of U.S. English after the anti-Catholic and anti-Hispanic views of its founder became known.) During the past decade the Pioneer Fund has given more than half a million dollars to support "twin studies" at the University of Minnesota. The researchers at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research are investigating, among other things, possible genetic origins for professional aptitude, religious tolerance and even political radicalism. One of the directors of the Minnesota Center, psychologist Thomas J. Bouchard, co-authored a paper with Rushton in 1989 in which the two beneficiaries of Pioneer Fund grants argued that blacks are inherently more likely to get AIDS. The reason, Bouchard and Rushton claimed, is an inherited "reproductive strategy" that gives blacks a propensity to engage in promiscuous sex. All these authors are cited in the bibliography of Murray and Herrnstein's The Bell Curve.
What exactly is the Pioneer Fund? It was founded in 1937 with money from a textile tycoon, Wickliffe Draper, whose other projects included paying for the translation of eugenics texts from German into English (after World War II, Draper supported Senator Joseph McCarthy, opposed federal civil rights laws and favored the "repatriation" of black Americans to Africa). The Fund's stated purpose was to promote "race betterment" through the reproduction of descendants of "white persons who settled in the original thirteen colonies prior to the adoption of the Constitution and/or from related stocks." An early project was cash grants to pilots in the all-white U.S. Army Air Corps to encourage them to have more children. One of the Pioneer Fund's founders, Frederick Osborn, at one time president of the American Eugenics Society, described Nazi eugenic policy in 1937 as the "most important experiment which has ever been tried."
The central role of the Pioneer Fund in the neo-hereditarian movement makes the new support for these researchers on the part of the mainstream right all the more perplexing. Why are mainstream conservatives suddenly welcoming thinkers in this tainted tradition? The answer, I suggest, has less to do with changes in the American intellectual community or American society as a whole than with the ongoing transformation of American conservatism. In a remarkably short period of time, the broadly based, optimistic conservatism of the Reagan years, with its focus on the economy and foreign policy, has given way to a new "culture war" conservatism, obsessed with immigration, race and sex. This emergent post-cold war right has less to do with the Goldwater-Reagan right than with the older American right of Father Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith's Christian Nationalist Crusade. In its apocalyptic style as well as its apocalyptic obsessions, this newconservatism owes more to Pat Robertson and Patrick Buchanan than to William F. Buckley Jr. and Irving Kristol. The growing importance, within the Republican Party, of the Deep South no doubt also plays a role; Goldwater's and Reagan's Sun Belt conservatism is being rewritten in Southern Gothic style. Race, sex, breeding, class -- these are the classic themes of Tidewater reaction.
It is not surprising, then, that long-suppressed ideas about hereditary racial inequality are now re-emerging. Their entry, or rather their return, is made easier by the crumbling of taboos that has accompanied the popular backlash against the excesses of political correctness. The nastiest elements on the right now answer any criticism with the charge that they are victims of "p.c."
In addition to these general trends, the most important particular factor behind the rehabilitation of hereditarianism on the right may be the recent evolution of the debate among conservatives about race and poverty. For several years a right-wing backlash has been growing against the integrationism and environmentalism not of liberals, but of certain prominent conservatives. A few years ago, in a perceptive article for The American Spectator, David Frum identified two schools of thought among conservatives about poverty in general, and black urban poverty in particular. One school, whose major spokesman was Jack Kemp, believed that poor black Americans would respond to the proper economic incentives with entrepreneurial ardor. These conservatives stressed free-market reforms such as "enterprise zones" and the subsidized sale of public housing to tenants, reforms that, it was claimed, might break underclass dependency on a paternalistic state. The "culturalist" school, identified with thinkers like William Bennett and James Q. Wilson, were more impressed by signs of familial breakdown in the inner city and the perpetuation of a "culture of poverty." The ghetto poor could not be expected to take advantage of neweconomic opportunities unless their values changed first. When Frum wrote, a third school of pessimistic neo-hereditarians was not engaged in the debate; Kemp, Bennett and Wilson were environmentalists, finding the sources of black poverty elsewhere than in the inherited traits of poor blacks.
For all their differences, the free-marketeers and "culturalists" agreed that the problems of the black urban underclass could not be addressed without government activism. In effect, Kemp and Wilson (who has come to represent the "culturalist" school more than Bennett) had reasoned their way back to the conclusions of Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 about the need to address the black family breakdown through substantial social programs. The conservatives who had thought the most about race and poverty were arguing, in effect, for a conservative version of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. Whether it took the form of massive subsidies to public housing tenants or a national network of high-quality orphanages for the children of broken ghetto families, there would have to be government-backed social engineering on a grand scale. It soon became clear that a conservative war on poverty would be enormously expensive. In the Bush administration, conservative hate object Richard Darman actually led the struggle to defeat Kemp's proposals for higher spending on the urban poor. A national system of quality orphanages and boarding schools, of the kind that Wilson favors, would cost billions.
A call for activist government paid for by higher taxes to help the ghetto poor was not what most conservatives wanted to hear from their experts on urban poverty. Wilson's proposals probably never had a chance in the era of Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich and bitter Republican obstructionism. As for Kemp, the reaction against his "bleeding-heart, big-government" conservatism on the right was setting in even while he was still George Bush's secretary of housing and urban development. Conservatives who revered the hero of the Kemp-Roth tax cuts himself began to mutter about the new Kemp, the Kemp who was too eager to embrace big government -- and too soft on blacks.
The gradual isolation of Kemp within the conservative movement has probably ruined his presidential hopes. Empower America, founded as a springboard for his 1996 GOP presidential nomination, is slowly falling apart, with Vin Weber distancing himself. The marginalization of Kemp has been most clearly visible in National Review, which has criticized Kemp's views on immigration as too soft, and cast him as the defender of the black poor in a strange debate over whether there is a crime problem in America or just a "black crime" problem.
The crypto-nativist rationale for restricting high levels of immigration (there are other, non-nativist arguments) can only be strengthened by the fact that scholars as esteemed as Murray and Herrnstein fret over the danger posed by "an immigrant population with low cognitive ability." Not only must low-I.Q. immigrants be kept out, according to Herrnstein and Murray, but low-I.Q. native born Americans must be discouraged from reproducing. Though the authors of The Bell Curve refuse to endorse eugenic measures other than an end to welfare and easy access to contraceptives, the logic of their arguments points in the direction of the sterilization of the "feeble-minded," a policy common in the United States throughout most of this century.
It remains to be seen how far the eugenic enthusiasms of the neo-hereditarian right can go before they collide with conservative religious convictions. In the early twentieth century, advocates of eugenic sterilization (not only political conservatives, but liberals and socialists) found their most committed adversary in the Catholic Church. The employment of a distorted version of Darwinism in the defense of the economic and racial status quo is also problematic in light of the resolute anti-Darwinism of Protestant evangelicals. In the nineteenth century the most radical American racists tended to be secular intellectuals; the biblical account of the common origin and salvation of mankind prevented devout Protestant conservatives, no matter how bigoted, from treating the different races as separate species or subspecies. In what is surely one of the great ironies of our time, at the end of the twentieth century, as at the end of the nineteenth, the excesses encouraged by eugenic theory in the United States may only be checked within the conservative movement by the dogmas of resurgent fundamentalism.