“Scientific racism” is on the rise on the right. But it’s been lurking there for years.
“[Geert] Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” Iowa Rep. Steve King tweeted earlier this month, referring to the far-right Dutch nationalist. “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
In 1990, Charles Murray was forced to change jobs. He’d spent the 1980s at the Manhattan Institute, where he wrote his influential book Losing Ground, which argued that government-directed social welfare programs increase poverty and should be cut. The book, popular within the Reagan administration, provided a social science justification for deep welfare cuts.
But then Murray clashed with the conservative think tank’s leadership over his next project: a study on race and IQ. The general tenor of the project was easy enough to guess, even in its early stages.
Murray was partnering with Richard Herrnstein, a Harvard psychologist who in 1971 published a piece on IQ in the Atlantic, in which he argued that a society without a strict class structure would soon become an intellectual aristocracy, with high-IQ people clustered at top and low-IQ people at bottom. Herrnstein believed this was already happening in the United States, as high-IQ people increasingly married one another, creating a growing divergence from low-IQ Americans.
Herrnstein was focused on social status, not race, in evaluating IQ differences, but believed that it would be easy enough to devise a study that tested for a connection between IQ and race. Twenty years later, he found a social scientist eager to explore the issue: Murray.
Murray and Herrnstein’s book, The Bell Curve, was published in 1994, generating immediate controversy for its arguments that IQ was heritable, to a significant degree, and unchangeable to that extent; that it was correlated to both race and to negative social behaviors; and that social policy should take those correlations into account. Stuffed full of charts and equations, the book was, according to Murray, , “social science pornography.” With that description, he had intended to underscore that the book was teeming with data and regression tables. But given that most pornography is an expression of the fantasy life of white men, it was more on the nose than Murray knew.
… Which brings us back to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s claim that Murray is a white nationalist. Is The Bell Curve a work of white nationalism? It’s an arguable question. The term is imprecise, and there are better descriptors. The Bell Curve is racist in the most literal sense: It organizes people by race, treating racial categories as real and fixed and associating particular genetic and social characteristics to those groups.
But it is also social Darwinist, arguing that genetic traits, like intelligence, lead to good or bad societies, and that the bad genes are concentrated not just in particular racial groups but in certain socioeconomic groups. In short, the black and white poor alike are poor because they are genetically disposed to be so by their low intelligence. …
Nicole Hemmer, a Vox columnist, is the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. She is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and co-host of the Past Present podcast.
I wrote in 2014 in Taki’s Magazine on the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Bell Curve:
The gap that The Bell Curve documented nearly a generation ago is still the subject of Establishment obsession. In 2002, Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush got together to solve The Gap by passing the No Child Left Behind law, which legally mandated that by the spring of this year every public school student in America would be above average.
Or something. Nobody seems to agree on how it’s supposed to work, but it has to work, right? Otherwise The Bell Curve will be right, and that’s just wrong.
In truth, The Bell Curve is essentially a book about the growth of inequality, the evolution of a self-perpetuating elite that can verbally bafflegab any rivals for power.