Charles Murray.
Southern Poverty Law Center
profile / culture

The White Man, Unburdened

How Charles Murray stopped worrying and learned to love racism.
In yet another rebuke to the idea of intellectual progress, many of us have grown up with Charles Murray. Our childhood memories of The Bell Curve controversy inter-splice with scenes from the O.J. Simpson trial, which overlapped with the book almost directly, and the Rodney King beating, which preceded the book by a couple of years. Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias, both of whom have written about Murray recently, were ten and thirteen when the book came out. Probably neither one dreamed of growing up to fight the IQ wars afresh two decades into the next millennium—nor could they have anticipated that Coming Apart, Murray’s recent impressionistic mashup of Bobos in Paradiseand The Big Sort, would gain cachet as an early augury of the Donald Trump era. (Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff floated it in 2014 as a potential source for her own “big idea.”)

In today’s flattened-out political landscape, where this or that right-wing provocateur of the moment engages in endless, Sisyphean combat with an allegedly omnipotent liberal cultural elite, Murray has once again applied for intellectual martyrdom. A generation after The Bell Curve’s counter-empirical contention that racial differences in average intelligence were largely impervious to improvement, making “differences in genes” the crucial determinant of life outcomes, he has once again positioned himself as a brave teller of uncomfortable truths.

On the center right, any hostility to Murray is taken as a symbol of all that’s wrong with “politically correct” intellectual inquiry. The tumult during Murray’s appearance at Middlebury College in March of 2017 and the chaos during Milo Yiannopoulos’s ill-fated star turn at the University of California, Berkeley, were milestones of a year when free speech trolls provoked counter-responses on campus and then trumpeted their own victimization. Murray is a patriarch in the right-wing troll family tree.
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