“Nature knows no equality.”
—Luc de Varvenargues

For about four years before the publication of The Bell Curve last fall, occasional news reports dribbled out tidbits of information about the book and its coauthor. The stories were often pegged to Charles Murray’s departure from the neoconservative Manhattan Institute in 1990 because of the institute’s discomfort with his plans to research and publish on the verboten topic of racial differences in intelligence. When the book finally appeared, at almost exactly the same time as Philippe Rushton’s work on the evolution of racial differences, it was the immediate subject of extended and usually vituperative discussion in the country’s major newspapers Samuel Francis is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Washington Times. and magazines for a month or more—by which time it had ascended to the dubious but lucrative dignity of the best-sellers list. One of the remarkable features of the book’s reception was the utter vapidity and dishonesty of most of the criticism, which ranged from the merely stupid (e.g., Richard Neuhaus’ pompous comment in National Review that “society depends upon taboos and interdictions” and that therefore the authors should not have published their conclusions) to the outright vicious (e.g., the unfounded claim in the New Republic and the New York Review of Books, among other publications, that Herrnstein and Murray were, or had relied upon, “neo-Nazis” for their research). But the most remarkable feature of the commentary on The Bell Curve was that the obviously coordinated attacks on the book in several different places at almost the same time showed clearly that the national intellectual and verbalist class had been lying in ambush for it for months, if not for years.

The ambush, which on a lesser scale was also sprung on Rushton’s work, is understandable, since both books directly challenge the egalitarian and environmentalist ideologies on which the power of the liberal managerial state is founded. Unless the dogma that human beings and their behavior are almost completely the products of their social environment is accepted without question, then the central faith of the managerial state—the feasibility of the ameliorative planning, reconstruction, engineering, and management of social and economic institutions by centralized government—is in vain, and the apparatus of the state ceases to have any purpose other than the preservation of the political and cultural power of elites that depend on the apparatus. Obviously, then, the violation of taboos and interdictions was perceived not just as an intellectual faux pas but as a direct assault on the intellectual class itself and the mythologies that undergird its hegemony, just as much as a book published in the Soviet Union defending free market economics would have represented an assault on the communist hegemony. As the counterattacks on Murray and Herrnstein escalated, the vanguard of the managerial state looked increasingly like a trapped animal, whose desiderate and frightened eyes dart frantically for some means of escape.

The Herrnstein-Murray thesis is by now pretty well known. The authors argue that intelligence is real and not merely an artificial construct or an ill-defined popular term that has no objective foundation, that intelligence is significantly hereditary and only in part the product of environmental influences, and that intelligence is important because it goes far to determine not only success in life (as measured by educational and occupational achievement and income) but the manifestation or absence of various social pathologies and dysfunctions. They support these arguments by close statistical analysis of data pertaining to “cognitive ability” (intelligence) correlated with other data on socioeconomic status, childhood and educational background, criminal history, occupational achievement, and family formation. Through statistical analysis they argue that social dysfunctions (poverty, unemployment, injury rates, crime, broken families, child neglect and abuse, illegitimacy) are more closely correlated with low IQ than with socioeconomic status and that therefore low intelligence and not the social environment bears a causative relationship to these dysfunctions, just as higher IQ bears a causative relationship to successful social behavior.

Despite the hysteria that greeted The Bell Curve and its treatment of race and IQ, its chapters on those subjects are perhaps the most disappointing in the book. Herrnstein and Murray are in no sense racialists and in fact share all the common progressivist phobias about discussing race at all or using it as a concept. Thus, they seem uncertain that race even really exists as a valid biological category and rely on the circumlocution “ethnic” to avoid mentioning the subject as much as possible. “What does it mean to be ‘black’ in America, in racial terms,” they mutter, “when the word black (or African-American) can be used for people whose ancestry is more European than African?” In fact, they themselves answer this particular question later on in discussing the pioneering research on African IQ by Professor Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster at Coleraine. While the IQs of American blacks, whose genetic endowment contains a considerable Caucasian contribution due to past interracial breeding, are on average below the mean American white IQ by a significant 15 points (or one standard deviation in statistical jargon, on which Herrnstein and Murray rely too much), Lynn has found that the IQs of the less racially mixed African blacks are on average some 30 points below those of American whites. The meaning of race as a concept, that is, is not falsified by the existence of a racially mixed population in a particular country. Yet despite no small amount of hemming and hawing, the authors do acknowledge the reality of racial differences in intelligence and the hereditary basis of a major part of such differences. In general, however, The Bell Curve is not the best available introduction to the subject of racial differences in IQ. Arthur Jensen’s Straight Talk about Mental Tests, Daniel Seligman’s A Question of Intelligence, and Philippe Rushton’s new book are all easier to read and to follow, at least as thorough, and rather more compelling and straightforward than what Herrnstein and Murray have published. The Bell Curve‘s main contribution to racial psychometrics is simply that it has generated so much controversy and attention that it has effectively smashed the taboos surrounding the subject that so many on the left and their poodles on the right are eager to keep. After The Bell Curve controversy, discussion of race and government policies about race will be considerably more open and honest than before.

What Herrnstein and Murray do emphasize is their theory that American society is becoming increasingly stratified by intelligence, with the social segregation and polarization of high and low IQs in a way that threatens the historically liberal character of the country. The emergence of a “cognitive elite” monopolizing high social, economic, and political positions may lead to the construction of what the authors call a “custodial state” that will be increasingly authoritarian and even racist, perceiving the stupid, socially pathological, racially different, and resentful cognitive proletariat beneath it both as a threat and as an object of fear.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) they do not prove this thesis, and there seem to be several gaps in their case for it. In the first place, modern technological societies are hardly the first in which high intelligence has led to high social position; this has been true in earlier, premodern, and ancient societies as well. In the second place, in neither premodern nor modem societies is intelligence the only source of social stratification, and in ours as in other societies there will continue to be highly intelligent people who do not do particularly well in life because of personality, circumstance, constraints on opportunities, and other unavoidable barriers to upward mobility, as well as not-so-bright people who rise to the top.

Moreover, of all the social problems this country faces, the prospect of being ruled by people who are too intelligent is surely not one of them. The bureaucratization of modern society in fact means that people move upward in organizations by showing that they are able to think and perform according to established routines, not by being creative or innovative, and the major problem to which The Bell Curve points is what the authors call “dysgenesis”: the downward pressure on the distribution of cognitive ability in the United States caused by (a) the failure of high IQ people to reproduce adequately, (b) the high fertility rates of low IQ groups, and (c) the immigration of low IQ groups into the country in recent years. “About 57 percent of legal immigrants in the 1980s came from ethnic groups that have scores significantly below the white average, and in consequence the IQ mean for all immigrants is likely to be below 100,” they write. The dysgenic trend, not an oligarchy of the smart, is the real danger that the book’s conclusions yield.

The political and policy prescriptions that Herrnstein and Murray recommend are ambiguous. Though they claim an allegiance to the Jeffersonian and Federalist principles of the Framers, a number of their concrete recommendations advance in somewhat revised forms the egalitarian and statist policies of this century. Thus, while they advocate the “ending of affirmative action as currently practiced,” the suggestion is not quite as radical as they seem to think. They actually endorse “returning to the original conception of affirmative action,” which they see as ensuring that as many qualified racial minorities as possible are recruited to universities and high-skill jobs. In general, Herrnstein and Murray are willing to accept without much question a good many egalitarian, redistributionist, and statist preconceptions, and it is impossible to read this book without recalling once more James Burnham’s insight about neoconservatives—that though they may have broken with much of the formal doctrine of the left, they still retain the “gestalt of liberalism” and have not yet purged themselves of its moral and psychic reflexes. Nevertheless, Herrnstein and Murray do make a powerful general case against egalitarianism and for a considerably reduced level of government interference in market and social relationships, even if several of their specific policy proposals seem to contradict their general principles.

The Bell Curve is an important book, but its importance accrues mainly from the controversy it has generated and the taboos it has shattered, not from its intrinsic merits. The authors’ curious unwillingness to go beyond what their number-crunching substantiates on some subjects, coupled with their speculative leaps about the future shape of American society, their compulsion to qualify every generalization, their equivocations about race, their timidity at the prospect of being accused of any sort of antiliberalism, and their persistent allegiance to essentially egalitarian values and the political structures based on them, makes their long-awaited work more of a disappointment than it needed to be.

The same cannot be said of Professor Rushton’s Race, Evolution, and Behavior. A well-respected psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, Rushton has been vilified repeatedly in the Canadian press, hounded by left-wing mobs, denounced by government ministers, and threatened with the loss of his job and even with prosecution under Canada’s notorious Race Relations law, all because he has publicly discussed the existence of racial differences. Given that background, one might approach his new book with a suspicion that it is an inflammatory political tract, but such is not the case. Instead, it is a far more sober and serious work of scholarship than that of Herrnstein and Murray, though in some parts more technical in exposition.

Rushton is less concerned to prove the existence of genetic differentiations among the human races than he is to explain in evolutionary terms why the differences exist at all. Hence, he begins with an exhaustive account of those differences as well as of the genetic bases of a number of different kinds of human behavior. Drawing on his own research as well as on the pioneering study of separately raised identical twins conducted by Thomas Bouchard of the University of Minnesota, he documents significant hereditary correlations for such behavioral traits as altruism and aggression, activity level, criminality, dominance, emotionality, sexuality, psychopathology, and even attitudes (including political and religious beliefs), as well as intelligence. These correlations are independent of racial identity. He also surveys racial differences, physical as well as mental and behavioral, including brain and cranial sizes, testosterone levels, and genital forms. The evidence for mental differences between the races is no longer merely psychological but now includes Arthur Jensen’s studies of reaction times, which imply a neurological basis for intelligence, and of magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, which gives a far more accurate estimate of brain size than the older external measurements of the skull. Rushton, following the research of other scientists, finds a consistent pattern of racial differentiation, with whites ranking intermediate to Orientals and blacks on such traits as “industriousness, activity, sociability, rule following, strength of the sex drive, genital size, intelligence, and brain size.” He also cites evidence, less conclusive but “surely worthy of study,” of racial differentiation in rhythm, body odor, depth of voice, bone density, and muscular and biochemical physiology that may help account for black athletic superiority in certain sports involving running and jumping.

In his evolutionary explanation of these differences, Rushton relies on Edward O. Wilson’s sociobiological work, adapting Wilson’s distinction between “K-selection” species, the genetic traits of which are selected for survival in stable environments in which heavy competition can be expected, and “r-selection” species, the traits of which are selected for unstable.environments in which competition is not heavy. The behavioral differences between K-selection and r-selection species are mainly that the former, at least among mammals, tend to have larger brains, longer lives, and fewer offspring, for which they care intensively, while r-selected species tend to have smaller brains, shorter lives, higher fecundity, and to care less for their young. Although Wilson developed the concepts of K-selection and r-selection with regard to different species, Rushton argues that they may also apply to subspecies and that Orientals tend to be the most K-selecting of the human subspecies, whites to be intermediate K-selectors, and blacks to be the least K-selective. The physical, mental, and behavioral attributes of the three races as Rushton and others have described them would seem to fit this arrangement of their tendencies toward or away from K-selection.

Unlike Herrnstein and Murray, Rushton is not in the least equivocal about the reality of race. “The view that race is only a social construct is contradicted by biological evidence. Along with blood protein and DNA data . . . forensic scientists are able to classify skulls by race,” and in this he follows the common sense of scientific biology. “Race” is merely a term applied to human subspecies, and the concept of subspecies in biology and taxonomy is no more controversial than among laymen who readily distinguish between collies and German shepherds, Siamese and Persians. Dog and cat races, of course, are artificially created by breeders, but races/subspecies exist in nature as well. J.R. Baker in his classic study Race (Oxford, 1974) discussed for several pages the “racial differences” that all biologists acknowledge to exist among the different subspecies of the European crested newt (Triturus cristatus). Only when such distinctions are applied to human populations do biologists buckle; and, as became obvious in the reception given to Herrnstein, Murray, and Rushton, their buckling is driven mainly by a self-serving ideology of egalitarianism and environmentalism, not by science.

Rushton follows the theory put forward by Richard Lynn and others that racial differences between human subspecies evolved during the Ice Ages, when the ancestors of the white race in prehistoric Europe found themselves confronted with a hostile environment that never existed in sub-Saharan Africa. “Thus, the cognitive demands of manufacturing sophisticated tools and making fires, clothing, and shelters (as well as regulating the storage of food . . . ) would have selected for higher average intelligence levels than in the less cognitively demanding environment in sub-Saharan Africa. Those individuals who could not solve these problems of survival would have died out, leaving those with alleles for higher intelligence as the survivors.” Orientals faced somewhat different survival problems in northern Asia, where extreme cold favored selection for the Asian superiority to whites in visuospatial skills but not for verbal skills, for which Asians test somewhat lower than whites. Already in prehistoric times, a “cognitive elite” had developed within the human species.

Unlike Herrnstein and Murray, Rushton has no political agenda, but he does conclude his book with a critique of egalitarianism that the vilification specialists who denounce him would be well advised to consider. Their universal refrain is that any attention to racial realities and differentiations will lead ineluctably to gas chambers and genocide. Rushton puts the shoe on the other foot. “Scientific theories,” he writes, “do not cause people to commit murder. Nonetheless, all ideas can be used to justify hatred. But here, religious and egalitarian ideas have just as bad a history. The Reign of Terror following the French Revolution (1789) and the 70 years of communist dictatorship following the Russian Revolution (1917) show how readily idealism can be perverted. Thus, it is totalitarianism in the service of fanaticism that causes people to be murdered, not theories of human nature.” For their part, Herrnstein and Murray express a similar idea near the end of their own book:

The egalitarian ideal of contemporary political theory underestimates the importance of the differences that separate human beings. It fails to come to grips with human variation. It overestimates the ability of political interventions to shape human character and capacities. The systems of government that are necessary to carry out the egalitarian agenda ignore the forces that the Founders described in The Federalist, which lead inherently and inevitably to tyranny, throughout history and across cultures. These defects in the egalitarian tradition are reflected in political experience, where the failure of the communist bloc to construct happy societies is palpably apparent and the ultimate fate of even the more benign egalitarian model in Scandinavia is coming into question.

Egalitarians, in other words, hardly have a monopoly on virtue and are in a rather weak position to preach to their adversaries about the evils that follow from denying human and racial equality, let alone to demand that those adversaries be silenced by smears, intimidation and even legal prosecution. Had the egalitarians ever once shown a bit more humility about the murderous and repressive doctrine they and their ideological cousins have inflicted on all races for the last two centuries, then we might be more inclined to listen to the baying of. their pack against the scientific critics of equality. Until they do, the rest of us should work to liberate our minds, our civilization, and our people from the destruction they have caused. Whatever their flaws, the works of Rushton, Herrnstein, and Murray are good places to begin.


[The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray (New York: The Free Press) 845 pp., $30.00]

[Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective, by J. Philippe Rushton (New Brunswick Transaction Publishers) 334 pp., $34.95]