Charles Murray & His Critics

Robert Royal, Crisis Magazine, July 1985.


What is it about Charles Murray’s Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980 (Basic Books, 1984) that has evoked such violent reactions? After initial shock at its publication last September, liberals have countered with a cataract of criticism. Socialist Michael Harrington denigrates Murray’s use of statistics as “shoddy scholarship.” Archbishop Rembert Weakland, chairman of the committee currently drafting the bishops’ pastoral letter on the U.S. economy, dismisses Murray’s social analysis as a “Malthusian” solution to the problem of poverty. Robert Kuttner, a contributing editor of The New Republic and author of a book that reaches conclusions opposed to Murray’s, best captures the growing reaction in other quarters: “It’s one of the few times liberals have successfully ganged up on a conservative… Here is somebody who was set up real big and shot down real big. You don’t get that every day…. Now it’s ‘Hold him so I can hit him again.’ ”

Charles Murray brings out the bully in normally tolerant and liberal magazine editors, as well he might, since his ideas have virtually monopolized Washington domestic policy debates. Washington Post editorial page editor Meg Greenfield was moved to complain that even casual arguments for modest governmental welfare efforts this legislative season were likely to result in the advocate being “Charles Murrayed:” “The simple invocation of the book’s existence will be taken as an answer to the question, even as an implied ‘policy choice.’ ”

Crisis Magazine