Living with Inequality

Eugene D. Genovese, National Review, December 5, 1994.


The Bell Curve has much to offer. Its excellent analysis of the transformation of the American elite deserves high praise and a many-sided elaboration and critique, as do its cautious and modest proposals for reforms that, happily, do not fit any particular ideological pigeonhole. And the authors get three cheers for their ruthless exposure of the powers that be who cynically preach antielitism while they practice a sinister elitism that assaults our family life, educational institutions, and political culture. Whether we can build on the constructive efforts of The Bell Curve will depend heavily on our willingness to separate wheat from chaff and, especially, to challenge the book’s incoherent treatment of race.

For incoherent it is. Herrnstein and Murray begin by rejecting “race” as a category that will not stand scientific analysis—as a category at best useless and at worst pernicious. They then go on for more than eight hundred pages to explore the ramifications of the category they have rejected. They use sleight of hand, speaking throughout of “ethnicity.” Well then, why do they lump all blacks together? Where, apart from a few inadequate and unhelpful remarks, do we find an examination of the ethnic differences among blacks in, say, performance on IQ tests? And the same criticism could be extended to the treatment of whites, not all of whom might respond to other comparisons with the equanimity they show for comparisons involving blacks. Personally, I am pleased to be told that blacks are not as smart as Sicilians, but I would not recommend that anyone try to tell me that Sicilians are not as smart as WASPs or Jews.

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