Moral Intelligence

Michael Young, National Review, December 5, 1994.


In its main outlines theirs is a story of progress. Intelligence—or cognitive ability, as they prefer to call it most of the time—seems to have swept almost all before it. “The United States led the rest of the world in opening colleges to a mass of young people of ability, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, and financial resources…. Scoring above 700 is forty times more concentrated in the freshman classes at Yale and Harvard than in the national SAT population at large.” After the 1950s, “The next three decades saw a great social leveling, as the executive suites filled with bright people who could maximize corporate profits, and never mind if they came from the wrong side of the tracks or worshipped at a temple instead of a church.” In Washington, “the top echelons of federal officialdom, special interest groups, think tanks, and the rest of Washington’s satellite institutions draw heavily from the cognitive elite…. Part 1 mostly described a success story—success for the people lucky enough to be part of the cognitive elite but also a success for the nation as a whole.”

The other side, the dark side, of America is also portrayed: the steep upward curve in the rates of divorce and illegitimacy, with people of low ability most affected; the crime that is tearing a free society apart, with criminals having lower IQs; the poverty that afflicts the “very dull”; the people on welfare, these too with lower IQs. We are presented with a society savagely stratified according to cognitive ability.

The strange thing is that the authors, ardent for the truth though they be, are not prepared to recognize that nothing has failed like their kind of success, because success has been judged so narrowly, by the criteria which they hold onto like dear life. They are more broad-minded than some of their colleagues in their definition of ability. They see merit in Howard Gardner’s seven distinct intelligences—linguistic, musical, spatial, etc. But neither he nor they admit even the possibility of the sort of “moral intelligence” which in my view characterized Roosevelt and Churchill.

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