The Reality of "Race Realism"

And why it's the worst possible way to fight "wokeness”

Amidst concerns that America’s social justice revolution threatens liberalism’s foundational values of pluralism and free debate, controversial social scientist Charles Murray charges into the fray with a new book titled Facing Reality: Two Truths about Race in America. Murray, 78, says he has written the book because he believes the American experiment is in danger, its foundational principles threatened by identity politics. Unlike, I suspect, most of Murray’s critics, I agree with him that the “woke” threat to liberalism is real. But Murray’s prescriptions amount to destroying the village in order to save it.

Here, I should pause to acknowledge that I have only read excerpts from Facing Reality, as well as two detailed and at least somewhat sympathetic reviews: Robert Verbruggen’s for National Review and Razib Khan’s for Quillette. I also watched a 90-minute interview with Murray by Coleman Hughes, who was critical but respectful and gave Murray every opportunity to explain his views. (Hughes, who is black, is also a strong critic of progressive racial politics.) 

The interview convinced me that Murray’s project is an utter train wreck. That was before I saw some of his latest forays into Twitter polemics, more on which later.

(Another disclaimer: I have met Murray several times—going back to 1990, when we were both at a Cato Institute conference in Moscow—and have had several brief, cordial email exchanges with him on professional matters.)

The racial difference discourse in some segments of what one may call the “anti-woke” or “heterodox” community is a tough subject—both because of how fraught the underlying issues are and because this discourse has been a target of “cancel culture” in ways that raise legitimate concerns about free exchange of ideas. Murray himself was not only shouted downbut physically mobbed at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2017 (when giving a talk on a non-race-related topic). Last year, psychologist Bo Winegard’s contract was not renewed at Marietta College in Georgia, which he attributes to an email campaign targeting his writings about human biological variation (Marietta says it does not publicly explain internal decisions on contract renewal). In England in 2019, Noah Carl was terminated by St. Edmund’s College at Cambridge after protests related to his research on ethnicity and behavior. (The college said that Carl’s work violated “established criteria for research ethics and integrity” and that the way in which he presented his ideas had a “detrimental effect” on the campus atmosphere; his supporters say that the charges were vague and Carl was fired for “thoughtcrime.”) Podcaster and author Sam Harris has been attacked as a racist merely for platforming Murray and allowing a discussion of his views on race and intelligence (which have been a lightning rod since his 1994 book, The Bell Curve). All this, I believe, should be disturbing to anyone who values intellectual freedom.

But I also believe the “heterodox” discussion of race, cognition and behavior—whether you want to call it “human biodiversity” or “race realism,” a term perhaps echoed in the title of Murray’s new book—often…

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