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The Intellectual Grenades of Charles Murray


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Will he still shift the grounds of debate as he eases into retirement?

Matthew Continetti

Jan. 11 2018

For the packed house at the American Enterprise Institute on the evening of January 8, Charles Murray needed no introduction. We were there to celebrate the 75th birthday of the author of Losing Ground, The Bell Curve, and Coming Apart and to mark his transition to emeritus status at the center-right think tank where he has spent the last 27 years. But this party also had a twist. It was Murray, the guest of honor, who had brought a gift: a spellbinding address reflecting on his career, work, thought, and grim view of the American future.

“My whole career has been one wrong answer after another as far as the left is concerned,” Murray joked. He described growing up in Newton, Iowa, and his roots in Middle America. When he arrived as a freshman at Harvard in September 1961, he said, he was somewhat estranged from the manners and norms of East Coast university life. “A part of me always felt like an outsider and still does.” Four years later, he left Massachusetts for Thailand. He spent some six years there, first as a Peace Corps volunteer and later as a social scientist. “I basically missed the ’60s,” he said.


As I left AEI, I couldn’t help thinking that Murray’s pessimism was somewhat at odds with other remarks he had made during his valedictory address. He admitted he was “strategically optimistic” because he found it unthinkable that young people used to the freedom of the digital age would submit to government control and standardization. “Sooner or later, the wheel is going to come around.” The social sciences, he went on, are about to be revolutionized by findings in neuroscience and genetics. It will be a thrilling moment.

What he is far too modest to observe is that this youthful remnant of social scientists toiling away in the dark will have something Charles Murray did not: the power of his example.

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