“Intellectuals and Race“ by Thomas Sowell,
Basic Books, 2013, 184 pages, $25.99.
Thomas Sowell, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, is not a newcomer to the theme of intellectuals and race. In his 1985 Marxism: Philosophy and Economics he noted that Karl Marx referred to German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle as a “Jewish n–ger,” based on his “cranial formation” and hair growth. Marx also said that Lassalle’s paternal grandmother or mother was “crossed with a n–ger” and that “the fellow’s importunity is also n–ger-like.”
Sowell’s The Economics and Politics of Race, along other writings from a conservative viewpoint, drew attacks from the left. Columnist Carl Rowan compared Sowell to Vidkun Quisling and NAACP general counsel Thomas Atkins compared Sowell to “house n–gers” on the plantation. Lani Guinier, Clinton nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, even questioned Sowell’s blackness. The Harvard and Columbia grad, who earned a PhD from the University of Chicago, does not generally respond in kind to gratuitous abuse. But he was right, and justified, to say “I don’t need some half-white woman from Martha’s Vineyard telling me about being black.” Sowell also kept on writing thoughtful, well-researched books such as Intellectuals and Race.
Here he shows how supposedly “progressive” intellectuals championed eugenics out of fear of the “inferior” races. For progressive sociologist Edward Ross, black Americans were “several million of an inferior race.” Madison Grant, a progressive activist educated at Yale and Columbia, penned The Passing of the Great Race, which Hitler called his “bible.” Author Jack London, a socialist, held that “the inferior races must undergo destruction, or some humane form of economic slavery is inevitable.”
The hereditary-genetic mania gave way to a more liberal view that emphasized equal treatment regardless of race, color or creed. That approach, in turn, has been hijacked by the multicultural, politically correct vision that drives the “race industry.” As Sowell shows, it too stands at odds with reality, reducing individuals to a verbally collectivized “category” and worse.
In the race industry, whites who outperform blacks are simply unjust beneficiaries of past discrimination. Asians who outperform blacks and Hispanics are beneficiaries of “privilege.” Sowell shows how diversity dogma generally ignores discrimination against Asians and Jews, high achievers despite centuries of persecution in many countries.
In reality, “grossly uneven distributions of racial, ethnic and other groups in numerous fields of endeavor, have been common in countries around the world and for centuries of recorded history.” In the prevailing diversity view, all groups must be represented in all institutions according to their percentage of the population. Diversity dogmatists see numerical disparities between groups as ironclad proof of discrimination. Those accused of discrimination must in turn prove their innocence, a reversal of American legal practice.
In reality, Sowell shows, groups that have lagged behind have advanced themselves by various means, primarily hard work. But in the race industry accredited victims only advance by means of some government affirmative action program, code for racial preferences and quotas. Any problems with advancement “are due primarily, if not solely, to the malice of other people.” Sowell sees this leading to a “never-ending cycle of revenge, the Hatfields and the McCoys writ large, with a whole society caught in the crossfire.”
The race industry, enshrined in government and currently working three shifts, offers no evidence for the benefits of this diversity. It amounts to an “argument without argument” accompanied by “repetition, insistence and intimidation” from those who fancy themselves “thinking people.” At the same time, the intellectuals “pay no price for being wrong, no matter how wrong, or with what catastrophic consequences for millions of other people.” As an example he cites Hitler’s fondness for Madison Grant’s book, and intellectuals and academics spearheading the “mass slaughter” in Cambodia.
Intellectuals and Race also deconstructs what passes for the science of IQ testing. One army test included questions about the color of sapphires, the location of Cornell University, the profession of Alfred Noyes, and city in which the Pierce Arrow automobile was made. Sowell wonders “why such questions could be considered measures of either black or white intelligence,” and he finds no ceiling on the IQ of anyone. On the correlation between skin color and intelligence, Sowell quotes a tenth-century Muslim scholar who charged that Europeans grow paler the farther north you go, and that the “farther north the more stupid, gross and brutish they are.”
Greater than the sum of its parts, Intellectuals and Race deserves wide circulation but the race industry and its house intellectuals are likely to ignore it. As Sowell notes, the diversity dogmatists operate in a fact-proof caste system “sealing members of lagging groups within a bubble of their current habits and practices, much as believers in multiculturalism have sealed themselves within a bubble of peer-consensus dogma.”
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