Much to the relief of Conservatism Inc. apparatchiks, the eminently presentable if bland Charles Murray is becoming Free Speech’s Poster Boy as the embattled and definitely unbland Milo Yiannopoulos takes a semester-long sabbatical from his college tour. The problem: Murray is notably hesitant to defend free speech, even to the point of censoring himself.
Earlier this month, Murray attempted to give a speech at Middlebury College that protesters shut down, forcing him to give it by video (which they shouted down). The mob also assaulted Murray and Middlebury professor Allison Stanger, giving her a concussion.
Last week, Murray gave speeches at New York University, Duke, and Columbia, attracting a lot of Main Stream Media attention and some protesters, but no riots. Establishment journalists are celebrating this development. New York Times token conservative Ross Douthat tweeted that
Memo to campus conservative groups: When issuing invites this year, better to brave/provoke a mob for Charles Murray than for Milo.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) March 3, 2017
The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers wrote an op-ed on March 6 called “Forget Milo Yiannopoulos. Charles Murray is the free-speech martyr to pay attention to,” arguing that “In the simplest terms: Murray . . .has ideas to debate; Yiannopoulos . . . does not”.
Murray may have “ideas to debate,” but he has avoided the specific debatable idea that has led to all the controversy: that there are likely significant genetic causes for racial differences in intelligence, which Murray explicated in his 1994 book with the late Richard Herrnstein, The Bell Curve.
Middlebury students held signs like, “No Eugenics” and “Scientific racism = Racism.” Protest organizer Elizabeth Dunn told reporters they would not accept “racist, misogynistic, eugenist opinions being expressed at our college.” The Columbia protesters’ signs screamed "No free speech for racists" and "Racist pseudoscience not welcome."
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However, at these campus lectures, Murray has only spoken about his 2012 book Coming Apart, which discusses dysfunction among the white working class.
And while Murray will not aggressively defend his views on race and IQ, he has been eager to virtue-signal his agreement with Establishment conventional wisdom in other areas. After the Middlebury melee, Murray said “as someone who has written pretty explicitly about my disapproval of Trump”, he “can sympathize” with “this rage on campuses about Donald Trump.” [A conservative author tried to speak at a liberal arts college, by Peter Holley, Washington Post, March 4, 2017]. At Columbia Murray called Trump “a despicable man” and condemned the Alt Right as “terrible” and “racist.” [‘Bell Curve’ Author Gets Muted Response at Columbia and N.Y.U., by Kate Taylor, New York Times, March 23, 2017]
Shockingly, Murray even supported banning Milo Yiannopoulos from campus because “it’s appropriate to say that on a college campus, you must use evidence and logic and be civil. I would say that someone like Milo Yiannopoulos does not meet those stipulations.” Since when have these criteria applied to Leftists? [The New College Protest, by Laura McKenna, The Atlantic, March 7, 2017]
Many of Murray’s critics point to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ludicrous claim that he was a “White Nationalist.” He posted a third-person annotated response to its profile of him on the AEI website, repeatedly downplaying his belief in genetic causes for IQ with tidbits like
We talk about the “marketplace of ideas” not “the marketplace of people who have ideas.” Provoking Social Justice Warriors while avoiding the very issue that triggers them may raise a lot of money for the American Enterprise Institute, but does nothing to fight the taboos.
In fairness, Murray (and Hernnstein, who may have been the driving force) took a huge risk with The Bell Curve, although it was well within settled science in the psychometrics academic catacomb. Murray has written a dozen books and monographs on different topics in the 23 years since The Bell Curve. And, as he repeatedly and rightly points out, the subject of race was not the main focus of the book, which dealt mainly with the effects of IQ differences within the white community.
However, at the end of the day, Charles Murray has eloquently argued that
It’s understandable that Murray does not want a few pages of a 23 year-old book to define him. However, like a classic rock band on a reunion tour, the fans want hear the hits, not just new material.
Murray will speak at Notre Dame on Tuesday, his fourth campus appearance in eight days. As far as I can tell, he is not a regular on the undergraduate lecture circuit and he is making these speeches to stand up to the Social Justice Warriors and Political Correctness commissars.
However, if Murray does not vocally defend the very views that they want to censor, they have won—regardless of whether a few freaks actually have to interrupt his lecture.
Alexander Hart (email him) is a conservative journalist.