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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

celebrating inequality? « Previous | |Next »
August 6, 2007

I see that the political Right is becoming more open and public in its core beliefs. So we have American political scientist Charles Murray, who will address a Centre for Independent Studies ideas forum, In Praise of Elitism, next Monday, is reported in The Australian as saying:

Australians talk about this tall-poppy syndrome without understanding where it comes from. It is based on the idea that we're all equal. Well, I've got news for you -- we're not all equal and the sooner we accept that, the better. There's nothing wrong with being elitist and we need to come to terms with that and embrace it."

Murray's position is simple. Inequality is good. Inequality is natural and intelligence is hereditary. By not accepting that we are embracing the second rate and so doing nothing excellence. This is conservatism, not libertarianism, since liberalism has held that equality is a basic or core value of the liberal tradition along with freedom.

Murray, who is a scholar in the W.H. Brady Program in Culture and Freedom at the American Enterprise Institute, is known for arguing that that women lack the evolutionary genetic intelligence to master the highest levels of mathematics and the hard sciences, that whites are intellectually superior to Blacks and that Blacks were by nature more likely to "fail" in society and that welfare needs to be abolished because it encourages women with low intelligence to sprout children who are in turn not likely to be very bright.

How does this relate to an Australia that celebrates egalitarianism along with freedom?

The CIS certainly takes a negative view of Australia. In its blurb for the conference it says that universities are ‘dumbed down’ as entry standards are diluted. Politicians appeal to blatant self-interest as they compete for the votes of an apolitical and uninformed electorate. Television is engaged in a race to the bottom, and the internet (once hailed as the harbinger of the rebirth of Athenian democracy) is full of hard pornography. Has barbarism now triumphed over enlightenment?, it asks.

Presumably, elitism is the conservative answer to this dumbing down tendency in postmodern capitalism. As Murray says:

Whether we like it or not, the future of our culture lies in the hands of the people at the top of the IQ bracket.These young people are not being pushed at all and that's what worries me the most. They are bright but they have no idea what it is to be rigorous. For instance, way too many people are going to university. Statistically, only 15 to 20 per cent are able to deal with a college education, unless, of course, it's not a genuine college education and it's dumbed down. And that's what we have right now, certainly in the US.

Murray holds that believes the education system, as it stands, is a disaster.
We all know that but it's especially a disaster for above-average students. What amazes me is this de-emphasis we have in schools now on learning. This should be the reason kids are there but instead they are asked only to express themselves. They are not expected to interpret correctly but rather they are asked what they feel about the material. This is so harmful for their intellectual development. You never have the right answer because all answers are right. Everyone gets an award at school, no matter how undeserved. But I'll tell you something, kids know; they understand what's going on. This constant praise produces measurably lower self-esteem because kids know they haven't deserved the praise.

It goes deeper than nurturing elitism. What of the non-elite? Murray, and some members of CIS, hold that government programs to help the poor did more harm than good and should be abolished. Poverty, according to Murray, isn't the result of plant shutdowns or layoffs, the boom-and-bust cycles of capitalism or even racial and sexual discrimination. Rather, said Murray, some people are too irresponsible to better themselves. The problem is simple: inferior poor people marry other inferior poor people and produce even more inferior poor children.

They argue that unless the permanent welfare class begins to exhibit certain behavioral changes like finishing high school, like getting married and like being in the workforce, you are going to have an expanding welfare class or underclass which will by the turn of the century be a considerable segment of the population.

But how can an "underclass" that is viewed as being poor because of inferior mental capacity be transformed into a productive, useful -- and profitable -- segment of the working class? Won't "those people" need support, counseling, training, supervision -- and discipline? Won't they need a whole structure to promote those "certain behavioral changes"?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:41 AM | | Comments (10)


We are all different yet, in many ways, the world over, so much the same.

Surely we can recognize excellence and high achievement without making those who fall short of it feel inadequate or inferior.

One's genetic inheritance, however bountiful or deficient, should not be used as a label.

Australians do recognize sporting excellence and they value everydayor amateur sport highly.

Isnt the AEI living (or rather dead), proof of the failure of the USA education system altogether. Quite literally a contemporary Mordor---full of benighted ghouls and the breeding ground of psychotic crazies.

Representing the "triumph" of the abstract left brained reductionist thinking. The kind of thinking that asserts that global capitalism is the most advanced form of "culture" ever seen on the planet and is indeed part of "god's" plan for humankind as a whole.

Never mind that global capitalism has(inevitably) ground most of (until now) existing culture to rubble and brought the entire planet to the brink of both cultural & ecological meltdown!

As Alisdair MacIntyre said "the barbarians have been inside the gates for a long time now" ---or something like that.

Much sympathy for prevous comments.
The way to end dumbing down is to further retreat into a fantasy world of Nietzschean snobbery, self indulgent escapist and defeatist acquiescence along with unreflexive and reactive morbid compulsive self-alibiing that drives reactionary dumbing down as the political manifestation of the bourgeois mentality . Greed is dignified as prudence, sex and enjoyment rather than self abnegation through work are seen as lazinesss and filth, and self loathing and self repression fire the disillusion that drives an excuse-laden and scapegoat-seeking blame the victim mindset.
Following, resulting policies
replicate a barbaric civilisation as the Dr. Haneef, W.......s and Indigenous Affairs farces amply demostrate. Let alone Iraq, World poverty and globalisation at the macro.

A bit off topic in some sense, but it relates to my comments re the AEI.

Have you seen reports or reviews of the new book by Alan Dershowitz Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence.

The AEI is one of the key institutions pushing this theme about the alleged Christian origins of the USA founding fathers, and how the USA is therefore bound to return to these "roots". One of the key proponents of this humbug is the highly influential (at least in his own mind) Michael Novack. Remarkably he won the Templeton Prize for promoting religious understanding a few years back. Yet if you read his stuff it so uninformed---a combination of Norman Rockwell and Sunday school homilies.

I know little about the kind of American conservatism represented by W.H Brady. The research area blurb at the AEI site does not help much.

Is it libertarianism? Social conservatism that is anti- left or social liberalism? A political conservatism that is opposed to liberalism?

What I know is that the AEI is fighting the culture war, focusing on the politicization of American universities and the maligning of Western civilization by campus theorists "addicted to French or German ideas that have no relevance to American culture."

It also defends great art and literature in oppostion to the the mediocrity and triviality of current popular culture, which is the entire cultural landscape of the young; the decline of public education into feel-good humanitarianism; and the liberal politicization of the arts and public broadcasting.

These are similar themes here in Australia, so I guess there must be some overlap between the Australian conservative think tanks (CIS+IPA) and magazines (Quadrant) and the American ones. But I do not know the differences between the AEI and the Heritage Foundation --I'll have to dig around a bit.

Charles Murray's new plan is to replace the welfare state. He argues that America, despite its wealth and prospertity still has millions of people without comfortable retirements, without adequate health care, and living in poverty. Only a government can spend so much money so ineffectually. The solution is to give the money to the people.

Murray's Plan, a radical new approach to social policy, eliminates all welfare transfer programs at the federal, state, and local levels and substituting an annual $10,000 cash grant to everyone age twenty-one or older.

So it is libertarian---along the lines of the voucher proposals of Milton Friedman.The welfare state is the big problem as it is big government.

The social policy work of Peter Saunders at the CIS is along similar lines. We have become hooked on welfare. The United States is held up as the role model for how to kick the habit.

I see that Michael Novak is also a scholar at the AEI, where he researches three systems of the free society--the free polity, the free economy, and the culture of liberty--and their springs in religion and philosophy.

Presumably religion here is coded as Catholic, as anti-Vatican 2 progressivism, as thw worl being meaningless without religion and secular ethics being relativism. Kinda like Tony Abbott's position? Is that how you understand Novak?

Novak's Washington's God shows that throughout his career, Washington held fast to the conviction that America's liberty was dependent on our faithfulness to God's will and our trust in Providence. So Novak argues that Washington was a man with deeply held religious values his religion guided his governance.

I'm not sure how this is relevant to today's debates about the role of faith in government in the US. Presumably Novak is arguing for natural law and that natural law underpins the US constitution?

Murray is "The Bell Curve" co-author isn't he?
Check out Stephen J. Gould's demolition job on that.
"The Mismeasure of Man".

Sounds like a lot of grumpy east coast Hobbesian neo-con stuff. Not much libertarianism if the God bit is there. Of course getting rid of the welfare state relates a bit to libertarianism and Locke, but that's more neolib, isn't it?
Love the manifest destiny stuff, if its actually there. Where would Huntingdon, or the televangelists fit in with this sort of gear? Suppose the latter would be too populist?