restricted access 84 Brave New Right
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84 Brave New Right MICHAE L LIND The controversy about The Bell Curve is not about The Bell Curve only. It is about the sudden and astonishing legitimation, by the leading intellectuals and journalists of the mainstream right, of a body of racialist pseudoscience created by a small group of researchers, most of them subsidized by the hereditarian Pioneer Fund. The Bell Curve is a layman's introduction to this material, which had been repudiated by the responsible right for a generation. Whatever the leaders of mainstream conservatism may claim now, in the seventies and eighties they themselves, and not merely the "politically correct" left, repudiated the kind of arguments that Herrnstein and Murray make. After the civil rights revolution, the mainstream conservative movement, though continuing to engage in covert appeals to racial resentments on the part of white Americans, was more or less successfully purged of the vestiges of pseudoscientific racism (which, it should be recalled, had been just as important as states'-rights arguments in the resistance to desegregation). By the Reagan years, the right, under the influence of neoconservatives in particular, seemed to have permanently rejected its white-supremacist past. With the zeal of recent converts, mainstream conservatives claimed to be defending the ideals of color blind sixties liberalism, of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Hubert Humphrey, against those who would betray those ideals by promulgating racial quotas and multicultural ideology. Talk of black and Hispanic racial inferiority was relegated to the far-right fringe. During the entire period that the right was free from pseudoscientific racism, a few scholars like Arthur J Jensen and William Shockley were nevertheless arguing that blacks as a group are intellectually inferior to whites by nature. As far back as 1971, Herrnstein set off a firestorm with his article "IQ" in The Atlantic Monthly. Much of the dubious research on which The Bell Curve rests was accumulated in the seventies and eighties. Why did Herrnstein and Murray-with Phillipe Rushton and other neo-hereditarians in their train-take conservatism by storm in 1994, rather than 1984, or 1974? Why are mainstream conservatives suddenly welcoming the revival of eugenic theory, after several decades in which they rejected anything redolent of pseudoscientific racism? The answer has less to do with new scholarly support for hereditarianism or changes in American society as a whole than with the ongoing transformation of the American conservative movement. In a remarkably short period of time, the optimistic conservatism of the Reagan years, with its focus on the economy and foreign policy, has given way to a new "culture war" conservatism, obsessed with immigration, race, and sex. This emergent From THE BELL CURVE WARS, edited by Steven Fraser. Copyright © 1995 by Basic Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Reprinted b.y permission of Basic Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyrighted Material 520 Michael Lind post-cold war right has less to do with the Goldwater-Reagan variety than with the older American right of radio priest Father Charles E. Coughlin and the fundamentalist minister Gerald L. K. Smith's Christian Nationalist Crusade. In its apocalyptic style as well as its apocalyptic obsessions, this new conservatism owes more to Pat Robertson and Patrick Buchanan than to William F. Buckley, Jr., and Irving Kristo!' The growing importance, within the Republican Party, of the Deep South no doubt also plays a role; Goldwater's and Reagan's Sun Belt conservatism is being rewritten in Southern Gothic style. It is not surprising that long-suppressed ideas about hereditary racial inequality are now reemerging. Their return is made easier by the crumbling of taboos that has accompanied the popular backlash against the excesses of political correctness. The nastiest elements on the right now answer any criticism with the charge that they are victims of "pc." The most important factor behind the rehabilitation of pseudoscientific racism on the right may be the recent evolution of the debate among conservatives about race and poverty. For several years a right-wing backlash has been growing against the integrationism and environmentalism not only of liberals but also of certain prominent conservatives . A few years ago, in a perceptive article for The American Spectator, David Frum identified two schools of thought among conservatives about poverty in general, and black urban poverty in particular. One school, whose major spokesman was Jack Kemp, believed that poor black Americans would respond to the proper economic incentives with entrepreneurial ardor. These conservatives stressed free-market reforms such as "enterprise zones...