(If you don’t know what that is, don’t feel bad. I didn’t either until about three months ago. Chances are you do know what it is, just didn’t know the proper designation.)
To Charles Murray, it looks like the end of liberal education in America: “What happened last Thursday has the potential to be a disaster for American liberal education.” Maybe an overstatement, but cut the man some slack, after he was literally assaulted by students on a liberal-education campus.
If you have an ear to the news, you probably heard about this. Students involved with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), of which Murray is a fellow, set up the March 2 event well in advance and anticipated the usual protests for a controversial speaker. Charles Murray may be controversial but he’s also consequential: I first encountered him with Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980. His analysis of state welfare and its destructive effects on American society was philosophical mainspring of welfare reform in the mid-1990s. His latest book, Coming Apart: the State of White America, 1960-2010, describes the failing family and social structures of the lower class, which keeps poor whites poor. What David Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy does with personal narrative Murray does with data in Coming Apart, which is the book he was supposed to talk about.
But to a sizable group of students at Middlebury, only one book mattered: The Bell Curve, co-written with Richard Herrnstein and published in 1996. The Bell Curve is a study of measured intelligence (such as IQ) as an indicator of future success. A small section of the book reported on lower levels of intelligence among African Americans and speculated on the reasons for it. Murray and Herrnstein never claimed that blacks were best suited to field labor, but rather than stimulating conversation fodder (such as how to improve learning situations for all) critics took one message: Murray thinks blacks are stupid.
That’s the setup; the drama played out like a horror movie. First the protest outside the lecture hall. Then the protests inside the lecture hall, where a large minority of students stood, turned their backs to the podium and chanted slogans about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. After a solid 20 minutes of this, Murray and faculty moderator Allison Stanger adjourned to a nearby room where they broadcast a back-and-forth conversation of opposing views while protesters pounded on the windows and set off the fire alarm. Murray and Stanger then left the building to attend a scheduled dinner with students, but protesters with signs noisily blocked the way to their car. Burly security guards kept the more physical debaters from knocking Murray down, but someone grabbed Prof. Stanger by the hair while someone else pushed her sideways, twisting her neck. When they got in the car and locked the door, the protesters swarmed the vehicle, rocking it back and forth. The car nosed through the crowd and motored on to the dinner venue, but Stanger and Murray barely had time to remove their coats before being warned, “They’re coming this way!”—like a pitchfork-waving mob in a Frankenstein movie. Kill the monster! After a quick consultation, everyone mounted up again and drove to a restaurant off campus, where they fortified themselves with martinis before dinner.
“The worst day of my life,” Prof. Stanger wrote on her Facebook page, sometime after returning from the hospital with a neck brace and a concussion. She insisted that the mayhem did not justify accusations against the college. “We have got to do better by those who feel and are marginalized. Our 230-year constitutional democracy depends on it, especially when our current President is blind to the evils he has unleashed.” After a couple of weeks to think about it, she moderated but didn’t retreat from the “because Trump” rationale.
With all due respect, that particular evil did not emanate from the White House.
The day before the event, in The Middlebury Campus newspaper, senior Nic Valenti explained “Why I’m Declining AEI’s ‘Invitation to Argue’.” He described his own epiphany: “When I first arrived at Middlebury I was clueless to the systems of power constructed around race, gender, sexuality, class or ability.” His efforts to talk about issues before receiving the proper framework from which to talk about them were met with stony silence. “As a young bigot, I can recall thinking: ‘I thought at Middlebury I would get to have intellectual discussions, but instead it feels as though my views are being censored.’” In other words, when Nic arrived at Middlebury innocent of his own white male privilege, no one bothered to discuss issues with him until he got his head right–groveled at the altar, received the proper instruction, signed the statement of faith.
His point: Charles Murray’s head isn’t right, and therefore to debate him would only be granting him validity he doesn’t deserve.
His evidence: nothing Charles Murray wrote or said. The only source Valenti quotes is the Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy organization known for its slap-happy designations of extremist, hate group, white supremacy, etc. The SPLC’s classification of the Family Research Council as an anti-gay hate group (for its traditional definition of marriage) allegedly led to a shooting at FRC headquarters in which a guard was wounded. Not the most reliable organization for handing out labels, but Mr. Valenti accepts as gospel that Charles Murray is a eugenicist and white supremacist. Murray is no such thing, as a reading of The Bell Curve would have shown. You wouldn’t even have to read the whole book; just one chapter. Or an article. Or an interview. Anything where Charles Murray gets to speak for himself.
That didn’t happen at Middlebury. I wonder if Nic Valenti was in the chanting crowd at the lecture hall. Did he, caught up in the moment, join the jostling crowd on the sidewalk outside, where Mr. Murray was shoved and would have fallen if Prof. Stanger and a security guard weren’t supporting him? Think about that: Murray is 74 years old and a respected scholar with numerous books and degrees to his name. If he had fallen on the sidewalk among an emotional crowd of young people (granted, they might not all have been students) who had worked themselves up into a religious frenzy, what might have happened to him?
I’m not the first one to say it: some college campuses have become temples of the Cult of Intersectionality, where all truth claims are subjected to one standard: Who’s the while male bastion of privilege oppressing, and how? The storyline of oppression is so thin and boring (nobody will admit that, but it’s true), it’s bound to wear itself out sooner or later. The incident at Middlebury has been a wakeup call for some, so pray for sooner.