AR Staff, American Renaissance, August 2009
Michael Levin, who teaches philosophy at the City University of New York, is the author of the race-realist classic Why Race Matters. It remains to this day one of the most rigorous and exhaustive treatments of the evidence for racial differences in IQ and what those differences mean for social policy.
Prof. Levin paid a high price for taking up this subject. From the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, Prof. Levin was the “academic racist” liberal New York loved to hate. The forward to the 2005 edition of his book describes what happened when word of his racial views first became public:
The uproar was immense. It did not matter that Prof. Levin’s students of all races pronounced him scrupulously fair; or that in philosophy lectures he never mentioned race. Demonstrators disrupted his classes and physically prevented him from speaking in public. The faculty senate called a meeting for which they did not give him enough notice to attend, and convicted him, in absentia, of “racism.” For a time, he was forbidden to teach introductory philosophy. Once, when he went to his office he found the door covered with swastikas and the message, ‘You F***ing Jew.’ A New York City editorial writer wrote that he was ‘a horse’s ass.’
Perhaps most disturbing, City University’s then-president Bernard Harleson, who is black, made every possible effort to break Prof. Levin’s tenure. Americans are supposed to treasure freedom of speech, and universities are supposed to foster debate, but Prof. Levin had to hire a lawyer to keep from being gagged and fired. It was tenure that saved him. If Prof. Levin had been a junior faculty member he would almost certainly have lost his job.
Why Race Matters appeared in 1997 but after its initial print run of just 500 books sold out, Praeger Publisher inexplicably failed to reprint. By 2005, second-hand copies — when they were available at all — were for sale on Amazon.com at $500 each. In 2005, the New Century Foundation, which publishes American Renaissance, brought Why Race Matters back into print, and it continues to be one of the foundation’s top sellers. We recently caught up with Prof. Levin and found his views as provocative as ever.
American Renaissance: After having written one of the classic studies of race and IQ, as well as several seminal articles on the subject, you appear to have moved on to other things. In what direction are your efforts directed these days?
Michael Levin: I’ve been spending my time on standard academic philosophy. I’ve said everything I think I have to say on race, and I see no point in repeating myself. A broad philosophical view of race is not like a scientific view, which is liable to change in significant details with new empirical research.
More important, perhaps, the country’s reaction to 9/11 made me think that the push for racial egalitarianism was far from the worst problem the country faced, and liberal egalitarians far from the worst and most dangerous people. Liberal egalitarians began to seem to me to be sentimental fools, whereas conservatives were obviously malevolent and murderous. Liberals I saw as driven by silly ideas that led them to advocate measures that were silly (Black History Month), or annoying (speech codes) or unjust (affirmative action). Conservatives I saw as driven by rage and hate.
The liberal mantra is “Wouldn’t it be nice if we all got along and didn’t notice each others’ colors.” The conservative mantra is “Those hippies were having fun while I was busting my balls in school and now I’m getting even. No communists any more? Fine, let’s kill some Moslems. More aircraft carriers, more bombers, we’re Number One. And guns. Everyone should have lots of guns to protect himself from the government. And we need spies everywhere because we’re at war and everyone is trying to kill us.” The belligerence and destructiveness of the right struck me as much more dangerous than the pipe dreams about integration of the left, which had already been popped.
AR: The country as a whole still does not accept the scientific findings on race and IQ. In your view, why is there so much resistance?
ML: My opinion is no better than anyone else’s, since I’m not a social scientist. I suspect a big part is and always has been the sportsmanlike impulse of whites not to kick someone who is down. Blacks already do so poorly in terms of crime, income, employment, and sheer day-to-day existence — everyone knows how much rattier black neighborhoods are than white — that it sounds like gloating to say, “And you’re also dumber.” Decent people aren’t bullies and don’t gloat. White Americans in this respect are pretty decent.
AR: Some people speculate that even many liberals actually understand that genes account, at least in part, for racial differences in achievement but go along with the egalitarian myth because they think some things are best left unsaid. Do you agree?
ML: Yes. I can’t imagine at this point, with so much data flooding in about the importance of genes for virtually every aspect of life, that anybody actually believes that large group differences do not have a significant genetic component. This flood is only going to continue to rise. “Egalitarians” may say they don’t believe it, but they are increasingly just going through the motions. Their denial of the importance of genes is becoming wearier and more perfunctory. They don’t even try to sound as if they believe it any more. They sound like Rumsfeld saying the Iraqis have hidden atomic bombs. The subtext is: “Look, you don’t believe it, I don’t believe it, you know I don’t believe it, and I know you know I don’t believe it. We both know it’s b.s., but I’ve got to say it because . . . well, what am I supposed to say ? Am I supposed to admit I was lying all along?”
AR: How do you assess the prospects for public acceptance of the facts about race and IQ? Some day, geneticists will surely discover the alleles associated with high intelligence and will find that they are not distributed equally in all groups. Will our society ever accept these findings and, if so, how will Americans react?
ML: The capacity to deny the facts about race is very robust. I suspect it will manifest in the short term in a look-away strategy. News outlets simply will not cover these discoveries. They will be non-events. Another tactic will be treatment of even decisive breakthroughs as though they are part of the same old interminable nature-vs.-nurture debate. Talking heads from both sides will say, and their saying will be used to show, that it’s the same old, same old. One ploy which has still not reached its sell-by date is to assert that the genes- or-environment dichotomy has been transcended and only ignorant morons still think the influence of genes can be separated out. Geneticists will be found to say this gravely for the camera even though every hereditarian knows that genes do not work in a vacuum, and techniques for isolating genetic influence are well known. The basic holding action will be to convince everyone that nothing is new under the sun.
In the long run new knowledge will be irresistible. In 20 years, maybe a lot less, the genetic basis for race differences in intelligence will be common knowledge. Even today, liberals are having a hard time with medically significant genetic differences. If racial categories are social constructs, how come these socially constructed categories get different genetically controlled diseases and respond differently to the same medications? At some point liberals and egalitarians, confronted with the new genetic data will begin saying, “Oh, everybody knows that,” without ever admitting having been 100 percent wrong. All the old environmentalist shibboleths will disappear down the memory hole.
At the same time, exact knowledge of the genes that control IQ and other traits will likely erode current crude racial classifications. It will become more common to think of people as descended from populations carrying this or that gene than as Africans or Europeans. This will not obliterate large-scale patterns but it may obscure them.
AR: What are the policy implications, if any, of racial differences in average IQ?
ML: What they always were. Whites are not responsible for the relatively poor performance of blacks (and other groups) along socially important dimensions. Blacks do less well than whites educationally because they are less intellectually able. Blacks have lower incomes than whites for the same reason, and very likely because of genetic differences in motivation as well. This does not mean that whites are better than blacks in some absolute sense, although egalitarians are anxious to pin that belief on hereditarians, but it does mean that whites do not owe blacks compensation for deficits that whites did not cause.
AR: In your view, have race relations improved, deteriorated, or stayed the same since the mid 1990s, when you were writing about race?
ML: My sense is that race relations have improved. On a personal level, I find I can jog through Harlem without being bothered, something unthinkable fifteen years ago. At the same time, my sense is that whites are becoming more comfortable dealing with blacks on a day-to-day basis, as day-to-day interracial contact becomes more common.
AR: What are you impressions of Barack Obama, and of the outpouring of enthusiasm that greeted his election?
ML: He impresses me very favorably. He is obviously extremely intelligent. It is a pleasure listening to him, after his stupid, bullying predecessor. He has not gone nearly far enough in apologizing to the world for America’s wars of aggression, and indeed he seems bent on continuing them. This is understandable, perhaps. He is president of a country almost half of whose citizens seem to like the idea of endless war with some Threat to Mankind. If he announced “enough is enough” he might face rebellion. At the same time, as of this writing, he seems to understand that he must cancel Israel’s blank check. It will be interesting to see what happens when Israel attacks Iran. Will he cut off military aid, all aid, diplomatic relations? Will he be able to withstand AIPAC?
The enthusiasm that greeted Obama was probably due to the contrast between him and Bush. He is a grown-up who speaks in complete sentences and actually seems to have given some thought to things. The sheer relief at being rid of Bush and the conservatives accounted for most of the elation.
AR: How will American society change as the proportions of both Hispanics and Asians continue to increase?
ML: I fear we will face the worst of two worlds. On one hand, America will become poorer and dingier and more Third World-like. On the other hand, we will still retain a larger arsenal of weapons than the rest of the world combined. There may well be something in the old European character, inherited by American whites (but perhaps not by contemporary Europeans), that makes them enjoy fighting. Combined with a sense on the part of whites of loss and betrayal at the passing of the old order, and encouraged by Israel-firsters who are good at manipulating this impulse, they may lash out in destructive ways. Apart from 1919-1939, the white America that is passing has been continuously at war with some real or imaginary global enemy for a century. Worse, since it has been protected by two oceans, its casualties have been light. What is going to happen as that changes?
AR: At one time, you were regularly decried in the media as a vicious racist and had a high profile as someone liberals loved to hate. Has this reputation stayed with you? Do your students or colleagues ever mention this?
ML: Occasionally a student mentions it — usually with admiration. It is difficult to know what people say about you behind your back, but what they say to me to my face shows very little concern about my lurid past.