The Daily Northwestern

Trejos: Liberal response to Charles Murray is dangerous, mischaracterizes work

Jose Trejos, Columnist

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

Last week was rather hectic for College Republicans. We were thrilled to host a nationally renowned scholar after a sudden opening in his schedule. Charles Murray has spent decades studying the way socioeconomic divisions have stratified Americans. Despite being written in 2012, his book “Coming Apart” reads as a particularly insightful “how we got Trump” story that made many of us personally interested in hearing his thoughts on U.S. politics.

The thesis commonly explored in Murray’s work is that higher-IQ people are increasingly separating themselves from the rest of society; smart people prefer to marry smart people and naturally earn higher incomes. Consequently, their children gain both better genes and opportunities that can further separate them from others in society. Murray argues this is a problem because the less fortunate become both less productive and less affluent, which gives them less opportunity and happiness. As society separates along these lines, the cultures of these groups become entirely distinct. In my understanding, this is central to how a figure like Donald Trump could win the presidency despite him and his voters being utterly reviled in largely affluent communities like Northwestern.

The reaction we got for inviting Murray was saddening, if entirely predictable. Three separate opinion articles were published by The Daily attacking him and our organization as racist and malignant — mostly because his work had been condemned as such by some left-wing groups. Despite being in my third year at NU, it continues to amaze me how often liberals merrily use accusations of racism to attack those they disagree with.

Liberal claims of Murray’s alleged racism base themselves on two tactics. The first is simple deliberate misquoting of his work, which many liberal groups use to attack a researcher who advocates for a smaller welfare state. For example, Ariel Sheffey’s op-ed last week argued Murray was racist because he writes about “dysgenic” forces in society, in which socially undesirable genes start to crowd out more desirable genes like intelligence. The problem with this claim is that “The Bell Curve” only ever deals with this phenomenon as it occurs within racial groups rather than between them. Murray substantiates the larger part of this argument with data that only includes white people, in an explicit attempt to avoid race as an irrelevant confounding variable. Those who claim this specific part of his research is racist either fail to understand it or pretend to.

The other reason Murray is attacked is much more concerning: he simply studies a controversial and unpleasant subject. The idea that people with higher IQs are on average more economically successful is common sense, and the idea that wealthier people achieve a higher IQ through better access to education is well grounded in research. However, the direct conclusion that the average high-income person will have a higher IQ than the average low-income person is unpleasant, even though Murray conducts his work not out of elitism but a growing concern with the conditions of poor Americans.

Murray intentionally tries to keep “The Bell Curve” from aiding racists, explicitly calling attention to the unequal social treatment of minorities as a primary cause for the disparities he measures. The liberal impulse to label disagreement as racist is devastatingly harmful to our national discourse, and it also threatens crucial academic freedoms when applied to data-gathering and research. If Murray is still to be called a racist — even after calling attention to social conditions and making repeated calls against racism — then liberals seem to proclaim that certain social phenomena should just not be researched for fear of condemnation. The irony is that by attacking the study of these disparities, we restrict our understanding of their causes and effects, which only serves to harm underprivileged groups in the long-run.

The troubling tendencies of liberal writers aside, I see a silver lining in the reaction to Murray’s talk. When Murray tried to host a similar event at Middlebury College, the liberal professor escorting him ended up with a concussion as a result of violent student protests. It is strange to say, but I am oddly proud as a Northwestern student that all I have to deal with are poorly reasoned op-eds.

Jose Trejos is a Weinberg junior and a member of College Republicans. He can be contacted at If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.