Charles Murray Comes to Campus, Drawing Protest

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Charles Murray, the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, came to Swarthmore College on November 15th to deliver a talk entitled “Fallout from the Election and What’s Next.” The content of his speech focused on his observations from Coming Apart: the State of White America 1960-2010. However, it was his previous work, notably The Bell Curve, that attracted student protests to the event.

Over 100 people were present for the event, held in the Friends Meeting House at 7.30pm. The event was sponsored by AEI On Campus and the Swarthmore Conservative Society.

“I hope that Charles Murray’s insight […] will help us make some sense of what’s happening in the country,” said Ben Termaat ’18, President of AEI On Campus, in the opening address.

The center of the room was filled with protesters clad in black, who stood up and turned their backs to Murray just as he began his speech.

Murray started by declaring his opposition to Donald Trump’s election, saying that “some part of Donald Trump’s soul is curled up in a fetal position” when faced with the challenge of being the United States’ 45th president. He emphasized the distance between the elite and the white working class as one phenomenon that has led to Trump’s victory.

He spoke of a “new upper class” that was formed via an economic transformation that rewarded a premium to education and intelligence, and a social transformation that saw increasing meritocracy in elite colleges. As an example, he cited his own alma mater, Harvard, as having its incoming freshmen class achieving a mean verbal SAT score of 583 in 1950. This score increased to 687 in 1960, or 1 standard deviation increase in just 8 years.

Additionally, he spoke of a “narrow elite” that numbered only about 100,000, which are heavily centered around Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, representing the political, financial, entertainment and technology hubs in the United States.

The formation of a new upper class is, according to Murray, enhanced by factors such as the much larger size of the economy.  Top professionals, such as lawyers, CEOs, and advertisers could command much higher salaries than ever before, a factor often helped by “intelligence.”

“I’m not saying IQ is everything… IQ is to intellectual occupations like weight is to offensive linemen in the NFL”, Murray said.

At around 7.55pm, the protesting students clad in black walked out of the room. Students previously watching from the sides filled in the middle of the room vacated by the protesters.

Despite the disruption, Murray continued his speech. To emphasize his thesis on a cultural divergence between the elite and mainstream America, he promoted the PBS Newshour Quiz, “Do you live in a bubble?”, inspired by his work. The quiz asks questions such as “Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?” or “Since leaving school have you worn a uniform?”

The new upper class also had new sensibilities, where racial slurs would usually receive pushback in polite conversation. However, “call somebody a redneck, you will have nobody pushing back at you,” Murray said.

It is the discussion on race that has previously mired Murray in controversy and attracted a lot of questions after his main speech.

The Bell Curve, written by Murray and Charles Herrnstein, was published in 1994 and explored the relationship between IQ and personal outcomes. The book drew a firestorm in particular over its work on racial differences in IQ. Protesters held up signs that included “Racism with a PhD = Still Racism” and “The welfare state saved my family.”

Murray was defensive when fielding questions regarding what he said in the past, often admonishing audience members for not using full quotes. Twice, he requested the student posing questions to come to the lectern and show him specific quotes on their smartphones.

“Why not just say I’m not a racist?” an audience member directly asked Murray.

“I’m not a racist,” Murray snapped back, drawing some laughter.

While the Q&A session often got heated, there were few instances where students deliberately interrupted Murray, but there was no sustained heckling as students on other campuses have done when confronting speakers deemed threatening.

Patrick Holland ‘17, President of the Swarthmore Conservative Society, met with college administrators prior to the event to discuss potential issues.

“While they may not necessarily agree with many of the things Murray has said in the past, they do recognize that college is about exploring ideas and sparking discussions, even if they are controversial,” he wrote in an email.

Protest organizer Desta Pulley ‘17 had a differing view on Murray’s invitation.

“It goes beyond disagreement, it’s a matter of a lot of students feeling unsafe and threatened by his presence here. I don’t think hate speech should ever be legitimized by being allowed to ‘be heard’ on campus. ESPECIALLY not now, after years of police brutality and Trump’s election, where the feelings and safety of students of color are already so delicate and in jeopardy,” she wrote.

Originally, the protesters sought to try and get the administration to cancel the event. However, the fact that Murray was funded by the AEI to visit campus meant that the administration had little ability to cancel the talk. Pulley requested for a mass-email sent by the administration that would say they do not condone the “racist and classist work that Murray represents.” The administration refused.

The college did organize two panels, on Monday and Tuesday, to discuss the Murray lecture and the election in general.

Holland did speak to protest organizers prior to the event to try and placate their concerns, but ultimately decided not to cancel the event. He was heartened by the outcome of the talk, saying, “I’m glad the protesters showed up, I’m also glad they are willing to engage, and I’m also glad that we had a good discussion.”

Mohammad Boozarjomehri ‘19, who attended the event to its conclusion, said “The fact that everyone stood up and left, I thought initially was stupid because they weren’t gonna listen to him and speak. Now thinking about it more, his career, his writings, they speak a lot more about his discourse than tonight does. I think when everyone stood up and left, it was effective in demonstrating our disapproval of this.”

Charles Murray himself was critical of the protest, and of contemporary campus culture in general.

“I love the idea of the college, of the university, where there is an exchange of opposing opinions, but you’ve got to document them, you’ve got to have reasons for what they’re saying. You’ve got to be civil and respectful. But under that framework, nobody should need safe spaces, nobody should need trigger warnings, and most of all nobody should try and intimidate either the speaker or the rest of the audience,” Murray said after the event.


Featured image courtesy of Tiye Pulley ’19.

Correction, Nov. 16 9:11 a.m: Desta Pulley’s class year was misstated. It is ’17, not ’20.

Correction, Nov. 16 9:37 a.m: Some students interrupted Murray, but the fact that there was no sustained heckling as we have seen on other campuses was clarified.

Isaac Lee

Isaac is an economics and political science major. He is a Singaporean who grew up in Hong Kong. In America he discovered the wonders of Netflix and Uber. Other than devoting his time to The Daily Gazette, he is probably reading The Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal, or skim-reading the hundreds of pages assigned to typical Swatties.


  1. Full disclosure: I’m a reasonably affluent straight white male socialist junior playing life on the lowest difficulty setting who was at the protest.

    I already gave WNR my thoughts on Murray himself and his work (in a nutshell, unscientific and logically faulty), but I was also unimpressed by him as a speaker. When he described my parents’ background as lower-income students who got to go to top schools (Harvard for Mom, Duke for Dad), then said that they vacation in Belize, don’t care about sports, and are culturally different from the rest of America, I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from laughing at him. I may not care about sports personally (outside of following the World Cup and remembering to root for the Steelers whenever they have a big game), but I’ve been in the car with my dad enough to know that he listens to ESPN, Radio Classics, and various rock and grunge stations, and he’s got a baseball card collection that fills several moving boxes. If that qualifies as listening only to All Things Considered and not caring about sports, I’m Charles Murray.

    I am unsurprised but disappointed that Murray would be so fundamentally un-American as to criticize a peaceful silent protest, and similarly unsurprised that he was critical of campus culture. I also find it hypocritical that he prattled on for over half an hour about an apparently fictional “new upper class”, then demanded that his opponents bring “reasons for what they’re saying”. All in all, I found him to be a mediocre speaker at best, and felt that he merely re-hashed standard Republican talking points.

    I had to leave a little early due to a neurological condition flaring up (thank you so much, Jacob, though I didn’t catch your last name, for helping me out, and to PubSafe for getting me home), but it sounds like the rest of the talk went along the lines you’d expect for an old white guy who doesn’t like non-old white guys talking to a bunch of non-old white guys who aren’t terribly fond of old white guys having a stranglehold on power in America.

    I think that bringing Murray to campus was not actually a mistake. His presence as an avatar of every smug, condescending old white guy ever to say something somewhat racist out of sheer alienation from the American populace galvanized students in a way that I haven’t seen yet in my tenure as a Swarthmore student, and I was here when the big Mountain Justice sit-in happened two years back. All in all, an old white guy with a history of saying racist stuff came to campus, said some mealy-mouthed bullcrap, and left–and student activism surged. Murray himself is an asshole whose methodology is weak and logic severely flawed, but he’s unintentionally had a good effect–kind of the opposite of his blather about good things having negative consequences in the talk itself. And I think that THAT pisses him off more than anything else that happened last night.

    • Also Ian I agree mostly with what you said, particularly the last paragraph except for you saying it was a peaceful silent protest. Peaceful yes, silent no. I read in this article, and heard from a few friends of mine that their was significant heckling and interrupting of Murray which impedes his ability to present his presentation and impedes other students ability to listen. Apart from that the protest was fine in my opinion except for the fact it discourages other speakers from coming.

      • Speaking as someone who was actually there, your friends are wrong. There was no heckling, and no interrupting. Just 50-60 (I’m probably underestimating) people standing with signs and their backs to him.

    • I only just saw this article because someone recently commented, but between this and the stuff on the Israel-Palestine article, you are like a parody of a “woke” white male at a liberal arts college. The sequel to Get Out should be about you. I hope it’s at least getting you laid.

      • What exactly is your problem, creep? Furthermore, why do you spend your days on a student paper for a school where you’re clearly not a student being an asshole to various commenters?

        • Beats working. Also, I don’t know who else I’m being an asshole to. You’re just a ridiculous human being.

  2. These protests are getting ridiculous. I do not know much about Charles Murray, but from what I have heard the issue that most people have with him is his book that mentioned racial disparity in IQ. Also I did not attend this lecture so I apologize if any of this is incorrect based on the lecture. I did not read his book, so if it was worded in a racist way (which I somewhat doubt it would be) then I completely understand the anger it drew, however I also know that average IQ does differ on racial lines. This is NOT indicative of one race being smarter than another, as IQ is heavily influenced by your background. IQ is only a good barometer to compare intelligence between two people with similar backgrounds. The fact is that there is a large wealth gap between races, caused by a lot of factors that are difficult to address, that heavily affects the educational opportunities on average that people from different races get. Many studies have shown that those who have higher education, and those who do more mentally stimulating tasks, such as reading books or solving puzzles, have significantly higher IQs than those who have less mental stimulation. In my opinion, this likely explains away any racial inequality of IQ found in any study and I am confident that if a study was done with people from very similar backgrounds than there would be statistically no correlation between IQ and race.

    Secondly, even if he is a racist or he’s a horrible person we should be inviting him to talk as it only furthers our own education by being exposed to more opinions, no matter how awful they may be, if only to solidify our own views and find more ways to counter opposing ones. This should apply to people whose political views differ, and even should extend to bigots who you fundamentally disagree with and possibly hate. Open information and sharing of ideas is a good thing for everyone, especially at a college where we are meant to expand the information and ideas that we have been exposed to, even if those ideas are something we hate.

    Finally, protest is reasonable when it comes to this type of situation (if he is as racist as people think) but the method is something I disagree with. The first part was perfect in my opinion, wearing all black sends the message. However, tying into my earlier point, protest in this type of situation should not impede your ability to hear his presentation, and especially shouldn’t impede other people who want to listen. The wearing black was a great idea, the heckling and leaving in the middle was not. If you truly want to leave, that’s your perogative however I am of the opinion that you should want to listen but it’s definitely reasonable to leave and that only hurts yourself. Heckling is a big problem because you are hurting every other student in the room who is actively listening and wants to get something out of the presentation even if it’s just viewpoints they disagree with to further their own convictions.

    Swarthmore is supposed to be an open campus of ideas…. we shouldn’t pick and choose who we let share ideas even if they are hateful because hearing those ideas only makes our own ideas of inclusiveness and tolerance stronger.

  3. I am a ’60 graduate from Swarthmore, who has been delighted since her return to meet so many wonderful students here, especially those engaged in social action and political involvement. As a lifelong activist myself for social justice, racial and gender equality, I am encouraged that this generation will carry on the work — especially now that we are facing a future that can only be called fascism.

    But I was truly ashamed of the nature of the protest at Murray’s talk last evening. Swarthmore College is a place to learn how to intellectually engage with others, especially those with whom you disagree; how to do the research to make yourself fully informed, and to express your views articulately and with dignity. A protest that refuses to hear or engage, saying nothing except on signs, is unworthy of Swarthmore. Turning one’s back on a person you haven’t even heard speak yet is pretty much the equivalent of a toddler who covers his ears and screams if he thinks you’re about to say something he doesn’t want to hear. A stance of self-righteousness is more a quality of those narrow-minded people we object to; being just as self-righteous only brings us down to their level.

    Murray’s talk last evening was definitely light-weight in its analysis and not on the topic advertised, though his observation that the elite now live in a bubble and know nothing of the lives of the majority was ironically accurate and an apparent self-description. The racism, class-ism and misogyny evident in the pseudoscientific ‘findings’ in his book The Bell Curve deserve to be confronted; and those students who did not walk out confronted them with the kind of reason and personal experience that served to contradict them. I greatly regret that more students did not make good use of the rare occasion of having such a person on campus to engage with and refute.

  4. While I cannot tell whether the two anonymous comments are from two different people, I do wish that he/she/they owned their words by signing it with his/her/their name(s). It is important to own your words when you publish them if you in fact value the opportunity to engage with others to learn from them and perhaps add to their knowledge while honing your critical thinking skills. I am sorry that The Gazette publishes anonymous postings. Maurice ’61

  5. I would like to understand how the presence of and presentation by a conservative speaker makes a lot of students feel unsafe and threatened.

    • It’s not the fact that he’s a conservative speaker. There are tons of conservatives who didn’t write a book about white men being genetically and intellectually superior to everyone else and didn’t provide racists and eugenicists a “justification” for their horrible views. There are many conservatives who don’t think that I am less of a person because my genetic makeup makes me less intelligent and more deserving of my disadvantages in life. Charles Murray is not one of those conservatives.

      • Did he write books about people being superior and inferior or groups just being different? The pro-IQ bias tells us a lot about the person making the claim. IQ does not not make a person superior or inferior to another person. That’s ignorant thinking.

  6. How are these young protestors going to react if and when work by geneticists confirm our worst fears? Genome wide association studies have already discovered about 75 SNPs associated with intelligence, and within the next 5 to 15 years geneticists will have almost certainly identified them all (there are probably thousands of alleles linked to intelligence). If it is found that the aggregate effect of these gene variants for one group (say Ashkenazi Jews), is different than the effect for another (say central African pygmys), how do you argue against that being true? Murray and Herrnstein’s data as presented in the Bell Curve can be endlessly litigated, but it is much more difficult to overturn the findings of hard science.

    • Hello Ben,

      Full disclosure: I do not know about this recent research into intelligence linked to SNPs. As one of the “young protestors” who plans to pursue a career in medical anthropology, please allow me to comment on what you said using a more theoretical approach, though.

      I want to focus specifically on your use of the words “hard science.” Though biology is often claimed as a “soft” science, I see your point: data is reality. Dr. Murray seems to feel similarly–I have not read many of his works, but scientifically-supported conclusions certainly must be real.

      Except this is false, and contingent on what we mean by “real.” First, data is not real: it is a manipulation of the observations from some culturally-influenced study performed by humans. Science, we must remember, was created by humans. And humans are nothing if not products and producers of their societies. Therefore, science must be immediately un-“real,” if we are defining “real” as devoid of any bias whatsoever. For instance, our conception of the process of fertilization characterizes the sperm cell as the active agent and the egg cell as passive, while it may just as well view the sperm as inefficient and the egg as more essential to the act of fertilization and fitness of the embryo. Further, when you catch (culture!) a cold, your immune system fights (culture!) off the invading (culture!) germs. Any scientific study, consequently, which operates under such basic assumptions, will be subject to societal interpretations which are not explicitly real.

      Second, we should reconsider what realness is. For something to be real, it must not be unreal or artificial, and so it exists naturally. But how do we define “nature?” This, too, is cultural. So, if we define realness as being natural, we assume a set of meanings attached to naturalness which must be interrogated.

      Thus, hard science is not real as it relates to some objective truth because data is not reality and reality is defined by culture to begin with.

      Bsck to your comment, then. I appreciate your biological examples, but let me take one more step. We know any correlation involving biological “facts” is cultural; similarly, comparisons made across social identities are not definitive in the slightest. There is no gene for race. We define what it means to belong to different races. There is no gene for gender. We define the implications of belonging to a biological sex. Any analysis of identity with biology is utterly ungrounded; Short Nucleotide Polymorphisms, even when linked to our subjective measures of intelligence, can have no relationships to race or gender, let alone any other identity.

      In continuing to draw conclusions which are easily refutable by considering the human side of things, and masking them in scientific jargon which makes everything sound legitimate, Dr. Murray and others perpetuate racism, sexism, classism, and hatred in our world. I refuse to let the public conversation debate whether or not hate is okay, which is why I protested his talk on Tuesday.

      I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to reach out so we can talk more!

      Jacob Demree ’19
      Honors Sociology/Anthropology Major, Honors Religion Minor, Course Biology Minor

      • I’m very uncomfortable at the talk of genes (not least because of how muddy the chain of causation is) yet I am more worried about this: “Thus, hard science is not real as it relates to some objective truth because data is not reality and reality is defined by culture to begin with.”

        As a student at Swarthmore, I took many courses in many departments. I found this odd elevation of language as the fundamental phenomena of existence in many departments puzzling. As an adult, in light of the current attacks on science and scientific thinking, I find them terrifying.

        I know the Intro to Anthropology drill, and much of it is reasonable and necessary. Language can shape how we choose to approach problems, and language can influence how we interpret data. So yes, we must address constructs and cultures created by humans, and decode the messages embedded in language and systems.

        But deny that there is a universal reality to which we are all exposed? Down that road lies magical thinking. The use of language cannot turn lead to gold. It cannot make a structurally unsound airplane safe to fly, or create a polymer by sheer force of will. It cannot defend a body from the effects of starvation, and it cannot undo the effects of oxygen deprivation on the brain.

        I think I have a sense of what you are meaning to say, though it is said with such breathtaking certainty that I don’t know if I should assume you aren’t denying the physicality of our shared reality. Otherwise, would you tell a veteran with an amputation, or someone who has survived a car accident, that the pain and physical loss they experienced was not Real? That is was simply a shared culturally-mediated experience—as if a different culture could will back that missing limb or repair that brain damage?

        I think of all the wishful magical thinking run rampant in our society, from antivaxxers to climate change deniers, and I wonder sadly how much of this must be laid at our feet.

  7. I was happy to attend Dr. Murray’s presentation last evening as a member of the meeting providing a presence to encourage respect for all. I have been aware of Murray’s work and the effects of it for years. He does not represent the perspective of respect for all. As a psychologist/sociologist/social scientist for the last 35 years, I am appalled at the irresponsibility in how he has used his work. His work deserves to be challenged on many fronts – the basic validity of his research as well as his use of it. Reportedly, early in his life, he burnt a cross then said he did not know the meaning of it and apologized. During the event, he refused to take responsibility for his use of “correlational” data. He continues to burn crosses (in a metaphorical sense) and does not yet seem to understand the ramifications of what he does. I thought the protest was well-planned, executed, and effective in challenging work that deserves challenge. I wish something this effective had happened in his presentation 30 years ago so that he was stopped before doing the damage that his work has done. The later questions asked by students were excellent questions and he could not answer them effectively. Thank you, Patrick for all the work you put into this very well-organized event.

  8. I was there. Although I disagree with them, the student left at the event, all things considered, seemed to be eminently civilized. There was no heckling. The completely silent protest for the first half of the event blocked views of the speaker, but he could still be heard. Other anti-Murray students remained and asked pointed questions of the speaker, but again were simply vigorously engaging in an exchange of ideas. It struck me that numbers-wise, the silent protesters and anti-Murray questioners made up about half of the total audience at least and so could easily have shut the event down from simple crowd noise if they had decided to do so.

    Considering the fact that a noted “conservative,” particularly Charles Murray of the Bell Curve, was coming to speak at this particular time after the great and terrible surprise of the election of Donald Trump on the Republican ticket, I think the student left showed remarkable restraint.

    • I appreciated that restraint because I was interested to hear what Mr. Murray, a prominent conservative public intellectual, would have to say after the election of Trump. The talk was billed as What Next? Fallout from the Election. What would Mr. Murray have to offer as he, like most of us, is trying to process the result?

      He began by laying out, in some depth, his own NeverTrump status, his shock at the election of Trump, and his severe concerns going forward as Trump begins to put together an administration with Bannon at his side. Mr. Murray is as shocked as the rest of us that Trump won and certainly not happy about it. As a “classical liberal” there’s no way he could be. It strikes me that if Mr. Murray were the secret racist his opponents suspect, he would have jumped on the Trump Train at some point and today be entertaining hopes of running the Department of Education or HHS.

      For most of the rest of his speech, Mr. Murray focused on the important truth of the divide between today’s meritocratic elite and the rest of the county. (“At great length” as one questioner later pointed out.) He marshaled his facts, stastictics and illustrations well, leavened with some wit. “Belgian elves” got chuckles from most sections of the room.

      He pitched his lesson well to his audience. It might have seemed familiar to them, like a talk from a “white privilege” peer educator enlightening a white audience about the vastly differing life experiences of African-Americans. In some ways it was yet another guilt trip for a Swarthmore audience, as even those students who were not born into today’s elite are at least probationary members in the youth division thanks to their status as Swarthmore undergrads.

      Mr. Murray’s focus on the Red/Blue divide is entirely appropriate as we try to come to terms with Trump’s victory. But I had two concerns with it.

      First, as one non-student questioner ably put it, given Trump’s election and issues that still need to be addressed, “where do we go from here?” To simply say that we live in one world and others who live in their own elected Donald Trump doesn’t give us any direction, just vague notions of back to the land, an SWP-style “turn to industry” or prayers for a new Great Awakening.

      And secondly, I do think Mr. Murray did to an extent overstate the separation of today’s elite from the rest of America. Elites have always existed, and they have always lived different lives. Yesterday’s elite didn’t vacation on Wisconsin lakes much either – they were at Palm Beach or Northeast Harbor. Today’s elite is cosmopolitan, not national, but yesterday’s elite was too, whether it was on the Grand Tour, building fortunes on the clipper trade to China, marrying English titles, or doing business with Germany at inopportune times like Prescott Bush.

      In many ways, older elites were were far more separate than today’s elite. They grew up with each other and married each other for generations. The meritocratic elite is so new that most have to go back just to grandparents to find “real Americans” or the immigrant experience. As Mr. Murray would admit, he himself was in the vanguard of the new elite when he went to Harvard in 1960 from Iowa. As he said, if he had been born 10 years earlier, he never would have thought of going to Harvard. He got some understandable pushback from a couple of student questioners who pointed out their own non-elite roots.
      To paint today’s meritocratic elite as wholly separate seems misguided when looked at from an historical perspective. The new elite may not store domestic beer in the fridge, but it’s likely they have a cousin who does.

      Nevertheless, there remains the problem to be addressed: how is it that half the country voted for Trump? Simply put, by voting for a monster, they revealed themselves to be savages. And savages that don’t listen. Virtually every editorial board, every comedian on twitter, every pop star and every billionaire who had a comment to make, from Mark Cuban to Mike Bloomberg spoke out against Trump. The blue state elite was never more united in opposition to a presidential candidate. And many prominent conservatives, from National Review to John Kasich to Mr. Murray himself joined them in that opposition. It’s not that Trump brought out a huge wave of those perennial unicorns, new voters, it’s that regular Republican voters across all the key states came out and voted as usual, and it didn’t seem to matter that the top of the ticket was a Trump rather than a Romney or a McCain or even a G.W. Bush.

      It turns out that Mr. Murray’s latest book, Coming Apart, approaches this issue. Rather than idolizing red state, real America values and scolding a bi-coastal elite for despising or corrupting them, Mr. Murray points out that traditional values such as industriousness and religiosity are declining most outside of the elite, which is still industrious, prudent and occasionally seriously religious.

      So this is what I would say to the average Swarthmore student, probationary member of the new elite, youth division: if you feel shocked and disgusted at the fact that too many of your fellow Americans voted for Trump, your feelings are entirely appropriate. They voted for a monster, so they have become savages. And this is dangerous. But you are the elite. They voted for a monster because the elite has failed in its key role: cultural leadership. Rationality, discernment, prudence, decency, and fair play have been rejected by Trump voters just as they increasingly reject the values of education, intellectual curiosity, or as they might say, book learning. The non-elite has no respect for the elite, and so they’re not listening anymore.

      Why no respect? Lets put it this way. What if you called a plumber and instead of fixing the problem that made you call him in the first place, he installed lead pipes to pay homage to the history of plumbing’s birth amongst the Romans and at the same time to gesture to the decline and fall of “late capitalism.”

      What if you called an electrician over a power failure and he insisted on disrupting your system so that henceforward you would have a slight chance of electrocuting yourself when you flip the light switch on in the kitchen as a reminder of the power of energy and the impermanence of life.

      Or what if you wanted to congratulate the MVP of your favorite team (because yes, even some of the new elite pay attention to sports) and like a National Merit Finalist bowing to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, he refused to accept your congratulations, badmouthed his own athletic gifts, told you that he never would have even picked up a football if he hadn’t grown up in a sports-minded family, and that millions of men could have scored that game-winning touchdown if the NFL recruiting system were more wide-ranging and proactive.

      This is why the elite aren’t respected anymore. Grammarians tell us that there’s no such thing as good grammar and that we’re all descriptivists now. Artists don’t believe in beauty but rather in agitprop artist statements. Philosophers don’t believe in reason. Literary critics don’t believe in the author or the author’s intention. Anthropologists don’t believe in stages of social development. Scholars of jurisprudence don’t believe in judicial balance. And historians don’t believe in narrative. That last one is particularly damaging. It is no accident that as historians have abandoned narrative to explain why the world is the way it is, the average person increasingly turns to wild conspiracy theory: if you don’t want to do whig triumphalism, they’ll start believing in lizard people.

      Intellectuals are in many ways anti-intellectual. The meritocratic elite is ashamed of its merit when instead it should be proud to be the most broad-based, diverse and inclusive elite in human history that rewards – the way no other elite has ever done – two simple things: intelligence and hard work.

      Most importantly, this new meritocratic elite who are the inheritors of all the gifts of the Enlightenment at bottom reject the Enlightenment and its blessings for civilization. They are the guardians of the flames of culture, but seem mostly to be engaged in pissing on their own particular flame. No wonder people have lost all respect for the elite and will not be led by them.

      Culture matters. To all human beings. There were always those in the old working class who read Shakespeare. Today the high school English teacher who might have introduced Shakespeare to those men and women is carefully refraining from correcting their children’s spelling, and rather than having them recite or compose has to sit them all in small groups so that they and their peers can self-educate each other through project-based learning to satisfy the crypto-Maoist longings of professors of Education.

      So why is the cultural elite so contrary? Why are the heirs of the Enlightenment so opposed to the Enlightenment?

      What one really learns at a place like Swarthmore, in some ways a finishing school the way old, white shoe Harvard was a finishing school, is not so much a body of knowledge but a sensibility. At old Harvard, perhaps, one learned to be an Anglo-Saxon gentleman. In imperial China, the gentry studies the classics to be able to reproduce a particular sensibility and manner in poetry and prose for the civil service examinations. At places like Swarthmore, one learns the sensibility of the short 20th Century, beginning in 1914. Edwardian civilization crashed and burned irretrievably in the Great War never to rise again, and with that and the second World War, Depression, Fascism, and the Bomb, intelligent people came to see the human project as a failed project. Ever since then, thinking people have leaned either towards Dadaist nihilism and later postmodernism, or towards modernism’s radical attempts to create new forms ab nihilo, always remembering Pound’s dictum to “make it new.”

      In fact though, the 20th century was a short century. The fall of the Iron Curtain and then of the Soviet Union truly did take the Enlightenment’s classical liberalism out of the dustbin of history. There Is No Alternative. The bourgeoisie arises even out of the billions of India and China. And we’ve never had it so good. The cultural elite, however, have not yet been willing to give up the tragic despair or radical zeal which seemed so appropriate in the tumultuous years of the short 20th century. For them, some rough beast always slouches towards Bethlehem to be born. For them, it’s always Picasso’s Guernica or My Lai.

      That sensibility may well have been relevant at the time. It is no longer relevant and in fact is counter-productive. I hope that the shock of Trump’s victory might cause some people to re-think the world, because big surprises should always prompt serious reassessment.

      In Donald Trump’s acceptance speech, he said that we cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore. In that he was right. We cannot afford it because what it leads to is a President Donald Trump.

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