Last August for the first time in my life, I was kicked out of an organization. Intercollegiate Studies Institute is the organization that did this, as I learned from its Senior Vice President. Although I had been affiliated with his outfit as an author for more than thirty years, my caller told me that ISI wished to be rid of me. His institute would not publish an article they had unexpectedly commissioned me to write and would not even offer me a kill fee. Those in charge, however, would not throw away the remaining copies of my autobiography Encounters, which they had published four years ago. But they were not going to exert themselves in trying to market my work. In fact they would be happy if I bought what remained of the run. That way they wouldn’t have to list my name in their catalogue.
My offense, as I learned from my informant, who was repeating what he reportedly heard from his bosses, was that some of my friends “believe there are IQ disparities” among individuals and between ethnic groups. The Senior Vice President claims to have come to my defense by pointing out that my friends may believe something akin to what Charles Murray had addressed in The Bell Curve. But neoconservative organizations like AEI had not expelled Murray for having argued his point. Why did ISI feel impelled to sever relations with me because I bestowed my friendship on someone who entertained thoughts that overlapped Murray’s?(Note this conversation was not about what I had asserted but what my friends may or may not accept as scientifically true.) During the phone conversation, I learned that my interlocutor thought “as a Christian” that it’s immoral to believe some groups are not as intelligent as other ones because of an inborn difference. I’ve no idea why this person’s religious affiliation requires him to deny a defensible scientific proposition, and which as late as the 1990s half of the (already leftward drifting) American Psychological Association still affirmed as a heavily substantiated fact.
There were undoubtedly financial considerations that led to my eventual expulsion. ISI overspent on its diggings (which are near the palatial residence of Vice President Joe Biden in Centerville, Delaware) and by hiring a swarming staff, they had become subject to neoconservative overlords with deep pockets. ISI publications, like the student-oriented Campus, paid tribute to Martin Luther King and the ideals of global democracy and diversity. The organization’s flagship journal Modern Age, which had been set up by Russell Kirk in 1956, included more and more essays that seemed intended to please its new patrons. Modern Age had once been simply tendentious, in a Catholic or Anglo-Catholic preachy sort of way. The late Sam Francis once observed that a Modern Age feature essay came from the pen of a self-consciously Catholic writer praising the pious values of Flannery O’Connor apropos of random meditations on the footnotes of a generally unintelligible German émigré scholar. A core theme that one typically encountered while perusing back issues were “remembrances” of conservative founding fathers, such as early movement conservative icon Russell Kirk, the German-American philosopher of history Eric Voegelin, and other luminaries identified with “cultural conservatism.” The magazine’s “celebratory essays” blended into each other in such a manner that it was sometimes hard to tell one “celebration” from another. And a diligent editor should have gone through every issue and excise the use of “permanent things,” a piece of rhetorical filler that the magazine would have done well to ban from its pages.
But to their credit, the editors of MA did not care about neoconservative disapproval. Over the years it published such heretics of the Right as Francis, the Southern literary scholar M.E. Bradford, Clyde Wilson, and Thomas Molnar. Under two longtime editors, David Collier and George Panichas, the quarterly mingled its usual fare with daring critical work. Up until a few issues ago the now deceased constitutional scholar George Carey was allowed to contend furiously in Modern Age against the Bush-McCain project of bringing democracy (in its current American incarnation) to the entire globe. Since George conveniently died a few months ago, ISI didn’t have to expel him. In all probability the ISI-thought police would now feel driven to deep-freeze Modern Age’s founder Russell Kirk, if he were still alive and kicking. From what I can recall, Russell never flinched from discussing ethnic peculiarities.
Several months ago ISI decided to drop from the magazine’s masthead anyone who might offend their new donors. I thereupon became unmentionable, together with other longtime Modern Age associates. The most plausible reason that some of us purge victims could find for this indignity is that we had criticized “neoconservative” scholarship” or voiced reservations about the neoconservative political dominance of Conservatism, Inc. For me, however, the prelude to the purge had come earlier. My work was neither cited nor reviewed in ISI publications for quite some time; and although I had published in Modern Age for several decades, none of my essays was included in anthologies of “important” ISI contributions that the institute periodically brought out. (To give the devil his due, MA, to mysurprise, just reviewed my latest book, on Leo Strauss, two years after the work was published.) On a related note: it has come to my attention that Jonah Goldberg has been feted as a speaker by ISI for advancing the institute’s moral and intellectual mission. Jonah is presumably accomplishing this by standing up for gay marriage. Apparently advocating gay marriage is now more compatible with those Christian family values that ISI claims to be defending than rubbing shoulders with people who believe in human cognitive differences.
The guilt by association charge that was raised to justify my excommunication was also turned against a close friend. Although this friend has never written about cognitive disparities, he shares with me the honor of being an officer of the H.L. Mencken Club, an organization for independent conservative thinkers that I created six years ago. Last year’s outrage was to have asked one of our members, Byron Roth, to speak about dysgenics at our annual gathering. Byron gave no indication that the human race is degenerating genetically but he did address the controversial subject of dysgenics, within the framework of our conference discussion of decadence. Because my friend and fellow club member was planning to attend his lecture, he was told that his commissioned article been dropped from an ISI symposium dealing with “what is conservatism?” Whatever conservatism may be, it has nothing to do with those easily intimidated opportunists who pick up their pay checks at ISI.
This brings me to two questions that occurred to me during my conversation with the Senior Vice President. One, why did ISI bother to kick me out formally, given the fact that they had already in effect cut off relations with me? Two years ago ISI ceased publishing its longtime publication on political theory, Political Science Reviewer, when the next scheduled issue was to feature an extended symposium on my work on the conservative movement. One would have to be an idiot to believe this was mere coincidence. None of the participants bought the official story, namely that ISI had no funds for the project. In view of the studious care that ISI showed at keeping me at arm’s length, what occurred last year was overkill. Two, how much longer can the subordinates of Conservatism, Inc. throw their vulnerable comrades to leftist bullies before they look like fools? Excommunicating X for associating with Y, who believes there is a hereditary basis for cognitive differences, is inconsistent with ISI’s claim to be defending academic freedom.
Moreover, engaging in this behavior because one believes it will keep the Left off one’s back is terminally idiotic. The leftist bullies will be back next week with new demands, such as dumping those who write critically about gay marriage. In view of the demonstrated pusillanimity of ISI, and what seems its present parent organization, Heritage, I strongly doubt that the advocates of “the permanent things” would resist new orders to dump more associates for thought crimes. (ISI may have been following the precedent set at Heritage last year when it fired a researcher Jason Richwine when it was discovered that Richwine included IQ data in a dissertation at Harvard about the low IQ tests of recent Latino immigrants.)
Well into the 1990s, it was almost universally accepted by the scientific community, except for Stalinoid propagandist Leon Kamin and the perpetually PC Stephen Jay Gould, that human IQ varied significantly, that IQ tests could measure these differences, and that up to 85 percent of intelligence may be hereditary. In an enlightening work The IQ Controversy( 1988) Stanley Rothman and Jay Snydermann document the premises that the overwhelming majority of scientists, biologists, and psychologists fully accept the axioms that a significant part (indeed well over one half) of intelligence is hereditary, and that general intelligence is testable.
Needless to say, Mencken Club members would not reject out of hand contravening evidence on the subject of human intelligence. For example, we have discussed with due respect the heavily researched essays of Ron Unz examining the effects of urbanization on the IQ performance of Latinos. Although Unz does not deny the effect of heredity on intelligence and although he recommends the writings of scholars who argue for this connection, he himself is a weak hereditarian. But this would hardly keep us from considering his research conclusions, if we again address the subject of his work. What we would insist on is that the hereditary basis of intelligence is worth discussing and that before we accept some variation of the Left’s environmental explanation for behavioral and cognitive differences, we would like to look at all relevant arguments.
What follows is my exchange with ISI’s president subsequent to my excommunication. I have appended some final comments that were occasioned by Christopher Long’s defense of his organization’s handling of unwelcome dissent.
Dear President Long,
Would you be kind enough to respond to these questions, which I may incorporate into a book on changing conservative foundations I’ve been commissioned to prepare?
- Is it the position of ISI that there are no significant IQ differences among human beings? On what scientific evidence do you base this assumption, if this is indeed your institutional stance?
- Why do you find it necessary to dissociate your institute explicitly from those who believe in hereditarianism as the key to understanding human intelligence?
- I’ve recently been told by one of your officers that believing in critical cognitive differences among individuals and groups is incompatible with Christian values? Why is this so?
- Why is it less incompatible with religious values to give awards to advocates of gay marriage than to allow those who believe in the importance of IQ differences to be associated with your institute?
Please note these questions are not motivated by my recent unhappy experiences with ISI. I am an elderly research scholar engaged in a research project. Incidentally, I don’t consider your taboos (if that is what they are) to be conspicuously different from those that prevail in other “conservative” foundations.
Thank you for writing to me personally and privately. I appreciate and understand your desire for clarification.
Questions of statistical analysis and scientific research are removed from the Institute’s mission and purpose, which is to educate college students on the free enterprise system, America’s founding principles and the Western tradition. Therefore, as an institution we take no positions on such controversies.
We remain advocates of academic freedom, and our highest duty as stewards of a sixty-years old institution is to ensure its ability to operate effectively on American college campuses. If individuals choose to endorse publicly and academically controversial positions, we are under no obligation to jeopardize ISI’s reputation and viability by highlighting current or past associations with such individuals. The only benefit of such a stance would seem to accrue solely to the enemies of ordered liberty.
If there is courage in taking a position on a controversial topic, that virtue is foregone if one insists on dragging unwilling participants into the debate. I am certain that any decision by my colleagues regarding the matters of which you write was based on what they perceived to be the most properly prudential action in light of the circumstances.
Thank you for your understanding that our duty is to protect as we see best fit the institution that we are temporarily charged with stewarding. Whether or not you and others agree with our decisions, I hope you will understand that they are based purely on prudence with an eye toward protecting and furthering ISI’s mission.
To whatever extent President Long’s thoughts can be inferred from his cluster of run-on sentences, he is clearly and perhaps quite deliberately avoiding the main issues. Neither of us has written about the First Law of Thermodynamics, but I doubt that President Long would be running away from someone who produced an article or book explaining that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Why then is ISI excommunicating those who believe in a defensible thesis about disparities in measurable human intelligence? Does President Long wish to have me deny that there are hereditary cognitive differences among people? Then he should come out and say that as a prerequisite for continued association with his group, one should not question environmentalist explanations for differences in intelligence. Certainly he has taken this stand against dissenters and has done so in a threatening fashion. Under his “stewardship” ISI is banning those who address the scientific questions President Long has opted to avoid? Finally it is unclear to me what the “mission” of ISI that President Long seeks to “protect” really is. As best I can tell, it’s about keeping himself and his staff employed in comfortable surroundings.
[A somewhat different version of this piece appeared earlier this month at VDare.com]