The Corner

Lost Eden

Jonah: Thanks for posting Charles Murray’s AEI address. It was pure Murray: filled with that good-natured, profoundly decent midwestern optimism that Charles brings to everything he writes and says.

It was also heart-breakingly naive. I agree with Charles in deploring the separating-out of our elites. I share with him nostalgia for the homogenous, egalitarian America of our youth. That America, however, is dead as mutton. There’s a new one a-borning, and it looks much more like Brazil than like Robert Heinlein’s U.S.A.

Charles speaks of visiting his home town in Iowa. I was in Iowa a few months ago, in the pleasant little town of Storm Lake. Here are student demographics for the public elementary schools in Storm Lake. (Or here, or here, or here, or . . . )

So far as the exceptionalism of American vs. European demographics is concerned, our overall 2007 total fertility rate, children per woman, is 2.1 — just about replacement level. As I have pointed out before on The Corner, though, that figure bears closer scrutiny. Total Fertility Rates for Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland are 1.67, 1.78, 1.73, 1.91, respectively. Thus Icelanders, in spite of their lush welfare state, and in spite of being the least religious of all European peoples (and noting that Iceland has very few Third World immigrants), are broodier than non-Hispanic white Americans.

Charles seems to be saying that the racial spoils system will end when the human sciences deliver conclusive results about human differences.

And yet there is reason for strategic optimism, and that leads to the second point I want to make tonight: Critics of the European model are about to get a lot of new firepower. Not only is the European model inimical to human flourishing, twenty-first-century science is going to explain why. We who think that the Founders were right about the relationship of government to human happiness will have an opening over the course of the next few decades to make our case.

The reason is a tidal change in our scientific understanding of what makes human beings tick. It will spill over into every crevice of political and cultural life. Harvard’s Edward O. Wilson anticipated what is to come in a book entitled Consilience. As the twenty-first century progresses, he argued, the social sciences are increasingly going to be shaped by the findings of biology; specifically, the findings of the neuroscientists and the geneticists.

Those results, Charles argues, working together with our traditional political ideals, will return us to a society of free human beings equal under the law.

But why would this happen? In the first place, the human-science results will have to be widely understood and accepted. This is certainly too much to expect. The most elementary facts of biology, described very lucidly by a skillful writer in a best-selling book 150 years ago, are still not understood by most Americans, and are angrily rejected by big, loud lobbies. What chance is there for the more subtle, often statistically-intricate, results now coming out of the human sciences?

And the stakes here are much higher. Why would the millions — the swelling millions — of Americans who benefit from the spoils system give up what they have won, just because of a few papers in some learned journals? More to the point: why would our elites, secure in their gated estates, waited on by their obliging Third World servants, their interests nicely taken care of by their fully-paid-up pals in Washington, D.C., their brains addled with the blank-slate biophobia of their long college educations — why on earth would they want to return to that lost Eden of the 1950s? What’s in it for them?

I am sorry to disagree with Charles. We are the same age and share the same dream. The difference of opinion is, that I am perfectly sure it’s only a dream.


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