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L’Affaire Richwine

I didn’t know Jason Richwine very well during his post-doc fellowship at AEI, but in my rare interactions I was favorably impressed.  But as background to pondering his shameful dismissal from Heritage last week, I want to recall the time in the late 1980s when I first met James Q. Wilson, arguably America’s greatest social scientist at the time, shortly after he left Harvard for UCLA.  In the course of our conversation—an interview for the Claremont Review of Books—he mentioned that he was unable to find any graduate students who were interested in exploring black politics:

The serious study of black politics scarcely exists any more. One of my unfulfilled academic aspirations has been to find some graduate student whom I could supervise while he or she produced a remake of Negro Politics [one of Wilson’s first books]. I can’t find anybody to do it. . .

I think they don’t want to because they’re afraid of what they may discover. I think white liberals have gone through a large but unstable shift in their judgment about the white/black debate. The more you deal with old questions of civil rights, races, and nationalities, the more you realize that what people are is a product of very complex circumstances. They’re certainly not going to be changed by slogans having to do with minorities. . .

An enormous embarrassment comes over students who confront minorities. I gave a lecture on blacks and crime; and from the moment I began talking, for over fifty minutes, you could hear a pin drop. Among the three hundred fifty people present, I would say at least ten or fifteen percent of the students were black. Everybody was desperately afraid that somebody was going to be embarrassed by something. I’m sure it’s the only lecture on the subject that has ever been given at Harvard in modern times, and it’s probably the last time any such lecture will ever be given. People simply find it embarrassing.

It’s one thing for Harvard to get a case of the vapors over some politically incorrect investigations (Larry Summers, call your office), but quite another for a conservative think tank to run for the tall grass just because of the braying leftist mob.  Note, by the way, in the document linked in the previous sentence, that the conclusion is that some questions must be closed—period: “Even if such claims had merit, the Kennedy School cannot ethically stand by this dissertation whose end result can only be furthering discrimination under the guise of academic discourse.”  (Emphasis added.)  One of the reasons the left has to impose a complete prohibition on any discussion of racial (or gender) differences of any kind is that it works to seal off the real argument which they always lose—namely that the principle that “all men are created equal” does not imply that the government should make all people equal in all respects, i.e., especially redistribution of wealth, which is the ultimate goal of the left.

Good for National Review’s Robert VerBruggen to say that Heritage has behaved badly here. (Ditto Greg Pollowitz.)  He might have gone further.  As Charles Murray has commented, when The Bell Curve set the left to DefCon1 back in 1995, AEI never flinched in defending him.  That Heritage would cut Richwine loose in just 48 hours—nowhere near enough time to have reviewed his controversial dissertation seriously—is not a good sign.  There has been open speculation in Washington that new Heritage president Jim DeMint intends to use his post as a springboard for running for president in 2016, and will use Heritage Action, the political arm of the think tank, to bash his potential GOP rivals.  If this speculation is 100 percent wrong, DeMint should quickly and publicly disavow any intent to seek office.  But the hasty dismissal of Richwine looks exactly like the behavior of politicians who dump expendable staff when they threaten to become an embarrassment.

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