The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

The Fatal Fallacies and Foibles of Race

Review: Intellectuals and Race, by Thomas Sowell
With the calm, objective, and
nearly disinterested panache he is noted for, in Intellectuals and Race* Thomas Sowell dissects a broad range of
fallacies that have surrounded the touchy and often contentious subject of
race. In this latest volume he doesn’t miss a trick, and covers as succinctly
as possible the whole gamut of why “minorities” over the ages – and
not just blacks, but Malays, poor whites in Britain, Jews, Arabs, and other
ethnic and subcultural groups   – have shown little evidence of making
progress in the 20th and 21st centuries in terms of
standards of living, cultural assimilation, literacy, and so on, while others
have sped ahead of other groups.
Sowell discusses two main
schools of thought that have tried to explain and justify the phenomena, and why both have simply exacerbated,
perpetuated, and even created the problems.
In the late 19th
and early 20th centuries, the Progressives in the U.S. patronized blacks,
Jews, and Southern and Eastern Europeans immigrating to the U.S. as groups that
had to be taken care of, even though many Progressives believed that, because
of their genetic makeup or their “native intelligence,” no measurable
improvement could be made by these groups on their own. They were seen as
innately or genetically incapable of rising to the intellectual, cultural and
moral standards of the country they lived in or came to. Many writers of the
early Progressive period advocated laws that would prohibit the immigration of
races or groups who were claimed to be morally degenerate, congenitally diseased
or nearly subhuman.
Statistical studies abounded
with findings that attempted to “scientifically” correlate the causes
of the lack of improvement among these groups. But Sowell lays down the law
early on:
on opposite ends of the spectrum in different eras have been similar in another
way: Both have tended to ignore the long-standing warning from statisticians
that correlation is not causation.
(p. 22, Italics mine.)
In short, the numbers, percentages
and proportions are a consequence of other factors, and not their a priori cause. Racial friction,
discrimination, and exclusionary policies enforced by a majority may cause some
minorities to fail and others to advance in terms of employment, literacy, and
economic comfort. Conversely, majorities can be the victim of racial friction,
discrimination, and exclusionary policies if a minority is bestowed political
power through venal and manipulative politicians and governments (e.g.,
affirmative action policies).
The ultimate responsibility
for the causes of crime, immorality, irrationality, low intelligence and other
deleterious consequences, Sowell points out, is the individual, who can allow himself to be influenced by
external and internal factors.
Several writers (or
intellectuals) advocated the sterilization of blacks, Jews, and Slavs
(eugenics) to protect the “race” from being dragged down to the
levels that would cause crime, anarchy and the dissolution of civilization.
Most of these studies premised their findings, conclusions and recommendations
on genetic or racial determinism.
Britain, as in the United States, leaders and supporters of the eugenics
movement included people on the left, such as John Maynard Keynes, who helped
to create the Cambridge Eugenics Society, as well as H.G. Wells, George Bernard
Shaw, Harold Laski, Sidney Webb and Julian Huxley. Sidney Webb said, “as a
nation we are breeding largely from our inferior stocks.” (p. 27)
Sowell writes about one
leading American Progressive intellectual:
prominent contemporary economist, Richard T. Ely, one of
the founders of the American Economic Association, was similarly dismissive of
blacks, saying that they “are for the most part grown-up children, and
should be treated as such.” Professor Ely was also concerned about classes
that he considered inferior: “We must give to the most hopeless classes
left behind in our social progress custodial care with the highest possible
development and with segregation of sexes and confinement to prevent
reproduction.” (p. 31)
Ely, continues Sowell, was
typical among Progressives in his politics.
T. Ely was not only a Progressive…he espoused the kinds of ideas that defined
the Progressive era, years before that era began. He rejected free market
economics and saw government power as something to be applied “to the
amelioration of the conditions under which people live or work.” Far from
seeing government intervention as a reduction of freedom, he redefined freedom,
so that the “regulation by the power of the state of these industrial and
other social relations existing among men is a condition of freedom.”
While state action might “lessen the amount of theoretical liberty”
it would “increase control over nature in the individual, and promote the
growth of practical liberty.” (p. 31)
Sound familiar? Yesterday’s
Progressives are today’s liberals, socialists, and wannabe tyrants. Increased
and increasing “control over the individual,” regardless of a
person’s race or ethnic origins, has been the dominant trend in politics in the
20th and 21st centuries.
Sowell devotes particular
attention also Madison
, a wealthy Progressive conservationist and author of a popular book The Passing of the Great Race (1916), in
which he discussed the origins and geographical distribution of the “Teutonic
Nordics” and predicted their submersion by the presumably less morally
inclined and slothful “Alpine” and the “Mediterraneans.”  His book became Adolph Hitler’s
its international influence, The Passing
of the Great Race
offered extremely little evidence for its sweeping
conclusions. The great bulk of the book was a historical account of Alpine,
Mediterranean and Nordic peoples in Europe and of the Aryan languages. Yet most
of Madison Grant’s sweeping conclusions and the policies he recommended were
about America – about the “inferior races among our immigrants,”
about the need for eugenics and for “laws against miscegenation.” He
asserted that “Negroes have demonstrated throughout recorded time that
they are a stationary species and that they do not possess the potentiality of
progress or initiative from within.” (p. 27)
Sowell delves into the
political responsibility for much of the dissension and strife between
“minorities,” in politics, and in the culture at large. The later
Progressive movement eventually abandoned “genetics” as an
explanation for minority stagnation and concocted the necessity for
“equality” of results as the only solution, blaming a group’s social
or economic environment for the endemic problems.  
much more common pattern has been one in which the intelligentsia have demanded
an equality of economic outcomes and of social recognition, irrespective of the
skills, behavior or performance of the group to which they belong or on whose
behalf they spoke….Seldom are any of these assertions backed up by empirical
evidence or logical analysis that would make them anything more than arbitrary
assertions that happen to be in vogue among contemporary intellectual elites.
(p. 44)
Although Sowell does not
specifically attribute the conflicts between majorities and minorities to a
manifestation of collectivism or
tribalism,” that is what he discusses throughout his
book. In citing the growing power of ethnic identities throughout Europe, he describes,
for example, the artificial conflict between Czechs and Germans.
very similar process occurred in the Hapsburg Empire, where the Germans in
Bohemia were an educated elite and where Czechs there who wanted to rise into
that elite could do so by acquiring the German language and culture. But a new
Czech intelligentsia …promoted Czech cultural nationalism. Czech nationalists,
for example, insisted that street signs in Prague, which had been in both Czech
and German, henceforth be exclusively in Czech…Symbolism – including
intolerance toward other people’s symbols – has often marked the efforts of
ethnic intelligentsia. (p. 45)
Moreover, Sowell notes that:
various periods of history, the intelligentsia in general and newly educated
people in particular have inflamed group against group, promoting discriminatory
policies and/or physical violence in such disparate countries as India,
Hungary, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Romania, Sri Lanka, Canada, and Czechoslovakia. (p.
Islam is not discussed by
Sowell in his book, but we can observe the political clout wielded by minority
Muslims and their advocacy groups in Britain, Europe, Canada, and the U.S., in
which this minority has succeeded in requiring that the majority accede to and
conform to their frankly primitive beliefs and sub-culture, that non-Muslims
adapt to Islamic mores and practices, and not Muslims adapt to the largely
secular culture to which they have immigrated.
Sowell discusses at length
the fact that blacks in the late 19th and early 20th
century, especially those who had generational roots in Northern urban centers
of the U.S., did not experience much discrimination, lived in mixed race
neighborhoods without friction, attained middle- and upper-class economic and
social levels, and, academically, often scored better than whites in test
scores and did just as well as whites in schools. Moreover, when black
immigration from the South began in the early 20th century to these
same urban centers, generationally established blacks largely voiced the same
complaints as whites about the behavior, social and moral norms, and crime that
the Southern blacks brought with them.
Jews and Irish, Sowell also
notes, had the same parallel experience and, ultimately, the same complaints about
Eastern and Southern European Jews and Irish immigrants.
Multiculturalism seeks to
reduce all cultures to the same nonjudgmental level and the same value. The key
to understanding the government and intelligentsia-imposed phenomena is to
grasp that it is the superior culture – the one that has produced science,
technology, prosperity, and the arts – that is the culture that is allegedly
the arbitrary, subjective, and “imperialistic.” By multiculturalist
anti-standards, an Alaskan totem pole is the esthetic and spiritual equal as Michelangelo’s
“David,” a rap song loaded with obscenities and malevolence is the
equal of a Rachmaninoff symphony, and a witch doctor using herbs and chants is
the equal of a brain surgeon.
One does not read or hear of
the advocates of a superior culture proposing to bring black, Iraqi, Mexican, or
Muslim culture up to the standards of the superior culture. It is always the
reverse: the champions of the inferior culture using the superior culture as a
measure to engulf and destroy.
Discussing the attacks on
college admission tests and other measures of intelligence and abilities, and
answering the charge by the egalitarian intelligentsia that these tests are racially
biased and do not take into account the failures (or an individual’s “cultural”
values) coming from invidious cultural and moral environments, Sowell makes a very
important point:
If one
chooses to call tests that require the mastery of abstractions culturally
biased, because some cultures put more emphasis on abstractions than others do,
that raises the fundamental questions about what the tests are for. In a world
where the ability to master abstractions is essential in mathematics, science
and other endeavors, the measurement of that ability is not an arbitrary bias. A
culture-free test might be appropriate in a culture-free society – but these are
no such societies. (p. 69)
I would argue that there are such cultures, the Islamic one being
a notable instance, the current liberal, multicultural “culture”
being another, with their mutual ends being to obliterate Western culture and
In a chapter titled
“Race and Cosmic Justice,” Sowell tackles the “social
justice” argument that attempts to excuse what one could call
“reverse racism,” that is, of blacks, Latinos, or even Muslims blaming
a Western, secular society for all the purported discrimination, exclusionary policies,
and other ills these groups claim victimhood of, and subsequently resorting to
politics to “correct” the perceived injustices, or to violence. In this
attack on reason and values, the government and the Progressive/liberal
intelligentsia have become an invaluable ally on the side of the destroyers.
Sowell distinguishes between
“external” and “internal” influences that can cause individuals
to join or remain in a group, especially if they have failed to make any
progress in a purportedly “racist” society. Individuals who make that
choice condemn themselves to continued failure, which simply perpetuates their conundrum
and exacerbates their complaints and grievances.
If the
dogmas of multiculturalism declare different cultures equally valid, and hence
sacrosanct against efforts to change them, then these dogmas simply complete
the sealing off of a vision from facts – and sealing off many people in lagging
groups from the advances available from other cultures around them – leaving nothing
but an agenda of resentment-building and crusades on the side of the angels
against the forces of evil – however futile or even counterproductive these may
turn out to be for those who are the ostensible beneficiaries of such moral
melodramas. (p. 108)
I highly recommend Sowell’s
book because it offers numerous insights into how the race “problem”
has and has not been approached by our intellectual leaders. It largely has not
been approached in the least rational manner except with agenda-governed
fallacies and knee-jerk foibles guaranteed to perpetuate the problem our
intellectuals supposedly wish to
* Intellectuals and Race, by Thomas Sowell. New York: Basic Books,
2013. 184 pp.


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  1. Neil Parille

    I like Tom Sowell and plan on reading this book. (I skimmed some of it on amazon.)

    Sowell writes, "correlation is not causation." But, as I'm sure Sowell knows, the hereditarian argument for racial differences isn't based on just correlation.

    The claim is that black IQs regress to a lower mean than whites, black children adopted into white homes have IQs equal to that of the general black population, among other things. Whether these arguments are good or bad I don't know, but I don't get the impression that Sowell is dealing with the better arguments.

    From what I can tell, Sowell doesn't mention the later work of Lynn, Jensen and Rushton.

    I was saddened to see a scholar of Sowell's caliber rely on the discredited Eyferth study concerning the IQs of German childred fathered by black US soldiers.

  2. madmax

    I was saddened to see a scholar of Sowell's caliber rely on the discredited Eyferth study concerning the IQs of German childred fathered by black US soldiers.

    Me too. Charles Murray shredded that one. Sowell did not address the best of the hereditarian arguments as you say. I wish he would.

    I really have no horse in this argument. Whatever the science is, it is. But too often opposition to the heredity based claims are not motivated by any search for the truth, but by fear. I'm not saying that of Sowell. And certainly not Ed Cline. But mainstream Objectivism at large is guilty of the same type of intimidation tactics used against any heredity claims. In that way they are just like Leftists. They say they are pro-science. But for only those findings that they like. That's going to be a problem if science should end up proving a host of unpleasant things.

  3. Neil Parille

    But mainstream Objectivism at large is guilty of the same type of intimidation tactics used against any heredity claims. In that way they are just like Leftists.

    I believe Harry Binswanger has said that even within group hereditarian conclusions about IQ can't be true because they would hurt people's self esteem. Even leftist psychologists (such as R.A. Nisbett) admit that intelligence is at least 50% inherited. This puts Binswanger on the radical left.

  4. madmax

    I believe Harry Binswanger has said that even within group hereditarian conclusions about IQ can't be true because they would hurt people's self esteem.

    Binswanger is just chock full of stuff like this. He does not represent a fearless quest for truth. He speaks as one who is defending ideological commitments from a psychological position of fear.

  5. Elisheva Hannah Levin

    Ed, you state that the Islamic civilization is "culture free" and that it's goal is the destruction of Western Culture. I agree, and would go further. The historical evidence demonstrates that in all of its conquests Islam has destroyed every culture-primitive or civilized- that it conquers. It erases the history, thought, and the associated material culture, treating it as ifit had never been. There have been few exceptions to this practice, such as certain caliphates in Spain, and with a brief flowering of scholarship in the Middle East early on in the existence of Islam, but these were ruthlessly put down by a fundamentalist and minimalist movement within Islam, the adherents of which argued that if Mohammed didn't have it or know it, such arts and sciences were unnecessary to Muslims.

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