Charles Murray much preferred his most recent visit to Duke University to his last stop four years ago.
Murray made a few joking references to his last visit to Duke, during which students staged a walkout
The controversial social scientist spoke at the school Tuesday night as part of a nationwide tour connecting the themes of his 2012 book, Coming Apart: The State of White America to the 2016 election.
Considered a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Murray is best known for a 1994 book he coauthored, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, which argued that intelligence is at least partly genetic and accounts for socioeconomic differences between whites and blacks. His remarks on Tuesday steered decidedly clear of this topic.
. Tuesday’s event at the Doris Duke Center, however, was tame. About sixty students and faculty members attended and nobody walked out as Murray discussed the growing divide between working-class whites and the white-upper-class “cognitive elite. "
Murray said Tuesday that he chose to limit Coming Apart
to white people to “drive home the point that this is not a problem of ethnicity.”
Working-class whites have become increasingly alienated as “brains” are valued more and more in our economy and as they stop doing things that buy “social capital,” like going to church, getting married, and staying in the workforce. (Much of this is discussed in The Bell Curve,
but nobody noticed “because nobody read The Bell Curve,
” Murray said, taking a jab at the book's critics).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the cognitive elite, Murray says, are living in homogenous bubbles, unable to relate to the plight of their working-class counterparts. “There is no ethnic slur that you can use in an upper-class dinner party without getting immediate, probably very harsh pushback—as it should be," he said. There are two exceptions: redneck and Bible-thumper.
This contempt isn’t lost on working class, largely rural whites, who channeled their anger into votes for Trump.
He closed the discussion before a brief Q and A by telling students not to become sheltered in their own bubbles. During the Q and A, Murray endorsed a universal basic income
as an alternative to welfare, which he says creates a culture of dependency, and denounced large-scale immigration because it takes away jobs and wages from American citizens.
Tuesday’s talk followed a similar program as one Murray gave earlier this month at Vermont’s Middlebury College
, where he ultimately gave his presentation via livestream after protesters drowned him out for nearly twenty minutes.
In light of how he was received at Middlebury, Duke took extra safety precautions, hosting the event at the secluded Doris Duke Center and requiring tickets. If there was any attempt to organize a protest of Murray’s Duke visit, it was quashed by tight security: more than a dozen guards were posted at the entrances of Duke Gardens and the room where Murray spoke, and visitors were asked to present photo IDs twice as they came in. (Jason Weiss, head of Duke's chapter of the American Enterprise Institute, which cosponsored the event with Duke College Republicans, declined to speak with the INDY
Frances Beroset, a writer for Duke's student newspaper, The Chronicle
, spotted four "anarchists" outside the event.
A group of students who spoke with the INDY
after the discussion were expecting to see a protest; they’d heard murmurs around campus about one. They came to the talk out of curiosity, after hearing about the Middlebury episode and wondering whether Murray and his views were worth all the fuss. They said most discussions at their school are open-door, whereas for Tuesday’s event, they had to go to one campus location to request a ticket and another to pick it up.
Tickets were gone by one-thirty Tuesday afternoon, said Ali Goldsmith, who studies psychology. She and public policy student Hannah Gropper wondered whether Murray’s opponents had snapped up tickets in protest.
Goldsmith said she expected to disagree with what Murray had to say because she is generally more liberal than Murray, who described his politics Tuesday as “limited-government right.” While she disagrees with his theories linking race and IQ, she said he’s right to point out the role of disgruntled residents of the so-called “flyover states” in the 2016 election.
Out of the seven students, none had read The Bell Curve
, although they had read about it, and a few said the book was mentioned in class. One student, Rajan Mehran, is reading Coming Apart
“I think that coming here and getting a diverse opinion, seeing views that are kind of different from what you hear on campus, I think is kind of enlightening and it’s kind of why we all come to college,” said Mehran, a public policy student.
“Conservatism in general is so connotative with a lack of sensitivity or passion, and he was so in the face of that,” added Drew Carlson, an economics student. “It was about bringing people together. I think that is usually something that one would not assume would go with a conservative or libertarian thinker.”
Avery Carmichael, who studies creative writing, said she was proud of her school for hosting such a divisive speaker. “We want free and open discourse,” she said.