Early last week, a watchdog website hosted by People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, reacted with alarm to a political-legal strategy outlined in a new book by the conservative social theorist Charles Murray. Normally when liberals assail Murray it’s in connection with his infamous tome The Bell Curve, which made him synonymous with race science — specifically the presumption that I.Q. differences between whites and blacks can be partially attributed to genetics.
Twenty years later, Murray has moved on to a more direct form of conservative activism, and taken a critical look at the mixed record of various expensive right-wing efforts to roll back the New Deal consensus. As you might expect from someone as deterministic as the author of The Bell Curve, Murray has concluded that the conservative movement’s shortcomings must be explained via reference to its political DNA and the political DNA of its competitors. But rather than reason much as he did two decades ago that these shortcomings reflect the intrinsic weakness of his ideology, he has concluded instead that the system is rigged against it. Appealing as populist libertarian ideas are to him and his cohort, or as they should be in the abstract, they simply can’t compete in a democratic environment with downwardly distributive progressivism. For the right to gain advantage, it will have to change terrain.