“The Bell Curve” and Its Critics
In November 1989, Richard Herrnstein and I agreed to collaborate on a book that, five years later, became The Bell Curve. It is a book about events at the two ends of the distribution of intelligence that are profoundly affecting American life. At one extreme, transformations in higher education, occupations, and federal power are creating a cognitive elite of growing wealth and influence. At the other extreme, transformations in occupations and social norms are creating a cognitive underclass. “Pressures from these contrasting movements at the opposite ends of society put terrific stress on the entire structure,” we write in the preface, and we spend another 550 pages of main text and 300 pages of supplementary material explaining what we mean, and what we see as the implications for America’s future.
The Bell Curve was released by the Free Press early in October 1994, a few weeks after Richard Herrnstein’s death. The initial reaction was encouraging. Acting on Herrnstein’s suggestion, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) held a small conference of academics and journalists from various points on the political spectrum soon after the book’s publication. The conference went well, with brisk exchanges about a book on which people had differing opinions but which they discussed over the course of two days as a serious and careful work of scholarship. Two weeks after the conference, Malcolm Browne’s thoughtful review appeared in the New York Times Book Review, as did Peter Brimelow’s long and favorable article in Forbes—still the best published synopsis of The Bell Curve.
About the Author
Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author most recently of In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State (2006). This article has been adapted from a presentation at the annual Herzliya Conference in Israel in January.