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Authors: Thomas Sowell

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Intellectuals and Race

Intellectuals and Race
Thomas Sowell
Basic Books (2013)

Intellectuals and Race
is a radical book in the original sense of one that goes to the root of the problem. The role of intellectuals in racial strife is explored in an international context that puts the American experience in a wholly new light.

The views of individual intellectuals have spanned the spectrum, but the views of intellectuals as a whole have tended to cluster. Indeed, these views have clustered at one end of the spectrum in the early twentieth century and then clustered at the opposite end of the spectrum in the late twentieth century. Moreover, these radically different views of race in these two eras were held by intellectuals whose views on other issues were very similar in both eras.

Intellectuals and Race
is not, however, a book about history, even though it has much historical evidence, as well as demographic, geographic, economic and statistical evidence-- all of it directed toward testing the underlying assumptions about race that have prevailed at times among intellectuals in general, and especially intellectuals at the highest levels. Nor is this simply a theoretical exercise. The impact of intellectuals' ideas and crusades on the larger society, both past and present, is the ultimate concern. These ideas and crusades have ranged widely from racial theories of intelligence to eugenics to "social justice" and multiculturalism.

In addition to in-depth examinations of these and other issues,
Intellectuals and Race
explores the incentives, the visions and the rationales that drive intellectuals at the highest levels to conclusions that have often turned out to be counterproductive and even disastrous, not only for particular racial or ethnic groups, but for societies as a whole.


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
“Sowell brings an all-too-rare perspective to whatever he writes about — that of a conservative black intellectual, especially valuable for this book’s topic.”

About the Author

Thomas Sowell is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and has taught economics at Cornell, UCLA, Amherst, and other academic institutions. He is the author of
Intellectuals and Society, Dismantling America, Economic Facts and Fallacies
, and the classic
Basic Economics
, which has been translated into six languages. Sowell has published in both academic journals and in such popular media as the
Wall Street Journal, Forbes
magazine, and
, and he writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country. He lives in Stanford, California.




A Member of the Perseus Books Group
New York

Copyright © 2013 by Thomas Sowell
Published in 2013 by Basic Books,
A Member of the Perseus Books Group

Portions of this text were previously published in the paperback edition of the Author’s work
Intellectuals and Society
, published in 2012 by Basic Books.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address Basic Books, 250 West 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10107.

Books published by Basic Books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the United States by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 2300 Chestnut Street, Suite 200, Philadelphia, PA 19103, or call (800) 810-4145, ext. 5000, or e-mail
[email protected]

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013930756
E-book ISBN: 978-0-465-05870-9

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

The gods mercifully gave mankind this little moment of peace between the religious fanaticisms of the past and the fanaticisms of class and race that were speedily to arise and dominate time to come.

G.M. Trevelyan



Chapter 1: Questions About Race

Chapter 2: Disparities and Their Causes

Chapter 3: Changing Racial Beliefs

Chapter 4: Internal Responses to Disparities

Chapter 5: Race and Intelligence

Chapter 6: Liberalism and Multiculturalism

Chapter 7: Race and Cosmic Justice

Chapter 8: The Past and The Future




ntellectuals have had a powerful effect on racial and ethnic issues, in countries around the world, for at least the past hundred years— and there is no sign that their influence will not continue, for better or worse, in the generations ahead. Even within a given country, such as the United States, that influence has been exercised in diametrically opposite directions at different times, promoting racial segregation and eugenics in the early twentieth century, and then civil rights and affirmative action in the later decades of that century. In other countries and in different eras, intergroup differences have led to even more varied and extreme consequences, including outright civil war and mass murder.

Such issues and patterns will be explored in the chapters that follow. Most, but not all, of these chapters first appeared in a special section on race that was added to the revised edition of a much larger and more sweeping study,
Intellectuals and Society
. Here I have belatedly taken the advice of my research assistant Na Liu, and published these chapters in a separate book for those who wish to focus on racial issues, rather than take on the larger and more time-consuming task of traveling on a more sweeping journey across the landscape of intellectuals’ influences on issues ranging from economics to law to war and peace.

New chapters have been added to this book, including the last chapter exploring current trends, in hopes of discerning their implications for the future. The chapters that precede this effort to foresee what lies ahead should tell us enough about what has already happened to make it obvious how large are the stakes and how difficult the choices facing this generation and those that will follow. If this book succeeds in simply demonstrating through its facts and analysis how inadequate, and even dangerous, the currently fashionable assumptions and catch phrases about race are, it will have achieved its purpose.

Chapter 1

Questions About Race

ike many things that people are reluctant to discuss in polite society, or to discuss honestly, race is too important to be ignored or— worse yet— to think about only in the safe conventions and evasive phrases of our time. Too much of the history of race, in countries around the world, has been a story of hostility and hatred, and often a story written in blood. Ignorance about race is a luxury that few people of any race can afford. Misinformation is even worse, even when it is well-meaning misinformation.

The emotional difficulties of discussing race are matched by the intellectual difficulties. These difficulties begin with defining race itself. Ideally, we might think of a race as a set of people genetically and indelibly different from others in physical characteristics of one sort or another. But the ideal and the reality can differ as much when it comes to race as in any other aspect of human life. People have been singled out for racial discrimination, or even extermination, who looked so much like other members of the society in which they lived that they had to be forced to dress differently or to wear identifying insignia. Some have defined race broadly, such as black, white and yellow races, while others have considered Anglo-Saxons, Slavs and Celts to be different races. Racial intermixtures complicate definitions even more.

Race is not entirely in the eye of the beholder, but it is a social concept with a biological basis. A stricter definition could lose touch with realities in societies where intermarriage is sharply increasing. Nor is intermarriage the ultimate solution to racial problems that many once thought. Jews in Germany in the 1920s had high rates of intermarriage,
but that did not stop the rise of Hitler in the 1930s or the Holocaust in the 1940s. Indeed, intermarriage led to larger numbers of offspring being classified as Jews, with tragic consequences. Arbitrary demarcations and inconsistent definitions of race have marked societies preoccupied with race, including the South of the Jim Crow era in the United States and white-ruled South Africa of the apartheid era.

Many have yearned for a society where race was irrelevant, and some saw the election of the first black President of the United States as a major step toward that kind of society. But polls on support for, and opposition to, that president among different ethnic groups are just one sign of continuing racial polarization. In short, no matter how ultimately irrelevant race may seem to some, racial issues show no sign of going away. They cannot be ignored. The only question is how we confront them.

That is a special question when it comes to intellectuals, because their views can influence the way millions of other people see race, as the tendencies, preconceptions and conclusions of the intelligentsia spread through the media and educational institutions from the schools to the universities. For better or worse, intellectuals have played a large role in racial issues in many countries around the world. In the United States, they have played opposite roles on racial issues in the early twentieth century as contrasted with the late twentieth century. These roles and these issues are explored in the chapters that follow, leading to many conclusions very different from those currently prevailing in the media, in politics or in academia.

Both “intellectuals” and “race” are words with many elusive definitions. By “intellectuals” is meant here people in a particular occupation— namely, people whose work begins and ends with ideas. It is an occupational designation, rather than an honorific title, and implies nothing about the mental level of those in that occupation. Chemists or chess grandmasters may be of equal or greater mental accomplishment, but they are not intellectuals because their work ends with an outcome subject to empirical verification by known standards, while the outcomes of the work of intellectuals are subject essentially to peer consensus. Even in academia, professors of medicine or engineering are not what come to mind when
intellectuals are discussed, even though they may be the mental equals or superiors of professors of sociology or literature.

These are not just verbal issues about nomenclature. Any attempt to have rational discourse requires that those with different views have a common language in which to discuss their differences. And there is no subject more in need of rational discourse than is the subject of race.

While Americans are rightly concerned about issues involving racial and ethnic groups in their own country, such issues are common in other societies around the world. Moreover, even to understand what is happening in one country may require some knowledge of the extent to which similar things have been present in other societies, and whether they have led to similar or different outcomes.

This is especially so when a given outcome in one country is attributed to a given factor— and yet that same outcome can be found in other countries where that factor is absent. For example, when lower class whites in Britain exhibit strikingly similar behavior patterns to those of blacks in America, attributing those behavior patterns among American blacks to “a legacy of slavery” or to past or contemporary racial discrimination, is offering an explanation which obviously cannot apply to lower class Britons who have experienced neither. That then calls into question to what extent it applies to American blacks, though many take such explanations as a foregone conclusion requiring no further inquiry or closer scrutiny.

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