The American political blogs are all agog over the issue of intelligence testing and race. Charles Murray, the bad penny of the social sciences, has once again reappeared as the subject of debate for the 1994 book he co-wrote with the late Richard J. Herrnstein, The Bell Curve. One way to address this tiresome topic from an unexplored angle is to look at a now largely forgotten figure who is cited as an authority in The Bell Curve, Nathaniel Weyl (1910-2005).
Weyl had an unusually colorful past: in the 1930s he was a communist. If not a Soviet spy, Weyl certainly kept company with those who were, including Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. In the early 1950s Weyl reinvented himself as a born again patriot, testifying at great length against his erstwhile comrades. Like numerous other professional anti-communists, he found a comfortable niche the nascent conservative movement. Weyl’s specialty as a right-winger was defending white supremacy in the American south and in Africa. Just as he was once an admirer of Stalin’s Russia, now he exalted the regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa.
Among conservatives, Weyl was something of a pioneer in using data gleaned from intelligence tests to bolster the case against egalitarian politics. He repeatedly argued that black Americans didn’t quite have the intellectual maturity to be full citizens. Lacking introspection, Weyl never noticed that unlike himself, the vast majority of American blacks never entertained romantic fantasies about Stalin’s Russia or South Africa’s herrenvolk democracy.
The flavor of Weyl’s thought can be captured in an article he wrote in 1967 for the journal Intelligence, arguing for the superiority of white Rhodesians with evidence from his own visit to Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia. “Thus, white Rhodesians are an elite element within the English-speaking world in terms of psychometric intelligence,” Weyl argued. “This finding is reinforced by visual impressions. Salisbury whites appear larger, healthier, more vigorous, alert and bright than London whites. Beatniks, transvestites and obvious homosexuals are conspicuously absent.”
Let’s leave aside the question of race and look at the assumptions being made here. Is there any rational reason for thinking that beatniks, transvestites and “obvious homosexuals” have low IQs? At a guess I would say that Allen Ginsburg and Oscar Wilde both would have done very well in intelligent tests; certainly their command of the English language was superior to that of the graceless Weyl. Moreover, there is an obvious reason, one which has nothing to do with IQs, for why London had Beatniks, transvestites and “obvious homosexuals” while Salisbury didn’t. London was a metropolitan capital while Salisbury was a provincial colonial city ruled by a very reactionary elite. One might as well complain that Saskatoon, Saskatchewan doesn’t have good French restaurants and draw conclusions from that fact about the intelligence of the natives.
Weyl’s writings were once very popular: many issues of National Review in the 1960s carry ads for his books, available through the Conservative Book Club. But he’s disappeared from the memory of even conservatives in recent decades (The Bell Curve is surely one of the very few places where he’s cited with respect). Most people reading his comments about beatniks can spot the obvious political bias that shaped his work. I don’t think Weyl’s successors are going to enjoy a happier fate.
(The image above is from John Stanley’s great 1962 comic book series Kookie, a gentle satire on beatnik culture. The cover was drawn by Bill Williams, based on characters created by Stanley.)