When I was in law school I knew nothing about Richard Posner, but it seemed obvious from the sneering remarks of my professors that what he had to say was very important and probably well-founded, at least within the world of late-20th-century American legal scholarship. I still know very little about Posner, but so far as I can tell he’s aged better than my professors have.
Similarly, the shockingly low quality of responses to Charles Murray’s writings by supposedly intelligent and well-informed people strikes me as strong evidence for the total correctness of everything he’s said, and probably everything he’s thought to have said, on any controversial subject whatever. Take, for example, the embarassingly mindless comments from Robert Pollack and Patricia Williams, both noted Columbia professors and even (in Williams’ case) a MacArthur “genius” fellow, which continue the tradition of abuse and hysteria so nobly represented by the 1994 symposium on The Bell Curve in The New Republic. (The Pollack/Williams letter is the first one in the Commentary exchange, the TNR pieces are freely available only in summary.)
I can understand why Pollack and Williams might be annoyed by Murray’s tactic of publicizing Jewish intelligence and its apparent genetic basis, but their public blathering is not going to help them. There’s probably a lesson there for all of us. Maybe it’s one from Mark Twain: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” Or maybe it’s “magna est veritas et praevalebit” (my translation: “truth is great and will prevail, a bit”). Either way, if you don’t want to know what the truth is, you’re going to have problems. There are limits on the value of pure polemics.