The New Know-Nothings: The Political Foes of the Scientific Study of Human Nature

By Leef, George C. | Ideas on Liberty, January 2000 | Go to article overview

The New Know-Nothings: The Political Foes of the Scientific Study of Human Nature


Leef, George C., Ideas on Liberty


The New Know-Nothings:

The Political Foes of the Scientific

Study of Human Nature

by Morton M. Hunt

Transaction Publishers 1998 404 pages

$59.95 cloth; $24.95 paperback

Reviewed by George C. Leef

Morton Hunt is one of those honest "liberals," that is to say, someone who holds some statist beliefs, but is dedicated to freedom of inquiry and the marketplace of ideas. His book The New Know-Nothings explores an important phenomenon, namely, the use of political and other coercive means to obstruct research into and discussion of aspects of human nature. There are plenty of people who turn Jeffersonian tolerance on its head and say, "I disagree with what you say, and will do everything I can get away with to make you shut up." The book is about them.

Hunt, a sociology professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, divides his book into three sections-attacks on inquiry from the left, attacks on inquiry from the right, and attacks from points in between. Readers of Ideas on Liberty will find the first and last most interesting.

The first part is the longest and most important. Hunt addresses what he rightly calls illiberal liberalism. He writes, "What is illiberal ... is the effort of partisans of any position in the debate to stifle or prevent the expression of opinions by the other side and particularly to block or forbid the efforts of researchers whose possible findings they view with fear or revulsion."

Consider, for example, the treatment accorded to Arthur Jensen, the emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California who concluded years ago that observed IQ differences among racial groups have a hereditary basis. That conclusion calls into question the statist/collectivist dogma that environment must explain all group differences and consequently the mildmannered (but stubborn) Jensen has been subjected to the kind of abuse one would expect playground bullies to mete out to a weak, unpopular child. Hunt goes into detail about the numerous times Jensen has been shouted down, threatened with physical violence, subjected to actual violence, and had his appearances canceled because of bomb threats and mob aciton.

Hunt recounts many other similar unpleasant stories. Hans Eysneck has been roughed up an had his glasses smashed for daring to say that heredity plays a role in intelligence. "Fascists have no right to speak," screamed his leftest tormentors. …

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