We conclude our interview with the author of Intellectuals and Society, now out in a new edition.
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Sowell: Again, one of those ideas that is impervious to facts. All the evidence I’ve seen, and all the impressions I’ve gotten myself and from others who have taught black students in different settings say just the opposite. One study, for example, found that the more black students there are in a class, the more negative effects that has on the students around them, especially on those black students with higher IQs. Higher IQ blacks do better in a class where there are not a lot of other black students. That buttresses another study that found whereas white or especially Asian-American students who have straight-A averages, are on average more popular with their classmates than people of lower achievement. With blacks it is just the opposite. Blacks that are straight-A students are less popular with other black students. That is just a huge handicap particularly for people who are going through adolescence where peer approval can be so important.
AmSpec: Anything else on the subject of race and intellectuals?
Sowell: Yes, let me make a remark about racial justice, which many people consider part of social justice. Well, what they call “social justice” I’d call “cosmic justice.” There are two different questions regarding justice and society. The first question is, Is life fair? The second is, Is society fair? Those are two radically different questions. Life has never been near being fair in any society recorded anywhere in thousands of years of human history. Now, the question becomes, is a particular society fair? The particular society might have rules that are fair in that they are applied to everyone equally and that people are rewarded or punished according to the same criteria. But that will not get you anywhere close to fairness in life chances. The family you were raised in, they will have far more to do with that. I’m especially sensitive to that because I was one of those people who was adopted in infancy, grew up unaware of my siblings who were adopted by other families hundreds of miles away. Later on as an adult I learned they were raised in families similar to mine in being poor and not well educated. But the family in which I was raised happened to consist mostly of people who themselves had never gotten passed elementary school but were absolutely determined that I would have an education. But none of my other siblings had that same good fortune. When you consider all the factors that are at work, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that different individuals or groups are going to have the same achievements.
AmSpec: Turning to politics, the most controversial has been your promotion of Newt Gingrich as the best for the GOP in November. What led you to that position?
Sowell: The ability to articulate, which is enormously lacking throughout the Republican Party. Think about it. We are in a country where millions more people identify themselves as conservatives than liberals, and yet in 2008 the Democrats won overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress along with the White House. When someone loses and they were dealt low cards, you say, we’ll that’s the way it is. But when they were dealt the high cards and lost, then they are doing something wrong.
And it’s not just a matter of glibness on Gingrich’s part. When he discusses issues, he does have a depth of understanding that is very obviously greater than that of the other candidates. Unfortunately, he has personality characteristics that have just negated all of that, and which make his chances now virtually zero. After the Illinois vote, and especially the Tea Party endorsing Romney, it’s pretty much over.
AmSpec: It always seemed to me that, yes, Gingrich is very articulate, but he is very volatile and very self-absorbed, even for a politician. It seemed to me that those qualities would prove fatal in November. The voters need to like you. In addition to being articulate, you have to be likeable. And Gingrich is not that likeable.
Sowell: Yes, there’s that. But the real question now is whether Romney can be brought up to the point where he has a serious chance of defeating Obama. And that is by no means a slam dunk.
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