Robert Putnam, The Charles Murray of Liberals


From my new column in Taki’s Magazine:

Robert D. Putnam, a Harvard political scientist most famous for his 1995 article “Bowling Alone” about the decline of social capital, is the liberal Charles Murray.

Putnam has long benefited from being the slightly dull but ideologically respectable alternative to Murray. It helped Putnam’s career that his “Bowling Alone” article came out the year after The Bell Curve. Although less interesting or impressive than Herrnstein and Murray’s magnum opus, it was popular with Clintonian moderate liberals because it was a sort of Bell Curve Lite: a tiny bit politically incorrect, but careful not to push the envelope of acceptability too hard.

Just as Murray’s 2012 book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 was inspired by his fond look back at growing up in the culturally egalitarian small town of Newton, Iowa, Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, was inspired by the 50th reunion in 2009 of Putnam’s high school classmates in the little Lake Erie city of Port Clinton, Ohio.

Of course, the way you get to be the Liberal Charles Murray is not to mention Murray’s name in your latest book, despite how relevant Murray’s Coming Apart is to Putnam’s Our Kids. In fact, Our Kids would be more readable if it were pitched as a direct response to Coming Apart.

Putnam is notoriously torn between his decent skills as a quantitative social scientist and his desire to avoid trouble with anti-science progressives who vehemently denounced Murray for co-authoring The Bell Curve. In a comic 2006 episode, Putnam admitted to Financial Times columnist John Lloyd that he had socked away for a half decade the results of his huge survey of American communities while he tried to figure out how to spin its finding that ethnic diversity was disastrous.

Read the whole thing there.