Charles Murray is stirring up trouble again. Emily Eakin reports in “A Cultural Scorecard Says West Is Ahead” that
he says it’s not his intention. “But his record is hard to ignore.”
Murray, the conservative co-author of “The Bell Curve,”
which put the civilized world in an uproar when it professed that whites were
smarter than blacks due to differences in hereditary IQ, now claims in another wicked
book, “Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences,
800 B.C. to 1950,” that:
1) “Europeans and North Americans account for 97 percent of scientific accomplishment,”
Eakin notes, based on his inventory of “eight fields — astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth
sciences, physics, mathematics, medicine and technology — as well as a combined index ranking
scientists from all disciplines.”
2) While Europe has been the overwhelmingly dominant influence on human achievement —
as measured by the relative amount of space given in 34 standard reference works in four
languages to 4,002 significant people in the arts and sciences — the European heyday of great
accomplishment is over.
3) The most influential scientist ever is Newton, followed by Galileo and Aristotle. Then in a
steep drop come Kepler, Lavoisier, Descartes, Huygens and Laplace, followed by Einstein (ninth
on the list), Faraday, Pasteur and Ptolemy. Darwin doesn’t show up until 17th, after Hooke,
Leibniz, Rutherford and Euler. Finally, Berzelius, Euclid and Maxwell round out the top 20.
“For literature, philosophy and visual art,” Eakin writes, “Murray decided that unbaised global
inventories were not feasible: the references works were too skewed toward their national
traditions. So he created separate indexes by culture instead.”
But if you think the
scientific list is peculiar, perhaps not so much in makeup as in sequence, the list for the giants of
Western literature will amaze you. Shakespeare comes out first, no surprise. But Goethe ranks
second, ahead of Dante (third), Virgil (fourth) and Homer (fifth). There is no Cervantes, no Saint
Augustine and no Saint Thomas Aquinas, to whose humanist influence on Christianity Murray
himself attributes Western dominance.
Any listing like this is bound to be questioned. But when it lays claim to qualitative accuracy
based on a statistical method open to doubt — Eakins quotes several historians and scholars on its
biases and value judgments — it seems a fool’s errand.
Murray’s top 20 literary giants include Petrarch, but no Plato or Lucretius; Euripedes, but no
Aeschylus or Sophocles and no Aristophanes; Byron, but no Wordsworth or Keats, and no
Chaucer or Milton; it includes Rousseau, Voltaire, Moliere, Racine and Victor Hugo, but not
Montaigne, Balzac, Baudelaire, Stendahl, Flaubert or Proust; Sir Walter Scott but not Jonathan
Swift or Jane Austen; Virgil and Horace but not Ovid.
Schiller makes the list but not Freud or Thomas Mann; Boccaccio make the list along with
Tolstoy and Dostoevsky; but there’s no Pushkin; Ibsen makes the list but not Chekov; there’s no
Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, Orwell or Joyce, Twain or Faulkner. And what of Yeats or Blake? Not