Steve Sailer Loves America

Editor’s Note: Perhaps no two contemporary conservatives have been more widely criticized for their writings on race than Charles Murray and Steve Sailer, the latter of whom has largely been relegated to publishing in the online fringe. Many of Sailer’s most maligned positions strike directly at the foundations of the group quota regime in false anthropology and junk science.

Murray, a longtime scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, reviews a recent collection of Sailer’s writings over the last half-century and finds a philosophy that is both humane and patriotic. From immigration to crime to the wars in the Middle East, Murray suggests that Sailer’s controversial conclusions follow logically from a concern for his fellow citizens and a clear-eyed view of realitygoing so far as to call Sailer’s position “anti-racism properly understood.”

This essay was originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of The Claremont Review of Books under the title “Plain Speaking.”

No mainstream outlet publishes Steve Sailer. He writes for Taki’s MagazineVDARE, and the Unz Review, all of which are exclusively online and controversial.

If you want to read Steve Sailer, you have to seek him out, but it’s worth the effort. Unlike many more famous columnists at prestigious publications, Sailer consistently tells you things you didn’t know and prompts you to rethink your positions.

Noticing: An Essential Reader, 1973–2023 finally makes it easy to read an assortment of his greatest hits. It too comes not from a mainstream outlet but from a quirky online publishing platform, Passage Publishing, but at least Sailer’s work is now easily available to a wider audience.

Sailer’s main offense in the eyes of the Left clerisy is the same one that I committed 30 years ago in The Bell Curve (1994) and more recently in Facing Reality (2021): we have both written about the statistical relationships between race and I.Q., and between race and crime. We both remain unrepentant. These are realities that need head-on analysis if they are to be dealt with sensibly. The mean difference in black and white I.Q. carries with it many important implications for education and the labor market. Crime rates among blacks are multiples of the white rate. Latinos also have significantly lower mean I.Q. and higher crime rates than whites. These are not racist slanders. They are statements of exhaustively documented fact. Talking about them, however, has gotten Sailer labeled as an out-and-out racist—not only by the Left (see the Southern Poverty Law Center website) but by some neoconservatives.

Yet anyone who actually reads Noticing will have a hard time documenting that assessment of Sailer. I checked all the 600-plus occurrences of “black or “African American” in the book. I did come up with several wisecracks about whites pandering to blacks. He mocks The New York Times for its obsession with the 1955 murder of Emmett Till (55 mentions in 2018 alone). He refers to numerous hate-crime hoaxes, from Tawana Brawley’s 1987 rape allegations (hyped by Reverend Al Sharpton), to the staged 2019 “attack” on Jussie Smollett. He calls Sharpton a “race-racket activist” and Barack Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett an “empty pantsuit,” characterizations that I find hard to fault. But there’s no evidence of animus toward African Americans or Latinos as groups. There is nothing in Noticing that even approaches a racial slur.

Sailer does lack some filters that sterilize the prose of others who write about race (I include myself in the indictment). The title of his one other book, an assessment of Barack Obama’s character and career written shortly before he took office, was America’s Half-Blood Prince (published by VDARE in 2009). An example of Sailer’s blurt-it-out style can also be found in “How to Help the Left Half of the Bell Curve,” a discussion of crime and illegal immigration from 2000: “[B]y the end of the century, Hispanics may be three times as numerous as blacks. We’ll enjoy equally large groups of black and Hispanic jailbirds.” The use of “jailbirds” is jarring. But here’s the next paragraph: “The essential fact about African Americans is that they are Americans. They did not ask to come here. At minimum, our nation’s obligation to them is to not worsen their plight by importing competitors that are slightly more competent.”

That juxtaposition of a jarring word with a substantially humane position is typical. Sailer has more than a little H.L. Mencken in him. He enjoys skewering pious hypocrites and he uses punchy language to do it. But when it comes to talking about everyday life, the right way to describe Sailer’s approach to race is “matter-of-fact.” Whether he is discussing the increase in black traffic fatalities following George Floyd’s death, Jackie Robinson’s impact on desegregation, or black excellence in professional sports, he has the same neutrally observant style. More than any other columnist I can think of, Sailer discusses minorities as if they were just like anybody else. Consider this passage from a 2021 column titled “A Matter of Tone”:

[B]lacks are increasingly excused from all critique, so their conduct is not improving, as we’ve seen nightly on the local news this week. What America needs to do is treat blacks as human beings with free will who when they make good choices should enjoy the benefits and when they make bad choices should experience the consequences. Instead, The Establishment views blacks as our Sacred Cows, above criticism, but beneath agency.

That is blunt, but it is not racist. It is anti-racism properly understood.

After a bout with cancer forced him to reconsider his life’s mission, Sailer left a job in marketing research to become a writer—a background that perhaps explains his facility with both data and attention-grabbing language. I first came across him in 1999, as a member of an online chat group he organized to discuss human biodiversity. I was impressed by this unknown youngster and have made a point of keeping up with his work ever since.

His skill in using statistics and his willingness to do his scholarly homework are on full display throughout Noticing. I could not fact-check everything in the book. But I know a lot about I.Q., and one of the longer pieces in Noticing is “An IQ FAQ,” published in 2007. Sailer takes on all the common questions involving I.Q., many of them involving finicky technical details. I did not find any errors in his 11 pages of breezy explanation. The same may be said of the articles on crime. Crime statistics abound in ways to go wrong, and journalists betray their ignorance of them in almost everything I read on the topic in the mainstream media. Sailer is aware of the pitfalls and frames his interpretations accordingly.

He combines this attention to numerical detail with an overarching philosophy about statistics that is eminently commonsensical, all too rare among pundits. He calls it “noticing the congruity between daily life and the social sciences.” In “What If I’m Right” (2022), he describes it this way:

My main trick for coming up with enough insights to make a living as an unfashionable pundit for 23 years has been to assume that private life facts—what we see with our lying eyes—and public life facts—what the scientific data tell us—are essentially one and the same. There is only one reality out there.

I share that philosophy, just as I share Sailer’s love of data. Give either one of us a big database and we can disappear for days, weeks, or months, happily exploring what’s in there. We are kindred spirits. The main difference between us is that Sailer is more fun to read. His interests sprawl far beyond weighty social science issues into the realms of popular culture, sports, golf-course architecture—the list goes on indefinitely.

For example, one of the articles in Noticing, “Waugh and Wilder: The Dawn of Sunset Boulevard,” is devoted entirely to the complicated relationship between Billy Wilder’s famous 1950 film and Evelyn Waugh’s novel, The Loved One (1948)Sailer goes into fascinating detail, along with excursions into Tony Richardson’s directing career, Burt Reynolds’s affair with Dinah Shore, and Wilder’s days as a Weimar gigolo. “What Will Happen in Afghanistan” is another example of his virtuosity. It was published on September 26, 2001. Somehow, less than two weeks after Afghanistan’s link to 9/11 had been publicly identified, Sailer managed to research and write 2,600 words that take you through John Huston’s film of The Man Who Would Be King (1975), an appraisal of Huston, the film’s relationship to Kipling’s 1888 story of the same name, an appraisal of Kipling, salient facts about Britain’s dismal military history in Afghanistan, and finally some trenchant observations about the prospects for an American invasion.

These discursive articles are some of my favorites, but they also illustrate his remarkable track record of being right. In the cases of Sunset Boulevard and The Man Who Would Be King, he’s factually right. But he has also been right, and in some cases prescient, about a wide range of major public policy issues.

He was right about the Iraq invasion. His “Five Years After 9/11: Why Did Bush Blunder?” wasn’t published until September 2006. But in emails sent to the other members of his human biodiversity chat group just a few weeks after the invasion, Sailer had already correctly diagnosed the reasons why it was going to be a disaster.

He was right to emphasize, as almost no one else has, the prevalence of cousin marriage as an essential feature of the political and military situation in Iraq (see “Cousin Marriage Conundrum,” published in 2003).

He was right to predict in 2014, when few others were talking about gender dysphoria, that transsexuals would be the next big thing in the sexual orientation wars. And he was among the first to describe the role that autogynephilia (male sexual arousal at the thought of being a female) plays among adult males who identify as transgender (“World War T”).

He has been right to point out repeatedly the likelihood and implications of massive outmigration from Africa over the course of the 21st century (represented in Noticing by 2019’s “Our New Planet is Going to Be Great!”). And Sailer has been right in his long-standing advocacy for severe restrictions on low-skill immigration into the United States.

His proposition is that Americans should privilege their fellow citizens. “I call it ‘citizenism,’” he wrote in 2006 (“Americans First”), “because it affirms that true patriots and idealists are willing to make sacrifices for the overall good of their fellow American citizens rather than for the advantage of either six billion foreigners or of the special interests within our own country.”

This was a big improvement on the rhetoric that had accompanied many of the other attacks on immigration. It appealed to a shared sense of a great American family that cuts across ethnicity. Citizenism also was an antidote to the undifferentiated econometric analyses of immigration. Mass immigration may be a net plus on the national level when it comes to GDP, but it doesn’t work out that way for many low-skill Americans competing with those immigrants. There are winners and losers from low-skill immigration, and the losers are concentrated among the working class. Sailer argues that it’s worth taking a minor hit to national income statistics if it makes it easier for our fellow Americans to make a living. I resisted that conclusion for years, persuaded by the technical literature that immigration is a net plus for economic growth. But I finally came around to Sailer’s way of looking at it.

Steve Sailer is a lifelong, laid-back Southern Californian, and his prose reflects it. Reading a typical Sailer column is like talking to an extremely well-read friend with eclectic interests who rambles. He sometimes leads you so far from his main topic that you have forgotten what that topic was by the time he returns to it—but who cares? The side trips and digressions are great fun. Sailer is self-aware in this regard, noting that his columns often seem to end arbitrarily because “from my perspective, there is no conclusion, just an endless network of cause and effect. So, instead, I merely tend to knock off around dawn when it’s long past time to go to bed.”

For such an amiable and sensible person to have been effectively barred from mainstream public discourse shows how the Left’s fixation on race has warped American letters. If the internet hadn’t made it possible for pariahs like Sailer to circumvent the gatekeepers, we’d hardly know he exists. Political correctness in all its forms is, as Sailer likes to say, a war on noticing—hence the title of the book. But despite the best efforts of the gatekeepers, Sailer himself keeps getting noticed. He deserves to be. I hope this collection will allow yet more people to notice him, and that they will reflect with an open mind on what he has to say.

Charles Murray is the Hayek Emeritus Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author, most recently, of Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America (Encounter Books).