Habits of Mind

Habits of Mind

The Anatomy of Racial Inequality by Glenn C. Loury

The Anatomy of Racial Inequality
by Glenn C. Loury
Harvard University Press, 2002, 160 pp., $22.95

The rightward migration of progressive intellectuals into the ranks of neoconservatism is a leitmotif of twentieth-century American politics. Any reader of Dissent can retail half a dozen such stories, each a blend of political disillusionment and personal rancor, principle, and opportunism. Leftward migration by a conservative intellectual is a more novel phenomenon. Alas, it does not necessarily make for a more edifying tale.

Meet the new Glenn Loury. The old Glenn Loury touted supply-side economics and Jack Kemp’s enterprise zones; the new Glenn Loury calls for “broad-based, system-wide interventions” to attack the “national disgrace” of racial inequality. The old Loury exhorted African Americans to stop bleating about “racism” and to focus on “the enemy within”—welfare dependency, teenage pregnancy, and other “problematic behaviors” of the so-called “underclass.” The new Loury describes the plight of black Americans as a “collective” tragedy for which “the entire nation bears a responsibility.” The old Loury enjoyed lavish support from Republican foundations and regular access to such journals as American Enterprise and Commentary. The new Loury bites the hand that once fed him, deriding “conservative commentators” for their “simplistic social ethics and sophomoric social psychology.”

In the spring of 2000, Loury was invited to deliver the W.E.B. Du Bois lectures at Harvard University. The event had all the trappings of a political rehabilitation, as the notorious ex-neoconservative was gathered back into the fold by Henry Louis Gates, William Julius Wilson, and the other neoliberal luminaries of Harvard’s (now depleted) Afro-American Studies’ “Dream Team.” The Anatomy of Racial Inequality presents the lectures he delivered on the occasion.

Loury was the most interesting of the Reagan-era black neoconservatives. Defiantly iconoclastic, intellectually self-confident to the point of arrogance, he was also palpably insecure. A servant to the very rich, he remained a working-class chauvinist who took pride in his roots on Chicago’s South Side. He came to success early. Trained in economics at M.I.T., he pioneered the concept of “social capital,” the web of informal “connections,” associations, and networks of information that condition economic success. Upon finishing his dissertation, he migrated up the Charles River to Harvard, where in 1982 he became the first African American to secure tenure in the department of economics. In 1991, he moved across the Charles to accept a chaired professorship at John Silber’s Boston University.

For all his academic distinction, Loury owed his public visibility to his work as spokesman for the Reagan Revolut...