Buchanan memo to Nixon in '71 explored issue of black intellectual inferiority

January 05, 1992|By John Aloysius Farrell | John Aloysius Farrell,Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- As a White House aide in 1971, Patrick J. Buchanan suggested in a memo to President Richard M. Nixon that efforts to integrate American society might only result in "perpetual friction" because blacks and the poor may be genetically inferior to middle-class whites.

If research underscoring the role played by heredity in determining a person's IQ was found to be true, Mr. Buchanan wrote Mr. Nixon, "then it seems to me that a lot of what we are doing in terms of integration of blacks and whites -- but, even more so, poor and well-to-do, is less likely to result in accommodation than it is in perpetual friction -- as the incapable are played consciously by government side by side with the capable."

The 20-year-old memo is one of many position papers written by Mr. Buchanan during his six years as a special assistant to the president that suggest that the conservative Republican presidential hopeful has taken divisive positions on race.

The Boston Globe found the documents in Mr. Buchanan's White House files, now held by the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives.

Mr. Buchanan, who in recent years has been a columnist and commentator, said Friday that he does not believe that blacks are genetically inferior to whites and did not have that belief in the past. He said he sent the memo to Mr. Nixon as a routine matter of intellectual curiosity, to call the president's attention to an ongoing political controversy.

"No, that is nonsense," Mr. Buchanan said, when asked whether his words represented a belief in the genetic superiority of whites. "I tell you what I did for Nixon, all the way through his White House, and for Ronald Reagan, too. They asked for articles each week on controversial pieces they wanted or needed to see . . . and it was a controversy that exploded at the time."

The memo to Mr. Nixon was prompted by the September 1971 issue of The Atlantic, in which author Richard Herrnstein argued that the devotion of government resources to compensatory education and other anti-poverty programs would not result in a more equitable society. The more that government removed social barriers, Mr. Herrnstein wrote, the more that genetically blessed individuals would rise to the top of a caste system based on merit.

Mr. Buchanan told Mr. Nixon that the article was "a seminal piece of major significance for U.S. society."

"Basically, it demonstrates that heredity, rather than environment, determines intelligence -- and that the more we proceed to provide everyone with a 'good environment,' surely the more heredity will become the dominant factor -- in their intelligence, and thus in their success and social standing. It is almost the iron law of intelligence that is being propounded here -- based on heredity.

"The importance of this article is difficult to understate. If correct, then all our efforts and expenditures not only for 'compensatory education' but to provide an 'equal chance at the starting line' are guaranteeing that we wind up with the intelligent ones coming in first. And every study we have shows blacks 15 IQ points below whites on the average."

The Buchanan files contain no record of Mr. Nixon's response or any subsequent White House action on the subject of heredity and race.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.