Recently, Prashanth Kamalakanthan wrote an incendiary column sharply criticizing an upcoming event with American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray. In it, he levels a number of personal accusations against Murray, attempts to dispute the conclusions of his books and exhorts Duke students to “walk out” in protest against the event. Prashanth is of course entitled to his opinion, and he is free to leave whenever he sees fit. We, however, strongly urge him to reconsider.
This coming Monday, October 28, Charles Murray will discuss his new book, “Coming Apart.” If Prashanth were to stay and listen throughout the event, he might find that the book advances a reasonable thesis: America is diverging into a “two-caste society” based on income—and increasingly, culture. This is not a new argument. Indeed, every election cycle we hear politicians lament the destruction of the middle class and middle class values. “Coming Apart” explores the causes behind these trends and asserts that members of the upper and lower classes increasingly inhabit separate enclaves with distinct cultures.
Prashanth alleges that Murray considers the upper class and their culture to be perfect, “good and righteous.” Yet anyone who has actually read “Coming Apart” would know that this is simply not true. In fact, Murray expends ample ink blasting the upper class for its elitism, snobbery and sheer ignorance. Far from extolling the virtues of the powerful, Murray offers one of the sharpest critiques of the modern American elite. For Duke students—already part of an elite institution—“Coming Apart” should be strong cause for personal reflection.
Lastly, we’d like to take a moment to address Prashanth’s dramatic call for a walkout at the event. In his column, Prashanth portrays a walkout as an act of protest, an act of courage. But is it really courageous to make public accusations against a speaker and then leave before he can respond? Walking out is easy—in many ways it is the path of least resistance. Instead, we invite Prashanth to take the road less traveled. Choose to stay at the event. Muster the best arguments. Read David Frum’s five-part critique of “Coming Apart” for that matter. But ultimately, have the courage to listen—even when doing so makes the blood boil. That is real courage. And in an era of hyper-partisanship and government shutdowns, that is exactly what America currently lacks and desperately needs.
American Enterprise Institute Executive Council