Return Of The Radical

Charles Murray made a career out of controversy. Now he's focused on the white underclass

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Shelby Lee Adams for TIME

The hermit of Burkittsville. Murray gets perhaps one call a week at his rural Maryland home

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Though Murray's think-tank position ought to give him ready access to Republican politicians, he has found that his ideas have not interested many officials on Capitol Hill. "I really, truly believe that the United States surprises people and that if you underestimate the capacity of the United States to correct course, you do so at your peril," Murray says. "But I also do believe that the larger probability is that we will be indistinguishable from an advanced welfare state in Europe and the class system that prevails there. And as you probably gathered, I really treasure the American civic culture, and I really love these things that make the United States unique."

Murray is a poker enthusiast--each year, he gives a talk in Las Vegas and spends the honorarium at the tables--and when he finished Coming Apart, he went to a casino in Charles Town, W.Va., to celebrate. Having just finished a book documenting the collapse of a common, democratic, middle-class culture, he saw at the poker table a place where it seemed to stubbornly survive. "Poker rooms are democratic places, but Charles Town, W.Va., is even more democratic," he says. "So you have a typical table--you have a couple of other white guys, maybe one of them has huge arms and tattoos and the other is a 70-year-old retired pharmacist, but you'll also have a couple of black guys, and one of them may be an accountant and one of them a gangbanger, and you'll almost always have three or four Asian guys at the table. That is the melting pot, and that kind of thing I just love." He pauses. "It's not just nostalgia. I love the reality of it," Murray says. He considers. "Or what has been the reality."


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