Charles Murray, no slouch among public intellectuals, described him as the most underrated public intellectual in America today. Murray offered this assessment of George Gilder at a recent American Enterprise Institute colloquium to discuss Gilder's newest book, "The Israel Test." Murray explained: From Gilder's national debut with "Sexual Suicide" (later reissued as "Men and Marriage"), to his seminal "Wealth and Poverty," to his farsighted "Microcosm," Gilder makes being ahead of his times look easy. And, Murray noted with admiration, Gilder has always been right.
Is Gilder underrated? Yes, because his gifts and contributions deserve more or less full-time celebration.
After the probably trillions of words that have been devoted to the Israel/Arab conflict, it is no small achievement to approach the matter from a unique vantage point. Gilder's thesis is this: Today's hatred of Israel is feeding off the same poison that has nourished anti-Semitism throughout history -- envy, resentment, and misunderstanding of economics. Gilder asks: "Are you for civilization or barbarism, life or death, wealth or envy? Are you an exponent of excellence and accomplishment or of a leveling creed of troglodytic frenzy and hatred?"
Jewish accomplishment is an undeniable fact of history. Many (Murray included) have speculated about the disproportionate number of Jewish intellectuals, musicians, millionaires, scientists and others. Gilder (a Gentile) is interested less in the why of Jewish excellence than in its consequences. A society that is organized to permit individuals to flourish and to realize their potential (like the United States and post-1980s Israel) will broadly share in the increased prosperity those individuals help to create. A society (or a global system) that misunderstands wealth creation and wishes to level society by penalizing success will make life poorer for everyone.
Gilder boldly declares that Jewish genius laid the foundation for winning the Second World War and for the post-war prosperity that followed. Jewish refugees from Hitler's Europe provided much of the brainpower for the Manhattan Project. And Jewish geniuses including Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Heinrich Hertz, John von Neumann, Richard Feynman, and entrepreneurs like Andy Grove made indispensable contributions to the information technology that forms the scaffolding of modern prosperity.