Coming Apart, Coming Together


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Editor’s note: Charles Murray will be speaking at the Freedom Center’s Wednesday Morning Club on Monday, April 30th at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles at 11:30 a.m. For more information, click here.

“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold,” Yeats wrote in his famous poem. In Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010”, it is America itself that has come apart and his work chronicles the undoing of a virtue-based national exceptionalism.

“Coming Apart” would not be as shocking if it were not for a political and academic establishment that is unable to speak about the problems of the working class except in terms of class warfare and racial discrimination. Murray boldly upends the formula that social problems arise from economic problems and that these can only be solved with more social welfare programs. Instead of holding the upper classes accountable for not paying enough into the system that subsidizes the welfare state, he instead holds them accountable for disrupting national values, while maintaining them communally.

While the class warfare model links social ills to an economic deprivation practiced by the rich on the poor, Murray looks instead at a values deprivation which has led to statistics such as a marriage rate of 83 percent for the white upper middle-class and only 48 percent for their working class contemporaries. This has created Two Americas divided not by wealth, as defined by John Edwards in the economic realm, but divided socially by the segregation of communities and the stratification of values.

The music video for Billy Joel’s song, “We didn’t start the fire” followed an idealized young couple from their working class beginnings to middle class prosperity and then through the decay of the sixties and the seventies. But while the couple in the video remains together through bra burnings, draft card burnings and drug experimentation, in real life that was where the fire started and the ashes of that fire can be seen in the statistics that Murray lays out for us.

Murray’s model of Fishtown and Belmont, two neighborhoods representing two classes, shows that an economic gap is an insufficient explanation for the social problems of working class communities. In 1960, a working class neighborhood was only 10 percent behind the upper middle class neighborhood in its marriage rate. Fifty years later after the conflagration that undid the nation’s collective value system that gap had more than tripled to 35 percent.

A marriage rate below 50 percent would have been considered a severe social problem in a nation that had not abandoned, what Murray calls, its “Founding Virtues”, but progressive socialists operating in the haze of an economics centered view of social problems would tend to say that the only social problem is insufficient subsidies for single parent families.

The fundamental question that Murray raises is whether we explain social problems in economic terms or economic problems in moral terms and “Coming Apart” is in its own way a moralistic book. Rather than another direct assault on the welfare state, Murray burrows deeper beneath the welfare debate to the conditions that make welfare necessary.

The class warfare centered model requires of the wealthy that they contribute economically to resolving social problems, but Murray instead calls on them to contribute morally to healing a culture gap which began with the disintegration of national values by a counterculture often spearheaded by the children of the wealthy, who after the experimentation was done, were more likely to continue living by the standards of their parents, than their cousins on the other side of the tracks who saw their values undermined without anything positive to replace them.

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  • truebearing

    Morality is the human survival code. Like wolves surviving in a harsh, frozen environment by adhering to their essential moral code, humans must live by theirs or face dire consequences. Wolves follow a rigid hierarchy that maintains order and keeps the pack necessarily working as one. Wolves can't survive balkanization. Neither can humans.

    The Left has worked ceaselessly to destroy traditional morality and supplant it with the insidious fraud of political correctness. While true morality impedes the Left's rapacious quest for totalitarian power, political correctness facilitates it, and that is what our entire struggle in this nation comes down to. It is the moral vs the immoral. The good vs the bad.

    The left postures mightily about the environment and the wolf is one of their favorite causes. How ironic is it then that they don't understand how wolves survive?

    It is increasingly apparent that nihilism isn't merely the first stage of Marxist revolution…it is the only stage.

    • Spider

      Well said my friend

    • Daniel

      Actually………….the instinctually encoded "morality" of the wolf pack is based on a Darwinian survival of the fittest.

      That is the ethos of pagan morality which is also based on a Darwinian "might makes right".

      Ancient Judaism challenged that ethos which was then bequeathed to Christianity. That Judeo-Christian ethic is the foundation of Western morality. Unfortunately…..modern Westerners no longer believe in the God who is central to the morality. The morality is now politicized into "rights" of a humanistic coda which will eventually return to it's pagan root.

      • truebearing

        The encoded morality of the wolf pack may have evolved, but it isn't based on Darwinian theory. Darwinian theory is based on observation of the intelligence inherent in life forms. Needless to say, Darwin's powers of observation, while considerable, were limited and he created nothing, though liberals act as if he created life itself.____You may be missing my point. I am not saying wolf morality is, or should be, the same as human morality. To each his own. My point is that morality is the human survival code, with wolf morality being a simple analogy.____I agree with your points regarding a God centered morality. Poltical correctness has supplanted judeo-Christian morality for many people, and we can see the disastrous results. Humanistic morality is hopelessly corrupt. Nothing humans create for the acquistion of political power can be any other way.____The Environmental Left is already a syncretic religion, consisting of an admixture of Marxism, pagan earth worship, and a variety of other beliefs woven in for good measure. The powers of evil want humanity to return to the bad old days, where tribal mentality kept humans enslaved to a primitive existence and groveling in constant fear.

        • Daniel

          Yes……..I agree with everything you posted there apart from wolfpack morality.

          The most fundamental axis of human psychology has two parts.

          Humans worship the Earth and it's forces(paganism/animism)………..or they worship themselves as god…..or believe that god is in them. Or both simultaneously.

          The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all require a belief in a superior God who is above man. And from that all moral authority flows.

          With the threat of Israel being destroyed, Judaism may cease to exist in large part. The Christian West has largely extinguished itself. This leaves Islam as the probable standard bearer for monotheism into the future.

          Christian eschatology provides us with the battles of Gog and Magog as well as Armageddon.

          Something will be proven correct.

          • truebearing

            One has to hope that Islam doesn't end up the lone standard bearer for monotheism. The Islamic God certainly has problems with moral clarity. Violence and lying are sanctioned as long as it furthers the goals of Islam. The end justifies the means.

            I personally believe Islam is a copycat religion, and therefore a false religion. The virgins of afterlife notwithstanding, the entire goal of Islam is basically worldly and political.

            I don't think one should overestimate the capability of Islamic culture. There is a tendency of those nations to develop rather slowly and function poorly. Our moral weakness has more to do with the rise of Islam than their strength. On the other hand, the West better break the trance of political correctness, soon, and return to faith in God and the Judeo-Christian moral code, or fall under the scourge of Marxism and Islam.

            Notice that Obama represents both scourges.

            We aren't far from an answer now.

  • harrylies

    As someone noted, it wasn't the children of the rich who signed up after the terror attacks. The elite let other peoples' children right wars. Both Obama and Romney skipped miltary service, and are now rolling in money. They wouldn't have had the time if they served. A lot of veterns are living on the streets. People have a lot of nerve.Maybe the "lower class" may teach patriotism. A lot of people are looking forward to a post-nationalistic 'tAmerica. The elite are there. Money is money. Doesn't matter where it came from.

    John Wayne called blacks whiners. He avoided military service, while millions of black men fought in World War Two. No wonder John Wayne had time to become rich.

    • Juddea

      You're right, the "elite" don't serve, but the "lower class" don't serve in large numbers either. The majority of the armed forces are those of us in the middle. The "lower class" tend to be disenfranchised with our country, while the eilite, well we know how they feel.

    • Guest

      Could you please provide your source showing MILLIONS of blacks serving in WWII?

      • http://rau.3littlefoxes.com Lfox328

        Don't be ridiculous. His "statistic" wasn't fact, it was rhetoric, and singularly devoid of fact.

        • Questions

          It was bad rhetoric all the same.

  • cynthia curran

    Coming aprt is great a lot of Republicans just think the problems are all related to taxes like Grover Norquist. Murray book mentions that even in 1990's labor performantion among lower class whites continue to dropped even if their were jobs out there. Lower class whites probably are more likely to be Dems like Blacks and hispanics which is different from what Dems see Upper middle class whites supporting them. Religion is lower among lower class whites which means that Dems do better in lower middle class Portland with some exceptions like the Bay area.

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ JasonPappas

    Our founding fathers talked about the virtue of industry and frugality. Franklin, the most widely read moralist, preached these virtues. Everyone was expected to stand on their own two feet and take care of their families. For that purpose they understood the need to protect property rights.

    When people today speak about moral virtues they almost inevitably talk about altruism and helping others. They believe the government should be involved in this endeavor. As Franklin wrote, this only encourages dependency and sloth. It is time we return to our founding virtues. Sturdy virtues makes strong citizens. A republic can not survive moral decay.

  • Daniel

    Murray, for all his intellectual courage, makes some valid points……but misses the big picture.

    The social pathology of the working class exists in the upper class as well. Both classes are deteriorating, just one at a higher rate. I would also add that social pathologies like drug use and infidelity are probably similar in both classes.

    Murray is making a case against materialistic determinism……….and that's right on the money. But the way he makes it is incorrect. The case against materialism is a spritual one. And since the Christian roots of traditional American morality cannot be discussed………we're left with an empty conclusion.

    Merely showing up at church to engage in rituals to a Chritianized Baal manifests itself as increased church attendance.

    But both classes no longer believe in the God that made the morality of traditional America possible. It's just that the upper class has discarded the morality at a slower pace.

    The final destination is the same.

    • DMW

      They didn't just run out of ammo; they didn't have any in the first place. The term "fooled" comes to mind.

    • JoJoJams

      "Having a form of godliness, they denied the power thereof" ~

  • Bartimaeus

    “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” Proverbs 14:34. The moral and spiritual condition of a people or nation is far more important than its economics. Indeed, economic problems often arise from moral decline. Our culture is turning its back on God and what is righteousness before Him. Unless there is a moral and spiritual revival soon, I am sad to say, we are headed for greater decline in the near future.

    • Daniel

      Exactly right.

      We are returning to a pagan barbarian tradition that Judeo- Chrisitanity delivered us from for 1000 years.

  • digdigby

    The ethnic cleansing of the immense white working class urban neighborhoods and their vast system of parochial schools, neighborhood schools, churches, social centers etc. all in the name of 'desegregation' and using busing and government-by-courts…… succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. Thug culture, destruction of the black family and crime gutted the cities, the jobs went to China and the America-hating left seized the media, academia the courts and both parties.

    • Daniel

      Absolutely correct. And if you want to read the gameplan of how that was accomplished, read Buchanan's "Death of the West"……in there is a chapter called…."Four who made a revolution"……which details how European communism came to America and became the 60's revolution.