Conservative titan pinpoints how we lost the personal government of ourselves.
Charles Murray's new book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," was the subject of his April 30th talk at the David Horowitz Freedom Center's Wednesday Morning Club. The purpose of the book, Murray explained, was to set up a candid conversation on the overlooked existential crisis facing America: the formation of the new upper class and the formation of the new lower class in the United States along the lines of morality. Indeed, this candid conversation unfolded with alarming clarity throughout the lecture.
Murray asserted that the formation of this new class system in American society is primarily due to our increasing abandonment of traditional American values and our increasing embrace of secularism, which always engenders relativism. In such a world, there is no good, no evil, just a static government-imposed lackluster conformity masquerading as equality. We have lost, he said, the personal government of ourselves.
This loss has induced an acceptance of destructive trends as being normal. Full of alarming statistical data, Murray's book points out that the marriage rate of upper middle-class white Americans is 83% while it is only 48% for white working-class Americans. The consequences of these statistics play out in a number of ways: Married men tend to be more productive than unmarried ones. This leads to a certain amount of cultural inequality, said Murray. Unmarried fathers, he notes, are unlikely to coach the little league and unmarried mothers are less likely to attend PTA meetings. Murray contended that we are not so much materially poor as we are spiritually poor, and that this stems from a lack of kinship with our family and neighbors. There is a far greater chance of gaining satisfaction from our lives when we interact with our families, within our vocations, with our respective faiths and with our community.
Books like "McGuffey's Reader," a six-volume primer of American values encouraging independence and self-reliance, which sold 120 million copies between 1836 and 1960, and which was used in a majority of classrooms during that period, has now virtually disappeared, along with the principles and values it sought to inculcate. This, Murray said, is how we ended up with a recent proposal to reduce the tax deduction for charitable donations, which reflects the government's fundamental belief that only the government can or should help the poor. Private and community charity is now thought to be wrong. Only government welfare does not stigmatize its recipients, it is believed in some circles. In this way, people are able to buy off their conscience by telling themselves that they pay so much in taxes that it really is the government's job to take care of those in need. However, it used to be thought that we should not do by legislation what properly belongs to charity.
Murray told how the new upper class gets married later, has children later and are even generally thinner than their new lower class contemporaries. They work out and practice yoga. They watch television less than the new lower class, but they are also more ignorant of the rest of America because they simply have no contact with it. Educational homogeneity has increased amongst the new upper middle class, he went on to say, and so talent as well as money gets passed on from one generation to another, further increasing the gulf between the new lower class (most of whom have not attended college). Murray made the point that if you have never had a job where, by the end of the day, one or more body parts is not hurting or if you have never lived in an area where most of the residents do not have a degree, then you are out of touch with a large segment of your fellow Americans.
Murray asserted that a successful society needs a "confident elite" of the kind that existed in America and Great Britain during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The ruling forces in America now push an agenda that is not in the country's best interests in order to demonstrate a lack of stuffiness and the ability to be non-judgmental, while burnishing secular credentials and casting aside the moral authority that made America a great and powerful country. With codes of behavior destroyed, it is just easier to pay our taxes and let the government do the work than it is to become involved, let alone to be committed to American exceptionalism or the virtues on which it is based.
On the brighter side, Murray noted that the impending collapse of failed European socialist states may be a sharp warning for America, a country he believes is still capable of re-inventing itself, as demonstrated by the enormous political reawakening that has taken place via the Tea Party. His book is not one filled with solutions, but it is more of a call for the reestablishment of our American national values. In part, it illustrates what happens when "Starbucks socialism" leaves the faculty lounge and collides with reality. However, Murray was optimistic and believes that not only the American spirit, but also the human spirit, will prevail.
Towards the end of Murray's talk, I was reminded of a joke I recently read in which an Oxford professor meets an American former graduate student and asks him what he's working on these days. "My thesis is on the survival of the class system in America," he answered. "Oh really," said his old professor, "I didn't think there was a class system in the United States." "Nobody does," replied the former student, "that's how it survives!" With the publication of Charles Murray's new book and the startling revelations it conveys, one can only hope that the survival of this covert -- and hence, even more dangerous -- system is not long for this world.
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