D. Dowd Muska


Up and In vs. Down and Out in White America

January 26, 2012

Remember white people? The entertainment industry, legacy press, and academia obsess over the nation’s incontestably expanding diversity, but about 200 million Americans trace their lineages to Europe. The seed of the British Isles, Germany, Scandinavia, France, Italy, Russia, and Austria-Hungary still comprises a strong majority of the U.S. citizenry.

It’s a group that Charles Murray thinks is in big trouble. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010, meticulously documents the sociologist’s concerns.

Murray avers that whites who are well-suited for the globalized economy, and thus richly rewarded for their brainpower, increasingly isolate themselves from the rest of their countrymen. As the educated and wealthy marry their own kind, have kids, and settle in distinct enclaves, they’re building a bubble that shields them from the everyday experiences of regular folks. Meanwhile, whites with no more than a high-school diploma and scant marketable skills have abandoned the mores that prevailed for centuries. Their lives are fraught with drama and discord.

The Land of the Free has always had rich and poor, Murray stipulates, but in the past, wherever one fell on the respectability scale, conformance with core cultural concepts was expected. Work was preferable to the dole. Trouble with the law brought opprobrium. Children were born within the bonds of marriage. Neighborliness was the norm. So were faith in a higher power and adherence to a universally accepted moral code.

Prior to the mid-20th century, few rejected what Murray calls the “founding virtues.” Certain precepts simply had to be followed for America’s experiment in libertarianism to succeed.

But in the last five decades, the system’s broken down.

Envision the country’s toniest communities, and traditional-values households aren’t likely to pop into the picture. Biff and Muffy, enjoying their trust funds, spend a lot of time on the tennis court. “Start-over dads” -- usually politicians, corporate executives, bureaucrats, attorneys, physicians, professors, and members of the media -- frequently trade their first wives for younger editions and a second set of children. Man-hating feminist professionals, if they chose to procreate at all, visit sperm banks to access bio-fathers. Religion is all but dead, as is participation in civic organizations.

According to the data Murray voluminously presents, it’s a portrait that isn’t supported by social-science research. Broadly speaking, university graduates in lucrative positions get, and stay, married. The hew to religious beliefs and practices to a greater degree than the lower class. They work longer hours. They volunteer. Think “The Waltons,” not “Sex and the City.”

Even the cliché that the upper class leans sharply to the left is shaky. Murray acknowledges that the high-achieving denizens of metropolitan Washington, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles reflexively send fatheads such as Nancy Pelosi and Jerrold Nadler to Washington. But in affluent regions outside the cities he cites, liberal, conservative, and moderate congressman are elected at rates similar to the rest of the nation. (“The wealthiest zip code in Austin [Texas], also with one of the top percentages of the college-educated, went for [George W.] Bush [in 2004] with 62 percent of the vote.”)

It’s the people at the bottom who exhibit most of the behaviors we attribute to a “nihilistic” nobility. In 1960, 94 percent of well-paid, book-learnin’ whites between the ages of 30 to 49 were married. By 2010, the share had dropped a bit, to 83 percent. Among the unskilled, marriage collapsed, falling from 84 percent to 48 percent. Illegitimacy was infinitesimal for all whites in 1960. It’s still rare for those at the socioeconomic apex -- between 6 and 8 percent, in Murray’s estimation, in 2008. Among the underclass, the out-of-wedlock birthrate is approaching 50 percent.

The self-destruction manifests itself in additional ways. Criminal activity in the fringe of white society has soared since 1960. Religion’s role has dwindled, and secularization is commonplace. Trust in strangers has nosedived. Male workforce participation has dwindled, even though jobs have become safer and less physically demanding.

Murray’s scholarly cri de coeur offers a scary glimpse at where the country’s headed, especially since the ruinous and expensive social trends he documents hold for nonwhites as well. To claw our way out, he believes, elites should “start preaching what they practice.” Having “lost self-confidence in the rightness of [their] own customs and values,” they must “once again fall in love with what makes America different.”

Can the politically correct, nonjudgmental smart set stop enabling irresponsibility and welfarism, and unapologetically sermonize for the traditions that made the Republic so successful? Skepticism is warranted. But America has defied its doubters before.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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