The architects of the counterculture and its present day proponents have weathered their own assault on the culture better than their victims in the lower classes have. And as the rebels have become the leaders, the counterculture has been institutionalized by social policies which disregard the devastating impact of their own ideas on the rest of the country.
“Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” leads one to the conclusion that the poor are not only more economically vulnerable, they are more culturally vulnerable and less able to maintain communities and values in the face of an assault on those values from the high ground of the cultural elites. Where middlebrow culture once taught aspirational moral and economic values, the popular culture of the present panders to the worst impulses and encourages the very forms of dissolution that make for serious social problems.
Just as the decline of marriage hit the working class harder than the upper class, Murray’s statistics show that secularism is equally far more devastating in the working class with a 19 percent gap. Communities with below 50 percent marriage rates and above 50 percent secularism rates are, in the favored word in the progressive jargon, unsustainable. Even given the widespread availability of jobs, they will produce numerous social problems. When the jobs are declining, they become open sores.
Both sides of Murray’s divided America need one another. Together Fishtown and Belmont are a country, apart they resemble the walled suburbs and lawless barrios of Latin America, and they suggest that our greatest challenges are not economic, they are moral. Cutting budgets and implementing economic reforms cannot heal a nation which has lost its founding virtues.
Though packed with data, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” is less a call for social policies and more of a call for a moral awakening. Beyond trickledown economics, Murray would like to see trickledown values replace the disintegration of the national founding virtues that occurred when culture met counterculture. The segregation of the two Americas has created two cultures, both decaying in their own ways, the effete culture of Belmont and the decaying culture of Fishtown, one wrapped in its own insularity, the other drowning in popular culture with no moral center to cling to.
Michael Harrington’s “The Other America” helped kickstart Kennedy’s “War on Poverty” whose legacy only deepened the social problems being created in tandem with Great Society sloganeering. Charles Murray’s “Losing Ground” began to turn the tide against the welfare state. His latest book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010”, may equally help turn social policy toward a moral center.
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