Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
a book by Charles Murray
(our site's book review)
In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity.
Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.
The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk, he says. See A Dream Deferred, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism, and America II.
The Statue of Liberty asks us to 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses' but the elite do not wish to share the country with these 'wretched refuse' so they 'secede' to their gated communities
Eventually, the Have-Nots will want to storm the castles (walled enclave communities) of the Haves
In Coming Apart, Murray meticulously chronicles and measures the emergence of two wholly distinct classes: a new upper class, "the cognitive elite," and a new "lower class," which he is too polite to give a name. The cognitive elite are much like the "symbolic analysts" in Robert Reich's The Work of Nations, and the secessionists in Louv's America II.
The Statue of Liberty asks us to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” However, in the above linked sources, we find that the "symbolic analysts" of Robert Reich are bailing on the rest of us. Reich argues that "those citizens best positioned to thrive in the world market are tempted to slip the bonds of national allegiance, and by so doing disengage themselves from their less favored fellows." What we are witnessing today is the end of what Reich calls economic nationalism, which is the notion that the members of a nation succeed or fail together. United we stand, divided we fall, said honest Abe. We maintain that there are bigger things afoot that are pushing the U.S. towards falling that trump class divisions, as we'll discuss later.
We find that Richard Louv's America II dwellers are attempting a de facto secession from the rest of us, just like richer citizens in Europe once built castles to wall themselves off from peasants and serfs, just like "privatopia" dwellers hide behind the gates, fences, and walls of the walled enclaves called gated communities to keep lower classes out and "people like me" in. Class segregration is here to stay. The phenomenon of walled cities and gated communities is a dramatic manifestation of a new fortress mentality growing in America.
The phenomenon of walled cities and gated communities is a dramatic manifestation of a new fortress mentality growing in America
Obviously, the secessionists are not interested in sharing the country with "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse." But they're stuck with it, so they choose to live in their secure protected private fortresses instead of out in the public spaces where safety and comfort are compromised.
The evidence in Coming Apart is about white America. Its message is about all of America.
One Amazon reviewer wrote: "Although written at the end of the last century , this book [Reich's The Work of Nations] explains why [is] Sanders and Trump [occurring] now. The income disparity between the upper cognitive class and the rapidly declining middle class has led to anger that is now emerging in politics. Lesser skilled workers are disenchanted with both parties and are looking for a seismic change in politics. Too bad Reich's recommendations for fixes have zero chance of being implemented by the government."
As one can see, the top 1/5th is doing a heck of a lot better than the bottom 4/5th; the top 1/5th, in general, are the secessionists, those living behind walled enclaves called gated communities
According to reviewer Niall Ferguson, "The key point is that the four great social trends of the past half-century—the decline of marriage, of the work ethic, of respect for the law and of religious observance—have affected [the lower class] much more than they have [the elites]. As a consequence, the traditional bonds of civil society have atrophied in [the lower class]. And that, Murray concludes, is why people there are so very unhappy—and dysfunctional."
Murray is rightly dismissive of progressive tax tables as a cure. (The lower class would simply buy better cars, TVs and cell phones—no other change.) His cure is "a return to the republic's original foundations of family, vocation, community, and faith." He awaits a new, secular “Great Awakening.” But there is little pushing the country in that direction. The country went instead toward Trump (a Great Sleep?—or is this merely spreading "fake news"?), a desperation move led by angry white working class people. No awakening there. Murray has no idea how we can become awakened, but, happily, we do. See The Forest Through The Trees.
One reviewer sees it like this: "The ruling elites (politically and in business) cluster on the coasts, and they are overwhelmingly liberal, while the rest of America is evenly split between conservative and liberal. To enter the new upper class, one needs a good education at the right schools, which in turn requires a high IQ for entry and success. So there is an element of merit in the existing class system, as Murray has long argued, but the class divide remains problematic even so."
Libertarian Murray says our welfare state is starting to implode. So he hopes for an awakening but expects implosion. If the U.S. devolved into three countries, we'd have liberal elites on the coasts and conservative bubbas in the middle, but a lot less classism and Culture War nonsense. (See Culture Wars: The Struggle To Control The Family, Art, Education, Law, And Politics In America.) The liberal elites would be thrilled their new country could be run progressively with no bubbas holding them back. The bubbas would be thrilled they could run their country regressively (goodbye rights for women and minorities, divorce is illegal, abortion is gone and so is birth control, school prayer is mandatory, etc.). But they wouldn't be happy—they'd find out that trying to live in the 1950s would be unsustainable and bubba women would rebel: they want careers, not just housewife duties!
If the U.S. devolved into three countries, we'd have liberal elites on the coasts and conservative bubbas in the middle
The book is very informative and it contains scientifically based evidence that Johnson's "Great Society" was a partial failure—unless his plan was to make everyone dependent on the Federal Government. It was social engineering with the best intentions. The trouble is, so was Karl Marx's communism. (FDR, on the other hand, had it right: he pulled us out of the Depression and implemented the New Deal. Governments can help without pushing people to lose their work ethics and sense of responsibility.) We need to be an opportunity society, like Newt says, not a welfare nightmare. Most social engineering merely makes things worse, as Murray demonstrates aptly with his data, some of which seems valid, but some of which seems thrown together at the last minute. Serious scholars tore apart the “science “ of The Bell Curve and accused Murray of massaging his stats to match his ideology—which is what he’s doing again in this tome, but it is what we expect from members of the right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute, which are mostly climate change science deniers who also deny smoking is harmful while promoting neocon warmongering.
"For some decades now, a popular conservative narrative of modern America has gone something like this: Our center-right nation, devout and industrious, is ruled by a politically liberal elite that disdains family, despises religion and celebrates indolence with government handouts. Many people find this story convincing. It helped fracture the postwar Democratic Party and midwifed the culture wars. Today it feeds the political frustrations of the Tea Party movement." But Murray disproved this myth with data. The myth has it backwards. The elites have the Founders-admired virtues as well as high IQs and the working class lacks both, says elite Murray. They have Illegitimacy, crime, joblessness—which are not just black underclass issues; they are now white people problems too. (Source: Tramps Like Them, NY Times, by Nicholas Confessore)
The working class is not just dumb and ignorant— they also have illegitimacy, crime, and joblessness—no longer just black underclass issues; they are now white people problems too
Charles Murray belongs to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which should make you take what he says with a bucket—not grain—of salt. The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) is an influential right-wing think tank that advocates for lower taxes, fewer protections for consumers and the environment, and cuts to the social safety net. AEI is the dominant conservative think tank—it's a breeding ground for neocons. AEI was noted for providing the George W Bush administration with the neocon-minded hawkish officials and advisers who promoted the administration’s "war on terror" policies, including John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and John Yoo. It is deeply connected to the infamous Koch brothers, to American empire building ideas, the tobacco industry's misinformation war, the climate change deniers and it actively promotes Middle Eastern military entanglements for both the US and its allies. (Source: American Enterprise Institute)
Charles Murray belongs to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which should make you take what he says with a bucket—not grain—of salt
In The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994), Murray attributed much of the achievement gap between blacks and whites to what Herrnstein and Murray claimed was blacks’ inherent and genetically-based mental inferiority. The data he had tended to support his conclusions, but the book was deemed repugnant by reviewers none of whom wanted to kiss their careers goodbye by siding with an apparent racist.
But if you note that the definition of racist is "a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another," then Murray becomes not a skinhead-by-association but instead a brave scientist going where the data takes him. Everyone who agrees with this Bell Curve book is by definition a racist. So naturally, few said they agreed and virtually all shook their fists at this "racist" publically. But it gets interesting when one cogitates upon the matter of what they believed privately.
Agreeing with Murray about blacks’ inherent and genetically-based mental inferiority is analogous to publically telling the 'craptive audience' in an elevator 'I farted' and thenceforth be known as the dude with the putrid posterior—it just isn't done!
When someone farts silently on a crowded (sm)elevator, if each in turn was asked if he was the flatulence flinger, each would say no. Publically he believes he is innocent but privately one of them knows he slid out the Slidin' Sam. Agreeing with Murray is analogous to publically telling the "craptive audience" in the elevator "I farted" and thenceforth be known as the dude with the putrid posterior—it just isn't done! So, it's obvious that plenty agreed but few admitted it—especially to Blacks and even more especially in Harlem.
The reason it's obvious that many agreed is not just that they followed Murray's data-backed logic and found it sound, but also because a superficial look at Africa versus Europe and America shows us that Blacks seemed incapable of civilizing themselves and progressing, except for Egypt, which was once a melting pot of cultures and a crossroad of civilizations, unlike most African countries. So it thereby was inspired to be an exception in ancient times, furnishing many important cultural and scientific advances, until it started declining. The burning of the Alexandria library in around 391 A.D. by the Pope's fanatics, a library where a good portion of human knowledge had accumulated, was an event that marked its decline with an exclamation point.
Egyptians do not think of themselves as Africans, but as Mediterraneans, Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners or Islamics. There's a Northern 'white' and sub-Saharan 'black' Africa, with blacker skin seen as denoting inferiority by many of their whiter citizens who admit their racism
Significantly, Egyptians do not think of themselves as Africans, but as Mediterraneans, Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners or Islamics. There's a Northern “white” and sub-Saharan “black” Africa, with blacker skin seen as denoting inferiority by many of their whiter citizens who admit their racism. Blacker skins were and are associated with Sub-Saharan Africans who couldn't seem to develop decent civilizations and cultures compared to others.
So does blacker correlate with genetic inferiority? Or does blacker correlate with the fact that the huge Nile River goes through Egypt, and the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea border it, inspiring its whiter people to discover agriculture and irrigation while blacker cousins to the south "ran around their jungles," so to speak (okay, we like Tarzan movies)? Who can say?
But all this logically supports the idea that Bell Curve conclusions MAY have merit. Our opinion is that it makes more sense to recognize that various races seem to have differences from each other, with blacks taller, stronger and faster and whites seeming to have advantages in cognitive areas. Do 7-foot black basketball stars envy Einstein? Fat chance! But then tests that measure cognitive abilities were written by whites assuming whites' educational background, so who can objectively say how races cognitively compare? (We'd have loved to see Hitler's face when a black Jesse Owens won his race against white Germans in the Berlin 1936 Olympics!)
Summary: races, like classes, are not inferior or superior—they merely have differences.
With Regard to Murray's Coming Apart (is he?) we can say that his 2012 tome sheds little new light that Richard Louv's America II and Robert Reich's The Work of Nations hadn't already shed in better books a couple of decades earlier. Murray's book is both reductionistic and biased, as are the majority of the conclusions from people associated with the right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute. His use of statistics tries to present to us proof that the top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, but some would interpret the book as a snub of the Have-Nots by a Have. Murray notes the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and he also notes the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. "That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk," Murray says.
We disagree. Said divergence, per se, isn't the crux of the matter. The success of this nation is at risk for far more serious reasons than class differences. We're an oligarchy, not a democracy. (See Democracy—an American Delusion.) Our free press isn't as free as most think. (See Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.) Our elected officials are not actually running the show since we have a puppet government, a shadow government, a deep state, a shadow elite—it goes by many names but its reality has been proven and remarked upon by many Presidents, Congresspeople, professors, and some of the smartest people anywhere—authors much too wise to ignore.
Our citizens do not want wars, and yet we have them and the leaders use the War on Terror as their ass covering excuse, while happily using our brave soldiers as cannon fodder
Our citizens do not want wars, and yet we have them and the leaders use the War on Terror as their ass covering excuse, while happily using our brave soldiers as cannon fodder
Our people fight wars for fanatic, warmongering, empire building neocons and yet only these few fanatics want said wars. Our citizens do not, and yet we have them and our leaders use the War on Terror as their ass covering excuse, while happily using our brave soldiers as cannon fodder. We confirm that "the success of the American project is at risk" but it is for reasons Charles Alan Murray, American libertarian conservative political scientist, sociologist, author, and columnist, dare not contemplate unless he is willing to be kept awake at night with a brainful of the unthinkable.
Murray dare not contemplate the real reasons for American decline unless he is willing to be kept awake at night with a brainful of the unthinkable