In the The Great Divorce, David Brooks , picks up the theme of the two-caste society, the separation of elites from the lower classes with an ambiguous middle caught. This, of course, is the favorite territory for Charles Murray. Brooks writes,
Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” describes the most important cultural trends today and offers a better understanding of America’s increasingly two-caste society.
Brooks picked up on the growing trend in Bobos in Paradise, and an interesting article on the education of the elites in The Atlantic (“The Organization Kid”). Interesting to trace this split back to the Vietnam era, and the division between New Left and Labor. As we came out of the 70s (this, the time of the Yippies and the Yuppies), the counterculture became more its true, class-oriented self. Wendy Wasserstein captures some of this shift in The Heidi Chronicles.
Murray however, is a more complicated character, in part for his alliance with the AEI. Their policies did contribute to this split (another story).Both Murray and Brooks still indulge in a kind of privileged perspective, both seeing that somehow it is the moral duty of the elites to remedy this split. That doesn’t strike me as exactly right, not with 50 percent in the middle unaccounted for.
Roberto Saldaña comments
How interesting that he believes that the persons who should lead the crusade to restore our civic virtues are the economic elite. He provides no incentive why anyone in that group should care about this divide because things have been rather swell for them without paying attention to “cultural inequality.”
The failure to explain why elites should help reveals the essential contradiction in Charles Murray’s thought. He approves of the egalitarianism of two generations ago (can it be?!), even as he has been in the employ and the willing abetter of tearing down that equality. The outcomes are basically what his patrons wanted, and in that self-confirming of their own (moral) goodness. The data point to the evident moral quality of the middle and upper middle classes, reinforcing the narrative of personal achievement — a moral meritocracy as it were. Thus the status and virtue become wed, and the underlying warping effects of economic decline are ignored.
The same danger is at work among the Evangelical church, as it too becomes more resolutely middle class and distant from the damage being done on the working class. The rise of secularism among the workers reflects this shift, as well as the alienating turn the Christian Right has had on our politics.
From the Wall Street Journal
The ideal of an American way of life is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated. Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart, on what’s cleaving America, and why.
Charles Murray points to some real shifts in White America, but nonetheless it is something of an ironic book given his celebration of (perceived) intrinsic differences. Who really can forget the nonsense that was the Bell Curve, or for that matter Four Questions? The very things he celebrates would seem to be the levers that undo the egalitarian society that he misses. No word yet whether this is a Diane Ravitch moment or not. We’ll see.