A dependable sociology will reason from facts, which are, according to Jim Manzi writing in National Affairs, both prophetic and distressing.
Surveying the last half century, Mr. Manzi can not help but notice a deplorable cultural bifurcation: “Increasingly, our country is segregated into high-income groups with a tendency to bourgeois norms, and low-income groups experiencing profound social breakdown.”
Mr. Manzi traces the collapse of bourgeois morality to a longstanding academic and avant garde assault on traditional social norms associated with the left in the 1960’s. By the 1970’s, “attitudes and behaviors began to change on a mass scale.” But every radical social action leads ineluctably to an equal and opposite reaction; and the resistance, when it arrived, was both economic and social.
Beginning with the Nixon administration and trailing into the Reagan administration, the reaction concerned itself with questions of social cohesion and stability, inextricably linked, conservatives and libertarians argued at the time, with the promotion of economic growth and vitality.
The partly successful response did not touch what Manzi calls “the other side of the coin.” The animated opposition failed to notice that economic dynamism could be “harmful to social cohesion.” Inexorably, “the cultural foundations of democratic capitalism were collapsing. Crime rates, illegitimacy, drug use, and many other measures of social dysfunction were all on the rise, seemingly without limit.”
Later in the decade and continuing through today, American society re-normalized, but the new normal is different than the old normal:
“To begin with, certain strands of the old bourgeois consensus have frayed, and others have simply disappeared, at least for some parts of the population. The wealthier and better-educated segments of our society, for example, have re-established the primacy of stable families and revived their intolerance of crime and public disorder. But they have combined this return to tradition with very non-traditional attitudes about sex, masculinity, and overt piety.”Most importantly, the partial social restoration did not trickle down to what the well-to-do used to call, disparagingly, the lower orders. Among the wealthier and better educated segments of American society today, the primacy of stable families and a healthy intolerance of crime and public disorder has revived; not so among the poor. Consider:
“Women without high-school diplomas are now about three times as likely to divorce within ten years of their first marriage than their college-educated counterparts… the estimated percentage of 15-year-olds living with both of their biological parents is far lower in the United States than in Western Europe.” In 1965, “almost no mothers with any level of education reported that they had never been married. While this is still true of mothers who have finished college, only 3 percent of whom were never married, the figure among mothers with no more than a high school education and incomes below $20,000 is an astounding 25 percent. About 70% of African-American children — as well as most Hispanic children — are born to unmarried mothers.”Among the middle and upper classes, what Manzi calls “the Old Wasp Ascendency” has been reconstructed on much different platforms:
“Political correctness serves the same basic function for this cohort that ‘good manners’ did for an earlier elite; environmentalism increasingly stands in for the ethic of controlling impulses so as to live within limits; and an expensive, competitive school culture — from pre-K play groups up through graduate school — socializes the new elite for constructive competition among peers. These Americans have even re-created the old WASP aesthetic preference for the antique, authentic, and pseudo-utilitarian at the expense of vulgar displays of wealth. In many cases, they live in literally the same homes as the previous upper class.”
This social paradigm, appropriate for a vigorous capitalistic economy, serves the new elite well enough. The old WASP elite, supported by a much different moral, religious and sociological matrix, was able to pass along prosperity and well-being to those on a lower rung of the social latter. It is very much an open question whether the new order is capable of showering similar blessings upon the fatherless 70 percent of African American children who receive very different messages from their subcultures, sociological offshoots of the anarchic 1960s.