Friday, 27 January 2012

Is there an "American Exceptionalism" Charles Murray doubts popular theories

Charles Murray, either famous or notorious for his surveys of changing American culture over the past five decades, has offered here a fascinating and detailed study of how the divide between the working classes and the upper classes has grown over the past fifty years.

What Charles Murray shows is that there has been an increasing divide between an “elite”, whose politics he does not rigorously discuss and in fact offers quite contradictory conclusions about, and what he for want of a better name calls the “working class”.

Murray argues that since 1960, the cultural elite has made a huge divergence from the masses in such facets of life as:
  1. entertainment taste
  2. age of marriage
  3. single versus married parenthood
  4. labour force participation
  5. religious participation
  6. crime rates
Murray argues, without saying anything about the political views of these groups, that this is a disturbing trend because of the dependence of America for its supposed uniqueness on the “civic virtue” of its working classes. He shows that, contrary to popular right-wing perceptions of a religious working class and an atheistic elite, in reality the working classes have actually become less religious than the elite. What Charles Murray does not do is note that the “civic virtue” he attributes to America’s working classes was never present among the working classes of most European, East Asian or Latin American nations. These working classes were molded into militant atheists of Marxist or syndicalist bent upon formation, and their numbers made it possible for them to easily overpower the very small middle class and a conservative ruling class whose power was collapsed by the opening of more labour-efficient farmlands in Australia, southern Africa, and to a lesser extent Canada, New Zealand and South America. Although it took approximately eight generations, Europe’s working classes between the 1970s and the 1990s ultimately succeeded in making their long-held atheism effectively the official ideology of the European Union.

Another problem is that Murray, whilst he shows that atheism correlates very strongly with lack of civic virtue, seemingly neglects to consider:
  1. the exact level of welfare dependence in his “Fishtown” – a strange omission given Murray’s view that welfare is responsible for the changes he laments
  2. exactly how atheistic welfare recipients are
    • One obtains the impression that the proportion of atheists among welfare recipients could be exceedingly high from the following evidence:
      1. for instance, the very high atheism in the most generous European welfare states
      2. Arthur Brooks’ demonstration of the extremely low charitable giving of welfare families
      3. my own experience – certified by my brother – that most supporters of radical socialist groups like Resistance and Socialist Alternative (who advocate greatly increased welfare spending for Australia) are not workers but people dependent on welfare
  3. how still-working families in his “Fishtown” compare with working families from 1960 or before
  4. the comparative political views of people in the two regions
    • saying that the poorer class is more nearly Democrat contradicts the strongly Democrat voting patterns of super-rich ZIP codes like those in the Bay Area, noted so strongly by Pat Buchanan
    • though Murray does admit differences on page 295, he should go into more detail.
  5. the Republican heartland (states like Utah, Idaho, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas) and where it fits in terms of his “Fishtown” and “Belmont”.
All in all, Murray offers a contrary analysis by suggesting the United States – as a heavily glaciated nation with young mountains by nature is likely to – does bear a resemblance to the Europe of the early to middle twentieth century regarding the political character of its classes. In the past, when it was less densely populated, there was without doubt a very different streak to America’s working classes, but zoning of large areas and consequent rising prices has changed this greatly, so that the United States now resembles what would be expected of a densely populated and geologically unstable nation where the low efficiency of intensive agriculture means extreme competition once geologically older landscapes are able to be opened.

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