Charles Murray is taking a tour of the opinion pages, stumping for his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. I've been looking forward to this book for some time now. Murray is arguing that Americans of all classes used to share a common civic culture, but this has greatly changed over the past fifty years. There is a new prole class, with distinctive tastes and life patterns, and a winner class [my terms not Murray's] that earns double or triple what the working class would and shares the tastes of SWPLs. As always, Murray uses databases like the General Social Survey to make his case, often turning up surprising results. For example, the GSS demonstrates that the new upper class is actually far more religious than the new lower class. I'll be sure to pick up a copy of this book when it comes out.
When Americans used to brag about "the American way of life"—a phrase still in common use in 1960—they were talking about a civic culture that swept an extremely large proportion of Americans of all classes into its embrace. It was a culture encompassing shared experiences of daily life and shared assumptions about central American values involving marriage, honesty, hard work and religiosity.
Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America's core cultural institutions.
As I've argued in much of my previous work, I think that the reforms of the 1960s jump-started the deterioration. Changes in social policy during the 1960s made it economically more feasible to have a child without having a husband if you were a woman or to get along without a job if you were a man; safer to commit crimes without suffering consequences; and easier to let the government deal with problems in your community that you and your neighbors formerly had to take care of.