Published on: September 21, 2014
The Weekend Read
Is America Coming Apart?

When the President speaks of American exceptionalism, conservatives disbelieve him while liberals cringe. But there is another reaction ascendant, arguing that whether American exceptionalism was once a force for good or for evil, it is now disappearing.

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  • ShadrachSmith

    Kipling wrote The White Man’s Burden which celebrated bringing civilization to the savage. Bringing freedom to the oppressed is a similar goal, subject to all the same fashionable anti-colonial criticisms that are the very heart and soul of Obama’s multicultural policies.

    America is paying the price for electing another professor as commander in chief. America is 0-2 on that one.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Should we assume you preferred the professional actor from the 80s?

      • ShadrachSmith

        With actors America is 1-1 🙂

      • rheddles

        The guy from the ’80s was the real thing. What we got now is an actor. And a bad one at that.

        • FriendlyGoat

          The real “what”?

      • GodisanAmerican

        or a missing village idiot W

    • Curious Mayhem

      It’s Wilson and Carter again, although I think of Obama as a weird mix of Carter and Nixon.

  • Virtues have to fit the society. The virtues Murray enumerates are not the Platonic virtues, because the modern US is not classical Greece. So before we can answer the question of whether we can reverse the decline of Murray’s virtues, we have to ask whether they still fit the environment of the modern Western state. Let’s go through them:

    Industriousness. I’d prefer to call this “self-reliance”. At the height of the industrial economy, the habit of working hard and steadily did indeed yield the ability to rely on oneself, but that was because the value of labor, even unskilled labor, was still high. The ratio of the value of labor to overall GDP is falling today. You can argue about cause and effect (is the ratio declining because industriousness declining, or is it the other way around?), but you can’t really argue the fact that the decline is real. For people who don’t possess exactly the right skills, or exactly the right connections, the result of this is that hard work has a very low return.

    Honesty. Personal honesty is as important as ever, but public honesty has always been reliant on a shared set of core principles that we agree are true. That is, ultimately, a low information phenomenon. It’s one thing to nitpick at a consensual truth when you’re just a crank writing a letter to the editor. It’s quite another thing to flood the zone with exhaustive lists of exceptions to the consensual truth, especially when a vast army of robots (artificial and the unfortunate human kind) are waiting to seize on any nugget of novelty and promote it into a society-wide meme. Honesty is ultimately about telling the truth, and modern information culture makes identifying the truth very, very difficult.

    Religiosity. Full disclosure: I am very close to being a pure atheist. My atheism only breaks down at small multiples of Planck time after the Big Bang. It springs from what I know about science. As science can provide natural explanations for more and more of the universe, the room for supernatural or divine explanations shrinks. So religiosity, to the extent that it substitutes pre-ordained meaning as received wisdom, and prescribes practices based on that meaning, is ultimately a low-information phenomenon as well, unable to withstand an onslaught of non-consensual facts and opinions.

    I wish this weren’t true. I’d give quite a bit to be able to believe in a supernatural power higher than myself, that my life had a pre-defined meaning, one that I didn’t have to create from fist principles with a compendium of caveats. It would make me a better person. As it is, I was brought up by people who had a strong sense of right and wrong, and so my morals are reflexively Christian, which saves a lot of time. But I am, in Murray’s words, “hollow” to some extent. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to fill the hollow up with good stuff, with varying degrees of success.

    Marriage. I don’t think marriage belongs on this list, because it is ultimately a construction of industriousness, honesty, and religiosity. I do think that “family” belongs on the list, and the virtue of family is degraded by the lack of more than one parent, and the inability to instill industry, honesty, and meaning (see above) in children. But again, small amounts of information work better than floods of it. Raising kids is hard enough when only you and your spouse are telling them a small number of things, over and over. It’s ridiculously hard if you let in the cacophony of voices from the outside world.

    By now, the theme should be pretty clear: Our society is degrading because it doesn’t know how to handle the flood of information it’s generating, and because that same information degrades the value of all but the most specialized of human labor. We simply haven’t adapted to this yet. It remains to be seen whether adaptation is possible. I suspect that it is, because culture is a nifty invention that’s pretty robust on historical time scales. But we’re not living in an historical time scale.

    The only policy conclusion that comes out of this mess isn’t going to make anybody very happy: If the value of labor continues to fall, we face a pretty simple choice: We either let the people who can’t compete wallow in abject misery and eventually starve, or we support them and wait for a new set of information-tolerant virtues to emerge from the culture. The latter requires a robust, relatively judgment-free welfare state. I doubt very much that that’s going to make either Mr. Berkowitz or Mr. Murray very happy, but perhaps it provides enough societal first-aid to allow us to begin to rebuild.

    Beyond that, there are two core cultural competencies that we need to grow: First, we need the ability to get skills into human beings so efficiently that going from being unskilled (or, more likely, formerly skilled) to skilled labor is achievable in short order. Second, we need to filter the firehouse of information–at a societal, family, and personal level. Those sound like two “virtues” that would take us a long way through the tunnel we’re in right now.

    • Duperray

      I like your statements about Religion and Atheism. Both positions are fundamentally “non negociable” because deeply rooted in ourselves. You say you are a strong pure atheist, while I am a pure believer, without any hesitation all along my long life, so far. But I see a lot of commonality between these positions:

      Morality. While it is easy for me to accept top down divine rule, could Morality be considered by an atheist as the common Mankind knowledge about “How to live happy in human society”? A well compiled, worked out, tested, upgraded cumulative heritage of 2 millions years of human life? It is a subject of interresteing discussions in itself.

      Regarding present (all western world, not only US) decadence, the mental power of media (by their superior technical means) is a terrible tool, for the good or bad. Children are the battle field. Before, children were perhaps 95% grown under family control, now it’s only 5%. Why? Because generally biased media, owing to their sensationalism, money seeking and ego, provide avalanche of false, exaggerated, twisted information, 90% fake about common subjects, 100% fake about political matters overwhelm faint family message. On top of this, a terrible trend is under development in some european countries: Governmental Education system distributes special books to 8 years-old kids during school time, with full prohibition to neither show this book home nor inform parents: This plot is just now discovered, active since 2006 ! This means some governments are torpedoing parental education to “their” ideological education. This was the case in China, before Mao’s death. Now in western world !!! You may guess what’s inside the book, prostitution being no longer a sin, and so on….

    • Anthony

      Thoughtful and contributive as well as advisable reading for any concerned about America’s future. Thanks.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Regarding your 4th and 5th paragraphs, we do not have to conform our beliefs to the Genesis creation story, or the Ten Commandments, or all the hard-to-believe things in scripture in order to appreciate Jesus for elevating the idea of “loving our neighbors as we love ourselves” above 611 other commandments that Jewish folks can identify in the Bible—-to their astonishment—-and for telling a story of a Good Samaritan to answer the begging question of who is a neighbor.

      • No, you don’t have to conform to those beliefs, but when you jettison the parts of the paradigm that induce you to self-police because Someone is watching over you, you lose a big chunk of the socially valuable stuff. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find a workable substitute that continues to cause you to self-police, but it’s a lot harder. And it’s even harder for your kids, and harder still for you grandkids, because as it gets harder to work it through, it gets orders of magnitude harder to teach it to somebody else.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Shouldn’t it really be more fun to try to love people because it’s right than to begrudgingly do it merely to avoid the possibility of personal damnation?

          You said in the fifth paragraph of your original post that you were looking and wishing for something. I’m trying to tell you what that is. You can have it without “Church”, too.

    • veritas

      I’ve read (and enjoyed) many of your comments on Megan McArdle’s blog. Nice to see you posting here too.

      I don’t want to distract (too much) from your comment, but I did want to make a brief remark about this, which I will tie into the larger issue of virtue:

      My atheism only breaks down at small multiples of Planck time after the Big Bang. It springs from what I know about science. As science can provide natural explanations for more and more of the universe, the room for supernatural or divine explanations shrinks.

      That is an interesting philosophical model. I think it would be the conflict model, wherein science and religion compete for epistemic primacy.

      I have always viewed God (the Christian one) as a meta explanation, one that is over, rather than competing with, naturalistic explanations. Much as my consciousness and the physio-neurological activities of my arm are both legitimate “causes” of my fingers typing this message, so too do I see God and the laws of physics as (non-competitive) causes of the universe. Have you read Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism?

      I do think this drives at questions of telos, which seems to be necessary for a vigorous set of public virtues. If we are all just temporarily ambulatory bags of chemicals, which move about in space-time according to inviolable laws of physics, it is hard to imagine why we should be particularly confident (and thus excited or proactive in spreading) about any moral system (regardless of high or low information externalities), let alone something as downstream as American Exceptionalism. And, as this essay and other events imply, this will become an acute problem in the (relatively) near future, especially as Europe’s demographics shift from secular to Muslim.

      Yet I rather enjoy the secular / sacred distinction in the public sphere. I have no desire to return to the Middle Ages (I have a Medieval and Renaissance Minor, so I appreciate that it was a lot less awful than popular culture makes it out to be), where theocrats used (often erroneous) interpretations of the Bible and church history to enrich themselves and oppress the poor.

      In short, I don’t see a grounding for meaningful, lasting virtue on the kind of secularism that infiltrates every reach of a person’s public and private life. But I am also fearful of a public virtue that is based on religion, not because I am hostile to religion (quite the opposite), but because of how pride seems to corrupt the religious more than any other group. I wonder if there is a middle way?

      • I agree that religion without teleology is kinda pointless. But that’s where the non-competing spheres of magisteria paradigm breaks down. If science has constrained the obvious things your Supreme Being can do to twiddling a few physical constants, punching the “create universe” button, then sitting back and saying, “Oooooo, pretty!”, then it’s hard to come to the conclusion that He has a Plan for your life.

        But from the perspective of maintaining a healthy society, faith in that plan is vitally important, because it’s a mental shortcut to avoid a) having to think all the way through why you should avoid an anti-social temptation every time a temptation arises and b) despair (which is sort of the ultimate anti-social temptation, IMO). Without the cop-on-the-corner aspects of God, you’re going to lose the actual Murray-esque “virtue” part of the equation–and science has done a bang-up job of eliminating that.

        I suspect that there is a middle way, but it’s going to have to be based on insights into human behavior and social organization that we’re only just now discovering and, by the act of discovery, possibly changing. White courtesy telephone for Sam Harris…

        • veritas

          Thanks for your reply!

          I’m having trouble understanding what you mean by this:

          If science has constrained the obvious things your Supreme Being can do to twiddling a few physical constants, punching the “create universe” button, then sitting back and saying, “Oooooo, pretty!”, then it’s hard to come to the conclusion that He has a Plan for your life.

          I must be missing something; some premise is not obvious to me. What do you mean here? How do you get from scientific observation to a minimization or elimination of divine telos?

          I’m also not sure what is meant by the characterization of faith as a mental shortcut for virtuous choices. There is obviously a sociological sense in which individuals, religious or not, usually make moral choices in a quick, albeit principled, manner; we make so many of these choices every day that it would be impossible to give each a systematic treatment. But given time, and a sufficiently thoughtful person, it seems like there are ethical deliberations regardless of religious commitment. I think here, for example, of David VanDrunen work on bioethics.

          Re: Sam Harris. The Moral Landscape was an interesting read, but I had difficulty with his utilitarian philosophy. I also don’t think he did a good job addressing relevant philosophical literature, such as the is/ought problem. That, for me, is the looming foundational concern. I have difficulty seeing how refinements in knowledge can alleviate a problem of virtue or purpose; these strike me as fundamentally different questions, and progress in the former cannot not identify the latter.

          • “How do you get from scientific observation to a minimization or elimination of divine telos?”

            A fair question, and I admit to asserting something I take on intuition rather than something for which I can produce an air-tight argument. You can certainly make the argument that God perceives and understands then entire state space that comprises our universe and it computationally equipped to query various subsets of that space to know our thoughts and benevolently guide us. Such a being would be truly omnipotent.

            But such a being would also be a hideous kludge, or at the very least have terrible aesthetic sense. If You’re going to produce something as beautiful as the universe, something that operates on such elegant, simple laws, why would You mess it up by doing constant monitoring of every particle in it (which is what would be required to replicate the attributes of, say, a Christian God). I don’t buy it, and I daresay that science makes it likely that fewer and fewer people will buy it over time, as knowledge of the physics becomes pervasive.

            ” But given time, and a sufficiently thoughtful person, it seems like there are ethical deliberations regardless of religious commitment.”

            Agree. But you can’t live your life deliberating. Your ethics have to be fully integrated in your behavior or you’ll make too many ethical mistakes. And for ethics to be that intensely ingrained, you have to have either a set of received wisdom (e.g., from your parents) or you have to be awfully certain of yourself–like, sociopathically certain of yourself.

            Religion has the nice property that you can acquire it through received wisdom and also be certain of it–if you have faith. It affords the nice energy characteristics of learned behavior in a conveniently non-sociopathic form. (Well, with only limited sociopathies. And can a social convention really be sociopathic, by definition?)

            I noticed the other day that Sam Harris is taking on the issue of non-religious spirituality in a new book. Haven’t read it yet.

    • Curious Mayhem

      Very thoughtful and penetrating, even if I don’t agree with all of it. (BTW, I think you meant “firehose,” not “firehouse.”) Might I suggest Sommerville’s How the News Makes Us Dumb, more than a decade old, which identities the information firehose problem and what it does to a culture, but coming from a quite different direction.

    • khutch

      A marvelous post, RadMod. To your point on religiosity: as a fellow near-pure atheist, I sympathize with the dilemma of possessing an impulse to believe in a higher power yet lacking the ability to suspend my belief in a rational/empirical view of the universe. It brought to mind a passage from the novel Dr. Faustus by the brilliant Thomas Mann. Hope you don’t mind an extended quote:

      “Surely a religious sense, which I protest is in no way lacking in me, is something other than positive and formally professed religion. Would it not have been better to hand over that ‘fact’ of human feeling for the infinite to the sense of piety, the fine arts, free contemplation, yes, even to exact research, which as cosmology, astronomy, theoretical physics, can serve this feeling with entirely religious devotion to the mystery of creation–instead of singling it out as the science of the spirit and developing on it structures of dogma, whose orthodox believers will then shed blood for a copula?”

      Can we really satisfy our religious longings with such reverence for the secular? I suppose all we can do is try.

      • A variation of the answers I gave to veritas and FriendlyGoat below:

        From a “virtue” standpoint, I don’t think the issue is so much to satisfy our religious longings as to behave well and act dilligently. I don’t have much problem with awe–I can generate all the awe I need just by remembering that e^(i*pi) = -1. But to keep slogging through the slough of despond–and actually get to the other side–sometimes it would be really nice to believe that the bridge in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town was actually true.

        • khutch

          I take your point, particularly as to acting diligently and ‘slogging through the slough of despond’. The religious impulse is, at root, the yearning for a transcendent purpose, a larger something-outside-ourselves to which to dedicate our goals and actions, and which will in turn provide us a sense of support and belonging. History is replete with examples of this impulse, not always religious; various forms of nationalism for example (think Nazi Germany). To your point in your reply to veritas, from a societal standpoint religious faith in part ensures that the ‘cop on the corner’ is more benign than a Hitler or Stalin (although in the past even this has not always been the case…Inquisition anyone?). But returning to the personal level, those of us who insist on a rational, scientific (falsifiable?) view of existence risk depriving ourselves of the sense of transcendent purpose (the teleological component, as you referenced earlier) that humanity would seem to require. How to regain this sense, absent belief in a providential and interventionist Deity? Have we outsmarted ourselves? A lot of very smart people (Professor W. R. Mead comes to mind) seem able to suspend disbelief in aforementioned Deity in order to ward off the ‘slough of despond’. I’m not sure I could do it.

  • Bruce

    It is naïve to discuss the decline of work without discussing the incentives not to work. Assistance programs pay more than low wage jobs. Low wage workers do not usually stay low wage forever, but they aren’t even trying in many cases, because of government programs. Also, you can’t really discuss the elite without discussing crony capitalism and the Federal Reserve and the damage reaped upon true capitalism by both. Also, one who suggests this is probably going to be accused of wearing a “tin foil hat,” but there are sociopaths within the elite and they have no interest in a strong and vibrant America. This is a useful discussion, but Murray needs to discuss these other uncomfortable aspects as well.

    • “Low wage workers do not usually stay low wage forever…”

      There is such a thing as a dead-end job. I would have agreed with your statement ten years ago, when the number of low-wage workers who “usually” advanced was pretty high. I suspect that that number is now plummeting. People are pretty rational, and if they understand that a year or two of deferred gratification will get them further ahead, they’ll opt for the deferred gratification. But a lot of them aren’t looking at a year or two–they’re looking at never getting enough ahead to make the work worthwhile.

      Of course, fixing the system to avoid welfare cliffs and therefore provide the proper incentives is pathetically easy–and politically impossible. But the factor that makes it the most impossible is the disdain that a hefty chunk of the electorate feels toward those who aren’t working. Even in the cases where that disdain is justified, from a policy perspective it’s counterproductive. Making value judgments through public policy is a fool’s errand.

    • Curious Mayhem

      Well, Murray did mention four virtues and singled out Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, who might be religious and is married, but who is not an exemplar of the other two vitures.

      I don’t think Lewis is a sociopath. But he did exemplfy a certain kind of “excellent sheep,” someone deluded by the self-serving platitudes of his industry, all swadled and cradled by a tender and caring central bank and the deeply held belief in the entitlement to Nothing Bad Ever Happening to Us, Even If We Screw Up, Badly.

    • Andrew Allison

      “It is naïve to discuss the decline of work without discussing the incentives not to work. Assistance programs pay more than low wage jobs.” nails a fundamental flaw in Murray’s argument. Workforce participation is at a 35-year low ( in large measure because of this. It is equally naïve to restrict the discussion to whites, which ignores the real issue, namely increasing cultural tribalism.

  • FriendlyGoat

    U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powers appeared on Meet the Press today and started one little semantic trend which I hope will stick regarding the Islamic State in Iraq and The Levant. She pronounced it “issul”, with emphasis on the first syllable, but with a short-i sound on the front of the acronym (ISIL) instead of with a long-i sound—–like in iPad—–as we have been hearing up to now.

    Pronouncing ISIL to rhyme with “missile” is not an improper word trick. After all, there is no long-i in “Islamic”, and no reason to put one there just because we’re speaking an acronym as a word.

    “Issul” should remind us of the problem of Islam every time the word is spoken. We think these sound repetition things don’t matter—–but they do, and A LOT. We’re going to have to contend with the ISIL nuts for a long time and we might as well pound into our national heads a reminder of why they are nuts.

  • truthsojourner

    “But today those differences are diminished. Americans, and especially younger Americans, are no longer more religious than their contemporaries in Europe.” What is the evidence for this? It is NOT supported by the survey data.

    • Curious Mayhem

      No it isn’t.

  • Anthony

    A professor once informed my university class it is unreasonable to demand that an informed citizen refrain from making a diagnosis of an illness (American Idea of exceptionalism, force for good or evil). So, let us see.

    Essay’s focus is on whether Classism now overwhelms country’s function to claims of exceptionalism from all quarters. Realistically in America, democracy has always subsumed a class struggle only its been expertly camouflaged. For me, the ignored question in essay is has capitalism both positively and negatively, as capitalism continues to transform, changed the parameters by which exceptionalism is now viewed. Or said another way, is a central premise of the American dream, if you’re willing to work hard you’ll be able to make a living and build a better life for your children, still valid pillar upholding idea of American exceptionalism? Moreover, essay’s thrust is both incomplete and irresolute without examining of economic and capitalist component as integral parts to any diagnosis of American exceptionalism and class cleavages – “a nation’s exceptionalism can be measured by its ability to create a society of free poverty, racism, sexism, exploitation….”

    As an aside, for more than two decades Bill Moyers has demonstrated responsibility concerning both growing class divides and inequality unfolding here in America (Thomas Piketty has distilled the focus).

  • vepxistqaosani

    One should note how current tax and economic policies reinforce the division between the elites and the rest. When the dominant tax is the income tax, it becomes more difficult to accrue assets, while the lower capital gains tax rates reward those who’ve already made their piles. Similarly, the dominant economic policy is the Fed’s quantitative easing (or whatever they’re calling it today), which makes the rich richer and everyone else poorer.

    This has little to do with “income inequality” as it’s usually argued about — very few Americans begrudge those who have produced something of value the fruits of their labor. But nearly all Americans get incensed when it’s revealed that someone has accrued his wealth through government favors rather than hard work. Unfortunately, this is now the far more common path to riches.

    And, of course, both taxation and the economy are controlled by the elites; hoi polloi have little understanding of the issues and less ability to affect them.

    • FriendlyGoat

      It’s truly unfortunate that the debate about high taxes on high earnings gets bogged down on whether we are “begrudging” certain people’s success or denying them the “fruits of their labor”. We should be asking whether or why a lawyer can be worth a million in a year, a sports star can be worth ten million, a CEO can be worth a hundred million and a very few financial traders can be worth a billion each in a single year for shrewd trades. Where do those remunerations possibly come from?

      Oh, it’s not a zero-sum game, they say. Even though the economic sky WOULD fall if we raised minimum wages, the top end earnings miraculously appear from NOwhere and NObody pays for them. Hardly.

      The fact is, if we have enough sense to tax excesses, we do not have to pay for excesses, because fewer excesses will occur. We only have to look back a few decades to remember how that worked and worked well.

      • vepxistqaosani

        Please, FG — I included the phrase “who have produced something of value” for a reason. Your examples, with the arguable exception of the sports star, usually don’t meet the criterion.

        • FriendlyGoat

          You only wanted to include people we might be “begrudging”. The problem with high-end tax cuts is that we are rewarding the questionable enterprises of all these other real categories which I mentioned.

          We all know there are many great private companies doing good work with good products. High taxation on their high net incomes (IF they’re high) does not “begrudge” them either.
          It helps them make the decisions they should be making anyway to buy capital equipment, hire people and play fair with suppliers—–ALL DEDUCTIBLE—-so their taxable income isn’t so high as to incur those onerous taxes. It is easier to induce companies to spend pre-tax money into the economy than to induce (beg) them to spend after-tax money. The higher the tax, the better it works.

    • Curious Mayhem

      Perfectly put. Those already who have made it find ways to shelter it; those who are not yet wealthy find it harder and harder to become so. Add a fiat currency based on no objective value, and you have the last 40 years or so, especially the last 15 or 20.

  • Dogmatic capitalism, like its twin Marxist socialism, is a belief that one is exempt from history – that one economic phase is final and definitive, setting the laws for all economies. Postmodernism in its pluralist, ‘tolerant’ face is likewise a retreat from history, as if we were at a stage where all conflict between social segements has ceased, and we could just live happily ever after by just being open to each other. That’s the source of Europe’s reluctance to invest in security – European elites convinced themselves that their states are just for benevolent welfare, not defence and war, as we are already past that point. History is history. So it’s not surprising to find that capitalist dogma and complacent relativism reinforce each other. But American exceptionalis, too, is a form of retreat from history, as if America was in some way exempt from the wear and tear of other civilization, as if it was anything more than another human society. If capitalist dogma and postmodernist decay are the problem, reinstalling exceptionalism is not the answer. It’s another facet of the problem – people’s inability to admit the transient, vulnerable character of their own present, and therefore the need to protect it at all times.

  • BobSykes

    Murray’s analysis of the differences between Ruling Class whites and poor working class whites is accurate but incomplete. The real issue is culture, and there are more than two. The US was founded by white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, upper class men, and the culture embedded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is WASP upper class male and only WASP upper class male. It is the Anglo-Saxon culture that is exceptional, even in Europe and Britain. If you want the details and substance go to hbd* chick,

    Nowadays, the WASP culture of the Founders is decidedly a minority culture, and it is not even common among those of WASP ancestry. To the extent that WASP domination of the US is done with, the US of the history books and the Declaration and Constitution is done with. The Constitution, specifically, has long been a dead letter.

    Today, there are several incompatible and competing cultures in the US that separate out along racial and sometimes geographical lines. To a very great extent, these cultures reject both the WASP culture of history and the US itself. They are at least,

    (1) the black underclass. They speak a dialect of English, have a unique culture and reject the legitimacy of all levels of government. They are, in their ghettos, a separate country with a potential for revolutionary violence.

    (2) the Hispanic underclass. Another separate country. Some of the recent illegals are Indios who don’t even speak Spanish, and who have a history of rejecting Mexican and Central American governments. La Raza hopes to organize them sufficiently to get control of the Southwest. The radicals in La Raza want to secede. Where they are dominant is the Southwest, they are conducting a low-level ethnic cleansing of blacks.

    (3) the white underclass, as Murray describes, has simply disconnected from the larger society. Those Confederate battle flags are not a racial statement (although many, perhaps most, underclass whites are racists). They are a secessionist statement. Working class whites are also discriminated against by the Ruling Class and its institutions. They have suffered an ongoing decline in income for at least 30 years, with no possible relief.

    (4) American Indians, who regard themselves as occupied, oppressed Native Americans. Many are mired in poverty on isolated reservations. A few have managed to exploit their status as sovereign peoples and have developed some economic resources like gambling. They would gladly see us leave.

    (5) Jews, who while superficially assimilated and relatively well-off, vigorously maintain a separate identity, even those who are not in any way religious. The Orthodox Jews are stringent in their separation.

    (6) various orthodox Christians, who while scattered about geographically and even among the economic classes, are in fact demonized and persecuted for their beliefs, especially in adacemia and the press. They are unorganized, but because of their raw numbers they have the potential to overturn the dominant Ruling Class culture, especially as it is expressed in the media, Hollywood and academia.

    One might add East Asians, especially since they are the modern Jews and are rejected by the Ivy league schools favored by the Ruling Class.

    The Ruling Class as a whole is still in control of the situation, but the ties are fraying. Many of the forces working to tear apart Ukraine, or the Middle East or Spain or the UK are working here, too. The important ones are race and class. The Civil War never really ended. We are just in a long armistice.

    The history of American political parties since 1960 is largely one of increasing ideological purity. The days of a Nelson Rockefeller Republican or a JFK Democrat are over. The current evolution is towards parties with racial and regional identities and coalition politics. The days of the national parties are coming to an end.

    • Walter Venditti

      “the black underclass. They speak a dialect of English…”

      Technically, every form of English is a dialect. You might be interested in this article (political preaching aside):

      • Anthony

        Thanks for linguistic information; an informative exposition (political preaching aside).

    • Duperray

      Amongst the remaining WASP feelings, at least one survives: Sectarian arrogance, generating present “exceptionalism” feeling.

    • vrlaphia

      .At various points in U.S. history, most of these ethnic “others” would have given anything to be full-fledged Americans, but after the WASPs enlisted the help of working class whites to oppress them in the name of their interest, the by-product was the”white race and “whiteness.” And working class whites would do anything to keep its benefits essentially condemning the Nation to endure 107 years of an American apartheid system which had already been doomed since 1863. Now that demographics has now turned the tables, and the U.S. needs real Americans, they are nowhere to be found and the fear (and that’s what it is) we have about losing the Nation, is something we should have thought about before Plessey v. Ferguson, and Jim Crow. We have this situation because WASPs and their ilk, turned their backs on every one and poisoned the society with “separate but equal.” Now we dare say that these “sub groups” hate America — they were never allowed to be Americans. Despite that damage, we have assimilated people from all those “out” groups. I think we still have hope that American ideals will prevail and our newest Americans will be able to advance the Nation. The questions is whether the Nation is ready to address its next challenge and make a path to becoming a true American open to all. If not, we can only blame ourselves, not the racially an ethnically isolated monsters we created..

  • KrazyP

    This post reminds me that WRM wrote a book, “God and Gold” that addresses this issue. I am also reminded of Charles Cochrane’s study of thought and action during the period between Augustus and Augustine.

  • MikeB

    Strange that neither the article nor the comments seem to mention the joint impact of the information and logistics revolution in a more or less open world order (aka globalization) on the economic opportunities of the lower classes in American society. Given the labor-saving dimensions of the information revolution, the dramatic reductions in the costs of international transportation, the doing away with tariff barriers between countries, and the vast armies of cheap and highly skilled labor increasingly available in second- and third-world countries in both the manufacturing and service sectors, it was inevitable and quite unavoidable over the past few decades that – in exchange for the incredible economic values and advantages accruing from globalization – the value of unskilled and inappropriately skilled American labor would undergo a catastrophic shrinkage, if not total collapse. That in turn has directly led to the stagnant or reduced remuneration experienced by the unskilled or inappropriately skilled masses of lower class people in America over the past few decades. This, then, is the situation which is the underlying root cause of a rapidly increasing income gap between those who are comfortably off and those who are not. With this comes a pervasive feeling of rapidly increasing inequality and a sense that the American Dream is not for everyone. It is common sense that unless this drift is stopped and somehow turned around, America is heading into some very dangerous waters, a socially ever increasing sclerosis, polarization and dysfunctionality, which is reflected in all levels of government and in all government policies. In other words, the problem is not so much with the erosion of the classical liberal or WASP value system, but the objective economic circumstances in which contemporary America finds itself. All the rest is just navel-gazing and parochial over-analysis. At the same time, despite all accrued negatives, America, the idea of America, the Hope of America, the American Dream, and indeed American Exceptionalism continues to be the shining light on the hill for most people in the world, most of whom would be happy to give a year of their life just to be able to swim to America. It is not for nothing that even today so many tens of millions of people around the world would give their eye teeth for being accepted as immigrants to the U.S. of A. And it is just simply not true that there is no longer upward economic and social mobility or massive opportunity in America. Just look at Silicon Valley and similar situations in many other places right across America. Americans are practical, solution-oriented people, and I am sure they will solve and resolve the issues around their lower classes, as they have solved and resolved many other tough problems over their two and a half centuries of glorious history.

  • ljgude

    I think a bit of rhetorical analysis of the president’s speech is in order, precisely because we know after 6 years that Obama is a master of rhetoric, but that his actions do not always live up to the promise of that rhetoric. I understand conservative disbelief and liberal cringing over American exceptionalism, but anyone not blindly partisan should be worried when Obama seems to be channeling George Bush and asking themselves: “What is going on here?” It is too simple to just disbelieve the man and it is inadequate to merely be embarrassed. My primary analysis is that we are dealing with a truly postmodern president – one who is such a great rhetorician that he can adopt any position to suit the situation with far less regard for the concept formerly known as the truth than garden variety postmodernists. To indulge in a little postmodern playfulness, he is an exceptional American. I am not saying that he is lying – not at all. I am saying that the president is a genuine product of his education and believes that he can frame and reframe issues as situations develop because, for him, the frame IS the issue. Ironically his opponents in the er..Levant embody the exact opposite of the post modern narrative of truth. As we know they not only believe in THE Truth, but they also believe they have an absolute monopoly on it and a franchise to kill anyone who disagrees with them in any way. I’ll say one thing for them – they have clearly gotten through to a man who thinks he can negotiate with anyone and who has even said he didn’t need a George Keenan (the man who got through to Truman that he couldn’t do quid pro quo with Joseph Stalin.) So my hat, but not my head, is off to them and may God bless the President of the United States.

  • Roy Payne

    The question Murray raises is simple: Are there American virtues that make America America?

    The answer is to be found in J.H. McElroy’s book “American Beliefs, what keeps a big country and a diverse people united.”
    But that was then, but now… what united us, divides us. McElroy’s later book describes this in detail.

  • “And yet, too many of these young people who go to elite schools deny their elite status. They dress down, embrace the counter culture, and imagine themselves middle class. They adopt a reliably liberal posture and identify themselves on the side of the common man. Posing as allies of the poor and downtrodden, they avoid actually owning their responsibility as members of the elite, the responsibility to articulate virtues and live virtuously in a way that influences and serves as a model for the country at large”

    Don’t the universities and liberalism actively glorify the “downtrodden” and demonize the rich? It seems to me these kids are just trying to fit in and not upset their professors. The utopia that the left seeks requires the elite rich to feel guilty enough to agree to heavy taxation. By indoctrinating the young to internalize their guilt for “winning life’s lottery”, they are priming the pump for later progressive voting patterns. It seems to have been working.

    As for the white working class men, perhaps they are just tired of being the scapegoats for all things bad. Current social justice warriors are quick to demonize them, especially if they happen to be cis-het. According to social justice theory, a cis-het white male is at the pinnacle of power and privilege, and is therefore incapable of being a victim. He can only be a perpetrator. As BobSykes says below, these men are seceding from a society that disdains and mocks them. Since they can’t geographically secede like their elite brethren, they just power down and check out virtually. They see no reason to strive for success just to be vilified and told “you didn’t build that”. They are starting to think the grass just might be greener on the government assistance side of the fence. Now that we’ve become a shame free nation, there is no stigma tied to receiving welfare. They aren’t slacking off, and skirting their responsibilities, they are “sticking it to the 1%”.

  • Dan

    Americas reaction to “Terrorists” is like an elephant reacting to a mouse. As long as we get pulled by the nose through the mud of world problems by men with greedy selfish narrow interests we will continue to fall apart and become less and less exceptional.

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