A Libertarian Who Sounds Like a Social Conservative

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 Charles MurrayCrown Forum, 2012; 407 pages, $27 Members of the notorious Baby Boom generation, including many like this reviewer who were born in the 1950s and reached adolescence in the 1960s, know from personal experience that the America they are passing on to their twenty-something children is not their fathers’ America. The country has undergone so many fundamental changes, changes that no one living in the 1960s could have predicted, it’s difficult to know where to start to capture all that has transpired. But Charles Murray, a preeminent political and social scientist who exercises skillful command over a wealth of surveys, statistics, and time-series datasets, provides the most comprehensive and understandable accounting to date. Consequently, his diagnosis of America at 2010 goes much further than claiming that a segment of the population (the poor) is Losing Ground, the title of his 1984 blockbuster that shook the political establishment. No, the situation is more precarious. In Coming Apart, Murray quantifies the myriad ways in which the “American project” and America’s civic culture are unraveling “at the seams.” According to Murray, “The trends signify damage to the heart of American community and the ways in which the great majority of Americans pursue satisfying lives. The trends of the last century matter a lot. Many of the best and most exceptional qualities of American culture cannot survive unless they are reversed.” In making his case, Murray chronicles in exhaustive detail the ways in which America is no longer the predominantly middle-class society it was in 1963—when household-income differences were relatively modest, when only 8 percent of the adult population had college degrees, when 81 percent of workers were employed in nonprofessional jobs, and when, in Murrays’ words, “marriage was nearly universal and divorce was rare across all races”—but a hig
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