Dear Abby is an advice column founded in 1956 by Pauline Phillips under the pen name “Abigail Van Buren” and carried on today by her daughter, Jeanne Phillips. It has been, and may still be, the most popular advice newspaper advice column. That is, if newspapers still existed.
If anyone wrote a letter to Dear Abby as short and sweet as “How can I avoid poverty?”, two law professors have given their answer to that question, and done so quite brilliantly. I’m thrilled to know there are still a few academic law professors who can make sense of things. The two that wrote the piece excerpted below, Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Larry Alexander of the San Diego School of Law, had to break some leftist taboos in writing it. The authors have engaged in way too much truth telling in their op-ed for it to pass without objection among their peers in today’s law schools.
The premise of these authors is that the bourgeois values practiced by most Americans of all socio-economic groups is what led to the economic prosperity and relative cultural harmony among all classes from the end of WW II to the mid 1960s. After that things began to come apart in the rising crime rate, poverty and social turmoil. I don’t believe it is coincidental that the onset of this malaise coincides with the beginning of the Great Society Era under Lyndon Johnson, and his so-called “War On Poverty.”
In essence, Wax and Alexander are saying the way to avoid poverty is fore those to who find themselves in some stage of poverty to adopt the habits of the well off. Actually, we might say they need to reacquire the values of their grandparents.
Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.
The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.
That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
In other words, nobody said it would be easy snowflakes, you are the architects of your own downfall. You won’t get out of your funk until you take responsibility for yourself. The Left sees this as blaming the victim. For things to change and to benefit America’s underclass this attitude has to change.
These basic cultural precepts reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities, especially when backed up by almost universal endorsement. Adherence was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.
This cultural script began to break down in the late 1960s. A combination of factors — prosperity, the Pill, the expansion of higher education, and the doubts surrounding the Vietnam War — encouraged an antiauthoritarian, adolescent, wish-fulfillment ideal — sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll — that was unworthy of, and unworkable for, a mature, prosperous adult society. This era saw the beginnings of an identity politics that inverted the color-blind aspirations of civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into an obsession with race, ethnicity, gender, and now sexual preference.
And those adults with influence over the culture, for a variety of reasons, abandoned their role as advocates for respectability, civility, and adult values. As a consequence, the counterculture made great headway, particularly among the chattering classes — academics, writers, artists, actors, and journalists — who relished liberation from conventional constraints and turned condemning America and reviewing its crimes into a class marker of virtue and sophistication.
All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural script — which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach — cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all.
Wax and Alexander get it, they’ve seen the light that will take the poor out of their darkness. We have to undo the Gramscianization of America. We have to get back to the future.
But restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it.
You gotta love this. These guys write well, I love “the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden.” It hits home, it hits hard. Wax and Alexander have fertile minds and deft hands.
When this appeared in the Philadelphia Enquirer a minor earthquake occurred in Academia. Glenn Reynolds explains in yesterday’s USA Today: “This broke two major taboos in the academy: It showed respect for, rather than deriding, the traditional middle class, and it denied the major tenet of academic multiculturalism, which is that all cultures are equal.”
Dean of San Diego School of Law Stephen Ferruolo quickly offered up an indigestible dollop of Leftist rubbish: “…we must be sensitive to all the members of our community, especially those who may feel vulnerable, marginalized or fearful that they are not welcomed. We must recognize that, for many students, racial discrimination and cultural subordination are not academic theories, they reflect the students’ personal experiences. The views expressed by Professor Alexander were his personal views. I personally do not agree with those views, nor do I believe that they are representative of the views of our law school community.”
That’s what is wrong with your law school, Dean Ferruolo.